A Long History of Gear Obsession

Back in the mid-to-late 90s, back when I was playing TorilMUD, there was a point when a couple of people had been caught cheating… multi-boxing or exploiting game mechanics or some such… and the game had to come up with punishments for such transgressions.

The people who ran the at the time came up with a few levels of action, which included deletion of characters and banning people permanently.  But the for the first offense rumor had it… rumor, because while the staff had policies about this sort of thing, they were not documented for the player base, but the whole community was small enough that word got around about nearly everything if you knew who to ask… that the punishment involved a choice.

The choice was:

  • Removal of half your levels from your main character
  • Removal of all gear from your main character

And, of course, as we sat around in experience groups chatting about this and that while waiting for the zone to respawn, this topic came up and we declared which choice we would take.  Universally we opted for losing levels.  In fact, in exploring this topic, I think we were in favor of being busted down to level 1 if we were allowed to keep out gear.

All Slots Filled

Gear, circa 2000

Levels were replaceable, and in a game where there was experience loss on death… and level loss with enough deaths was a thing back then… working on experience and leveling up often continued for players at level cap.  We had all been through the leveling process.  We knew the ins and outs and could find groups.  Leveling up was work, but work we knew how to do.

Gear though… gear was a different story.  This was a time where gear commonly had class, race, or alignment restrictions, but level restrictions were almost unheard of.  And there was not such thing as attunement.  A rare item might be flagged as “no trade, and some items were “cursed,” which meant you could not drop them without somebody casting a spell on you, but most items could be traded to other players or handed off to low level alts.

Plus gear often made your character… or made you character viable.  If you had knocked my level 50 warrior back down to level 1 but left him with his gear, he would have torn his way back to level 40 in very little time solo.  While being able to solo was generally over by level 20 for a fresh character, and alt with good gear could easily go to 40 and possibly to the level cap at 50 with the right outfit.

Obtaining gear though… that was the hard part.

As I mentioned in a previous post, gear was available once per server boot.  If you wanted an item from a particular mob and somebody else had already killed it during the current boot, you would have to wait until the server crashed and restarted again. (Or until a kindly GM decided that the server had been up long enough and we needed a reboot to keep us all busy.)

While a good proportion of items were on a given mob every single time, some were random.  Of course, the better the item, the more likely it was to be random.

Then, to obtain the best items, you had to run zones, the TorilMUD version of raiding.  That meant getting together a group of 16 people of the right mix of classes, getting yourself included in that group, and spending anywhere from 1-8 hours taking down a zone. (No zone, to my recollection, took beyond 2 hours if done right, but mistakes happen.  I recall a City of Brass group that took 4 hours just getting to the zone because things went horribly wrong in the Plane of Fire.)

And, finally, once you had completed a given zone, you had to roll on items.  People would put in bids on a given item, numbers would be assigned to people, and a random roll would be done to determine who got the prized item.  So you could get in a group, go through a successful run, and still end up empty handed and waiting for a reboot so you could try again.

Of course, this doesn’t sound all that strange today.  Sure, bind of pick up, gear attunement, and level restrictions on gear have axed the whole twinking of alts to a certain degree.  But gear still rules, and there are still some twinking options, like heirloom gear in World of Warcraft.  Rare is the MMORPG where gear is not a major focus.  Sure, there is reputation, titles, mounts, pets, achievements and what have you, but gear does seem to drive people more than anything else.  I went to Timeless Isle not so much because I needed something new to do but because it was an efficient way to gear up at level cap.  I am past wanting to commit to raiding, but I still will seek out the best gear I can.

Have shovel, want mallet!

Have shovel, want mallet!

And what happens when an MMORPG doesn’t focus so much on gear?  We seem to bring our gear orientation with us all the same.  Darkfall didn’t specifically de-emphasize gear, but with full loot of PvP victims in place, people sought to protect their good gear by going out to battle in cheap drops.

Likewise, one of the main fears people have in EVE Online centers around loss.  People with a gear orientation coming into New Eden can be quite discouraged by the fact that when your ship explodes it is gone and you have to buy a new one.  The can often, abstractly, see the benefit of such a system.  Destruction of ships drives the market, makes industry viable, and basically keeps the player economy going despite the game being full of magic sources of in-game currency like most other MMOs.

And I must admit to letting out a resigned sigh when my own ship gets blown up.  I’ve gotten past attachment to individual ships.  You can always buy another just like it.  And the ISK thing isn’t a big deal, especially when you are eligible for reimbursement.  But actually getting a ship together if you don’t have a backup can be a pain.  If their aren’t some on contract, you end up having to head to a trade hub, buying what you need, and then shipping it to where you want to use it.  Again, an economic opportunity for some… shipping corps are a thing in EVE… but a bit of a pain if you want to do something but, instead, have to clone jump and spend a day in high sec buying parts and arranging transport.  That is just the way it works when you need a specific ship with just the right fit.

