Ultima VII, the Black Gate: Virtual Worlds, Emergent Gameplay

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Ultima VIIUltima VIIBy request, this week's Matt Chat covers Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Ultima VII is a masterpiece of the early 90s, with tremendous scope and important innovations that would influence many later games. It's definitely not hard to see this game's influence on later hits such as Diablo (1997) and Baldur's Gate (1998).

This video was particularly challenging for me, because The Black Gate is truly a game of epic proportions that is very difficult to condense into ten minutes. I could easily have dedicated hours to the details of its virtual world, emergent gameplay (baking bread!), party dynamics, storyline, witty interactions with the characters...The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, it's somewhat difficult to get this game running (properly) on modern hardware, so Exult might be the sensible option.

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Matt Barton
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woot! I made a comment on

woot! I made a comment on the video's comments, page. :)

I think these video responses are so cool! Good job, Mark.

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adamantyr
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Ultima VII

A great look at Ultima VII... one of the best and greatest CRPG's ever made.

I'm sorry to say that I don't know if we'll ever see the like of it again. There's some efforts in the Indy community (Eschalon is certainly worth a look) to reproduce a classic CRPG, but I don't think the audience is quite the same as they used to be.

Take, for example, the use of mini-maps and quest arrows in most online games these days. When Ultima Online was in beta, the mini-map was, in fact, a spell called bird's eye. A 1st circle spell, so easy to cast, but the fact remained that if you couldn't cast spells you had no mini-map. By the time they hit release, the mini-map was a staple of the UI and not a spell anymore.

The reason? People were getting lost in the game. Since a lot of the landscape, especially in the wilderness, looked much the same as the next, it was incredibly easy to get lost. Even the cities weren't immune to this; the capital of Britain had streets that didn't run in cross-fashion such as most modern cities do, so often, people would get lost looking for various buildings.

I play Lord of the Rings Online, and they recently added quest helper arrows, that helpfully guide you to the locations you need to go to in order to complete quests. A crutch, right? Well, in some ways, I'm glad it's there. The game doesn't really reward independent exploration... very few online games do, since secrets don't stay secrets nearly long enough to warrant it. And when you're just trying to finish off a quest and you have some frustrating riddle that's telling you to go somewhere, most players just go to the web and find the solution there. It's not like the old days, where most CRPG's were played and won in solitude.

Even Online Games no longer really focus on community building, the kind of activities that Ultima VII let you do. I was disgusted, for example, that LOTRO doesn't allow crafting stations to be placed in houses. Then what the HECK do I have the thing for?! If I can't build a town or community with other players, why waste the time putting in housing at all?

Generally, the reaction I see from a lot of modern gamers to games like Ultima VII is "too much to read" and "really quaint"... they expect big action and titanic battles like in Final Fantasy. (*retch*) Ultima was written for an earlier age, when the players of CRPG's were thinkers first and gamers second. Too bad. I guess we need the game-equivalent of Harry Potter, something to get people interested in reading again instead of action and being guided around like an errant farm animal.

Matt Barton
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adamantyr wrote:

Generally, the reaction I see from a lot of modern gamers to games like Ultima VII is "too much to read" and "really quaint"... they expect big action and titanic battles like in Final Fantasy. (*retch*) Ultima was written for an earlier age, when the players of CRPG's were thinkers first and gamers second. Too bad. I guess we need the game-equivalent of Harry Potter, something to get people interested in reading again instead of action and being guided around like an errant farm animal.

I have noticed that I'm definitely an old fogey when it comes to gaming. I have tried very hard to get into the communities around these games, especially World of Warcraft and some of the shooters like Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2. I have to say, it's downright scary how cretinous and intolerant players can be. I often wonder, why the hell are they in a multiplayer game when you hate other people? What's wrong with just being nice and friendly to new players instead of hating their guts and trying your best to run them off? I just see little to no support in these games by their respective communities to try to recruit new players. Indeed, when I was having a good time with WoW, it was usually *in spite of* other players rather than because of them. My guess is that you need to be a 12 or 15 year old sociopath to enjoy these games and "fit in," if that's what you can call it. I almost wept reading Adamantyr's post about UO and how the community disintegrated. It sounded very much like my "dream" game at first, but of course hateful, ignorant people had to ruin it.

