July 2009

For The Love Of Ayn Rand, Do Not Quote From Marx Or The World Will End In FIRE

Build 1.0: You see a comely lass in a short skirt and a low cut blouse emblazoned with the Evony logo that beckons to you brazenly. WHAT SHALL YOU DO, GOOD SIRRAH.


Build 2.0: You see Prokofy Neva. RESPOND! RESPOND NOW!


Build 3.0: Realize that you have achieved a masterwork of commentary on the human condition that “MBA Fanboys” can never comprehend. Have a Paul of Tarsus moment where you are struck with the beauty of your innovation creating a game with real moral choices that quote from the greats of philosophy and literature. Ignore prior art such as Bioshock and Civilization. File patent so that your genius is properly compensated.


Bonus points: make sure you have as many reference to whoring women in your patent application as humanly possible.





Also, include a message board thread. Patent reviewers love that.


Build 4.0: Write a book. Write a Gamasutra blog. Just freaking WRITE. A lot. Ignore all the hataz. Get a non-profit grant to fund your hyperlibertarian game design. Get a faculty position at Pepperdine.


Build 5.0: Smoke a bowl. Get a hot model to pimp your media empire. Ask her which philosopher she’d quote.


Congratulations! You’ve won the game. Or, as Trotsky would say, “insurrection is an art, and like all art, has its own laws.” (WORLD IS LOST)

Hat tips: mystery, Metafilter, SA/LF!

Scott Hartsman Leaves Scott Hartsman

Well, more specifically the company he founded. Blog entry on the move.

Why is this of interest? Well, I assume it’s interesting if you know Scott Hartsman. Or are Scott Hartsman. But beyond that, his long resume includes a stint that most observers describe in shorthand as ‘saving Everquest 2‘. Given that that is probably the best result for a live team manager possible (in an industry that really doesn’t give live teams enough respect) I’d say that he probably is trying out new headgear at the moment. Hopefully we hear from the haberdasher shortly!

Transgressive Behavior

The curious case of the poorly behaved professor continues, as in his blog, he poses the question – was his CoH’s character’s behavior in violating social norms while remaining within the letter of the game’s rules “worthy of wrath”? I’ll let you remain in suspense as to how he’d answer that… oh, wait.

I can only note that all the things Twixt is accused of doing in descriptions like the above are simple, mundane, and easily mimicked in-game things that really aren’t much fun and really aren’t in the spirit of the game rules at all – game rules that Twixt championed and for which he was universally reviled; one can only wonder, if doing such simple and mundane things indeed encompasses the Twixt story, why there is a Twixt story at all?

But lets talk about something else.

So if you picked “he didn’t answer but immediately changed the subject”, you win! And what does he talk about? Why, the cavail heard from people called upon their bad behavior in online games since online games have existed – it’s the developers’ fault for allowing it to happen!

Game rules are prohibitive and paradoxical; social rules – most particularly the ones I observed in CoH — are authoritarian and static, inhibiting game play. With social rules in effect, the CoH game becomes less a game and more a society. There is less play and more politics.

The CoH game designers – and other mmo designers — seem to have largely abdicated their responsibility to design a game in favor of providing a sandbox for players to use as they wish. This may be good for game designer jobs, their blog readers, and their pocketbooks, but it is not particularly good for their games.

Well, I guess I was told. But in this awesomely compact non-sequitor of finger pointing, Myers explains neatly how little he understands the subject he purported to study. Something that almost any MMO player understands quickly enough – that MMOs tend to be both ‘games-as-directed-play’ and ‘games-as-sandbox’ or ‘games-as-community’ – the ancient “games vs. world” argument in MMO discussion, raging for decades, that Myers seems to have missed in his haunting of Recluse’s Victory merrily PKing. For someone who literally wrote a paper on the impact of online community behavior, this is… breathtaking. In his comments on the blog piece, Myers goes further:

The problem with the “meta-game” is that frequently that term is used to excuse all manner of bs exploits and advantages that not all players have equal access to.

This is precisely why the “meta-game” is sport games like football, for instance, is so closely monitored (salary caps, no taping other team’s practices, etc.) and codified.

Without the essential characteristics of a game — this includes the rules characteristics I mentioned early in this post — the meta-game is meta-bs. With those characteristics, it is a big game which, yes, we can call a meta-game if we wish to.

