Playin’ by new Rules

Some people love creating additional rules for themselves to play a game. Sometimes it’s quite simple — playing in a hardcore or ‘one life’ mode in a game that doesn’t officially support it. Sometimes they’re remarkably complex like the ‘Nuzlocke’ Pokemon ruleset (or maybe just seem that way to me as a non-Pokemon player).

I’ll happily mod a game for a new ruleset. I might even choose a particular achievement or goal to chase that alters the way I play. But just layering new rules over the top of a game ‘just because’ isn’t really something I’ve done. Couldn’t tell you for sure why. I don’t have any particular aversion to the concept.

Possibly it’s just not something I’d find fun on my own without the shared experience component. That’s my operating theory at the moment in any case.

Backing that theory is my eagerness for a community Iron Man event running on the Levistras Asheron’s Call server at the moment, created by Joneseh, Spigot, Wolfenstein and a few others.

My Iron Man character preparing to commit (one way jump) to doing more of Halls of the Helm dungeon.

You can see the full set of rules and the character sheet here – but the basics? A certain degree of randomisation on the creation of your character. You roll a 1d6 for instance to select which stat you max out at 100 during creation. Every other stat balances out to 46. You then roll out your weapon (or offensive magic) type. Oh and also completely randomise the order in which your character will pickup skills.

Beyond that, characters playing in this event cannot receive help from any character not also participating. No transfers from your main characters. No buffs from non-Iron Man characters. No outside help of any kind.

Oh, did I mention every character participating is flagged for Player Killing too? xD

Now the intent behind that is not to make this a bloodbath free-for-all (although there are no rules against this), but rather to add to the sense of danger that comes from the potential for friendly fire. Especially if playing alongside (or as) a 2H-weapon character and the cleave attacks they do.

Making the old new…

And it is amazing to what extent!

Building a character for yourself, it is typical to go with what is known as 3-school, learning Life Magic, Item Enchantment and Creature Enchantment even on a non-offensive mage character. So commonplace that having these buffs available on demand is just a fact of life.

Take that away and you need to find new ways to compensate. You need to draw upon your wider understanding of the world to think about places to go, suited to the adjusted power level of your character. Places that previously may have been skipped on the early game ladder get to see the light of day again. Jewellery and clothing with imbued buffs become some of the best items you can possibly find.

The old strategies get thrown out the window, basically.

I’m level 17 in this challenge so far, and the character I’m playing is rouuuugh. But it could be worse. I do at least have shield and healing trained already.

But hooboy have I relearnt the terror of enemy spell casters. It’ll be a while yet before I can comfortably take on any case capable of casting level IV war spells. >.<

Teetertot Moments

Only a week ago, I was trying out Asheron’s Call again for the first time in what I estimate must be at least 10 years. Fourteen if you take it from when I last ‘seriously’ played. And I almost bounced off entirely. I was so close to just calling it a failed experiment and moving on.

A week later and that outcome is almost unimaginable.

Asheron's Call -- Glendon Wood Prison dungeon.
Inside Glendon Wood Prison

The loss that would have occurred with that outcome indescribable. And yet I never would have even known or truly appreciated it. I would have had no way to. Because truth be told, until now I didn’t really understand Isey or Quin’s desire — or even ability — to wrap themselves up so entirely with EverQuest again (in its Project 1999 iteration). I was happy for them that they so obviously found such joy in it. But I didn’t understand how or why.

It took diving back into WoW Classic to make me realise my earlier stance on nostalgia might not be right after all. Rather amusingly, I was right in my estimation of WoW Classics lifespan for me. It did only last a couple of weeks. But I was way off base about why that would be the case. I could have seen myself happily playing WoW Classic for some time to come. And I realised this quite early on. So it isn’t without some degree of irony then, that this realisation is what sealed the fate on not playing it for longer.

Because it drove me to try AC again.

Asheron's Call Screenshot -- High up on a plateau, overlooking the Gharu'ndim desert after having climbed Bellig Tower.
I got up here through working my way up Bellig’s Tower dungeon. I was after the Lightning Hammer possessed by a revenant who (un)lived near the top, but I noticed it carried on past this target so I followed it further up. Eventually, I came to a portal to take me outside again — and was met by an amazing vista from atop the plateau. More — the portal shown jumps across to the next plateau in the distance. Then the next, in a chain, until I eventually found a sister tower to the one I started at.

I’m not the most prolific taker of screenshots. Generally, I need to remind myself to take any at all. But I’ve taken over 40 so far, and flicking back through them — even only spanning a week so far — carries so much memory and sentiment already.

Now I know, a large part of that sentimental power is driven by compounding upon old memories. But the effect is no less real or meaningful now for that fact.

Asheron's Call screenshot -- Green Mire Grave dungeon.
Nearing the end of Green Mire Grave

I felt an almost silly degree of pride in successfully navigating through the key and lock puzzle elements of Green Mire Grave without resorting to the use of a map, as I had needed to with the Mite Maze.

I made it through the Mines of Colier, down to the (now undead) Baron. Back in the beta this place had a different set of monsters and a chest on a 10-15 minute timer that spawned amazing loo for the level you could get down there.

People would line up around the room, waiting their turn at the chest and just talk and laugh with one another. The recent talk of lining up for quest mobs in WoW Classic made me smile in memory of this. Of course, no-one is lining up for this chest now — but yet… It was nice to be back.

Or heading back to the Glendon Wood Prison. This was the first dungeon I ever did in Asheron’s Call that wasn’t located near my hometown of Holtburg. Being back here I was reminded that dungeons in Asheron’s Call weren’t tailor made for specific levels. They were places that made sense in the context of the world they resided in. Sure you could complete the quest objectives within the low level portions of the dungeon no problem. But push too deep and you could find things best left locked away. Things you may not be ready for yet.

