Landmark: The Next Step

That mithril pick and rubicite axe arrived sooner than I’d expected.

Landmark is called a “social building game,” and at this stage of closed Beta, where the floodgates haven’t -quite- opened their way to allowing in bored griefers, many people are still in a civil and cooperative communal mindset.

(Though I hear some people are trying – digging holes around people with excavators, kind of pointless when the “victim” can grappling hook out or evac to safety or even log out and switch servers as a last resort or following people mining all the ore before the other can get to it, a shared node system wouldn’t work here, I guess, so I’d jump servers as a solution, methinks.)

Being in a nomadic frame of mind and needing heartwood to build the stations on my claim before I could settle in, I thought to pop by and surprise visit an MMO blogger and chop trees along the way.

The easiest one to track down was Syl (#totallynotstalking), mostly because she helpfully included a picture of her claim location on her blog , with nearby Portal Spire as easy point of reference – and provided server and island in there too.

Besides, her Twitter said she needed dirt, and I had tons of it from OCD mining.

Trouble is, I hit 360ms ping on EU servers.

The pause time between actions is noticeable. Not completely unplayable, but not that great either.

It’s fine to visit with, or engage in very solitary and slow wood-chopping or mining, but it does feel more molasses-like than usual. (And I hit 220ms on US servers, so lesser of two evils, really. I’m not sure if I can still play Landmark once hostile monsters and/or PvP is introduced, if optimization doesn’t happen.)

After randomly visiting a bunch of claims near the Portal Spire in slow motion fashion. and grumbling to oneself about how lucky Syl is to have a public works guy right on her doorstep (no loadscreens required,) I finally tracked the place in the screenshot down. (Fun self-created explorer minigame, though.)

Syl wasn’t home.


From prior WvW experience, EU prime time happens right after SEA prime time, so I figured it’ll only be a matter of time. MMO bloggers being all excitable about Beta launches and all that.

I didn’t quite want to wait around in a 360ms world though, so I popped out and switched to a US server. Confidence, since it was turning out to be home. It was kind of fun to walk around the same area and see how different the same map was, due to the presence of different players.

Syl’s mountaintop was unclaimed in Confidence, but stumbling down a steep mountain into a valley, I came across a moss-covered fort.


The owner was home.

As I walked up to check out the place, he came right up, said hi, and offered a Mithril Pick and Rubicite Axe completely unasked for.

I love those generous-minded sandbox veterans.

I was a bit puzzled at how he was willing to give away the top tier pick and axe, but as it turns out, after more closely reading the forums, these items have a random quality assigned to them when first crafted. And it’s a pretty wide quality range. Truly obsessive individuals end up randomly rolling more than a few times for the really good stuff, I suspect, and end up with a surplus of didn’t-quite-make-the-cuts.

And since it’s not (yet) possible to salvage the items for any return of materials, the only options left are hoard ’em, trash ’em, or give ’em away. Which makes newbies pretty lucky if they socialize with an older player.

I do enjoy observing veterans at work in these crafting sandboxes. You learn so much from what they are doing.

In A Tale in the Desert, I picked up by osmosis (just hanging out around more experienced players) things like scaling up the number of machines operating at one time in order to give higher returns, where to put various buildings for more synergy and efficiency without having to run around, and so on.


This fellow had a most intriguing board.

My goodness, it was like he had a premade set of voxel paintbrushes to work with.

“You mean it’s possible to get shapes like -that-?” was the thought that ran through my mind. “I gotta look into this building thing more. I need those frickin’ building tools.”

So that was next on the agenda after the Syl visit was complete.

Run around, mine tons of tungsten, finish the set of building tools. Good thing I set a claim in a Tier 3 desert, so I did that while at home, so to speak.

Conclusion: This voxel building thing has promise.

Lots of it.

And as of right now, Landmark is the only place you can do in it.

Obligatory home claim screenshot. Feel free to friend me (Jeromai) or stop by to visit (Confidence - Tor)
Obligatory home claim screenshot. Feel free to friend me (Jeromai) or stop by to visit @Confidence – Tor.

It’s an ugly misshapen sort-of arch.

But it was made with no prior reading or watching of any guides or tutorials, just trial-and-error learning with all the building tools available.


I hit a self-learning limit with this guy’s (lack of) beady black eyes, so next sandbox goal, watch and read all the available building tutorials on the Landmark Wikia.

I won’t spoil it for any of you here, but I do suggest watching at least the basic ones once you’ve got experimentation out of your system.

There are some fairly unintuitive keyboard commands that I would -not- have known about, without watching them.

I think I hit one of them accidentally, yielding a fairly awkward voxel size range, and could have used the other when trying to make the pathetic little arch.

