Other Worlds

World building, part 2: This town, is coming like a ghost town…

In my last world building post I talked about, amongst other things, better weather & seasonal effects to make the world seem more alive and changeable. Well in this post I want to move from the macro back down the scale and look at towns, cities and other settlements because it’s not just the world that needs to come alive for me but the place I call home too.

My first ever experience of an online, populated city was Nova Albion in Second Life. I rezzed nearish and wandered on down where I was grabbed by the lure of free Linden Dollars in a camping spot (this was before I realised how damaging camping spots are to online worlds, sucking up computing resources for no benefit to the environment). Once I broke free of the camping chair I began to explore the city and was amazed that such a place could exist – it was a city built by and populated by the players, a deal of who I could see around me! Now it was sometime before I realised that vast majority of players were in one or two locations within the city and the rest of it was a well-tended wasteland so at the time this was a hugely exciting to me.

Nova Albion, Second Life's first city...

Nova Albion, Second Life’s first city…

My next experience was of Bree in LOTRO and I still remember riding through the gates and down the cobbled road from Combe for the first time. It was night and I was following a more experience player in my first few hours of playing and I can still feel the excitement swelling inside me, something akin to the first time after passing my driving test my Dad had me follow him onto the motorway – pure nervous adrenaline as I moved from one world to another, it was amazing.

Bree, so small yet so oddly important...

Bree, so small yet so oddly important…

My most recent experience has been in GW2 where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Divinity’s Reach (such a bloody beautiful name, too). The levels! the architecture! The housing! The scale! Oh my gods I was blown away! It is still the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in a game but do you know how many times I go there and explore it? Never. I teleport to the bank and teleport back out to the game. I teleport to the Maiden’s Whisper for RP and teleport out again. If I crafted I’d teleport to the crafting station and then out to the game again. The is no reason for me to wander around the city and therefore it could be three or four small rooms and I’d still get the same benefits and that is a crying shame.

Divinity's Reach - full of places you can never reach or explore...

Divinity’s Reach – full of places you can never reach or explore…

Do you know what Nova Albion, Bree & Divinity’s Reach have in common? They are deserts. Wastelands. Ghost towns. People hurry from location to location in an entirely perfunctory manner to get between locations such as bank to auction house or auction house to crafting station in order to complete a necessary task related to the furthering of a step within the game. Taking a helicopter’s eye view of the city over 24 hours you’d see players whizzing back and forth between a small number of locations using the same routes whilst the rest of the city simply lies dormant.

So what to do about this sorry state of affairs, I hear (or at I imagine I hear) you ask?

That’s a good question I have no easy answers to but here’s what I’d like to see in online cities, things I feel would brathe some life into them and make them worth not just visiting again but actually playing in:

  • Player housing throughout. True this was the case in SL and cities there were still deserted but none of these ideas are meant to happen in isolation. I think player housing is important because not only does it give players a reason to be in the city but it also makes them invested in the city. All of the amazing buildings in Divinity’s Reach are unusable with only the occasional one open, but even these are museum displays that can’t be played or interacted with. True there is the home instance of Selma but it’s just that, an instance; a private bubble of the city created for and inhabited by only you – and where is the fun in that? Let players live in the city and make it their own.
  • Events throughout the city all the time. Give the players a reason to be in the city other than crafting, banking or redecorating their house. Player guilds like LOTRO’s Lonley Mountain Band prove that if you put an event on people will come so put events on! Allow players to put events on! For the love of all that is holy, breathe some life into the place and get people dancing! Random small celebrations should happen, Weekly markets with special items, Parades that wind their through the city streets. All night parties right outside your window. Holy days of celebration to the various six Gods. And why not have dungeons in the city? Why not have quests and dynamic events happen there?
  • Let crafters own shops. Let players own a shop that you can visit and where you can buy their goods, whether those have been made or found. True these items could also be sold on the trading post but why not between people? Slap a 15% sales tax on and the gold sink remains. And if the player is out playing then let them hire an NPC to man the shop for them (an even bigger gold sink).
  • Whilst on the subject of NPCs, make them real. Don’t have them standing around waiting to be clicked on but have them wandering the neighbourhood. Have them going in and out of buildings and doing stuff other than waiting. Like exploring a city, listening to NPCs talking is fun the first time but then never again. Hell there is a conversation between two ministers about the Centaur problem going on right now that was going on word for word when I started over a year ago. Why? That conversation hasn’t moved on so it gives the impression neither has the world. NPCs should seem like they really live and work in the city otherwise the city seems like a theme park exhibit.
  • Let the city change at night. Traders should close shop and go home, NPCs should wander off to their families or the pub, parties should start, Seraph patrols increase, curfews enforced, drunken fights break out, arrests made. In short the city should act like a real city and be different at night as it is in the day.

