Infinite Leveling

Here begins a series of posts, when I remember to do them, in which I will discuss the elements that would make up the perfect MMO for me.

One of the things I hate most in games is levels that “matter”.  And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level.  However, I do understand the desire to have a constantly rising metric by which players can compare themselves or show some aspect of their selves to others.

In my perfect MMO, there would be levels and there would be experience gained through killing, questing, crafting and any number of other things.  These levels would be entirely a measure of effort.  If you kill 8,000,000 rats earning 10 exp per rat, your level will be higher than someone who has killed only 1 ogre for 1,000 exp.  However, if the two of you were to face off in combat, how you played, what abilities you used and other factors would determine the outcome, not level.

Level would simply be… well… experience.  A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”.  As that person played the game and did things they would become a “Novice” or “Neophyte” and progress up through different titles until they eventually reached something like “Extraordinarily Experienced Grand Master” or some such.  This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience.  If you did so through a majority of exploration you might be “Worldly Grand Master”, or if you did so by crafting you might be a “Grand Master of Labors”.

Looking at a person’s “level” (which would not be expressed by a number, at least not a single number) would actually tell you a bit of the story of their lives.  And that is why such a system appeals to me.  It also appeals because unless you plan so poorly that you exhaust the entire English language by allowing people to gain ten or twenty levels per session, you could literally have infinite leveling.  All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.


I know that I am guilty of driving past a stranded motorist on the side of the road.  In the age of ubiquitous cell phones, I can almost safely assume that a person sitting out of traffic has called a friend or AAA or a towing service, or in the Atlanta area on the highways that a HERO vehicle will be along shortly.  I consider this to be acceptable.  Especially in the middle of the day, off the side of the road, this person is very likely to be okay.

However, when a car is stalled and is blocking traffic, I usually pull up and ask if they need help.  Most of the time they say no, whether because they don’t need help or because the bald goatee’d strange guy is asking I don’t know, but at least I’ve asked.  Occasionally, people even say yes, and I help them.  Not often, because the truth is that it is fairly rare for a car to actually die completely in traffic and not be able to get off the road.  I’ve had cars die a few times, but in almost every case I was able to limp them off the road.

Yesterday, the wife’s car died while waiting at a stop light.  She called me, I told her to call the service station we use and have them send a truck, and then I packed up my stuff and left work to go help.  In the time it took me to get there, more than 20 minutes, many cars had gone by her honking and yelling.  One guy did help her slightly, and pushed her car forward enough that people could get around her easier, but didn’t help her get out of the road.  After I got there, I witnessed a large number of people continue to honk and yell and drive around.  I tried to move the car myself, but it was slightly uphill and I wasn’t going anywhere.  Then a guy in a truck towing a trailer asked if we needed help.  I said yes, he actually drove to a nearby gas station, parked, and ran back over to help.  The two of us pushed the car through the intersection and into a turn lane out of traffic.

For well over a half hour, the wife sat in traffic as people honked and yelled, complaining and upset at the jam her dead car was causing.  Out of all of those people, only two bothered to help.  I find this indicative of most people in general.  They would rather sit and complain about something being crappy rather than to actually take action to try to make it less crappy.  So many people would rather be the victim than the hero if being the hero means they have to actually do something.

Dealing with your designer

Design in business tends to be a collaborative effort.  Mainly this is because nine times out of ten the person with the idea doesn’t have the ability, and the people with the ability aren’t often focused enough to have the ideas.  Not to offend either set, but creativity and business sense appear to be, in most people, diametrically opposed.  That means the more of one you have the less of the other you have.

So, if you are the idea guy, you take your thoughts to someone else.  You’ve laid out the parameters and explained what you wanted.  The designer has gone off and done what you asked and is showing it to you.

