Category Archives: TorilMUD

The Age of the Full Zone Respawn

More memories from the depths of TorilMUD lore.

Being one of the proto-MMO MUDs, and the MUD in particular that influenced the creation of EverQuest, TorilMUD included early/crude/simplified versions of many of the MMO mechanics we have come to love/loathe.

One of these is, of course, the respawn.

Oh, the respawn, one of those quirks required of a shared world.  You can’t just kill a thing and expect it to remain dead in a game where a hundred or a thousand other people might need to kill the same thing… or ten of the same thing… as well.

And so we have grown used to respawns, spawn tables, rare spawns, and all of that in our MMORPGs.  The sight of slain mobs reappearing on the field is nothing strange.  I remember when the two hour respawn timer for mobs in WoW dungeons used to be an issue, back when WoW dungeons took longer than 20 minutes to run.

(Even the term “mob” dates from the MUD era, when it referred to a “mobile object,” which is all our orcs and dragons were back then.)

But back in the MUD era, things were less sophisticated, resources more restricted, and even drive space could be an issue.  Back then there wasn’t any process keeping track of every single trash mob in the world, respawning them one by one on individual timers.

Sure, there might be a bit of code keeping track of a very special boss mob or a rare world spawn, but for the most part respawns were handled at the zone level.

Kobold Village - Surface

Kobold Village Zone – Surface Level

A zone back in TorilMUD… back in DikuMUD… was something of an autonomous process.  I tinkered with zone creation at one point and have forgotten most of what I once knew, but I recall that they were discreet areas that contained all the data… rooms, descriptions, objects, and mobs… that they contained.  There could be a lot of zones in a MUD.  You can see a list of zones from TorilMUD on a previous post I did.

When actually playing TorilMUD, it could sometimes be difficult to tell where one zone ended and another began.  The world was seamless in its way, probably more so that WoW, where you can see the change in geography and color palette as you move from one zone to another.  You had to look at the style of the text in the zone.

Sometimes it was obvious.  An old or connecting zone might have no ANSI color characters in it or the writing style in room descriptions might change dramatically.  And, sometimes, there would be a sign announcing the area, often including a warning about dangers ahead. (See the sign on the fence outside Kobold Village for example.)

Within a zone, all the mobs would respawn at the same time.  The standard timer in TorilMUD was 20 minutes if I recall right.  When off on a experience group, grinding levels some place like Kobold Village, the buffalo fields, the pirate ship, or even on the walls of Waterdeep, where elite guards gave great experience, it was important to establish a flow that worked with the respawn timer so as to limit down time.  We used to come up with regular cycles and move from mob to mob, winding up back where we started just in time for the respawn.

Some zones were different.  There were a couple of zones that were set to not respawn.  Once they were done, they were empty until the game crashed and restarted.

Other zones… the special zones like City of Brass that required a full group of 16, correctly balanced… would not spawn until empty.  That is, nothing would respawn until there were no players left in the zone.  That could lead to difficult times if there was a full party wipe.  With everybody dead and back in their own respawn points… their class guilds in most cases… the zone would respawn and all the mobs between the players and their corpses… corpses which had all of their equipment… leading to difficult times.  It was not uncommon to bring along an extra person just to sit in the first room and “hold the zone” for the group to keep it from respawning in the event of a wipe.

And there were, of course, some oddities with the full zone respawn, like spawn order.

Any unique mobs in a zone were likely just that, unique.  There was only one and they had a specific spawn location.  But more generic mobs, guards or patrols, or other trash if you will, might be a single mob that was set to spawn at a list of points.  At respawn time the zone would then refill any missing mobs from that batch starting at the top of the list of spawn points.

This meant that if you killed a generic mob from the second spot on the list, when respawn time came it would respawn in the first spot.  The process was simple.  It didn’t check what spots were empty or keep track of which mobs had spawned in which spot.  It just checked to see how many of that mob were left and, if the count came up short, it spawned more of them to fill out the desired number.

