Bloggy XMAS Day 14: Community and Me

I’m going to be splitting up my Bloggy XMAS post into two parts.

In this post, I wanted to cover my personal history with gaming communities, mostly to give some context for the following post, on how we can join and form communities.

In college, I was deep into that predecessor of an MMO: the MUD.

  • Schooling overseas, so in a well-populated American time zone.
  • Plenty of free time, with the liberty to cut classes with no compulsory marking of attendance (A boring and uninteresting professor reading from a textbook or talking to the blackboard was easily replaced by actually reading the textbook on one’s own, at a faster speed than narrated aloud.)
  • Alone in a strange country looking for like-minded souls.
  • Strongly introverted.

The perfect ingredients for seeking out and finding belonging in online communities, really.

I’d easily spend a good 12-18 hours a day, just logged into the MUD. (Wandering off AFK to do other things now and then, of course.)

Heck, sometimes I’d even leave the computer on and stay logged in overnight. One’s character would be unresponsive, but one could always scroll back to check what had happened while one was asleep, and one year, I hit upon the idea of making my own primitive chatbot with the basic scripts of the MUD client. A trigger keyword spoken by someone else would produce a string of random responses. It was quite amusing to see others play with and discover the keywords that would produce unique quips, even after they realized there was no one at home.

It should be fairly unsurprising to all that I pretty much ran the full gamut of online community experience during that time.

I joined a guild. (That MUD automatically helped to form sub-communities with pre-existing guilds divided by one’s character class.)

I became a very active and enthusiastic member, participating in every event organized, voraciously eating up advice and knowledge from veterans.

There weren’t quite ‘officer’ ranks in those days beyond Guild Leader, Number One and Number Two, but informally, there were more active people in semi-leadership positions bringing newer folks on ‘raids’ – ‘runs’ in those days, comprising of 3-8+ people. As one gained more experience, I started becoming one of those people.

Being constantly online and presenting as a female character on that particular alt, it is also fairly unsurprising that I started to become a nucleus, a central core around which community or social networks form. (I’m sure you know at least one or two of those folks who seemed to be linked to everyone and know everybody.)

Especially when you mix in an extreme amount of game competency and a willingness to teach (or at least, lead and drag along – I was less mellow in those days) others. People respect game expertise and also want to follow because they either get to learn and benefit or profit without much effort, y’know?

You might expect that eventually, the official ranks followed as well.

And you’d be right.

I don’t think I sought it out beyond the initial application, but just kept being the stellar example of leadership that I imagined that I’d like myself, and just climbed up through the ranks through attrition, as each Guild Leader lost interest in the game or burned out or decided it was time to step down.

Damn, but leading is a helluva lot of work.

I think I lasted a decent amount of time, a year or two, perhaps. I was pretty authoritarian, channeling my best benevolent dictator impression – perhaps inspired by my home country’s ex-leadership. I like to think that I did good during that time.

Inactives that never contributed anything (or indeed logged on) were ruthlessly and regularly purged. I clamped down on stealing from the guild donation vault – stuff that was donated by other members and meant for newbies were being used by some more selfishly oriented members to lazily equip their alts (which were never used for anything that benefited the guild either) and wielded the kick from guild option (called “outcast” in those days) like a banhammer, enforcing rules that had never been taken seriously until then.

The goal, of course, was to form a tighter community of active participants that knew each other’s names and knew they could rely on each other. Social loafing and parasiting was discouraged.

(Yeah, I was fairly elitist in those days too. You were either ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group’ to me. I didn’t care about the out-group, they could go off and do their own things, far away from me. I wanted to cultivate the promising in-group intensely.)

It wasn’t all serious scary business. When I wasn’t being a fearsome GM-like individual (maybe 10-20% of the time, falling to 5% as the guild got cleaned up and filled up with a better quality of people), I was busy being an example of the kind of person and culture I wanted in the guild. Friendly, fun, cheerful, ready to help and respond to anything, with a very hefty helping of the strangely quirky. Kumquats were the official fruit mascot of the guild, fer instance.

At the same time, I guess I already participated in multi-guilding before the concept of MMOs was even formed.

The MUD allowed alts. The alts could belong to different organizations. My guild was primarily a social guild that allowed for aspirations to middle-of-the-road raiding. I wanted more and I knew the culture of the guild couldn’t quite support the high-level stuff (at least not until more people leveled alts of the right class – balance in those days and in that game was non-existent. You just couldn’t defeat certain mobs with all representatives of one class, especially a class with a lower damage skill and was meant to stay at home producing healing potions for other higher-damage classes.)

Naturally, I applied for and got in to one of the premiere ‘raid’ organizations in that time, in that place. Social networking really helped, just like real world job applications, I guess. One of my previous guild leaders was in-game ‘married’ to one of the top players of the MUD. I got to know both of them, and they were my ‘in’ into that organization.

