Mob Wars LCN: Of Fake Friends and Progress Bars

It was around five years ago that I watched one of my work colleagues mess around with Mob Wars.

Being somewhat of a privacy and pseudonym advocate, I already eyed Facebook with great suspicion and wasn’t at all inclined to give “Facebook games” a fair shake at all.

“Is that it?” I asked. “You just click buttons and watch progress bars go up?”

That didn’t seem much better than Progress Quest.

Hell, Progress Quest streamlined all the unnecessary clicking for you (moar efficiency! mouse button spared!) and you just had to sit back and enjoy the concept of gaining xp and getting your next level up and becoming numerically stronger over time.

Then there was the friends spamming problem, aka How to Ensure You Have No More Friends in a Hurry.

Wanna be stronger? Click this button to invite all your friends to join you and play the game!

Ah, social networking, aka inviting spam from friends into your life.

One naturally thought ahead a few steps. a) I’m an introvert, I don’t make as many casual friends and acquaintances as an extrovert. b) It seems extremely rude and crass to spam all your real life friends with an invitation to a “game” made for low-impulse control individuals to part with their cash. c) Therefore, I’m never going to have as many allies as someone more connected will. d) Therefore, they are going to outnumber me and gank me whenever they want.

And of course, there was the disreputable pay-to-win aroma wafting off a cash shop selling virtual items for insane amounts of money with no more effort that inputting a few numbers on a spreadsheet. At least for cosmetic options in MMOs, some artist had to slave away at a 3D model and spend time making it look good.

This very quickly led down the Wargames scenario of the only way to win is not to play at all.

And boggling at people who still were ignorant enough to play anyway.

Cycle ahead five years, and strangely enough, I find myself dabbling away at one of its variants.

Concept-wise, it’s quite alluring thematically. You’re a pretend gangster building up a mob of your own, conducting a variety of virtual crimes across the globe with a click of the button, rabble-rousing and doing the equivalent of a drive-by shooting with your homies on some other unfortunate mobster.

jobsgifts

(Nevermind that that mobster has friends of their own and may just come after you in a nuclear escalation scenario where there is no winner. We won’t think ahead that far.)

What made it suddenly more acceptable to experiment with?

Choice of venue, for one thing. No Facebook.

Mob Wars: La Cosa Nostra has made it onto Kongregate. Yep, the social gaming site of 1001+ flash games.

Now your real life and your game accounts don’t have to mix.

Furthermore, having the backbone of connected Kongregate gamers with chat rooms makes it easier to get around the “friending” hurdle.

Yes, some time ago, I learned from Tobold that it is indeed possible to make a fake Facebook account for the sole purpose of playing Facebook games, find websites and forums where you can find a load of like-minded people sharing codes and add all these ‘fake friends’ to mutually help each other out.

Except that seemed like a ridiculous amount of effort to go through to play a not-very-good game to begin with, and Facebook could fry your account any time they felt like it, erasing any and all progress and time invested.

The advantage of fake friends, of course, is shared interest in only one thing. The game which you are currently playing. It’s pretty much like a casual pickup group where you don’t know at all who these people are, except that everyone is interested in getting to the end and getting loot. And that’s good enough for everybody’s purposes.

Maybe you’ll encounter some of them a few more times over time, and get to enjoy their company and become real friends, but for now, strangers with a shared purpose is okay.

Kongregate shortcuts that process by allowing you access to a network of people currently playing that very game. The chatroom fills up every so often with random alphanumeric letters that an observer on the side might think are bots speaking in tongues or unwanted spam, but the players tolerate non-repeated chatcodes because each is a potential ally for someone (perhaps even yourself. After all, the maximum limit of fake friends starts at 500 and goes up to 1000 as you gain levels.)

What this does for me is provide a certain amount of equity. Every player has access to these codes. Depending on how lazy or obsessive they are, they can cut and paste every code they encounter to accumulate their game allies or not.

The other thing they seem to have improved with the La Cosa Nostra variant is the pacing. According to the Wikipedia article, the rate of xp gain is sped up. It’s quite normal to gain at least one level a day, and most likely, more. This gives Achievement seekers the kick they are looking for when they play with incrementing progress bars.

As mentioned, I don’t have much Killer or Socializer interest in me, so how long I stay engaged with the thing is debatable – the “whole prey on people weaker than you, get arse kicked by people stronger than you, group up for safety and to gang up on others” concept doesn’t hold long term appeal for me.

But the Explorer in me is actually surprised to find a certain amount of depth where I initially assumed was none to minimal.

Where there are numbers, there are efficiency calculations.

And boy, are there a lot of numbers.

Is it better to pick this job for the energy spent and the return, or that other job over there?

You buy property for an initial cost, that gives you a return over time. Which one do you buy? How many?

Your total combat strength is made up of both your avatar carrying a loadout of weapons, armor and a vehicle and your fake mobsters using a stockpile of weapons, armor and vehicles that you have accumulated. And all that stuff is collected via a variety of different means, from crafting to loot drops to buying it off the store (via fake money or real money.) Certain items obtained quite easily have an upkeep cost that eats away at your in-game wealth over time, making it tricky to afford good combat stats.

Each individual players’ failure to master various aspects of these numerical calculations lead to holes one can take advantage of when attacking them.

Oh no, does this mean the game is doomed from an eventual attrition of sheep getting tired of being mauled by wolves?

I don’t know. Perhaps. But there are some pretty elegant mechanics in play. Tired of getting attacked constantly by someone stronger than you?

For a cost, you can set up ambushes to dissuade the other party. When they attack you, you get a 100% defence boost, which tends to really help you out. Except that cost is calculated based on how much property your opponent has bought, so some people can be much more expensive to ambush than others.

To add on to those fun nuclear escalation scenarios, there is also the hitlist. The other guy not getting the point? Well, place a bounty on his head. There’s bound to be -someone- else out there that’s stronger than him. Hitlists appear and vanish in seconds as they’re snatched up by people looking to increment achievements. Nothing like getting ganked to stop a wannabe ganker in their tracks.

What? Is the other guy hitlisting you now? Rig his ignition to stop his hitlisting of you, in what appears to be an equivalent of Ambush to counter the basic Attack.

What seems to end up happening most of the time is a mutual avoidance of this nuclear escalation, which is an interesting study in micro-politics.

When you run out of health, you drop into the hospital and are hidden from all attacks besides a very weak punch. Few people tend to bother you there unless they really have a hard-on for killing you dead. Most people tend to back down away from fights in this manner.

Everyone understands that a bunch of attacks will happen because people are trying to level up and fights give points for what are essentially guild dailies – fill a certain progress bar each day to contribute to your guild aka syndicate. You deal with it and/or work to be less of an easy target.

You get the most xp when fighting people that are very close to you in combat strength, which subtly steers most people away from ganking very weak targets unless there’s nothing else left to hit.

I understand that some people even form leveling buddy pacts where they mutually agree to keep hitting each other and healing up so that each can gain xp. One such wordless exchange got me an inroad into a guild I was trying to join. Happened one of the officers was in a position to keep bashing on me. I -could- have ambushed him to get him to stop, but what the hell, that’s not going to make him like me very much, is it?

So I healed up, let him keep whacking on me for xp, and whacked back a few times to get -my- xp in because he didn’t have sufficient defence to counter my attack either. All in all, over a day or two, he got some 150 attacks on me, and I got 50-75 attacks on him. This in a period where most people hit 5-9 times and stop because the other guy has vanished into the hospital. After that, I got an invitation to join him as an ally, and an invitation to his guild because he was impressed that I didn’t back down.

Uh, okay, whatever works. I was kinda letting you hit me for xp while I got some xp off you, but I got the guild invite that I wanted, so that’s cool.

