In Convenient Chart Format
Jacob Brown sat on a rough wooden chair. The light from a single flickering candle illuminated sod walls. He set down a wooden bowl filled with watery gruel, which was his breakfast, and blew out the candle. Dawn would come soon. No sense wasting wax.
There was a place across from him, a place where his wife usually sat. It was empty. It was always empty. Ever since…
He shook his head. How could it be forever, he wondered. I mean, she was here. Until those damn orcs came. Until…
He struggled, for a moment, to remember her more precisely. Her laugh. The color of her hair. The things they fought about. Nothing came to him. All he knew was, she was gone, taken in a raid, and he missed her, and would do anything if someone could save her. He knew the orcs kept prisoners alive for weeks or months. He had some hope.
Maybe I could….he thought, then stopped.
I can’t do anything. I’m no warrior. I can barely guide a plow, much less swing a blade.
The sun began to stream through the wooden shutters. Jacob stood up and walked to the door. Have to keep the farm running, he thought. Nothing else to do. Nothing else I can do. He spared one last glance at the empty place setting…was she really here only last night? Or was the raid last week? Why couldn’t he remember? Then he walked out.
There were Heroes there.
You always could tell Heroes. Their clothes were bright and varied. Their armor shone, or glowed, or burned with heatless fire. They wielded swords too large for a normal man to lift, much less swing around as if it were a twig, or they were themselves glistening with magical might, their very flesh aglow. Some walked in the shape of a wolf, but spoke with the voice of a man.
They were walking to his hut, crossing through his carefully sown fields, stomping the few shoots which had managed to spring to life. Spring…was it spring now? He should be planting…but that didn’t seem right…he didn’t remember plowing last week…but he must have. The fields were plowed. The fields were always plowed… but he never remembered plowing them.
No matter. The Heroes were approaching. He struggled to listen to them. Heroes were hard to understand unless they deigned to speak to you; to Heroes, simple farmers and smiths and innkeepers barely existed. Jacob knew the rules – don’t interfere with them. They are children of the Gods, and they must be accorded all courtesies. Accede to their requests, and be invisible if they don’t want to deal with you.
Lately, though, he’d found it growing easier to hear them. He wasn’t sure why, but he could grasp snatches of their conversation.
“…you sure this is the place? I think I started in this village.”, said one. He was garbed in the robes of a High Priest of Simmureyal, and an angelic halo girded his skull.
“Yeah, there’s the guard who lost his socks. Why are we wasting our time here?” said another, a woman in glistening azure mail, an ax big enough to fell oaks strapped to her back.
Then their leader spoke. He was a knight, wearing a suit of heavy spiked mail. Jacob wondered at the ease with which he carried himself. Such armor must weigh hundreds of pounds.
“Look, this is the right one. I know this guy who knows this guy who’s seen some of the hidden areas. He doesn’t care about this place, but he told me about it. We can be the first to do it.” He stopped. “Hey, there’s the farmer dude. Jacob Brown. That’s the right one!”
“About time,” said the Priest. “We must have gone through a dozen of these stupid hovels. They all look alike.”
The leader of the Heroes approached Jacob, who quailed back. The Hero smiled in a friendly way, his helmet disappearing as they were wont to do. He spoke to Jacob directly.
“Ho there, Farmer Jacob! What news have you?”
Jacob blinked in surprise. He’d never had a Hero speak to him before. He stammered for a second.
“Is he responding?”
“Hold on, he’s going to. I know this is the right one.”
Jacob finally found his tongue. “Ah…ah…I….greetings, noble knight! You honor my poor farm with your presence. Please, if there is anything I can do for you…”
“We seek to doeth good for thee, humble farmer!” spoke the knight. “Be there anything ye needeth?”
Jacob shook his head at the odd accent. It was, he reminded himself, the way of Heroes. Need….
“My wife!” he finally sputtered out. “My wife…she was taken by orcs in the raid…the Yellow Fang tribe…they lair in the hills north of here, there is a chance she might be alive…”
The Hero just looked at him, as if waiting for something else.
Jacob’s mind spun. He had to offer them something for their risk…he couldn’t ask them to fight and possibly die for him without some token…but he had nothing…nothing but…
“I have so little to offer you if you will help me, but I…I have an old sword which my grandfather wielded in the War Of Tyrant’s Fall. It might…might be worth something to a historian, perhaps….”
The Knight made an odd gesture with his fist and turned to his companions. “Yeah! This is the right one! Damn! We do this fast and we beat everyone else to it!” He then turned back to Jacob. “Fear ye not, old man! We’ll get thy daughter back from thee orcs!”
“Wife, good sir.”
“Ah…right, yes, your wife. We’ll getteth her. No problem!”
The ax-wielding woman spoke. “Hey, where’s Korson?” Even as she finished, though, there was a flicker, and a shape appeared, a tall, thin, man in long robes, surrounded by swirling mists of fog. “Sorry…got dropped. The cat yanked the interface right out of my socket. Took me a minute to reorient myself and plug back in. Let’s go!”
Jacob stared as he watched them saunter off, this time crossing his western fields. They were taking the single straightest line to the orc’s lair, ignoring the roads, moving with Heroic grace and speed over his fields and the thorn-strewn lands beyond. Could they do it, he wondered. Could they save my wife?
What was her name? Why can’t I even remember her name?
It was maddening.
He thought about trying to undo the damage the Heroes had done to his field, but realized that if… that when they returned with his wife, they’d just tromp back over them again. A headache was beginning to form; every time he tried to remember any fact about his wife other than “She’s gone”, the pain spiked. I have to talk to someone, he thought.