This could be painful if somebody killed the wrong mob.  Spawn order was serious business.

For example, I mentioned the elite guards on the walls of Waterdeep.  Those were tough mobs, but they would not call for help or trigger a city-wide alarm if you attacked them.  And they were excellent experience and dropped a decent amount of cash.  But they were generic mobs and you had to be careful to kill them in spawn order.  If you didn’t follow spawn order, or missed the respawn and kept killing in order past the first spawn after a respawn, you could end up with two elites in that first room.  And while elite guards wouldn’t call for help of set off the alarm, they would assist each other, so now you faced a double spawn.  And given that you probably setup your group to maximize experience, which meant keeping it as small as possible, a double spawn would be then end of things unless you got some help.

And so it went.  As I recall, the reavers on the Pirate ship

Anyway, that is my MUD memory of the day.

Up All Night in Leuthilspar

Syl wrote about day/night cycles in MMOs a couple of weeks months years back.  Clearing of the drafts fodler here, as you might guess. Of course, one aspect of that is how long such a cycle should be.  At one end of the spectrum is World of Warcraft, where Azeroth turns on a literal 24 hour cycle, and server time is in-game time.

EVE Online also runs on a real-world 24 hour clock, though I am not sure that a day/night cycle makes much sense there.  It is always night in space, right?

Anyway, in Azeroth that means if you are like me… I live in the US Pacific time zone but play on a server in the Easter time zone, 3 hours ahead of me… you might spend most of your time in WoW playing at night.

Not that night is all that big of a deal in WoW.  Every single instance group screen shot has been taken during the night cycle and most of the time you couldn’t tell it was night.

The lair of Lockmaw

This is night. Stars in the sky.

There is, as Syl noted, a nice sunset period if you are on at the right time, and likely a similarly pleasant sunrise, though I’ve never seen that.  I’ve been online when it has happened, I was just deep in Uldaman at the time.

Other games have a much shorter cycle.  In EverQuest you passed through the day/night routine every 72 minutes if I recall right, 3 minutes per in-game hour.  That could leave you running around in the dark a few times in a single long play session.

Scarecrows in West Karana

Night, when the Scarecrows come out in West Karana

And at the extreme end is Minecraft, which has a 20 minute day/night cycle, which means if you play for an hour… and who plays Minecraft for just an hour when you’re into something… you will spend half that time in daylight and the rest in the dusk, night, and dawn portion of the cycle, during which time the night life will be coming for you.

Coming to get me...

Coming to get me…

Of course, the Minecraft example brings up what is probably the key question when it comes to a day/night cycle; should it have impact on game play?

In World of Warcraft there is almost no impact on game play.  As noted, you can barely tell it is night as the moon over Azeroth apparently reflects 80-90% of the sun’s luminosity during the night time hours.  And I am hedging by even using the word “almost” there, because something in the back of my brain believes there was a “night only” spawn at some point.  But that could be me.

At the other end of spectrum is Minecraft, which isn’t an MMO but is MMO enough for this discussion, where the transition from day to night changes game play dramatically.  It actually gets dark out, so lighting matters.  But even more so, as noted above, things come out at night.  Bad things.  Things that seek to kill you or blow you up.  So you either hunker down and wait out the night… or sleep if you’re alone on your server… or get out there and fight the encroaching zombie/skeleton/creeper menace.

Maybe that is an extreme example.

But I do hear calls now and again for not only a day/night cycle in MMORPGs, but that the cycle should impact game play, that night should be different than day, and that NPCs should behave in a way attuned to the cycle of the world and their lives.  They should go to bed at night.

That last bit… that is one of those things that always sounds better in theory that it does in reality.  And I say that as somebody who has lived a bit of that as reality in an online game.

Back we go again, back through the mists of time, back to TorilMUD and the days of text, triggers, and ANSI color characters as a substitute for graphics.

All text, all the time

All text, all the time

I’ve written about TorilMUD many times before, and specifically about the hardship of the elves of Evermeet, stuck until recently in their own little corner of the game until level 20 with few zone choices and not much in the way of gear available.  The sorrow of the eldar is never ending and all that, as my Leuthilspar Tales series has illustrated.

