Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons Ate My Baby

Via Neogrognard, I just ran across the original broadcast of the 60 Minutes episode investigating the role of Dungeons and Dragons in murder/suicides. It was run in 1985.

I highly recommend watching these, they are instructive.

The videos feature Patricia Pulling, who's son, Irving "Bink" Pulling committed suicide. Also Thomas Radecki, who is a psychologist.

srm complains:

Gygax and his PR dude came off as defensive and insensitive pricks who were using D&D money to shut down investigations. Remember that this is the height of the great Satanism scare of the 80s. It was a strange time.

There was never going to be another outcome. There is no argument to be made that will make you look better, if you're E. Gary. With 3.5 million people playing, and 35 deaths, you have no real case. If you are going to run the segment at all, you have to have some narrative to support it.

And it's always a strange time. There are people today who will swear that vaccinations cause autism, and refuse to have their children vaccinated. It's causing a whooping cough epidemic in California's Central Valley. People are strange, even redheaded elves have their kinks. They always will.

Of course, Dungeons and Dragons doesn't kill people. Nor does playing the online versions of these games. For some debunking of this stuff, The Escapist has a nice little encyclopedia of unfavorable media references. For example, his entries on Bink and Patricia Pulling.

(I have a little small spot of sympathy for Mrs. Pulling, who died in 1997. Stuff can go wrong with children, even when parents mean the best, and do the best they can. It seems she made some mistakes, and in her case, they turned out to be fatal for her child. That would suck.)

In some ways, the internet makes conspiracy theory mongering worse. People who are in the grip of a crazy idea can find other people with the same crazy idea much more easily, and reinforce each other. But that doesn't mean I want to shut down the internet, because that same internet let me do the research to debunk it.

So I come to how much I like the concept of Net Neutrality. If someone could pay off someone else to keep stuff that embarasses them off the internet, that would be a great, great loss.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"I Don't Think D&D Will Ever Be Mainstream"

Stephen Radney-McFarland (aka srm) recalls a conversation he had roughly 10 years ago with Jeff Quick, then editor of Polyhedron magazine, and an employee of Wizards of the Coast, who were about to publish Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Those who follow the hobby know that this spurred a huge wave of interest in the game, reigniting the passions of 3000-year-old redheaded elves everywhere. That's not a very large market, though, so luckily for WOTC (and for the hobby) a lot of other humans, halflings, gnomes and dwarves were interested too. And a few half-orcs, no doubt.

Anyway, I loved this paragraph:

Learn from [...] outliers. They’re not afraid of their geek. And not just the outliers in RPGs. People paint their entire body when to go to watch football. Dressing up like the people of Mad Men has become vogue in some circles. Some men love their motorcycles more than their wives. We are all geeky about something. In modern culture where we spend the majority of our time in the fluorescent flicker of gray cube walls, our geek passions give us color. And this world needs more color.

Stephen recounts telling Jeff the quote that is the title of the post. But from the perspective of 10 years later, it seems that he was wrong. Wrong in a way that he (and I) never expected.

Roleplaying has become huge. In part this is because of games like Diablo and World of Warcraft. Adults are getting the basic idea of pretend play back in their lives. I never expected this, but I think its good.

I've seen Army Colonels say that they think D&D is good for the troops, teaching them valuable lessons in teamwork and boosting morale. I know a woman that runs a after-school/summer camp based on doing RPG with the kids, and injecting specific lessons about geography, math, and sociology into the runs. When you have to do a math problem to unlock the treasure, there's a little more motivation.

In about 1981, about a year after my first introduction to D&D, the local store stopped carrying any D&D related product. They had concluded that Dungeons & Dragons constituted demon worship, and wanted no part of it. My personal reaction was of the nature, "But don't you get it? We're killing the demons!" I don't know how much of this reaction is still out there, I would imagine very little.

The web has been a huge boon to the hobby, beyond the advent of MMO's. Sites like DriveThru RPG sell roleplaying stuff. and Think Geek specifically targets a geek audience.