I think ultimately the problem is that these games are run by big companies who are trying to get as much money as possible. This is done by bringing in as many new people as possible regardless of their fitness to play the game or the positive impact they will have on the existing community. Blizzard doesn't care if you are someone like Richard Garriott or a snotty-nosed punk with an IQ of 2 who thinks using the word "rapez0r" in every possible context is hilarious. Or you get someone running around asking for help with things just because they are too lazy to read the in-game help, manuals, or even read the quest text. I mean, good grief.

There are good people out there in MMOs, but they are in the minority and they are drowned out by the idiots. Furthermore, they tend to be the most exclusive, making it difficult to get into their guilds and what-not. They also tend to take the game a bit too seriously, making it the focus of their life rather than a fun and interesting hobby.

I guess what I've always been looking for and have never been able to find is a group of guys to play these games with who are more or less like me. Like what we had back in high school with our little circles of friends or "bands of brothers," whatever you want to call it. I haven't had a DAMN bit of luck with that. Instead, I end up surrounded by punks who are just so loathsome and irritating that I think you'd just have to be crazy yourself to want to hang out with them. I know all kids aren't like that from my work as a professor, but DAMN, the worst seem to gravitate towards online gaming like rednecks to a dog fight.

So, yeah, for me it's all about the single-player experience. Ultima VII and other games of its type (I'd include Baldur's Gate and so on here, too) are lovingly crafted, even artistic experiences for solitary individuals who want to savor a game the way readers savor a novel. Todd Howard of Fall Out 3 really put it best: "We make massively SINGLE player games." That is what I want and will gladly pay for, time and time again.

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adamantyr
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Players and Groups
Matt Barton wrote:

I have noticed that I'm definitely an old fogey when it comes to gaming. I have tried very hard to get into the communities around these games, especially World of Warcraft and some of the shooters like Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2. I have to say, it's downright scary how cretinous and intolerant players can be. I often wonder, why the hell are they in a multiplayer game when you hate other people? What's wrong with just being nice and friendly to new players instead of hating their guts and trying your best to run them off? I just see little to no support in these games by their respective communities to try to recruit new players. Indeed, when I was having a good time with WoW, it was usually *in spite of* other players rather than because of them. My guess is that you need to be a 12 or 15 year old sociopath to enjoy these games and "fit in," if that's what you can call it.

Yep, that's one of the reasons I hate raiding in most of the MMO's. I have a co-worker who does nothing else in WoW, and she just can't believe anyone wouldn't enjoy it. She's about ten years younger than me, so I guess it IS an age thing. :) (She's also into PvP and plays Horde, so it's like, strike two and three!)

Usually when I play MMO's, I play with very close friends. Heck, I play mostly with my brother and sister-in-law. I'm from the old school gaming mode of thought, which is a group of 4-6 is comfortable, and it's people you know well. I don't like the idea of having strangers join our group... I especially have no interest in voice chat with them, which seems to be something common among raiders and other groups.

There may be a missing niche here... I like the idea of a CRPG that is both a single-player game (in that you can play it with no one else) and is a multi-player game in that a FEW friends, say, no more than a dozen, could join you in it. So it would be sort of a single-player game with multi-player hosting server/client modeling. Ideally, a game with self-generating content, like Dwarf Fortress, so that you and your friends can play together or by yourself, and the sky's the limit. There's a good indy project...

Adamantyr

Matt Barton
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adamantyr wrote:

There may be a missing niche here... I like the idea of a CRPG that is both a single-player game (in that you can play it with no one else) and is a multi-player game in that a FEW friends, say, no more than a dozen, could join you in it. So it would be sort of a single-player game with multi-player hosting servexr/client modeling. Ideally, a game with self-generating content, like Dwarf Fortress, so that you and your friends can play together or by yourself, and the sky's the limit. There's a good indy project...Adamantyr

Actually, it's been done. At least, that's what I understand the Dungeons & Dragons online game is all about. From what I read, that's best played in small groups of 3-4 people. It sounded like a great idea, but of course there's that huge, incommensurable problem of finding friends to play with.