But we did have one advantage there on Evermeet, and especially in the city of Leuthilspar.  For the most part elves don’t seem to need any sleep.  Shops were open all night long and even the city gates, which the guards closed and locked at sunset, could be passed through after hours if you spoke the right word. (It was “peace.”)

The rest of the world however…

It was a sure sign that a player was fresh through the elf gate and in Waterdeep for the first time when, locked outside of town, they would stand there saying things like “peace” and “please” and whatnot trying to get the gates to unlock so they could pass through.

And imagine to confusion in the a poor elf’s eyes when a vendor in town suddenly announced they were shutting up their shop for the night and wouldn’t be serving customers until the morning.

Outside of Leuthilspar, shops had business hours!

The vendors wouldn’t go away… though I think one in Baldur’s Gate used to move into another room… they would just stand there as usual.  However, when you attempted to interact with them, they would announce that they were closed and admonish the player to come back later.

In a way, it sounds quaintly archaic in today’s world.  But TorilMUD, measuring from its predecessor Sojourn MUD, is past the 20 year mark as well.  It was a simpler time and a different audience in an era when game devs sometimes felt the user ought to conform to a much more rigid set of rules.

I couldn’t imagine a MMORPG today putting something like that in place.  But TorilMUD was smaller than even the most niche MMORPGs we’ve seen.  I would guess that maybe 10K people created accounts on the game over its lifetime.  During its peak it could get a couple hundred people online at the same time, which was considered quite the crowd.  In that sort of small, self-selecting environment, you can set different rules.

And the vendors didn’t just have hours, but would also only deal in specific goods at times.

But, at least the day/night cycle was short.  The ration was one real life minute to one in-game hour, so a day went by in just 24 minutes.  Not as fast as Minecraft, but close.

Anyway, such were the was of the past.  How niche would a game today have to be to get away with that sort of thing?

Elves Unchained in TorilMUD

I have not written about TorilMUD in ages.  Honestly, I haven’t even logged in to check up on the place in a long time.

TorilMUD_logo

But the old world of text that I started playing in more than 22 years ago lives on and gets updated from time to time.  The last time I mentioned it was when they announced the end of their harsh death penalty, which was the model that EverQuest used back in the good/bad old days.  That was about a year back.

That have had a couple of other updates posted to their Tumblr news site since then, but last night one showed up that I had to mention.

The main topic of the update was the introduction of a new class of spells called “cantrips,” which my brain immediately parsed as “can trip.”  Hrmmm…

But what caught my eye about the update was this item listed under “other changes”

Elves can now start in Baldurs Gate and Silverymoon. They can also use the Leuthilspar elfgate as early as level 1. Free the elves!

Free the elves indeed.

For those unfamiliar with the game… which is probably everybody reading this… one of the quirks of TorilMUD up until this change was that elves had a single home town in which they could start.  That was Leuthilspar, on the island of Evermeet, a location those familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms campaign setting might recall.

But elves were not just required to start in Leuthilspar, they were required to stay on the island of Evermeet until they hit level 20… because… well… level 20 was a special level back in the day.  It was the “coming of age” level.   You could petition for a last name.  You were finally allowed to see your stats as numbers rather than possible ranges.

Do I take Heroic strength?

Do I take Heroic strength?

And, if you were an elf… or a half-elf that chose to start in Leuthilspar out of some sense of masochism… you were finally allowed to use the elf gate at the east end of town and leave Evermeet for the big city, Waterdeep.

This was a significant moment in the life of any elven character because, back in the day, Evermeet was a bit of a dump.  There was the town itself, where the guards would slaughter you if they caught you fighting… and remember that whole harsh death penalty thing.  So, for adventures you had to head out to Kobold Village, which was fun but contained its own perils, the Faerie Forest, a place to get lost in, and the Elemental Glades, which had its own issues.