Because it all comes down to an obsession with gear in the end.

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Fox Tails, Goblins, and Bandor’s Flagon

The MUD just crashed!

Hurry, you need to reconnect!

Come on young elf!  This is your opportunity to get a piece or two of badly needed equipment!

Run run run!

Forget Kobold Village.  There probably isn’t anything there you need.

You must run to the Faerie Forest with all haste!

That was the rhythm of life on MUDs in general and TorilMUD in particular.

Most of the NPCs in the game load up with equipment only after a crash or a reboot.  Once slain and looted their most valuable reason for existence, contributing to your wardrobe, is gone.  You can get experience from them sure, but you can do that when the MUD has been up for some horribly long time.  The entire economy of the game rested on a level of instability that would allow a crash at least once or twice a day.

That was the pattern into which I was indoctrinated all back when I rolled up my half-elf ranger in Leuthilspar more than 20 years ago now.  You had to get out of the inn and to the right mob as fast as possible, and the Faerie Forest had the most opportunities.

First you had to get to the dark path that lead to the zone, which meant searching for the hidden entrance.

< > A Large Clearing in the Forest Room size: Large (L:40 ft W:40 ft H:25 ft)
Exits: -W

< > You don’t find anything.

< > You find a secret exit south!

And then there were the wood rats.

< > A Dark, Hidden Path Room size: Mid-sized (L:75 ft W:5 ft H:500 ft)
Exits: -N -E

A scruffy wood rat is here slinking around in the gloom.
A scruffy wood rat is here slinking around in the gloom.
A scruffy wood rat is here slinking around in the gloom.

You had to get past the wood rats.  The tunnel rooms were flagged as narrow, so players could only go through one abreast and you couldn’t just spam past any mob as you would bump into them.  If you were quick and lucky, you could lay day (recline) and pass under the wood rats.  That was how you had to get past other players or reorder groups in rooms so flagged.  It does make you wonder how big those wood rats were, given that a full grown male half elf with a sword and motley collection of armor could pass beneath them.

And if you were not lucky, well, you had to take the time to kill the wood rats.  They were not tough.  I think they were level 1 creatures.  But you had to stop and take a few swings to slay them.  On the bright side, the next young elf trying to make it to the treasures of the Faerie Forest would be stuck behind you.  You couldn’t pass somebody, even when reclined, if they were in combat.  So you would be killing wood rats while they were bumping into you.

Eventually though you would win you way through and into the Faerie Forest.  Having spent time lost there, I made a map and soon knew my way around to all of the key locations.

No exit on this map

The Faerie Forest

What you needed dictated where you would head first.  Very early during my career, which came just after a pwipe, having a light source was of vital importance.  If you did not have one, you might want to go find the Silver Fox.

The Silver Fox’s tail, which you could loot from its corpse, was flagged as being lit, so you just had to have it in your inventory and any room you entered would also be lit.

A silver fox is here hunting in the forest, looking for a meal for her young.
Your blood freezes as you hear the rattling death cry of a silver fox.
You get a silver fox tail from corpse of a silver fox.
a silver fox tail (illuminating)

This was a huge advantage over torches, which had to be held in one hand (so you couldn’t then have a shield, a second weapon, or a two handed weapon) and which would burn out quite quickly. (Unlike those who started in Waterdeep, elves didn’t get magical torches that never burned out.)  I suppose this was a missed opportunity for role play, having to fumble with torches.  But since every priest class got the spell Continual Light at some point, torches were never going to be in great demand in any case.

CONTINUAL LIGHT
Spell
Area of effect: <object> | Room
Aggressive: No
Cumulative: No
Duration: Permanent unless dispelled
Class/Circle: Cleric/Druid/Shaman 6th, Paladin 8th
Type of spell: Enchantment

“Continual light” allows the spellcaster to enchant an item by giving it a light flag, making it a permanent light source. Not specifying an object causes the whole room to be permanently lit by a magical light. It is one way for spellcasters to create light in the darkness if they have no other lamps, etc. This spell can be countered (in rooms) with a “darkness” spell.