The very point of an MMO is that it is less a game and more a society. Without that society, an MMO is simply a game with particularly long and somewhat dumbed-down gameplay. If a designer ignores that society, s/he is ignoring the social connections that make an MMO unique. This is also not particularly good for their games, their continued employment, or their pocketbooks, although it may give them more time to update their blog.

But let’s talk about something else. Namely, the original topic that Myers skipped – was his behavior ‘worthy of wrath’?

The very act of asking this question is itself transgressive. “If I violate the social norms of a community I inhabit, while remaining within the letter of its laws, should I be condemned?”

Oddly, in the Times-Picayune article, Myers implies CoH players themselves are transgressive, by violating the social norms of the community *he* inhabits – making harassing threats. He admits in the original article that NCsoft responded to them appropriately – yet still takes the position they should have done more, by creating an environment where he could violate the norms of a community, and the community could then… respond? If it were just a game, of course, it wouldn’t be an issue, because Baldur’s Gate 2 NPCs rarely if ever smacktalk.

But it’s not, and there’s the issue. It’s a community, and one Myers derided and taunted, and then was shocked, *shocked* to learn that the community derided and taunted him in turn. And of course, Internet anonymity being what it is – and something any basic student of online gaming would be familiar with in picoseconds – much of that derision and taunting violated the norms of *his* community. Which he (properly) appealed to the authorities (NCsoft) who (properly) acted upon it, as he himself stated. At which point he then… wrote a research paper describing how, when faced with transgressive behavior, an online community will react badly. Again, this is not news to anyone who, say, has been on Xbox Live for more than 10 minutes.

Myers even implies that my previous blog posting was transgressive, since I quoted at length the commenters to the Times-Picayune article who had first-hand experience with his research methodology – the “anonymous wall of mob”. Well, if that’s the case, let’s go to the source himself. What does Twixt have to say about Twixt?

See for yourself. Let’s do some research!

First, we discover that what’s on offer is a considerably scrubbed version. The account has a post count of over 650, and only a small fraction of those are available. Odd coincidence that. The vast majority of these posts are years old, from before Issue 13’s PvP nerfs last December, which Twixt took great offense to:

The devs can take my jump away
Can take my speed, tp, and play
But here I root and stand amazed
That they don’t also take ur phase.

Shortly afterwards, in a common affliction of bored Killer archetypes, Twixt apparently gave up on the game and out of boredom, just decided to, well, be a dick.

Screw this – PVP sucks. I’m coming back in here to farm and gank the noobies, but if you think Im gonna stand there and slug it out with little to no chance of fleeing insurmountable odds, you must be dinko.

However, a pre-scrubbed version of Twixt’s transgressiveness is still available online, and requoted below in case it falls prey to another odd coincidence. The entire thread is a fantastic summation of the reaction to Twixt by those who encountered him, and contains the following response from the “droner” himself:

1. Twixt windup doll says…

* base is safe
* get moar phase
* hoho
* get moar vills
* vengence weenie alert!
* hoho
* always die when you leave, gives the other side hope
* watch the language kiddies
* hoho
* lag, adjusting


01-03-2008 10:34:37 You have defeated make love
01-03-2008 10:39:02 You have defeated make love
(dozens of similar killshots deleted)
01-04-2008 22:30:39 You have defeated Mr MentaIity
01-04-2008 22:32:23 You have defeated Paul Radbot

3. Elf Stalker who? Never heard of him.

Yes, it’s hard to see why anyone would take offense to such a prized member of the CoH community.

For more background, you can go to Myers’ paper, Play and Punishment: The Sad And Curious Case of Twixt. It contains the following helpful explanation of droning:

Since RV is a two-faction (heroes vs. villains) game, there are safe areas within the zone where heroes and villains can enter and leave the zone without fear of being attacked. Protecting these safe areas (“bases”) are security drones, which, without recourse, vaporize members of the opposing faction and transport them back to their own base on the opposite side of the zone map. There is no game-imposed penalty for getting droned, nor is any reward given to a player whose opponent gets droned.

Except… that’s not right. The entire reason Twixt’s opponents were so enraged by his “droning” was that, unlike death to PvP opponents, death to NPCs imposes an XP penalty, which in CoH/V can be fairly punitive. Myers is wrong here on a very key point – not only is there a game-imposed penalty for being droned, it’s one of the most punitive penalties in the game.