Short of starting in one of the evil race home towns, which were designed to be a challenge for experienced players, Evermeet was the worst of the home towns.  This wasn’t because its local area was bad.  Starting as a gnome, a halfling, a dwarf, or a barbarian meant having absolute crap content to hand.  But they could all head to Waterdeep, around which there was ample content for leveling up, content with plenty of drops that groups could tackle from levels 1 through to about 40.

Leuthilspar Locations

Leuthilspar Locations

Elves had to make do with what they had, and while the zones were not bad, they lacked in equipment drops.  You could always spot a newly arrived elf in Waterdeep because of the paucity of their gear.  They might have a bronze sword, a pearl earring, a bit of string tied around their finger, and the inevitable cloak of forest shadows.  And, of course, these elves would be gawking a the locals, amazed at all the gear they had.  Good gear.  With actual bonus stats and such.

Of course, the newly arrived elf couldn’t afford to buy any of that gear, because they had likely left Evermeet with only a few coins in their pocket and not much of value to sell or trade.  And it was always some work to get into groups because you couldn’t compete with the well geared locals.  But if you persevered, you could close the gear gap and catch up with the rest of the world.

And you were a member of a special club.  You had made it through the privations of the elf homeland.  You would, of course, help any new elf you saw standing at the gates of Waterdeep, trying to unlock them after they had closed for the night saying the word “peace” over and over. (That unlocked the gates of Leuthilspar at night, but for Waterdeep you needed the key that Lord Piergeiron carried on his person or a rogue with a high lockpick skill.)

And, as an elf, you might never go back home.  If you were a cleric or a druid, so your word of recall spell would bring you back to Leuthilspar, you might frequent the place after level 20.  But other classes had to take a ship to the Moonshaes and travel quite a ways in order to find the elf gate that would return them to their original home.  It generally wasn’t worth the effort.

Because I started most of my main characters on Evermeet, getting through those first 20 levels is very much a part of my memories of the game, much more so than any of the early zones in the main world.  I even wrote a series of posts about them under the tag Leuthilspar tales.

Over the years the lot of the elves was improved.  One of the players Xyd and I started playing with way, way back in the day, Rylandir, went on to become one of the game admins for a while and created a number of zones for Evermeet.  The first in, the Eldar Forest, was especially helpful, had some good quests, and dropped some gear.  Level 20 elves eventually stopped showing up in Waterdeep looking like beggars.

And now… well, elves can run straight to Waterdeep… which is probably a good thing.  The population of TorilMUD has dwindled over the years.  No longer can you log in on a Friday night and find more than 100 players online.  But there does seem to be 20 or more around whenever I take a moment to check in.

But there was a time, long ago, when the life of an elf of Evermeet was desperate and poor.  Somehow we survived.

Now that I look at my list of Leuthilspar Tales, I think I need to go back and finish it up by writing something about the Elemental Glades, the third… and strangest… zone of Evermeet from back in the day.

And, if all of this talk about the old days of TorilMUD has you in a nostalgia reverie, here are a few other choice posts about the good old days:

Or you can just look at the whole TorilMUD category.  There are only 56 posts total.

Some of those posts are old enough at this point that I am even feeling a bit of nostalgia for the point of time when I was able to remember that much about the game.  Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

And, of course, if you are interesting in the game… because it is still up and running… you can find out more about it at their web site.

Not for Attribution

Posted as part of Blog Banter #65.

Attributes.  They are an ingrained feature of our role playing games.  I am sure they were around long before Dungeons & Dragons, but that was the starting point for many of us when it came to the concept.

It was an attempt to quantify the essentially unquantifiable.  Sure, Strength seems easy enough to translate to numbers I suppose… in Tunnels & Trolls you could carry ten pounds of whatever for every point of strength you had… and maybe Intelligence as a general measure, if you believe in IQ tests I suppose.  But Constitution or Dexterity, that gets a little trickier.  Charisma?  I think that delves into the human psyche too deeply to be represented by the result of a 3d6 roll, and what constitutes Wisdom in any case?