It was a great place. It was a really special organization, formed from a group of people who had broken away from a pre-existing organization and had enough social clout to actually get the imms and coders to create an organization with a new name. (All that stuff was hard-coded, so it wasn’t as easy as it is now to birth new guilds.)

They were fun-loving, but really serious about raids and the cream of the crop – these were players with the oodles of time to run and learn every hard mob, and kill them repeatedly for the good gear that made all their alts big and bad and powerful; these were players who, in their time, had served as leaders of guilds; these were players who read and studied the code of the MUD or wrote item databases for the rest of the MUD to use or knew how to solve mysterious riddles, map changing mazes and ridiculous amounts of trivia about the MUD.

We were, of course, brought together by a certain amount of personal greed. We wanted to kill the biggest and baddest mobs. We wanted no one else to have that level of wealth and to monopolize it all and get richer.

It was the best of times. And the worst of times.

8-11 people cannot sit together in a room (even a virtual one) waiting for a mob to spawn without getting to know each other’s names and socialize and chat.

The culture in those days was to do our best to kill the mob for as many times as there were players, so that everyone would walk away with an equal share of the loot. Mobs would respawn every 15-20 minutes later, or some other set amount of time per area.

(It’s easier for mobs that just need 3-5 people, and a lot more challenging the moment we start talking 8+ people. Someone eventually devised a point system – adopted by others on the MUD later as our members spread it to other orgs – that I think eventually found its way into Everquest in the form of DKP.)

It was also a ton of time spent, and prevented people who didn’t have that sort of time from ever joining the top echelons.

And when there are people and greed and limited loot, there is also eventually drama and fallout.

Oh, I don’t think any of us ever stole from each other. The number of people we’re talking about was just too small for ninja-looting to be successful. When there’s only 300-500 players on a MUD, period, your name will be forever blackened and your reputation dust if one ever tried that. But there was plenty of hostility and rivalry and elitism versus other groups, other organizations.

A divided culture like this only lasts as long as there are enough people to sustain all the little small sub-communities.

When Everquest came out, the MUD lost players to the newfangled graphical interface thingie.

When WoW came out, well… even fewer people stuck around.

I’d burned myself out on guild leading some time earlier. An introvert and a hermit like me just cannot fake it for that long without running out of energy eventually.

I’d burned myself out on leveling more characters in the MUD by seriously overdoing it – the crowning ambition was max’ing out 5 characters simultaneously – I did it, I was really darned happy about it, I used nearly every power-leveling trick there was in the book, and shortly after, nearly every power-leveling trick was nerfed into the ground by an immortal/coder that wanted to close all the bugs (I don’t think that was me though. That coder was intently following someone else to learn what they were doing – the one I’d learned the tricks from, really, and I never abused the worst ones as much as they did,) and I could never get used to the non-cheaty rate of experience gain again.

I’d burned myself out on the slow pace of change. You think waiting for MMO expansions and updates these days is bad? Try a MUD coded by unpaid volunteers. Takes months to change, like, a typo. Take a democratic debate and umpteen meetings to maybe propose that something ought to change, and if the bureaucracy of players who are afraid of change don’t shout the idea down or tear it to shreds, the lack of any actual manpower to code the agreed-on change means that nothing happens anyway.

The names that I was familiar with were no longer logging in regularly. They’d gotten sucked into Everquest. Sucked into WoW.

The community wasn’t broken overnight, but it was never the same as it was in its heyday.

I clung on a lot longer than I really should have, afraid of loss. Loss of reputation, loss of my name, loss of self-image, loss of characters and gear and treasures (stuff auto-deleted in those days if you didn’t log in regularly, it’s not like commercial MMOs these days that keep your records forever.) I spent a long time pining for something that could never come again and complaining to anyone who would listen about the present horrible state of affairs, while not actually enjoying the game I was logging into out of habit’s sake.

But I was running out of people who would listen, as well.

This isn’t meant to be a negative or depressing post, so I’d cut the long story short and say that the revelation finally hit me that I needed to go cold turkey with it all.

It helped that I finally found an alternative game that didn’t follow in the same vein as the fantasy-style vertical progression raid game that I’d already burned out on.

City of Heroes was a great introduction to the world of 3D, with the transient social nature of PUGs that lasted only as long as the game session, and a community that pretty much existed only in whole on a web forum, divided into smaller server sub-communities.

Having burned out from the old game, I went the ol’ antisocial solo loner route on this one, with only a real life friend or two joining me from time to time, minus a couple abortive attempts at joining a supergroup. There just wasn’t any real need to form tight exclusive communities, though I did participate in the occasional fun event brewed up by someone on the forums. Those were mostly one-offs.

Since then, I’ve had plenty of other community experiences.