Ah well, so it goes. It’s a learning process.

And the fun of these sandbox crafting games (at least for me) is the stuff that’s unique to the game in question, that learning curve of devouring information and applying it, until one groks all the systems in play.

And so it begins:
And so it begins: learning about voxel sizes.

The only thing that I can’t quite shake off though: I feel like I’m learning how to be a 3D graphics artist for SOE, working free-of-charge. On my leisure time.

(Though granted, they’re probably eyeing other folks’ creations that are much less amateur-ish than mine.)

What am I getting in return here? Bragging rights? Showing off pretty screenshots to my friends? Maybe possibly a trickle of Station Cash if another player decides they like the stuff I make – and presumably only a very small percentage of real artisans will achieve that level of demand?

I don’t quite feel that way in Minecraft, where all block creations are exchanging about freely and exist on maps that one can save, whereas I just keep feeling a big corporate specter of “we own everything you’re making here” looming over me in Landmark.

User-generated content may be a bit of a double-edged sword. Players entertaining other players, selling and trading with them, while big brother takes a cut because one chose to do it with the tools that big brother made.

LOTRO: Weatherstock 2012 (and Analysis)

On Serendipity

I’ve always wanted to attend Weatherstock. The very concept and idea of the event is fantastic, a player-created player-run concert for players in a fairly modern triple A sort of MMO (which is usually the antithesis of player-created content), let alone the sheer scale of it – hundreds of attendees gathered in one place (again in typical MMOs, that’s usually unplayable lag city the moment 100-200 players converge together.)

Just as often, every year, I completely forget the date because I’m not a dedicated LOTRO player in tune with the pulse of the community.

(One of the things I’m most disappointed about in my LOTRO experience is the misfortune of accidentally choosing a server that didn’t evolve a strong community name for itself like Landroval, Brandywine, etc. It’s just a run of the mill kind of server, not crowded, not extremely notable, and didn’t help to keep me attracted to the game. Since that learning experience, in any other game I make a beeline to the most crowded servers there are, I’ll put up with lags and queues to see crowds and life in a server.)

I wish I could say that this year was different and this year I marked the calendar and set the alarm clock and what not.

Well, no, I didn’t. I happened to be awake at 1am on the transition between Saturday and Sunday night, and idly clicking on posts in my RSS reader looking for a good read when a PC Gamer post popped up out of the blue – Listen to beautiful player-made music at LOTRO’s Weatherstock music event today.

Cue double take. WTF, Weatherstock is TODAY? Like, RIGHT NOW?

Shit shit shit. And my LOTRO client is about 9 months out of date, I last logged in some time in October 2011.

On the bright side, it’s a 3+ hour event, if I started now, I -might- conceivably manage to get in before it ends. Up went the client, with me rolling my eyes at the usual glacial pace but egging on the program regardless, and I opened up the livestream hosted by MMO Reporter in the meantime to get a sneak peek.

On Anti-Serendipity aka Murphy’s Law

Unfortunately in retrospect, I seem to have gotten hit by an infamous ‘black screen’ screenshot bug. Updating a client in a hurry does that kind of Murphy’s Law thing on you, no prior time to have found and fixed the issue, and I just assumed screenshots would work normally. You know what they say about assumptions.

Only after the event and wanting to write this post now, do I find that I have 56 jpegs of completely black screens which are worthless in terms of recording the memories. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to shamelessly rip off two promotional posters from other websites as my only visual accompaniment (presumably additional promotion is fair use), and that you’ll have to deal with my descriptions and check elsewhere on the web for videos and pictures – of which I am sure there will be plenty soon enough.

First Impressions

Awesome. Spectacular. Both the visual and audio spectacle, that is.

Not as laggy as I feared, all things considered. The livestream hitched occasionally and there was one unfortunate client crash but most of the music could be heard and listened to. And when I finally made it into the game with the client, it was even better as I had control of my own camera and could position myself somewhere within auditory range. Less hitching on my own client.

Graphics were set to very low in tune with the advice, and I actually managed to get up to high graphics on my six year old DX9 desktop. Very high graphics crashed me out. Not that you or me would be able to appreciate the lag risk I took, since all my screenshots turned out black anyway! *wry grin* Stupid bug. Maybe next year.

On the Event Organization

You know, the work put in by the Lonely Mountain Band in organizing this event blew me away. Intensive amounts of effort went into this and making it run so smoothly.

My visitor to Landroval was an ancient low-level hobbit made gods-know-when in the mists of time. I read as level 7, though I’m sure if I hit something that got me xp, I’d probably shoot to lvl 12 at least from the level revamps. I was in a blinding hurry with no access to the Riding skill as a free player (I think) even though I opened a five year giftbox and found an event mount of some kind in there.

