First Impressions

by Alphaville Herald on 20/01/04 at 11:51 pm

Click me with your clicking stick for our first report from FFXI

Before my report I’d like to mention that ya’ll are worse than a knitting circle with a median age of 86. In the span of 16 comments from my last post I witnessed a number of astonishing feats. Least notably being the complete irrelevance of some of the discussion (which as always your free to do), but most troubling, the hint that I was leaving this project.

No, no, I’m simply planting our flag into another mountain.
But, to respond to a few ruminations.

Why FFXI, well because, as Kelli pointed out, FF is more “gamey” than TSO. It is this gamey-ness that I am, philosophically, interested in. I do find TSO a bit on the boring side, because I don’t think it is “gamey” enough.

I was discussing this aspect with Uri just last night, there is so little game-structure (but so many restrictions to player behavior) that people have made the only game they know out of it; High school. Or, more succinctly, elementary school. TSO is basically a virtual playground, with slides that half work and half stick, swings that are tangled, and a small but dedicated host of ne’er do-wells who insist on making our tire-swing experience as annoying as possible.

Now, Uri finds these social “quirks” about as fascinating as fascinating can be. And for that more power to him, he’s a wildly insightful guy, even if he is a bit hung up on the kinks of VR society.

Nahh, I think the gamey-ness is where the meat is. The development of social structures in virtual structures. Politics and Economics of Pay-Per-Month Delusions of Grandeur. I’d take that over a poorly executed sandbox any day.

In our discussion Uri had it right, the worst thing about TSO is that you can’t kill other players. You can’t simply be better at it than them. Sure that adds a nasty element to the community, but, well life has nasty elements, nasty competitive elements. Elements in which some people win (and, shock of shocks, not always for acting there nicest) and other must lose. I want to know why people act out certain trends within these competitive structures. Structures that are complex enough to accept interpretation but rigid enough to speak of with assurance.

To address another great question. Why not 2nd Life? That’s a tough one, we do have an account there that we occasionally pop into, but, for me at least 2nd life seemed a) a little too chaotic b) possessing of a staggeringly steep learning curve (not that FFXI’s wildly unintuitive control scheme is any joy to assimilate) c) smacking of, well doom.

I think that Linden Labs has made some freakishly bold moves in there handling of content and copyright, moves that will echo long after they have left the market. It’s just that I doubt they will ever get big enough.

Or I could be wrong, who knows.

Sorry, commence “reporting.”

FFXI, is daunting. It immediately reminds me of a MUD I used to infrequently play called ShadowMUD, in fact my hazy memory pegs it as exactly like ShadowMUD but with really, really pretty pictures to go along with everything. Heck, you even get the Squirrel drops this, Squirrel pokes that, Squirrel readies Combo, Squirrel joins the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman Guild, Squirrel…well you get it.

It’s like a mud but better. And that’s good, because I really liked MUDding. But FFXI is grander. with 30-odd servers and an intercontinental player base that has blown past the 500k mark. FFXI is pretty jumping.

One of the most controversial measures that FFXI developer SquareEnix has taken was the random assigning of servers to new players. While this may strike one as terribly inconveniencing to some, I believe that one purpose behind this was to nip mafias and the like in the proverbial bud. By scattering players and forcing them to purchase in game server passes (which, I might add, completely reset your characters to 1st level) they strike and immediate and there after repeated blow against organized scammers, griefers and exploiters. Sure it’s not something that cannot be overcome, but it seems to help.

In fact, although perhaps it is my inexperience with MMOs, FFXI strikes one as an especially cold and distant social atmosphere. There is very little random chatter, party forming doesn’t normally occur until the late game, and I haven’t gotten the “sense” that there are large organizations of players. This may stem from the random server assignment, in fact I’d bet that has a large impact, and certainly it is augmented by the intercontinental divide between the players.

Strangely enough the most socially designed feature produces the most hermit-esque behavior. Each character can set items that they have on there person to be up for sale in there “Bazaar.” You set the prices for the goods your trying to unload, and a little icon appears next to your name showing everyone that you’ve got goods for sale. To view them another player must target you and click two menus deep. Whenever this happens you are notified that “LotharOFDaHillPeople”, or some such nonsense, is checking you, then he is viewing your bazaar, and finally he has left your bazaar for greener shopping pastures.

All this notification seems to invite you to engage your customer in some witty sell-ify-ing banter. Of course this never happens because you can simply Tab-Enter-Enter-Esc-Esc-Tab your way through an entire crowd of merchants in no time flat. It’s just weird that I click on a newbie looking for some Copper Ore to score and he starts executing some whack-ass emote and greeting after I’ve long since passed him by. It’s trying to be very West coast business and has ended up being very East coast business.