Many attempts at belonging sputtered out. I tried to join The Older Gamers, mostly for RIFT, and found it a little too megaguild for me, with too many crossover games and too many players a little too casual for my tastes.  There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but a general lack of focus, and my interest in belonging to the community diminished as my interest in the MMO did.

I joined some random guild in Age of Conan and tried my hand at ‘real’ MMO raiding – which wasn’t perhaps the best place to do it in, given the schizophrenic item stats and lack of researched information on what was effective or no, and my lack of a common raid language given that I didn’t play WoW or EQ but only ‘raided’ in City of Heroes.

(It took us a disgusting amount of tries and total raid wipes, until someone finally realized the off-tank taking one dog add was being a bit too insanely gungho in assuming that they had to stay put in one spot in order to get healed by the bear shaman, and running out of defensive cooldowns too quickly. *ahem, that was yours truly*

All it took was one quick demonstration by the other tank/healer pair that kiting around the pillars was ok and perfectly acceptable, and the problem was solved. The rest of the raid could now take as long as they liked to work on the main boss.

Frankly, I was privately amazed that it took that long for them to figure out what the problem was – or whether they knew and were just trying to figure out a way to tell me. One quick direct whisper would have sufficed.

Anyhow, Age of Conan, and thus that guild, died too quick a death for us to progress any further beyond that. And I was already having timezone clash issues.)

I joined some other random guild for Warhammer and Aion, and mostly found out that I didn’t quite fit into groups of young teenagers or barely twenty somethings that liked to run around in a big group killing other people, mostly by outnumbering them, and getting killed in turn, when outnumbered, with little to no effort at improving this equation as a team or analyzing what went wrong.

But there have also been decent enough successes.

I’ve been neighborly in A Tale in the Desert, where communities are formed in a geographic sense, by the people who settle down next to you. There’s a certain tension still in trying to maintain one’s own separateness and independence from communal efforts, which may eat you up and spit you out with nothing much to show for it besides burnout if one is not careful, but also room for being generous and helpful and becoming real friends with people whose chat or company you enjoy (as opposed to just being polite and civil acquaintances.)

There’s the MMO/games blogging community, which is interesting for being asynchronous. Posts are put up in one’s own time. Posts are read, commented on or linked to by others in their own time. But still the network of recognizable names (or faces/voices) form over time via our shared interest in games and talking about them.

I also think I’ve hit a very good balance in my present MMO, as compared to my two old extremes between being too special on the MUD and being no one special in City of Heroes.

In GW2, I’ve lucked into a small, stable, social not-too-casual not-too-serious guild that I can run with for smallscale WvW. (Dungeons and guild missions used to be possible, but timezone clashes are now an issue, more’s the pity.)

The game’s design allows for a WvW community that isn’t too closed off and elitist, so I can still log into the server’s voice chat and easily find the current big group running at the time to join in to get my zerg on.

Ditto that for raids, with a big enough megaguild that also espouses openness rather than exclusion, which gives rise to a large enough cycling OCE/SEA population and sufficient leadership to actually get stuff done.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, but I’m certainly appreciating it while it does.

My main take-home message from this meandering of my MMO history is that there’s plenty of different styles of community out there. It may take a bit of doing, but it’s possible to find one that can suit you and your needs.

Also, don’t get surprised if it doesn’t last forever. Hell, even many marriages don’t last forever, these days. But appreciate the good moments while they happen.

Then try, try again.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 2 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“It is good to have friends, is it not, Mr. Garibaldi? Even if, maybe, only for a little while?”

“Even if only for a little while.”

— Londo and Garibaldi, Babylon 5

In City of Heroes, guilds were known as supergroups.

I didn’t join any for a while.

Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly there was no pressing need to (everyone did pickup groups) and I think I was hoping to get lucky and stumble across a perfect match like in my MUD days.

Turns out that an MMO is a lot bigger than a MUD.

It’s hard to be a known name or recognizable, and you sure didn’t seem to see the same people twice in your pickup groups.

I did eventually end up meeting a rather nice chap on the Justice server, who sent me an invite to his Instant Heroes supergroup, and I joined to be nice about it.

Alas, I started running into the problem that would plague me for the rest of my MMO career. Timezone issues.

Back in the MUD, I was mostly on American soil, playing with hardcore folks who would stay online for 9-16 hours a day (and possibly bot the rest of the time too.)

In an MMO with a larger casual population, more people play more sedate periods of 1-4 hours a night.

My primetime was not their primetime. As a result, the guild tended to be very quiet when I logged on, and they probably never saw me log on either, until the weekends.

Then I ran out of character slots on Justice and moved onto sampling a new server, Freedom, which had developed a more powergamer-type of community.

Around the same time, in 2007, supergroup bases became a thing. The new update was going to allow guilds to earn a currency that could be used to design-your-own-guild-hall.