Still, we rolled with it… ha ha… because it was what we had and at least numbers were solid, which gave some of us the thin edge of the wedge from which to launch an ongoing career in rules lawyering.

And while the whole idea did not begin with Dungeons & Dragons, it seemed to multiply from there and soon some set of attributes that guided ability and access to classes or roles or whatever seemed to be in about in force.  There were variations, and sometimes even multi-tiered systems where basic attributes allowed one to derive secondary abilities or stats.

So it went, and when role playing games came to computers, attributes were not far behind.  After all, numbers are what computers do best.  So the tradition of “rolling up” a character carried on in electronic form.

The actual importance of stats in various games varied.  I remember writing up a character rolling script and letting it run for hours in TorilMUD, so important were your starting stats in the game.  And, just to make things a bit more tricky, the stats were obscured.  You couldn’t see the actual numbers, just a description that indicated the range they might fall into.

Do I take Heroic strength?

Do I take Heroic strength?

Heroic strength sounds great for a warrior, but the hierarchy of importance for all characters in the game put constitution first, as that influenced hit point gain as you leveled.  At level 20 the game relented and actually showed you the stats.

A Barbarian warrior of mine... 484 years old!

A Barbarian warrior of mine… 484 years old!

You’ll see by the table above that I was content with merely “good” strength, because +str gear was very common, but insisted on”mighty” dexterity (affected hitroll) and agility (gave an armor class bonus), while holding out for “heroic” constitution.  Plus there was a hold dynamic of how racial stats, where 90 str for a barbarian was equal to 100 str for a human and so forth.

The attributes were important, but there was a shadow of the future in that.  I let strength slide a bit because I knew warrior gear would eventually include some +str bonuses as I got into higher levels, so that attribute would be rounded up eventually.

As late as the launch of EverQuest we were at least pretending that base stats mattered.  I remember going in and tinkering with the points allocated to attributes with my first few characters because gear with attribute bonuses were not all that common.

But somehow in the five and a half years between the launch of EverQuest and the launches of World of Warcraft and EverQuest II, gear changed.  Rare now is the piece of gear that drops that does not have some attribute bonus to it.  Within two score of levels, your base attributes start to seem insignificant compared to your gear bonuses, and at the highest levels… in WoW, at least before the great stat squish… individual pieces of gear start being worth more than your initial attributes.

Back when EverQuest II removed weight as a concept in the game… you would no longer be weighed down by carrying too much coin or too many banker’s boxes… I pegged the change as being related to the inflation of basic attributes through gear.  Your average character’s strength grew so much through gear progression that weight essentially lost its meaning anyway, so the whole concept only had impact on low level alts and new players that hadn’t progressed far enough.  Why punish new players with something most of your player base doesn’t even think about, having essentially geared their way past it?

All of which, some 700+ words later, brings us to EVE Online.

EVE Online, now past its 11th anniversary, was created during the age of attributes, when we still seemed believed such things were essential, almost literally a requirement, for a role playing game.  And so, EVE Online characters have attributes.  You can see them in my character sheet, which I have grabbed from the Neocom iOS app:

Wilhelm Arcturus

Wilhelm Arcturus

There are all my current essentials.  Down to almost 2 billion ISK, my training queue is over two years long, being largely made up of level V skills at this point, I’m down in the Curse region in a Tengu, and at the very bottom are my character attributes.

My attributes are flat.  I leveled them out over a year ago because I was going to train up a series of skill that would be all over the map and so favoring one attribute over another would potentially help me on one skill only to hurt me on another.  So I figured making them all about the same would even out the hills and valleys.

Because here is the strange thing about EVE Online attributes; unlike World of Warcraft or EverQuest or TorilMUD or Tunnels & Trolls or Dungeons & Dragons, those attributes at the bottom of that screen capture have absolutely no direct impact on how my character performs in the game.

Having greater perception won’t make my guns track any faster, having more willpower won’t make my missiles fly any faster, having immense intelligence won’t make my shields hold out a moment longer, and having all the charisma in the world won’t let me talk my way past CONCORD once I shoot at somebody in high sec space.  None of those matter once I undock from a station.