But the weirdest thing, is that, and I am guilty of doing this, the best way to make money, is to get a couple of items, check there prices at the auction house (more on that in a few, I’m still navigating the intricacies of it) and undersell them in your bazaar. Then you turn off the Auto-Idle so the server doesn’t boot you sit your avatar in front of the Auction House and head off to work for the day. When you come home, with any luck, you’ve made a few grand.

Point being, every time I run towards the Auction house there are a host of lobotomized shells draped over the steps, mindlessly whoring there goods.

You can, of course find my brainless shell doing the same nearly every day, in Bastok on the Ramuh server.

7 Responses to “First Impressions”

  1. Dyerbrook

    Jan 21st, 2004

    “You can, of course find my brainless shell doing the same nearly every day, in Bastok on the Ramuh server.”

    Or we can look for it now right here on AV Herald — I couldn’t help retorting! BTW, I think you mean to say “their” instead of “there”.

    Squirrel, why do you have to kill people to enjoy a game? And why is just selling stuff and killing stuff “a game”. Isn’t there anything else? You’re the geek getting a Gaming Ph.D. You tell me. Surely there must be. I suppose acquiring arcane knowledge about fake medieval worlds is also a good game, but a boring one IMHO. Tell us what you can DO in FF. Get together and kill monsters like in EQ? Is it like the offline game, only more so.

  2. SS

    Jan 21st, 2004

    I’m not wearing any pants!

  3. ac

    Jan 21st, 2004

    film at 11.

  4. Squirrel

    Jan 21st, 2004

    “Squirrel, why do you have to kill people to enjoy a game?”

    Yeah, my therapist has been trying to answer that one for years. Basically it’s not about the killing or the enjoying. I’d have to argue that with out direct competative influence between participants (in this example, killing) you can’t even have a “game” let alone enjoy it. TSO as an activity is wonderfully interesting for some of us, but it’s not really a game at all in my mind, it is, much like the offline version, a digital toy.

    Pretty much all of the Sim-series of games have been toys, complicated spreadsheet programs and rubix cubes with different skins. The only thing that TSO did was force you to share that toy with others. And thus, some would say, a society was born. But, I don’t think that that makes it a game. Certainly you can play games with it,you can even play mini-games in it, and you can game with other participants who inhabit it, but IT (the system itself, the code of TSO) isn’t a game. It’s a place to gather and play games, it’s merely a field.

    At least that my analysis.

    How is FFXI different? Well, in part thats one thing I hope to discover. Initially I’d argue that FFXI is a game because its players are in influential competition with each other, not simply to aquire the most or level the highest, but to, by doing the former, expand the influence of there nation (re: team) and reduce the influence of there opponents. I’d say that’s more game-like than TSO.

    Why is that relevant? Well, because the comparision and counter-point will hopefully generate greater understanding of both systems. What do they share, how do they differ (not simply cosmetically but functionally and structurally) and how do these similarities and/or differences influence their respective participants.

    In short, it’s not much like the offline game except in style, and is quite like EQ in structure. But, I’d rather bring it back to how these different styles of VR relate, and how they generate player interaction. So if there is a thing about FFXI that relates to this than I’m doing what I can to bring that to you.

    And yes, I did mean to say ‘their’ rather than ‘there.’

  5. Kelli

    Jan 22nd, 2004

    I agree that FFXI is more of a “game” than something like TSO or Second Life or There. I guess as to what is boring and what is not boring, I think it is an individual thing. I can say that when I played FFXI I found it to be quite monotonous and boring, and remarkably solitary for an online game …. a lot of trips outside the city to battle monsters to enable levelling, a lot of hanging out at auctions to make a margin of money, etc., but remarkably little socializing. I found the graphics to be very well done, but beyond that I didn’t find the game compelling. And like many MMORPGs, the game is really slanted toward high-level players … a problem in FFXI, really, because of the decision to simply add the new North American players to the existing servers where there were already many high-level Asian players. In most MMORPGs, if you join early enough you get the benefit of things being somewhat easier in the early going — admittedly if you join later you lose some of that benefit because the developers have already had to nerf verious elements in order to keep the game challenging and interesting for long-time players. FFXI didn’t have this grace period in North America because it was already an established game in Asia and Square Enix decided to use the same servers, which was an interesting decision to say the least. As a result, I think that the early game in FFXI is rather difficult, tedious and fairly boring. Just my opinion. :-)

    I have found that the Virtual Reality type “game”, or “non-game” if you want to call it that, is more compelling because of the social aspects, which is really one of the principal advantages of an online game over a non-online game. I think that the “gamey” type of game is better in a non-online game where personal interaction isn’t on the menu (other than of the scripted variety), whereas the real fun part of an online game is the personal interaction. That interaction can come in the form of killing each other (which is often the case in online versions of non-online games because the non-online version has you killing AI characters in any case) or, in the case of VR games, speaking with each other and creating things. I guess I find the latter more compelling, but everyone’s taste is a little different I suppose.