So I hoofed it barefoot from Michel Delving to Bree by swift travel and then ran like hell down the safe roads, calculating in my head the chances of strategically staying the hell away from the aggro radius of any scary Lone Lands mobs while dashing to Weathertop.

(One thing my City of Heroes experience taught me, after the gauntlet of the old Hollows hazard zone and Steel Canyon south to north, I don’t shy away from running abysmally low levels through crazy scary red and purple con mobs.)

Except I didn’t have to.

I hit the Forsaken Inn, grabbed the stable waypoint and locked in my milestone (no way I was runnning back from Bree if I died) and was set to go all gung-ho hobbit when a LMB member just automatically beckoned me to follow and smoothly cleared the way of any nasty wargs and crebain and critters and escorted me right up to the peak.

That was the role of the LMB Security Team, who also stood by at the top of the circle and cleaned out the perimeter of any respawning mobs that might disrupt the event. Impressive. Especially when you consider that a lot of these guys were miles away from the actual concert and thus not able to hear anything on their own characters. Maybe they used a stream, ventrilo or maybe an alt account to still be in touch, but selfless and generous all the same, in my opinion.

There were also other teams working their arses off as covered by Keli in this blog post – Freakout Zone for tech support and lag ridden players to recover, Vending to distribute hope tokens and pipeweed and ale, and Stage Crew that manage the bands, stage effects and all the background preparation work for an event of this magnitude – and it’s a lot considering that people have to create new characters on this server, get leveled up and trained in musical instruments, get costumes and what not.

(Imagine, just a bit of foresight by the devs in ease of server transfers or a not-completely-segregated-and-isolated server system and a lot of this work needn’t be done by players that have to push up against the restrictions of the game’s design. Fortunately, roleplayers and their immersion-seeking ilk are infinitely resourceful in dealing with the hand they are given, which is often, not much.)

Big credit and props and kudos to the Lonely Mountain Band for all that event organization. I am seriously hard put to envision many other guilds in other games doing similar things on this scale – I’m sure there are megaguilds out there that could, but few would, if you get my meaning. To run a social altruistic style mega-event that isn’t as handily supported by game design, versus a big mob kill or a pvp gankfest that are more in tune with the mechanics of a game.

(LOTRO does innovate some on this social front with the whole music system, the costumes and the emotes and pipeweed, etc. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we do have to credit the devs for the music system in the first place which allowed such a wonderful emergent property of a Weatherstock concert to evolve. Everquest is probably the other MMO to watch and see if the SOEmote idea goes anywhere.)

On the Bands

I am a new-made fan. I’m seriously going to have to go through all their Youtube videos at some point because there was some really exceptionally sounding stuff I heard up there.

Music is subjective, and while I admit to having a preference for the immersive type of songs which are either entirely composed and set in Tolkien’s world (as opposed to famous real-world songs replicated and played) or a recognizable real-world tune which set to Tolkien-related lyrics, one of the things I noticed and was most taken with was the differences in sound that the music system was capable of producing.

One memorable piece was entirely made out of drumming. Drumming! Who would think you can replicate the rhythms of percussion groups like Stomp in a frickin’ MMO?

Another thing I was taken with was the amount of care taken with the costuming and racial detail. There were white robed elves, an all-dwarf band in blue, hobbits representing, as well as bands of all races unified by clothing design. I have to say my favorite most memorable costume of the night was the dwarf in the Don’t Tempt Me Frodo band in a crazy horned hat all-red get up of some kind, almost ‘metal’ in style. (Not that I could see much with graphics on very low, and not that you can see ANYTHING considering I have black screenshots. *grumbles*)

I’m going to have to watch all the video recordings of their pre-concerts someday soon. Weatherstock for me is just a way to get a sampling of what these bands can do. There simply isn’t sufficient time for a longer format – it was scheduled for 3 hours and it was about 5+ hours by the time we were done.

No wait, my timing calculations are off, it was 1am where I learned about Weatherstock, 3.30am before I finally made it into the game, and it closed about 8.30am-9.00am (in my local time. Americans can just transpose by 12 hours for “normal people” EST times.)

That’s easily eight hours of concert, and god knows how many hours of prepreparation.

On the Audience

Now I understand the appeal of all the LOTRO costuming and outfitting fashion blogs around the place, such as LOTRO Fashion and Landroval Style.

The costume options have come a LONG long way from the much maligned pathetic mismatched color armor and silly hats that were endemic to LOTRO’s launch. I felt quite ashamed to still be in that sort of cheapo brown yellow green red purple clown outfit on my lowbie character when there were scads of people all around me in much more faithful and setting-appropriate, beautifully color-coordinated clothing designs.