The other thing that tickles me immensely are the limited phrases you can choose when sending a message to someone that is not your ally. If they are in your mob, you can type whatever you like to them. If they aren’t, you get to select three phrases from an interesting range:

nonmobmessages
A small selection thereof

There does seem to be leeway to construct quite a variety of messages to get a basic point across, but minimizes spam and abusive trashtalking while still allowing for -some- trashtalk if you are so inclined to pick a fight. And you can also ask them to join you as a Mob member so that you can better communicate with them and so on.

New players get 30 days of protection where only people within a certain level range can attack you and vice versa. I’ve yet to see what the atmosphere will be like with this protection off. Should be interesting.

At least for a while more.

Amazing what even something so basic and not really ‘game’ can offer for interesting ideas. Some of the solutions and interactions they’ve hit upon may have some relevancy to how people might interact in PvP sandboxes that aren’t just FFA all the time.

Anyway, it’s something to do while waiting for Tequatl for 45 minutes.

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This World Ain’t Big Enough for the ____ of Us!

Over at Healing The Masses, J3w3l (or Eri, as I’m going to use from now on because it’s a lot easier to type!) has been singing the praises of multiplayer Terraria and what this may imply for sandbox MMO worlds, such as EQNext Landmark.

I’m here to give you the other perspective and the potential pitfalls, in a semi-serious, semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Insufficient Lebensraum / Resources

Of all the things that could plague a sandbox MMO, I worry about this one the most.

The first pioneers get the best locations.

In A Tale in the Desert, areas near the chariot stops for convenient travel later get taken up very quickly. In fact, the crowd is so great that veterans tend to stay a little further away because they know they won’t have space to expand later when all the beginners are off squeezing in their little buildings near each other to form a sort of ghetto.

In my brief time with Wurm Online, anything near the spawn point was over-worked to the point of ludicrousness from the horde of new players zoning in, and I walked for miles and miles finding settlements all over (many seemingly abandoned) and I wouldn’t even dream about peak waterfront property along the coast. This was, of course, on the free server so overpopulation woes would be expected.

Over in Terraria, as the first players, Eri and her friend Grish have taken up the spot that most people in single-player games will build on. On the surface right near the spawn location. (The game’s design encourages this as the guide needs to be housed in a building, and between hostile mobs and his pathfinding AI… let’s just say we want a roof over his head pretty quick.)

They built themselves a massively grand castle.

bigasscastle

(And it just underwent a recent renovation to make it even grander. It’s lovely to behold.)

Now, being that I’m a guest and don’t want to be rude, it makes little sense to try and settle in the same space they’re using. So I looked around, found some real estate near them but off to the west a little and decided to go mostly underground.

If you’re a new settler coming by to the server at this time, your only other option nearby at this point is probably a base in the sky overhead. (The east side is over-taken by corruption.)

Or you’ll have to move a little further off to the west – though you’ll have to contend with a small lake and our sky bridge highway in the vicinity.

I did find two fairly creative buildings – a treehouse and a small obsidian underground lair – in my explorations, but I’m not sure if they were made by the starting pair or natural spawns or by well-equipped visitors popping by.

As for resources, well, suffice to say that you’ll be picking up after our leavings.

I had to do a much deeper and expansive exploration to find copper and lead (iron equivalent) as I’d started a new character. Fortunately, I like exploring and the other two seem more in favor of long highways and tunnels, so I managed to sneak into a niche of going around all the naturally formed caves, breaking vases and grabbing the abandoned ore that the two were no longer interested in after a while via progression.

For anyone coming in now, my suggestion would be to travel along the well-lit areas and venture further out. Just like the other two, I’ve now stopped digging out every last copper and lead ore I see, I only stop for gold and higher.

Chests with equipment in them? Haha. I didn’t see any for a while, until I started venturing into the unexplored caverns.

Luckily, like a number of players, underwater does not seem to be a hit with the two.

I wandered over to the East Ocean, struggled with trying to learn the new changes to the biome, made a makeshift survival elevator down into the water to get easier access to the bottom without drowning by being too gung-ho, and discovered it doubled up rather nicely as a shark trap. Rampant OCD farming for a while yielded a Diving Helmet and Jellyfish Necklace. (Fortunately, mob spawned resources are forever.)

Eventually, I made it over to the West Ocean to find that there were still two water chests left there – one with a Breathing Reed and one with Flippers inside! So now I have Diving Gear. New niche: Underwater Warrior Extraordinaire.

If you’re looking for those items, you’re now outta luck when it comes to the oceans. Maybe you’ll find a water chest randomly while digging underground.

As for the dungeon, I’m sure a good part of it has been picked over, as I dared (screamingly underleveled) into the place with them for a time until I got insta-gibbed.

World Progresses At Speed of Fastest Player

Which brings me right to my next point. Both of them had 400hp and were decked out in many shiny objects. I was waffling at around 140hp and had lead items then.

Out of pure screaming survival, I rapidly revised my goals (which were originally to explore and progress up the tiers and slowly read the wiki to catch up on changes) and did not protest when they found Muramasa in a chest and chucked it at me, because OMG, a sword that can kill things in here! (A nice sword at that.)

After which, it was an easy slippery slope to accepting the extra life crystals that were thrown at me, then picking over what seemed to be the ‘donation room’ chests to grab a better pickaxe, the first hit of demonite ore, and spare shadow armor, which immediately catapulted me several tiers ahead and expanded my exploration range much more rapidly.

donationroom

If you’re coming in now, help yourself to the stuff in the chests here. We three have been overloading it with things. I now keep finding life crystals, which I no longer need!

Last night, I got another free upgrade courtesy of Grish, who threw Palladium stuff at me. (Palladium, what the hell is palladium? Some wiki-ing later revealed it to be hardmode stuff, apparently.)

That promptly extended my range downward and I ventured into Hell to find it pretty darned survivable, as long as one didn’t try to take a bath in lava. So now I’m amusing myself collecting hellstone… for fun, I guess.

hellforgesgensandmore

It’s not like we have a shortage of hellforges here.

(Also in the background, two obsidian generators that off the scale for anything I would ever make, and a large sign pointing out the west highway.)

This is something a lot of sandbox MMO players are going to have to come to terms with. There is very little point reinventing the wheel.

In A Tale in the Desert, the first pioneers suffer through some exceedingly tedious grind with primitive technology, and proceed to unlock much better technology for all players to come.

The bottlenecks that are designed in place can be quickly overcome by making use of communal public resources, or becoming friends with a veteran player, who will usually not mind chucking resources like leather, papyrus seeds, better flax seeds to get a new player coming in late to the Telling started with a much easier time.

If you try to solo it all, you’ll probably drop out after a month or two, tops.

Obnoxious people will now proceed to throw the ‘this is a -multiplayer- game, after all’ line in your face.

As a solo-preferring player, I’d just say that one needs to be open to social interaction and opportunities that arise and adjust your niche accordingly, and use the presence of other players and communal resources as desired to get over humps that are designed into the experience.

You’re never going to come in cold and be just as good as the vet player who’s played since Day 1. Be patient with yourself, adjust your expectations, work your way through the wiki in sections, learning one aspect of the game at a time.

I started one Telling as a complete noob, and ended up sharing the resources of a nice guild that befriended a newbie. With that experience, I began another Telling solo and worked my way through that, learning additional aspects of the game. Which made the Telling after that a very easy powergamer start – I was now an intermediate-level player and probably could claim some vet-hood (but not as much as the players who had been around for all the time.)

Player Creativity May Affect Experience

Back in Terraria, I have to confess that I would never build the structures I’m seeing the pair create. They’re of a scale that is quite beyond me.

