OSI – UNABLE TO BAN HACKERS, HAPPY TO BAN COMPLAINERS [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

A representative of OSI stated that they are unable to determine if people logging into UO accounts are the actual owners of those accounts or not.

This is not the truth.

If a UO player hacks several accounts repeatedly over a period of two hours, OSI has admitted that it is entirely and completely helpless to stop this hacker. However, if the persons being hacked aren’t happy with this half-truth, and begin to post about it repeatedly on the UO Forums, OSI can and will ban for that.

(customer)”I was hacked”

(OSI)”Cant help you.”

(customer)”While waiting to hear from you, my friend was hacked.”

(OSI)”Your problem – not mine.”

(customer)”Then I’ll just post about this and see what the rest of the players think.”

(OSI) “We have banned your account. Good day.”

I never thought I’d see the day when Asheron’s Call took a harder stand against exploiters than Ultima Online.

Just to restate: OSI can and does track IP addresses of everyone logging into your account. And in ages past, they *have* followed the ‘hacker’s trail’ across many accounts, in order to nail and ban someone from Ultima Online.

True, they will not restore your account because they dont know how to restore individual database entries from the backups. Silly OSI. What’s this? They can’t restore anything without restarting the server? Who designed this game? Suggestion: hire a DBA for your next big project and you wont have that problem.

“But we cant tell if someone is lying just to get restored to before something bad happened to them.”

If you own a restaurant and you set out a candy dish for exiting patrons, you can’t tell who is taking one mint, and who is taking twenty mints – that doesn’t mean you stop putting out a mint tray. It means you have your waiter dispense the mints to each customer, and regulate the access the patrons have to your mint supply. You never dissatisfy your customers because you are worried one of them might try to take advantage of your fine service. Every owner of every restaurant that ultimately went out of business can tell you that.

ULTIMA ONLINE 2 TO BE RELEASED IN 2002? [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

Answer: NO (See update at the bottom)

From the Office of Unsubstantiated Rumors Based On Minimal Facts Allowed To Run Amok Around The Press Room, comes an interesting tid-bit about the once and future Origin product, Ultima Online 2. It seems that while there is no doubting the fact that Ultima Online 2 was shut down and the development staff fired, a reader who discovered an interesting item for sale by Electronics Botique could not help but wonder what this could mean.

<img border=”0″ src=”http://www.ebgames.com/assets/Thumbnails/198723.gif”
EBWorld’s curious little
icon reveals little.

I could not help but participate in said wonderment, given that it is 11:38pm here on the East Coast, there is no way on earth anybody is answering the emails over at Origin World Headquarters, and something tells me that any answer beyond, “total horse-hockey” would be filtered into the “no comment” machine. At any rate, if you wish to place a pre-order for your very own ULTIMA ONLINE 2 DRAGON BOX SET ($19.99), you can do so here. Just try to be patient as it is not expected to ship before July of 2002.

Update:
Our resident Spoony Bard, Virgil, solved the riddle for us in record time, digging up a rather substantial image from the warcry uo2 archives of a rather attractive McFarlane doll. We’re still not certain if this is being released by Electronic Arts or McFarlance Toys – but I’ve placed a pre-order. UO2 aside, these things look pretty cool.

PALADIN OF THE LOST HOUR [Author: Lum the Mad]

Briefly, Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian national, was jailed after addressing DefCon, an annual hacking and security conference, for violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by coding an application that strips the copy protection from electronic books. He’s currently out on bail. Elcomsoft’s website, Sklyarov’s company, now has pictures of the photogenic Sklyarov and his family, and appeals for justice in both English and Russian.

Now, the DMCA in itself is a bad law. Very few people, unless they work for the federal government, would disagree with this. It’s typical bureaucratic overkill: enacted as a reaction by powerful lobbies to the spread of digital copying of, well, everything. It empowers corporations to enlist law enforcement in their quest to enforce their own loosely defined standards of ownership. Again, it’s a bad law, and it needs to be overturned.

The “war on drugs” is also bad law, but that doesn’t make crack less addictive. And in the age of Napster, today’s crack is intellectual property. One little-travelled, not quite as highly publicized street corner on that bazaar is the traffic in e-books. The bazaar Sklyarov enabled.

Harlan Ellison had a problem with this.

Ellison has been, depending on who you talk to, a defender of liberty, an insane egomaniac, and a really funny writer. Most people familiar with his work think he’s all three. He wrote what most consider the best episode of the original Star Trek, was a creative consultant for what I consider the best series ever on television, and wrote a few other books that I read and to this day shamelessly ape. When he found out his books, sales of which he depends on to pay his bills, were being downloaded freely on the web, he wasn’t terribly amused. So he set out to shut the pirates down, in a tale that, well, would have worked well for a speculative fiction (Ellison hates the term “scifi”) story in ’68. Except that it’s the twenty-first century now, and fiction left the playground.