See also: DARKNESS

Once Continual Light became common, people stopped running to find the Silver Fox.  But for a short time it was a key item.  You could sell it to somebody who was desperate and who couldn’t get to the Silver Fox or the fire at the tinker camp that, when search, would yield another illuminating item.

a glowing stick of faerie wood (illuminating)

There actually used to be two sticks of faerie wood, one in each of the fires.  The second one, which was an orange ANSI color if I recall right, had stats, so if you held it you got some benefit along with light.  It was something like a few hit points, but it was better than nothing, especially if you didn’t have something to hold in your off hand anyway.

Meanwhile, while you were down by the Silver Fox, the next big thing was the scrawny goblin who held the bag of snatching along with a few other goodies.

You get a bag of snatching from corpse of a scrawny goblin.

The bag was useful because… well… it was a bag.  And it was bigger than the bag you were handed as part of your new player kit.  And it was also displayed in a cool, dark ANSI color which I cannot quiet replicate here.  It was cool enough that even after we all had bags and had hit level 20 and moved out into the world, we could still sell the bag to people in Waterdeep simply because it looked cool.  In the end, I think it was heavy and only as good as a backpack you could buy from a vendor in town, but style sells.

The goblin was also the gate keeper to the room with the pile of trash.  Searching through it would yield a series of dubious treasures.

You find an ancient stone tablet!
You find a bit of string!
You find a wand of thunderous rage!
You find a moldy loaf of bread!
You find a steel shortsword!
You find a very dead rat!
You find a bronze dirk!
You search exhaustively and conclude there is nothing to be found!

Each had its use, if you include “able to be sold to a vendor” as a use.  The wand of thunderous rage was a particular heartbreak.  I knew people who held on to several of them until they hit a difficult battle, only to find that they didn’t actually do anything.  Wands were always strange birds in TorilMUD, though there was a wand of magic missile that was amusing to use from time to time.

But they key item in the Faerie Forest was Bandor’s Flagon.

a huge, drinking flagon

This flask looks like it could hold more liquid than possible. It must be that Tinker magic; making the most of space not even existing.
When you look inside, you see: It’s more than half full of a golden liquid.

When eventually everything else in the zone became just so much vendor trash, Bandor’s Flagon remained something you could sell in Waterdeep.  It was, for a long time, the largest drink container in the game.  And even when it was eclipsed, the flagons that replaced it were not so easy to obtain and did look quite so cool.  You just had to remember to pour out the alcohol in the flagon, lest you get drunk on Bandor’s brew.

And while there was certainly more to find in the Faerie Forest, from Habetrot’s stonewood cudgel to Vokko’s iron armor, the race to get those was never quite as intense as it was for Bandor’s Flagon.  It remained the one easy to get item that actually held value in the game.

When They Stop Taking the Naming Policy Seriously…

Eye the list of players online again, just to be sure I am seeing what I think I am.

Go do a policy check to see if anything has changed.

>help names

TorilMUD allows characters to have both first and last names. Each name must be suited to the race you are playing and any name that is not deemed acceptable by the Staff MUST be changed, regardless of whether it is a first OR last name. You must be level 20 to ask for a last name and have a valid player description.

Read HELP LAST NAMES if you are ready to request one.

There is extensive help for choosing first and last names. To access help for your race’s first name, type: HELP NAMES <race>

For help on choosing a last name for your character, type: HELP LASTNAME <race>

NOTE ON FIRST AND LAST NAMES:

Any character who does not have a name that is deemed appropriate by the Staff, WILL be asked to change it REGARDLESS of how long you have had the name. We are not perfect and some names DO slip past us.

On TorilMUD, choosing a name is more than just a means of identifying your character. We promote role playing on this MUD, and the name you create for for your character will directly reflect on that. For this reason, it is important that you choose a name that one might find in a fantasy world. Not a name that you have read in a book or heard on TV, but an original fantasy name that you have created in your own mind. Silly or unrealistic names do not belong in this world, and definitely don’t do much to promote role playing.

TorilMUD, unlike most MUDs, allows you to choose a first AND last name and this is one reason we have such stringent name criteria. Someone named “Hawkfist Willowbend” just doesn’t fit.

Unacceptable names:

  1.  Silly or funny names. Examples: Gillywoper, Wooglewanper The only exceptions are the gnome and halfling races.
  2. Compound words. Examples: Lordfear, Hawkfist, Rainman
  3. Words, mispelled or not. Examples: Wynde, Windy, Wynter
  4. Name from books or television. Examples: Rand, Smaug
  5. No names or words backwards. Examples: Regnarami, Diurd, Samoht
  6. No famous names. Examples: Cher, Madonna, Billclinton
  7. Names that do not fit the race you are playing. Examples: An elf named Garagh or a dwarf named Theleindifel
  8. No words or names from other languages or cultures. This also includes oriental names.
  9. No oriental names or oriental sounding names. We do not have a “Far East” on TorilMUD as yet (with no immediate plans to add one) so such names are not allowed.
  10. No names from TSR, FR, or Tolkein spelled correctly or not. This falls under the names from books criteria, but it seems we have to indicate this as a separate item. Examples: Drizzt or Drizst, Crysania or Krisania, Frodo or Frodoh

This is a serious mud, one in which we are trying to create the most realistic world possible. Choosing a GOOD fantasy name will reflect better on how the Staff and the players on the mud relate to you.