I tend to just build ugly functional rectangles.

undergroundfarmexperiment

(Underground farm experiment in perpetual state of under construction)

In a single-player game of Terraria once, the most creative thing I probably did was to balance my wood tower on top of a single door. Because the idea struck me on a whim and looked highly amusing.

In Minecraft, if I manage to make a two or three floor rectangular cottage with corresponding mine shafts and a rail line highway, that’s already a big accomplishment for me. I tend to just tunnel into a stone wall and set up operations there. Decorative architecture? Large bases? Expansive castles? Not at all likely to happen.

In a multiplayer world, -I- benefit from seeing the structures other players create. They’re a lot more beautiful than I would be able to make, I get to wander and explore and get creative inspirational ideas that I would never have come up with on my own.

Other players, however, would have to contend with my corresponding lower aesthetic sense impacting on their designs.

Differing Player Goals

Which brings us to how player goals may end up clashing in a sandbox MMO and lead to either compromises or drama.

Eri’s friend, Grish, is a veteran Terraria player. He runs around being very familiar with everything, and his goal appears to be to finally beat the hardmode bosses with the benefit of extra hands in multiplayer. Progress is dizzyingly rapid as a result. Goals clash: I compromise by inwardly shrugging and saying thank you whenever the next set of equipment I don’t even recognize is thrown at me. I can always learn at my own pace in a single-player world another time.

Eri seems to be a big decorator. The castle is her baby. A very lovely looking place it is too. Her appreciation of aesthetics is evident. Also, expansive highways tunnels for convenience. She’s taming the wilderness one straight line at a time. Goals clash: I’m just guessing, but she probably winces every time she walks past the eyesore that is my permanently-under-construction no-time-for-decorating-yet base, or the many torches I dot around the place because I’m blind as a bat and prefer all the places I go to be clearly lit up. 🙂

needmoarlight

The problem with turtles is that they can’t see worth beans.

In this case, I’m a guest. I just try not to be too annoying and go with the flow of whatever the plan seems to be.

In a sandbox MMO, what this has a tendency to promote is each person (or group of players) spreading out far enough away from another to develop their own homestead the way they like it and do their best to live and let live. Until some idiot builds too close to them – whereupon the drama starts.

Take home message: Remember plenty of lebensraum. If you’re a designer, try to make the world large enough for many players to settle in with sufficient resources not to end up fighting over them (unless that’s what you want players to do.)

Property and land ownership and access rights are going to be very important to get right, including what players are able to do with aesthetic eyesores (especially those that are abandoned.) In A Tale in the Desert, the player-arrived solution is to allow other players to remove them after a certain number of days have passed if the owner has quit the game. In Wurm Online, they appear to be left to rot slowly, I’m not sure. In Terraria, anyone can modify anything apparently, which involves a fair amount of trust and compromise.

If you’re a player, try to settle sufficiently far from other players if at all possible. One potential problem, of course, is that one’s idea of ‘sufficiently far’ is never really accurate when one is new to a game. The room needed for expansion can always end up surprisingly large.

And finally, let us not forget the griefers.

I am sure there are worlds in Terraria where friendships have been broken because some guy’s idea of fun is to go around being destructive and troll-y. Even while not trying to, we run into opportunities for potential problems.

In the earlier days of starting out, I had a bad habit of finding uneven holes to fall into, or wooden platforms that weren’t level and thus inadvertently cause a precipitous encounter with gravity and the ground. It’s not hard to extrapolate to intentional pitfall traps from there.

endoftheline

There’s always the risk that each others’ aesthetic designs overwrite or annoy one’s fellow players, and from there, it’s an easy step to intentionally trying to be offensive via trying to destroy another player’s creations or create an ugly eyesore.

In Terraria (and presumably Minecraft), the host can always boot with extreme prejudice someone being a pain.

In an MMO, rules are going to have to be built into the design as to how players can end up affecting each other, and what recourse players have if they feel someone is griefing or harassing them. Be it griefing them back or killing them (a la Eve Online and other FFA PvP MMOs of that ilk), or clear and strong land claim and property ownership rights, or being able to vote out a non-cooperating player, or having a few people with the power of enforcement and authority to turn to, etc. And when the final stage of taking it to the GMs is appropriate.

Emergent Properties and the Right Attitude

After all that, you may ask, why would anyone bother playing a sandbox in multiplayer?

I’d suggest that one should play it for what you can’t get in a singleplayer game. The opportunity for emergence that arises between player interactions and the opportunity to be social..

You can get emergence from NPCs in a single player sandbox, and you can talk to them if you want to, but they’re unlikely to return meaningful conversation 🙂

When two self-interested parties interact, one has the opportunity to choose cooperative, selfish, altruistic or indifferent behaviors.

Depending on one’s viewpoint and goals, this can lead to welcome or unwelcome results. (Someone acting in altruistic fashion may not always be welcome by someone wanting to be left alone. Someone being indifferent can be taken as a massive affront by someone with the expectation of more friendly behavior. It’s not always easy to cooperate at a skill level that matches the other and having a shared goal is often a prerequisite. Selfish behavior can benefit oneself at the expense of others, which may be the primary goal of the individual in question.)

I think it’s important to have the right attitude and expectations that all this can and will happen at different times, between different players when one plays a multiplayer sandbox, so that one isn’t surprised or disappointed when it does. It’s never paradise or utopia. It’s humans, and they bring with them heaven, hell and ordinary earth wherever they go.

notquiteheaven

If this is heaven, there are many holes in it now.

(Aka the effect of player depredation on a limited resource. Most of the building was gone by the time I arrived. I took apart a few more bricks to find out what they were. And added the tunnel to hide from harpies and collect both cloud and rain blocks. I also mined out the gold. Still silver left!)

The actions of one may also randomly impact on the landscape and others around them, which leads to unpredictable occurrences.

One can look upon them as problems / crises or opportunities to take advantage of or tell stories or laugh about.

The recent castle renovations in Terraria have necessitated a moving of the combat arena over to the west. Right on top of my house, in fact, which has now been dubbed ‘the hobbit hole.’

arena

Did I mention that I would never build something so expansive on my own? They took the opportunity to enlarge and prettify it, which is very awesome because I get to use it without expending any effort at all.

It is also really conveniently nearby. I am a very lazy person and hate walking, so all amenities close by is great. I’m big on functionality.

In the process, a water tank/reservoir was set up on top of it to create a waterfall effect. Except… there was a leak.

I was fairly deep underground digging out my glowing mushroom farm at the time, when I saw water cascade into the tunnel just a few blocks away from the farm. (Thankfully, it wasn’t connected.)

Mildly amused and relieved at the close call, I call out: Hey, there’s a leak.

Oops, comes the reply. Will fix it.

Turns out one side was a block shorter than the other.

Chuckling to myself that this exchange was something that wouldn’t happen if not in multiplayer, I finish the farm and in truly lazy fashion, use my magic mirror to port back home, barely one screen away…

Whereupon I discover that I am effectively ‘snowed in.’

frontdoor2

It’s around this point where I just crack up and die laughing because the juxtaposition of the turtle looking at his front door with that expression is priceless.

The back door was also ankle-deep in water, so opening either door would not have been the wisest maneuver. (I did, of course, eventually open the back and have to bail out some water. They came in handy for watering waterleafs later, Silver lining, laziness to walk and all that.)

This would so not totally happen when playing alone.

GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

This Sunday, the strongest stand out memories are the two hour breaks of -not- playing Guild Wars 2, in order to get away from the hidden dangers of WvW to a newbie dipping one’s toes into a competitive format. 🙂

You see, I started getting an inkling something was wrong when I developed a headache. An honest to goodness -real- headache from playing a computer game.