Film and television has become laced with D&D and roleplaying sensibilities. The actual "Dungeons and Dragons" movie kind of sucked, it's true. But then there's "The Mummy". Steven Sommers, the director of "The Mummy", "The Mummy Returns" and "Van Helsing", plays D&D. There is a sensibility to these films that is very familiar to those of us who gather around the table with strangely shaped dice. Particularly when we've played a non-D&D game "Call of Cthulhu". John Rogers, writer of "Transformers" (the movie) and co-creator of the TV series "Leverage" not only plays, but has contributed to some of the D&D books. Vin Diesl not only plays D&D, it's what inspired him to try to become an actor. Karl Urban (Eomer) plays too. Dame Judy Densch runs a campaign for her grandchildren. The very-indy film "Rise of Dorkness" is an engaging, feature-length film about a group of D&D players and the characters they play. It is apparently funny even to those who have never played any tabletop RPG.

Anyway, Steven's post is really good, go read it. He has an embedded video that is really, really funny too, where the britcom "The IT Crowd" takes on D&D. Ne plus funny.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Geeking Out In Space

CCP Veritas has a post up describing how he and his colleagues tracked down some issues with module reactivation in EVE. During my life as a programmer, I've come to love stories about tracking down elusive bugs, and this is a really great example.

We'll start at the first thing we noticed when digging at it: the system responsible for telling the server when modules should be turned off or repeated would get minutes behind in processing when fleet fights happen while other systems remain reasonably responsive. This system, named Dogma, handles module activation/repeat/deactivation, as well as the actual effects of those modules. [...]

Tasks on the EVE servers use a time-sharing technique called cooperative multitasking which, in short, means that a task has to willingly yield execution to other tasks, otherwise it will run forever. In this case, it would seem the part of Dogma handling module repeat and deactivation was being too nice - yielding execution too much.

Looking at the code some, a theory emerged as to why. There was an error case that stuck out as odd - if an effect was supposed to be stopped or repeated, but the effect system itself didn't agree that it was time yet, the code would throw up its hands and give up. If that error case gets hit, the processing loop would yield to other systems early. A code comment was very reassuring though - this error was supposedly "rare."

The "rare" error happened 1.5 million times in the month of June, 2010 on TQ.

Great story, and an interesting followup. By all means, read it. After I read it, I did some calculations, presented below:

So, it seems to me that the problem was really quite rare. And it happened all the time.

Geeking Out In

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Long Lag: Favorite Quotes

Today CCP Warlock posted a devblog called "The Long Lag". CCP Warlock has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the MIT Media Lab. If you didn't know, that's a pretty solid credential. She's working on lag and distributed system performance in EVE. It's always tricky when a computer scientist has to tell a non-specialist audience that they can't have something. It's tricky to tell the difference between the easy, the trivial, the hard, and the impossible, even if you ARE a computer scientist. If you aren't, you might often say things that sound a lot like, "Well, why can't I have that cloak of invisibility? Are you dumb or just lazy?"

I've read through her post, and her presentation at Para this year. I assure you that she isn't dumb or lazy. Forthwith are some of my favorite quotations, and my (and mine alone!) interpretation of them.

  • CCP Warlock: What both software and human groups are fighting at a very fundamental level is a nasty relationships between organizational structure and available real time communication capacity.
    Toldain: There just ain't enough wires to go around people! In a fleet fight of 1000 pilots, each and every client needs to pass some information to every other client. To handle this you would need to have 1000 different wires coming into your house, connecting to your computer, to handle the communication need. And so would each and every other players. Well, maybe one wire can handle communication with 10 other pilots, but that only cuts it down to 100 wires needed. More than one message can't go down any wire at the same time, that's the nature of the problem. And we can't push harder on the internet to make the bits go faster.

  • CCP Warlock: Our goal is to not only give you the best possible performance across the cluster as whole, but also for specific activities like fleet fights, measured against the theoretical limits.
    Toldain: Hey there players!!! There are limits to this. There are conceivably big enough fleet fights that no computer and no software can handle them correctly. When the company was started we were happy to get 1000 players just logged in at the same time, let alone fighting on the same grid! Ok, ok, we aren't performing up to theoretical maximum, and we really really want to fix it, but let's keep this in perspective: Getting an 8-processor cluster on a much simpler application to simply go 50% faster than a 4-processor one, never mind getting to theoretical maximum, was a major, major accomplishment back in the days that I [Toldain] worked for a major computer vendor.