A few years ago I got to play real D&D with a friend of the family and his friends. They were a group of very close guys who had never moved away; they had all found jobs there in St. Petersburg, Florida and had been getting together each week since high school (and now they're in their 30s). I have to say, there is really no greater treasure you could ask for than to have that. These guys were all best friends, and I was having a blast (they were having even more fun!). Of course, they would have happily had me join their group and, who knows, perhaps eventually become an honorary member of their group, but that's impossible since I live in Antarctica.

If I were somehow to become a billionaire I know the first thing I'd do. I'd get together 3-4 of my best friends, tell them to quit their jobs (I'd pay them whatever they were making!), and just find some nice homes somewhere and do nothing but play games, hang out, and in general have a blast. Heck, even getting everybody together for a weekend sometime--a sort of mini vacation--would be terrific.

I'm almost tempted to start trying to get people interested in some of those events in King of Kong just so we could all get together and party. The only problem is that all the distractions would probably inhibit good honest gaming. You have to have a few days just to get past the purely social stuff, and you know how quickly time flies. I don't think Bill and I spent more than 1% of our time in SF playing games, and that's just tragic.

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Gashead
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Hi

Sorry to hear your negative experiences with online games. I have to admit to being a bit surprised that you feel the majority of the MMORPG community is cretinous! WoW aside which is famous for being full of kids my experience is the opposite.

I don't wish to add to a cultural divide here but I found my experienced improved when MMOs launched European servers. I'm not suggesting that there are more cretins in the US rather than Europe (heaven forbid!). But i think in Europe MMOs have many more mature ( in age) gamers. Youngsters over here play consoles whereas PC gaming is more of an 'adult' pursuit (in general).

I have found that EQ, EQ2, LOTRO and Eve all have very considerate and helpful communities in the main.

Games where u are in direct competition like Left 4 Dead and deathmatch games however are far more likely to be full of kids and therefore you are much more likely to get grief from other players.

So I suggest giving the european servers a try and see what you think. If you play LOTRO go on Snowbourn and we can hunt some orc together!

Matt Barton
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Well, I don't honestly think

Well, I don't honestly think that most people on these servers are stupid or abusive. It's just that the ones who are tend to have the loudest mouths and biggest presence. They are the ones you notice and tend to remember. The nice, friendly, helpful people are basically powerless to deal with these nincompoops. They try to avoid them, and in the process ignore all "noobs." What I usually find is a culture of three main camps--"lifers," "griefers," and "noobs." None of these camps gets along with the rest; they are all opposed to each other's presence on a server. Since I don't want to dedicate my life to a game, I am locked in the "noob" camp. Here we find people who are either learning the game or are just too young or stupid to grasp it and are forever locked in this category. What I don't find is the sort of rich interactions Adamyntr experienced in UO.

At any rate, I don't want to go into a game to be yelled out by anyone, whether that person is a griefer or a lifer. I am only there to have fun, and not to prove anything.

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adamantyr
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Game Community Evolution
Gashead wrote:

I don't wish to add to a cultural divide here but I found my experienced improved when MMOs launched European servers. I'm not suggesting that there are more cretins in the US rather than Europe (heaven forbid!). But i think in Europe MMOs have many more mature ( in age) gamers. Youngsters over here play consoles whereas PC gaming is more of an 'adult' pursuit (in general).

Interesting. About 15 years ago, give or take a year, that's where we were at in the U.S. gaming community as well. Consoles made a come-back with the NES in the late 80's, but computer games continued to be niche-driven for adults and more mature style games. Chris Crawford actually considered the period from 1983 (post console crash) to early 1990 (with the release of Wing Commander) as the richest era of game design and innovation.

The problem was, it didn't last. PC games started to go for bigger investments; Chris targeted WC specifically because it was the first PC game that spent more than a million dollars in development. Eventually console gamers of the early 90's grew up, and became the new audience. And since they demanded PC games more like what the games they played when they were young, the PC slowly lost any maturity and design innovation it had as a platform. And that's how we got to where we are now.

I'm glad to hear things are different in Europe... I just don't know if they'll stay that way. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Adamantyr

Matt Barton
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Fascinating insights,

Fascinating insights, fellows. Bill and I have been discussing this over email as well.

