What is an MMO, and why should I care?

 (Edit: I’d fire my proof reader but I need the work)

Strictly speaking, an MMO is a “Massively Multiplayer Online thinymajig“.

There aren’t any games out today, though, that from a player’s perspective are really “massively”. WWII Online people will want to say “the map!” and Eve players will want to say “one server!”. But those are sleights of hand – in neither case is the game running on one single server computer – they use clusters of servers to create a single world and Eve’s hefty player count means one hell of a lot of computers.

A lot of effort gets invested into making today’s MMO compartmentalized; keeping people apart. Sort of the opposite of “massively multiplayer”, more “slightly multiplayer”. The “massively” scale only applies to the back-end systems. Players just don’t want to be in a room with 7 million other WoW players trying to get at the auctioneer.

In the effort to sell their progressive-advancement, MMOs seem to have become locked into a strict one-way flow of storyline that goes against the trends in other sectors of the gaming market. I find the linearity of most games today tedious to frustrating to nauseous.

These issues have arisen from generation X+1 MMOs mostly just solving problems that existed in generation X games. The result: an escallation of the wrong solutions. Today’s MMO design is based on a sweep of flawed premises about what’s necessary to solve yesterday’s problems. Look at the amount of effort that goes into making these “massively multiplayer” games play like a single player product or a shoebox game or the variety of systems that have gone into place to “deal with” camping or mob stealing rather than finding a way to avoid creating the problem that causes those problems.

So for a moment lets throw away all the trappings of a modern MMO:

Campaign 46 begins

The Axis turned in another victory last weekend after a fairly epic 92 day Campaign that could have gone either way at various points during the battle. We’ve made some tweaks to movement timers (the full 60 minute timer now applies whether you are moving from or to a frontline town, and the behind-lines timers is now 30 minutes instead of 15) and I snuck in “Chat Shortcuts” ($orig, $targ, $lead, $unit, $miss). Doc reduced the armor in Infantry Brigades some more, Riflemen are down to 700 per non-armor brigade vs 900 previously.

It promises to be a fascinating campaign with relatively simple changes and no client patch as yet.

Start or Pre commit hook?

As part of our automated build process, I provide a list of branches/versions that can be compiled. With Visual Source Safe I just wrote a script to use the SourceOffSite client and read all the versionNo.h’s from certain folders and generate an XML file. With SVN it seems like I could improve on that by making it so that any commits of “versionNo.h” would automatically set a property on the top-level folder and then my build tool could just read properties rather than having to fetch versionNo.h from each folder and scan it.

Only I’m new to SVN so … Would I do that client side or in a start commit hook or a pre commit hook?

Mythic takes on the Farmers tooth and nail…

Mark Jacob’s of Mythic has described how they are fixing to show no mercy to the gold farmers who try to make a living in WarCraft.

Tragic confession: I’ve bought gold… In Everquest 2. Just the once. I didn’t think “What I need now is some gold, hi me unto the nearest vendor”. It was 3am in the morning, an email made it thru my spam filter and it looked like something Sonyish and I clicked. The site was vaguely EQ2 themed, enough that my remaining 3 brain cells didn’t think thru what I was doing as I thought “50plat for that little? hey, I can do that”.

I’d taken a leave of absence from EQ2 and upon returning it pained me, despite the mentor system, to be such a drain on my buddies. A few dollars and a few plat would allow me to upgrade and pull my own weight a little. The gold was delivered incredibly promptly so I resisted the urge to go to bed, decked my character out with good but not spectacular gear, and went out hunting with some guildies without feeling a bottom feeder myself.

Our fun was cut short by a gold farmer. That’s about when the rest of my brain woke up.

It’s not that I paid cash for gold, I am appalled at the fact that I furthered the cause of the gold farmers.

Gold Farming = Evil: A quest mob to you and I is a monetary resource to the gold farmer. It was created to be a quest mob, it was spawned to be a quest mob, the software and data environment it exists in was designed around it being treated as a quest mob. I’ve yet to meet a gold farmer who has stepped away from a mob so as not to interfere with my gameplay or who has left a group voluntarily to make room for a player.

Battle of the Alps

Tonight was another Kill-A-Rat promotion and the last night of the Campaign #45 intermission (Campaign #45 ran for 92 days concluding in an Axis victory).

We had a great turnout and I was loathe to see it evaporate as the Rats logged off and went their various ways. So I did a little something daft on an impulse and it turned out to be awesome fun.

Nicolai aka “Crazy German” (Austin)

1993-2000 I worked for Demon Internet in England, first for Demon Systems but I rapidly slid into doing various Internet things and moving over to DIS proper. (Particularly proud of my mention on the “Internet” link; for 9 months I had the email address “o@uk”). Up through the ranks of the Support Team came a guy called Nicolai with a thick German accent and an in-your-face sense of humor. We were both big on software development and we both had a more than passing interest in game development. So as I was hooking up with old-friends on Facebook, Nicolai’s was one of the folks I actively sought out.