The first thing to remember when entering a design process is that until you’ve actually released, you can change anything.  Even after you release you can probably still change things.  So when your designer brings you the first pass at implementing your idea, the first thing out of your mouth shouldn’t be pointing out how they totally screwed it up.  This is a first draft, this is the collaboration part where the designer is trying to understand what you want, in his medium, and you help him.  Until you learn to literally project your thoughts into someone else’s head, you have to realize that what you dreamed up and what you put on paper as specifications are not remotely identical, and the translation from your brain to paper and then from paper to the designer’s brain is going to cause variation.  That’s why the two of you need to work together.

Don’t put your designer on the defensive and lead with criticism.  Look at the work and begin by talking about what you like.  What elements appear to be going in the right direction.  And then, when you are done, begin being critical, however, remain constructive.  If you don’t like the format of something, don’t just say, “I hate that. It’s ugly.”  Try instead something like, “The words are right like I specified, but I’m not loving the font you chose. Can you show me a few others?”  If you don’t understand something, ask — the designer is likely happy to explain where he started and how he got there, and if he’s off the mark you should correct the error in his path and help him get to where you want.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you sit in the designer’s work space and tell him how to do his job.

Just keep in mind how you would react if someone came along and told you how stupid your idea was versus them telling you it’s a good idea, promising, but there are these one or two details you might want to reconsider before you get in too deep.  In other words, the Golden Rule.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which one person would you bring with you?

The answer that will get me in the least trouble: my wife.

But choosing one person to be stranded with is hard. You need a person who compliments your own skill sets to allow for greater chances of survival and rescue. Your choice should be someone who is physically fit and reasonably intelligent in a variety of subjects. Or you could just choose someone who would make your final days as pleasant as possible, making the sex with until neither of you have the energy or will to go again.

I can tell you, however, one person I would NOT want to be stranded on a desert island with: Roy Hinkley. You may not recognize that name, but you’d know him if I called him by his more common moniker, The Professor. Yes, that Professor. The man who could make a radio from coconuts but couldn’t fix a hole in a boat. I mean, one thing the island had an abundance of was trees, you’d think he’d at least make a raft or a canoe or something. Given the amount of time they were on the island, he could have made a yacht!

Of course, I can’t bag on the Prof too much. Who’d really want to leave an island that counted Ginger Grant and Mary Ann Summers among its inhabitants? I certainly hope he was tapping that. Both of that. I know I would. In fact, I’d probably engineer a few “accidents” to eliminate my competition in that department to improve my odds. Yeah…

Crap. The wife is going to read this and I’m going to be in trouble. So, uh.. my wife. If I was stranded on a desert island, the one person I would bring with me would be my wife.

Ask me anything

Driving Tips & Truths

I’ve been driving cars for over twenty years now, and what follows is a mixture of helpful tips and venting about stupidity.