The key problem for developers in this: how can you minimize the damage done to the community by abusive or hopelessly inept players? There are many possible solutions:

1. Have police. I'm talking about paid employees who go around the game world, monitor chats, channels, etc., and administer justice. If you're being a dick, they can fine you somehow--up to and including suspending or revoking your account. The obvious problem here is expense and the older problem of who watches the watchers. The police could also help out noobs, though this problem is probably best handled by preventing low level characters from escaping a "play pen" or the like until they've proven themselves.

2. Community-based policing. I'm thinking here of players reporting bad behavior, reputation systems, and the like. Again, many obvious problems, mostly the potential of abuse. You hate some dude, so you get all of your friends to help get him punished or banned. Also, it's hard for a company to quit taking someone's money just because others don't like him. "Is that fair?" I say, yes it is.

For the sake of comparison, let's consider someone who is at a baseball game and being really obnoxious. Maybe he is throwing ice cubes at the folks around him, yelling out stupid things, or even just farting or belching a lot and being generally offensive. If the guy was annoying enough, something would be done. Assuming that people couldn't just move to another part of the stadium...Probably what would happen is that enough people would notice or grumble until someone (an official or a fan) would ask the guy to shut up or leave. If he refused to cooperate, then it would escalate until something was done (up to and including the police or a fist in the face).

The real world has ways of discouraging such behavior without excessive force. If you get drunk in public and make an ass of yourself, you will probably be told by a bouncer or cop to get a cab and go home. If you don't cooperate, you get arrested and thrown in the "drunk tank." This does two things--(a) removes you from the scene where you were creating the disturbance, (b) gives you time to sober up and hopefully enough "slap on the wrist" to make you reconsider such a course in the future. Of course, you could do it again and again anyway, just because some people are nuts. I guess in extreme cases you'd be kept in jail for weeks or months. You might also return with a weapon to "exact vengeance" or some other insanity.

3. Individual censorship/exclusion options. This is what most MMOs do now. Instead of doing anything to the punk, players have lots of options to ignore them. You can easily block their chats or messages, stop incoming requests, etc. Maybe this is the best solution, and most people seem fine with this. However, to my mind it only treats the symptom, not the actual disease. What's interesting is that there really isn't a real life equivalent of this. You can't just selectively filter out the noise made by someone talking on a cell phone during a movie, for instance. If you put in ear plugs you can't hear the movie, either. However with a game you can opt not to hear the cell phone conversation at all. That's pretty neat.

The only real problem with this is that people might take it to extremes, ignoring everyone they don't know, or causing bad feelings to new players. Maybe someone isn't a real pest; they just don't know how to act because they are brand new. If lots of people ignore them, it might cause them to feel alienated and quit playing. On the flipside, it's not very pleasant when you first start a new game to have to ignore lots of annoying people. The whole thing is unpleasant, but especially damaging to normal people trying the game for the first time. You really don't want the first people they talk to be the wackos that everyone else is auto-ignoring.

What are other people's thoughts on this? Is there a better way than #3 to deal with nincompoops?

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Gashead
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Police state?

Okay before I start I guess I better declare that I am a bit of a bleeding heart liberal!

I really don't like the solution number 1. As you mention yourself who polices the police plus who decides what is suitable behaviour? Also doesn't this infringe people's right to free speech? It could be argued that as everyone pays their subscription if someone wants to be a dickhead thats their choice. However I do feel that if people are being truly offensive e.g. racist or hounding people that this obviously breaks the code of decent behaviour so they should be banned no question. This already seems to happen or maybe I am being naive?

EQ already has solution 2 built into it to some extend. You can report players to GMs. So if someone says something offensive you can type /report. The text is sent to a GM and they intervene. GMs then approach the person to talk to them. I know this happens becuase when I have reported people GMs have let me know they have spoken to them. I assume if this happens a lot they get banned?

Sorry to go over old ground but how widespread is this problem in your experience? As I mentioned previously it is a minor problem in my experience. I am always subscribed to one MMO or another. I have being playing them constantly for 9 years and I can honestly count on one hand the number of times that I have considered another player's behaviour to be totally unacceptable. That isn't to say that other players haven't annoyed me but being annoying (in my opinion) isn't something you can ban people for because it is subjective. Now the majority of my experience has been in EQ and EQ2. I think if I had been playing WoW all that time maybe my experience may have been different?

Anyway the point of my ramblings is are draconian measures to tackle this just like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

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