Supergroup recruitment messages plastered the forums, every group clamoring for new recruits for self-benefitting purposes.

It was also going to be an awful waste if I remained guildless and kept playing, while I could be earning that currency for a guild. Powergamers abhor inefficiency, after all.

And the inveterate explorer in me was intently curious on -seeing- this new content, even if I had no interest in designing or building rights. Just being able to walk in was fine.

So I randomly picked a nice guild recruitment message that appealed and was in the same server that I was currently playing in, and found myself part of the Top Ten supergroup.

Oh, it started out promising as all these things do.

2007-07-16 05:00:16

We had our guild meetings in a brand spanking new HUMONGOUS superbase. We had our guild colors.

We assembled everyone together to take guild photos with artfully arranged emotes.

Memory fails me, but from scattered screenshots, I think we even had guild events where we assembled enough to do a hamidon raid or visit the PvP zones for some random fun.

I’m sure you know the ending of the story by now.

Attrition happened.

People got distracted by other games, Found other things to do. Stopped logging in.

We lost officers. The events dried up.

Day by day, the guild population got smaller and smaller.

Again, I ran out of character slots and the l33tspeak powergamer tendencies of the Freedom server were beginning to get to me as I kept mellowing down further.

I kept the global channel the supergroup was using, as I enjoyed the chatter, but stopped logging the character that was in it since there was nothing much to do but farm for fun after hitting max level. (Loot was still not a thing beyond some supergroup crafting items or what-not.)

I had moved on to the roleplaying server, Virtue, with new characters to level and was enjoying the concomitant increase in community maturity level.

And NOW loot became a thing. Inventions happened. A guild supergroup base made a really good bank storage given that characters only had ten slots to store stuff.

Except that one has no storage rights being a member of a big guild in a server far away.

Enter the family and friends guild.

Well, -one- friend.

They fancied themselves quite the supergroup base designer.

Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it.)
Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it. He did.)

It worked out fine. I left most of the design to my friend, continued to play my way and earn supergroup currency for us, and made use of the amenities – including hogging a bunch of storage containers for my packrat tendencies. He got to put the prestige earned by two very dedicated players to good use, building elaborate architecture to his heart’s content.

Attrition still happened.

This time the guilty party was me. I lost interest as all the raids arrived.

I stopped playing City of Heroes around six months before the end. I think my friend held on till NCsoft booted him out. Though he also had bouts of dissatisfaction from time to time, he held a bit more loyalty to the franchise than I did.

I had other games, and other guilds.

CoH was not the sole MMO I played. I had it on constant sub for years, while jumping to the next newest and greatest and shiniest at the time (and a few odd ducks besides):

  • Guild Wars – Ironically, I joined no guild in this, playing it as a single player game for the most part, enjoying myself thoroughly with my heroes and personal solo challenges.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online – The required grouping and timezone issues killed this one for me at launch even before I could think about maybe being committed to the game long enough to perhaps join a guild.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – I think I did join a random fellowship at one point. You know the sort. Advertised over mapchat. Filled with people doing their own thing and occasional guild channel chatter looking for group while the game was still popular. At the time, I didn’t need much more than that. I attrition’ed with everyone else and must have got booted at some point. I wouldn’t know. I was having more serious issues, like not being able to get out of Moria. Ever.

(Run in circles, kill ten more goblins, pick up another quest, go back to the same place and kill 10 more different types of goblins. pick up yet another quest and visit the same area to click on some rocks near goblins, pick up still another quest to kill goblin leaders that may have needed a group or to be higher in level…. Yeah. I ended up taking pretty screenshots and logging off.)

  • Age of Conan – Alright. Let’s get serious, I thought. Timezone issues were a massive pain. Let’s take the time to pick and choose my guild more carefully, and if I couldn’t find a local guild – which never tends to last in not so popular games – maybe an Oceanic Australian guild would work. So I shopped around, read all the ubiquitous guild recruitment messages, tried to pick a good fit one that actually bothered to request applicants fill out a casual application survey. (My MUD did that. Good way to weed out the utterly nonserious and the unable to type to communicate to save their lives ones.)

I got in.

Oh my god, it’s full of PVPers.

Ok, I kid, but not by much. It was full of and led by competitive Killer types, with a side helping of Achievers.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have expected that, being that I was playing an MMO that -advertised- itself as FFA PvP, hardcore-realistic battles and what-not.

They weren’t bad people, by any means. Friendly, supportive, band-of-brothers-y. It just wasn’t going to be a guild culture that mapped onto my interests very well.

I stuck with them for quite a while, all the same. Attempted a PvE raid or two, to discover that GMT +10 primetime was still different enough for someone in GMT+8 to have a really bad time trying to make the schedule and be on time (quite a few hasty commutes from work and skipped dinners.)