Of course, a lot of this goes for *all* the settlements in the world. All of them need real day & night cycles with NPCs that do more than stand around like idiots awaiting an instruction to sit. Players should be free to live in the countryside if city life is not for them. Merchant caravans should allows player-traders to join them. The whole bloody world should feel more interactive and real and alive and a lot less like a game where you can’t play with all of the pieces.

This is exciting as my home instances gets...

This is exciting as my home instances gets…

World building, part 1: Being British, it’s all about the weather…

I had planned this post to be part of a much larger post directed at my dissatisfaction with GW2 and other MMOs but as I drafted and redrafted it in my head it kept changing, its focus shifting and realigning, until I just decided to open a New Post box and see what happened.

World Building part 1. I had no idea that was going to pop out of my fingertips when I started but now I think it’s perfect because the lack of immersion that leads to my feeling of disconnection & dissatisfaction with GW2 is not unique to that game and, in some respects, not the fault of that or any game. So here is my first post in a new series about what I want, desperately in many cases, to see in a game world. They are in no real order – my thinking isn’t always that joined up – but I’m sure common themes will pop up here and there. So, where to start. Well, seeing as I’m British, why not with the weather…

Give me more weather: I want a world where the only choices are not sun or rain (with snow at Xmas), I want weather that goes beyond the binary and into the realms of patterns and even seasons and I want them all to have an impact on the world. Let the rain pool up and cause flooding. Give me hail that damages buildings, lightning storms that start forest fires, heat waves that result in a terrible droughts and mass-herd deaths Give me meteor impacts and plagues of killer locusts! I want ship-sinking typhoons and village-erasing twisters! And what is so wrong with a good old fashioned earthquake? GIVE ME MORE THAN SUN AND RAIN! *pant pant pant*… Actually, earthquakes aren’t weather are they? But they do lead me on to my next point quite nicely.

Why is the land always the same? OK, here in the UK I’m lucky enough to live in a stable & prosperous place and the land hardly every changes. Except it does. all the time. Fields that have been there since my dad was a kid are being turned into housing estates, new railways are wiping villages off the map and cities are eating up towns all the time. The land changes, except in MMOs where, like the seasons and the weather, it’s always the same. A path through the hills and out to the coast that is never blocked by a flood or a landslide is just the same as a corridor in a FPS. I want people (both players and non-players) and the weather (see above) and seasons (below) to change the landscape. Don’t tell me it’s a living world when most of it is pickled in aspic!

And whilst I’m on the topic of seasons, can we please add some? I know that to see a Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter cycle roll past means you are a year older and it is clear that your character is not, but if I can suspend my disbelief that the Simpsons have been the same age for 25 years I can do the same in a game, trust me. The fact you include a day/night cycle indicates there is a passage of time and my head has yet to explode from the fact day after day cycles round and yet nothing seems to change. Put seasons in, make them run in the same way as your day & night time frame (roughly 4 to 6 times faster than normal) and the world will see to be fresh and living instead of some weird West World theme park stuck on one setting forever. And ever. And ever.

I’ll take a break there but in my next post I want to move on to the people in these worlds and the lives they often don’t but really should live. And some stuff about night time as well. Oh god, the night time in games sucks.

One last point before I hit publish and end my lunch break, please don’t imagine I’m having a pop at GW2 or LOTRO or Second Life. I’m simply putting forward my wishlist and no one game is more guilt than another of failing to live up to my vastly inflated sense of expectations. There are probably some very good technical reasons why some of the things I want can’t be done, but that doesn’t stop me wanting them. I have a similar problem with Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss.

Another sunny day... how dull.

Another sunny day… how dull.