Policy still in place, though the famous names… Cher, Madonna, Billclinton… might point at how old this help file is.

Double check on one race in particular.

>help names ogre

Ogres are rather unintelligent, hulking beasts that live in damp caves and tunnels. Their names are very simplistic and tend to have an “earthen” sound to them.

Ogres have a slightly better command of speech than their troll counter- parts, and thus their names are not as quite as harsh or gutteral. Their names are composed of one or two syllables and they are more likely to use such consonants as: “b”, “g”, “d”, the vowel “u”, and double consonant sounds such as: “mb” and “ng”

Examples: Mumba, Sungo, Blogg
Illegal: Urz, Ghurggr, Thukal, Grorrzaz

Ogres are still pretty much ogres.

Check the player listing again, just in case I misread it.

>who sort

Listing of the Mortals!
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
[50 Ill] Ellese (Drow Elf)
[50 Rog] Immiralee (Drow Elf)
[50 Cle] Rressor (Yuan-Ti)
[50 War] Warraz (Troll) (RP)
[50 Enc] Atesete (Drow Elf)
[47 Dru] Zouve (Half-Elf)
[44 A-P] Undil (Half-Orc)
[32 Rog] Malled (Human)
[27 Ctr] Kabos (Orc)
[20 War] Bootyluscious + Twerk-zerker + Tooth and Maw (Ogre)
[ 1 Bar] Katumi (Half-Elf)

There are 11 mortal(s) on.
Total players online: 14.
Record number of players on this boot: 16.

No, there it is.

I admit to having had fun with the name generator in the past, but somehow I doubt that “Bootyluscious” came out of that.  Plus there is the guild and title, which has to be applied by a game admin.

Of course, it might be just an admin having some fun, but it made me go “hrmm…”

20 Years of TorilMUD

Lord Piergeiron is looking for brave adventurers to fight off the trolls!
If you can help, form a group and head south.

-Town Crier, Waterdeep

I was shuffling through old posts, as I do every month to pull together the one and five years ago bits for the monthly review post, when I discovered that I wrote that post about playing TorilMUD for 15 years about five years ago… which means that I’ve hit the… wait… eighteen, nineteen… the twenty year mark since I first I first blundered into Leuthilspar and got hung up at the fence leading to Kobold Village.

It barely seems possible that I was playing TorilMUD so long ago.  And the town crier has been shouting the same thing every few minutes for just about the whole time.  Granted, there was a gap of a couple years in there when the game was down at various stages, but it always managed to return.

TorilMUD_logo

Still, I started playing TorilMUD a long while back.  Twenty years ago was the era when the Intel 486 was king and the new Pentium (not 586 as so many expected) was the new kid on the block.  Apple’s incredibly popular PowerBook laptops were just introducing a model (180c) with an 8-bit  active matrix color screen that was actually usable. (Don’t get me started on the 165c.)  At work I was just starting off on project that would end up with a five month long crunch cycle, during which NBA Jams would be our lifeline to sanity.  I was playing Civilization I am sure and was running a BBS, which in a way was the spiritual successor to this blog.

You grab Piergeiron Paladinstar, Servant of Tyr in a headlock, and give him a furious noogie.

I think I may have beaten the back story of myself and TorilMUD to death at this point.  I have written up posts about the history, the stories, and the influence of the game in the past.  Here are a few of my favorites:

There are more posts under the TorilMUD category, though that includes posts where it is referenced, but where memories of the game perhaps not the main topic of discussion.

More amazing still is that, not only is TorilMUD still there, but that it continues to be a work in progress.  Bug fixes, new zones, a web client, and a conversion to a system more akin to the current Dungeons & Dragons combat model continue on.  The whole thing reflected D&D 2.0 rules back when I started. The help file for THAC0 is still there.

THAC0 is an acronym for “To Hit Armor Class 0.” THAC0 is a number every player and monster has, and it is dependent on level and class. It is ranged between 0 and 20. THAC0 is the method that the MUD code uses to determine whether or not you have successfully “hit” an opponent while in battle. It is calculated for everyone fighting, for each and every combat round. For THAC0’s, the lower the number you have, the better success you will have at hitting.