Surprise, surprise: Nicolai was listed as being in Texas, Austin infact. Turns out he’s at Bioware, having done a while at Sony/Psygnosis. We agreed to have beers while I was there in AGC, but we kinda neglected to arrange it before I left town.

Not seeing him at AGC, I decided to ask a couple of the Bioware folks if they knew him. Damion Schubert spared me a while for very useful conversation, and at the end I asked about Nicolai Guba. Damion couldn’t quite place the name, so I added, “crazy German guy” and Damion immediately knew who I mean’t. The next two Bioware guys, as soon as I said Nicolai, replied “the crazy German guy?” So the next one, I asked “Do you know the crazy server programmer guy” to which he replied, “oh, Nicolai?” Finally, after his rather excellent talk, (“Accelerating programming teams in an iterative environment“), I had a brief chat with Damon Osgood, who once again identified “crazy German guy” as “Nicolai” :)

Infact, we met up with Nicolai monday night at the Heatwave Rockband party at the Sky Lounge, where we also met up with Chris Sherland (“MO”) and the NetDevil folks before hooking up with Mike Webber (“Gryf”, now QA lead at Gearbox) and heading off to an Irish pub (where the drinks were on Gryf). Nicolai is every bit as crazy as I remember, picked up right where we left off with his brow-beating me for all the Perl coding I used to do at Demon before his friend John accidentally gave away the fact that Nicolai is now a Java programmer.

Was a pretty good party, and had a lot of fun at Fados with Gryf, Nicolai and the NetDevils right up until one of the Netdevil guys tried to disrupt something happening nearby by grabbing me by putting his hand over my face and pretending to french me. I’m sure he thought I was Mo. Still, that sobered me up fairly rapidly and things broke up shortly afterwards.

Possibly the funniest moment of the night was Mo scuttling (he scuttles, definitely) up to a guy from Sony and saying “Wait, I know you from somewhere, where do you know me from?” and pulling the guy into a 5 minute “who the hell are you”. No, I think Mo dropping to the floor and deciding to demonstrate 1-handed pushups on the corner of 5th and Congress was pretty fun too :)

Adobe, absolute evil

My PC has been running Vista for the last few weeks mostly because it boots like greased lightning. 20 seconds, top, from BIOS to Desktop. Then tonight, it suddenly took over 3 minutes from login to Desktop.

Puzzled, I compared the results from SysinternalsAutoruns between last night and tonight. The difference?

Adobe.

Subversion

Well, we went ahead and did it; switched from Visual Source Safe to Subversion. Ahh. The producers see TortoiseSVN and want it, so our data will be going over soon too. Right now we’re running VisualSVN server on our Windows file server and their client for Visual Studio.

I’m now trying to set up commit hooks and running into brick walls. I wanted to avoid having to write something myself and though the Ruby commit-mailer.rb sounded promising. Except, it appears that Ruby no-longer ships with ruby-svn and I can’t figure out where the heck you would get it from.

So, I guess I’ll do something with the Perl version. That’s not so bad, really, I can make it announce commits to the IRC server while I’m at it :) Or, more likely, have it write the announcements to a database and let something else pick them up.

Force Finished

Sorry, but one of the last encounters is hands down the worst piece of gameplay ever. I suppose they were going for “You must dominate”. But I’d like to be able to see my character, especially since targetting is based on the direction you are facing.

It seems like there may be two possible endings. I was working on one last night, then I fired it up again today and found it hadn’t saved that progress and put me back at the sequence of fights. There is one fight with an enemy standing in the middle of a little force-shieldy thing. After you get past the first round, he jumps to the back of the scene and forces you to do the same. Then … the camera stays at the far side of the room, and you have to finish the fight with your characters only about 1/20th of the screen height. There are no lights at the back of the room, just the very bright glow of the force-field-floor between you, throwing the back of the room into deeper shadow.

Finally defeating this guy, I returned to the “you choose” step of the finale. Annoyingly, it put my character just off-screen. Assuming I was facing down the center of the screen I pushed forward and fell to the choice I didn’t want to make. Nice.

Ok – so I’m fighting the other guy again, who has magically regrown the limbs I chopped off in the previous sequence. This can’t be a good sign…

Force unleashed: Cake and dog food.

What the hell is happening?

Force Unleashed starts out with the Star Wars roll and gets your inner (evil) Skywalker by the short and curlies. Commence pan down. Ooo, look, Star Destroyers and they look sexy. Ish. Launch small craft, sweet looking shuttle and pan down to … 8 bit planet?

Right there, as the image of a planet lifted right out of the golden era of 800×600 behind those beautifully rendered Star Destroyers, is your taste of things to come.