  6. Dyerbrook

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    Re: “IT (the system itself, the code of TSO) isn’t a game. It’s a place to gather and play games, it’s merely a field.”

    Of course that’s the case. There is just the rudiments of a game of sorts, in that you are supposed to build skills, work on money lots, and make enough simoleons to build your BiG ChIlL cRiB, and that’s about it, after you and your cyber-bunny settle down to nest. Then you have a fight with her and a drama, and maybe fight some mafias or some government wannabees, and maybe max out one of your other skills, but I knew this game was in trouble when I found myself minimizing my skilling Sim or even my chatting Sim and playing Yahoo’s Bookworm in the other window.

    The game that TSO designers devised is just too easy. It’s too cheatable, but it’s also too east to beat merely by legally buying a second or third account for 30 days.

    All these insufferably cheerful and brave attempts to start mini-games are interesting for game wonks to study, but really sad. The people doing the contests and the move trivia games remind me of those obnoxious girls with clipboards who arrange scavenger hunts at Club Med — or that awful NPC in Vacation. They remind me of those terribly long boring car trips to Michigan with the relatives we used to take. Mom would struggle to get us to play some sort of license-plate game. Pop would try to get us to play complicated riddle games. The kids would poke each other in between bouts of throwing up their Burger Kings. That’s TSO. People trying to make the best of a very bad bargain. Sure, for about 17 minutes, trying to see who is on the “cow side” of the car, i.e. the farms with cows passed the road, the most often can be really riveting. Until it isn’t…(Why was my little sister ALWAYS on the cow side?????)

    What I had hoped is that TSO might be a continuation of the Grand Human Story, the narrative, the Great National Conversation only with something more than just an AOL chat room interface or I had hoped it was a theater, a living soap opera, a movie, with a firm proscenium arch. I thought the idea of making the characters and their lot worlds and doing role-playing would be challenging enough, and the drama and narrative devices would be compelling enough. The problem is that the RP is mainly just a meat rack, a pick-up device, and not a creative outlet for the higher-minded. I’ve seen some of the greatest minds of my Sim generation crawling naked in the angry dawn streets. People who make fabulous objects, programs, websites, reduced to petty squabbles and jealousies over roomies, or engrossed for hours in cybersex with people they don’t realize are married or who look like the Crypt-Keeper. Human nature, I guess…

    You see, the problem is this: The game leaks. It leaks into the real world. And the RW leaks into it. You have the “Real Sims” phenom and all those come-hither Sim profiles. They are not interesting to me, because they are about leaving the simulated RP world and going to RL, which is not what some people come to the Sims for, people who have plenty of RL as it is.

    TMOT, Craigslist is far, far more effective and custom-made for sex and romance in the city of your choice. Even lets you screen better. (I don’t know why I keep getting some bisexual dentist in Long Island named Stanley when I put in all my search criteria for but that’s another story…)

    I think that this concept of randomizing the server access and preventing the giving out of RL info and any connections to outside websites might be a way of sealing the world in order to make it more credible for role-play, for those who want the RP game, and not all the annoying RL chatter of “Real Sims” who want to tell you all the boring details of their pathetic lives. If there was a little muscle to this RP world, if there was more an etiquette that you really do leave your RL at the door and you don’t go OOC as often, that might help. But it’s beyond hope now. There is a League of Role-Players I used to play with within TSO and they have struggled mightily but all kinds of things like mafias and Error 23 and boredom with attempting to get the skills and money have thwarted their imaginations. Maxis/EA never seemed to understand that they should do a simple thing like make size 8 lots with $100,000 immediately available for RL cash through their company, for those who wanted to build a RP fantasy and play it, rather than being trapped in the inanity of bubble versus IM pizza….

    Randomizing server access might create the problem of defeating positive, creative societies, too. But if there was a really free message board not hobbled by mods, people would find each other and move to other servers.

  7. RM77

    Jan 26th, 2004

    First, thanks for a personal eye-view of the game. I’ve been pondering buying it, but all I’ve found is the usual advertisements, and fanatical haters/lovers of the game for asking. Please keep up the reporting of your further game experiences.
    Second, have you or anyone else thought about checking our Ragnarok Online? I have an account there, wouldn’t mind either a “paper” like this on it, or at least someone elses impressions of the game.

    Keep up the good work!

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