That sort of dedication to detail completely added to the immersive aspect. Tolkien’s world has power, and there is a good subset of the LOTRO community dedicated to maintaining the lore of the setting. Utterly fantastic.

Just as a random memorable example, there were two hobbit ladies in a beautiful flower headdress get up of some kind (I’m sorry, I’m not a fashion and dress kind of person, that’s about the limit of my descriptive power without illustrative pictures where clothing is concerned) who danced together in a folksy circle in front of the bands. Wonderful accompaniment and not at all obstructive, since hobbits are so short and they’re such a part of Tolkien’s world.

Also somewhat amusing were two chickens that managed to make the run to Weathertop. These were player-controlled chickens (you can play a chicken in LOTRO Session Play, that I can recall) and while I was somewhat torn between trying to determine if they were out to grief and seek attention as they sometimes jumped recklessly in and out in front of the bands, I have to admit that when a chicken started dancing and tapping and drumming its feet in time with the music, it made an entertaining picture.

I suppose the point of holding such an event in the first place is that the audience also has a part to play in contributing to the concert. Naturally you get the more expressive folk, who dance, cheer, clap, bounce a bit and holler, as well as the quieter folk who stand wordlessly in the back rows or sit and lie back to enjoy the performance and serve as wall decoration and scenery. Both are just as important in their own way. And naturally, you will have a balance of folk who heed the rules by the letter, the spirit of the law, or not at all.

On Griefers

Which segues me right onto our next topic. I am going to detail and describe some of the incidents which happened, though I won’t give the griefers any credit by referring to them by name. This is not to feed or reward trolls in any way, merely that I find some of the sociological interplay fascinating and am fond of musing on such topics to figure out if there is any sort of game design that can influence or tweak player behavior one way or another, or if there’s anything players can do to regulate their own and other peoples’ behavior in a game or virtual world as opposed to real life.

I’ll say one thing right off. I’m actually optimistic about human nature as demonstrated by the Weatherstock 2012 subset. There were only 2-3 people who appeared to have a motive for sabotaging the event, and 3-4 relatively minor incidents, in a crowd of 500 people who were there to play and listen to music. That’s barely 1%.

Considering the potentially possible alternatives like a big group crashing a funeral gathering, or an organized mass griefing by the Goons (google them if yer curious, I’m not linking to those), the internet fuckwad radar didn’t ping much at all.

Griefer #1 – Livestream camera blocking

Some guy ran into the view of the MMOreporter’s camera angle. And stayed there. Not out of ignorance as people were advised to sit down, but willfully, because need attention, dammit. Did some emotes. Didn’t think it entirely through because it was a pretty booty, rather than an butt-ugly one, but the motive was there. Disrupt the view of the playing bands. Didn’t affect folks there who could adjust their own camera angles, but affected those who were watching from the MMOreporter’s viewpoint.

Disappeared within 5 minutes. I presume some behind-the-scenes work by the LMB Stage Crew contacting the GMs. Either that or got bored, but probably the former. Obvious harassment of a single player is obvious. Terms of reference breaking? GM smackdown, done.

Griefer #2 – Forced emotes

Some guy triggered some item that made everyone in the vicinity bow. Or some other emote along those lines. Except there were about 300 players in the vicinity, which means massive text spam that scrolls past the point of even knowing what the forced emote was, all the audience forced to stand up, the musicians may have been affected by the forced emote too, massive stuttering framerate lag and an interrupted song as the audio grinds to a halt.


You know what? This one I blame on the devs. Enabling through game design. Bad devs! Whatever were you thinking when you create items in your game that can force other nearby players to do something they don’t want to do?

This is old history since MUD days and A Rape in Cyberspace. Learn from the past, fer heavens’ sake. Voodoo dolls and causing players to lose control of their characters to another player has never been a good idea. At its best, it is a mild amusing prank between people who were friends to begin with. At its worst, well, see the link. Stupid idea is stupid.

I am seriously hard put to think of any redeeming qualities to something that cedes player control to another. Perhaps if you interrelate this vulnerability with a lot of other benefits to some kind of partnership, then -maybe- you can develop the deeper aspects of trust and a relationship forming. Even then, it is best for both parties to consent.

(There’s an MMO, Perfect World maybe?, that lets guy characters carry around girl characters. Except both players have to agree, I believe. A Tale in the Desert has a big trust/vulnerability interplay in the Test of the Marriage, but both players have to participate in the act of marrying each other. Embers of Caerus want to implement permadeath pvp duelling, but hey, both parties have to agree to it.)