So either Myers deliberately lied about this impact to justify his own case, or he didn’t fully understand the rules – the game rules, not the community rules – of the online community that he was studying.

Whichever option you choose to believe, both are… well, fairly transgressive.

(Late ninja edit: some have said that, at least as of now, deaths to drones do not impose XP debt. However, while this makes the above quote far less black-and-white a mistaken assertion, given that Myers as Twixt gleefully often did the same maneuver into NPC mobs which do, the larger points still stand.)

The Curious Case Of The Poorly Behaved Professor

When someone talks smack to you in a PvP match, you might ragequit out of the game, or call your guildmates in for retribution, or make furious posts on your server message board, or something similarly dramatic.

When a “new media professor” gets talked smack to, he contacts the media.

The study’s results dismayed Myers, who in 1984 became one of the first university-level professors to study video games. He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream.

Myers’ ‘straying from the mainstream’ involves using a seldom-used power called “Teleport Foe” in PvP by warping enemy players within range of insta-kill guards near his own side’s base. Note: this is a fairly standard design problem – the power probably should be disabled within a given range of said insta-kill guards to guard against this sort of griefing. In short, Myers was exploiting a poorly designed PvP mechanic (in a consensual PvP zone, mind you) and attracting the ire of PvPers for so doing, thus attracting the sort of rhetoric you’d expect – if you manually switched the game from its default preference of not being able to communicate with players on the other side.

So – let’s see if we have all of this straight:

  • He entered a PvP zone
  • He figured out a flaw in the game’s mechanics and how to use it to his own advantage
  • He manually activated the ability to receive tells from other players
  • ???

Game community leaders only intensified their efforts as Twixt became more entrenched. They turned to out-of-game venues such as message boards to punish him.

When Myers took a break from the virtual world and went on vacation for a couple of weeks with his wife and daughters, players noticed his absence. One player started a discussion thread that claimed Myers had been banned from the game because he had called a fellow player a “n—-r.”

Another posting claimed Twixt was a convicted pedophile.

Then members of those boards, in another threatening tactic, launched campaigns to discover and publish Myers’ real identity and address.

Myers reported the abuse to officials at NCSoft, the game’s publisher and moderating entity. They acted appropriately, he felt. Players delivering extreme messages tended to do so just once, and Myers assumed it was because the company punished them. Company officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“But the abuse was so widespread they couldn’t completely stop it,” Myers said. The company, he noted, had no right to police out-of-game forums.

The link in the story, to Myers’ blog, leads to the following cathartic cry:

While some might find heroic potential in their online play, I must confess, here at the end of my CoH/V journey, I do not. I find rather something closer to despair that the individual must eventually, inevitably, be forced to succumb to the great momentum of the zerg, the irresistible press of the mass. We may call that mass and that zerg consumers, or players, or simply people, but each of those in aggregate I now see as primarily and most fundamentally an important and perhaps insurmountable threat to individual freedom, creativity, and hope.


Oh, the lies.

The article makes it sound like “magically transporting other players to a robot firing squad” takes some kind of skill. It does not- even a non-PVP player like me could sit around and do that all day if I wanted to be as scorned as Twixt. In the game it is generally considered cowardly since there is not any actual fight or skill involved. Yes, it is technically within the “rules” but is not considered sportsmanlike or honorable. If what this article claims is true, it wasn’t Twixt’s “skill” that kept him alive, it was his ability to hide behind the robotic skirts of the zone drones.

His “experiment” seems to be to test the hypothesis that if you behave like a jerk in a video game, people will treat you like a jerk. Shocking, groundbreaking work there. GG Prof. Myers.

He was abusive to other players, and as was stated above, using Teleport Foe to port enemies in front of the zone drones (who make sure that the exits are “safe” for players still loading said zone.) He might have noticed that the game didn’t give him any credit for those “kills.”

Also, he had a tendency to “kill-steal,” that is, waiting for other people to get an enemy down to very few hit points, then porting said enemy away from the people fighting it, an into the drone’s range.

Neither of these methods is very fair. Sure, it’s *legal* to take credit for your coworker’s accomplishments, but is it ethical? No.

All he did was prove that if you act like a jerk, people will always treat you like one.

I’m actually a CoH player who PvPed both with and against Twixt (I am not any of the players named, and my verbal interactions with Twixt were quite limited). I’d like to clear up a few things that seem to be missing. Note that I am, in no way, discounting the seriousness of death threats, but maybe a little more understanding of what really took place will allow people to relate better to the frustration.