For Example: let’s say your THAC0 is 10, meaning you have to roll between 10 and 20 on a 20-sided die in order to hit an enemy with an armor class of 0. If you are fighting a monster with an armor class of 1, then you need to roll between 11 and 20 to hit that mob. If the mob’s armor class is 8, you only need to roll between 2 and 20 in order to hit that monster. You can affect your THAC0 by using magical items that give a positive hitroll bonus. This bonus will enhance your THAC0 and therefore your ability to hit a monster.

The help entry for AC (Armor Class) further explains how this hit/miss system works. See also: AC

I don’t think it still applies, but it did at one time.  A bit of history in the help files.

And, most important of all, people still play TorilMUD.

It isn’t the 100+ people we used to have on at once back in the day.  But when I log in now and again to see what has changed, I always see between 15 and 30 people online.  Enough to form up a group generally and go raid a zone now and again.  As with any game based on progression via levels, almost everybody on these days is at or close to the level cap of 50.  Occasionally I see somebody in their 20s or 30s.  And sometimes it isn’t even an alt of a player that already has a few level 50s.

I poke my nose back in every so often.  I still see people I remember.  And time continues its relentless march forward.

Anyway, just to archive something away for a later date, after the cut you will find the credits output for TorilMUD.  The bulk of the credits is a list of zones in the game, their level range, and the creator.  That will give you a little insight into how vast the world is that has been created over more than 20 years.  I started playing 20 years back, but the work started before I ever showed up.

Sure, the “world stat” command will give you the summary:

Total number of zones in world: 348
Total number of rooms in world: 65985
Total number of different mobiles: 19975
Total number of living mobiles: 46001

Total number of different objects: 19000
Total number of existing objects: 98257

Those are some big numbers.  They have added something like 4,000 rooms and 29 zones since I last posted that output back in 2009.  But actually scrolling through the list is more impressive.

More information can be found at TorilMUD.com.

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The Call of Aradune

The sword of Aradune has been drawn.  Brad McQuaid is back in play.

That sword

That sword

The word is out.  Reports are popping up around our little online neighborhood.

Brad McQuaid is putting together a project for Kickstarter, which he describes:

The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about…

And part of me reads that and goes, “Whoo-haaa!” or some other loudly affirmative interjection.

After all, there was a time and place where we were clearly on the same page when it came to online gaming.  We both were playing TorilMUD back in the day and he, along with a group of talented people, many of whom also played TorilMUD, and created EverQuest.

To this day I cannot describe the combined feeling of newness and amazement mixed in with equally strong feelings of comfort and a sense of being exactly where I wanted to be when I first started playing EverQuest.

And that is what springs to mind right away when I think about Brad McQuaid.

Unfortunately, he also brings up Vanguard, which is sort of the antithesis of EverQuest to me.

Well, except for that Qeynos sewer faction...

What has he done for us lately?

There were certainly a lot of things that went wrong on that path.  The list of mistakes… with I can sort of sum up as “too much breadth, not enough depth” or “too much big picture ambition, not enough focus on the details”… was long.  And it was crowed with arrogance that I found off-putting.  It was the spiritual forefather of Tabula Rasa or Warhammer Online, the big draw based on a reputation that failed to pan out.

I suppose that Brad McQuaid can get a little satisfaction out of the fact that his creation outlasted those two titles.  But it damn near did not.  While I was happy enough for SOE to step in and save Vanguard, I couldn’t tell you if that was the best business decision for SOE.  It is certainly not obvious if SOE made much money with the game relative to the effort it took to fix it, and less certain is what SOE could have done with that money.  Finish The Agency maybe?  who knows?

Anyway, I bring up those two other titles, Warhammer Online and Tabula Rasa for a pretty obvious reason.  Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott both had initial successes in the early MMO market, turned that into big projects that failed to meet expectations, and then turned around years later to do smaller, Kickstarter focused projects allegedly based on what they learned on their respective roads through life.

That, in turn, required them to come clean on what they actually learned in their failures and how they would apply that to the current projects, Camelot Unchained in the case of Mark Jacobs and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, which they did with mixed results.

Richard Garriott spent a lot more time blaming EA, NCSOFT, and people less talented than him along with playing the nostalgia card rather than going into much detail.   Mark Jacobs was more forthcoming, especially in terms of focus and what the Kickstarter financing really meant to the project.  But then he had to mention how Warhammer Online still had a great rating on Metacritic, which was something of a face palm moment, as well as a reminder of the value of pre-release reviews around something like an MMO.

