Eidolon's Rant: A Call to Arms
Eidolon is a big fan of multiplayer RPG's and multiplayer games in general. His obsession with Everquest is unquestioned, and while it sometimes worries us, we know that he's still in touch of reality. Well, at least some of the time. Ok, if attempting to wield magic powers in public counts as being in touch with reality...
Debating multiplayer games. Well, I was never much of the "debate team" type, I always had other extra curricular activities in mind, but enough about that. We're here to talk about multiplayer games. For those of you who don't know me, I'm a hardcore EverQuest (EQ) addict. A day doesn't go by when I'm not playing EQ, or thinking about playing EQ, or talking to my co-workers about playing EQ, or surfing the web for news about EQ, or... Well, you get the picture. How did I (and over 200,000 other people) get so engulfed in this game? I'll tell you. A friend that I used to work with, Jeff, asked me if I had seen a review of some game in a magazine. He couldn't remember the name, but he started describing the game to me. He said it was based in a medieval fantasy world, with orcs and trolls and dragons, kind of like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) but that it was a massively multiplayer only role playing game (MMORPG). Players could develop trade skills, such as making armor and jewelry, in addition to the usual dungeon crawling. I said it was probably Ultima Online (UO) which I had heard about before, but never played.
The next day, he brought the magazine to me and showed me the article. It was EverQuest. I started reading the first page of the article, which explained the game environment and mechanics. Near the bottom of the page was the price. About $50 for the game, and then about $10 a month to play. "No way," I said, "there's no way am I paying a monthly fee for a game on top of my ISP charges. Uh uh. No way." Then I turned the page. On the second and third pages of the article were screen shots. Shots of scenery: lush forests, sweeping plains, frozen tundra. Shots of dungeons and battles: red glowing caves filled with goblins, dank dark caverns teeming with gnolls, dozens of people, humans, elves, dwarves and more, in a huge melee with a dragon! All 3D renedered, all real time. My jaw just dropped. But, I wasn't hooked. Not, yet. I read more.
Hundreds, even thousands of people in the world at any one time. The ability to form parties to go exploring and adventuring. And the most damning thing of all: the first month was free. Though I still wasn't hooked. Not even then.
While I was talking to another friend at work, the topic turned to games, and in particular this new game, EQ. He said he had a friend who played, and that he was going to get the game so that they could play together. Well, if someone I knew was going to buy EQ, then it seemed perfectly reasonable for me to buy it and join him and his friend, right? Let me tell you, that free month of game play is like the crack dealer who gives out free samples to reel you in. Once you get a little taste, you can't do without. So now I pay to play. And I like it.
But, this article isn't supposed to be about EQ. Its supposed to be about online gaming in general. So let's expand. Online games come in many different flavors. From small, client based games, up to MMORPGs. Many single player games support a head-to-head mode, the simplest form of multiplayer environment. This is usually accomplished via modem. Many also have a more open multiplayer mode, where more than 2 or more people can play together on a network or over the internet. Diablo supports both of these modes. In Diablo you can play one-on-one, or you can have up to 4 people in a game, and the game session is created on a local machine, which other people can connect to via Blizzard's Battle.net service. StarCraft, also from Blizzard, is similar, but you can have up to 8 players in the game. In both of these examples players can play either cooperative or player vs. player (PvP) style. From there we move on to total PvP environments, like futuristic Quake/II/3A and Half Life, that support deathmatch play where fighting is a free for all, take no prisoners, the guy with the highest body count wins. Then on to team-based PvP games, like Half Life - Team Fortress and Unreal Tournament, where you group together with other players to form teams, and the teams fight each other. Then it goes all the way up to MMORPGs, like UO, EQ and now Asheron's Call (AC).
As you can see, there are many styles of multiplayer games, and many different game environments, from fantasy to science fiction. So, now that I've given you a brief synopsis of multiplayer gaming, I guess the question is why do it? Because its fun, that's why. I had always been a single-player-game fan. I always liked being able to save my little world, and have it be just that way when I came back. But then I found... You guessed it: EverQuest. (You'll have to forgive me if I constantly refer to EQ, but its where I can draw the most personal experience.) A persistant virtual world that continues to change, whether you are there or not. A world with hundreds of creatures, and thousands of items. From the mundane to the magical.
The most interesting thing about multiplayer games is meeting people. Sounds lame, right? You could go to a chat room and meet people. (Actually I have heard EQ referred to as a giant graphical chat room.) And yes, you could, but being in a game environment gives you so much more to do. There are challenges to conquer, prestige to be gained, reputations to earn, etc. I mean, would you rather be known as the funniest guy in the chat room, or do you want to be the guy walking around with the dragons head? A "character" in a multiplayer game, whether you are represented as a graphic avatar, or are a faceless commander behind a massive army, brings so much more to life. Being the first person to aquire a rare item, being the team to hold off the opposition through a long and grueling battle, being the commander who leads his troops against vastly superior forces to emerge victorious. That's the stuff online legends are made of. And seems to prove the old adage: actions speak louder than words.
In summary: In multiplayer games, you can join with your friends to go on a virtual adventure (or to kick their virtual butts.) You can meet people from all over the world with similar interests, forging friendships and rivalries. You can develop a persona as similar to, or as different from, your "real life" personality as you like. Multiplayer games can be an extention of our lives, opening a door to worlds of adventure unknown. Now that's what I call fun.