SFWA has allocated $5000.00 to help combat Internet infringement. Approximately 25% of this was paid to the attorney for the Heinlein estate who traveled to Russia in May and attempted to shut down some of the pirate archives established there which infringe on the works of many authors, including Harlan. Another 20% has been used to cover expenses in this case for DMCA subpoenas, online research charges, special research materials, service fees, messengers or incidental expenses. I intend to request the release of the remaining $2500.00 to defray upcoming expenses, including our continued attempts to identify the \’e2\’80\’9cDoe\’e2\’80\’9d infringers, but I know this money will not go far.

We are still attempting to identify and locate the individuals who have hidden behind false screen names and anonymous remailers to infringe on Harlan\’e2\’80\’99s work and on hundreds of other works of fiction. The individual we most want to identify, locate and serve with this lawsuit is Citizen 513, but there are others.

Citizen 513 was a RemarQ/SuperNews subscriber. We know that he has maintained an e-mail address in Canada called booklist@apexmail.com. Unfortunately, Apexmail doesn\’e2\’80\’99t require the use of a credit card to secure an address and Citizen 513 doesn\’e2\’80\’99t answer mail sent to him at this address. This address is for the receipt of electronic files of pirated works, so Citizen 513 can maintain his list of pirate works and other pirates request files from him. Citizen 513 had a web site with his list of works on Geocities for a while. He also had a server in Russia which stored the actual files (ftp://haali.po.cs.msu.su/enscifi/a.b.e-book), but we were able to shut that down. Sometimes, he gives the appearance of being in Australia and working for an electronic data company (hence his ability to get to unsecured servers) but we aren\’e2\’80\’99t sure of anything or even if he is male. Citizen 513 also appeared as anonymous@cotse.com and may also have used the name Worlock@supernews.com or \’e2\’80\’9cSwisslife\’e2\’80\’9d and others.

Ellison currently has a legal defense fund to help continue shutting down e-book sites, and a press release he and his attorney issued goes into great detail about his quixotic fight against Russian warez dumps and… um… AOL. Like any good ranter, his explanation is ALL IN UPPER CASE.

WE FILED A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE ABOVE PARTIES TO STOP THEM FROM POSTING MY WORKS ON THE INTERNET WITHOUT PERMISSION. THIS IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT. RAMPANT. OUT OF CONTROL. PANDEMIC.

AOL, REMARQ/CRITICAL PATH AND A HOST OF SELF-SERVING INDIVIDUALS SEEM TO THINK THAT THEY CAN ALLOW THE DISSEMINATION OF WRITERS\’e2\’80\’99 WORK ON THE INTERNET WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION, AND WITHOUT PAYMENT, UNDER THE BANNER OF \’e2\’80\’9cFAIR USE\’e2\’80\’9d OR THE IDIOT SLOGAN \’e2\’80\’9cINFORMATION MUST BE FREE.\’e2\’80\’9d A WRITER\’e2\’80\’99S WORK IS NOT INFORMATION: IT IS OUR CREATIVE PROPERTY, OUR LIVELIHOOD AND OUR FAMILIES\’e2\’80\’99 ANNUITY. WHY SHOULD ANY ARTIST, OF ANY KIND, CONTINUE CREATING NEW WORK, EKING OUT AN EXISTENCE IN PURSUIT OF A CAREER, FOLLOWING THE MUSE, WHEN LITTLE INTERNET THIEVES, RODENTS WITHOUT ETHIC OR UNDERSTANDING, STEAL AND STEAL AND STEAL, CONVENIENCING THEMSELVES AND \’e2\’80\’9cSCREW THE AUTHOR\’e2\’80\’9d? WHAT WE\’e2\’80\’99RE LOOKING AT IS THE DEATH OF THE PROFESSIONAL WRITER!

I\’e2\’80\’99M FIGHTING FOR MYSELF, OF COURSE, BUT I\’e2\’80\’99M ALSO DOING THIS FOR AVRAM DAVIDSON, WHO DIED BROKE; FOR ROGER ZELAZNY, WHO HAD TO WORK LIKE A DOG TILL THE DAY HE PITCHED OVER; AND FOR GERALD KERSH, WHOSE WORK WAS REPRINTED AND PIRATED IN SIXTY-FIVE COUNTRIES, WHILE HE HAD TO BORROW MONEY FROM FRIENDS TO FIGHT OFF THE CANCER. THIS IS YOUR FIGHT, TOO, GANG\’e2\’80\’a6 AND NOW WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Like any good story, it’s not black and white, just shades of greyscale. You can disagree with his suing AOL (apparently for developing Gnutella through Nullsoft, development of which AOL actually shut down instantly when they discovered it had been posted), or you can disagree with Remarq’s insistance that its facilitating of internet piracy through Usenet warez newsgroups is somehow covered by “fair use”. There aren’t any angels. In real life there are no paladins.

