Monthly Archives: December 2008

Uru Live: Myst Online to become Open Source

If you allow me an aside from my usual design work: The defunct MMO Myst Online will be released under an open source license.

Myst Online Screenshot

The company stated on the Myst Online webpage:

Cyan has decided to give make [sic] MystOnline available to the fans by releasing the source code for the servers, client and tools for MystOnline as an open source project. We will also host a data server with the data for MystOnline. MORE is still possible but only with the help from fans.

This is, of course, major news – Especially since the Free Ryzom campaign failed after Ryzom was bought up by someone else. Details are scarce at this point. The license picked by Cyan will be a big issue, and it is not clear whether they will make the data available for use only, or whether they will also publish it under an open license as well.

Either way, this should be a great boost for future open-sourced MMO projects.

Bad Design: Torture in World of Warcraft

If you have played the Borean Tundra area in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft MMORPG, you probably came across the quest “The Art of Persuasion”.

In this quest, the player has to torture a prisoner to obtain information about the prisoner’s organization. This continues past the point where the NPC begs the player to stop, until he eventually reveals the location of a prisoner.

Stop! I beg you, please stop. Please…

When I reached this quest I was playing Juria, my sweet little innocent Gnome mage. Not only do I personally find torture disgusting; Juria would also never do any such thing. (In a perfect world, she would be a complete pacifist, but that is not a course of action that gets you far in World of Warcraft.) Quests in the game are completely linear “like it or leave it” affairs, so there was no option to refuse torture besides declining the quest. Since it seemed that the quest chain was important in the storyline progressing, and because I figured I’d have enough of an annoying time gaining enough experience points to level 80, I decided to simply do the quest. After all, I am capable of distinguishing between a vector model and a real human being.

I moved on with a bad aftertaste and eventually forgot about this quest until Pedro sent me a link to Richard Bartle’s blog posting criticizing the torture quest. Boy did Richard get a lot of (unjustified) FLAK for that, but he is of course completely right.

Games are – besides a fun activity – about teaching us something. Whether it is practicing one’s dexterity and reaction speed in a platform game, our logic or intuition in an adventure or puzzle game, or moral choices. This doesn’t mean games should be preachy, but when a choice can be made in the game, it should offer consequences for those actions and – ideally – reinforce correct moral choices.

The correct moral choice in this case is that “torture is bad”. This is a general consensus, and I would say that anybody who categorically disagrees with that statement has a serious mental problem. Humane treatment of humans and also of prisoners is the basic idea behind the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such works.

This is also the morality that should be valid inside the game’s fiction. While the Alliance has not always been a “force of good” (there are the Orc internment camps, after all), the Alliance as represented by the players in World of Warcraft is definitely a force of good. Likewise, the Horde is attempting to reform itself to become better people than the horde of the early Warcraft titles. Torture of prisoners is what the antagonists engage in: The Scarlet Crusade for example.

Blizzard does not offer the player any choice; they reward the player for incorrectly torturing the player. The character will gain experience points and gold and – though I haven’t done the math – it is possible that the quest is required for certain in-game achievements like “Complete x quests in Borean Tundra”. There is no necessity to actually torture the prisoner (he does not reveal anything crucial, nor anything that could not be found out in any other way). There are no consequences. The whole thing is meaningless.

Blizzard has passed up a great opportunity to let the player make a meaningful choice. They have failed to teach us anything, and, even worse, are teaching us something that is counterproductive. It would have been very easy to implement two alternate quest lines, one where the player accepts to torture the prisoner, and one where he does not, with appropriate in-game consequences. (For example, in The Burning Crusade, you can choose to follow either of two factions at one point, so it is possible to do this with the World of Warcraft engine.) The torture quest could be the “easy option”, but result in a penalty; the “humane” quest may be a lot more effort, but result in a greater reward.

As it stands, this one quest is a good example of how not to do quest design, and also a very revealing insight into the minds of the Blizzard game designers – and the many, many World of Warcraft players who have attacked Richard for stating that torture is a bad thing.

Now using DeviantArt

I am now using DevianArt to host an art gallery / portfolio sort of thing. I will still post images here, but it’s nice to have a community on DeviantArt. It’s also nice to have a simple, art focussed URL that I can give people who are just interested in the art aspect.

My works can be found at http://nilsjeppe.deviantart.com/ – I’d love it if you drop by.

Copyright Confusions

Just an aside, because this is a bit of a peeve I have:

* You own the copyright to works that you create, in principle.
* Names, brand names etc are protected by trademarks, not copyrights.
* Ideas, concepts, etc can be protected by patents, but only if they fulfill the criteria as inventions, which is not the same as ideas.

Copyright is automatic. You do not have to register it, but where this is possible it might of course help with enforcement. Trademarks must be registered and actively used and defended. Patents must be filed, examined, and granted.

There are certain minimum standards on what is considered coyprightable. So for example writing the sentence: “I love you” does not mean you own it.

A lot of people do not understand copyright, don’t know what it’s for, and do not respect it. Always respect the copyright of others, if you want others to respect yours. I have seen too many blogs use pictures or other material they clearly do not own and are not licensed to use.

That said, the Internet is all about sharing, about a common culture for all of mankind. If you publish something on the Internet, please consider doing so under a creative commons license.

A CC license is an easy way for you to tell others what they are allowed to do with your works. This will help them because they should have an easier time understanding what they are allowed to do and it should help you because it encourages sharing in a respectful manner. And after all is said and done, don’t we all want others to read our works?

But, please, whatever you do… at least get your terms right. I can never take anyone serious who claims that “this word is copyrighted” or “I own the trademark on this idea”.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this posting is not legal advice. In case of questions on copyright law, see an attorney licensed to work in your jurisdiction.

My next project…

NaNoWriMo is over, I won, and I am in the process of completing my novel. I decided on a project to tackle next. I could just start something completely new, but I do not want to start yet another project that never gets done. So I looked at my large collection of worlds and picked one that is dear to my heart.

Arnâron.

As you may remember, Arnâron is my version of Barsoom. I began to work on Arnâron in its current form as my project for World Building Month, back in August. (Has it only been three months? Amazing how time flies.)

When I last visited Arnâron, I was writing random articles and working on a con language. I still have a to do list with many open items. Let me re-list it here, with current status:

* Language. I made some progress, but a lot of work remains to be done.
* Religion. I have not worked on this aspect.
* Nations: Still in the same state as in August.
* Money and trade: I have posted one article on natural resources, more needs to be written.
* Cities of Arnâron. No update.
* Ruins and relics: I wrote about the ruins and the past, I think this is a solid basis to work from.
* Astrology and zodiacs: I haven’t created these at all.
* Heroes and villains: Still needs to be written.
* Prizes and princesses: Ditto.
* The hordes: Ditto, again.

Now, a lot of this is fundamental work that could simply keep me busy for years. I’d like to define some sort of goal, something that is reachable. (NaNoWriMo taught me the importance of that.)

There is one event, or story-arc, that I planned for the world, somewhat related to the basic John Carter story A Princess of Mars. I will use this event to write a series of stories, and will create all the supporting material I need for this story. I will try to write one “chapter” every month in 2009 (and into 2010 if the series does not get done in 12 months).

I have a month for outlining and for completing my NaNoWriMo novel. Let’s see how this goes.