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The No Elves Manifesto

Cassandra Khaw Posted:
Columns No Elves Allowed 0

No vertically-challenged people with excessive body hair.

No wizards. Especially those with phallic hats.

No orcs.

No dragons.

But more than anything, no more elves. Please. I've had enough. Ecologically friendly aristocrats have become passé. If you're going to have elves, can't we have the proper kind? You know what I'm talking about. The ones where the elves are not enchanting but weave enchantments instead, the ones where they steal hearts and leave silence rattling in chest cavities. Those elves I like. I could probably abide by a few more of those.

Unfortunately, they're not quite cut out for MMO landscape. Given everything I've heard of them, they're neither intimidating nor particularly attractive. Creepy, yes but seldom the sort to come equipped with buttocks that you can stare at for hours. Because regardless of whether we're inclined towards admitting to it or not, aesthetics are important. They're especially important when you're talking about something that will burn idle animations into the back of your retinas because you've spent just that much time on them.

In some ways, I suppose that's also why there's such a marked prevalence of fantasy MMOs. No other setting is quite as capable of conveying loveliness of such magnitude, after all. More importantly, it's familiar.  We can empathize with elves and dwarves. We can picture dragons. We can easily pretend that fairies dance in the woods. Flying spaghetti monsters in enormous space ships? Not so easy.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that I still hate elves. Been there. Done that. Bought the Blood Elf. Can we move on? I can see some of you surreptitiously picking up those pitchforks but I'm going to say it anyway: the genre is over saturated with gnomes. You cannot turn two steps without bumping into a scantily-dressed elf. Throw a stone and chances are you'll nail a passing princess.  To abuse a time-worn trope, your personal mileage may vary on the subject matter but personally, I've had enough of fantasy. We have the technology. Let's use it.

Long story short, this column is going to be an on-going account of games not otherwise related to 'traditional' fantasy. Some of these games might be set within the stars. Others may be closer to home. There will be no discrimination against the authors either.  Hyperboles and breathless sighs will spill for triple-A productions and grass roots projects alike. The only commonality that these games will share is an absence of pointy ears.

But enough about me and my unconstrained loathing for certain fictitious races. Let's talk about something else. Let's talk about Love. With a capital L. And not the sort that begets hormonal ripostes.

If you have absolutely no idea as to what I'm talking about, now would probably be a good time to fire up YouTube and check out videos of Eskil Steenberg's imperfect masterpiece. Pretty, isn't it? You could probably frame screenshots you print. Would you like to know what makes it even better? Love is almost entirely procedurally generated. Each world is devised of complex algorithms. It's an almost baffling concept given how artistry of this nature is normally so carefully plotted. Monet would probably roll over in his grave.

But what makes Love really unique, however, is not its impressionistic visuals or the fact that it has A.I. tribes capable of going to war with one another (and you) but the fact that it is a pretty nontraditional take on the genre. Here, there are no questions or convenient floating exclamation marks, no clear-cut routes that one should take. Instead, what you have are settlements and the intrinsic human need to protect the place you call home.

(Yes, long before Minecraft cornered the market on interior decoration, there were others games that investigated the human psyche in such a manner. Why do you ask?)

There's more, of course. I haven't checked out the game since it first launched but things look promising. According to an RPS (RockPaperShotgun) article from way back, it looks like Steenberg is well on his way to developing 'the game that we dreamt about 20 years ago'. We'll see how it goes.

On a less idealistic note, what list of non-fantasy MMOs would be complete without a look at EVE Online? Though detractors have had plenty to say about the pace and the fact that skill training can, quite literally, takes months to complete. Eve Online has always enjoyed a loyal fan base and for good reason.

It's beautiful. Heart-breakingly beautiful. No other game has seized my breath in such a way.  I stopped playing EVE a few years back but I still have fond memories of just floating in space and watching as ships meandered through the cosmos.  I remember the awe that pinioned me the first time a dreadnaught eased past my fledgling frigate.

On the off chance that you're one of the rare few who has yet to hear about EVE Online, CCP's debut game is a space-faring MMO filled with an abundance of space ships, antagonistic factions, detailed history, raiders, technology and proof that people can get up to some nefarious things once they've left the vigilant eye of the law.

EVE Online is also the only game I know of griefing can be downright epic. Google will attest to my claims. Heck, don't believe me? Look at this article from Destructoid. An estimated $5,645 USD was lost thanks to espionage and clever maneuvering. And you know what the most mind-blowing thing is? None of it was scripted. None of it originated from NPCs rooted to the floor. It was all about the people.

In awe? Good. Imagine all that happening time and time again. Imagine entire corporations with set routines and escort missions, corporations filled with people willing to wake up at six o’clock in the morning to take their turn at guard duty. Imagine trying to turn a cruiser into a battle ship wannabe; it's possible with the right combination of equipment. Imagine being an interstellar merchant capable of influencing the finances of thousands.  Now, imagine working together to take over the universe. It doesn't get any better than this.

It can, however, get worse.

Sort of.

Excuse my irrational fondness for indie endeavors but there's a reason for it. They have good ideas. And if EVE Online is the perfect example of what a virtual society can strive to be, then browser-based Die2Nite exemplifies the worst in people, of the atrocities that can be committed when personal survival is put on the line. All right, it's not so bad but it's certainly disarming that first time you see people will demand death for a careless newbie's first mistake.

The concept behind Die2Nite is a rather elegantly simple one. Take forty people and assign them to a town. From there, assault them each night with a constantly increasing number of zombies. Allow them no opportunity for self-defense. Demand instead that they spend the day amassing resources and building fortifications. Make it difficult by giving them only a limited amount of command points. Throw in a twist. Allow every player autonomous conduct. Give them the ability to steal and to cause endless grief. Let them form an organized contingent and claim martial law over your town.  The possibilities are endless. You'd be amazed at how much people will abuse free will.

To paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, Hell is indeed other people.

Or is it? Tune in next time to see if I have a more optimistic selection of non-fantasy MMOs for your perusal. For now, if you're tired of the same old drivel, feel free to check out this week's selection of eccentricities.

Ed Note: No Elves doesn't apply to the person who inputs the article and its images and who also LOVES elves. BWAHAHA! I'll be nicer next time.


Cassandra Khaw