LOTRO: First Days – The Battle for Archet

I thought I’d put down what happened from my first moments in this new game world in case any one else is interested in joining in and trying it out, but before I begin I should explain that I’ve never played a MMO before, not one one, never. SL was my first ever foray into an online world of any sort so you’re going to have to expect some “Well dur!” statements from me, especially if you play WoW and the like. But hey, you’re grown ups and I’m sure you’ll cope 🙂

Once the software had downloaded & installed (a frankly very long process, although I suspect a Saturday afternoon on a Bank Holiday weekend may not have been the best time to judge to be fair. Also I was tweeting whilst an upload was in process and crashed the install meaning I had to start again (d’oh!). Anyhoo, once done & installed I jumped in and created a character. I had read a fair bit about the game before the install had finished so I knew a little of what I was going to do but I still managed to chose a poor character class given I was going to be playing alone. Not that The Captain is a poor class, just that given the game is a lot about beating monsters and baddies to death, a better choice is the Champion. The free account allows two characters to be created so after a while with El Capitano I started again with a Champion and immediately noticed the difference in battle – where the Captain rallies others and demoralises the enemy making him better in a team, the Champion just twats the daylight out of anyone daft enough to stand in front of him which is perfect for lone exploring in a MMO (and better fits my clumsy gaming style if I’m honest 🙂 )

The character creation was a breeze – all the customisations beyond body/head/hair type are in game meaning you can be up and running in a minute or two if you know what race & class you are going for. If not there are extensive notes and even videos for each to help you choose – but choose wisely as they can’t be changed and a free account can only create two characters. Take a look under “Getting Started” here for some excellent help: http://lotro.mmorsel.com/. For my second choice I plumped for a male Man and made him a Champion from Dale (I’ve always felt an affinity to the North of Tolkien’s Middle Earth… but then I *am* from the North of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth) and made him a wee bit Viking-ish. From here the next step was to actually jump on in and start playing. I have read that each of the four races (Man, Elf, Hobbit & Dwarf) have their own starting point/town & storyline (I’ve only played a Man so far and can’t say, but I intend to play at least one of each to soak up the scenery and all the quests on offer) and as a Man you start out near a Bree-land hamlet called Archet where you help Strider rescue some Hobbits caught by brigands for the Nazgul looking for Frodo and the ring(1) before coming to the aid of Archet itself.

The first part, the Hobbit saving, is just a training exercise to get you used to basic moving, interacting & fighting and as the end as the Hobbits are saved you end up going to the town of Archet where your tasks and quests begin. Quest structure seems standard fare – talk to people who ask you to run errands which result in rewards and experience points being awarded. Along the way you fight various beasts or bad guys for more XP and loot until you can level up and improve your character’s stats, etc. Of course there is a little more to it than that as there are various ‘degrees’ of quests with some being designed to help your character learn things like skills and hobbies, some designed to keep you interested in the game and to level up, and with some being part of the actual “epic” storyline. Each help you level up in one way or another but you’ll be unsurprised to hear that levelling up hold no interest for me – I want to be part of the various story lines (not just the ‘epic’ arc of the game itself, but the smaller local dramas unfolding in the towns you visit. I also wanted to be interacting with other (real) people so I could join up with a group and play with them – but more of that in a bit.

So far so good – with the Hobbits saved & basic training done, Archet proved to be a well paced training ground where you can get to grips with the flow of tasks, the UI, combat, skills training and a ton of other things to get your head around. It’s testament to the company & testers behind the game that at no point in this did I feel over-whelmed or under-skilled as I had done in Call of Duty: Black Ops. In that game I quickly lost interest as all that happened was my constant, repetitive (& boring) pwnage whereas in LOTRO I *didn’t* get my arse handed to me in a basket yet I still felt a frisson of danger with every fight. Also worthy of a note is that the company behind the game (Turbine) are quite adept at giving goodies to you to encourage you but then also lead you to their online store where you can spend your real life moolah with them. Case in point being the horse whistle you get after the Battle of Archet (see below) that calls a stead to you enabling faster travel – only it runs out after 24 RL hours and whilst you *can* get by without a horse, travel in Middle-Earth is certainly faster and (even) more gorgeous on horseback. So kerching! Here’s four English pounds for one of your basic Bree-land ponies, Mr Turbine… oooohhh look at his lovely mane… look at it! It’s lovely!