The village proper was less than a mile down the road. He passed old Sergeant Tomlinson as he headed there. The “Sergeant” was nothing of the kind, having never served in any organized army, but he had some idea of how to wield a sword and could raise the alarm if bandits or orcs were spotted.
“Ho there, Tomlinson! How goes?”
“Not too bad, not too bad. Realized I’d walked out on patrol today without me socks on, if ye can believe it! Fortunately, there was a gnome walking by here looking for odd jobs, so I sent him. Nice little fella.”
Jacob frowned. “Didn’t you… didn’t you leave them behind yesterday, too? And wasn’t it some apprentice wizard you found to go fetch them for you?”
Tomlinson flushed. “Well, how daft d’ye think I am, losing my socks two days in a row! I think I’d remember if I lost ’em twice…ah, here’s the fella now.”
Jacob watched as Tomlinson happily took his socks back and tossed the gnome a few copper pieces for his trouble. The gnome looked at Jacob oddly, as if searching for something, then shrugged and ran off down the road.
Tomlinson put on his socks gleefully. “So, where ye headin’ to?”
Jacob shrugged. “The village. I need…I need to talk to some people. Tomlinson…did the orcs raid last night? When did they come?”
“No orcs for a long time. Can’t recall any raids.”
“But…my wife…they took my…”
Jacob stopped. A shifty-eyed man in worn leather walked by them. Jacob flinched back, wary for the few coins in his pouch, but the man ignored him. Instead, he fixed a piercing glare on Tomlinson, then seemed to notice something and smiled.
“Hey, Sergeant. I don’t suppose you have anything you need doing?”
Tomlinson nodded. “Do indeed there! As it turns out, this morning, I forgot me socks…and the road is cold this day! My house is over that rise. If you’d be so kind as to fetch them for me…”
Jacob backed away and hastened for the town. Either the whole village was going mad…or he was.
The Green Gander Inn formed the physical and cultural center of the town. It was a large, two story structure, with a roof of thick thatch and walls of mortared stone braced by timbers. Smoke poured from the chimney, and the smell of roasting meats wafted out. A steady stream of people dashed in and out of the place, running pell-mell to and fro. Jacob knew none of them; they were all apprentices of one sort or another – young men eager to take up the mercenary’s call, novices fresh from seminary, would-be sorcerers still struggling to master their first spells. There were a lot of them in the area, Jacob noted, though none of them were the children of anyone he knew. They never seemed to settle here, either… just vanish into the great large world beyond the village, to return on occasion as Heroes, or never to return at all.
The inside of the inn was brightly lit by oil lamps and a roaring cookfire. Jacob looked around, and finally spied Sackson. “Sack”, as he was commonly known, was a fixture at the Gander. Jacob pulled a stool up and sat down next to him. The apprentice’s chatter was simply a vague buzz at this point.
Sack stopped drinking for a brief moment, raised his glass in acknowledgment, then downed the contents in a single gulp. The bartender quickly replaced it.
“What’s up, Jake?”
“You didn’t hear? The raid? My wife?”
Sack frowned. “The raid…Right. Orcs attacked the village last…night, was it? Got your wife. Tragic. Here. Have a beer on me.” A coin appeared in his hand and was flicked to the bartender; a second mug was quickly placed on the bar, in front of Jacob, who ignored it.
“Sack…we’ve been friends for a while right?”
“Ever since we were kids.”
Jacob nodded. “What was my wife’s name?”
Sack’s face froze. Totally. All hints of life vanished. For a second, Sack became a flesh-colored statue. Then he returned to normal. “I….I don’t know. Can’t remember. Too much booze, I guess….” He seemed suddenly troubled.
Jacob continued. “You’re my best friend, so you must have been at my wedding. When was it – spring, summer, or fall?”
Sack sat the beer down. “I don’t know.” He looked down at his hands, then around at the bar, as if seeing them for the first time. “Why don’t I know?”
Jacob’s voice began to rise. “Who were her parents? Was she born in this village?”
Sack was backing away, his eyes wide. “I don’t know, I don’t know! Why are you asking me this?”
Jacob grabbed his friend by his burly shoulders and shook him. “Because I don’t know either! She was my wife, Sack, my wife, and I can’t even remember her face!”
People were staring. A mercenary youth, a battered and worn greataxe slung over his back, approached him. “Pardon, sir, but if you have any foes you need slain…”
Jacob practically spat on him. “Piss off.”
The mercenary faded back into the crowd. Jacob whirled back on his friend. “Sack, when did you last leave this bar?”
“Uhm…last night, I suppose. I mean, I have to go home sometime, right?”
“Where do you live? Which house? In town? Out in the fields?”
Sack said nothing. He began to look more frightened.
“Did you leave last night? Do you remember leaving? Do you know what the sun on your face feels like?”
Sack stood up suddenly and kicked the chair away. “I’m leaving now.”
Jacob smiled. The two of them would solve this. There was an answer to be found. They both strode to the inn’s door. Jacob noted the buzz of noise from the visitors was growing louder; he allowed some of it to filter in.
“Didn’t think he did that.”
“He never leaves. He’s been here since, like, the alpha.”
“Must be some new event.”
“We ought to follow them….”
Several of the crowd began to cautiously tag along. Jacob ignored them. The pair passed through the door.
Sack vanished as he set foot over the threshold.
Jacob’s eyes widened, He called out for him. “Sack! Sackson!” He ran back into the bar, hoping to see him at the stool at the end, but it was still empty. The milling crowd began to press in on him, asking about his friend, asking if he needed anything done.