The last 12 hours or so have been pretty bad. No doubt, some of this is due to sleep deprivation as I’ve been up at weird hours looking in on this week’s match, catching both NA and Oceanics in action. (I do crazy shit like this from time to time.)

I had an incredible morale high this morning (NA night time) as combined arms and lots of siege broke open a keep, along with an incredible continuous reinforcement rush (died three times easily) to hold one successfully even as a horde was knocking on the keep lord.

Then plunged to an abyssal low during the afternoon and night (NA wee morning hours and Sunday morning) as it grew obvious that the bulk of whoever was on during this time was not organized, failed to grasp strategy or spend siege to take or defend places, and worse of all, did not pay attention to the team/map chat.

A trebuchet knocked down a tower’s wall. Around 30-40 were outside zerging the place. 10-15 defenders. Guesses on how many people looked up from AoEing what was in front of them, read the chat, went left and into the tower. You are correct if you surmised less than the number of fingers on one hand. After dying horribly inside, I looked about at the 4-5 corpses inside and sighed.

A keep was lost when no one communicated clearly until it was nigh unto too late to do anything, and the frantic panicked screaming of “THEIR INSIDE KEEP” “INNER GATE” failed to move the said zerg that were still obsessed with failing to take above tower.

Yet another keep was lost as a significant bulk of people failed to read the chat and come to the rescue of those fighting off invaders at the keep lord, preferring instead to continue zerg duking it out on the bridge on the courtyard between outer and inner keep walls, failing to realize that they would be wiped out the moment the keep changed hands, with the walls locking in place around them and the happy victors emerging to scour the grounds.

Stuff like that does terrible things to one’s morale.

I’m only human, alas.

And yes, it gets frustrating and aggravating when things happen beyond your control, and despite your best efforts, the situation still seems helplessly uncontrollable and doomed to fail.

After quickly withdrawing to variously take a nap, go for a swim, have some tea, plan the next blog post (and reading up on the functions of morale in combat, the psychology of losing and how sportsmen and competitive gamers handle defeat well, badly or otherwise) and hovering between attempting to calm down and gritting one’s teeth from the pain of the headache, it was rather obvious that the tension and stress and pent up frustration were getting to me.

I especially have a personal problem with this since if you recall, I straddle two divides:

1) The primarily PvE player dipping toes into PvP and/or competitive formats

PvE players are used to having easy fun. That is, we want to win 85-100% of the time, as long as we play passably well.

Logically, this does not and cannot happen in PvP. There is always a winner and a loser to a match.

In a balanced game, that means even the best will be winning 50% of the time at most, as they eventually get matched against people just as good.

The slightest misbalance due to the other guy’s skill and strategy, your personal lack of it or emotional composure or circumstances otherwise beyond your control, and guess what, you’ll be losing a majority of the time, rather than just 50%.

Hell, in WvW format, there are always two losers to one winner, if you want to look at it in that light. So as some guy in a forums mentioned, 2/3 of the people are “losing” at any point in time.

2) Having a tendency to be obsessively hardcore and fixate upon success / winning / a goal

Normal (casual playing) people don’t frequent game forums twice a day or more, don’t write blogs dissecting games, and spend their time alternatively brooding on the moment-to-moment point scoring in a week-long match and reading up obsessively on potential strategies and ways to improve one’s play.

Nor do they sit around looking and reading up all manner of articles on a particular topic of interest wondering how other people deal with the problem they are having.

It’s just a small subset of the population that is blessed/plagued with such a personality, and I happen to be one of those individuals.

Been there, done that, don’t like how it made me.

I don’t want to be constantly tense and angry, I don’t want to blow up on people or insult or abuse them, I don’t want all my self-worth to be predicated on being number 1 and being so scared and ego-driven to maintain it.

Worse, taken to an extreme, we get folks who even go past the controversial edge of Sirlin’s Play to Win philosophy and start cheating, hacking and exploiting for the sake of a) a number on a scoreboard or b) to make other people angry (their new ‘win’ condition.)

That’s a definitive line for me. Much to my misfortune, I have too much bloody integrity to ever consider doing shit like that.

Besides, I already get in enough trouble emotionally and physically (I’m getting too old for sleep deprivation and alarm-clock gaming, dammit) before I go past that line.

When looked at objectively in this fashion, it becomes clear that if we want to continue playing around with PvP and competitive formats, we need to get used to “losing” and get out of the mindset of playing to win being all important.

This is not a new concept. It’s as old as competition and sports.

Just idly flipping through stuff people have written, I’ve found such disparate things as a discussion thread about losing Starcraft 2 matches and how different players deal with the blow to one’s morale, an advice article on a wiki about Starcraft 2 anxiety playing ladder games that run the risk of doing horrible things to one’s ranking with a loss (or so I gather, I don’t own SC2 yet,) a Warhammer article about the impact of losing on player morale and how it impacts one’s judgement and decision-making while tabletop gaming, and even a general sports article on emotional mastery and how various athletes may react in a competition.

I’m especially amused by the last one, because it gives one of those cheesy classifications that group people into different styles. He differentiates between the seether, the rager, the brooder and the Zen Master.

Watch any sports competition and there’s a pretty hefty grain of truth in the simplistic classification. Everyone can tell the explosive ragers, who wear their frustration on their sleeves, have little self-control and will no doubt be voted ‘most likely to break their wrists punching a wall.’ The seethers also steadily become obvious if the match doesn’t go their way, and you can see them gradually lose it and their play deteriorating.

I identify most strongly with a brooder, alas. My impulse is to think bad thoughts, look upon a situation helplessly and then become avoidant and sneak off without a word or quit silently, because it’s just as pointless to scream and yell at idiots or the just plain ignorant.

The Zen Master, naturally, is the ideal goal to strive toward. Being unaffected by emotions, being focused and playing consistently, win or lose.

I’m thinking I need to make something like that my new goal, rather than obsess about winning or the scoreboard. I believe competition has some very important life lessons to teach – about teamwork, about handling loss, about self-improvement, maturity and so on.

And Guild Wars 2 is a nice format to do it in, because of the whole server togetherness thing. By design, it doesn’t make you feel alone (as one would be if playing a 1 vs 1 competition match) or in a completely hostile world with anyone ready to backstab you at any time (see other open world PvP formats.)

It straddles the line of organized groups being decisively more effective, which is a little personally disappointing to me as I’m reluctant to invest that sort of commitment, but I’ll respect that others really enjoy that playstyle, and it’s beautiful to watch in action.

And I really like that the design encourages organized guilds to pay attention to the lonely souls like me – any warm body can be a help at times.

And while we sometimes cannot expect much of a pug zerg and want to chew nails in frustration trying to herd cats and teach people who don’t even seem to read chat or understand English, let alone talk back and communicate, successfully respecting and teaching/training the average pug to become an effective militia seems to have been one of the factors why Henge of Denravi is in the top position it is.

It’s just going to take time, a lot of patience and kindness and teaching towards both the self and others.

From a calmer, objective perspective though, I find it both alternatively great and fascinating that WvWvW is capable of replicating such ‘combat’ situations in miniature.

I’ve always found that MMOs are a great way to learn about real life in microcosm. In 4-5 years of playing an MMO, you can learn a lot of life lessons that would normally take folks 40 years to work through in real time.

Any student of war and history knows the importance of morale to overall success in an engagement. In this monograph by a Major Cox from the School of Advanced Military Studies, he states:

Morale and unit cohesion are a reality of warfare. They are as much a factor of war as wounds and death. The commander that fails to recognize the importance of these factors is the commander who will fail in combat.

These two components of war are segments of the undeniably human influence in warfare. This human influence is the element of warfare that is unpredictable and as Michael Howard states, contributes to the ‘fog of war.’