  • Warhammer Online – This was the period where I think of the three MMOs in sequence. As AoC was drowning from exploits, bugs and laggard development fixes and patches, everyone switched their attention to WAR. I coasted with the same guild into the new MMO, where we had our fun-enough-for-a-time PvP trains and zergs while the crowds were still home.
  • Aion – Just as rapidly, the whole Oceanic population jumped ship from WAR to Aion. I was already beginning to get quite cynical at this point, recognizing that Oceania/Asia seemed to have formed their own community of PvP-interested guilds that were less attached to a game per se, and more attached to each other as voicechat individuals. I envied guilds like The Kelly Gang whose timezones and playstyles matched well enough to stick with each other, regardless of game. (Small world, ain’t it?)

The guild I was in wasn’t bad, but we were leaving a few people behind with every jump and getting a little smaller and smaller via attrition once more. And I was burning out from all dat PvP. Oh, the endless I-kill-you-kill-everybody-dies…

And you know, Aion -was- grindy. Like, really really grindy. Like, I’ve killed so many mobs in the same place and still can’t seem to level grindy.

Not to mention, being an undergeared melee class in a game where players can fucking fly (ok, glide) from floating island to floating island may not have been the wisest choice for successful PvP. (And PvE was turning out to be an unoriginal holy trinity game of spawn camping world bosses for lousy RNG drops, with presumably ugh, raids in the future.)

No hard feelings, guys. It’s not the guild. It’s the FUCKING GAME. I moved on.

  • RIFT – Having gone through all types of guild options at a rather accelerated pace, I though, well, what’s one more? Mega-guild time. There are only a couple of famous, super game-spanning guild communities out there, and mostly via random pick, I tested out The Older Gamers as opposed to say, Gaiscioch.

Which worked fine during the early launch days, providing sufficient chatter and crowds for my not-very-demanding needs, but I was beginning to suspect that the success of each individual game chapter of a mega-guild depended a lot on the shoulders of the leaders and officers that had volunteered to run it. If a community center didn’t develop, that was pretty much going to be it. (And it’s also tiring as hell for the people who are serving as the centers of community. I did it as a guild leader on my MUD once. Never again.)

As suspected, attrition yet again whittled down the RIFT chapter over time. I was losing interest in the game myself.

I never did participate much in the bigger game-spanning community forums. An unfortunate and untimely injected script into an advertisement incident scared me off frequenting their boards too often – valuable game hours are taken up by scanning for viruses, trojans and rootkits, y’know!

You get out what you put into a community. TOG was simply a little too big for me to connect with anyone. I found I preferred guilds that were game-specific, so that at least everyone had some kind of common interest.

To my surprise, it was in the niche games that I found more of a throwback to what I was used to from my MUD days.

Next up, Puzzle Pirates briefly and A Tale (of guilds) in the Desert…


A Guild Odyssey – Part 1 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“Only those whose lives are brief can believe that love, is eternal. [pause] You should embrace that remarkable illusion.”

– Lorien, Babylon 5

I’ve gone through a lot of guilds.

Not, thankfully, because of drama, but simply because I’ve played many games and keep trying to find that mythical guild that is just right for me.

My first experience with guilds was in my old MUD, Realms of Despair.

Guilds were in-built institutions in the game, divided up by character classes. The idea seemed to be to form collections of likeminded people playing the same class that could share advice. In practice, social culture had a strong effect on who joined which guild and likeminded people hung together while developing whole stables of alts for max level mob “raids” instead.

For myself, as a newbie, I barely understood all this and merely took the route of trying to get into -any- guild as any of my characters hit the max level of 50.

I joined the Guild of Vampires, only to find them rather quiet and stand-off-ish.

So I joined the Guild of Warriors on another alt, and found them friendly enough, if serious and rather oldschool old-guard, preferring to lament lost glory days (yes, this was happening 16 years ago – the more things change…) than actively run anything or teach much to newbies (one actually wondered if they had the knowledge I was seeking at the time.)

Like a wandering Goldilocks, my third try finally hit a guild that was neither too hot or cold. The Guild of Clerics was a group of cheerful and quirky people, bolstered by a very friendly second-in-command (who later went on to become guild leader) that naturally made connections with people.

As a young newbie, enthusiastically participating in any contests she set up, I ended up learning a heap about the MUD (in those days, trivia contests were game-related and involved retrieving items from all over the world, identifying zones and rooms via descriptions, etc.) and becoming a favorite / recognizable name at the same time.

By additional stroke of fortune, she happened to be in-game married to one of THE premiere MUD players of that time. You know, the powergamer sort. The kind that naturally finds the optimal path, runs armies of multiple alts (legal in those days) and knows every darned thing there is to know.

My frickin’ idol. Someone who I aspired to become.

I didn’t really keep either admiration or aspiration secret, but tried to hang out as much as possible with them – since she was nice, while he may or may not have had time for me but tolerated my presence due to her – vacuuming up every scrap of knowledge that was dropped my way.