Jacob cursed, and forced his way out of the crowd. A dwarf holding a small leather purse raced past him, heading for Sack’s old seat, then stared in confusion.
“Huh? He despawned? What’s up? I’ve got a turn-in!”
Jacob just ran.
He paced the length of his farmhouse, a fairly short walk. The old blade lay on the table…if the Heroes did return with his wife, he wanted to have it out. The less time they spent tromping on his crops, the better.
He hoped they’d return soon, one way or another. The longer he sat alone, the more his thoughts raced around all the dark holes in his mind. He knew he knew things, but the things weren’t there. He knew he was born and raised here, but he had no clear memories of his childhood. He knew he had parents, but they had neither faces nor names. He knew he had a wife…and that was all he knew about her, the mere fact she existed.
There were voices and footsteps and the sound of newly sprouted plants being trampled.
“Are you sure we get the sword? We kind of messed up…”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I checked it out with my friend. It’s rigged. We can’t save her no matter what, there’s some kind of timer trigger. It’s more, you know, dramatic or something.”
“Right, like anyone bothers paying attention to that shit.”
Jacob’s face went slack. They…they didn’t save her? What?
There was a knock.
Soul-numb, he went to the door. The Heroes were there. The leader spoke.
“Greetings, Farmer Brown. We bear dark and grave tidings. We…”
“You didn’t save her.” His voice was low, calm, flat.
“Uhm… no. We struggled, racing to breach the orcs’ defenses before…”
“Get out. Leave this farm and never return.”
The Hero stopped. His fellow Heroes were looking at him in a mix of anger and confusion. “If we blew this….” one of them began. He waved them to silence and returned to Jacob.
“I am deeply sorry for your loss, but we did try. Surely that’s worth something…”
Words appeared in Jacob’s mind: I am glad you risked your lives to aid me. Here, take the blade anyway. It is of no use to me. He felt his mouth beginning to form the words.
“No!” he shouted.
He turned, spun, and grabbed the sword. He didn’t hand it over to the Hero, but, clumsily and gracelessly, jammed it into his gut. The sword suddenly flared in his hands, sheathing itself in violet fire. The rust and grime vanished, and the blade became mirror smooth.
The Hero he had just stabbed staggered back and gurgled a few times. Then he collapsed, flickering into nothingness before his body could hit the ground. The others stared in momentary shock, then recovered.
“Wasn’t expecting that!”
“Guess this is the hard part! Let’s get ‘im!”
The three other Heroes charged. Jacob held the sword in what he hoped was a defensive position, and steeled himself to join his wife. Maybe, he thought, maybe, in the afterlife, I can ask her her name.
They came for him then, axes swinging and spells blazing. Explosions of color and light surrounded him…and he felt nothing. The blades passed through him. The blazing explosions destroyed his tiny home, but didn’t even singe his hair.
The Heroes were confused.
“He’s still flagged non-com to us! We can’t kill him!”
“Aw, shit, it’s bugged!”
“Hey, why hasn’t Valkor relogged?”
“I don’t know, I’ve tried rezzing him, but he’s not responding.”
“What’s that nutty farmer doing?”
Jacob suddenly understood.
He couldn’t be hurt by the Heroes, but he could hurt them.
And he wanted to.
Everything began to fall into place. Everything began to fit. All we are, he realized, is playthings for the Heroes. They’re chosen by the Gods, and we’re their toys. We exist to teach them, guide them, worship them, or be killed by them. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We barely have lives outside of them.
Enough. Gods be damned!
He launched himself into a clumsy attack, but the blade moved of its own will. Farmer Brown found himself ducking, weaving, and striking. The priest fell first, appropriately, since Jacob had spurned the gods. The warrior woman with the axe was next, her blade a phantom against his, unable to parry its lethal touch. The wizard ran when he saw his spells fail, but he was easily winded and Jacob felt as if he could do anything.
They left behind no bodies, not even blood on the blade. Whistling jauntily, Jacob returned to town.
It was dead.
Everyone in it seemed to be frozen, locked solid in position, Even the leaves blowing in the wind hung motionless in the air. The sky above had turned to ash, a uniform gray from horizon to dome. The sun had vanished, though it was still daylight.
Jacob entered the Gander.
Sackson was there. He was behind the bar, smashing open bottles and guzzling them down. He looked up.
“Jake? You… you’re still here… I mean, moving… I mean… what’s happening?”
“I killed some Heroes.” He sat down at the end of the bar and helped himself to some nuts. “Wasn’t even hard.”
Sackson dropped the bottle he was holding. It fell a foot or so, then hung in the air. “You… you what?”
“Killed them. I was sick and tired of being fodder for their games, so, I killed them. I cursed the gods and I drew my blade and I killed them.”
Sack’s face paled in horror. “You’ve killed the world.”
Madness glinted in Jacob’s eyes. “So what if I have? What kind of world is it, where the Gods push us around like stones in a child’s game? Besides, you’re still moving.”
“I don’t know why. I still can’t leave, Jacob, I try, and then I just go… someplace else, someplace filled with frozen fire, someplace made of words, and then I come back here. I think… I don’t think we have long to live.”
“My wife’s dead. And nameless. I don’t much care.”
Sack reached across the bar to try to grab him. Jacob stepped back, bringing up the blade.
“Jake… please… atone! Apologize! Beg the gods to forgive you… bring the world back!”
Jacob Brown looked upwards and spread his arms. “Do your worst!”