Anyone who has been within various kinds of WvW zergs can no doubt recognize the truth within those words. Some groups are full of confidence and plow right on through any opposition. (See any successful orb running zerg for a good example, folks tend to throw themselves at the enemy in order to protect the orb runner, and conversely, people hellbent on destroying the orb runner may also fling themselves into certain death without worrying about the cost.)  Some are hesitant and full of individuals bent on self-preservation, rather than the achievement of a goal, and quickly break apart in all directions, fleeing with shattered morale in the face of more confident seeming opposition.

The real question, of course, is how to make the latter group more like the former.

A lot seems to hinge on good leadership. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is always a fun read, as he talks about the importance of always having a strategic plan of attack and all warfare being based on a deception. It’s painfully obvious that Isle of Janthir is still lacking such a focus at times as the point score gets run away with, now and then, but well, since I’m not prepared to sacrifice my time or life to be commander-ing anything, I will shut up armchair general-ing and just wait patiently for such leaders to emerge.

(We have some, we’re not completely bereft, but apparently the more definitely hardcore servers are arranging crazy shit like scheduling commanders at all hours of a day. That may be a bit too crazy for IoJ to ever contemplate, in which case, we will have to settle with being where we are and come to accept that we choose to balance our WvW game time with other things of import.)

But morale is also contingent on good communication and the teamwork/trust bond between individuals until they feel like part of something greater than themselves.

In this, I think every individual has a part they can play if they so choose. We can practice reporting sightings of enemy servers by how many there are (roughly), which server and what location. We can learn the locations that are being referenced. We can learn the maps, all the nooks and crannies. We can work on improving our play, our gear/stats/skills/traits.

And we can teach. Or just talk out loud and mention obvious things like “remember to take supply” even though we sound like a broken record, because it may not be obvious at all to someone just joining WvW for the first time. Given the number of casual players playing GW2 and just hitting the mid and high levels that may make them feel brave enough to step into WvW, they may still be figuring things out.

It’s not easy, certainly. I don’t really like to say anything aloud if there’s no plan. Take supply for what, if we’re not going to siege anywhere? And there’s the fear of rejection aka wild n00b l33tspeak attack frenzy, but maybe others feel less inhibited.

I do tells and whispers fine though. Perhaps I can work on that.

I sent a tell once to a random person who was looking for the entrance to the jumping puzzle, he had trouble finding it and I took him there. He was grateful and it made me feel warm and fuzzy. Then I sent a tell offering to sight for another person who seemed to having trouble aiming a treb and it was like speaking into a black hole. A simple “no” would have sufficed, but maybe the person didn’t even know how to reply. *sighs*

I also sent a tell to a guy operating a ballista who was blowing up trebs that I couldn’t seem to target for the life of me, and asked how the heck he was doing it. He was nice enough to tell me to click the bottom of the treb to target it, and while it still seemed ridiculously far and impossible to target (were my graphics settings the problem?), I’ll be working on improving that part of my game the next time. So this stuff goes both ways.

We have to eventually create an atmosphere where it’s okay to talk to each other and ask stupid questions and teach each other. It’s really hard when we’re working uphill against the solo in an MMO – WoW Barrens chat abuse impulse, but if we don’t work on it, then it will be no one’s fault but ours that we’re standing alone. Time will tell, I guess.

If there’s a good lesson to be learnt from WvW and PvP, it’s how to be patient, persistent and pick oneself up when one falls down. Keep trying. Keep fighting the good fight.

(And no, that does not mean look straight ahead and target nearest enemy. You get flanked that way. Please pick up some situational awareness. Please…)

I’m referring to a social fight, an organization fight, a strategic fight, a community fight.

Glitch: The Dangers of Self-Righteous Groupthink

Today, I witnessed a mob in Glitch.

No, not an NPC mob(ile), but a lynch mob.

Figuratively speaking anyway, before someone comes down on me for being disrespectful of true lynchings where people lost their lives. But as in bullying or mobbing as defined by Wikipedia, verbally, over the public Global channel.

And shamefully, directed at a self-professed kid.

It all started when some Glitch player came onto Global, asking if anyone could give them some items. (Aha! Begging behavior, any MMO player probably has Kid Alert bells ringing by now.)

Somehow as multiple conversations were going on at the same time, that same Glitch player, in the course of joining in the conversation and attempting to brag a little (BEEP! Kid alert, arrogant bragging!) revealed themselves to be just under the legal age for Glitch. (Glitch’s Terms of Service unequivocally deny anyone under 14 years of age from playing the browser MMO.)

The multiple conversations were immediately derailed as a couple of established Glitchen jumped on the fact of that player’s age, lol’ed and jeered a little, told him about the TOS violation, and over the course of 10 minutes or so, declared they were reporting him, brandished it around like a threat, yelled at him to log off, spoke about him as if he wasn’t there, “watched” him stay online (the term “stalking” comes to mind, but that might be a little extreme), told him that they were watching him stay online, and demanded he log off right this instance.

In fact, one or two went as far as to switch over to the Live Help channel to see if any Staff were present so they could tattle about him to them.

Faced with that sort of harassment, the poor kid eventually gave in and did as he was told.

I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

Perhaps I should have said something at the time, but it’s always been my habit to stay silent and off any group chat channels, I prefer to watch from afar like a cultural anthropologist. Putting in my input there and then would disrupt the social phenomenon *wry grin*.

I was heartily tempted to send the guy a private tell to ask him not to take the harsh words and “outcasting” to heart, but I admit it, I was afraid for my own toon.

Because hell, I’d know what I would have done at that age of 13, just shy two months of 14 (or so he claimed.) Log off that character and make a new one and come right back and this time, shut the fuck up so that any self-righteous bastards wouldn’t have a clue. Very very tempted to tell him this, but you know, this stuff could be logged and monitored like probably all chat channels are in an MMO, and theoretically, he was indeed in the wrong for breaking the TOS, and I didn’t want my toon (with lots of time invested in it) associated with any of the uproar.

(Out of ignorance, no doubt, who reads those TOSes anyway, right?)

And because I’m also afraid of needy kids. You know the kind, show them a bit of kindness and leeway and they’ve stuck on you like a leech, begging you to “help” them with… everything.

Despite all that though, I don’t think it excuses the behavior of those players who essentially lynched the poor chap off the game.

I wonder what kind of impression he would have left with, regarding the players of said game.

Part of my empathy, I guess, is because I faced similar abuse from an A Tale in the Desert player once when I had just started messing about with the beta on a trial account. No, I wasn’t underage, but a trial account has connotations of ‘noobness’ and a veteran player got very mad at an ignorant faux pas of mine (I built a compound too near to theirs, but it looked pretty far to me at the time) and pretty much chased me off their land with a verbal shotgun and made me feel very very unwelcome. Gee, if this was the kind of insular reception new players got, I told myself, they could take their silly old game and stuff it. (It wasn’t, and I eventually tried again elsewhere, with a different name and account, but I was /this/ close to walking off for good.)

And part of me can’t help but think about the other MMOs I’ve played and how more accepting other players are of kids in their game. On my old MUD, one of my best friends and guildmates was a mom who’d let her 8-year old son play from time to time. She’d let us know, oh, he’s on my char now, and we’d take care not to say overly adult stuff on our chat channels, watch him zip erratically from place to place with good humor, and as he got older, 11-12-ish, even praise him to the high heavens when he’d sit and take over for his mom on the equivalent of a raid. He basically just needed to watch his hp and hit a ‘heal’ macro to keep his character alive and hit another skill to do damage – he did pretty good, actually. I’ve never played World of Warcraft to such a hardcore extent, but I’m willing to wager that similar things happen there.