I guess it makes for a good story and drama if there is nonconsent by one party. See one-sided ganks in Eve Online and Darkfall and their ilk. Some people like that sort of tension and adrenaline rush and storytelling. That’s seriously the best silver lining I can think of. I’m all out of ideas now.

I don’t know how it stopped, but it did. Presumably more behind-the-scenes warnings given. Presumably if you spam a forced emote one too many times, it counts as harassment and the GMs can act on it then.

Griefer #3 and #4 – Letter-of-the-law chat trolls

These two guys were sharp. The first two broke the standard MMO terms of reference, rules, code of conduct type of deal, and opened themselves up to GM action.

These two guys pounced on the fact that ‘technically,’ very technically so, the musicians were actually spamming Regional chat with their singing.

This was a workaround because the reach of the ‘say’ channel cannot touch everyone in Weathertop, and presumably creating a private global channel and getting all 500 interested people to join would be an exercise in technical cat-herding frustration as opposed to just asking a couple of musicians to use Regional. (And you gotta admit, MMO roleplayers have a bit of an exhibitionistic streak, the very point of acting-in-character is that you gotta show it off to someone. Hopefully for their appreciation.)

So they first officially registered their protest on Regional (disrupting the singing) to the musicians, officially requested them to stop and use say only (most of these musicians have already scripted their songs for both say and regional according to event guidelines), officially registered disappointment that the musicians were ignoring them and continuing to spam (which technically, is rules-breaking, even if you have majority support), and officially made reports about spamming against the musicians. All very officiously obnoxious, of course. Obvious troll is obvious.

Pretty devious too. You see, despite the 10-20 odd people who got baited by the trolls and leapt blindly to the musicians’ defence, spamming regional further in a disruptive debate, a majority does not necessarily make right. Imagine the carnage if an organized group like the Goons formed a majority to harass a singular player or two. “We want to do it! There are a lot of us! We all agree!” cannot be a valid defence when a GM is called up to protect the interests of the poor victim who just wants to do his own thing playing the game.

In the same way, the GM must fairly defend the right of the troll to (as he so claims) continue slaying his wargs and goblins in the Lone Lands in peace and quiet, unharrassed by the irritating spam of some guy throwing strings of text into the Regional chat channel at a very fast pace. Let’s face it, on any other day, if some random guy decided he wanted to start singing something ridiculously immersion-breaking like Lady Gaga into Regional, you’d want the GMs to react to it.

That’s what GMs have to do. No one said it was easy. You have to balance and mediate and try to adjudicate between two parties, one usually highly aggrieved and one with the sole dedicated purpose of said other-person-aggrievation as a minigame.

GMs hired by a commercial MMO company are subject to the vagaries of a bureaucracy, of a hierarchy, of petitions to their superiors, of differing ranks of power as opposed to the ancient MUD days or small indie MMOs where essentially, dev immortals are god and tyrant, dictator, benevolent or otherwise, where what they say, freaking goes and they have the power to enforce it.

And I presume you have to follow the letter of the code of conduct as a GM, even if you try to heed the spirit of things. I think it was fairly cleverly handled all told.

A GM gave a warning on two channels, then left the players to sit around and debate on a Looking for Fellowship channel as the trolls got distracted by the flames and attention of people who intentionally or otherwise took the bait and diverted them from Regional to the LFF channel. Players who wanted peace and quiet could just dump the trolls on ignore. (I very quickly just clicked on their names and hit ‘report as harassment’ for good measure too as I ignored them and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the concert.)

I’m going to presume that behind-the-scenes again, the event organizers would be talking to the GM to handle matters. Weatherstock is a big event with community and dev support, and attracts positive press and attention, so it’s not as if there wouldn’t be extenuating circumstances by the time the incident reports wound its way up to the food chain and back down again.

And there were only about 10-20 minutes left of the event, so you know, if folks (meaning GMs and organizers) were both clever and diplomatic, it would be quite a simple matter to sit there in conversation with a GM and pretty much stall and delay the issue, while officially ‘mediating and arbitrating’ and ‘reaching consensus in discussion’ until it became a nonissue.

On Player Power and Other Social Solutions

We’ve been at this from a very standard MMO angle, GMs as arbitrators, because the incident happened in one, and that’s how it’s set up. It makes me wonder if other MMOs would have ways of dealing with such situations. I may have to leave off hypothetical cross-comparisons and analysis for another post, because the word count of this one is starting to alarm even me.

Lastly But Not the Least

Two more things. Along the spectrum of full fledged griefing and trolling down to the more harmless player participation in an event level, we have fireworks. People are requested not to fire them off as they cause visual lag, and the basic goal is preserving the sound quality of the performance, after all. And there was specific stage crew who were presumably tasked to create the special effects and probably used fireworks to do so.