Just two sides to every story. And maybe on your way out to the next “Free Dmitry” rally, you might want to pitch a buck in the tip jar of the guy cleaning up Dmitry’s mess.

RUMORS, RUMORS, WHOSE GOT THE RUMORS [Author: myschyf]

How about a slightly different perspective? Maybe this belongs on Fatbabies, but I’ll post it anyway.

So let’s take a trip to a different land, a land of pure fantasy and conjecture. Yes, remember boys and girls, this is just a fairy story. Abashi and GMs aren’t real, and there are no dragons either.

Let’s visit a land where Verant’s employees are somewhat overworked, fallible, and sick, sick, sick of taking shit, day after day from unemployed dudes who have nothing to do but get strung out on caffeine and get burned by all the bugs in EQ 24 hours a day…

In an office, in a development studio, far far away:

A bunch of programmers at Verant are working away at the bug list.

The bug list is enormous, and they’re picking things that are either easy to fix and can be done quickly or that are really critical to prevent the game from being ‘sploited ’til it bleeds. They’re short handed because Luclin has stolen half their people, and some people quit to work on SWG/DaoC/etc. for more money and more senior positions.

The Sleeper’s script is not one of the priority items, and believing it functional nobody has touched it in months. They’ve completely forgotten that Velious was rushed out the door in a hurry to hit a deadline, and some of the high-end stuff got skimped on a bit. In fact some of it was never properly tested at all. Or that the sleeper script was hacked up by a junior on the live team a couple of months after shipping and actually isn’t scheduled for testing yet.

Meanwhile, in the deep dark depths of a network centre, on a server, something is stirring. Guild X, let’s call them Conquest to preserve their anonymity, has cooked up a plan to defeat the warders, or maybe they just want to farm the primal velium. A solitary GM is flipping through zones looking for something interesting to spy on rather than answering some boring petitions about stuck/invisivble corpses in SolB (ask a necro he thinks).

The GM checks the who list for ST, and it’s looking active. Lots of level 60s, and all from the same guild. A raid is on… He pops in to watch, unseen of course, and taps into the guildchat, which is already flooded with self congratulatory stuff on how l33+ their spell stacking knowledge is.

He watches them *not* being debuffed into helplessness when he’s sure they ought to be. Res effects and snare he thinks to himself. (He remembers readiong about how some of that is being fixed in the next patch). He watches the fourth warder not moving for 20 minutes. Pathing ‘sploit, he thinks to himself, and the guildchat seems to confirm there’s a little rule bending going on. We do have to wonder what’s going through the minds of the Conquest members present as the warder just sits there and lets them all rebuff and prep when it ought to be ripping them to shreds and summoning all and sundry.

There’re none of the boss people about, just some other GMs. He spins around his swivel chair and asks them what they think about a guild killing the fourth warder with a bunch of cheesy tactics – becaue by now they have moved onto the fourth warder, and it looks like they might win. The other GMs, well, they think that’s bad. ST is *special*, it’s not Vox, if they wake the Sleeper, people are going to notice! They joke about stuff liking waking the sleeper, banning the lot of them, etc. It’s not that they hate players, but day after day after day they see the very *worst* of the EQ playerbase, beggars, cheats, exploiters, whiners, aggressive, egotistical little shit thirteen year old brats trying to tell them that paying $10 a month makes them a little god. They think back to that lecture when they started where they were told that after network costs, and all that, maybe a dollar of profit is left, maybe two, depends on which accountant you ask. Bottom line, no more GMs will be appointed, so they better make their time count. So when he tells the other GMs about the clerics under the bridge, they all agree it’s an exploit.

It’s late, and he’s had too much coffee, and not enough sleep. The dog has fleas, his girlfriend is sick with flu, and it’s just not a great day for our beloved GM. He’s not thinking too clearly, but he knows he has to do something. He doesn’t really understand the details of the Sleeper script: this stuff is secret after all, and he wasn’t sure if he even dare ask about it. He might get accused of leaking info or something.

Nonethless, the GM decides to act to stop this potential disaster. He either kills the warder or wakes the Sleeper (facts get a bit fuzzy). Either way the sleeper pops and everything goes a bit wrong. The raging human sets about the remnants of Conquest who were being snuffed by the warder anyway.

Crap, thinks our friendly GM. I’d better cover my ass here. I’ll look a complete idiot if I let Conquest cook up a coherent story and lie their way out of the whole thing. It’s *obvious* they were up to no good, and they have it coming…

When Abashi pops into the office after a long lunch, he scans the boards, and it looks bad. Outlook is taking a while to fetch all that new email, half of it important, half of it annoying spam about the Conquest situation from all over the company, and from those annoying parasites: journalists.