The world began to fall apart. There was a howling, and all of reality changed. Every line suddenly seemed sharper, infinitely sharp, as if each component of the world were being pulled out of it.
Sack fell to his knees, half-sobbing, half praying. As Jacob watched, he saw things begin to crawl along his friend’s face and body. They looked, at first, like black worms, like an infestation of the most vile sort, but then Jacob saw they were words, strange words he could not understand. The blackness grew and grew until it covered his friend entirely, and then he vanished.
Nothing remained outside the inn. There was no darkness, there was no light, there was just nothing. The inn itself was dissolving around him, black wordworms crawling everywhere, turning everything into letters and then into emptiness.
No, thought Jacob. I’m not going. They’re not taking me.
He looked around in desperation. There was something… a rip, a tear in the world. Beyond it was light.
Jacob leaped for it as the inn finished dissolving. He felt pain, a horrible burning, He could feel his skin crisping, his fat melting, his bones cracking in the heat, but he struggled to keep his mind, to keep himself together. Then the pain, and all other sensation, vanished.
Worlds Of Infinity, Incorporated, wishes to announce its deep regret and sorrow at the apparent deaths of four players of Quest Of The Heroes. While we mourn their loss and extend all condolences and sympathies to their families, we deny any possibility that a coding error or feedback loop could be responsible. While Quest Of The Heroes is currently offline until all investigations are completed, we at Worlds Of Infinity are certain that no action of ours could have led to this tragic situation.
Quest Of The Heroes is the crown jewel of Worlds Of Infinity. After ten years of continuous play, it remains the most popular simulation in our lineup. We continue to dedicate full resources to it, including recent upgrades to our SimuReal Interactives, providing the best and most immersive experience possible. We Are The Makers Of Worlds TM.
Jacob was somewhere else.
It was a strange place.
It seemed to be a room, but a room such as Jacob had never seen. A soft cloth was underfoot, almost like the hide of some odd animal, and there were large metal boxes, the strangest chests Jacob had ever seen, standing everywhere. The room seemed to go on forever, but every few dozen feet, there was a standing rectangle of green fire, the size and shape of a door. Here and there, far away, in the distance, he saw figures stepping out of or into the green doors, seeming to vanish or materialize. Some sort of magic portals?
He noted, with some grim delight, that he still bore the sword.
Jacob just stared in wonderment. This was no heaven or hell he had ever heard of.
There was a voice.
A man was there, strangely dressed. He didn’t look like a Hero…he looked, Jacob thought, like a tax collector.
“You! You there! What are you doing here?”
Jacob fumbled for an answer. “I… I am lost…”
“Lost?” The man seemed angry. “Oh, please. I know that getup. The damn game is offline, so you’re busy hacking to see if you can find a backup server somewhere. This isn’t your stupid game. You’ve managed to log into the V-Space Accounting Database.” He sighed, then continued his rant.
“God damn useless sim addicts. Well, I don’t know how you got through the firewall, but you are in deep, deep, trouble. You know what the laws are for trespass into private zones? I’m getting a trace on your signal sent. Might as well unplug, the cops will be there soon. No sims in prison, you freaking fantasy nut. Now log, I’ve got accounting data to lookup. Whole company is in a tizzie thanks to you losers.”
Jacob tried to puzzle out bits and pieces of the speech. “You… you work for the gods? For the Makers Of Worlds? You are their servant?”
The man rolled his eyes. “Great, not only an addict, but one of those roleplaying weenies. Yeah, I work for ‘the Gods’. Sheesh, they’re going to love you in the can! Here’s a hint, loser – don’t drop the… ”
Jacob sliced his head off, cleanly. The body vanished. He expected as much now.
If I can kill the servants of the gods…and their Heroes…perhaps I can kill the Gods themselves.
He went to one of the rectangles and gingerly stepped into it. There was a moment of light, then a sense of dissolution, then he appeared somewhere else. It was another room, similar but not identical to the one he had just occupied.
I am in the realm of the gods. I wander their halls… and here, they can die.
This place is immense, he thought, but I have time. Somewhere in here, I will find the Gods. Then I will kill them.
He smiled a thin, cold, mad, smile.
I am a Hero, he thought. I have a Quest.
As with most of my fiction, this was written in a moment of desperate panic before my monthly writer’s group meeting. It was posted ages ago on the original Joomla version of this site, then never moved over in the Great WordPress Revolution of… whenever I switched to WordPress. I think it was 2010. (Wow, that means I wrote the Star Rovers piece a long time ago.) Prior to reposting it now, I gave it a quick edit to clean up a few sentences. (No matter how many times you reread your own writing, you always find one word to change here, another word to add there…)
Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to mention that a small bit of the inspiration comes from a quest in Vanguard (ah, Vanguard… you could have been amazing. A perfect example of the harsh reality of “Ship Now or Ship Never”). You were sent to go rescue someone from lizardmen, but as soon as you got near to the village, the text box informed that you heard a scream and that they were dead. No way to save them. (Given how borked the NPC pathing/follow was, it’s probably for the best it wasn’t an escort quest.)
The concept of an AI DM… true AI, creative and self-aware, is terrifying. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bribed with pizza or boobies. It never forgets a rule or its notes. And it never, ever, stops. But I digress… this time, before I’ve even… uh… gressed.
Anyway, last night, at our weekly Pathfinder game, sometime before the crippling sinus headache that reduced me to whining “Let me die!” over and over again, I managed to pull off one of those things that simply can’t happen in any computer-run RPG, unless it was pre-coded to happen, which undermines the point.