So that time is coming for Brad McQuaid.

He is going to have to stand up and not only be able to talk about his new project and where he wants to go with it, but also what he learned from Vanguard and how those lessons will be applied to this project.  I realize that he has spoken frankly before about what he felt went wrong at Sigil Games when they were working on Vanguard.  But that is always the easy part.  Now is the time to talk about practical application of the lessons learned.  How will he keep these things from happening again.

And I am expecting to hear a lot about focus and managing expectations and keeping things small to start with and then building upon a solid foundation.

Anyway, that should make for some interesting reading when it comes to pass.

NBI – To All The Guilds I’ve Loved Before…

Doone’s Permanent Floating New Blogger Initiative II has been up and running for a while now.  It has forums and goals and things to do and participants and all that.

Not the official logo

Not the official logo

And while I signed up as some sort of sponsor, I have so far completely failed to anything very sponsorly.

Of course, I was a bit glib the first time around as well.  In part that is because I have trouble swallowing some of the advice people throw out for bloggers.  And, also, because I have trouble taking myself seriously in this regard.  So while I came up with some bits and pieces of things that worked for me, my only real advice is to be the blog you want to read.  If you look at your blog and cannot answer the question, “Would I read this if it was written by some stranger?” then you might be doing it wrong.

Anyway, I thought it was about time to earn my so-called keep as a sponsor .  Doone has a couple of blogging activities for the month, including something called a “Talk Back Challenge” that appears to be an attempt get a few people tackling the same subject.  One of them happens to be about Guilds in MMOs.

Guilds: What For? What functions to guilds serve in games and what kind do you prefer? You can talk about your experiences in guilds, what attracts you to them, and their role in the games you play.

A broad enough topic, which has been taken on over at Casual Aggro, The Cynic Dialogs, and Away From Game.  And now at Inventory Full.

Rather than going about this by describing what I think guilds should be about and such, I thought I would do a bit of research to see what guilds I am still in (or which still influence me since I have left) and try, from that, to derive some indication as to what a guild appears to actually mean to me.

Because this is just a list of guilds with a few comments, I will hide this after a cut so as not to make the front page a mile long.

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Great Moments in Exploits – The Ressurection

There were corpses all around the great fountain in Waterdeep.

Not that there aren’t usually a corpse or three sitting around there, preserved and waiting for a resurrection.  There was one there even as I started to write this.

Another day in Waterdeep

Another day in Waterdeep

But this different.  This was a lot of corpses.  And they were all from the same player who, I recalled, was a high level barbarian warrior.

Even as I stood there pondering the corpses the warrior, whose name I cannot recall all these years later, entered the room and attacked the elite guard.  He was killed almost immediately and another corpse joined the pile.

This went on for a while, the corpse count growing, while several of us pondered what he was up to.  Was this an attempt at an epic rage quit?  Was he working on some sort of corpse based art project?  Was this some sort of science project?

After a while, with many corpses on the ground, he gave up and went away.  Somebody was casting preserve on the corpses so that they would not rot and disappear as quickly, but otherwise we had a bunch of empty player corpses and some speculation about what had just happened.

As it turned out, of our possible answer, the last one turned out to be correct.  It was MUD science in action.

The player in question had apparently discovered that, in the character database, the key unique value for any character was the character’s name, as opposed to some unique never-seen number.  And why not?  Names were supposed to be unique in the world.  So what linked anything in the world to your character… equipment, corpses, money… was your character’s name.

The player had also discovered that when you die, part of the information saved with the corpse was how much experience it should restore to you if you received a resurrection.  When you died, you lost 25% of the experience of your current level.  If you got a successful ress, about 80% of that lost experience was returned to you.

And, finally, the player had noticed that when you deleted a character, any corpses that character left behind remained in the game.  The corpses were not tied to the character but were just objects in the world related to the character only because they were flagged with the character name.

Do you see where I am going with this?

So the player had taken his level 50 barbarian warrior, a somewhat common sort of character in the game and one of the easier classes to get up to level 50, and turned it into a pile of experience laden corpses strewn about the streets of Waterdeep.

The player then deleted what remained of that character, leaving the corpses behind.

The player then rolled up a new character, an enchanter, one of the most in-demand and difficult to level classes in the game.  He gave this character the same name as the warrior he had just deleted.  This character and name was approved by the admins… the naming rules were rigorously enforced by the people who ran TorilMUD… sort of… and this fresh level 1 enchanter entered the world.