  • Turn signals are not for the driver. It would almost be better if they somehow made it impossible to turn left or right, or change lanes, without using a turn signal.  The problem is that doing those things is possible without the turn signal so many drivers don’t use them.  But the turn signal isn’t for the driver, hence why they are on the outside of the car, where the driver could not possibly see them.  This is because turn signals are to tell other drivers what your intentions are and allows them the ability to react.  Brake lights work the same way, which is why it’s nice when people “cover” their brakes (touch the pedal lightly so that the lights kick on but the car isn’t actually braking yet) before they start braking.
  • No one knows what flashing your head lights means. One time, I was driving down the road and a person coming the other direction was flashing their head lights.  Over the next hill there was a police car waiting to catch speeders.  Obviously, flashing head lights means “cop ahead!”  So, another time I was driving and a person coming the other direction was flashing their lights.  I slowed down because there was going to be a cop… only there wasn’t.  Instead there was a large dead animal in the road.  Flashing head lights must mean “something ahead!”  This held true for years as people flashed lights for construction and accidents and other things, until I realized that in my own driving I’d only ever flashed my head lights at two other people and both times it was because the other drivers didn’t have their head lights on after dark, and I recalled someone doing that for me once too.  So, flashing head lights must mean “something!”  In the last twenty years, I’ve come to realize that flashing head lights can mean almost anything from a cop to trash in the road to head lights being off to acknowledging that the driver of the other car is attractive, and so now I pretty much ignore them.  Well, I do make sure my own head lights are on, because that’s the only meaning that matters.
  • No one can see you waving. Really, the only time anyone will ever see you wave is when they are looking for it.  If someone lets you in ahead of them in traffic, a courtesy wave to that someone is not only encouraged, it is greatly appreciated.  Always do it.  On the other hand, if you are coming up on a left turn and you see someone on that street you are about to turn on also wishing to make a left turn, especially if the road you are on is a busy one, there is a temptation to slow down and wave them out.  Only, 90% of the time, they can’t see you waving.  Want to know why?  A) they aren’t looking at you, they are watching traffic for gaps so they can make their left turn.  B) Window tinting and glare and about a dozen other things means when they do look at your car, they can’t see you except for perhaps a faint ghostly swishing of something that might be a wave, but they can’t tell.  By the time they can see you waving, you’ve stopped short, there are now ten cars backed up behind you and the gap in traffic they were actually paying attention to a couple cars back is now closed.  And odds are you may have to honk your horn to let them know you are waiting for them.  Being nice is one thing, letting people in to stop & go traffic is awesome, but if the traffic is flowing, the best thing you can do is to get where you are going as quick as you can.  Don’t stop traffic and break up the flow just to be nice to some random person.

Got any tips or truths you wish to share?

Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps by Mur LaffertyMur Lafferty crafts a world where superheroes must be licensed to practice, and are paid by the city through tax revenue.  A world where those with powers apply to the Academy and have their powers tested.  If you are deemed worthy, you get a name and a suit and get to fight crime.  If you are deemed weak, you get to try and live like a normal person and try to forget your aspirations of heroism.  This is the world of Playing for Keeps.

Keepsie Branson’s power is that she can “hold” (put it a sort of stasis) anyone who tries to take anything that belongs to her.  She runs a bar across the street from the Academy that is frequented by people rejected by the Academy.  She has a waitress who can lift and balance anything on a tray, a cook who always knows what people want to eat and can make it, and friends who can learning things about people by smelling them, heal people one inch at a time, have super strength in five minute bursts, fire streams of feces from his hands, and other “useless” powers.  They wind up getting caught in the middle between the heroes and the villains, and have to learn to make use of their powers to survive.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the book.  It’s short, and certainly not a time waster.  You could do worse.

Jury Duty

I really wish this was a post about how I was going to serve on jury duty, but it isn’t.  As a person who is ready and willing (even eager) to do his duty I will probably never be summoned.  The wife, however, got a summons and is spending this week on a jury.

One of the things I learned this week as she attended her days of duty is that in some places because of the number of people trying to get out of jury duty they’ve had to make changes to what excuses are valid.  No longer can you be automatically excused if you are the sole breadwinner in a family.  Single mother?  Not excused.  Former police?  They’ll still let you sit on misdemeanor cases, just not felonies.  Medical issues?  Only if they prevent you from sitting still for stretches of 4-5 hours.

Another thing I learned is that some companies hate America.  Yeah, I went there, and yeah, I’m exaggerating.  However, our county pays $25 a day for service.  The wife makes that in about 3 hours of work.  To do 5 days of jury duty, she’ll earn $125 but miss out on about 30 hours of work.  (30 / 3 = 10 * $25 = $250)  So the result of this week is that it will cost us half her wages.  (It’s not 40 hours because she works retail, and therefore weekends.)  She talked to her boss and the company she works for makes no concessions for jury duty except the promise not to fire people if they end up on a lengthy trial.  I spoke to my own boss, he said I’d be paid my normal wages AND it wouldn’t cost me any vacation days either.  Probably another reason I won’t be called to serve.

The jury system is one of the things about this country that I love.  It is sad to see people treated quite poorly for their service, not by the government, because I understand they can’t really foot the bill for everyone’s wages (and seriously, they have to treat people equally, if the wife and I were both serving, it would be wrong for me to be paid more for my time on a jury because I make more in the private sector), but by the companies they work for.  Plus, it contributes to the idea that a trial by jury is actually a trial by a group of people who are probably a little upset for having to be there because of the impact it is going to have on them financially especially when the economy sucks.

Anyway… it was on my mind, so here it is…

My Guild Isn’t Your Guild

Continuing on with my look into Facebook games, and in my look into why I dislike them…

When I played EverQuest, I met a person, we played together a little, and then I joined his guild.  Joining a guild attached me to a social unit and my one new friend turned into thirty new friends.  Now, I didn’t get along with all of them, but being bonded by the unit meant that we were at least civil, because he often wound up grouped together and working together toward goals.

In Facebook games, I invite a friend of mine into my super team, or as my neighbor, or whatever social unit the game has, and that’s the end of it.  I have 12 people in my zombie apocalypse survivor colony.  One of those 12 only have 3 people in his colony.  One of them has 50.  And so on.  Each of us has a unique view of the game world.  Our social unit is fictional, not real.

Facebook games are designed to make you grow your social units outside the game.  You are encouraged to post achievements on your wall, to share them with the world, and the idea is that a friend of yours will see it and decide to play the game also, hopefully joining your game social unit too, and that also a friend of your friend who saw your comment on that picture of your friend’s dog will click your name, see your wall, see your post from the game, and decide to be your friend and join you in game also.

This is completely backwards from the normal Online game socialization model.  Normally, you make friends in game and that friendship can grow outward.  On Faceback, you make friends outside of the game and hope to grow that friendship inward to the game.  That just seems wrong to me.

Murder of the First

Text MUDs really didn’t have much of a perspective because they didn’t have a camera.  You entered a room and were given a description of the room.  Anyone in the same room was “within reach” and to get out of reach you left the room.  Once games went graphical, the camera became a part of the game.  On one side you have Ultima Online which followed the Ultima top-down isometric, decidedly 3rd person.  On the other side you had EverQuest which owed its perspective to Doom and Quake and other 1st person shooters.  Later on, EQ would free up the camera so that people could play in 3rd person, but the game was designed such that you didn’t really gain much from it (unless you were pulling, in which case you could use the 3rd person camera to look around corners and behind other obstacles).  As MMOs have moved on, pretty much all of them have opted for the more tactical 3rd person view.  Pulled back, staring at the back of your character, giving you an almost omniscient view of the world.  It is very popular, in large part I suspect because it makes the game easier.  When you can see around yourself in 360 degrees so that nothing can surprise you, life is more… predictable.

While playing the Star Trek Online open beta, I found myself really enjoying the space combat.  The ground game was pretty much your typical bland MMO, like WoW or City of Heroes.  In fact, it is almost identical to Pirates of the Burning Sea.  But the space combat (much like the sea combat of PotBS) felt more much… alive.  Even though it was pretty awesome, it still felt like something was missing, and it wasn’t until a friendly discussion and an offhand comment that I put my finger on it.  A friend said, “I wish you could fight from the bridge.”  And I light went on in my brain.

What is missing from Star Trek Online, and was missing from PotBS, was a more 1st person view of the game.  STO’s space combat would be incredible if you played from the bridge, had to set the view screen, keep an eye on tactical items like scanners.

In my discussions with other folks about 1st vs 3rd person view, many of them cited PvP as being a reason for 3rd person.  You need to be able to see if someone is stalking up behind your guy.  And that discussion caused another light to go on.  In EQ, when I played primarily in 1st person, I was my character.  I was Ishiro Takagi, monk of Qeynos.  When I played WoW, where 3rd person is the default, I was controlling my character.  I was Jason, sitting at a computer controlling the actions of Ishiro, Alliance priest.  Possibly owing to its roots in RTS games, WoW plays like a giant RTS where you only get one unit.  The immersion is gone.

Stepping outside MMOs, in recent years I’ve been playing more console games.  Back in the day, before I discovered MMOs, I played a ton of 1st person shooters.  Before I started spending hours camping spawns in EverQuest, I was spending hours racing for flags and battling for control points in Team Fortress for Quake.  In the last couple of years, games like Gears of War, which everyone else seems to go nuts for, just leave me feeling empty, largely because the viewpoint of the game is watching over the shoulder of a guy, not being the guy.  I loved Dead Space, but there was a distance from the character, even though the integration of the UI into the game helped I still wasn’t in the head of the hero.  On the other hand, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are just so awesome.  No longer am I looking at the back of the hero, controlling him, I am the hero fighting my way through the hordes of the dead.

This is what is missing.  This is what makes it so easy to casually cancel my MMO subscriptions and never come back.  I never feel like I am in the game, just that I’m playing it.  Sure, I could play many of the games out there in 1st person, but they aren’t designed for 1st person, they are designed for 3rd and playing in 1st puts me at a disadvantage to every other player.  I hope more games consider locking in and designing for 1st person in the future.

What do you think?

The Host

There is a special place reserved in hell for Stephenie Meyer.  Her Twilight series has destroyed vampires.  Only, her vampires aren’t vampires at all.  They drink blood, I think, because I honestly can’t remember any of them drinking blood in the movie.  Maybe they drink blood in the books.  I don’t know.  I’ll never read them.  The wife, who now denies ever saying this, told me that her other book, The Host, was more Sci-Fi and post-apocalyptic and she thought I would enjoy it.

I can’t say I hated the book, but I can say it definitely was not a “can’t put down” read.  I mean, I might instead say it was an “always put down” read.  During the two months it took me to plow through her 600+ page novel, if I was ever presented a choice between reading the book or doing something else I always chose to do something else.

The story of the book is this… aliens come to Earth.  These aliens are a form of parasitic being that can only live in another host body and when they do so they “take over” in that the person who was there is imprisoned deep down inside and never comes back.  These aliens aren’t hostile, in fact they are so peaceful they insist that they decided to annihilate mankind (without actually killing anyone) because humans were flawed and killing each other anyway.  They did it “for our own good”.  We get to follow one soul (what the aliens are called) who is implanted into a woman who was previously resisting the aliens.  Essentially, if a person is aware of the aliens before implantation they are more able to resist being mentally squashed.  So Melanie (the human) remains conscious inside as Wanderer takes over.  There is a lot of touchy feely stuff and eventually Wanderer decides to go out into the desert to see if she can find Jered (Melanie’s boyfriend) and Jamie (Melanie’s brother).  She does find them, and thirty five other people, hiding out there and the two of them (Melanie and Wanderer) try to find a place to fit in among the rebels.

This is definitely a “chick” book.  Most of the action happens between chapters or off screen.  Because Wanderer is our point of view for the entire book, we stay with her while she stays inside and other people run off to steal supplies and fight the bad guys.  There are a lot of emotions and feelings and crying and love and …. and a bunch of stuff that really I found I could not care less about.  Not because I’m some heartless person, but because I had no desire to care about the main character.  You see, the point of view is Wanderer, the alien, and from page one of the book I felt that the aliens were arrogant smug assholes.  At best, our heroine is an ignorant useless waste of space who has never bothered even considering that by taking over other bodies they are, in effect, killing people.  It takes nearly 600 pages for Wanderer to come to the same conclusion that I had drawn in the first chapter, and it was the most tedious and boring journey I’ve ever partaken of.

I’d always flippantly said I wouldn’t read the Twilight books, even though, given time, I probably would have eventually.  Well, thankfully now I don’t have to.  After reading this pile of pages I have absolutely no desire at all to ever read anything written by Mrs. Meyer again.  Ever.  I am sure there are people out there who would enjoy this book, in fact I’ve talked to a few of them, but I could not in good conscience recommend this to anyone.