Eventually, as I started coming into my own, I ended up in-game adopted as their kid (which was cool) and used that connection to join the MUD organization they also belonged to – an Order.

Orders were what we would probably recognize as guilds now. A somewhat more elite affair, with a higher entry barrier in the case of the serious ‘raiding’ orders, while a few others were known to be more social or dedicated to roleplaying.

The Order I joined had an interesting history. It was a new up-and-comer, broken off from an old Order via a mass exodus after some political disagreement or other. In those days, every single organization was hard-coded by an immortal, so forming a new one was not something any Tom, Dick or Harry could do – it was an Event. It was News.

I missed most of the delicious gossip at the time, being all newbie and unconnected, but did join as part of their second or third intake to form the ‘next generation,’ so to speak.

And boy, were we elite. Did we have something to prove. It was a powergamer Explorer and Achiever paradise.

Nearly every person recruited was someone who had ‘shown serious promise or potential’ as a ‘raider’ in the Guilds we had connections to. Clerics was one of them, Druids was another, plus some others like Warriors or Mages.

We ended up naturally skimming the cream of the crop, like calling to like, assembling a medley of hardcore players who had tons of playtime, heaps of MUD mastery and the willingness to lead, follow, and organize exploration and raiding parties to the most inaccessible places to take down the most notorious multi-person mobs.

Some of my best memories of the MUD stem from those days, when our Order managed to discover the way to one of the most desirable ‘raid’ mobs AND keep it a secret only within our group. The way was kept so secret that for a while, my powergaming ‘dad’ was one of maybe two people who would map the way to the mob, the rest of us kept outside and away.

Being insatiably curious, I would keep peeking into the rooms he was in with a ‘scry’ spell while being honest and not moving a muscle from the room we were supposed to stay in, trying to cudgel my brain and figure out HOW he was doing it while being oh-so-close-and-oh-so-far-away from finding out. After the raid was over, I’d try out whatever theories I’d come up with, taking advantage of my characters being parked a couple of rooms away.

It took quite a while, weeks to months, and the secret had already leaked out somewhat (probably via social engineering, which I would not have stooped to) but I did eventually become one of the five to eight people who could map their way to this mob.

In the meantime, our Order had quite a number of uninterrupted weeks where we would regularly down the mob, holding a monopoly on all the loot that dropped from it. We had a lovely social time where the 8-10 people needed to take it down would camp out one room away and wait for the mob to respawn and engage in that weird waiting activity of chatting and being semi-AFK until the next fight.

At that time, all was right with the world. (Nevermind the angry naysayers who weren’t part of our Order and thus subject to our monopoly.)

We were kings. At the top of the world.

We would have been happy to freeze those glorious moments and have it last forever.

They never do.

Six months to a year in, one or two other Orders began managing to organize their own runs at the mob. More sporadically, and one of them was even more secretive than we, so things were still good, and nothing was common knowledge as yet.

Then more upstarts arrived. A group of players who weren’t happy with joining any of the existing Orders and formed an Order-less clique of their own was being led by a player who was pretty much as on top of his powergame as we were. (He turned into one of my rivals in competitions, actually. One of the few who could actually compete at my pace, and then started kicking my ass now and then.)

They cracked the code. They violated the prior sanctity of our personal raid mob monopoly and brought in… public nobodies! No affliations, just… people who were friends with them. They even tried their hand at persuading the MUD coders to make them a new Order (which was indeed created for a while, but short-lived in the long run.)

The next half-year turned into a sort of rivalry year. The two or three groups who could fight elite mobs were in bitter competition with each other. Plenty of hate, lots of drama. Us vs them.

But this too would pass.

Everquest launched.

Holy hell, a MUD with GRAPHICS. Who wants to read WORDS?

A good part of the playerbase took off for the new shiny. MMOs were in. MUDs were history,

All of our Guilds, our Orders, our organizations lost members. They simply stopped logging-in, leaving more and more bereft and bitter MUD stalwarts to restlessly complain about the snail’s pace at which the MUD was changing (being run by unpaid volunteers means development time simply doesn’t match up to a commercial company.)

When they did log in, it was to sell the fun they were having over there to their friends. Further attrition.

People who logged in for their friends and social fun came in to look around, but the place wasn’t the same anymore. All the people they knew weren’t there any longer. Logged right back out again and found something else to do.

The MUD communities in-game dwindled and grew ever more insular and protective of their preferred playstyle.

I went into a jaded funk that lasted a good four years. My self-image was threatened on all sides. I was no longer a winner – all these young upstarts were trouncing me, some with better reflexes and memory, some with the cyborg help of more sophisticated MUD database knowledge and mapping programs.