In City of Heroes, you could sometimes tell that you were playing with an underage kid (beyond just suspecting it based on their behavior and typing/speech patterns.) Once or twice, I’ve seen weirdly hopping characters just bounding around shooting grey con mobs and moving in erratic fashion, and on their bios would be a notification, like “This is an X years of age kid playing, all his tells are turned off, he will not respond, etc” and you just grin and leave ’em alone – or you watch for a while because it’s obvious they’re having such unadulterated glee and fun and it’s so refreshing to see. Or you get the parent who tells you outright that they’re letting the kid steer for a while in missions, no one I’ve teamed with has minded, a couple good players can easily cover for one or two less-than-optimal performers, etc.

Then there’s the “Is this really an issue?” issue. I don’t remember precisely, but when I was 13, I’m almost sure I was off dialing into free BBSes unsupervised and playing door games.  Like urm, Legend of the Red Dragon, which, hem, included the opportunity to flirt, marry and have sex with certain NPCs. Of course, I was smart (and paranoid) enough to know not to reveal any personal information, be it age or home address, to anyone.

Which, given the ubiquity of social media sharing these days and the revealed ‘stupidity’ of the self-professed kids in freely sharing their personal details and information, may be asking a bit much of all of them. Sadly. Which is why I guess things like COPPA turn up to protect them from themselves.

It’s interesting to see how different MMOs handle the ‘child’ issue. I actually Googled up WoW’s and LOTRO’s Terms of Service to see how they deal with it. World of Warcraft asks account holders in their TOS to agree that they are legally an adult in their country of residence., which covers the varying age of majority for different countries (normally 18-21), and they can then, at their discretion, authorize a minor for whom they are a parent/guardian to play, with the license granted to them.

Lord of the Ring’s TOS doesn’t specifically mention anything, but a quick forums search reveals that one has to be apparently 13+ to create the account, and it is permissable for a parent to use their own personal information to sign up for an account for a minor under that age and thus authorize them to play.

I couldn’t find anything in Puzzle Pirates’ TOS, but apparently, age limit for most of their servers is 13+ and they have a Family Ocean with no age limit where they’ve removed poker games and so on.

It’s kinda curious that Glitch has a zero tolerance 14+ years of age limit, when most other places have it at 13+, and make no allowance for play with parental supervision. Very odd. Perhaps they just don’t want any legal trouble and are playing it very very safe.

Still, the whole incident leaves me with a bit of an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

I keep thinking of the Edmund Burke attribution. Paraphrasing, “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail (or triumph, depending on which quote website you ask) is for good men to do nothing.”

Should I have spoken up and said something? Was I guilty of passive evil, of allowing something that I thought wrong (the rampant bullying), to continue unchallenged?

Then again, the players who perpetuated the wrong were perhaps thinking the very same thing. There was a TOS violation, and they could not help themselves but to call it out and call it loudly, to the point that they perhaps indulged in groupthink and the self-righteousness of their cause, and decided to enact vigilante justice.

Perhaps, the Glitch Staff on the Live Help channel said it best. “If you find someone violating the TOS, please report him and let the GMs/staff deal with the issue and move on.”

No need to drag it out and have a pitched battle on public chat channels.

ATITD: Papyrus Power

I’ve been trying to find an interesting angle in order to talk about Papyrus. Trying to describe why someone would stay in place for 1-2 hours on the same activity clicking 500 times an hour seemed extremely boring. I normally put on music or a video on the other screen to make growing papyrus more enjoyable.

Then I realized my “veteran” blinders were on. I’d mastered how to deal with Papyrus and was only looking at it from that angle.

In truth, Papyrus is a uniquely ATITD resource. Its learning curve is front-loaded. It’s a resource that can pose several challenges to newbies, with their only out social interaction with more veteran ATITD players. It gives some needed tension, suspense and excitement to new players as they work at learning and mastering the art of growing and managing it.

And even veterans have to engage in social interaction, thanks to the properties of Papyrus (henceforth shortened to “papy” in ATITD parlance), to the point that they’ve developed an unspoken culture of “expected polite behavior” around papy planting.

And yet, there’s still some unknown (or left unsaid by true pros) about papyrus, which opens up a gap for even new or intermediate players like myself to develop their own alternative growing strategies that may work better than the methods used by some older players who have never bothered to think outside of the box and continued to grow the way they are used to.

Challenge #1 – How do I get Papyrus Seeds?

Papyrus is not a naturally occurring resource. Way back at the start of every Tale, says the wiki, is the only time papy shows up ‘naturally’ along the banks of the Nile.

Personally, I suspect they are actually hand-seeded by ATITD staff, GMs or world-builders who have access to spawn the seeds, until such point where they see enough players have collected sufficient papyrus to begin the entire papy distribution cycle.

If you happened to have missed collecting enough of these “ancestor” stalks of papyrus, you would have to wait for those that did to dry the papyrus properly for seeds, grow enough papyrus to dry again properly for seeds until they had enough spare seeds to give away.

For a short time, there is a “haves” and “have nots” division, but this is quickly mitigated by the social culture that has evolved around papy. Drying papyrus properly yields plenty of extra seeds, and players will cheerfully give away small starter sets of 15-30 seeds to other players who need them to get started.

This seems to have stemmed from a sort of reciprocal altruism. As mentioned before, ATITD is a social game and over the long-term, there are plenty of opportunities to keep interacting with each other. If I help you with this, you might be more liable to feel friendly towards me and aid me in some other aspect of the game later.

And there’s the “what if I were in their shoes” scenario – every Tale, everything resets. In the next Tale, maybe you have papyrus at the start of the game and I don’t. I wouldn’t want to be stranded without seeds the entire Tale either. And the cost to me is practically zero because the seeds rain down like manna from heavens if you have sufficient papyrus and take the trouble to dry them properly.

(Once I graduated out of newbiehood and learned all about the papy cycle, I’ll confess to now being one of those ‘hardcore’ individuals who make it a point to scour the Nile at the beginning of the Telling until I have at least 20-40 Papyrus. Mostly from paranoia and control-freakiness. I don’t like the feeling of being dependent on another, and I rather start the cycle off and dispense seeds than vice versa. Others couldn’t be bothered because it’s so easy to get seeds from friends anyway.)

Challenge #2 – Drying Them Properly, What Does That Entail?

A spiritual pilgrimage up to the top of the highest mountain to cleanse yourself properly… Ok, ok, I kid. But not about the altitude.

Drying papy at sea level (or rather Nile river level where almost everybody lives) yields a grand total of zero seeds.

Choosing convenience means you trade off the ability to propagate more papy. As long as you remember to check your seed stocks, you can still get away with it now and then and only go up to that high mountain when you need more seeds. But yes, this means papyrus is one of those resources where you can screw yourself out of the ability to plant any more if you make a mistake.

And when we say high mountain, we mean HIGH mountain. This one is decent.

At least for the first few times drying papyrus, as you’re trying to maximize seed yield. The higher the better.

Common newbie mistake is to go up a small hill like this one and think it’s enough. It’s not. Our concept of altitude as shaped by other MMOs makes our judgement a little off.

Until you hike up mountains like this one in ATITD and realize just how high things can go.

The reason why we go up as high as possible, for the first few precious handfuls of papyrus, is because papy seed yield is random. On this moderately middling sandy mountain that I use on a casual basis because it’s nearest to my home compound and gives decent (but not maximized) seed yield, I got an average of 0-56 seeds per 20 Papyrus dried.

56 seeds is great, of course, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, getting 0-4 seeds on your only handful of 20 Papyrus might not be what you want to see at first. Once you get more stocks built up, then it’s easier to get more careless about things.

You also have the choice of drying papy in two things. A Drying Rack or a Flax Hammock. Drying racks are cheaper to build (18 boards), but take longer to dry papyrus (22 minutes for a max load of 20.) Flax hammocks are more expensive (8 boards, 4 rope, 2 canvas), but papy drying time is 4 minutes.