1) Twixt’s actions in PvP translated to an investment of time. By teleporting (the action described) villains into a row of firing squad computer-generated enemies, he would give the other character debt. This debt would impede the character’s ability to gain experience by cutting it in half for a certain period of time. Thus, anyone who suffered from what Twixt did would pay for it by having their progress cut in half the next time they got the opportunity to play. A full portion of debt could take upwards of 3 hours of nonstop play to be worked off.

Imagine you go play miniature golf. Directly in front of you is a group of 10 children who have no idea what they’re doing. You are unable to skip past them, and as is allowed, they refuse to let you pass. Due to this inconvenience, you only get to play 9 holes (or 4, if you’re only on a 9-hole course). Would you be frustrated? I sure would be. They didn’t break the rules, but they hurt the fun of my outing by specifically robbing me of the time that I had dedicated to accomplishing my goal. It’s not much different than traffic, bowling balls getting stuck in the lanes, people talking during a movie, or any other issue that would rob an individual of their free time. The individuals causing your frustration may not be breaking the rules, but they are affecting your enjoyment.

2) Twixt’s account of what took place in the PvP zones he visited just plain isn’t accurate.

People did chat because many of the players had played together prior to the release of City of Villains (CoH was released in May of 2004 while CoV in October of 2006). Most of us already knew each other. However, that didn’t result in a lack of fighting. Many times, Twixt would simply teleport people from battles already in place to his computer-generated death squads. He’s presenting the situation as if he was the only one using the zones correctly when, in actuality, he was just the only one manipulating loopholes to allow him to generally be mean to other players. That’s the biggest reason why he was despised.

3) Twixt commonly made fun of players he killed.

He did not simply say random hero-supporting things, he oftentimes bragged openly after using his computer-generated helpers to kill someone. Like any other competitive situation, bragging and talking trash will earn people talking back and becoming more upset. He worked to goad individuals into becoming angrier at what he did.

He mentions the forums as a place where people speculated about parts of his life, but he seems to have left out where he posted kill-logs from his time spent in PvP zones. He posted quite frequently on those boards, and he went out of his way to fuel the hate that developed for him. Professional athletes who do such a thing are widely derided by the media and fans. Twixt worked hard to generate hate, he was not simply an innocent victim.

4) Twixt died. A lot.

Twixt perfected his method of generating debt for other players by dying a whole lot along the way. Statements like, “But no one could stay alive long enough to defeat Twixt…” completely misrepresent what happened.

5) Twixt’s research plays a role by examining another realm of society, but his results are predictable.

It’s not surprising that people get upset when you’re mean to them without reason. On an unmarked curb, it’s legal for me to park 5 feet away from the cars in front of and behind me, but it’s simply rude to do so. If I did so directly in front of hundreds of different people who were looking for a parking spot, it’s not unreasonable to think that these individuals would be angry with me. I would say that’s completely predictable. It’s also not unheard of for such individuals to threaten others in such a situation. The fact that the anonymity of the internet allows such hotheads to go more extreme with their threats shouldn’t exactly come as a shock to anyone either. Thus, while I think research into the societies of online communities can be interesting, I don’t think Twixt’s can be classified as such.

It’s a shame that Twixt is the face of the CoH PvP and gaming community. He presents a very one-sided tale that some folks, such as the writer of this article, have apparently bought into entirely. A whole lot of good takes place in that community, but apparently, writing about that just wouldn’t sell a book.

Wow. Given all that, Myers’ quoting in his blog of the infinitely far more insightful study of PvP motivation, “Bow, Nigger“, seems more than a little ironic. Unless Myers intentionally set himself out to be the racist jerk in question as a “thought experiment”. Given the state of academia, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, given the defensive howling about how no one was talking about how he was WINNING THE DAY FOR THE SUPERHEROES in his Twitter feed, it seems he’s more worried that his incredible PvP skills are being maligned.

As a designer, I immediately saw this as a game design flaw. Myers was exploiting a flaw in City of Heroes’ PvP zones. Simply disabling Teleport Foe in a given range around insta-kill drones would solve the problem elegantly, and result in much less drama (and research papers). Leaving the exploit in results in drama. In this case, the drama happened to reach the mass media, because one of the participants had a particuarly loud megaphone.

