March 2003

Notes from watching the front from an obscenely sa

Notes from watching the front from an obscenely safe distance:

* Arnett out! After giving a vomit-inducing on-air blowjob to his Iraqi secret police “handler”, he was fired by pretty much everyone giving him money. Remember, kids, being anti-war does NOT mean being pro-lunatic-dictator. Oh well, he’ll still have a home until the Marines show up, at which point he can complain about the unfair treatment of the press in a democracy. I like Drudge’s Photoshop commentary, unusually subtle for Boy Fedora.

* Geraldo out? Who knows. Be kinda silly for the military to give him the boot, he’s tied with Ollie North for being the most gung ho of the journotroopers. And North has an excuse, actually being a Marine war hero and stuff. Geraldo just wants to be a bad ass. “I plan to march into Baghdad alongside the 101st Airborne!” Gung ho! Hooah! We invade, you decide.

So the war continues, as does life. Here it snowed

So the war continues, as does life. Here it snowed today. Sadly that wasn’t a typo, it really did snow almost on April Fool’s Day.

The first couple of days I watched the news networks fairly constantly – what the hey, I was home sick anyway. Watching webcams broadcasting from the war zone was fairly disconcerting. It could have been worse, Al-Jazeera has been broadcasting snuff porn (warning – that link involves kids missing vital parts, like heads. Al-Jazeera has what looks like an ad banner linking to it. Gotta love humanity).

So time goes on, and it becomes fairly obvious that Iraq really didn’t want the full force of American military might lovingly applied, imagine that. So we really are just up and invading a country. Do we have what all Europa Universalis players know and love, a “casus belli” or legal cause to go to war? Guess it depends on if you believe Iraq really has chemical weapons hidden in a basement. I’d think they would have used them already if they had them, personally, but I’m a cynic. And we already overran 3 regular army divisions, and if any WMDs were issued to them, you can bet the “embedded journalists” would be broadcasting pics of them from their webcams night and day. So maybe only the Republican Guard were trusted with them? Who knows. It’s all an academic exercise anyway – my suspicion is after 9/11, some folks in the administration quit caring about things like “casus belli” and started dusting off old grudges. I imagine Syria and Iran aren’t feeling too terribly frisky at this point either.

So yesterday I went through a Popeye’s drivethrough and got handed an American flag sticker along with my chicken. Sadly, it probably wasn’t out of any groundswell of patriotism among the workers, but prophylactic “please don’t hit us because we’re immigrants and the only ones in this area willing to work for minimum wage at a fast food joint” stickers. It’s still sitting on my dashboard, unapplied. Not because I’m not patriotic – I like to think I am, and that my patriotism doesn’t involve stickers someone gave me smelling vaguely of chicken grease. So what do I do about this patriotism, anyway?

I guess I’ll keep watching TV, and posting here until Ashcroft pushes Patriot II through and I have to stop. Fox broadcasts pictures of the “fallen heroes” on an annoyingly regular basis. And I’m fairly certain there’s nothing in Iraq worth them attaining that status.

Gah. Been down for the past few days with the Mart

Gah. Been down for the past few days with the Martian Death Flu; coughing up lung is not the best way to spend your day. Meanwhile we’re apparently going to be at war in 2 days. Yay team.

So after Bush’s speech I watched Fox news (“We decide, you watch”). Bill O’Reilly almost literally broke into a frothing mass of hoof-in-mouth madness while “interviewing” a hapless French journalist. Watching all this I keep reminding myself that yes, I *am* a conservative, and this unease at our marching into a sovereign country solely because we don’t like them very much is just a passing phase.

Now, if we invaded FRANCE, I’d be all over that. Give out freedom fries to the liberated masses at Normandy!