I’m a distinctly impatient sort, so I make it a point to get flax hammocks up as soon as possible to dry papy.

One of the things you’ll find that some people do is to build drying equipment on the commonly used highest points of the region, and then setting their permissions to allow anyone to use them. (The rationale: It isn’t being used 24/7 by me, why not?) A huge collection of stuff will typically accompany a good drying spot, and it’s perfectly ok to ask the region to point you to the coordinates of such spots. Some players will have such information in their /info as well.

There are also some who don’t bother with opening their permissions, or want to keep their things for themselves (rationale: it’s their materials cost after all, and they can leave their stuff in there and come back later) and seeing their equipment hogging the highest point can be mildly annoying.

On a very micro-scale, this demonstrates the conflict in ATITD, which is all about conflict between player philosophies rather than combat against NPCs. Share for the public good or keep resources for yourself?

By late into the Telling, there’s usually publicly available drying equipment up on that mountain peak. Earlier on in the Tale, bring your own materials to build some, in case you get up there and find no usable equipment. Walking to and fro would be a pain.

Challenge #3 – How Do I Grow Papyrus?

Papyrus doesn’t grow just anywhere. Officially, papy is grown along the banks of the Nile by sowing seeds along the shore about 100-150 coordinates south of where you want it to come up.

(The seeds float downstream towards the mouth of the river, which is in the northern part of the Egypt map. Yes, the ATITD map does resemble real world Egypt in broad strokes, the Red Sea and Sinai is where you’d expect it to be, etc.)

This ties papy growth to a geographical location. If you live along the eastern side of Egypt in Sinai or along the Red Sea or in the land-locked deserts to the west, you’d have to make a special trip to the Nile in order to grow papyrus. Or trade for it with someone who lives closer by the Nile and likes growing papy (the first is easy to find, the second not so much.)

To spread out the papyrus along the shore, the common recommendation is to plant a seed every 5-10 coordinates as you run north (approaching the point where the first papy will start growing.)

10 minutes after the seed sowing, the papyrus from that seed will spring up. Since the planting is staggered, there is a slight lag time between one seed growing and the next, and depending on your camera angle, you may actually observe the papy sprouting up and covering the shoreline with yellow flowers. Personally, I find it a beautiful sight.

The Culture That Evolved Around Papyrus

What’s not so beautiful is the fact that any Tutankhamun, Darius or Hatshepsut can come by and take your papy by clicking on it. As you can imagine, the community very quickly evolved a sociological solution to this dilemma as set up by the game’s rules of papyrus. It is generally considered rude and crass to take someone else’s papyrus. It’s a big warning splashed all over the wiki that any papyrus found not at the very start of the Telling comes from some players’ seeds.

Culture-wise, many players will also announce their papyrus growing in regional chat. There are a couple reasons for this. One is to announce your intentions, so that you don’t inadvertently overlap with anyone else currently in the midst of growing.  You also get to sort of ‘book’ the area that you say you’re growing in for the duration, and it gives you backup corroboration in chat later should you catch some classless guy stealing your papy making you have to call him/her out on it over regional. The only thing is you’ll often have to put up with jokes from players who will insinuate they will steal your papy over regional. 🙂

On the other hand, some players also don’t announce their papyrus growing. Rationale: why would you want to tell people where you’re doing something and make it easy for them to know where exactly to rob you? Or just the whole non-exhibitionistic factor, why do I have to announce my movements to everybody on regional? Disadvantage: Some players may intepret the lack of announcement as an indication that the grown papy is a free for all – some people do forget or miss spots of their papyrus after growing and while some players will never touch it, others will clean it up so as not to waste it.

I’ve done it both ways. There’s no right nor wrong.

There also seems to have evolved an understanding that papyrus found in lakes and ponds away from the Nile is generally free for the taking (as long as no one has announced their growing papy currently, in which case you give them a while to see if they come by to pick it up later.) For some reason, few people ever do pick up their papy from lakes and ponds.

I believe this is because most people either don’t truly understand papy growing – and thus do not realize that some of it may filter off into lakes and ponds, or they’re just too lazy to make the walk and are content with trading off not needing to walk a distance for low papy yields. Probably the former.

The Secret Undercurrent of Individual Player Knowledge

There was a point in a past Tale where I observed the habits of certain players and realized they were growing across a ‘dead region’ (a spot which filters any seeds sown there into a lake or pond east or west of the Nile) and were only picking up papy from the shoreline. Call me evil, but I took to planting an alt in the nearby lake that was getting a good third or half of their papy yield and siphoning it all off every time they announced they were growing. 😛 Secretly. No one was ever the wiser.

I -could- have just sent the players a tell and told them why they weren’t having as great papy yields as they could be, and shown them where to look. But why should I? It’s not my fault that they were unobservant. Where is my benefit from sharing that sort of high-level game knowledge to someone who doesn’t have the skill to return valuable tips back to me?

Instead, I chose to be a little subversive, and give myself a little sneaky adrenaline thrill, by swiping the papyrus from under their noses and scanning the horizon very very carefully in case any player names showed up, in which case I’d figuratively shove all the yellow flowers behind my back, and start whistling innocently – who me? Not doing anything, just harvesting wood and herbs… No one ever did, but that’s besides the point. 🙂

And that’s the undercurrent of ATITD, the part that I think few talk about openly. Player culture and society are not cast-in-stone game design rules. It benefits most people to be seen to be following the unsaid social rules, just like in the real world. Openly deviant behavior is usually not profitable, and can be punishable by social sanction. But I do not believe I am the only person to independently figure out that there is always a certain amount of flexible give to ”rules,” especially since there are plenty more competitive and political players than I hanging about in this game.

It’s rude to build stuff near other people’s compounds, but some people do. It’s rude to hog or monopolize resources, but you bet some people do, especially in the name of competition. It’s rude to ignore queues for obelisks and what not, but some people couldn’t care less about some other people’s made up rules (which, undercurrent again, may be made expressedly for the unsaid purpose of getting themselves ahead) and do it anyway. I’ve seen political animals and drama queens take over guilds made ostensibly for the good of helping others, but secretly siphon away resources for their own personal profit.

It all happens. ATITD isn’t some communal crafting paradise, which is what newbies tend to think on viewing the game at a surface level. It is a microcosm of human society. The bad parts, as well as the good. And the other thing you’ll find out is that there aren’t good people and bad people, they’re one and the same, sometimes they’ll do self-serving things, and sometimes, they’ll do very selfless things.

For myself, I’ve always been a “Knowledge is power” type of game player. I’ve always prided myself on knowing secret knowledge others don’t. That’s my edge to get ahead. Naturally I will hold back from sharing all I know to everyone. As an intermediate sort of player, I share and trade my insights with players I see as veterans and having knowledge that can benefit me. That’s gotten me an inroad more than once into a guild in-group where more secrets are shared than in public and mutual beneficial learning can take place. At the same time, I like training promising newbies, those who are actively learning and ask questions and don’t expect to be hand fed everything.

Others find their own edges. A lot more people are more social than I. Being cheerful, friendly or funny company can get you into a guild as well. But I digress badly, let’s get back to papy.

Challenge #4 – Optimal Efficient Growth

So here’s the thing about ATITD. No one really knows for sure how the real game mechanics work unless you come up with theories and do lots of experiments to corroborate or disprove them and those that stand the test of time are generally accepted as fact and proceed to be common knowledge. (And the ‘you’ that come up with the theories are usually the math or programmer people that can think like a computer.)

Papyrus yield can go all the way up to 20 papyrus to 1  seed, according to the wiki. Reasonably good, achievable yields range from 5:1 – 12: 1. And the yields may differ according to the time of day.