Sadly, Myers has a way to go to meet the benchmark of mass media coverage of wounded academic pride. But give him time – he’s pretty hard core and willing to bend the rules to do what it takes. Just like a true superhero!

Patching Is So 2001

There seems to be a somewhat disturbing trend in MMOs – that simple ‘patches’ are becoming obsolete. Well, calling them that, anyway.

Take Darkfall, which today announced a new ‘expansion’. This being in air quotes since the primary features of this expansion are what you’d normally see in a, well, patch, such as balance changes and new equipment. A few other features, such as housing, obviously fall under the heading of ‘stuff we were supposed to get in by release but then our schedule slipped’. Well, hell, put it in a patch and call it a ‘free expansion!’

Darkfall isn’t the first to do this, of course, although their announcing an ‘expansion’ 3 months after releasing the original game (which they may want to update their web site about at some point) must count as some sort of record. But they’re not the first. Mythic pioneered the “make a really big patch and call it an expansion pack” trend with Dark Age of Camelot (full disclosure: I worked there at the time, and was part of the team that made them). Beginning with Foundations, which introduced player housing, and continuing with New Frontiers, which revamped the realm vs realm endgame – both of these were fairly major additions to the game, with new zones and game systems, but probably not enough to sell in a box. So put it in a really big download file and call it an expansion! The lines start to blur starting around Darkness Rising, which was distributed like the ‘free’ expansions but was one you had to pay for. Today all expansions, both free and paid, appear together in one happy list. And ironically, to further confuse the distinction, every expansion that was sold in a box in stores can now be downloaded for free off the website.

Mythic continued the tradition with Warhammer Online, yet confused the issue still further. Shortly after Warhammer’s release, Mythic announced the Call to Arms expansion, which promised the classes that were pulled from the game’s release at the last minute as well as new content and rebalancing and… well, you know. Things you’d see in a patch. And… you did see them in a patch. Or series of patches. Call to Arms was released over a period of roughly four months – the first patch introducing 2 classes in March (the other two being patched in the previous November) and the second patch introducing a new high level zone in June, and a third patch introducing promised class balance features yet to appear. The difference between patches and expansions in this case appears to be.. well, they called this collection of patches an expansion!

Other games do this as well. Eve Online has released several mega-patch downloadable “expansions“. Lineage 2 calls every patch a “chronicle” or expansion. City of Heroes calls them “issues“. Does anyone reserve the term “expansion” for a ton of content in a box and “patch” somewhat less but still significant content in a download, and still make a profit?


Conan Laughs At Your Puny Metaphors

Craig Morrison, Age of Conan producer, was asked in an interview if a banana was actually a pear. Surprisingly, it is not!


There are comparisons between this most recent update and the Star Wars Galaxies NGE where the game was radically changed after launch. For them, it was disastrous, how is the case different with AoC?

Craig Morrison:

I almost have to laugh that one off as I think it’s quite off base. Having played through that myself (as an SWG subscriber at that time) our current game update is (if you will pardon the unintentional pun) ‘light years’ away from what was done with the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies. That update completely and fundamentally tried to redesign the entire game-system for that title, and that is nothing like what is being attempted with the current update. The NGE was indeed a radical departure, this on the other hand does not really contain any radical changes to how the game is structured. The same classes are all still present and correct, their feat trees are just updated rather than being removed or replaced, so this update doesn’t have any real similarities with the NGE at all. For real SWG followers and fans it maybe, just maybe, has some similarities to the CU, in that what are doing is adjusting and improving the existing system rather than adding a totally different one, but even then I would say that they are fairly loose similarities.

I tried out AoC with the new game changes and they seem fairly spiffy. My necromancer is uber now, who knew! (It also helps that unlike a year ago, I actually have a PC that can run the game.) However, bringing a game back from undeath is always an iffy proposition.

(Hat tip: The Examiner)

I Now Have A New Patron Deity

Learn Starcraft From A REAL KOREAN!

My lessons are offered to only non-Koreans or American born Koreans because they lack the blessing from the Gaming God, Norazi. Sun Tzu once said, “Defiler becomes useless at the presences of a vessel.” You will be come the vessel against the defilers that treats you like a non-korean, laughing at your pitiful Starcraft skills…however, you will demolish them with the new profound skills.

Well, that’s hard to argue with!