He discounts the journalists and instead emails the lead on the live team to ask if the sleeper script is OK. Naturally the live team lead doesn’t have a clue, but he thinks it ought to be, so he emails Abashi that it is fine, and working as it should.

A few days later the excavation continues, and it seems that Conquest weren’t aware of what the warden was doing while they were buffing, and while their tactics were borderline, they’re supposed to be illegal. The Sleeper script has been found to be broken, and fixes are going in – but with the new oober warders it should be months before anyone gets past them. They have plenty of time to run a test, when time allows. In the meantime all efforts are on the pet aggro code, and they only have one tester left ‘cos the Luclin team stole the others. It will be weeks before they can get enough people together to properly test raid tactics.

Alas for the tiny slip, the typos and rushed work that went unfinished when the programmer hurried off to watch Planet of the Apes with his old college buddies. That little pet aggro bug that didn’t seem a problem because you had to be a sharp player to spot the change just became a bigger bug. The wrong file checked into version control, or a value was from 0 to 1 when the programmer thought it was from 0 to 255. Whatever the case, pets now aggro like crazy.

And so the warders fall again, and the avatar of war, and so on and on…

And the oober guilds are farming everything they can get left and right, and enchanters are suddenly being dragged out of retirement, because the loot is PHAT. Even the level 44 druid that only got to come ‘cos they are a friend of the leader got primal.

And so Abashi says the script isn’t broken because his live team told him so *again*, and you’d think this time they would get it right? And the live team lead isn’t going to explain to Abashi why the script may still be faulty, because it can’t be properly tested for another three months. Everyone covers their asses and reminds themselves that a year from now nobody will even care what stupid guild got themselves banned for what was almost certainly an exploit of some sort. Hey, it’s not like you’re not allowed to kill the mob with less people, but you shouldn’t be able to unless you’re pulling some trick.

So while the programmers and the testers, and the overworked GMs all try to make it work (and cover their asses anyway) they know no matter what they do every web site will hate them. The journalists will vilify them, and players will bitch. Players always bitch, and the bitching is a good sign. When they stop bitching it’s either because they’re not interested in the game, or they already left it. The bug list lives happily ever after, always too many bugs, too few programmers and far, far too much content for anyone to really have a clue what’s broken and what’s not.

As for our friend the Sleeper, he’s waiting for the players to solve the quest that will finish the circuit and put him back in his box, warders and all, and until that time no primal velium gets farmed. A win for everyone who isn’t in an oober guild.

Not to say that his script will work, because it’s still not been tested, but the live team lead isn’t going to tell Abashi that, it’s just not worth the effort. Instead he spends 30 seconds telling junior programmer number three that it better be fixed this time, and goes back to Project 2000 to see if there’s any way he can possibly get it tested before Xmas.

WINNING THE VAPORWARE WARS [Author: myschyf]

Dark Age of Camelot is out-selling Shadows of Luclin this week, winning the EB vaporware wars. Go team!

In other news, Sanya “Tweety” Thomas quit crotchwaffling and stopped talking to cats on planet Zygorn (love ya Tweets!) (she’s gonna kill me now, oh well) long enough to do a really superior interview with Voodoo Extreme. The thing that is so nice about this interview is that it provides one of the most succinct, information-filled overviews of DAOC that I’ve seen anywhere. If you are looking to find out what this game is all about, please go read this interview. You’d have to go through ten websites to get this much useful information and they’ve packaged it all up in an interview for you. A huge shout-out to both Robert “Apache” Howarth of Voodoo Extreme and Sanya for this nice piece of work.

I, DR. TWISTER, LEADER, OWNER, PRESIDENT, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, FINANCIAL COMPTROLLER, DADDY-O, MASTA OF DISASTA, GENERALISSIMO THIRD RANK, PROJECT SUPERVISOR, AND HOLDER OF THE SACRED BOUGH OF CHAOS, DECREE… [Author: myschyf]

So basically, as you may know, Dr. Twister has always been about bugs. Big bugs, small bugs, bland bugs, bugs with flavah — he likes them all. Its been his dream to bring you a bug database. He even approached gaming companies for help in this endeavor. Well that’s what he says anyway. Really I can’t make this stuff up.


Over the past several months, we have been developing an Online Bug Database, that I approached the Developers of various MMORPGs with back during E3. This database has never once been completely ready to go public, thus I never was ready to make the announcement. The much-guarded secret however escaped when x-reporters and the IGN deal came about.

However, this bug database, known as “Bug Alert” (The original name of my first web site), is the root of all that is happening at DTN right now. See, I basically realized that the bug database was something I felt extremely passionate about. It’s something that I believe will bring great good to the gaming industry while at the same time, bring back bugs to DTN in a way that I was never truly able to accomplish when I had first started this network three years ago. It’s back to my original founding that I had to go in order to realize what decisions I was being faced with.