Yes, sure, they matter indirectly before I undock.  Those attributes affect how fast a given skill trains on a character.  That impacts what ship I undock with and what modules I may have mounted on it, but when I actually undock that is all history and does not affect the here and now.  You undock with the ship you can fit now, not the ship you may wish to fit at some later date.

So this month’s Blog Banter, number 65 in an ongoing series, asks the question:

Does Eve need attributes? It’s been discussed a lot recently. Unlike other MMO’s your characters attributes don’t make a difference in day-to-day gameplay. They simply set how fast you train a skill. Is it time to remove attributes from the game or totally revamp their purpose? Do they add a level of complexity to the game that is not needed? If you really need to use a 3rd party application to get the most from it should it be in the game? Should they be repurposed with each attribute adding a modifier to your ship? Are attributes a relic from the past or are they an important part of Eve – You make your decision and deal with the consequences?

My gut response is “No.”  They should go the way of learning skills, now five years gone from the game.  They are an excess complication that does not add anything to game play.

But I am not so sure when I think about it further.

Yes, I have spent a bunch of time fussing about attributes.  You only get a neural remap once per year, which lets you adjust your attributes, so I have set out training plans in EVE Mon and tried for an optimized configuration.  But the next training plan that I don’t interrupt almost immediately with some new skill I suddenly feel I need will be the first.  I often can’t go a month without changing it up, so asking me to commit to a year is impossible.

And then there are implants.

CCP maps out the anger and resentment nodes in the capsuleer brain

CCP mapped out the anger and resentment nodes in the capsuleer brain

You can boost your attributes… and thus speed up your skill training… by inserting implants.  I have a clone with a set of +4 implants in high sec and when I know I am going to be off for a few days I will jump to that clone to boost my training.  But implants cost ISK, and good ones cost a lot of ISK, and when your ship gets blown up and you get podded, those implants go with it.  A set of implants can be worth more than the ship you lost… a lot more… if you get podded.

So balancing against my gut feeling is a sense that there is a certain amount of strategic planning and depth that goes with attributes.  You can optimize them, if you’re willing to commit for a year, to get ahead faster in an area of training you wish to focus on.  Or you can flatten them out if you want to play a more conservative game.

Likewise you can speed up your training as long as you don’t mind flying around with millions of ISK plugged into your pod.  Losing your pod without implants is essentially free, but you start plugging some in and, as noted, you’re head can quickly become more valuable than your ship.

So while attributes cease to have any direct impact once we undock… our choices are made when we hit that button, and the skills we have are what we have… I am going to fall on the side of attributes being, if not strictly necessary, at least very much a part of the makeup of the game.  The planning and commitment aspect of the training queue along with the risk versus reward part of the implants are, for lack of a better term, very EVE Online.

Of course, that also sounds a lot like “but we’ve always done it this way!” something I wouldn’t condone.  They cause us to make choices… are they interesting choices or not is more the question I suppose.

So I will say that I would rather keep attributes than just eliminate them wholesale.  But if somebody can come up with a plan for an alternate use for attributes or how to make them more relevant to the every day capsuleer experience, or the choices surrounding them more interesting (for whatever definition of “interesting” you prefer), I am all ears.

Meanwhile, others have added their opinions to the mix.  You can find the Blog Banter #65 launch post over at Sand, Cider, and Spaceships, the new host for Blog Banter, along with these other posts on the topic:

TorilMUD and the End of the Harsh Death Penalty

I haven’t written much about TorilMUD of late.  My last recollection of the old days in my Leuthilspar Tales series was posted over a year ago.  In part this is because I cannot piece together much more in the way of coherent posts from memory… my most recent real play time in TorilMUD is now more than a decade in the rear view mirror… and in part because not much has been going on in the world of TorilMUD.