In our prior game, some sorceror-type had been lurking around the room our party had holed up in for the night, and had left us a present just outside the door… a rock with explosive runes written on it, well aware that if adventurers ever see writing on the floor, especially vaguely mystical writing, they will stop and read it, much like dogs sniffing at a tree. My character managed to spot the runes in time and, by dint of a high Disable Device check, mage hand, and a bit of cloth, stuck the rock in the bag, in case it could be useful later.
Later, but not at the Hall of Justice, we encountered the demon prince we’ve been hunting for nine levels, perched on a standard issue boss monster floating platform. As my character has a totally undeserved reputation for being willing to bargain with entities of the lower planes, he offered me the usual power, knowledge, etc, to betray my friends. My reply was, “I’ve taken the liberty of writing the terms I’ll accept on this rock. ” I used the aforementioned mage hand to send the rock over to him, and rolled a really good Bluff check. Start of his turn…. boom. Sadly, it didn’t get through his SR (sigh), but it did penetrate that of his succubus girlfriend (insert your own obvious joke here about what hasn’t penetrated her SR) and it was probably the most direct damage I inflicted in that fight. (Conjuror/Rogue… while most of my direct damage spells ignored SR (yay!), they did acid damage, which demons all resist, my summoned creatures were too low level, my rapier wasn’t cold-iron or good-aligned, and spells like spiked pit and aqueous orb are pretty worthless against creatures with at-will teleport. I was reduced to casting buff spells and even using aid another. Who uses aid another? Sheesh. But I digress. Again. Trigress?)
So, upshot is, while it’s certainly possible for a coder to have written that explicit chain of events into a game, it’s not likely they would, and, if they had, it would have been at the cost of some other sequence of events which could still be carried out in a tabletop game. That kind of freedom of action, the ability to interact with an imagined world in any way you wish, is something we’ll never see, even in the most “sandboxy” games. It bothers me that this feature, the most unique selling point of tabletop games over MMOs, is so underplayed by game companies, who focus, instead, on trying to make games “easy to learn” and turn RPGing into a beer-and-pretzels hobby where you get some friends over, run a “delve”, and quit. The things that make tabletop RPGs unique are long-term campaigns where you build a sense of history and legacy, where you tell each other stories over and over and create memories you’ll cherish long after you’ve forgotten how to control your sphincter, and the ability to try anything you can imagine — whether you succeed or not, of course, is up to the dice.
Since we’d been talking about Everquest, I just had to share this when I stumbled upon it, though I didn’t use StumbleUpon, as it turns out.
I remember when this was bleeding-edge graphics. 🙂 And I remember people complaining this expansion “ruined” Everquest. As did the next one. And the one after that. And…
The rule is simple. The game — any game — is perfect when you start playing it. The first expansion after that is the one that “destroys” the game.
September 12, 2004
I’ve been seeing previews of your new “World of Warcraft” game, and I think you’re wasting the rumored 50 million dollars you’ve put into it. It’s nothing but a clone of the market leader, Everquest, and there’s really no way you can overcome the huge advantage EQ has on you in terms of subscriber base and development time. They’ve had over five years to constantly refine and improve the game experience; you’ll be starting out where they were five years ago, and doing nothing but playing catch-up. You’ve got the same “Go kill 10 rats” gameplay and the same endgame, except you have almost no raid content ready and I hear that your “innovative” PVP system, using the same “instancing” technology that Everquest implemented years ago in their Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion, will not be ready at launch. Only something totally new and radical will work — have you considered making it over into a twitch-based FPS game? Just doing what’s already proven to be popular and genre defining, but doing it better, cleaner, sharper, and faster, is no recipe for success. Originality is far more important than competence, and building on your competitors work and taking advantage of all they’ve learned the hard way, and then bettering it, is a foolish gambit. Only the totally new and totally unproven, especially if it’s not what customers have previously demonstrated they’re willing to pay for, will win the game. You may want to look at Tabula Rasa, which has been in development since 2001 and will probably release soon. It’s so original and groundbreaking even the developers aren’t entirely sure what kind of game they’re making — that kind of shattering of genre boundaries is the best way to have a mega-hit. I feel sorry for the developers, artists, and so on who will be laid off when World of Warcraft bombs, dismissed as just another Everquest clone in a field already crowded with them (Asheron’s Call, Dark Age Of Camelot, Horizons, etc). I wish you luck — you’re going to need it.
For those wondering what the hell that was all about, it’s a response I posted on this Slashdot page which was itself discussing this article about how KOTOR (Knights Of The Old Republic) was going to fail, fail, fail because someone who played part of one starting zone which is still in beta didn’t like the quests.
I’m not claiming it won’t fail, mind you — just that if the arguments you make for its “inevitable” failure are exactly the same as arguments you could have made (and I’m sure some people did make) in 2004 to Blizzard, you might want to check your premises.
I posted this over on MMORPG.com, but I figure it’s just as appropriate to post here:
Included in this article are various corporate talking heads spewing their usual excuses for shallow games that appeal only to WoW kiddies:
On the plus side, they get Richard Garriott to talk about his next big project! — “It’s basically a game in which you’re living out your life. And you can do anything you want.”
I wish we had more of this sort of cutting-edge debate over here on MMORPG.com, instead of just rehashes of the same old topics over and over. Didn’t want to post the whole article for copyright reasons, but it’s well worth reading to get a good sense of how important and timely this new issue of trading solid gameplay and real challenge for snazzy graphics and hand-holding is. This is something we’ve got to talk about now, before computer gaming is changed forever.