And you thought he didn’t care. Shame on you. See?! He cares deeply. I find it hard to believe that the “Developers [sic] of various MMORPGs” didn’t spit in his face when he approached them with the idea of a bug database back at E3 (especially since I was of the opinion that he spent the majority of his time stalking Lum) but you know if he says it, it must be true. It has to be every Developer’s [sic] dream to have a database around where any Tom Dick or Twister can log in to find out how to wreck the game. Woot!

I’ve written IGN for comment about this rumor (I know I should go to the ex-Dr.Twister-writers for comments but just this once I think I’ll break with tradition and go to the source) and they haven’t had time to reply yet but if they do reply I’ll post it here. Ciao!

UO NEWS AND WHIRLED REPORT – WRITTEN FROM MY BED [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]


Page One: Is that your horse in your backpack or are you just glad to see me?

When Veteran Rewards were first introduced to Ultima Online, it was a way of saying “Thanks for sticking with us and not leaving to play EverQuest” to the premier players. Instead, it became a way of saying thank you to the premier exploiters, who were able to garnish far more rewards than they were entitled to.

Oh Ye Generation Of Vipers.

So rewards were quickly yanked while OSI figured out a way to make it entirely an undeniably exploit proof. We only had to wait about a year. Thank you, Doctor Twister and Company. The good news is that as a way of saying “thanks for waiting so patiently for us to fix and deploy our original way of saying thanks,” they are awarding all veteran accounts (of every level) and additional reward to be used at whatever level they choose.

Just to fill in some of the newbie veterans, rewards are divided into ‘tiers’ as your account ages every 12 months. Each tier offers different, and for the most part, better rewards. When your account is 1 year old, you can cash in for a Year One Reward, or save it so when you are eligible for the 2nd year rewards, cash them Both in for two 2nd year rewards – and so on.

This part is VERY IMPORTANT so I will use ‘the sky is falling’ font:

REWARDS ARE NOT PER CHARACTER OR PER SHARD – REWARDS ARE PER ACCOUNT. IF YOU EARN A REWARD AND SELECT ONE ON BAJA, YOU CANNOT THEN SELECT ONE ON CHESAPEAKE OR ATLANTIC. ALSO, REWARDS ARE NON-REFUNDABLE. BE CERTAIN OF YOUR SELECTION.

Sorry if that scared you.

Let us call it even because, quite frankly some of you scare me, as you’ll find out on the next page…


Page Two: There are enough complaints about localization to fill a book.

Localization is something OSI had to do to make gobs and gobs of cash. At first, it sounds like a Scroogeism, but when you consider that the more gobs of cash OSI pulls in, the less attention EA pays to them, you have to appreciate why it needs to be done. I need not remind you of what happens whenever EA starts paying attention to Austin. Privateer Online anyone? Wing Commander Online anyone? Ultima Online II anyone? The sign outside of EA HQ reads “Electronic Arts and Marley” because Jacob died a few winters back and EA is too cheap to pay for a new sign. If you want find a codgerly villian to hate, you shouldn’t need a better roadmap than that.

The latest localization change came last week (or so) with modifications made to in-game books. Probably the most promising feature to be entirely ignored by OSI, in-game books had become something of a curiosity for most players, and for a few of those players, it became a new niche character. I myself have a character on Chesapeake in the role of a hermit author (think H.D.Thoreau) whose home is furnished by a desk, a chair, a bed, and books stacked to the rafters in every corner and on every inch of space. I would write short stories and then transcribe them in game and sell them on venders at player run taverns. I didn’t make a ton of profit, but once in a great while, I will still get an email from someone in UO who found one of those books and will say, “that was great. Have any more?” My response is, “I have the next chapter ready. If you want a copy, bring 50 books to my house on Saturday.”

Fifty books sounds like I’ve put waaaaay too much time into writing. Well, just bear in mind that UO books are about 20 pages long, and each page can hold an average of 20 words*. The American Declaration of Independance takes 8 books. The Magna Charta takes 9. Neither document is considered ‘long’ as far as documents are concerned. They are mere pamphlets. In UO, they would fill a strongbox. But the silly size restrictions weren’t the most frustrating part of this character. What really torqued my jaw was finding copies of my stories, with my name removed as the author, and the url changed to the url of some guild or player I never heard of. So basically, I had a writer character who couldn’t display books in his own home (books secured inside homes can still be rewritten. One day I logged into find that someone had over written 65 of my books – probably took him two hours to do it, for no other purpose but to ruin my day. Cool deal. I eventually gave up on that character although he still exists. After asking time and time again for such a simple and easy change as making a book in UO with 200 pages (call it a ‘tome’ even), or use a font whose letters weren’t one third of the entire page, I realized it was too small of a niche. It wasn’t going to happen.

