Category Archives: MMORPG

Witness to the end: the final hours of Tabula Rasa

Last night I witnessed the final hours of an MMORPG.

Several years ago, I read this fascinating account of the last days of Asheron’s Call over at Wired. That article, and this strangely touching collection of quotes and screenshots from the game’s final minutes, has stuck with me ever since. What does a doomed MMORPG look like in its twilight hours? Is it a barren wasteland devoid of players save for a faithful few long-timers mourning the game’s passing? A madhouse of activity as thousands of gamers crowd into the game to experience it before it goes away forever?

So when word came out late last year that Tabula Rasa was going offline in February (and more importantly, that its last few months would be free to play), I knew I had to at least check it out. My original intent was to play the game fairly heavily throughout February, trying to experience as much of it as possible before the end. Unfortunately, reality (and house maintenance, parenting responsibilities, the lure of other games) shot down that dream. Nevertheless, I wanted to be there for the game’s final few hours, especially when I read that the TR developers were planning to shut down the game with an apocalyptic in-game event.

The bad guys of the TR universe were going to launch an all-out assault, and everyone was going to die. The cities and bases that players had gotten to know over the last year were going to fall. Players would be pushed back to Earth for a final stand. At least TR players could go down in a blaze of glory.

So last night I logged into TR for the game’s final hours. I didn’t stay to the bitter end (1am my time; I didn’t think my church choir director would appreciate me showing up to the service crashing from a Mt. Dew-fueled late night gaming). But I was online for 2-3 hours up to about midnight.

So what was it like?

It was interesting.

Players gather to hold back the invaders as long as possible.

Players gather to hold back the invaders as long as possible.

There were a few problems. First, the game was crowded. For the first hour or so of the final event, the game was nearly unplayable due to lag. (Some players joked that the Bane apparently planned to defeat humanity by bringing their servers to a halt through lag.) From what I gathered in the in-game chat, a lot of players from TR‘s European and other servers (which had shut down earlier in the day) had flocked to this, the last online server, to replay the end again. Throw in who-knows-how-many curious observers like myself, and you had one crowded gameworld. The lag problem eased as the night went on.

Another problem was my lack of familiarity with the game. I’d only played a few hours throughout February, so I had only a basic grasp of how to travel around the game universe. It took me a while just to figure out how to travel to the “frontlines” where the invasion was expected to begin. Also, there was the little matter that my level 5 newbie character was probably going to last about 2 seconds against the sorts of epic alien invaders that were coming to destroy the world. (This did, in fact, turn out to be the case.)

I don't think my level 5 character is a match for these walkers.

I don't think my level 5 character is a match for these walkers.

But it was nevertheless a worthwhile experience. The invasion kicked off at 9pm Eastern time. In the hour leading up to the invasion, the in-game chat was so abuzz with chatter that I could hardly read messages before they scrolled off the screen. The game developers were present and participating actively in the chat. It was fascinating to read, with the same questions coming up over and over again:

  • Where was the final stand taking place? How do I get there so that I, too, can take some alien scum down with me?
  • Who’ll group up with me to visit [cool game location] or do [cool game quest] before it goes away forever?
  • Can the developers make me level 50 so I can slog it out against the invaders in the final stand? (A rumor was flying that developers were levelling people up to level 50 upon request. I did see one developer saying he’d do this if people asked him, so apparently it was happening.)
  • Lots of people thanking the game developers for creating the game and making it a fun world to play in.
  • People trying to sell in-game objects for high fees. (Capitalists to the end!)
  • People hatching crazy and impractical schemes for “saving” TR.
  • A lot of people whining about the lag. (Geez, people….)
  • A lot of people discussing which MMORPG they’d be moving to after the end of TR.

Then the end began. At 9pm reports started rolling in from players in various bases throughout the game world: the attack was underway. Aliens—big aliens, allegedly controlled by the developers themselves—were hitting bases. The chat started to fill with calls for assistance, players trying to rally others to defend important locations, other players calling out sightings of the ultra-powerful Neph (the Big Bad Guys).

Heading out to the frontlines for a final stand.

Heading out to the frontlines.

One by one, player bases fell and became inaccessible. Players made plans for a final stand on Earth.

And I had to log off.

All in all, it was a curiously touching experience, even for somebody like me who had no emotional tie to TR, its gameworld, or its community of players. TR wasn’t the empty wasteland that Asheron’s Call apparently was; a lot of people showed up for its final moments. There wasn’t a sense of a tight-knit community dying forever, although it was clear from the chats that people had formed friendships with other players and with the developers. One imagines that, in 2009, it’s pretty easy to relocate to another MMORPG when your favorite one goes offline. But there was still an edge of sadness as the bad guys swept through the game universe, shutting it down as they went.