What makes me curious is, how many of the fireworks that were fired off, unplanned, and fired by players who weren’t part of the planning committee, so to speak? Do we consider that griefing? It’s not as annoying as it’s more immersive, but you know, these things are a spectrum of grey. Same with those two chickens. Or how about the tall guy who is always forever blocking your view and refuses to budge at concerts? We had quite a few of those players. It’s not just black-and-white all the time.

And finally, I want to call out the professionalism shown by the band that won the Free People’s Choice, Mornië Alantië.

Silence is always less noticeable than bluster – and we had some bands that did bluster, comes with the territory I expect, some personalities are made that way and they’re charming when they do. 🙂 But I noticed, and I want to point out my appreciation of it.

If memory serves, the forced emote griefing incident occurred right in the midst of their very first song. Quite disrupted the audio and not a few folks in the audience wanted them to begin the set again. Out of fairness and respect to the other teams and the time limit given for each performance (or due to technical issues, I don’t know how their scripts were set up, but the resulting impression was positive), Mornië Alantië ignored the griefing incident with silent professionalism, adapting with the flow, and played right on, segueing to their second song then the next.

Essentially, the show must go on. Choosing to ignore the equivalent of hecklers in a digital realm, they let the power of their music speak for them. And it was great indeed.

And at the last, when they participated in the Battle of the Bands (and the chat troll police were out in full swing,) I noticed that their lead singer had swiftly removed all Regional singing, only doing so in Say. Couldn’t have been easy to alter his script midway through the concert, but he did without making any kind of fuss about it. And in the end, they just played on.

Fine examples of true musicianship.

(Disclaimer: I do not mean to denigrate any of the other bands by pointing one out, because I am sure there were other bands who did similar things which I missed. From my perspective, this is simply how I interpreted this one band’s actions. There were so many good bands.  My one regret in the Battle of the Bands was that I had to choose to go to one when there was plenty of great music echoing from all direction of the stones of Amon Sul.

I have so much catching up to do on Youtube. And next year, I’ll try to actually mark the date! And get screenshots. Functional ones. Sheesh.)

ATITD: The Midnight Digs and Stir

The next part of the saga:

Step 2) Obtain Cement and Plaster

My alarm clock worked. Fortunately, it was the 3am-7am stretch in between Saturday and Sundays so very little overall harm done to the rest of my life, just sleep in a little longer.

(Yes, I am crazy enough to pull off these marathon overnights – one gets used to it being on the other side of the pond from the Americans, and I actually like the wee morning hours. They’re peaceful.

My geographic location is also one of the reasons I’m very leery of game mechanics that cause too much group overcommitment to time schedules. I know my personality is hardcore obsessive enough to get greedy and crazy addicted if I don’t watch it all the time and correct it instantly like a bad puppy.

Now and then I consciously do it as a once in a blue moon thing, trading off lack of sleep for profit, but I wouldn’t want to make it a habit EVERY effing week.)

a) Attend Gypsum Dig

Five minutes before 3am (3pm EST to normal people), run over to the scheduled spot in the far west of Egypt in Valley of Kings.

I cut it this close because I was sitting on 9 days of travel time that I didn’t mind burning off on instant travel at Chariot Stops. If one doesn’t have the travel time to burn, factor in at least 15-30 minutes to get to a location, because you’ll be waiting for 3-5 minutes in between Chariot Stops for the free travel option.

These group digs and activities are organized by one of the more famous names in ATITD, Rabble, who hosts these things pretty much out of the kindness of his heart. And for the benefit of the ATITD society as a whole – because without these things, people would reach stuck points and quit (or gather in clique-y groups) and  erode away at the community atmosphere. He’s awesome.

I believe for sandboxes to stabilize into lawfulness, you -need- a few of these benevolent leader types to appear and get people organized as a big group and keep things welcoming for newbies. I hear Ultima Online had some of these, and ATITD also spawns a notable number of them.

(Generosity and respect also feeds forward and back. No doubt if Rabble ever needed help with anything, a ton of people would drop whatever they were doing and rush to help out.

It’s the rare MMO game that manages these sorts of iterated prisoner’s dilemmas that build trust though. Too often, people only face one interaction with each other, and the rational thing is for people to defect for profit and screw the group.

In ATITD, you’ll only pull it off once, then your reputation will be soured for good. And the game is built such that you need to check back in periodically with the group to keep succeeding – you can still solo and meander off as a hermit if you want to, but you’ll get there a lot faster if people don’t hate you and if you accept help from the group now and then. It’s a fantastic balance the game mechanics have set up – seriously incomparable to any other game I’ve encountered so far.)

Sidetrek aside, er yeah, dig. Dig dig dig. This is ATITD’s version of a group-based activity for shared profit, aka a raid? One of them anyhow.