I’ve played most of the newer games they mention, and while they’re fun enough, I guess, they just don’t offer the kind of real experience and involvement that older games did, and if this kind of focus on pandering to the lowest common denominator and simplifying gameplay with built-in cheats and published cluebooks continues, eventually, real games that have depth to them will just vanish or be reduced to niche markets.
Again — this is a great article, and I recommend that anyone on MMORPG.com who is passionate about how modern games are being dumbed down to appeal to more consumers read it. It really places the issue into the proper perspective.
“How can they worry about adding three new hats when the server crashes every week???” answered!
OK, crybabies. Listen up.
On every MMORPG related board, I constantly see the following:
Developer: And in the 18.104.22.168 patch, we’ll be adding new hats.
Clueless, Spoiled Brats: Waaaah! You’re not fixing My Important Issues! How can you add hats when there’s server crashes!
Developer: We implemented several fixes to the memory leaks that occur whenever four or more half-orcs are in the Marshes Of Gloom on a Tuesday and the Silver Cuttlefish spawns in the north half of the map.
Whiny Git: Waaaah! When I run the game on my overclocked Commodore-64 using a third-party software emulator from Thailand over my 14.4 K modem, I still only get 87 FPS!
Whiny Git2: I never go to that zone! Stop pandering to the WOW players and fix bugs *I* care about!
And so on.
This helpful little essay will explain why the amazingly important issues you have aren’t being fixed on your schedule.
First, MMORPGs are composed of teams. Teams rarely have overlapping functions, and their skills are not fungible. The 3-D modelers making new hats can’t stop what they’re doing and debug server optimization code. This applies across all aspects of development. Even with coding, someone working on the quest engine isn’t going to fix display glitches. Someone responsible for UI responsiveness can’t help solve memory leaks. In general, even if it’s possible to retrain someone, it’s a waste of time to do so — they’re much more useful doing what they were hired to do.
Second, you can’t easily “hire more programmers!” Most importantly, there’s a huge learning curve — it can take weeks or months to get even a very skilled programmer up to speed on the existing code base. Also, you cannot simply throw resources at a problem. There’s a point at which more programmers equals slower bug fixes as they quite literally get in each other’s way. (And every new hire increases total overhead, which means more HR and support costs, which means less money for other things…)
Third, not all bugs are of equal difficulty. If a patch list is filled with “In the Quest ‘Seven Diamonds For Seven Ogres’, we fixed the timer so that it’s now possible to complete the run”, do not whine “Waah! How can they fix this when there’s still crashes whenever someone walks backwards while executing the /juggle emote and it’s a Tuesday?” It’s because quest issues (and many similar bugs) can usually be fixed by editing a database, something which can be accomplished quickly, tested quickly, and performed by relatively junior team members with only minimal oversight and QA — while server and memory bugs are often insanely complicated, need extensive regression testing, and take the ‘best and brightest’. If you can assign one junior programmer to clean out three dozen quest bugs in a patch cycle, or have him be basically useless while more experienced programmers do all the real work, what would you do? There’s no reason not to clean up the little bugs while the big ones are being worked on.
And that leads to the next point: There’s more going on than is revealed in patch notes. Development of new content, fixing of of old content, testing, and optimization, all occur continually. Just because the people who post the patch notes didn’t just copy the entire work schedule of the several hundred people on the staff doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening.
“Everyone knows X is broken! Why don’t they fix it?”
Well, first, “everyone” doesn’t know it. YOU may PERCEIVE it, but that doesn’t make it so. The folks on the other end of the screen have access to a lot of data you don’t, aggregates across all servers and levels, and so on. Your perceptions of brokenness may be false. Second, “fixing it” isn’t always simple — things are broken precisely because these games are hideously complex, and two things which look great on their own combine to form an unholy mess. Arbitrarily fixing one “broken” thing without looking at the ripple effects of that fix can just make things worse.
“Instead of nerfing my grossly overpowered class, why not just buff everyone else!”
If you ask that, frankly, you’re a moron. The answer, not that you’re smart enough to understand it, is that changing one thing, with all of its attendant side effects, is easier than changing a dozen, or more, things, with all of their attendant side effects. Suck it down, nerf boy.
“The customer is always right!”
No, the customer is usually an idiot who has no clue.
“They said four years before the game was released that we’d be able to eat our enemies’ spleens! Why can’t I do that now?”
Here is how game development works:
a)A bunch of developers toss out a lot of things they think might be cool.
b)Someone from marketing sticks his head in, and says, “We have to start hyping this! What’s cool about it?”
c)They toss him the list and hope he goes away. He feeds the list to the press.
d)Over the course of years, each idea on the list is evaluated for practicality, fun, and so on. One by one, they fall into “Not for release” or “Not ever”. Meanwhile, the initial PR is flying all over the net, preserved forever by rabid fanboys who have dedicated their entire existence to a game they have never seen and which might never come out.
e)Eventually, the game ships, and people start wailing about how they were “lied” to. Then they glom on to some other barely-announced game and repeat the cycle.
“Console games don’t have this many bugs!”
Console games are attacking a much, much, smaller design space. Consoles do not have uncounted variations in hardware and drivers. Consoles do not have multiple processes running concurrently. Console games, in general, are far, far, simpler than PC games.
“They shouldn’t release the game until it’s done!”
There is no “done” in games like this. Nor is there bug-free. You release when the game is playable, or you do not release at all. For one thing, many bugs, especially balance issues or server issues, simply do not show up until there’s 200 thousand people playing for an extended period — and you cannot have an extended open beta for that many people, the cost is simply too much. In most cases, games are kept in development until the order comes down: Ship something, or look for new jobs. That’s the fact, and there’s really no hope of it changing any time soon.