But is the wiki right?

I don’t know. I have my doubts about the time of day hypothesis. But I certainly couldn’t be arsed to do multiple tests at specific times of day and calculate the averages in a spreadsheet to support or disprove that theory – so, that’s still open for anybody to work on if they so choose! Beuller?

Certainly my anecdotal experience with papyrus growing has gotten ranges of 5:1 – 8:1 along the Nile, so that matches up.

And here’s another theory. My pet theory, which I haven’t bothered to prove or disprove, but I believe in general, papy yields seem to decrease the further north you go. Or at least, when I was living way down in the south of Egypt in a previous Telling, I was getting 8:1 – 10:1 yields of papyrus. In another Telling, I lived in the middle of Egypt and got 5:1 – 8:1 yields. And in this Telling, I live up near the nothern part of Egypt and got colossally bad yields of 2:1 – 3:1 papyrus, going up to 5:1 if I searched all manner of lakes and ponds.

Now this could simply be an artifact of how the regions are laid out, and people tending to plant papyrus along the Nile near to where they stay. One thing is for sure, there are good areas to plant papyrus, and areas that aren’t. And only experimentation will tell you more and help you decide where you prefer planting it.

If you’re planting along the Nile, it is generally convenient to find an area with land bridges that will help you easily cross to both sides to pick (as papy grows on both sides of the river), that gives decent yields, and has few to no ‘dead spots’ where you’ll find no papyrus growing along the shore (having drifted inland to a lake or pond.)

If you do encounter a ‘dead spot,’ consider taking the time to wander 100-300 coordinates east or west of the Nile to check ponds and lakes and see where the papyrus has gone. They tend to turn up in the same area. If it’s just one big lake or pond, consider if it’s worth the tradeoff to walk there later and go round to pick up the inland papy. If it’s a lot of small ponds that look like an archipelago or are difficult to run to, then you’ll have to decide if you want to keep growing in that place and whether you’ll put up with the running inconvenience to maximize yield, or write off those inland papy.

If you run two accounts like me, (or just have a friend, like I don’t,) it is also possible to have one character along the shores of the Nile, and another character sweeping up the inland papyrus. Or one character on either side of the Nile shore.

For three people papy growing for the really sociable, it’s easy to have one person keep planting the seeds and two people running up and down the river shore on either side to hoover up papyrus.

And here’s your secret reward for reading all the way to the end. This was something I just discovered this Tale, after deciding that I wasn’t going to put up with the crappy yields of my home region (the papyrus was going to ponds and lakes everywhere, it was insane. I could barely track down where most of them had gone.)

The method is slightly adapted from the one I learnt from a guild, “power papy” – which is to park a character in one coordinate location and have it drop papyrus every 5-10 seconds, and have other characters stay 100-150 coordinates north from the seeding spot to keep picking papy. This method negates the necessity of too much running up and down the Nile, but you need multiple characters for this.

In fact, I was trying to learn and master “power papying” with my two alts when I stumbled by accident onto something with much much better yields.

The alternate method to growing papyrus is to take advantage of the ‘dead spots.’

You know the papyrus will go to a pond or lake from that dead spot. Drop seeds on the dead spot every 10 seconds or so. Find that pond or lake. And the papyrus will have grown in a happy circular ring around it. No river bridge crossing back and forthing required.

This is probably very location dependent. My best suggestion without outright giving away the coordinates to the lake I’m using (though you could try finding it from the featured image and my happy personal prejudice that south Egypt is the place to be when growing papy) is to find a dead spot that filters it all to a very very big lake, no stray papy along the Nile, no other ponds nearby.

Using this method amuses me greatly because it’s so opposite from the commonly accepted method of growing papy. Imagine my initial horror when I used the spot and realized there was none, no, absolutely nil papy along the Nile above where I dropped seeds. “OMG, where did it all go?!” And then I found where they all went, and my jaw dropped at the resultant yield.

With two characters, one dropping seeds every 20-30 seconds (manually, because I’m too lazy to turn on a laptop and macro it, though it is a prime opportunity for macro’ing) and the other running loops around the big lake, I easily get yields of 400-500 papyrus under an hour, with efficiency yields of 14:1 – 18:1. (Yes, it is a fantastic little lake.)

And I just did a one character experiment in which I planted along the Nile for 10 minutes and ran to the lake to collect for 10 minutes and back to the spot again. Yields were 179 papy from 10 seeds, 102 papy from 7 seeds, 145 papy from 8 seeds for the three rounds which took ~25 minutes each. Phenomenal yields, I love it, I’ve never gotten anything as good using the Nile river shoreline.

Tradeoff though, you have to run to the spot. And it’s really far from my home compound. But I don’t really care. I love the yield. It upsets my psyche deeply to get miserable yields. I’ll put up with the run.

On Aquaculture

Lately, there’s been one more layer of complexity to papyrus. In Tale 4, the players voted to support a radical son of Pharoah named Sami (an event/storyline NPC played by staff) over the traditional son Wahim. In so doing, they gave up all the monuments and potential for player-created new Tests for Tale 5, but traded it for the chance to propose and create 7 new skills and technologies for that next Telling.

One of those new technologies, which made it into Tale 5 and carried over to Tale 6, was Aquaculture.

Aquaculture by Nchanter

Our grandparents pass down stories from their grandparents, and so on down the generations of a promised technology from one of the first Pharaohs that would have allowed the growth of papyrus away from the Nile. That promise was never fulfilled. We hope that our modern scientists will be able to, at long last, fulfill this promise. By researching Aquaculture the citizen of Egypt would be able to plant papyrus in buildings at home, either in tubs upgradeable through addition of materials and substances once a citizen has learned the technology from a university, or via a new building made available upon the research of Aquaculture. In exchange for not having to trek to the Nile to plant and gather papyrus, the folk of Egypt acknowledge that they may have to accept a smaller yield of papyrus from each handful of seeds.

Now it is possible to grow papyrus from papyrus tanks at home, once Aquaculture is researched and you pick it up from a university and you make said papyrus tanks which are rather costly.

These tanks aren’t mine, I just took a picture of them to illustrate. I might make my own some day, but the glass cost makes my head spin. (And I’m convinced I get more excellent yields by normal growing.)

The only thing is, the tanks produces Sterile papyrus, as opposed to the Fertile papyrus that grows along the Nile. Sterile papyrus produces no seeds whatsoever.

In other words, it’s a good option that uses up excess seeds, with the tradeoff that it takes longer to grow in the tanks and the tanks being costly in the first place, while not devaluing overmuch the original method of papyrus growing – which is faster but requires active work, and yields seeds. A sort of “Papyrus Automation.” (We will touch more on Automation in later ATITD posts as I work towards those machines.)

In closing, I’d just like to say, ATITD is not the sort of game that is a thrill a minute. (Realm of the Mad God is like its polar opposite. I like balance. You may have noticed.) It’s a more cerebral long term game. And yes, that means there are intervals of waiting and boredom that are best shored up with something external like music or a video on the other screen.

Once you master papyrus, all that’s left is the execution, and the execution is not exceedingly exciting, it’s just click to run around and left or right click on papyrus to pick it up. Over and over. Some people have tried writing macros for detecting the yellow of the flower and automatically clicking, but I haven’t found one that works well yet. I’d like to.

Long term games are not normally my kind of game, especially one with long periods of boredom or doing nothing or relying on set time intervals that strongly suggest I need an alarm clock to play the game properly. But I put up with ATITD’s little quirks because I was curious about all the unique mechanics, and the community and game itself has grown on me. Like a fungus.

But a tasty one.

(I guess I can cover Mushrooms in yet another post later!)