Well finally books have been updated by OSI. But they ignored all the requests from library owners and writers like myself. What motivated them to change the books was the concern that players in Korea might not be able to read them. So the font was changed to a smaller one, a more generic one rather than the pseudo-caligraphic font previously used. That I found a good thing, actually. Unfortunately, you still only get 20 words per page because the margins are set to allow you to use roughly 50% of the space available. Oh, and titles were made shorter. The name ‘Arcadian Del Sol’ is now too long to be a title of a book. You get 14 characters. So I’m changing all my books to ArcBook 1pt1, Arcbook 1pt8, Arcbook 3pt9 and so on.

Very nice OSI. Very ‘suspension of reality’. That’s what I call a game world with some depth and personality. And this paragraph is what the rest of us call sarcasm. Hate to sound like a ‘scary roleplayer crybaby’ here folks, but this is just another straw to place on the camel’s back. Straw by straw, Ultima Online is moving away from being a ‘realm’ to being ‘a map’. I’d say that the journey is already complete, but I keep saying that only to find yet another little tiny bit of color and live and flavor that is Sosaria eliminated so that the rest of the world likes UO. News bulletin to OSI: The rest of the world knows Eurpoean History, too. They know what “Olde English” is (hell, some of them even know what “Olde Anglish” is). So if you’re going to adjust UO books in order to make Asia enjoy them, instead of changing fonts, you might consider making them read from top to bottom instead of left to right.

Don’t worry, your 5 year veterans will learn to adjust. We always do, right? And as for 5 year veterans, I’ll tell you now what reward I want. For my 5th year veteran reward, I want Ultima Online the way it was during my first year.

*UPDATE:
Just a quick note. Calandryll informs me (and you as well, if you’d read the discussion) that UO books can be made to a maximum of 40 pages and in his test, was able to hold about one thousand words. Also, a change made previously allows writers to make books uneditable. As my writer character has been logged off for several months, I am unable to confirm this but Cal hasn’t lied to us before.)


Page Three: Exit Poll at Electronics Botique – UO scores well with teen girls.

I’m not a predatory pervert or anything. I mean, high school girls are cute, but so are kittens and babies. Doesn’t mean I’m a sicko/psycho (I am, but for other reasons) or anything like that. Anyway, being a man on a tight budget now, I haven’t purchased a new computer game in about 5 months. Instead, I drop in on the EB and check out the previously owned shelf for anything cool. I found Soldier of Fortune last month for $4.99! Anyway, hoping that for some strange reason, a damaged copy of Arcanum might be there, I stopped in. I heard the sounds of flip-flops popping and chewing gum snapping and suddenly I was surrounded by a gaggle of high school girls. It was like a remake of The Sound of Music only more ‘radical’. Just to interject this comment: I dont know when they came back in fashion, but to all the young ladies reading this – the folded “Rosie the Riveter” bandana hair thing? Very cute. But then, I always thought gypsies were cute. Anyway, I picked up a pre-owned copy of Black & White ($29.99 folks. Which means your trade-in value on this is premium right now!), and listened as they sifted through some games.

“Hey, I have this. Its alot of fun.” – The Sims

“Get this for your brother. He’s into war stuff, isn’t he?.” – World War II Online

“I know some guy who has this. Looks uglyl to me.” – Anarchy Online

“I wish I could afford those.” – EverQuest

At this point, I said excuse me and reached past them to pick up a copy of Ultima Online, holding the box so they’d see it and maybe offer comment or something. Didn’t work so I dropped it and excused myself to pick it up. One of them grabbed it and handed it to me and said,

“They still sell this?”

I said as i put it down, “yes. I’ve been playing it for years now. I write a website about it.”

It was like I just opened my jacket to reveal wired sticks of dynamite. “cool,” and they slowly backed away and then left the store.

It is good to know that even though I’m getting older in years, I still have that all-powerful ability to scare away high school girls.


Page Four: RastaKitty checks in with his assessment of localization.

“We and I be thinkin that the English is same-same to all and they who done to use it.”

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH [Author: Eldin]

Asheron’s Call is becoming a shoddy, shoddy game. While praised as having one of the most stable releases in the industry, the game has entered a death spiral, getting worse and worse each passing day. In a recent letter to the players, the newest Turbine producer, Ken Troop, addresses lag, packet loss, and the disconnects resulting for them. I recommend reading his letter, then returning to this rant.

Done reading?

Good.

First off, that is almost a masterpiece in spin. “We are aware of the issues. We’re working hard. We’re so happy so few players are being affected.”

A few players? Hey, Ken, I haven’t played with a single other player in game where he or I aren’t disconnecting or crashing to desktop left and right. Even if that were the only problem, I’d still be bitching. No, no. It gets better.

I want it explained to me, from someone at Turbine preferably, how I can be running across a perfectly flat piece of ground then suddenly receive massive impact damage from falling. I was in a field, and I fell to my death. I was almost willing to accept being thrown off a mountain last night (I was standing nowhere near a ledge), but then I fall to my death while in the middle of a field? That’s a bit more than a lag/packet loss issue.