There was really nothing to fight for – nearly all my friends were gone, the MUD was in a development rut and ceased to improve or change despite vocal player efforts to volunteer time and creative manpower (enmeshed in a hierarchical bureaucracy, most of the immortal administrators were glorified button-pushing name-verifiers, highly reluctant to give players access to “secrets” like how to build areas for fear that this would somehow destroy either immersion or their perceived power – even if the codebase was freely downloadable and had already been scoured by powergamers for the most advantage,)

I was trapped by inertia and the fear of loss (of all my characters and “hard-earned” loot) even as my self-esteem was crumbling day by day.

I logged in out of habit and nothing more.

Eventually, I hit upon a distancing strategy in between bitter ranting to anyone who still remained and cared to listen on the MUD (which had converted into a chatroom for me.)

I had staunchly refused to try the newfangled MMOs like Everquest and World of Warcraft (now there was an even greater playerbase hit) because I had already been burned once. Sic transit gloria mundi. It didn’t last. One couldn’t win forever. One look, and I knew it was going to be the same elitist raiding game I’d already experienced with the MUD. Been there, done that, been hurt.

But I told my Achiever self, who had been running rampant for a long time, to go sit in the corner for a while and let the poor battered-down Explorer out of the basement it had been locked in. Before social pressure made me conform to what was expected of a “good player” in the MUD, I was a wide-eyed discoverer picking up anything not nailed down and looking under everything.

I’d explored this MUD to death. But there were -other- MUDs in the wide ocean – also beginning to suffer death knells from the influx of MMOs, but still lingering on.

I began MUD-hopping. Sampling any random MUD that caught my eye, and enjoying the process of comparing various game systems to another. How this one place addressed the same problem versus another.

This was naturally a guildless time. Nomads don’t need to form many connections.

The distance helped.

In 2004, after reading one too many reviews about a superhero MMO that had no loot but lots of fun and promise, I decided it was time for me to stop being a dinosaur and take the leap into graphical MMOs. The lack of a raid endgame made me hopeful.

One month later, after experiencing CoH’s forum and in-game community, I took a final symbolic step to cut the burdensome ties to the MUD that had trapped me past enjoying the game.

I traded off my most valued and treasured piece of loot, an heirloom that had been passed down from player to player, for a whole bunch of high-level currency (equipment sets from a high-level mob).

This was promptly fed into a lottery NPC as the last thing I had wanted to do in the MUD but could never bring myself to do (treat all that loot as disposable).

With the usual irony of RNG, I won the jackpot prize.

I gave it away to the first name that caught my eye – a casual player, someone who didn’t run in my same circles, but who had been one of the initial inspirations on my hardcore journey and who had quit and come back to the game. What they did with it was their business.

I wasn’t going to be trapped by bytes any longer – the illusion that these tiny numbers in a database had some kind of value that I had to keep logging in to maintain and prevent from deletion into nothingness.

I wasn’t going to leash any of my guilded friends down with it (which might have led to some initial disappointment at not receiving any stuff, but well, I was proving a point.)

I stripped naked one character, which I kept only to maintain social connections to the Order that had given me good memories, and let the rest (hundreds of them) filled with all manner of loot and trivially hoarded items alphabetically arranged into bags labeled A-Z be autodeleted by the unyielding code of the MUD that whacked any not logged-in after a few weeks to three months.

I was free.

I moved on to MMOs.

ATITD: Factories in the Desert

Woke up with a bad crick in the neck yesterday. Alternated between wandering around pissed off at the pain and lying down whenever possible to try and ease it, and got very little computer time in.

Anyway, let’s continue where we left off, 2200 Clay richer.

Wool Cloth

20 Wool Cloth was easy to soak in clay, since the stock was already sitting in my hand loom. One learns very quickly in ATITD to have extra stocks of everything to hand, else making it all from scratch becomes a righteous pain.

Fer example, Wool Cloth comes from shearing sheep – which you first need to catch roaming about Egypt, then make a sheep pen and feed them onions (which you grow) and shear them to get Wool.  The Wool is then spun into Yarn with a Distaff (see blue circle), and the Yarn output is woven into Wool Cloth on a Loom.

Rhapsodizing about Compounds

Another thing you may note is the amount of stuff crammed into a fairly small space. That’s just me liking to maximize the best possible use of space I can, since I’m lazy to build too many compounds. However, do anticipate that you will essentially need to have a whole bunch of little factories in the desert if one is hoping to produce anything substantial on one’s own.

It’s not terribly ‘immersive’ per se, but then any faithfulness to a realistic Egyptian setting sort of went out the window with airships and automation and steam shovels and the like. ATITD is a producer’s/crafter’s game mixed with a heavy dose of sociology (and math.)

One of the most common things newbies do is build too small. And assume they can get away with making one of everything to just try it out.

I did it too as a newbie. This was my dinky little house, and you can see even then, I already put in three distaffs because I got tired of waiting.