All in all, it was a classy way to end a game. I hope TR‘s players and developers both enjoyed their final fling with the game. Let it not be said that TR didn’t go out with a bang.

It was a beautiful world, while it lasted.

It was a beautiful world, while it lasted.

[Note to Tabula Rasa veterans: if I got any of the details here wrong, I apologize—I’m just going by what I was able to gather from my few hours of play yesterday.]

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Ultima (6) Online

My recent installation of Ultima 7 put me in a serious Ultima mood, so I decided to poke around a bit to see whatever happened to Ultima Online. (Turns out it’s still around and doing fine.) And in the process of doing that, I came across this gem:

Ultima 6: the MMORPG.

That’s right—somebody took Ultima 6 (circa 1990) and has reworked it to function as an online RPG. The website shows that only one person is online at the time of this post, so I don’t think it’s going to bite too deeply into Ultima Online profits. But still.

That’s… crazy and awesome at the same time. Documentation on the site is scarce, so I’m not sure exactly what it all entails. Is this the full U6 game, but with the added ability to play through it with others? I think I’m just going to have to try this for myself.

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The superstitions of MMORPG players

Do you keep a rabbit’s foot in your Warcraft character’s inventory in the hopes that it will bring you better loot? Do you believe that facing a certain cardinal direction while crafting an item in Final Fantasy will improve the quality of the object you’re creating? If so, you share in some of the many player superstitions common in massively-multiplayer online games. The Daedalus Project has done some research about superstitions held by players in online games.

Truly fascinating stuff–the superstitions range from the simple to the bizarre, and many persist even after game designers have specifically denied that they have any effect on gameplay.

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Burning crusade… of nerds

Where were you at midnight on Monday night? If your answer is anything other than “standing outside the local Gamestop in freezing-cold weather waiting to pick up a copy of the World of Warcraft expansion,” you’re a better person than I. Behold:

The lucky few at the front of the line. You can’t see him very clearly, but the guy in the bottom left is, indeed, dressed like a Warcraft character:

From my vantage point, way toward the back of the line. Who knew that this mid-sized midwestern town was home to so many WoW fanatics?

Victory at last! My copy of The Burning Crusade in hand, I drive home to fire it up and create a hot female blood elf character.

The experience of standing in line in the snow did not quite match up to Gamestop’s enthusiastic description of the event as a “release party.” I, at least, spent more time shivering in the cold and questioning my own sanity than I did actually partying. Nevertheless, I had a good time; it was fun interacting a bit with some fellow nerds in a social environment where conversation filler consists of questions like “So, is your druid spec’ed out as a feral druid, or as a healer?” rather than “So, mighty crazy weather we’ve been having lately!”

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Pay it forward

Things were looking grim for my undead warlock in World of Warcraft. I was out of spell components and thus could not summon the familiar upon whom I depended for protection. I was far, far away from the nearest friendly Horde outpost, and had inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy Alliance encampment. In the course of escaping from it, I was spotted by guards and flagged as “player vs. player”–which meant that any Alliance player who spotted me (and deep in Alliance territory as I was, there were plenty of them roaming around) could attack and kill me.

I was not pleased.

I began to travel back in the direction of “home,” trying my best to stay hidden behind trees and to keep off the main roads. If an Alliance player spotted me out here I was dead meat.

Seconds later, an Alliance player appeared atop the hill in front of me. Many levels higher than me, riding a mount that could outrun me without breaking a sweat, and covered from head to toe in gleaming red battle armor. He saw me, dismounted, and sprinted towards me.

I knew I had a zero chance of survival in a fight. I began to run away, then stopped and turned to face my soon-to-be killer. If I was going to get killed in one blow, at least I would take it like a man, not spend my final undignified moments scrabbling futilely to escape.

The Alliance player approached, stepped into combat range. I waited for it. He moved right up to me.

And gave me a hug.

And then he was gone. I stood for a moment, half-expecting the killing blow to come after all. When it didn’t… I turned and ran for home.

Anonymous Alliance player… thank you. In your honor, I swear I will show mercy to the next Alliance player I catch in similar circumstances.

[Yes, there’s a ‘hug’ command in World of Warcraft.]

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This game is terrible (I play it every day)

A friend passed along a link to this amusing Wired piece on the whiners and complainers who populate game forums. It’s funny because it’s true–it’s really uncanny how many people spend their valuable time sitting in official game forums complaining about how much the game sucks. The offenses against which these forum warriors rage usually range from the petty to the insignificant to the outright delusional. If the game is that bad, I always wonder, surely there are better things to do with your life than rehash the point loudly in front of a bunch of strangers on an online forum? Clearly I’m missing something.