Did I mention characters are spontaneously logging out? Not disconnecting. Not crashing. Just logging out all on their own, much of the time in the middle of combat.

There are problems with this game. Many more than the devs or Mr. Troop are letting on. Whatever was installed in this latest patch has wreaked havoc on the playability of the game. The network code isn’t compatible with the AC hardware, they tell us. They couldn’t possibly know, because these issues only occurred during peak playing times.

Bullshit. I, and many of the people I play with, rarely play during peak. These issues have reared their ugly heads during non-peak as well. Is there any testing going on at Turbine before this crap gets thrown at the public?

This morning, the game was patched again. This patch is meant to help the lag and packet loss issues. There is yet another change in the network code. I’d like to let the readers know how this patch is affecting playability, but alas, I cannot. Why? Well, when the Zone files try to patch, I get the following message:

Your computer is trying to update your Zone files, but is receiving old stored files from your ISP or network. Wait for your ISP or network to update their files and try again later.

Yes, now it’s my ISP’s fault I cannot play the game. It couldn’t possibly be that Turbine has utterly fucked up their network code. No, no. It’s now my ISP’s problem.

I’m sure my ISP is going to rush to change the files just so I can play Asheron’s Call. I called AT&T@home, my cable modem provider. When I informed them of the problem, the man at the other end of the line laughed and laughed and laughed.

But it’s not Turbine’s problem anymore, you see. It’s my ISP’s. I hope your ISP bends over backwards to accommodate Turbine and the Zone’s new network code, because I got the impression mine won’t.

There is much speculation that all these network code changes are going in place because of the new expansion and the upcoming sequel. I won’t be buying either if this mess doesn’t get sorted out soon, and Turbine doesn’t start supplying some answers.

Bad code, bad hardware, and a bad patch. Yet, somehow, I think their credit card charging process will be chugging along just fine this month.

Update

If you have the ISP problems that affected me, do not attempt to patch through any of the quick launch areas of the Zone. Go to the AC main page, click on worlds, pick your server, then click on the “silent” chatroom of of your choice. That’s how I finally got it to download properly.

Expecting a download to go smoothly is asking too much.

WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? [Author: Tick]

Okay, this is long. It’s also devoid of expletives; the hardcore among you may be disappointed.

Today’s MMOGs (yeah, and one in particular) have been suffering lately from a problem: the players, who’ve been cast as extras, keep stealing the show from the NPCs, who are the actors in what appear to be carefully-scripted storylines created for the player’s benefit (well, maybe they’re for the player’s benefit; it could be argued that since 90% of players never get involved with the storyline, the storyline is either for the game company’s benefit or for the benefit of the uberplayer).

Recently, Gordon “Abashi” Wrinn of EverQuest fame made the following comment to my compatriot, Snowspinner (the entire email can be found here):

We’re trying to present a compelling storyline, and further push the complexity of the content that we present with each passing month. Oftentimes the goals of that content aren’t clear, but those who figure things out tend to garner a tremendous sense of achievement. We don’t want to take that away from them.

This is a basic problem with MMOG content these days, in my opinion. They make the story, and set little “triggers” here and there in the game for the players to set off, but what happens when you set the triggers off out of order? What if the triggers are there, but the content isn’t? What if the story is hidden so thoroughly that more than half of your player base hasn’t the foggiest notion what it is? A storyline should not be something you have to search for, it should be something that’s happening around you on a daily basis. It should not be something that you should fear finding out about after the mob is killed and you’re banned or a skill is nerfed, it should be something that develops as a result of you killing the mob, regardless of how it was killed. Here’s a novel thought: it might even be something that develops as a result of not killing something.

Gordon speaks of ever-more complex content on a monthly basis (we’ll just save that one away for later, yeah?), but it seems that the content is following the same formula: kill mob, loot mob, repeat. Maybe killing the mob will cause another, badder mob to spawn and the badder mob will kill you and everyone else for ten country miles. Depending on the name or rank of the mob you’ve just killed, the storyline may be “advanced.” Need I mention that unless you’re over level 50 and a member of one the largest guilds on your server that you won’t even get the opportunity to be part of this formula?

The current state of the art in online games has just about reached its limit for the time being (I’ll get flamed for that one, but it’s true). Interfaces may be tweaked and graphics engines may become more advanced as time goes on; however, the main limitation on further innovation from the standpoint of game mechanics is the amount of information that can be moved from the game server to the client and vice versa, and bandwidth ain’t cheap from either side of the pipe. On the other hand, once you’ve actually made a stable game from a basic mechanics point of view, there’s another direction to go into- involving the players, and using other humans to do it.