But back to Archet, which proves to be a town in a great deal of trouble – Blackwold brigands are set to strike but the town constable isn’t in the mood for listening to doom-mongers like you & Strider and so it falls to you to pull various people together in an attempt to save the town. This sees you running about town and out in the countryside (killing wolves and giant spiders and other insects as you go, not to mention a few surly brigands for good measure) until you finally find yourself standing in the burning town fighting for your life. It seems these set pieces are created just for you so I didn’t see any other players in the battle (or in the saving of the Hobbits) where as the section in between (pre-battle) and afterwards (post-battle) was full of other people all running hither and non, all on the same quests as you, all figuring out how the hell things worked just like you and it was here, after the battle, I met my first friend who turned out to be an oldbie running a new av (sorry, character 😀 ). Lirwen, or rather her typist, has been in the game since the beta-testing days and as such a brilliant help to me as I blundered about and only managed to survive fights with blind luck rather than any actual skill. She started a Fellowship with me (A temporary group of adventuring friends – I’m still reading up about Fellowships & Kinships so I’m not too sure what the differences are yet) and came adventuring with me through the final stages of the Archet quests before we moved on to the larger town of Combe together. I’ll cover Combe later but it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have had half as much fun in LOTRO if I hadn’t have met Lirwen (and if Lirwen hadn’t have been so patient with my noobness! 😀 )

So there you have it, my first day or two in the game and I’m a fan. Having been in SL for so long does help, but really they are very different beasts. One odd think I have yet to figure out is why I can not stand a cluttered UI in SL, yet the huge bastard screen art that passes for LOTRO’s UI doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Very strange.

In my next post about LOTRO I’ll tell you a little about Combe and my adventures with Lirwen – we are planning to do the next ‘epic’ quest together tonight (another great thing about LOTRO is that I chose a European server so most of the folks using it are in my timezone. Imagine that – people from my part of the world online at the same time as me and *not* just stood somewhere in another bloody dance!

hba/Ranhold
**********

(1) It’s worth saying at this point that unlike the old ICE MERP books I played through in various kitchens as a squeaky voiced youth, this online game is set very much in the universe & time of the Lord of The Rings books and the designers have been very clever to write you into the plot in such a way as you get to meet and interact with key members of The Fellowship. You help with missions that happen ‘off camera’ in the book, some mentioned or hinted at, some made up but fitting with the logic of the original storyline. So it is that as a Man you are asked to save Hobbits captured in error and thwart the Witch King’s attempts to locate the ring and destroy the old lands of Eriador. You can see a map of these places here: http://dynmap.ruslotro.com/.

Ringing in the changes…

A couple of weeks ago I started a well deserved holiday from work. What I didn’t know was that I’d also be starting a holiday from SL at the same time. I didn’t mean to, I just found that as I unwound from work I didn’t fancy logging into SL. The first week passed and I found myself still not wanting to log in, instead I watched the whole Lord of The Rings trilogy with The Boy, did some decorating, cooked some BBQs and never once missed SL. Unlike previous breaks I wasn’t angry at SL, it hadn’t pissed me off again, I was just… bored.

The second week was the breaker – I finally redecorated my tiny computer room & put up a shed-load of shelves which allowed my to get all my old RPG books out of the attic and arrange them in my new nest. And then it happened… as I thumbed through my 20+ year old MERP source books I began to want to play in Middle Earth again. Almost before I realised what I was doing I had downloaded the Lord of The Rings Online game. Blimey.

I’ve been playing it quite a bit over the last few days and so far I’m rather taken with it (I think I’ll be posting some of my tales from that world here – stay tuned) yet while I doubt I’ll be coming back to SL for a while I *will* be coming back. Honest.

Returning to Blue Mars

A couple of months ago I was talking to Riven Homewood about Caledon’s outpost in Blue Mars, Caledonia when I realised I hadn’t been back to Mars for months. I decided I’d kill two birds with one stone and see both the new city and what changes had come to the platform.

Now before I tell you what I thought let me say that I do like BM (it looks gorgeous and I like the way the company handle their public image) and I admire what the Caledon/Caledonia designers have set out to do.