If you were to spend time at the World of Warcraft official forums (which I no longer do, for this very reason), you’d soon emerge with the impression that WoW is the worst-designed, most unplayable piece of trash ever to be released; and you’d almost forget that every day millions of people–including, most likely, the whiners–happily log in and have a good time playing it.

Whatever it is about the internet that fosters rampant and petty negativity is not confined merely to game forums, of course. It’s especially noticeable in gaming forums because the emotional investment of the whiners is so disproportionate to the real-life significance of the problems they’re griping about. There’s a good dissertation just waiting to be written on the Psychology of People Who Are Clearly Obsessed With Game X But Can’t Stop Talking About How Much They Hate It. And heaven help the PhD candidate who has to spend time in the forums doing research for that one.

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All alone and happy in Azeroth

Although it’s updated somewhat sporadically, Scott Miller’s Game Matters is one of the more thought-provoking game blogs out there. While catching up on my reading there, I came across an interesting post suggesting that World of Warcraft‘s extreme popularity is due at least in part to the fact that almost alone among massively-multiplayer games, it can be played alone. Says Miller:

There’s one overriding reason I played WoW, while I never played previous MMOs: I could solo all the way to the top. Not once did I group to enter an instance. Occasionally I grouped with players in the same area doing the same quest, and occasionally with a friend to share a quest, but 95 percent of my experience was as a solo player. And that’s how I prefer it. I like to be able to jump into the game and play without waiting to form a group, getting right down to the business of fun.

It’s a relief to see somebody else admit that, because I’ve had a similar experience with WoW and have wondered how common it is. For a multiplayer game, WoW works surprisingly well as a single-player game. I enjoy grouping up with other players a bit more than Miller apparently does–when the teamwork comes together, the experience of conquering a tough dungeon as part of a group is a real thrill–but I confess I’ve rather guiltily enjoyed a lot of the game without interacting much with my fellow players.

Miller then asks the obvious question: if you’re going to play the game solo anyway, why not stick with single-player-only games like Morrowind and its ilk, and avoid paying the montly Warcraft fee? It may sound strange if you’ve not experienced it, but his answer is dead on: it’s somehow just more fun when the world is populated by “real people,” even if your interaction with said real people is quite limited. Crossing paths with other lone adventurers in the far corners of Azeroth, making my way through the teeming, diverse crowds of Orgrimmar, and knowing that the potions I’m selling at the auction house are being bought and used by other real people–there’s just an intangible thrill to it all. There’s a hard-to-define depth and sense of immersion that simply isn’t there in even the most elaborate single-player games.

So it’s good to know that on those days when I just don’t feel like interacting with other players–when I just want to hike off into the Badlands without having to chat it up with guildmates, when I don’t feel like spending an hour organizing an expedition into the Wailing Caverns–I’m not alone. Solo players of World of Warcraft, unite keep goin’ it alone!

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Spam of Warcraft

I suppose it was inevitable. I checked my character’s mail in World of Warcraft this evening to find a few of these messages awaiting me:

Warcraft Spam

Wow! What a great deal. When an offer is this fantastic, it’s certainly understandable that one’s desire to share it with others would overwhelm one’s concern for their privacy.

(More seriously, I hope Blizzard puts a stop to these in-game spammers as quickly as possible.)

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Requiem for a guild

I experienced my first guild breakup last week. I logged into World of Warcraft after having been offline for several days, and what I found was quite a surprise: guild membership had been slashed by half; guild chatter was abuzz with stories of backstabbings, betrayals, and emotional outbursts; and there was talk of new “splinter guilds” being created from the remains of the old guild.

I can’t say it affected me or my Warcraft gaming much; I enjoyed interacting with the other members of my guild but have always considered such interaction a side-benefit of the game rather than a core feature. It was interesting to see how seriously the guild breakup was taken by some people, however; particularly those who spent a lot of time online and who clearly saw the guild as a major real-life social outlet.

All in all, an interesting experience–and I must confess, a mildly amusing one; I wish I had been on the guild’s teamspeak voice-chat server when the Big Blowup went down. I felt a little bad that the guild breakup affected me so little, but I just can’t really bring myself to take the game seriously enough to feel bad or hurt about it. I’ve joined a new guild created by refugees from the old one and am plugging away happily doing quests, exploring dungeons, and killing monsters… and wondering how long before this guild, too, goes the way of all guilds.

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