This newly minted magic user made his way to Waterdeep, where a friendly cleric began resurrecting the corpses left behind by the old character.  And it worked.  The enchanter leveled up rapidly with each resurrection.  The enchanter did not make it to level 50, or even level 40 if I recall right, but he got far enough into the level curve to get past the awkward “got no spells” and “got no useful spells” points in his career and straight into the “I have key spells that make me useful to a group” zone, wherein he could expect to find experience groups easily and be able to make his way to the level cap with some diligence.

Experiment success!

Except, of course, for the whole part where he got caught almost immediately by the game admins.

The admins get a little message every time somebody levels up if they have the right feed turned on.  So while I understand that the player in question waited until no admins were visible online, there were a couple on that were hidden.  And they swooped down on him right away.

Now, this did not happen in the bad old days, when he likely would have been banned for life from ever playing TorilMUD.  There was a time when the admins would ban whole blocks of IP addresses just to rid themselves of one person, occasionally screwing over somebody else in the process.  But he had still be caught red-handed using an exploit to his own advantage.  He lost his new enchanter, all his experience, and probably some equipment along the way.  He was no doubt put on probation and might have even been given a temporary ban.  But if I recall right, they did not actively seek to ban him for life or burn down his house or anything that might have happened if he had tried this in the early to mid 90s.

And, shortly thereafter, a fix went in that wiped out any corpses remaining in the world when you deleted a character.

Or so I recall.

That is the rub here.  This happened nearly a decade ago.  I was not directly involved.  Everything I heard at the time was second or third hand and might have included a fair amount of speculation being passed off as fact.  And, of course, my own memory might have enhanced the tale as well.  The details might be totally out of alignment with what actually happened, and if you know something, feel free to correct me in the comments.

The essence of the tale is true though.  Somebody got their character killed repeatedly, saved the corpses, deleted the character, created a new character with the same name, and received repeated resurrections that rapidly leveled up the new character.  And I was around for bits of the whole thing.  Well, at least the killing and corpses bit.

And the whole event certainly does say something about players.  I am sure that this is covered somewhere in Raph Koster’s list of Laws of Online World Design.

I had actually forgotten about this event in TorilMUD history.  I was only reminded of it when I read Psychodhild’s post about the reincarnation game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons Online.  That trigger the memory of somebody really attempting to recycle a character in order to bring it back as something new.

Which brings up the question if players ought to be allowed to do something with level cap characters that they do not play any more.  Could you use that as a re-roll mechanism that bestowed some benefit or which acted as a gate to new content for another run to level cap?

Decisions and Inventory Management

I must agree.  I love that button.  I feel that pain all the more because I am playing Lord of the Rings Online at the moment, which makes vendoring items about twice as annoying as most other MMO I have experienced.  Meanwhile, Rift has put that button in the cash shop, so you can rid yourself of vendor trash wherever you may be.

Well… at least I agree at that instant, gut reaction, convenience level.  Long live the button!

Hell, as one person responded to that tweet, why have gray items at all?  If you want to reward players, just drop coin and be done with it.

But then I start thinking about how we got there in the first place, which seems to me to be a convergence of a couple of things.

First there is the reality of currency and the fact that wild animals rarely ever carry any at all.  If you want to give your players a currency reward for every kill, then you have to do it indirectly with item drops or explain why your wildlife feels the need to have coinage on them at all times… and how they carry it.

Granted, these sorts of drops do not necessarily have to be vendor trash.  LOTRO has turned those gray remains into quest items that generate a little experience and a small boost with the local faction, though in the end I still vendor them most of the time because I usually need cash more than faction.

I will call that the lesser reason for gray drops.  It could be worked around it in all sorts of ways if you set your mind to it.

Then there is what I think of as the greater reason, which is essentially to drive us crazy.

Well, not explicitly.  That is just a side effect for some.

It really is/was a way to put constraints around the game to force us to make choices rather than simply having things our own way.  This aspect has some deep roots.

Much meandering on that after the cut.

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The Feedback Issue – Which Weapon Should I Use?

You were to adventure in the world and not focus on min/max or optimizing or beating the numbers. You were there to group up to go forth and find adventure. Your mind needed to be on the world described, not on some die roll.

Me, attempting to sum up the early philosophy of TorilMUD

Potshot latched onto this quote in a past post where I was going on about changes in TorilMUD.

The context was around the fact that TorilMUD is exposing more numbers to players.