Unfortunately, what happens later is that you find out that economies of scale are everything in this game. Making 400 firebricks in one dinky little kiln that fires 12 at a time is an exercise in masochistic patience.

Then you realize your compound is way too small for all the extra stuff you want to put inside, and that previously putting in equipment willy nilly blocks you from expanding nicely now and it’ll have to be torn down in order to get it out of the way or you’ll have to make a new bigger compound and do it all over again, and suddenly quitting the stupid game is sounding mighty attractive right now.

Plan ahead. Plan in arrays. You don’t have to build them all there and then, but anticipate you may want more later and leave enough room for yourself to build them later.

The other thing people can do is fall in with a big guild and use their facilities. Some of them are a sight to behold, spreading to 10+ compounds, and are good examples for planning out your own compound.

If you’re like me though, communal living and sharing property and goods is nice, but having the capitalist security blanket of owning my own stuff under my control soothes my paranoia. No one can take it away until I stop paying my sub fees. Living in a group guild involves some compromise to get along with other people, working hard and contributing in some way to not look like a leecher, and any resources are never officially ‘yours’ unless you head the guild and can set ownership rights on things. And groups may come with drama – accusations of theft, of unfairness and favoritism, of someone else profiting from somebody else’s expense… It’s the old solo vs group debate in new and interesting form over property rights.

Since ATITD supports  multiple guilds though, nothing stops you from being solo, in a friends-and-family guild with their own compounds, and part of a big uber-productive monster guild (assuming you can get in and stay in) all at the same time. Find your own balance point.

The above advice is not to say you can’t build nice-looking compounds if that’s what floats your boat. Sandbox, after all.

I once ran across a pretty compound way out in the boondocks where the creator had built some decorative sculptures and used them to lean tools like a spade and fishing rod and planks of wood against the walls.

If one peeked inside, one can still see quite a bit of stuff.

Personally, the compound is still a bit on the small side for me, and the owner -had- quit, so who knows if he felt it was sufficient for him?

Back to soaking Wool Cloth in clay. It’s very simple, have enough clay, enough water in jugs, click on the previously-built tub, and select the right option. 4 minutes later, the cloth is done. I have 5 tubs, so in ~16 minutes, I had my 20 Clay-Steeped Wool Cloth.  Note the room for further tub expansion which I haven’t found necessary yet.

The ginormous pile of wood in the background is a Bonfire (unlit.) Folks use it to store wood as it can take a huge amount without clogging up space in chests and warehouses. And it looks awesome as an e-peen. (More on opportunities for building objects on a monumentally excessive scale in later posts, an entire subset of Tests is devoted to that.)

Clay Bricks

Brickmaking is one of my favorite activities in the game. Something about seeing the bricks pop up in the brick racks, looking like cute little white chocolates and drying and turning milk chocolatey just makes me happy.

This is one of the activities where it’s much better to use the hotkeys. Click click clicking would get old real fast. The trick is to change the camera view by pressing F8 twice, also known as double-F8 view. (I have no idea what it’s really called in-game.)

Now that the racks are in nice neat rows and columns, simply minimize chat channels to get hotkeys working, hold down the C (or B for normal bricks) key and wave the mouse cursor over the racks like you’re painting the bricks into them.

When they dry, hold down T to take the bricks and repeat.

Note the mud and sand icons in the second picture. Both are necessary materials for brick making, so it is smart to plan ahead and put your brick racks in a position where you don’t have to move to get mud and sand. That way, you can overload yourself with materials and it doesn’t matter if you can’t move until you’re done with the bricks.

Also note the nearby chests and warehouse for easy offloading of huge amounts of bricks once you’re done.

Once Improved Brick Racks are available, they don’t break and disrupt your flow. (Normal brick racks are somewhat aggravating in that one needs to have spare Boards on hand and have to keep laying them out when they break.)

3000 Wet Clay Bricks took much less time to produce than getting my hands on the clay in the first place.

Baking the Bread (er, Bricks)

Unfortunately, the Clay Bricks are still Wet, so they’re not yet entirely done. Now they need to be fired in a kiln. Or ten.

In fact, I didn’t think that I wanted to do so many rounds to finish off 3000 bricks, so I invested a little time in expanding.

Another trick people use is to put a second row of kilns behind the first, but facing away 180 degrees. In this way, one can easily scroll the camera and see if they are all loaded up. I’ve built myself into a corner with this compound as it’s hit the limit of expansion, but until now, I haven’t had the need for an excessive amount of kilns.

I might just end up building a second row in front of the first and deal with a little visual inconvenience in checking if they’re properly loaded.

Either that, or I’ll have to put up with firing the kilns 18 times (3000/12 bricks *14 kilns).

Still better than the 25 times earlier (3000/12 bricks * 10).