Howaya howaya howaya. Back from GDC. Here’s Greg Costikyan’s report. I wasn’t QUITE that depressed. Well, I was during Raph Koster’s presentation, which I subtitled “Humanity is a ravening mass of jackals, and here’s how you can leverage that for your game!” But I’m not as convinced that the very lifeblood has been sucked out of gaming and no creativity is left. Hell, for online games we can’t get ENOUGH content. Content requires creativity. Well, it doesn’t, but it certainly helps it not sucking.

Oh, here in its entirely is the presentation I gave for the Mud-DEV conference, in all its poorly-read splendor, on the INCREDIBLY INTERESTING TOPIC of how many characters you should allow players on a game server. I was in favor of multiple character servers vs single character ones. (I know it may come as a surprise, but as a public speaker, um, I sux0r.)

“Our customers demand it. Oh, I have to talk for ten minutes? All right.

Seriously, depending on the game, MCS – multiple character servers – may well be the only solution for the developer. As an example, the game I work with, Dark Age of Camelot, is literally inconcievable as a single character server game. Games that use a class-based and level-based advancement scheme and lock a user into a development path simply can’t tell the user “no, you can only have one character of this particular type on this particular server with your friends”. When we developed our expansion pack, Shrouded Isles, we expanded our available character slots from four to eight, in spite of the commensurate increase in data storage requirements, specifically because most of our customers already had used all four slots available to them. If they felt that to play our expansion, and experiment with the new race and class choices we had developed, that they had to delete one of their existing characters that they had invested months of their time into, they would have been irritated. To put it somewhat mildly. And angering our customer base was not, we felt, the most effective means of convincing them to give us more money.

Other massively multiplayer games have in fact tried single character servers, often as part of a “premium”, “hardcore” or other creative marketing term for the segregation of this thought experiment far away from the majority of people actually giving your company money. They have traditionally been among the least popular of servers, and servers with few actual players will admittedly require less customer service – although if we follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion we arrive at my personal preference, a server populated entirely with NPCs. Few NPCs have been known to use exploits, excluding the occasional memory leak. But I digress.

The one thing we have learned from single character servers in massively multiplayer games to date is that players will pay extra to ignore this restriction. This may be seen as a plus – how is collecting more money from your player base bad? Well, feeling as though you have to pay more money to compete on a level playing field is… well… the American way. But your players, in general, WILL resent you for reminding them of this, and your competitors will gladly point out that their game allows you to have 52 characters per server, all of which possess 42 unique varieties of sponges.

But all of you are smarter, wittier, and better dressed than I, and surely you’re not going to make THOSE mistakes. Your game engine is going to allow infinite choices! You can change your character as easily as you change your pants! It will take your customers only three hours to get to the end game! Well maybe four, depending on lag. Given all of that, surely no one will miss being able to create multiple characters on a server, right?

Well, there’s a fairly large problem here. No matter what the type of game you are designing, a character is the avatar of the player, in a very real sense. It’s how they appear to the in-game community. And people are going to want to experiment. They’re going to want to be both the hero AND the villain; the boy AND the girl (sadly, most of the boys are the girls, apparently); or, in a less The-Future-Of-Socialization-Is-NOW sense, perhaps just in two player guilds at once. People love “alts”, alternate characters that they can switch to on a whim. They love giving them money, and dressing them up. Especially with fancy hats. It’s the closest thing to children that we have. Surely you’re not going to stop this! Think about the children!

The point here, which I’m fairly sure I had when I started, is that players demand choices. My esteemed colleagues will try to convince you that there are many compelling reasons that players should be denied those choices, based on game design, community policing, or even data storage issues. I however will be curmudgeonly and old-school, and assert that if the customers demand something, we should at least make a good faith effort to deliver it. And the one thing my colleagues cannot deny is that our customers do demand the choices that multiple character servers offer.”

Oh, and Jessica Mulligan has a book out now. “You magnificient bastard! I read your book!” I intend on shouting when I meet her. Because I do crap like that. Anyway buy her book, it’s really good and will save you from making stupid mistakes assuming you’re making an MMO. If you’re not making an MMO, um, buy it anyway.