SNOWBALL TO AFFILIATES: YOU ARE *SO* SPECIAL [Author: lum]

Gamers.com is reporting that Snowball/IGN is launching a revamp of its affiliate program in December. “Premier”, or first-tier affiliates, will continue as they are currently, while “Select”, or second-tier affiliates will be hosted by and linked to from the IGN network, but will recieve no ad banners (and, more importantly, ad banner revenue) from Snowball/IGN.

“It would have been nice for Snowball/IGN to have come out immediately to its second-tier `Select’ affiliates and explain that the more important affiliates will still receive ad banners from a first-party. Instead, us `Select’ or second-class affiliates were not even informed of the `Premier’ tier. Every affiliate I know is looking at their options; people want out,” an anonymous affiliate said.

It’s unclear if Vault Network, Snowball’s network of sites covering massively multiplayer games, are considered “Premiere” or “Select”.

We will continue to cover the meltdown of the advertiser-supported World Wide Web as it continues to collapse. And laugh. Nervously. Meanwhile, here on C-Net, get ready for huge honkin’ ads in the middle of the story. Threats by LumCorp to hold their breath and turn blue rather than add these “site slayers” were unconfirmed at this time.

UPDATE: I was reminded that Vault Network is in fact wholly owned by Snowball and thus not technically an affiliate.

EVERQUEST GUIDE SUICIDE AN ELABORATE HOAX? [Author: lum]

Adrenaline Vault is reporting today that KanOkla, the ISP that the posts by “Sheyla”, the EQ guide who supposedly killed herself last weekend, were traced to, point to the suicide story being a hoax.

The Adrenaline Vault, working with representatives of KanOkla, the Internet service provider which had provided modem service for the person identified as \’e2\’80\’9cLeza,\’e2\’80\’9d has established that the person, who claimed she was living in Colorado, was actually dialing in from northern Oklahoma. The login used actually belonged to another KanOkla customer in the Kansas area, which ISP staff believe may have been used without the actual account-holder\’e2\’80\’99s knowledge.

The alleged suicide on Saturday was initially reported by a person who had previously claimed to be the subject\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’9csister,\’e2\’80\’9d and was confirmed later in the week in e-mails, web posts, and Internet chats by her \’e2\’80\’9cmother\’e2\’80\’9d and \’e2\’80\’9chusband.\’e2\’80\’9d ISP staff say a real-life person matching the “husband’s” name, who has been traced to the same location in northern Oklahoma as “Leza” was dialing from, previously held a dial-in account with their company. That account was recently discontinued by KanOkla for unrelated violations of a service agreement. The same person\’e2\’80\’99s phone line was also recently discontinued.

None of the communications from any of the supposed relatives are otherwise traceable, and repeated attempts to reestablish communication with them have failed. As well, a personal website belonging to \’e2\’80\’9cLeza,\’e2\’80\’9d containing pictures and information about her EverQuest guild, was deleted in full two nights ago, a full four days after her alleged death. Police in the town where this dial-ins were traced to say there have been no incidents in their area that could match the alleged suicide in the last several weeks.

The journalist who broke the story, \’e2\’80\’9cLum the Mad,\’e2\’80\’9d said he was still uncertain about the story\’e2\’80\’99s veracity. \’e2\’80\’9cI still haven\’e2\’80\’99t been able to confirm or deny the story, and am still trying to determine if it actually happened,\’e2\’80\’9d said Lum, a frequent and vocal critic of Verant Interactive, the company behind the massively popular EverQuest fantasy game. In the ensuing week, the comment boards on Lum\’e2\’80\’99s site have been filled with eulogies and poetry to the departed \’e2\’80\’9cLeza.\’e2\’80\’9d

My own sources who previously assured me that they had spoken to “Leza’s” relatives and confirmed her death are backpedaling furiously. I also have been unable to locate Sheyla or any of her relatives, either in Colorado or Oklahoma.

If she wanted attention, she certainly got it.

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? [Author: lum]

Bullies on the Playground

This article is prompted by, but not entirely limited to, a phenomenon that has appeared on the Rodcet Nife server, (and other servers, if the posts on the boards are any indication). EQ is by no means the only place we can observe the behavior, but by its very nature it is a perfect breeding ground for it. To this writer it is only the most recent example of fundamental flaws in EQ and how Verant chooses to address or ignore them.

Who am I? Three weeks ago I played a 52 ranger on Rodcet named Skyrain Dreamweaver. Now I don’t. The fun is gone. There had been a number of issues that had blunted the fun over the past months, but it is the following that finally made me realize the stress level was higher than the fun level, and for the present anyway it looks like that will remain. Here’s what has happened:

EQ is at its core a very simple game with very simple scoring. Players are judged by their levels and the loot they’ve acquired. There is nothing else. There are no real-world rewards offered in the design of course (EBay is a whole other discussion), just these measurements of status in the game world much as salaries and Porsches are used to measure status in real life. Verant tell us there are others ways to play the game, and other reasons. This point of view is seemingly blind to the reality of how the game is played by the majority of the player base. We’ll explore why this has happened later.

Verant is faced with a virtual baby boom of high level players. This has caught them off guard. They expected it to take much longer for people to reach high levels. They thought there would be enough new players coming in to smooth the demographics. This hasn’t happened. There are now hundreds of 46+ players on Rodcet, and more achieving that level every day. Their response has been three-fold.

1) They added an extra ten levels.

2) The have added higher-level content from individual quests to new zones to the Kunark expansion pack (and Velious is now right around the corner).

3) Lastly, they have done everything they can apparently think of to make achievement in the game harder and harder. Gordon Wrinn has more than once expressed the Verant philosophy:

“I do think that players should and can trust that we’ll do what we can in order to ensure that EverQuest remains a game that people want to play. After all, it’s been shown that people do no like to play games that are too easy and where there is no challenge in playing. It’s been shown that there is no feeling of accomplishment that comes, for instance, in obtaining an item that “everyone” else has, or has relatively unrestricted access to.”

The fact is that the challenge seems to be simply increasing the amount of experience points needed to level, or forcing players to wait for hours on end to get a chance at a rare drop. Remember: levels and loot, that’s all there is.

There had been earlier instances of the phenomenon I call “bullies on the playground,” but it was possible for other players to find different corners of the playground to play in. With the demographic bulge of players at the top of the xp ladder, this has now changed.

On Rodcet we have a couple dozen guilds at least who are capable of doing planes raids, and taking down some of the most powerful mobs on their own. It was crowded, but apart from the isolated incident, most guilds were getting their chances at the uber-mobs and the planes because those that got there first had moved on.

The most recent attempt to add higher level content has been the addition of the epic quests. Because completion of many (most? all?) of them required loot from uber-mobs and the planes, players who had their complete sets of planes armor and uber-weapons needed to return there for the quests. Now the over-crowding has reached the stage that famous psych experiment in over-population reached decades ago. The mice are beginning to eat each other. It used to be individuals screaming over a stolen kill, or the pre-emption of someone’s camp. Now entire groups of people are up in arms. Take a look at the message boards. Listen in game.

What has happened is this: the bullies have taken over playground.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

The guild system in EQ was never implemented quite the way the designers have intended. More than one has listed publicly some of the additional things they wanted to do. But in fact guilds have prospered. In the beginning it was individual hunters who grouped together, found some whom they liked grouping with more than others, and eventually formalized these relationships in guilds. This was by design. It helped foster community, a necessity for the survival of any persistent world.

For a long time there were very few guilds. You could do a /who all on a zone, find 35 people (overcrowding as defined in those days!), only one or two had guild tags. GMs met in game with guild leaders to finalize each one. Now the situation is reversed. Most players, even low levels who didn’t need to be in a guild in the past, now carry guild tags. In fact it’s somewhat of a stigma for high-level players not to have one. They are suspect. Maybe they kill steal\’e2\’80\’a6 maybe they can’t play their characters well enough for anyone to want them\’e2\’80\’a6

As the mobs became harder and harder, guilds increased in importance. Consolidations and takeovers occurred, much like corporations, to increase guild strength to the point where the highest mobs could finally be conquered. The uber-guilds were born. These were made up for the most part of those players who recognized the only signs of status in the game were levels and loot, and a few others who wanted the greater strategic and tactical challenges taking down a high-level mob offered.

And as long as there was enough loot to go around there were few problems. But the players leveled and multiplied, and soon it was relatively easy for the uber-guilds to take down a dragon or a god. And they were doing it so much those people newly arrived at the higher levels weren’t getting their shot. Verant responded by the level cap on those who could fight dragons. Did it work? That’s another discussion. But there was a recognition at least that something was “unfair” and needed to be addressed by Verant. Important point to keep in mind: a precedent was set.

The number of higher-level players continued to increase. Squabbling over the planes and uber-mobs increased as well. Verant looked at their options for satisfying players, and rightly surmised that more content was needed. But here is where they made their newest mistake. They made it necessary for everybody, even those who had killed the biggest mobs enough times to feed the biggest great white hunter’s ego, to kill them even more times. To make the quests “harder” they made the drops less frequent. So the mobs had to be killed even more often. I have heard it said that Verant may actually limit the number of epic weapons that can be obtained on any server. True or not, result? People feel an even greater need to kill those few poor mobs, and kill them now.

And in the rush to compete with all the other higher level guilds, toes are getting stepped on. More and more. Impassioned and bitter arguments have sprung up when two groups have collided in their attempt to hunt the same mob or plane at the same time.

Some guilds are trying to work through diplomacy to settle disagreements. Two casual “notification” systems have been attempted: posts in the EQ Vault Rodcet Nife Forum (a forum that otherwise resembles the magic marker scrawls on restroom stalls) and a calendar.

Both are of limited success because the bullies, emboldened by Verant’s hands off policy (“You can’t reserve the planes.”), simply ignore them. They have stated that they are going to kill anything they want, when they want, because they can. Alliances have been formed. Uber alliances of uber guilds routinely race to kill uber mobs before anyone else has a chance.

The two systems collide. More alliances are formed in opposition. (Check the box your game came in. Was any of this listed on the cover? “Have large groups of roving strangers trample on your good time!” “Try and create a new reservation system that others will respect!”)

More hard feelings grow. The diplomacy at times mirrors the playground as well. The bullies push people around, demanding they be asked first before others can attempt the greatest prizes. You want to play on the swings? You wait until we’re done. If enough kids band together maybe they can beat the bullies to the swings, and their larger numbers as a group may help protect them!

The bullies have a response to the complaints about them monopolizing the few high-level hunts: “Why can’t we share?” Next we’ll examine the playground concept of sharing.

A Child’s Guide to Sharing

There are two common answers from the playground bullies on Rodcet when these issues are raised. First we have impassioned defenses for their right to have fun. They are big and strong. Why should they wait around for lesser guilds to get their acts together? Why should they stand and wait, not having fun, while others have fun? Interesting philosophy. I’d be curious to see how it would play out at Disney World. Oh wait, it couldn’t. Disney governs who goes on which rides when. They even have rules of conduct for the millions who visit every year. Never mind, doesn’t apply to EQ I guess.

The other common answer from the bullies is that since there are so many planes-capable guilds, and so few planes, the only solution is “sharing.” Interesting use of the word. It is of course an attempt to claim some reasonably high moral ground. “But we want to share! What do you have against sharing?” But what is it really? It is another bully tactic. And here is how it works\’e2\’80\’a6

Ashley has been playing with her favorite doll. Her friend Brittany wants to play with it, but Ashley got there first. Brittany is older than Ashley, so she takes the doll, promising to share after she’s had her turn. The fact is that what Brittany has done is not sharing, but coercion. Ashley has two choices: to wait her “turn,” or to plead her case to a higher authority, someone “bigger” than Ashley: an adult. But the damage has been done. Because Brittany could take the doll, she did.

We see this behavior in children all the time. What do we call them? Ah yes: Brats.

On a plane sharing means two things: incredible lag, and the larger guild gets the most pulls. They can recover faster, get more statics, more loot, etc.

Is there a higher authority in Everquest? No, not really. To their credit Verant polices certain social aspects of the game: harassment, racism, and a few others. Of course, if they didn’t, they’d risk legal action. But what about something like disputes over the facilities, the activities, the fun stuff in the game? The policy is explicitly to NOT get involved. But wait, didn’t we mention they nerfed the level limits on dragons? Wasn’t that a precedent?

Sharing has been institutionalized for adults, because believe it or not there are adults who never learned all their social lessons properly. At a tennis club for example you do indeed reserve courts for a set period of time. And if someone steps on someone else’s reservation, they risk penalties imposed on them. If they refuse to accept the penalties, they can get kicked out of the club. Even public courts post rules, but there is an important distinction. Public courts are for the most part free. Tennis clubs charge dues. You pay for your fun. And part of the responsibility of the club is to do everything it can to guarantee the fun for all members.

Everquest is not free. We pay for our fun. You’d think we’d have a right to expect those who govern Everquest to take the responsibility to do everything they can to ensure we have it. What has gone wrong?

Verant’s Adventures in Wonderland

The fact is, there is a great difference between the game originally envisioned by the designers, the game I think they truly believe they -have- designed, and the game their player base is actually playing.

They have trouble coming up with solutions because they don’t -seem- to see the problems. It’s no wonder communication between players and Verant can at times resemble the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

1. In answer to players’ complaints about long camps, we’re told that’s only one way to play the game. Players will be disappointed if that’s all they do.

But it’s the -only- way to get the best items in the game. Even the epic quests are simply longer strings of FedEx shipments and camps. And as was pointed out in my first post there are only two ways to measure success in the game: levels and loot. High-level players are judged as much by what they are wearing than any skill they might have at playing their characters. “Is that a complete suit of thorny vine?! You rock, bro!”

GM “events” like Halloween where nothing really happens except every low level in the zone gets slaughtered until an uber guild moves in and reaps the drops. I was intrigued by Absor’s admission that he likes being a victim. Bill Troost’s defense of the player as victim as part of the “story-telling was equally illuminating. There’s a word for people who like to be victims. It’s called masochism.

You REALLY think people are paying you their money to be VICTIMS? Not heroes? But VICTIMS? Ignoring Joe Campbell, Tolkien, every action/adventure film ever made, all tabletop RPGs and MUDs, Psychology 101, and god knows what else, simply to try and defend an event structure that had not improved one iota on the Halloween “event” from a year before? I guess you can’t really learn from mistakes, if you don’t see you’ve made any.

3. The recent comments in response to casual players is a perfect example of how they fail to recognize the importance of the other game scoring device: leveling.

I’ve talked with a great many game designers. To a one all understand that “waiting” as a game dynamic is a terrible thing to design into your game. Yet it is at the core of the “challenge” in Everquest. Enforced boredom (You want that Testament of Veneer? You wait.) brought on by static camps from the lowest “quest” item to the highest uber-mob is a fundamental aspect of the design of the game.

How can casual gamers possibly hope to compete for these drops. And who is Verant to suggest that they’re playing the game wrong if they even expect to?

Yes, EQ HAS turned its back on casual gamers. Of course it has. And of course they’re penalized by the narrowness of what it means to “advance.” The designers have been mesmerized by the hard core gamers, and their demands for more and more. The baby boomers want their toys. And EQ has no more ways to respond than make more items available, make more camps and longer ones.

What the epic quests would do to competition among the higher levels for the few resources should have been obvious. Gordon Wrinn should not have been allowed to announce publicly how all the quests were working, and the long time it took to design each one. How do these things happen? Here’s one possibility:

How many “designers” does Verant have working on Everquest? At times they seem to outnumber Q&A.

I’m reminded of a cartoon an artist friend had posted above his desk. It showed a classically stereotypical artist complete with pointy beard, beret, smock, palette and brush, poised before a blank canvas on a tripod. He is standing at the end of a long table lined with men in suits. The caption was: Art by Committee. Now, whether EQ is art or not is not the issue. But the fact is that committees rarely manage to make ANYTHING great or enduring. The Porsche was not designed by a committee. “Hamlet” was not written by a committee. Neither was “MULE” for that matter.

One person can have a vision certainly. Two? Of course: Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley. But every time you add another pair of eyes the vision starts to blur. Without a guiding hand to hold all of the threads, and tie up all of the loose ends, visions unravel. And what started out to be a sweater looks more like an ever-growing expanse of patchwork.

The epic quests? Each one done by a different individual who apparently had lost the telephone extension and email of all the others.

Are we having fun yet?

Is addiction fun? Only part of the time.

What could Verant do about the fundamental problems of EQ, if they could wake up one morning to a satori, and discover there ARE problems?

Well, they could take the road they have in the past. Deny there are problems, then scurry to address them in the next expansion (Trying in Kunark to reduce those static spawns that are “only one way” to play the game for example.) Then address it by adding more of the same. Higher mobs, higher weapons, the need for 50 people to kill one thing instead of forty, increasing rarity of drops. It is a game after all of levels and loot, remember? If there were anything else to EQ, their solutions would address it, wouldn’t they?

I repeat: there is a great difference between the game originally envisioned by the designers, the game I think they truly believe they -have- designed, and the game their player base is playing.

Until some recognition of that occurs, don’t expect anything approaching a legitimate solution.

Wonder why they demographics are so skewed to the high end? The mantra we hear chanted in the halls of Verant most often in the face of criticism is that now there are over 300,000 registered players of EQ. More than AC or UO, yes. But it’s such a drop in the bucket of internet users, even internet gamers, I’d be embarrassed. And remember how long ago they announced that first 200,000? And how long it took to get half of that this time? Do a graph. Would you buy that stock?

The fact is that even the hardcore are getting restless, and there are promising competitors emerging on the horizon.

So what are we left with in the meanwhile? More and more loot? More and more waiting? And at the end a higher end game where the players are forced to govern themselves like some teeming crucible of democracy disguised as entertainment.

What about that signpost to a solution? There are two parts:

First, stop being defensive. As hard as that might be. Stop it. Stop blaming your player base. Gordon Wrinn:

“It’s a bit depressing. On one hand we have a ton of players asking for more GM interaction within the game, more quests, better stories, etc., and on the other we have the hecklers who scream any time we make an attempt to drag them away from their 4 hour stop-watch campfest that they complain constantly about\’e2\’80\’a6

\’e2\’80\’a6There are many dynamic quests, and contrary to popular belief they usually entail something beyond GMs just running out and killing everyone. If people would take a second before nuking the central character, maybe they’ll find out what it is all about.”

There was also a sad quote from one of the “designers” at the recent launch party. I wish I could find it now, but basically he was insisting there was a full, rich storyline in Everquest, and that people were simply failing to uncover it. This is such a page from the amateur writer’s scrapbook, it needs to be mentioned. Successful writing is 1) inspiration and talent and 2) the ability to present the work to the audience so that it can experience it. If you fail at number two, one is meaningless. Stop blaming your audience if they don’t get it!

People are simply playing the game you designed. If it isn’t the one you wanted to design, or thought you designed, then change it.

If you truly feel that the calendars and scheduling conflicts are immersing players even more in the world of Norrath; if you truly feel the bullies have a right to their fun more than others simply because they are bigger and stronger; if you truly feel the uber-guilds should have fun at Halloween events while lower level characters get to play victims; if this truly -is- the vision, then sit back, and let the good times roll.

But if you suspect there may be serious problems, and you can get beyond blaming your customers, start accepting responsibility. Re-examine the design openly. Trust your players a bit more. If you play black box management of your player base (“Epic quests are all working.” “No problems with rangers.”), when you finally do try to improve something, you shouldn’t be surprised you get more backlash than thanks.

And govern the world you have created. Everquest is not a free public playground. People pay money to play here. It is not their responsibility to ensure that all players in the playground have fun. It is yours.

Believe it or not there is much that I find fine and entertaining and beautiful about Everquest. I would have not spent the past three weeks researching and writing this, if I didn’t mourn what EQ could have been. Might be. But it is a flawed gem, and it is fracturing along the fault lines.

Is Everquest fun?

Not anymore. Not for Skyrain. Not at level 52. So he asked me to write this to try and express his frustration and sadness. I hope I have in some small way done him justice.

CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE RUNESABRES OF WAR [Author: lum]

UO Stratics interviewed Kirk “Runesabre” Black, lead programmer of Ultima Online: Red Dawn (you think I’m joking, wait until the Soviet tesla troopers land in Vesper!). Lots of good quotes about everything UO related from the man who until recently was under the Origin Cone of Silence.

Removing RoT [from Siege Perilous was one of the tougher decisions I have had to make. In the end I supported the removal of RoT because its my opinion that RoT is not really what makes Siege. What makes Siege are the player interactions and the ability to truly affect the environment and decide what is right and wrong within the game confines. Additionally, Siege is very much a hard shard in my opinion. What I felt RoT did was impose an arbitrary limitation that players could not overcome. It was unnatural and limiting to a lot of players. Knowing that you would simply NOT gain skill because the system decided you couldn’t was a little odd. At the same time I like a lot of the things RoT brought to the table. When you see a GM in a RoT skill you know for certain they couldn’t have taken the easy route. RoT let players simply play without worrying about skill gain. Skill gain would eventually come… they would eventually GM their skills. And finally it really leveled the gap between powergamers and players who only had a couple hours a day to play. Both types of players could build up powerful characters in roughly equivalent time. What RoT didn’t accomodate were the weekend warriors. RoT was built around the idea of the player playing on a daily basis. Players who only played weekends were still left far behind in character building. At any rate, the overall stigma of RoT is another reason for its removal. Over and over, I heard the same thing from various boards and emails “I would play SP if not for RoT”

GUILD DISBANDED ON RATHE: UBER ARROGANCE, GM INCOMPETENCE OR SIMPLE SOCIOLOGY? [Author: lum]

The latest rumors on the server have it that after intentionally training 2 guilds in PoF in full view of a GM, said GM (Alkiron) did a server-wide announcement looking for any BotS guild officer, after which all BotS members suddenly lost their guild affiliation.

BotS members posting to the same thread claim that Alkiron had a grudge against the guild, the so-called “training” of the other guilds was accidental and done by someone not affiliated with BotS, no one knew what they were talking about, and STFU.

As always, the real story is a tad more complex.

The Rathe is one of the more crowded servers in EQ. As a result, early on in its history a “reservation system” was laid out, where guilds could “lay claim” exclusively to a given plane or dragon. Many thought this was necessary, since with 2 or more guilds in a given high-level killzone, lag and cross-pulling pullers inevitably lead to many corpses.

BotS was one of the guilds who not only were the cornerstone of the “reservation system”, but who earlier who decided to begin a reservation system not only for planes, but for, well, pretty much anything with phat l3wt. As noted in the somewhat controversial post that laid out this new “Epic Mob Reservation System”, if this system were not adhered to, BotS and other guilds would “go FFA in the planes”, or ignore the reservation system. As another guild in Fear last night reported, BotS did in fact decide to “go FFA”. (BotS for their part claim that the other guilds requested their assistance.)

Thanks in large part to the confusion caused by BotS’s forced entry into Fear, lots of people died, and immediately petitioned the oncall GM that BotS was training them to get Fear for themselves. For WHATEVER REASON, the GM found this believable and disbanded the guild (he was quoted by a BotS member as saying that he heard the arguments of those who supported BotS’ position and chose to ignore them).

For their part, BotS is supposedly re-forming under a new name (“Blades of Destiny”).

So what caused all this? Easiest way to describe it: too many mice, not enough cheese. BotS that night were simply looking to harvest “god loot” (when “negotiating” with the other guilds present they offered them all loot save premium caster loot and whatever the gods dropped). Like any other multiplayer game, EQ is all about resource management. And at the highest levels, there simply aren’t enough resources to go around. As an attempt to mandate scarcity of the best “phat lewt”, Verant simply made them harder to obtain (part of why all this happened over the past 2 days is that the recent patches caused the servers to reset, and all the “rare mobs” such as Cazic Thule and Dracholiche to spawn).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a high level player alive who will settle for second best in the interest of play balance or maintaining an economy of scarcity. If a player invests the mind-shattering amount of time necessary to become “planes-capable”, they will get everything that they need. And fuck anyone in their way.

Which results in attitudes reflected by this observer on Whineplay:

BoTS– it is too late. Too many people hate you now for the things you have done in the past. You are going to be taken down now one way or the other, whether you are innocent or not.

So what should we take away from this? Game design decisions often have unintended consequences. In Everquest, Player vs. Player happens – whether Verant wants it to or not.

WILL THE REAL MRS. THE MAD PLEASE STAND UP [Author: Lums Other Half]

As of course you know – most of our happy little family here at LumCorp trekked down to Austin for the past few days to attend the UO Faire. We met a lot of really great folks, got a ton of positive and some constructive negative feedback, had great fun pelting people with small rubber objects (not to be confused with those OTHER rubber objects a few booths down from us – more on that later) and all in all – a great time was had by all.

Before I go into the trip – let me clear up one small misconception that is apparently more widespread than I thought. I am Mrs. The Mad. That’s what LOH stands for, Lum’s Other Half. I’ve taken some flack over not having my ‘own identity’ at times, when in fact I do – I picked that handle and I wear it quite proudly.

First we had some folks thinking Myschyf attended – and most that were
confused thought she was the sweet young thing hanging around our booth in the stylish floor length PVC black hefty bag. (Not to be confused with our beloved leader Auereus who was the sweet young male thing in the matching stylish PVC hefty bag suit with stylish whip accessory over his shoulder.) No, that was Lietgardis – Myschyf did not attend. Both Auereus and Liet assured us that their outfits were unplanned, but they did make one of the nicest well coordinated couples there. Pity they aren’t a couple.

Second misconception newsflash Myschyf is NOT married to Lum – at least not that they’ve let ME know about. I am fairly certain of this fact. If nothing but empirical proof will serve, Myschyf was told of this upon our arrival home and it’s reported she fell to the ground laughing, and we are hopeful here at the Lum hacienda that she didn’t hurt anything like her writing arm in the process.

I was shocked at the number of people that came up to ME and said they
liked my writing. Honored, humbled – and at this moment confused. It wasn’t till after I had heard enough Myschyf is married to Lum comments that I began to wonder. Ummmm, do they like what I write – or do they like what Myschyf writes – or perhaps Liet? Not that it matters in the slightest – we were deeply touched that folks found articles here at Lums to be worthwhile reading, at times funny and at times a voice for them. That’s why we write and personal feedback of that nature (both good and bad) was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Ok, now that that is all out of the way – let’s go onto some stray Faire notes.

Step 1 – find the freaking convention center.

We were following someone who shall remain nameless – oh yeah – just follow me. We had no idea we had Mario Andretti on staff. Anyway, once we got into the bowels of Austin downtown – we promptly lose our guide. But that’s ok – Lum has great Sense Heading. We’ll just keep going towards the less than stellar part of town – everyone knows of course that’s where all cities put their convention centers. Follow the telltale signs to the redlight/homeless part of town – BINGO – there it is. I must say Austin’s ‘bad’ part of town is quite a bit nicer than Little Rock’s – score one for Texas.

We arrive – find the group in the lobby. The HAPPY FUN BALLS have arrived, which of course were immediately decrated and start flying thru the air towards those patient people in queue to register. Amid mumblings of WTF, and that look from the VERY patient, sweet Austin Police Officer that did not seem to appreciate he had just been beaned with an OFFICIAL happy fun ball, from that moment on our mission was to make sure everyone was in proud possession of at least one. Some lucky souls even came away with two – one black and one VERY RARE white happy fun ball. A few that demonstrated sufficient juggling skill were even given three. Moral of this story – well, there are several.

Austin Police Officers have a much better sense of humor than those around here. Score two for Texas.

Not every woman has the opportunity to give away her husband’s balls for two days.

Some people like to tempt fate – although clearly marked DO NOT TAUNT – Fun Balls were seen taunted on a regular basis (Note – YOU WERE WARNED).

Small soft pieces of rubber make infinitely superior missiles over messy vegetables and rotten fruit for less than stellar performers.

Step 2 – why we were really supposed to be there

For conferences and face time with OSI – I’ll give them an A. Things did not run quite as smoothly as they probably could have in some aspects – but this was OSIs first attempt at this and I for one was prepared for many more glitches than the very minor ones that did occur. For the most part – the conferences were a huge success. Perhaps more important I’ll give these guys an A+ for effort – and for getting out and mingling and talking to folks when they WEREN’T in an organized conference. It would have been easy to have huddled away from the crazed masses in anything but an official forum, but they were all knee deep in people one to one when not officially occupied elsewhere. That took some guts guys – I salute you.

Over in the corner there was a silent auction for charity – GREAT TOUCH. Old copies of the Ultimas including Akalabeth were up for bids – as well as many little dragon statuettes hand painted by various OSI staffers and developers.

Entertainment ranged from ummmm, eclectic – yeah – that’s a good word, eclectic – to pretty damn good. The Madrigal singers from UT were excellent and I enjoyed the Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations very much. I was a bit disappointed Midas didn’t perform, but was told he is a definite possibility for the next and that circumstances prevented him being at this one. The Grim Fairies also performed. Ummmm, they sound great in the UO2 demos but live – ummmm – maybe it was the heroin chic chick in the funky fairie outfit prancing around with what looked like a dimestore wand, bent double like she had some bad sushi the night before – grunge fairy is not my cup of tea I guess. I chalked it up to the marvels of electronic editing. Given enough electronic manipulation – anyone can look or sound good I suppose, but keep it Memorex – live loses something in the translation.

There weren’t many booths, I’m sure that can be expanded in the next faire. We had our booth of course – and Stratics had one. The folks directly across from us were selling ‘safe swords’ – basically nerf bats for big boys (and girls) to spar with – actually a pretty cool concept. I chatted with them a bit – they make each and every one lovingly themselves by hand. Not sure how many sales they got, but I sure enjoyed watching them and the folks that stopped by spar.

To our right was a costumer – a bit glitzy for my taste (I prefer my Ren costuming a bit more period accurate and less fantasy) but the stuff was nice. Not sure they sold anything other than a few hats, but they added to the feel nicely.

Down from them were the SCA guys – a natural for this type of Faire.

Now we come to the booth of contention – and arguably one of the more

popular booths. Forbidden Fruit is a store in Austin that sells all sorts of things – bondage gear, sex toys, etc. Ok – call me a prude now – go ahead, get it out of your system. THIS HAD NO BUSINESS BEING THERE. I don’t care how popular it was – I don’t care who in Austin may or may not consider it their favorite store – THERE WERE KIDS AT THIS CONVENTION. Big red dildos on display – and Satan’s Cheerleaders prancing about did NOT belong in this venue with children present. The PVC nun’s habit was simply in poor taste – but the rest crossed the line. I came perilously close to bringing our 13yr old son with us. If I had – THIS paragraph would have been my story – and on the front page. Perhaps folks that did bring their children would like to comment on this further.

I won’t comment a lot on the 3rd Dawn demos that were setup. I didn’t get a chance to set down and play with it personally – watched a lot. I’ll leave it to those that actually had hands on experience to comment as many already have. Given the stage it’s in – I thought it looked great and the expandability seems an awesome step forward for UO.

I’d probably have more to say about the UO2 trailer which was shown at the mixer at the end of the second day if I could have seen more of it than the top 3rd of the screen over folks heads. They ran it several times, I never could get to the front of the crowd to see it. I must say – the top 3rd looked spectacular.

IN OTHER EQ NEWS… [Author: lum]

Yes, there is some. Today is a huge patch for EQ, bringing it into compliance with/requiring DirectX7, adding a slew of interface enhancements, and supposedly fixing quests. My lizzy shaman thanks you, oh mighty quest godlings.

Gordon “I STILL WORK HERE DAMMIT” Wrinn posted a few days back on the planned future of Everquest. Basically, all basic design and balance issues would be “closed and locked”, and future development would focus on new content to the exclusion of all else.

Here’s the deal. Following Velious we will begin to freeze aspects of the game. We will become as firm on various issues as we have been on subjects such as melee binding or experience curves. Things that aren’t related to content will be closed down. First skills and their caps, stats, etc, followed by spells from the bottom up. We’ll then start reviewing some of the rarer items as well as quest rewards. Within a month or two we’ll get to the point that we’ll be focusing solely on content-related issues such as implementing new quests, fixing old ones, and more or less moving forward all of the time.

Nice work if you can get it; UO is still balancing its skills/characters four years after release. Then again UO didn’t get slammed by Jesus Christ, either!

Designers create female characters typically wearing outfits that resemble a rubber band and dental floss to cover their breasts and buttocks in combat while male characters are covered head-to-toe with plate armor. (Sexist or what?!) While only 7% of the online players in “Everquest” are actually female, a little over 50% of the played characters are female. This means about half of the male players are creating female characters and dressing them out of a Victoria\’e2\’80\’99s Secret catalogue. It is obvious that this is a male fantasy world.

You know, the thought of a 52 yr old pedophile manning the controls of that nubile wood elf druid makes me want to join a monastery. WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? (He’d play a cleric. DUH.)