September 2004


Remember this site? In case you were on the fence because you thought he was even worse than feminine hygeine products, now there’s

In case you don’t completely despise Kerry (but still plan to vote for him anyway), Funtax points out Kerry’s little known career in first-person shooters.

John Kerry – so many reasons to hate him, yet vote for him anyway.

(Who am *I* voting for? Probably this guy.)


This just in: roleplaying doesn’t exist!

Courtesy of Terra Nova. Interesting stuff. My take on it is slightly different.

Most people won’t radically roleplay. For example, I won’t play female avatars. Just won’t do it. I’m not female, I know myself well enough to know I can’t simulate being a female, and most importantly, guys hitting on me makes me feel icky. So while I may roleplay being a battle-hardened mercenary who happens to be a small pale thingy that squeaks when hit, I won’t actually roleplay being a woman. This should tell you something about me. At any rate, people don’t mind taking a role, but not one that is radically different from what they are familiar with, either in reality or their own already pre-existing fantasies.

Most people don’t want to free-associate a script. By this, I mean, that IN MY HUMBLE OPINION most people do not want to work very hard at writing a plot. They want to be entertained. They want things to happen to them. They don’t want to work at it. This is a reasonable expectation. Most people work all day, all week. This is supposed to be NotWork.

Most people will act “in character” if everyone else is. It’s a critical mass that is difficult to establish. But once it is, people desire to fit in. Even if it’s in a monosyllabic fashion, they won’t actively strive to break the milieu if it’s in place. (And I’m not including “griefers” in this category – which have an impact far greater than their numbers, and would take great joy in breaking the milieu spectacularly. I’m speaking here of Joe Average, who thankfully does not seek to wreck the fun of others.)

So while most people aren’t professional actors, and don’t see internet assisted improv as their idea of a good time, they don’t mind in casual participation. Think of it as attending a really good renaissance faire. If the journeyman players circulating around the crowd are really enjoying themselves and into their act, you’re not going to ask them about that weekend’s Redskins game. You’re going to participate, even on the most casual of levels.

The challenge of MMOs, then, is to attract those early adopters, the community builders who WILL create an interesting story within the framework you provide, and discourage the 5% who will seek to destroy their work. If you can do both of those, you’ve made a good start at creating a “roleplay friendly” environment. And truthfully, that’s all you want to do. Because many of your players have no interest in roleplaying, and log in to have a virtual beer. Without pantomiming the drinking bit.

But, and I may be a bit heretical here, even the conservative “rollplayah hostile” player will still enjoy a rich environmental backdrop, and the most cost effective way to provide this has always been to enable your players to do it for you.


“You guys are, I think, suffering from a failure of imagination. Why can’t we create a game that will teach someone to play a musical instrument? That will cure cancer? That will end terrorism?”

— Raph Koster, AGC

So would it be like this?

This game: will never be made. Ever. Thus it’s safe to be used as a test case. (Can you imagine the sales pitch? “We want to spend 50 million dollars to teach people how to be terrorists!”)

This game: would not be an MMORPG. It would be an MMOG, possibly. But the classic model of an MMORPG would not work for this – and it’s a good example of how that classic model is holding the industry back.

Almost every MMO today follows the RPG model. You are one person. You have statistics and skills and items that not only map out what you can do, but act as a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

Interestingly, many online games that aren’t MMOs follow this model to a degree as well. In first person shooters, you are one person. You have (player based) skills and items that not only map out what you can do, but act as a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

So if you’re thinking every MMO seems the same – surprise! They are! As I said in a presentation earlier this year, it’s painfully obvious that we all played Dungeons and Dragons as kids – and nothing else.

However, there are different games out there. One of the more interesting are participatory web mysteries – here’s a good web site devoted to what was probably the best. Basically, the game creators scattered lots of diverse information around the web, waiting to be found, and the players combined their deductive reasoning to solve it.

Interestingly enough, counterterrorism is the act of using collective deductive reasoning to solve mysteries scattered, in many places, across the web.

So. We have a game concept from today’s headlines. We have a previously successful concept, that was done for very little money, and has been proven to be somewhat interesting (and has also failed pretty spectacularly). And we have a lot of proven technology for serving client-server applications over the Internet (in case you haven’t been paying attention, they’re called MMOs).

All that’s left is the easy stuff. The actual game design and implementation. So the game design goals for this mythical chimera of a project:

1) Be fun. Hey, sometimes you have to say these kind of things up front.
2) Be realistic. So realistic, in fact, that the game could be used as a learning tool (chasing Department of Defense dollars has never been a bad gamble).
3) Teach the players something, even if wholly by accident. To do this, we will have to make some very fundamental assumptions about the world we live in. Many people will disagree with these assumptions – we as game designers will be deciding such fundamental questions as “was the war in Iraq a benefit to terrorists?”. (Things like this are why, in the real world, this game can never be made.)

So. Set up a world within a world – the game servers. Populate them with message boards, similar to the old C64 “Neuromancer” game. (We can’t use the real Internet for this – because if for no other reason, most of our customers won’t be able to read Arabic). Set up a model for terrorist attacks to succeed – and points in that critical path for them to be interrupted.

Think of it as Counterstrike for Bejeweled players. The terrorists try to manuever money and resources around the globe to carry out attacks, and the counter terrorists try to find their needles in the haystack. (Developing the haystack will be a large challenge – how do you create a world with enough detail for people to be purposefully lost, yet not generic enough that the people hiding stand out amongst the white noise?)

Here’s another concept – the game ends. If the terrorist infrastructure is defeated, or if the terrorists manage to pull off a mega-attack that shatters the state of the world – game over. Give the player accounts scores – and high scoring players can take leadership roles in the next game.

All of this is pretty random and woolly – as befits something of only a few days’ worth of thought. But if you believe that there truly has been enough versions of Dungeons and Dragons created online – then perhaps its time to think a bit differently?


Because it’s all about convergence… or synergy… or some buzzword or another.

I have the worst luck with Windows Pocket PC PDAs. Palms? Last forever. I just gave a 5 year old Handspring to my stepson last month when I saw him looking for paper. “Paper? What’s that?”

Pocket PCs? They don’t like me. The one I had before this one, it FROZE. No, really. I went out to Colorado over the holidays and the LCD screen …literally …froze. Whoops. So I trolled eBay for one more thingy. Which lasted about 8 months this time. I thought it actually took, and I wasn’t going to freeze it or sit on it or drop it or plug in a cheap keyboard that completely destroyed the sync port. Oh, wait. I did that.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the same cell phone for approximately FOREVER. It works. It’s made for clumsy people like me to drop consistently.

The answer is in this eBay listing. For the price of a Pocket PC PDA I get one built into a fairly rugged cellphone. I’ve been using it now for about a week. It seems to be the answer to my …well, if not prayers, at least pleadings. It calls people. It stores my email. It stores my appointments and nags me about them. It lets me log into IM from anywhere. About the only thing it doesn’t do that my PDA did was emulate a Super Nintendo. Somehow, I’m thinking I can live without that.

So I now have enough toys. And my credit card was very grateful thereof.

Tune in tomorrow when I actually say something about MMOs!


…although you wouldn’t know it from my (lack of) updates. Off to Austin tomorrow for the AGC conference. If you think I’ve been travelling a lot lately, you should stop thinking about it, because, well, that’s creepy. Instead, take a look at the latest installment of Those Wacky Despots, that I like to call, “All Lukashenko, All The Time”. Reading the news agencies of power-mad dictators is always a good antidote when someone is bitching at you about the supposed bias of the Western press. Yeah, here’s some REAL bias, bucko.