That out of the way I can’t see myself dropping SL for BM anytime soon – the UI is still really basic, the avs are still pug ugly and the world (and Caledonia) is still empty. I can’t change my look, build anything or take a picture. For me at least there’s simply nothing to do. Yet…

Anyhoo, here’s some shots I took using Fraps – I doubt I’ll be back to BM for another six months, unless the UI and features suddenly get better but I just get the feeling it’s going to be a beautiful shopping place than a roleplaying arena. But what do I know?
BlueMars 2010-04-30 11-41-15-26

BlueMars 2010-04-30 11-42-22-39

BlueMars 2010-04-30 11-42-40-70

BlueMars 2010-04-30 11-45-01-75

Pre-Posting Edit: By the time you read this, these shots will be a month old and the original text a couple of weeks (I schedule 90% of my posts weeks in advance and then shift them around a lot as stuff happens – this post was originally scheduled for the end of July but I brought it forward as I’m currently exploring other worlds). Since I wrote this at the beginning of June quite a bit has happened to BM if the email newsletter I received today is to be believed. There is a shop open in Caledonia, meet & greets with Blu$ prizes are taking place, people are developing new skins & looks and there is even classes in roleplay going on. The last two float my boat big style. I’m still not jumping in yet – the UI is just horrible and the lack of snapshot feature annoys me as regular readers to this blog (all three of you) will know all to well – but this is promising and maybe I’ll go back sooner than the six months I mentioned above.

First Day in Inworldz

Well, I’m made the leap. I’ve taken the first step. I’ve gone forth, boldly. I’ve… oh, alright, I registered for Inworldz and went in for the first time last night. Jeez! You guys have no sense of drama!

Anyhoos, the registration was easy, the download was painless (31Mb – a little bigger and slower than SL or KirstenLee’s V2) and the log in was fine. So far, so SL. Hell, even the look of the place was SL (I was pleasantly surprised to see windlight used so the world looked just a lovely as SL). It was funny using the Inworldz viewer as it’s based on LL’s V1 viewer and although I’ve been using KirstenLee’s V2 for weeks now (and quite liking it) I have to say that V1 is simply nicer. I don’t know what it is, but it looks and feels less crowded and noisy and busy. Sigh, it really showed me how much work V2 has to do to catch up, if the Lab will ever try to. Anyhoo, I digress.

Upon arrival I was greeted by a volunteer – at this point I was still a cloud as I hadn’t realised I needed to open my inv and wear the basic shape, skin & hair. I remained a cloud for quite sometime before this occurred to me. I tried several relogs and was about to call it a night when a tweet from my mate Violet Faulds told me she was logging in to meet me. Meet we did and we had a great chat for half an hour before I had to leave. Violet logged out too but just as Salazar logged in – honestly Sal, it was nothing personal 😉

So, here for your viewing pleasure are pictures from my very first day in a new world. This is more than I ever did in SL where I didn’t know I could take pics for six months and have since deleted all of the ones I did take – donkey!

EDIT (16th June 10): I’m still HeadBurro Antfarm in Inworldz – friend me if you are there or come in 🙂

Here I am 30 seconds in with the helpful volunteer – I’m still a cloud at this point.
First time in InWorldz_001

Here I was in a random sim (it was a garden & plant shop – very nice too) and it shows how like SL it is with nice graphics, etc.
First time in InWorldz_002

Here I am lonely on a rock just before Violet came to rescue me 🙂 Gorgeous Windlight sunset!
First time in InWorldz_005

Here I am with violet – I’m the cloud and she’s the noob looking av with freebie clothes 🙂
First time in InWorldz_006

When I finally realised I have to wear my shape & skin I also remembered how I’d removed my shirt in an attempt to kick-start the Edit Appearance mode. It didn’t but it did show everyone I was a lady with white nipples. must be a circulation problem, poor love.
First time in InWorldz_008

And this is the current me – totally default Runthie 😀 A trip to Yadni’s freebie place is in order, me thinks 🙂
First time in InWorldz_010

A Burro On Mars!

As I struggle through RL’s hectic time schedule at the moment, it would appear my neglected avatar has taken umbrage at my absense and booked himself on to a rocket ship tour to a newly blued Mars where they seem to be accepting new tester recruits. Here is the blighter after removing gazelle skin!
BlueMars 2009-09-05 08-37-01-90

And in the welcome area (with a constant trickle of SLers wondering how to move and change thier POV!)
BlueMars 2009-09-05 08-38-45-18

He went to a city…
BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-13-01-18

Although it was quite empty…
BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-01-45-93

BlueMars 2009-09-05 08-59-27-15

He also marvelled at the graphics! The splashes and dust when running through water…
BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-05-27-06

BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-05-32-07

And look! Water on the lens as you come pan out of the sea!
BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-06-06-54

The shadows are lovely…
BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-07-57-18

BlueMars 2009-09-05 09-09-18-48

He seems to be having a good holiday, doesn’t he… lucky bugger!