  • CCP Warlock: From time to time we also discuss scaling issues with game design, since that is the only place where some of these distributed scaling problems can be solved.
    Toldain: Help us please, game designers, you're our only hope! There's no freaking way that 2000 pilot fleet fights are EVER going to work! But the players are headed down that road, for perfectly good reasons as far as the game design is concerned. Please turn this battleship off of its present course!

  • CCP Warlock: Probably the most frustrating part is that based on past experience, when we do find this issue (or issues) it will be something that, in retrospect, appears incredibly obvious and silly to have caused so much pain. So we will continue to beat our heads against this problem until we solve it, and then I suspect we will beat our heads against the nearest wall for a quite a while afterwards.
    Toldain: I have personally beat my head on that very same wall.

  • CCP Warlock: A complex system is a network of homogeneous components which interact non-linearly. Many scientific fields are currently blocking on complex systems issues.
    Toldain: This stuff is really, really hard. Lots of scientists out there would give their eyeteeth to have some better tools to deal with this stuff, but the fact is that we find it easier to prove that certain kinds of programs and tools can't be made, than it is to do something as simple as figuring out how to put all your inventory into boxes. Even figuring out the simplest things can get you to the point where it would take from now until the heat death of the universe to figure them out on an input set the size of, oh, say, 1000. And still, we try to do something, doing nothing is not an option.

  • CCP Warlock Inventory: O(number of players) * number of items in the game. Eve players are packrats.
    Toldain: Guilty as charged. Actually its worse than she says on this slide. The slide says the amount of database storage needed is proportional to the number of players times the number of items you can have. But I propose it gets another multiplier equal to the number of stations in the game. Unless they've done something really, really clever, which they might have.


Games As Art: The Marriage and The Divorce

Let's beat the "games are art" horse just a little more, shall we?

First, there's The Marriage, by Rod Humble. It's a few years old, it seems. Play it for yourself, I'm not going to spoil it. The game seems to work just fine on my MacBook Pro under Wine, by the way.

Then there's My Divorce, by Brett Douville, which is a response to The Marriage. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work under Wine.

I recommend you play the games for a bit first, then read the commentaries provided by Humble and Douville.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Freeport Next

What you're looking at is concept art for EverquestNext. That's a possible future Freeport above. There was some discussion of EQNext this weekend at the SOE Fan Faire, in which they described "lessons learned"

* Single world without the need to load zones
* Instanced dungeons
* Low system requirements
* Stylized character models
* Fewer classes, relative to EQII
* PvP from day one and “done right”

Wilhelm2451 of The Ancient Gaming Noob has a nice post up (or maybe it's a rambling Grandpa Simpson post?) in response to this in which he lists several "lessons learned" as implemented in EQ2 at launch. Lessons which turned out to be wrong, in his estimation.

I'm not really going to rehash it here, but it's highly amusing. I am going to add another few "lessons learned".

Faster-paced Combat is Good EQ2, as far as I know, was the first to distinguish between "in combat" and "out of combat" in determining the speed at which mana regenerates. It also made damage output of both players and mobs much bigger relative to the hit points of each. And casting times were faster, and more necessary. There was no more of the cleric mostly sitting on the ground meditating, and getting up every once in a while to cast a heal, then sitting again. There were no long waits after fights to heal. It became possible to move around a lot while fighting. I thought this was a good thing, but it's had an unforseen consequence: It's hard to socialize while fighting. Running an instance is mostly done in silence, with little opportunity for making new friends. Running in a competent group should be a bonding experience, it seems to me. It isn't.

Having a place where players are gathered together is bad There was the tunnel in EC, and the Bazaar, and PoK. Just being somewhere where there were a lot of people hanging out is one of the unique pleasures of MMO's. People like other people, and will clump together if you let them. Because of performance issues, and possibly some other fears, there is no such place in EQ2.

The only legitimate way to fight is tank and spank This is a personal pet peeve. There were dozens of fighting strategies that would work in EQ1: quad kiting, bow kiting, bard kiting, fear kiting, root and rot, mez-and-blast, charm fighting. Most of these are either completely gone in EQ1 or but a pale shadow of their former selves. And it was by deliberate design. I think the idea was that if some other character had some good tactic that you didn't have, it was seen as unfair. This sucks a lot of the fun out of the game for me, since I like trying unusual strategies and using them to fight stuff that ought to be too tough for me. Rather than make it impossible, I'd prefer them to not make it particularly rewarding. You know, experience for oranges and reds not really better than for yellows.

Just a few thoughts. Do you have any more?


Monday, August 09, 2010

The Great PLEX Explosion: Best Comments from the Forums

To set the scene, yesterday a pilot got his Kestrel (a very small, cheap ship) blown up outside of Jita (a major trading center) while carrying 74 PLEX, an ingame value of 22 billion ISK. PLEX can be redeemed by the holder for 30 days of play time. Like all ship cargo, there is a random determination as to whether the loot survived the explosion or not. In this case, it did not.

PLEX are created when the owner of a Game Time Code (GTC) worth 60 days play time decides to convert that GTC into two PLEX as ingame items. So the real world dollar value of those PLEX was roughly $1300 US.

I'm reading a big thread on the Official EVE forums, and I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite comments:

  • If anyone has the heart, contract that pilot a new Kestrel

  • [Quoted Comment:] You are being naive. There are warnings and the guys losing them on kills like these are mostly traders and not people interested in the gametime. The long discussions are going to happen no matter what at this point. Just lean back in your comfy chair and enjoy the trolling and idiocy.

    [Response:] HAHA! So if there IS a warning, he knew the risk of undocking with them... even if he's a trader. Perfectly legitimate kill then. Sounds like trading isn't this guy's strong point.

    BTW.. how do you know my chair is comfy? you got eyes on me??

  • yes. !!PLEXes do drop.!!

    It's just this was a stack, and as you remember stacks get processed all at once instead of individually. some people loaded up a frig with 4 million PLEXes (unstacked) on Sisi [SISI is EVE's test server-T.] then blew it up... 99%+ of them dropped.

  • I had lost much of the faith I once had in CCP. There has been endless threads about lag, imbalanced weapon systems, and the way in which CCP works, so there is no reason to go into detail here.

    But then, something wonderful, something so beautiful as this happens. Making plexes movable was a great decision. It's things like this that makes me love EVE; this cold, harsh, and completely unforgiving universe.

  • There is this saying amongst developers:

    Originally by: Rich Cook "Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning."

    I guess it doesn't only apply in programming.

  • You can call it greed if you wish, but they are no different than 1000's of other vendors that offer physical gift cards that can be lost, stolen or destroyed instead of doing so purely by electronic means.

  • Here is the BIGGER point that you are all missing. If you take said gift card and get mugged and it is stolen you can CALL Bestbuy or almost any other retailer who offers gift cards and have a replacement issued and the old card canceled if you have the receipt. This is stated and posted in a number of stores and I know for a fact Bestbuy and Futureshop do it (they are the same company now anyway) as I used to work there years ago and have done it.

  • I worked for Best Buy myself, and still have friends employed there. It doesn't work that way. Wink

    There are a lot of variables that you aren't bothering to include in your scenario above that would end in Best Buy denying you redemption of your gift card. In fact, it wasn't all that long ago that they stopped having expiration dates on their gift cards. Meaning that if you didn't redeem the gift card quickly enough it lost all value. And they are only 1 of thousands of merchants with similar policies.

  • So I've got a question. What's keeping, let's say, a CCP dev/gm alt from actually "buying" said Plex(s) and accidentally it/them?

  • P.S. This is exactly the kind of issue that Americans sue over.

  • Good thing CCP ain't American.

  • EVE: a cold, harsh universe. Stupidity has consequences. Essentially, you people are arguing that there should be exceptions to THAT.

    Go play Farmville. It's clearly your kind of MMO.

So, from reading forums and killboard threads, the following picture emerges:

Aystra was carrying the PLEX to Jita, presumably for sale in a arbitrage bid. The value of the PLEX (22b ISK) represented the bulk if not the entire sum of his Alliance's (Small Alliance) Sovereignty fund. That is to say, the money that they use to pay for SOV upkeep, and for space upgrades and new Territorial Claim Units, and so on. He was popped by war targets who were not aware of his cargo, as he was attempting to dock. The ships that popped him (the killboard post is here.) were a Tempest and a Hurricane. No doubt they were fitted for fast locking. I would presume that one volley was sufficient to kill, it certainly looks that way.

One of the pilots on the kill has posted: I didn't even wanna post this kill.. I was like whatever it's just a kestrel... and when finally got
posted [which allowed him to see what the cargo was - T] I started to make squicky sounds I didn't
know I was able to make lol

According to ISD, the wreck was destroyed immediately after the kill, to prevent scavenger looting.

"I would probably be kicked out [of the alliance] if [PLEX] were to drop... I was the one that killed the wreck," concluded slickdog.

Interesting times we live in...


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday Musings

As he so often does, Psychochild has written a post that has started my wheels spinning. He looks at a few essays about videogames and MMOs and concludes that those essays say as much about the essayist as they do about the game.

What is really interesting is that this tends to hold a mirror up to the person looking at the game, whether they realize it or not. One's actions and perceptions in the game tend to reflect as much if not more about the person as they do about the game or even the game's creators.

Once a work of art (and I'm on record as thinking that videogames qualify as art, along with overpasses) is given to the public, the creator loses some ownership. It is not to be expected that every person will give some work of art the same meaning. This is just part of the process. Furthermore, art for which there can be only one meaning tends to be banal and trite. It feels forced and is kind of boring.

We all go looking for things that reinforce our world views and our choices. We look for symbols. We see things as symbols, and as children we draw them as symbols, as stick figures. One of the critical exercises when learning to draw is to stop looking at objects as symbols and start looking at patterns of light and dark instead. This is how one goes from drawing stick figures to painting "Girl With Broom".

So it is, I think with observations of the world. The ability to turn off those "meaning filters" is extraordinarily valuable, and somewhat rare. It can most certainly be learned.

I have little else to say about political interpretations of MMO's other than they are usually very, very superficial.

But what about gender presentation? I've written on this topic before. The posts the Psychochild cites are interesting. I'd like to highlight a few of the issues that I see with portraying females in MMOs.

The first is, human beings as we find them, primarily in the United States, prefer clearly disambiguated genders. This isn't destiny, there are many who navigate the world with a more ambiguously gendered stance, sometimes from necessity, and sometimes from artistic choice. Marilyn Manson, Boy George, David Bowie and Eddie Izzard leap to mind.

But speaking for myself, encountering an ambiguously gendered person creates some anxiety. I've had my gender mistaken over the phone. Unlike the reaction of someone who is trans, I was not happy about that, nor was the person I was talking to, when I informed them. These are mistakes we don't like to make.

In the course of my long-time tabletop RPG, I have collected and painted miniatures. Many of them were female. Portraying the gender of a pewter (they have no lead any more) figurine that is about 1.25 inches high is a big challenge for a sculptor.

Person to person there are many, many gender cues. Along with the differences in body shape, there are some facial tendencies, differences in skin, in voice, in hair, in gait, and in posture. We call a man effeminate for holding his wrists a certain way. The cues in the Rembrandt painting above are subtle but unambigious, it is a girl that is being portrayed, not a boy.

But in a 1.25 inch high miniature, we lose most of this gender coding. There's no voice, the skin texture or quality is lost, the figure is static, and hence has no gait. Faces are too small to really portray the subtle facial differences. Posture can do it, anatomy (re: larger breasts and hips) can do it, and sometimes hair can do it. Of course, if it's an armored figure, in a fighting pose, that eliminates posture and hair. So we are left with breasts and to a lesser extent, hips to portray gender.

So it's likely that they will be exaggerated. One can portray gender with dress and hairstyle, and on these figures, the body shapes tend, in fact, to be less exaggerated.

The problems with miniatures are not as severe when translated into 3D art in an MMO, but they still exist. Looking at pixels on your screen is still not the same as the real thing. MMO characters don't often talk. Differences in skin texture are difficult. They have their name banner, which can be helpful, but they might have fantasy names, not so helpful. You can portray gender by placing an NPC in a traditional gender role. But that ends up seeming pretty sexist. But the culture they live in might be one with highly rigid gender roles.

So there are still some problems. But we are talking about NPC's and I think the options available to artists and character designers are pretty good. As well as the options available to players for dress and hairstyles. Gone are the days of EQ1 where wood elf females were pretty much stuck with wearing a leotard or plate armor.

But what about mobs, the generic NPC's that you are meant to kill. Have you ever seen a gnoll? I mean, a female gnoll? I don't think I have. There are thousands upon thousands of gnolls in Antonica, Blackburrow and elsewhere. And every single one of them, with the possible exception of a few named, are male. I'm not sure I've ever seen a female orc in EQ2 either. Either that, or it was completely forgettable.

Why is this? Well, gnolls are sentient dogs. We all know how to tell a male dog from a female. But would that be acceptable on a figure that stands up right and talks along with barking? Would any parent let their child play that game?

However, SOE could put clothing on the gnolls, or maybe they already have. But let's press a little further. In our culture, we are equipped with some taboos about women and violence, and I think they are in play in MMO's.

First, there is a taboo against violence toward women and children. I can think of a few places where there are young versions of creatures that one is supposed to kill, but they aren't humanoid. Young drakelings, young wolves, that sort of thing. There aren't many quests where you are supposed to go kill the young hobbits.

There is more violence against females however. Many of the vampires in Mistmoore Castle are female. Many of the great dragons of Norrath are female. There are sirens. The sirens say things when you fight them that rub salt in the wound, as I recall, attempting to shame you for fighting them. Nasty, but they ARE trying to kill me, after all.

There's a corollary taboo that sometimes unfolds: that women do not, or can not, engage in violence.

I do martial arts. I've seen both of the above taboos play out in the dojo. I've seen men who were unwilling to use proper techniques or proper intent when their current partner was a woman. Ultimately, this deprives the woman of critical training, and ends up being a lack of respect. One of the first things most women must overcome when they come in the door is the idea that they are not capable of violence. (I consider that idea dangerous, by the way. I think it's better to know what's in the shadows than to ignore it).

I've seen this play out in MMO's as well. I've watched many women come into the game choosing first to be a healer. Then, it seems, they discover the joy of doing DPS. This arc ends with them becoming tanks.

In order to tank, anyone, woman or man, must be comfortable with being the center of attention, the initiator of action, and with the idea that they are going to have a bunch of NPC's trying to kill them constantly, and that this is something to be desired and fun. There are things in male culture (outside of gaming) that support this better than female culture, I think. But that's not hard-wired, it's clear that anyone with a will can learn it.

Getting back to the subject of gnolls, I have to wonder if there is a lack of female gnolls precisely because game designers (or players) were uncomfortable with the idea of making war on the women (and by extension, the children). Gnolls are mostly cardboard cutout, the sentient version of the fire beetles. They are there to be a punching bag.

Would you put a woman's face on a punching bag?

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Why I Like EVE: The Continuing Saga

Our space, Deklein, is under transition. Tau Ceti Federation (TCF), our landlords for the time I've been with Skyforger, has had a change of leadership, and is moving from Deklein to the Venal region.

And so those of us who are pets, I mean renters-TNT, OWN, DEF1ANT-get to take over more control of the region? Wrong. TCF has arranged for a reconstituted Goonswarm to take over our space, and become our new landlords. Yes, after a near-complete self-annihilation, running to a single system in Deklein, and licking their wounds for a few months, Goonswarm will now become, once again, a regional power.

And our new landlords.

This has created some uneasiness among my corpmates and me. Arrangements have been made to tweak the jumpbridge network, and gain a little more control over it for our alliance, TNT.

The political structure of 0.0 is downright feudal. Members typically owe service to their corps, for the privilege of being able to rat and mine in 0.0. That service can take the form of pvp or mining, or perhaps logistical chores. In turn alliances owe not just rent payments, but their participation in Coalition fleets and in home defense fleets is noted and, one suspects, territory allocated based on it. I'm not in any leadership position, so I don't have any inside dope on what exactly goes on, but there is occasional drama and whining about carebearing from the pvp types.

As an aside, it seems to me that alliances and coalitions that can create better political structures than a feudal hierarchy will have the advantage in the long run.

This is all kind of irritating, since typical ratting in my Dominix does not seem to have all that much greater of a payoff than running a level 4 mission. Though it is logistically simpler.

So why do I put up with it? Because of EVE's open, sandbox nature, and large player populations allow for some really interesting stuff to happen. And a lot of the most interesting things happen in 0.0

A case in point: Last year, the director of a very important alliance in EVE - Band of Brothers (BoB)-tried to get an alt into a Goonswarm corp as a spy, but quickly decided that he liked Goons a lot better than BoB, and with some plotting, disbanded Bob entirely, stealing many capital ships and much isk in the process.

Ok, digest that a bit. Our new landlords, the famous ones with the pirate hats and the hearty "Arrrgh", were more friendly and helpful to an apparent noob miner that he completely torched his old alliance.

If there's more drama in EVE, I think its because in real life, if your boss is never in the office, and when he is, he uses the time to abuse you for not working hard enough, and if your coworkers are constantly telling him and each other what a nitwit you are, you can't conspire with the competition to hand over the keys to the building, steal the entire carpool, empty the corporate bank account and be sure you will never go to jail for it.

But in EVE, you can.

The developers in EVE refer to "emergent phenomena". But there's simpler language for it. Really, it's more along the lines of "Whoa, look at the cool things the players are doing, we never thought of that, isn't it great!?"

This is a big dichotomy in any kind of ongoing roleplay game. It comes up in tabletop games a lot, and it always has. Back when I started roleplaying, game masters would pretend the game was an open sandbox, but it wasn't. There were plenty of tales of parties that wandered off the decreed track only to find signs that stated "Here be demons".

Now, to be fair, the amount of time available to a dm to prepare things is limited. But many's the DM that grows angry and frustrated when the party finds some cool, creative way to short circuit a trap or to easily dispatch some unbeatable monster.

Video games split along this dichotomy too. I remember feeling that one of the cool things about the Super Mario 64 game was its open gameplay. Given the physics of the game, and the objects of the room, you could solve puzzles any way that seemed appropriate to you.

And what about MMO's? Here's a description of the Sleeper, a great dragon in EQ1, taken from a thread on Slashdot:

Killing the Sleeper was the EQ equivalent.

a) It was supposed to be impossible by design.

1) It killed a fully geared toon in 10 seconds.
2) It had 2 billion hit points
3) If you did some kind of quest, it woke up, kicked every one's ass in the world and then left the game forever unbeaten.

b) It was beaten on a PVP server-- every server in the game was getting updates as it progressed.
1) They had to have security to fend off any griefers who would try to stop it.
2) They had to prevent anyone from completing the quest
3) They had a lineup of 30 warriors whose job was to step up, get aggro, die.
4) They had a support group big enough to raise those warriors, rebuff them, and get them back in rotation within 300 seconds.
5) It took some ungodly number of *hours* to do this. Every server was getting updates. "7:37pm, Sleeper at 93%" "10:05pm, Sleeper at 52%"
6) A bug or direct intervention by the Developers prevented them from winning the first attempt-- so they had to do it all, then remotivate everyone and do it again after the Devs got jumped on by all of EQ to give them a fair shot.

There are two ideas here that are important. First, players will organize around an idea or an accomplishment just because it's so darn cool. They will think way outside the box. Second, game designers get really nervous and controlling about this sort of thing. The surprise factor is probably important. If they had thought about it, this event is huge, very strong publicity for their game, and generating huge interest. But the first reaction is, "that's not supposed to be possible!"

The EVE dev team, as a general rule, embraces this kind of thing. Big market fluctuations make the game interesting (coolant anyone?). Big political shifts are front-page news. Hacking is not welcome, but scamming is. And it's not just because it's a pvp game, but it's because they like the idea (and so do I) that game mechanics merely offer consequences, rather than restrictions. Anything that the rules allow, is legal. And its up to you to work out new ways of using them.

And that's a quality that I really like.