The game, based on the early philosophy I mentioned above, strove at times to hide what we might consider some of the most basic numbers in the game.  Rolling up a character required accepting stats that were not numbers, but just descriptions.  You might see “average” or “above average” or “mighty,” each of which mapped to a range of values.  The numbers were eventually revealed once you hit level 20, by which point you were presumably committed to a character, though if this was you 4th or 5th character, you probably had enough equipment stored away to twink them out, and enough knowledge of where to go, to get them to level 20 in maybe just 8 hours of game time.

That started to change over the years, especially during the latest incarnation of the game.  And the changes were primarily justified as being about providing feedback to the players.

The first thing to change was how you could check on your level progression.

Back in the old days, you had to go all the way back to your class guild master and check on your experience, which resulted in messages like this:

The great druid Kaladan is ready to show you how to become one with nature.
Your guildmaster says ‘You are still a very long way from your next level.’

I think that meant I was between 20% and 29% into my current level.  There was a different message for each 10% graduation per level.  And while some of the messages were more obvious than that… before and after half way said just that and for the last 10% your guild master grinned in anticipation… it was still a pain to travel all the way back to town just to get a reading on your progress.

So that changed to a text version of a progress bar, then to a simple percentage read out, and, just recently, slaying mobs began reading out both an experience point value and a percentage like this:

You beautifully slash a burly sailor into two parts – both dead.
a burly sailor is dead! R.I.P.
A burly sailor slumps to the ground.
You receive 40,573 XP (1.07%) experience.
Your blood freezes as you hear the rattling death cry of a burly sailor.

So there you go.  It is now possible, 19 years after the MUD first started, to directly assess the value of a given mob.  And the “exp” command tells you how much you need to get to the next level.

You are 5,101,956 XP (94.48%) away from your next level.

The problem is that we have now moved from levels being something of a mystery to levels becoming a mathematically precise certainty, which is a clear step away from the original philosophy of the game.  The next step would seem to be to expose hit point values and damage rolls.  Right now those are still hidden with verbiage.

You parry a burly sailor’s lunge at you.
A burly sailor’s attack only grazes you as you maneuver your mount!
A burly sailor slightly wounds you with his average hit.
Your mighty slash slightly wounds a burly sailor.
Your attack only grazes a burly sailor as he dodges aside!
Your strong slash barely wounds a burly sailor.
< 400h/427H 210v/210V >
< T: Kigev TC: few scratches E: burly EC: small wounds >

But is that the right direction?  Must we always move towards exposing more numbers?

Certainly that is the easiest way to express feedback in a system that is made up of numbers.  And if you are going to try and hide numbers, you have to come up with an effective way to provide feedback on some things that we might otherwise not consider, such as how to tell which weapon you ought to be swinging.

Weapon comparisons have been done with numbers… which pretty quickly got summed up in DPS ratings… for a long time now.

Have shovel, want mallet!

WoW weapon comparo

But could you do it without numbers.  Could you look at a weapon, equip it, maybe try it in a fight or two, and get enough feedback to say whether or not this is what you out to be swinging.

I decided to check TorilMUD to see if perhaps weapons gave enough description for that sort of thing.

Certainly some do.  The description for my Paladin’s holy avenger lets you know that this sword is something special.

This heavy sword has been crafted out of an unknown metallic alloy, the exact nature of which is known only to the gods. The long blade gives off a soft and warming radiance, even as the edges glint dangerously. A hilt long enough for two hands to grip firmly has been decorated with kingfishers and the pommel is crafted to look as though a dragon maw is gripping a brilliant pearl. Flaring crossguards sweep up, masterfully tapering into the appearance of talons that meet the bright blade.

After the long quest to obtain it, you were probably pretty sure it was going to be hot stuff in any case. But what about further down the food chain?  I decided to look at weapons that new players might pick up, to see if I could correctly pick the best weapon by looking at the description.  In order to limit the range and to keep to places I knew well, I focused on the areas outside of Leuthilspar, the elven starting area.

In some of the old haunts I was able to pick up five weapons from various mobs to see what their descriptions said.

Name: a bronze sword
Description: The sword is fairly small yet broad, with a thick leather handle. It looks perfect for close in encounters.

Name: a small sword
Description: The small sword seems to have an inscription of some sort.

Name: a long sword
Description: you see nothing special

Name: a cudgel made of stonewood
Description: This blunt, short club is made from a special type of wood which is hard as stone. Crafted by the special skill of the faeries the club is impervious to damage.

Name: a wooden spear
Description: This wooden stick is almost but not completely straight, it is about two feet in length. Sharpened to a point it makes a crude but usable weapon as demonstrated by the dried blood on its tip.

So, given those five choices, which would you choose, assuming you have chosen the warrior’s path and are thus likely not to face any class restrictions?

Actual stats after the cut.

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