TorilMUD_logo

I peek in every so often using the web-based MUD client they offer on their site. (Rather unfortunately triggered by the ‘Log in’ button rather than the ‘Play Now’ button that needs a local telnet client.)  But news out of the game has been sparse.  A year has passed since their own last posted update.

But things have suddenly stirred.  There was a fresh post earlier this week gathering up some changes and updates that had gone into the game.  Nothing astounding there, but at least it was a heartbeat to prove that the game was still alive.

That, however, was just a warm up for the big news that hit today.  TorilMUD is changing how death and the death penalty works.

This is a monumental change.

As with so many aspects of EverQuest, TorilMUD’s death penalty was the prototype as to how things would work in Norrath.  And it was a harsh example to follow, with experience loss (a quarter of a level, and likely your current level to go with it if you weren’t far enough into it) just the opening salvo when you died.  Then you had to go back to your corpse because all of your equipment remained with your dead body.  That meant going back to where something that killed you lay in wait, only you had to go there naked.

In the three dimensional world of EverQuest this was multiplied by the difficulty one could encounter in just finding your corpse.  In TorilMUD you could at least scroll back and find a room name.  Out in a big zone like West Karana, you could be anywhere on that bad linoleum texture landscape.

Bandit Camp Gone Bad

Bandit Camp Gone Bad

SOE had to lighten up on the whole death penalty thing within a couple years as competition came along that offered an easier time with this sort of thing.  I remember a friend speaking glowingly about Dark Age of Camelot primarily because dying wasn’t such a game stopping, gut wrenching event.

But TorilMUD carried on as it was.  For as long as I have known about the game, and I started playing back in 1993, the death penalty has been about the same.  A couple of years back they removed level loss from the equation.  You would lose exp, and even go into exp debt for your level, but you wouldn’t lose a levels any more.  But that seemed to be the only concession that the team seemed willing to make when it came to that hard core aspect of the game.

And believe me, I know the pain of losing your corpse and all the hard earned equipment that might be on it, not to mention the complete horror showing of finding your corpse some place dangerous and dying repeatedly to rescue your gear.

So it comes as something of a shock that the TorilMUD team has decided to change their tune on the whole death experience.  The stated justification was put forth as:

The penalty for failure is so high that it’s terrifying to lead a zone or follow a new leader. After all, you may have spent years building your equipment. Do you really want to risk it on someone else’s leader training? Also, death comes so swiftly and suddenly on this MUD that every play experience is a potential hours long corpse retrieval. Not many people have time for that, and I’d rather they spend their time in the game having fun.

At a high level, the new system replaces equipment and experience loss with item damage and death fatigue penalties.

It is hard to argue with that.  And in a time when the population of the game is rather sparse, to the point that if a full group of 16 wipes you probably can’t find enough equipped people to come and save you, it probably makes a lot of sense.

The bullet points for the change are:

  • You will no longer lose experience on death. Ever.
  • When you die, you will be transported to a special holding room wearing all of your equipment.
  • From there, you can either wait for a resurrect or re-enter the game at your guildmaster via a portal.
  • Though you will have a corpse for resurrection purposes, your equipment stays with you at all times.
  • If you choose to enter the game via the portal your empty corpse will vanish. You can either get resurrected or enter the game yourself, but not both.
  • However you re-enter the game, you will have two penalties: equipment damage and death fatigue.
  • Resurrect will reduce these penalties significantly.
  • A new spell, raise dead, works similar to resurrect but doesn’t reduce the penalties very much. All Priest classes get it.

An end of another era.

I can understand why.  Even back in the day when you could count on there being more than 100 people online during most evenings and multiple 16-person groups would be out doing zones, people were still choosy about who they might follow.  That often helped assure failure, as a new group leader could not count on the best players and would end up with a second tier group that would be much more likely to wipe, thus reinforcing the perception that this new leader is not yet ready for prime time.

Now death’s sting will bite in a different way.  After more than 20 years TorilMUD has gone with the equipment damage and death fatigue option, both of which are staples of the MMORPGs that followed on after EverQuest.

More details on the change here.

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: