|The Metaverse and Online Games||2007-06-25 04:19:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Raph Koster just posted a reprint of Whither Online (circa 2005), where he said:
Then he goes on to talk a lot about the failed dream of AI and artificial life generating quests that people would like. This is the wrong answer. Putting AI in an MMO is like sitting in a restaurant surrounded by free gourmet food, but wishing you had a McDonald's shitburger.
As always, I point at Second Life in answer. Even in 2005, this should have been the obvious answer, but 2 years later, it's not really in question.
We already have a metaverse where there are hundreds of thousands of ongoing melodramatic plots created by mostly-intelligent agents. The good kind of agents, real people, not stupid AI NPCs. AI will never work and people don't like NPCs. Programmers tend to like NPCs because they're easy to set up and control, but actual players, even those programmers when they're in the game, despise them, because they're just machines. There is only one NPC I've ever felt any empathy for in 30+ years of playing computer games: Floyd from Planetfall. And I was maybe 12 when I played Planetfall. The use of NPCs is a delusional sickness brought on by spending too much time alone with your computer.
I'm not talking here about "monsters", which are merely a mechanical obstacle like a puzzle or a locked door. It's revealing that when MMORPG players talk about killing monsters over and over to get experience and material rewards, they call it "farming", not "hunting". Monsters are psychologically equivalent to plants, not animals or people. An NPC is an artificial person you're expected to interact with and give enough of a shit about (if only for the reward or reputation boost) to carry out a quest. But in MMORPGs, there are no bad consequences for failing to carry out an NPC quest. If I ignore a "sick" NPC and don't bring her medicine, she'll still be there tomorrow. If I do heal her, she'll still be there tomorrow, coughing away for someone else. What do I care? There can be no world-altering alternative, because it doesn't scale past one player.
True AI was a boondoggle. When I was younger, I believed it was possible, but as years passed and no progress was made, and I studied the issue more, it became obvious that it will never work, and that any attempt to make it work is doomed to failure. Worse, it's stupidly wasteful, because we already have 6 billion mostly-intelligent humans on this planet. We don't need non-human intelligences to put characters in games.
Artificial life looked like a promising field for gaming, initially. But it's too unpredictable, and too fragile. You can set up a field of creatures or plants, and hope that they'll expand fast enough to counter demand, but very quickly the players will plow into them in such numbers that the tipping point is reached, and they go extinct. If you do set them up to reproduce fast enough to counter the number of players, then the slightest lag in harvesting will have them swarm over and destroy everything. It's massively unstable. I'm appalled that Raph still believes in this nonsense; he experienced first-hand the total failure of his first artificial life design for Ultima Online, and apparently learned nothing from it. It wasn't just an economic and ecological catastrophe, it rapidly became boring except for the Player vs. Player element. Real human players provided the only challenge in that world.
You cannot have designer-prepared plots or AI-prepared plots for more than one player in a mutable world. It's a logical impossibility. Suppose you get things set up just right so that just one player can try to carry out a specific planned quest; someone else will be disrupting parts of it elsewhere, and the player will fail. The more quests you try to set up and juggle at once, the more chaotic the interactions get, and the more disastrous the failure.
There is a way out, though, by accepting that people exist, not fighting it. The plot in Second Life is pretty compelling if you like people at all. It's people going out and having fun (and sometimes having conflicting ideas of what "fun" is), and running businesses and succeeding or failing, and falling in love, and falling out of love. Because it's just real life with fewer consequences, and accelerated to Benny Hill speeds, it has all of the bizarre plot twists of a daytime soap opera, but you get to be the star of your own show. Everyone does.
Any RPG quest type has an equivalent, you just have to be more creative. Consider the standard RPG "supply and demand" quest, where someone needs a resource and someone else supplies it. I make good pocket money as a skilled craftsman, the SL equivalent of a small electronics shopkeeper, making gadgets that people ask for. It's not just farming crystals and materials and then clicking a button, either; I have to build prims and write scripts and test my software. It takes actual skill and interest on my part, it's not a repetitive activity. That's been a fun and both personally and financially rewarding quest. If you can't script, you can make clothes or buildings. If you don't want to build (though I think that almost everyone will want to build things eventually), you can run a tour group, or host a fan-club, or strip, or whatever.
The artistic urge that everyone has, the drive to have something to do besides just talk, has created, from a blank canvas, a nigh-unlimited range of games and quests and social activities. If you like swordfighting, go to Samurai Island. If you like casual and gambling games, go to a casino/arcade. If you like porn, there's strip clubs. If you want to talk Star Trek fandom, there are Star Trek fan-clubs. If you like live music concerts, there are always multiple performers in SL at any time. If you want to pretend to be a furry, or a vampire, or whatever makes you happy, there are 24/7 roleplay sims for that. If you like exploring, Second Life is crammed full of interesting things people have built. Just pick a direction and start flying, and BlogHUD anything neat you find.
Everyone on the planet can't participate in SL quite yet. It needs more servers, and it needs more efficient use of those servers. While the peak concurrency has more than doubled in the last year, it has years to go before even a million people can be in SL at once (circa 2011, at this rate). LL needs to learn how to load-balance and transfer regions across servers; server-bound regions are not a scalable solution. Probably it'll have to wait a couple years until the server can be open-sourced before SL truly becomes the Stephensonian Metaverse. Linden Lab is going to have to transition from sole proprietor to protocol definer, region and user registrar, and banking authority. There's more to do on the user side, as well: more activities, more interesting sims. Wasting time on ideas we know will fail is folly. Working on activities and tools that enable real people to communicate and have fun together, that's what we need now.
The Metaverse is here, but that's just the start.
|eXistenZ||2007-06-24 18:32:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Computer games and virtual worlds do something strange to our perception of reality. They bleed over, they tantalize us with more powerful interfaces and additional information we can't acquire in the real world. We're left with the nagging feeling that the "real world" is not real, that this is the imitation sub-reality we don't belong in.
I've been experiencing this effect all my life. I can do near-total immersion into a game, which gives me far better overwatch of the screen (rather than just focusing on a point), faster in-game reaction, etc... But surprises in-game will startle me physically, and it takes a while to wear off. Some traits never left.
Driving games like Pole Position and Burnout permanently damaged the way I drive. At least kids these days have Gran Turismo, which isn't so deranged, but my hyper-aggressive "accelerate into, through, and out of curves" type-A driving owes a lot to videogames. Don't worry, I no longer drive in cities, I can't stand to be stuck in traffic. I've never hit anyone, never had a crash, but as a friend put it, "The way you drive, you'll only ever have one crash".
Missile Command was the first one I noticed it in. I would see a skyline and look for missiles. If I saw contrails, I'd have a moment of total "which world am I in?".
The Atari 800 game Rescue From Fractalus (more screenshots) ate my brain for months. I would dream about sweeping the planet for survivors, getting ambushed by Jaggies. I would always jump when the Jaggies pounded on my screen, even when I knew it was them. Even now, certain mountain ranges look like the mountains of Fractalus, and I get confused for a second.
Alternate Reality: The City didn't change my behavior, I think, but I'm still there: I often dream in AR, and hear the music. The life simulation of AR influenced all of my later game design; I've spent my entire life building things similar to Alternate Reality or Ultima.
Doom had a profound effect on me. I instinctively check corners when I walk into a room; there could be a demon or another player there. You laugh now, but I'll be the one laughing when a demon's eating your face. Key-cards in secure facilities give me deja vu and trepidation, as I know the game's going to get much harder on the other side.
Descent was just plain dangerous. I could barely walk after playing a few hours of it. I had to wait half an hour before I could drive again, or I'd try sideslipping and maneuvering in 3D. The worst Descent experience was walking into a bathroom which was tiled floor to ceiling with tiles exactly like the walls in a Descent level. I could barely stand up for perspective confusion.
One afternoon after playing too much Final Fantasy XI, I took a nap. Waking up, I was hungry, and my first thought was that I needed to get my sword, go to the park, hunt cockatrices, then use a fire crystal on them to cook meat mithkabobs... I was halfway across the room to my swords before I realized that was insane... There are no cockatrices in the park, just squirrels!
Animal Crossing: Wild World looks cute and harmless, right? Unless you live near a garden full of apple trees, in which case the urge to go steal all their apples every third day is nearly irresistible. Sadly, this doesn't seem to pay the rent as well in RL as it does in AC. I've had many dreams in Yama, my Animal Crossing town. It's such an idyllic world, so easy to live in as long as you do a quick bit of maintenance on the town and your animal friends, that it's hard not to dream there.
Second Life is all of those and more. I get annoyed that I can't fly or teleport, or change my avatar quickly, or dance for 4 hours straight. Flight, in particular. The notion that I'm stuck on the ground and have to find stairs or an elevator is confusing and weird, and I'll spend some seconds trying to see the balcony or window I need to get to, before realizing I have to go inside a building to go up. My first thought about how to get somewhere is to grab the map and teleport (Google Maps on my Treo is a partial substitute...). I obsessively observe the construction details of architecture, furniture, and gadgets, because I need to figure out how to build it in the least number of prims. Cell phones are a reasonable substitute for IM, but I pine for my tabbed group chats. I often wish I could turn on name bubbles and mouse over objects for a description.
There are positive effects. I've found that I dress better after using SL for a while. My avatar still dresses better than I do, but we're getting close now.
I use my avatar's name in a number of non-SL contexts now. Am I really sure which is the avatar and which the "real" person? "Are we still in the game?"
|In Search of Live Music||2007-06-22 06:00:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
It's my typist's birthday today, and having lunch with friends for the real-life wake (I don't really "celebrate" getting old), I went out to drink and find music in SL.
Fireheart Braver did a great show at Cusack Coliseum; apparently she'll be back next week, check the Events/Live Music listings. Country/rock, lots of sad songs. She has a really good voice.
The Sanctuary Rock's always fun, and amid all the metal, played "The Internet is for Porn", which is never more true than at the SR. Still, there's only so much metal I can take, even after my reconversion to metalhead (through watching Metalocalypse) last year.
And then the news I'd been hoping for! After two weeks, the Elbow Room (Mare 104,44,56) is back!
Low-prim as ever, and rockin' with the best '80s pop:
|Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam!||2007-06-20 09:24:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Apparently the spammers have my email address, which was bound to happen sooner or later; I don't do anything to guard it, because I'd rather that real people be able to reach me, too. But I don't just get any kind of spammers, I get ontologically confused spammers. Spammers who do not quite understand the distinction between reality and Second Life:
While the Lair of the Fiendish Dr. Harbinger has a lovely empty-sim seaside view and quite reasonable rent, I think it might be difficult to relocate into from Nigeria, or anywhere on the material plane.
Gimme a second with the rez tools, and I'll have some diamonds in SL, too! Heck, stop by Pellucidar, and if you can work the power crystal generator, you can have a spinning, glowing power crystal! Nuts to diamonds!
|American Apparel Doesn't Get It||2007-06-20 04:06:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
I'm baffled by what American Apparel thought they were going to get. Putting some mediocre clothing, vastly inferior to what most residents sell, in a small store and then never doing any events, never changing anything... Did they expect to actually make real-world money out of SL sales? Didn't they understand the exchange rate?
As a marketing effort, it succeeded initially; like most people, I'd never heard of them before they came to SL, and I went and looked through their shop. But their clothes were unimpressive and uninteresting. I found nothing I would ever wear. They did nothing to hold interest. It's like putting up a bare gray web page with a low-rez picture of a shirt, and expecting to get a lot of sales out of it.
Companies who want to use SL for marketing need to make in-world products and events which are interesting in comparison to what is already in SL, and then funnel the results of that interest over to their real world product.
Nissan did much better. The SL Sentra is great. It's one of my favorite vehicles in SL, because it was designed to handle well in SL's alleged physics. They've put real effort into their sim; there aren't any regular events to draw me back, so there's room for improvement, but I still tell newbies to go there and get a good car. And when I next buy a new car in RL, they've earned at least a fair comparison from me by doing this.
Aloft have a good build, but didn't do any events, either. So the place was a ghost town. It was impossible to visit and not think of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, which I'm pretty sure was not the marketing message they wanted to send. Maybe they'll learn something with their relaunch?
Second Life, to a real-world company, is about marketing your brand. Marketing takes effort, not just one billboard or web page.
(And hey, anyone who wants some real, practical help with these things... IM me or send me email and we can discuss rates.)
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