Addendum And Shameless Plug: Yes, yes, you’ve come to tell me how I’m a lame fanboy making excuses for SWTOR (and also a psychic, since I wrote this long before the game was announced), but there is other content on the site, all equally worthy of being told how lame it is and how dumb I am for writing it. Two things of particular interest to folks following links to here are Grammar For Gamers, which is the page I always thought would be widely linked to, which shows why you should never listen to me pick stocks or racehorses, and The Name Of His Wife, a piece of short fiction about the hard life of an NPC.
This is an attempt to consolidate all of the most common, and most annoying, errors in spelling and grammar seen on gaming boards, and in game chat.
“y shud i care this not skool rofl1!”
Here’s a little secret — you aren’t taught English so that you can do well on English exams. You’re taught English so that when people like me see your resume, we don’t laugh uproariously and then call all of our friends in for a dramatic reading of it. (Then not call you for a job interview). Furthermore, poor grammar/spelling sends one very clear message: “I don’t care about what I’m writing”. If you don’t care, why should we? Why should we read your eight page post on how to “fix” all the problems in your current game if you can’t even be bothered to spell or punctuate it properly? Also, you give people an easy out — attacking your presentation instead of your ideas (if anyone can even locate your ideas in the midst of your incoherent scrawl).
“This is too much stuff, I can’t keep it all straight!”
Look, dude. If you can memorize the optimal configuration of optional advancement for a dozen classes in five different games, and instantly calculate if a +10 to Con is better than a +15 to Dex for your current build — you can learn the rules of English. They are no
less more arbitrary and confusing than the rules to your favorite online game — and they get patched a whole hell of a lot less often, so you don’t need to relearn them every week.
Note: It is almost certain this very piece contains some sins, either venal or mortal. It is nigh impossible to get things perfect on the first try, and online communication tends to the informal. Perfection is a nice goal, but it’s not always achievable; it is wrong, though, to conclude that since we can’t get it perfect, we shouldn’t try to get it as good as we can.
So, in no particular order, here’s some helpful advice.
Here is a sentence: The ROGUE disguised his face with ROUGE in order to infiltrate the castle.
“The orc LOOSED a volley of arrows at the attacking paladin”.
“The rogue used a skill to break LOOSE from the snare.”
Loose is also an adjective, describing something which is not tight:
“The orc put his armor on hastily, so it was LOOSE.”
Lose means “Not to win”.
“The orc’s armor was LOOSE, causing him to LOSE“.
Looser vs. Loser:
Looser means “More loose than”.
“The Witch Elf’s armor was LOOSER than the orc’s armor.”
Loser means “Someone who has lost”
“If you call someone who has lost a fight a looser, you are a LOSER.”
You’re is a contraction. It always has an apostrophe between the ‘u’ and the ‘r’. It means “You are”. If you use “You’re” in a sentence, read it out loud, saying “you are” instead. See if the sentence still make sense. Use it when talking about what someone is, not what they have, e.g. “You’re a loser if you don’t know when to use ‘your’ vs ‘you’re'”.
“If you’re not sure, read your sentence aloud.”
Let’s be perfectly clear — the word ‘you’ has three letters, not one. Perhaps when typing fast in in-game chat, you can be excused using the fewest letters possible — but a message board isn’t in-game chat. You’re under no time constraints, so there’s no excuse for sloppiness. Just write out “You”. It raises your perceived IQ 15 points.
This word also has three letters. Not one. Three.
Oh, here’s a big one. From reading online posts, you’d think that these were completely interchangeable in all circumstances — sort of like grey and gray (both correct spellings) or disc and disk. You might think this… but you’d be wrong!
THERE refers to direction — “The orc is over there”.
THEIR is a possessive, used when referring to a group, either a real group or an abstract group. Use it when discussing things that belong to someone else: “Their coders couldn’t fix bugs if you paid them!”
THEY’RE is a lot like YOU’RE — note our friend, Mr. Apostrophe? It’s a contraction. It means, duh, “They are”. For example: “THEY’RE over THERE.”
Putting it all together:
“THEY’RE over THERE, setting up THEIR siege engines.”
(By the way, you were probably taught “I before E except after C” (I’m assuming some poor, harassed, teacher made at least a feeble effort to pound a few rules of spelling into your granite-like noggin. I may be wrong). This, like the cake, is a lie! It’s “Their”, not “Thier”. The general rule is that if the ei is sounded as “ay”, as it is in neighbor or, well, “their”, it’s ei, not ie. Also, “weird”, which is just weird. Go figure.)
Were, We’re, and Where:
“Where” is used for questions of place:”WHERE were you last night?”
“Were” is used to indicate a past time:”We WERE doing a raid last night.”
“We’re” is a contraction — use it whenever you would use “We are”, as in: “WE’RE going to go on a raid now.”
Putting it all together:
“WE’RE going to WHERE we WERE raiding last night.”
This one is pretty unique to Warhammer Online, which introduced “Morale” abilities.
Moral refers to ethics and values:”Killing women and children is not MORAL, unless you are an orc.”
Morale refers to mood and enthusiasm, especially in a warlike context: “The act of killing women and children bolstered the orc’s MORALE.”
This is something that comes up more now that I’m playing SWTOR.
Canon refers to the accepted and authorized information about a subject, as opposed to information that is considered apocryphal or unauthorized. “George Lucas has allowed an awful lot of stupid crap to become part of the Star Wars CANON.”