The actual mechanics are kinda boring. Some guy selects a menu option to Dig a Hole. Everyone else stands around the hole, clicks on the hole, and gets one option to Dig Deeper. Stand by and keep clicking it as much as your stats will let you. Endure for however long the dig lasts.

Like most things in ATITD, we can deconstruct it a bit further to find more interesting interrelated connections.

How many times you can click, and how fast, is determined by your stats. Endurance, specifically, for digging.

The stat color changes from black to dark red to bright red per click until you can no longer click when it’s bright red. The speed at which it recovers back to black is based on the numerical value on the right.

The numbers in brackets are your base stats. (Mine suck, I know. You can steadily affect your base stats by working on a myriad multitude of various Tests or minigame activities, which I treat in a fairly laissez-faire manner, nice bonus to have, but not critical. Others actively work on improving them. Your mileage may vary.)

The numbers on the left are your current stats, as affected by a bunch of things that can temporarily move stats up or down. Primarily, through Cooking. Recipes of various ingredients can be concocted for various stat increases – there’s always the tradeoff of lower stats for other things, so the trick is to lower stats you don’t currently need. Cooking requires its own set of extremely long posts to do it justice, so that’s all I shall say about it here. For this specific dig, Rabble makes up his own food for everyone, and people eat from the kitchens as directed. You can also get smaller stat bonuses through smelling Incense (which here is also provided by the dig host), and drinking from Aqueducts and various other stuff.

The shovel you use also has an effect on how effectively you dig – which can range from simple slate shovel technology which breaks a lot in the early game to professionally smithed high quality 9k+ or 9.5k+ shovels that can be given unique names by the player smith.

Standing in one spot and repeated clicking is a job best suited for macros, not humans (not if they don’t want Repetitive Strain Injury anyhow.) It’s fascinating to see how ingenious the macros are. You -could- just have a macro that clicks on the spot chosen every X number of seconds, but that’s so inelegant.

The trusty R-Cubed macro I use has a second function built in. See that “uncheck for skill” option? Uncheck it.

Now when you start the macro, it’ll ask you to hold ctrl and hover the mouse cursor over the stat. You want to pick out the stat when it is bright red (as shown when the eye color changes to bright red.) So dig dig manually a few times until you’re exhausted, and find the perfect pixel location over the letters for bright redness. Release ctrl when you’ve got it.

Then it’ll ask you to select the location where you want it to click by again holding ctrl and releasing over the correct spot. Pin down the menu (so that it doesn’t disappear when you click on it) for digging as shown in the first dig picture above, and move the mouse cursor to somewhere in the centre of the words. Release ctrl.

See how elegant it is? Now when it detects the bright red color changing (aka you have recovered enough endurance to dig again), it will move the mouse cursor to the spot you have selected, and click the dig option for you.

The same macro can be used for anything that functions similarly, eg. limestone collecting, etc.

Dig participants have it easy. Dig pickers, the other role in the dig, don’t. Once the digs reach a certain threshold, every subsequent dig tosses out the desired items. Cuttable stones and medium stones come up in most digs.

Gypsum and bauxite digs are done in the far west and east of Egypt respectively, after some time of digging a hole in those locations, the hole progresses from primarily throwing out stones to bags of gypsum or lumps of bauxite.

All those items need to be picked up. The role of the dig picker is to keep clicking on them and keep watching your avatar bend awkwardly at the waist picking them over and over and keep clicking on them some more. Everything is pooled at the end to be distributed out evenly to all in the group.

In theory anyway. Depending on the dig, the only people allowed to be pickers may be those most trusted to be able to release their haul again (and not run off or vanish, never to be seen again.) I believe this is more of a concern in the early game, where stones are very valuable, and various members of the population have not yet been established a regular commitment to the game.

By this point in the Telling, pretty much only the cooperative members remain and you’d probably be shooting yourself in the foot by acting up at one of Rabble’s digs anyway. In addition to ruining your rep, being rejected from any further group activities and the population as a whole, there are also Demipharoahs in Egypt now. These are members of the player population elected to the role, which gives the ability to perma-ban seven other players. They normally mediate disputes with lots of discussions, but that smoking gun of “permadeath” is always there as a final solution if the griefing behavior is unresolvable.

(This Telling, after a visit by a group of regular griefers, the population of Egypt also developed a new law amendment to the DP’s powers in the form of the Anti-Griefers Act. Afraid that the usual seven bans per DP might not be sufficient to stop their actions, and realizing banning didn’t solve the problem of being able to take down unsightly property, Egypt gave additional power to the DPs by enabling them to seek out a sort of referendum vote from Egypt as a whole to permaban a particular character. This is one of the powerful features of ATITD – players can make up laws, and have them implemented by developer – though the speed of the development is on the whole very slow for non-critical issues. The griefing was a critical issue.)