Let me start by saying there’s a difference between interacting in a game with a story behind it and being involved with the story behind a game. Interaction is fairly easy to implement; it’s mostly like an electronic book where the reader gets to stand in the scene and activate each turn of the page. You keep them amused between turns of the page by letting them hack and slash on the extras. Involvement is… HARD. You put the reader of the book into the shoes of one of the characters, and you write the book as he or she goes. It’s the difference between LARPing (ask Myschyf) a recreation of the Athenians trying to hold the Persians at Thermopole and being one of them. In the recreation, everyone knows what’s going to happen. When the player is creating the story, the immersion is that much deeper and- get this- people care about the result.

Such involvement is expensive- it involves having more people (GM/writers and developers) devoted to each server, since each server’s storylines would diverge almost from day one. Named mobs, once killed, would be dead and gone, and their killers would be known the world (server) over. New named mobs would take their places, and the story would move along in the direction dictated by the players. The changes would have to be made on the fly, and ‘prime time’ would be 24 hours a day. J. Michael Straczynski, the writer of one of the greatest scifi series of all time, put it best (here, for those of you who like to read these things):

You have to get the basic script into the hopper literally 6 weeks before you shoot it, so that there’s adequate time to build costumes, design and construct sets, plan EFX shots and the like.

What you can do, though, and what’s being done to some extent, is to plan out alternate scenes, and alternate endings to scenes, *within* those sets and using those EFX. It’s not that unlike a computer game tree. Once we get closer to filming them, we’ll have a better idea of where things stand, and I’ll know which way to go.

Done correctly, the story drives the initial conflict, but you have to be ready to change that story at the drop of a hat due to the actions of the players. For this reason, I think that an online game like Star Wars Galaxies is going to suffer from a lot of the same problems as EQ and some others. The story is already written, and the players are along for the ride. Well, the players have a nasty habit of saying their lines out of order and then going on to blast the leading man to a smoking ruin. If the philosophy of the story being protected at all costs is maintained, you’re going to have a very big playerbase (’cause after all, this is Star Wars we’re talking about here) of very, very pissed off people.

There are many, many people (and a lot of them come here) who can suggest more, perhaps better ways to do what I’m talking about. I’m a storyteller. Perhaps it’s because I am a storyteller that I recognize the problem here: once the story is given to the players, it’s not yours anymore. It’s theirs. When you change the rules to make the story ‘yours’ again, you just alienate your player base. As more and more game companies begin to get the basic mechanics of MMOG game play down to a science, I think you’ll find that it’s not a good idea for the Vision to be wearing blinders.

ABASHI ON SLEEPER [Author: Snowspinner]


Couple of statements before we get started:

1. The events regarding the waking of the Sleeper on the Rathe worked
correctly.
2. I’m sure it’s possible that Nagafen may have shouted something
out-of-turn, but I don’t see anything that would have caused it. In the
grand scheme of things, an NPC shouting something at an inappropriate time
is pretty low on the totem pole of problems with an advanced zone-crossing
scripted event. If anyone can provide us with any specifics we’ll look into
it.
3. The current state of Sleeper’s Tomb on the Rathe is in-line with how
intended to be. This patch we added some more dialog and such to make that
more apparent to the players, and I thank you for bringing it to our
attention that it wasn’t entirely clear to our players. We also automated
it’s current state so that it doesn’t require the GMs permakilling of the
warders — the way it should have been in the first place (automated as
opposed to manual). Of course the end result is the same — the Warders are
dead and the Sleeper is gone. That said I suspect that if people play
around in the zone on The Rathe long enough that they’ll find something
interesting.

Now, please allow me to editorialize:

First, you’ve frequently pointed at our silence in regard to this matter.
One thing to keep in mind is that just because you don’t understand
something, doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong. Often merely
commenting on an issue, even to the extent to say that we’re not commenting
on the issue, releases more information about the events than we want people
reading off of a public web site, rather than figuring it out for themselves
in game. We’re trying to present a compelling storyline, and further push
the complexity of the content that we present with each passing month.
Oftentimes the goals of that content aren’t clear, but those who figure
things out tend to garner a tremendous sense of achievement. We don’t want
to take that away from them.

Secondly, your style of writing is not one that makes us want to jump to
address the issues you raise or take stock in your opinion. More often it
appears you use this forum as your personal soapbox rather than as a
journalistic medium. That’s fine if that is the goal of the site, but we’re
typically not ones to be “angered” into responding. If the things you post
are crafted in a way that shows this to be the obvious intent, you should
generally expect us to ignore it. Yes I realize I’m breaking that rule now,
but for the sake of players who read this site I’m trying to give you the
benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps you think insulting posts are
the best way to get a response. It really isn’t. If you’ll refer to the
Beastlord article that you wrote, to which I responded, you’ll notice that
it was an opinion piece based upon things you’ve heard about the beastlord.
It didn’t contain insults. It wasn’t a rant. It posed questions. It got a
response.

Thanks for letting me use the site as *my* personal soapbox 🙂

-Gordon