Cannon is a type of weapon that makes a big kaboom. “Alderaan was destroyed when the Death Star fired its laser CANNON.”
It’s interesting, and depressing, how often I see problems with this. I’m inclined to blame spell checkers and people who just pick a suggested word without knowing which one is correct.
“Know” refers to knowledge (as ought to be evident), awareness of something, and so on. “You ought to KNOW better than to join a guild that issues drive-by invitations.”
“Now” refers to time, specifically, the present:”I don’t want to wait for them to fix the bugs, I want it done NOW!”
“No” is negation, a lack of desire for, or as the LOLcats say, “Do not want!”. “If the best dialog you can up with is ‘NOoooooooo!’, maybe you should go back to designing toys and let someone else do the scripting.”
People rarely (in my experience, I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong soon enough) misuse “have” when referring to possession (“I have epic armor!”), but, as a commenter pointed out, they very often misuse it when referring to actions. This is an easy rule to remember: There are no circumstances when “of” follows “would”. Just don’t do it. Any time you write “would” and then write “of”, you’re wrong. Change it to “have”. (Well, because I love a challenge, I suppose that if you have someone surnamed “Would”, you could say “Sir Would of the Wood”, and that would be correct. It’s pretty unlikely, though.)
Correct: “I would HAVE won if I’d had epic armor.”
Also Correct: “I WOULD’VE won if I’d had epic armor.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong: “I would OF won if I’d had epic armor.”
I haven’t yet seen someone write “I wood of won…”, but I figure it’s only a matter of time.
Given the monumental self-importance and sense of entitlement possessed by most posters on MMO boards, you’d think they’d have no trouble referring to themselves, but you’d be wrong.
“I’ll” is short for “I will” — once again, Mr. Apostrophe appears, telling us that it’s a contraction. “I’ll quit this game if you don’t fix everything wrong with it right now!”
“Ill”, of course, means “sick”, “not well”, and so on. “The crappy graphics in this game make me ill“.
Also, “I”, when used as a word in itself, is always capitalized. Given how confused people get about words which are capitalized some of the time, you’d think that an “always on” rule would be easy to remember. Nope. Furthermore, because this is such a trivial rule to remember, it’s one of the things that really stands out when it comes to making writing look sloppy and the writer look stupid. Few things say “Moron, please ignore.” as clearly as “this is the worst game i have seen and i quit”
Someone might note English has way too many words which are homophones. First, that doesn’t mean they only date words of the same gender, since English is a non-gendered language. Second, this is what happens when your language starts with blue-painted barbarians who get tromped on by Romans and then invaded by Vikings who are later conquered by French people speaking a debased form of Latin.
“Two” is the number that’s between one and three. It can be written “2”, but only when you’re using it to indicate how many of something there are. “There are two orcs on that ridge.” “We need two more people before we can go into the instance.” Also, while it’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s generally better to write out “two” when you’re not limited to a set number of characters or typing rapidly in-game. It makes you look smarter, and, let’s face it, a lot of you need all the help you can get in that area. I’m just sayin’.
“Too” is used to indicate excess amounts. “This instance is too hard!” “The latest patch has too many bugs!”. It means, more or less, “over the limit”, “excessive”, and so on. It can never be written as “2”, under any circumstances, if you don’t want to look like you’re too stupid to live.
“To” is used every place you don’t use the other two. If you’re not sure, check the prior paragraphs. If none of them apply, use “to”. Do not write “2” just because you’re lazy, unless you want people to know you’re both lazy and stupid. “I’m going to the auction house, so give your gold to me.” It’s something called a “grammatical particle”. Mention that at a party. It will help you pick up girls. Girls love it when guys have a huge vocabulary.
This is not so much about correct grammar, spelling, or word choice, but about misuse of common phrases, metaphors, and idioms.I find these especially galling because, most of the time, the incorrect phrase doesn’t make any sense — it’s just random syllables someone strung together that don’t actually convey any meaning, literal or otherwise, becoming a sort of written mondegreen. (Google it yourself, you lazy sot.)
For all intents and purposes: Really, it’s self-explanatory, or should be. Honestly, I’m having a hard time finding an alternative way of saying it. The oft-used alternative, “for all intensive purposes”, really doesn’t make any sense, especially when, in the context it’s used, it’s clear that the correct meaning is intended, and trying to apply any interpretation of the incorrect version is clearly meaningless, leading one to conclude anyone using it really, really, doesn’t care about what they’re writing… so it’s a good sign you shouldn’t, either.
Our Friend, Mister Apostrophe:
And so we come to the end. Apostrophes are a pain, and even I screw up with them sometimes. The first rule, though, is this: An apostrophe is not used to warn the reader that an “S” is coming. Honestly, you’re better off underusing them than overusing them. Here is when you should use them:
a)In contractions — You’re, they’re, it’s. Please note that you use an apostrophe in “it’s” when what you mean to write is “It Is”, for example “It’s a good day for someone else to die.” This directly contradicts the next rule…
b)To show possession: “The orc’s axe”, “The elf’s cleavage”. However, if you’re using “it” as the thing which has possession, you do not use an apostrophe. “The orc raised its axe.”, not, “The orc raised it’s axe.” Does this make no sense? Yes, it does. Report it to a CSR and maybe they’ll fix it when they patch English.
You do not use it to show plurals! No, no, no! This is wrong:
“There sure are a lot of orc’s.”
To make matters even more confusing, what happens when you want to show a plural possessive? You put the apostrophe after the s!
“The orcs’ axes were caked with blood.”
There you go. I expect this list to grow as more and more annoying errors come to my attention.