It’s interesting to note that things usually never escalate to this point except on rare occasions which give rise to history and gossip. The very possibility of punitive punishment existing is a check that helps society to function cooperatively. (Just as you could be punched or attacked in real life if you insulted or pissed off someone, but it rarely happens per social interaction because both people are aware that the possibility exists and moderate their behavior appropriately.)

There’s an interesting difference between the virtual world and real life though – apparently you can’t give the ability for unlimited punitive action to all people, else you’re simply asking for escalation. Someone is bound to test it out, or go nuts with it because they don’t care, or want to grief. And then someone retaliates back, and voila, nuclear war escalation scenario. Nor can you make the chance of success of punitive action contingent on higher stat or skill, because hello botting, and then FFA PvP gank paradise.

I believe there have been a few cases in ATITD history where a DP went nuts, but I wasn’t there for those. Might be interesting to do some wiki research or ask a veteran what happened in those cases some other time.

Sorry, distracted again. Back to the dig. Dig dig. Dig. Pick pick pick pick pick. Rabble’s digs last for an hour. Long enough to accumulate a hefty load of materials to be shared out, short enough to not have everyone turn into a quivering wreck. In some parts of the early game, people do digs to be entirely donated for research, or half-and-half, and some last longer or shorter, it’s all up to the dig host.

In theory, pickers could also skim off from their haul before they pool everything in one place. It would have to be fairly subtle, since it would be very obvious if there is a lower than usual number of materials to go around. And they would have to live with that on their conscience. I have no idea if that sort of secretive cheating does exist, I don’t pick or host digs. Depending on how optimistically or pessimistically you view human society, you can make your own guesses. Personally, given the amount of clicking and picking per hour involved, I wouldn’t sweat it if they got a higher cut out of it.

Everyone lines up in a neat little line at the end of the dig. The dig host goes down the line, giving out the stones and other items to each person. (Most will track who was present at the start of the dig by asking attendees to open up a chat window with them at the start.)

b) Attend Bauxite Dig

Same as before. Just a change of locations. Singing of “Diggy Diggy Hole” is optional.

c) Attend Cement Stir

Another best-done-in-a-group activity (though I was -almost- getting there on my duo, some better stats or another person would have done it), Cement is made from a Clinker Vat filled with 10 Bauxite, 10 Gypsum (hence the digs above) and 800 Clinker (practically free to the point of troublesome when smelting metal ore with Masonry unlocked on your character.)

Strength and endurance are the stats required for stirring. Each stir increments the “doneness” of the Cement a certain percentage points up to 100% when it is done. Each stir has to be made within a given time interval that ranges from 1min 54 seconds at the beginning, to as short as 10-11 seconds as the Cement nears completion.

Tradeoffs yet again. The more people the merrier applies to an extent, since each character can contribute more stirs. But you also have to stir for each person who wants cement done, which does take up time.

In Rabble’s case, he has the leading and organization of these things down pat. It’s a marvel to watch in action. A raid could not be neater. 5 Clinker Vats in a row. Warehouses filled with free Clinker at the back. Bring your own gypsum and bauxite – limited to 50 per person, for one round of stirring. He provides the fuel and water for the Vats to function because he’s that generously awesome.

Open a chat with him when you arrive, and he assigns you a turn number. For every round, the person whose turn number it is goes down the vats in sequence, loading up the 10 bauxite, 10 gypsum and 800 Clinker per Vat.

Everyone else, having eaten the free food to boost strength and endurance stats, crowds around each Vat in turn, stirring like madmen and clicking the option whenever possible.

Because there’s enough people, there is no need to regulate stirs per person. Smaller groups must give sufficient time in between stirs for each person’s stats to recover to keep up the stirs within the time interval dictated by the Clinker Vat. With this number of people, the stirs progress very fast per vat.

There’s just more vats to do, since everyone wants as much cement as possible, and best to efficiently stir more for everyone since we’re all here anyway.

It all progresses with military clockwork precision. A little over an hour and twenty minutes later, everyone goes home with 500 Cement to their name (a lot more than most of us loners have ever seen in one place, let alone owned, as one of the participants commented.)

Not every cement stir or dig goes this well. Nor a City of Heroes Incarnate trial for that matter. A masterful leader makes this sort of thing possible, and a pleasure to attend. They’re just few and far between. If you find one of these selfless folks, remember to thank and acknowledge them (or hug them) every now and then.

Never take them for granted, it’s so easy for these masters of cat herding to get tired or burn out from the thankless task.