Overall, I feel like I might be back with Asheron’s Call for a while. Enough so to wipe the slate (sidebar) clear of all else for the time being. I could always be wrong — but I hope not. Because it’s a very similar feeling to the one I have about the longevity of this blog, compared to my prior efforts.

I may not have understood Isey, Quin and the others that played Project ’99 to the exclusion of all else before. But I do now.

Ding!

Well alright, maybe more than just one ding. I very almost didn’t get a post out at all tonight on account of wanting to extract every moment possible of play until better sense took over and drove me to bed. I made a fair bit of progress — not just in raw levels (although that too), but also in social ties to the server and general preparedness for this character to go out into the world.

Not dead — just resting. Lying down speeds up your stamina and health regeneration. (Mountain Sewer, near Mayoi in the south of Dereth)

I was just sitting in town, sifting through my spells — getting ready to learn the level II variants for that tiny bit more oomf in my hunting — when in local I saw the announcement someone had made a successful 9th tinker on a weapon, followed up swiftly by a 10th.

If you’re unfamiliar — in Asheron’s Call you can tinker with your gear. Up to a maximum of 10 times per piece. You can do a range of things, from adding a rend effect (bypasses some degree of elemental protection) through to increasing a specific resistance on a piece of armor.

Each tinker attempt requires more skill than the last, and being unsuccessful blows the piece of gear in question to smithereens. Now — add to this the knowledge that a weapon rend only ever has a maximum chance of 33% (and so is typically done as the first tinker, to avoid wasting materials) — and you might understand why tinker attempts are broadcast and why it’s worthy of a trot over to where the action is happening (craftin’ action!) to give a hearty congratulations.

(And also jealously inspect the resulting weapon, of course.)

Long story short, we got to chatting and I ended up joining their allegiance (guild). This provides access to a general all allegiance chat channel, along with a chat for my patron (the person I swore personal allegiance to) and his other vassals which I remember being quite good fun in the past with the right mix of people. :)

It seems a lot of the old habits are falling back into place. I lamented in the past on feeling like I’d lost a lot of the social drive in the context of MMOs. I have been far, far more willing to play solo than to even attempt to find a good-fit guild. I just had no interest.

And it isn’t really about ‘need’ either — Asheron’s Call is an incredibly soloable game. I don’t wish for any boost in gear, I want to go through raising myself up off the ground again. So it isn’t access to ‘stuff’ either. My motivation pure and simple was to get access to chat while I play. Later on I expect to join them in higher level play — but that’s a way aways yet.

But that didn’t mean I was opposed to taking an offered round of buffs. Level II spells? Pft! Level VII please! This gives an hour of near Godlike ability. Case in point:

Contrast in this image between the black death horde of the Olthoi and the place they call home might make it a bit difficult to see just how deep in it I am without a click through for embiggening — but actually? Turns out it was fine. Despite the fact that there were still more busy running in at me (as seen in the minimap).

It’s worth noting that levels mean relatively little in AC. The fact these things are 8 levels over me has no direct bearing on my ability to hit them or them me. Rather what matters is the total XP the level represents, and how it is invested.

Since I’m specialised in both Missile Weapons and Melee Defense — buffed to the gills as I was — these Olthoi made for good pickings.

Although that’s not to say it still wasn’t worrisome to see quite that many beelining for my juicy bits. This was in a dungeon called Olthoi Arcade, and I’d already descended several full floors to get here. Death (which would have also resulted in loss of the buffs) would have made for a terrifying recovery run.

In any case — come the end of the buffs I scarpered my way back outside and realised I had a lot of XP to spend. I chose to invest it primarily in my magic abilities to skip over Level II self cast buffs entirely, and jump to IIIs. It is around this point that I typically feel much more comfortable and at home with a character — so even if it isn’t quite optimal to push for it so soon when I’m still having Strength issues (geez arrows be heavy), it was worth it to me. Rest can catch up later. :)

On the power of my own buffs — after spending a fair bit of time waltzing around the map trying to remember who would actually sell me the necessary knowledge for Level IIIs — I carried on my adventures in the frozen north, in a dungeon simply known as the Mite Maze.

At this site — the pyromancer Branith was hounded by Mite Sentries ever deeper into the lair. I’m unclear precisely what happened to him after he was lost, seperated from his party in the maze… But I don’t think anything good, as you can find his Shirt and Staff laying on the ground at certain points within.

I’d spent a small portion of my AC Youth in this dungeon in the past — so I thought it would be a nice place to revisit, perhaps see if some further sign of Branith could be found, but…

AAAHHH! AAAHHHHHHHH! AAAHHH!

Who the hell let Gold Phyntos Wasps in here? The screenshot above is right by the entrance, and I literally had to do an about face and run back outside the first time I popped in. There were TWO of the Golden buggers initially. Just… RIGHT THERE.

Their sting is like ‘Pfft’ even through my measily Level III buffs — but they cast lightning bolts and those hurt.

Still — I managed to plink them down, get my breathing back under control and enter the rest of the maze wherein the Mite’s themselves lived. An enemy I was much happier with.

On the other hand though… It is a well named dungeon. And I got lost. Several times. I used to know this place like the back of my hand — no more it seems.

Buffs running dry I had to call a retreat so I could recast. It was at this point my brain advised the rest of me it was time to sleep, so I agreed to take a quick look at the map and try again tomorrow. (Although tricked myself, didn’t I — cos here I am writing this thing!!)

Anywho, here’s the map. Looks so simple from this view. Ingame you need to track all the twists and turns by memory alone.

Asheron's Call Map - Mite Maze
Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll get to the end.

Oh, if you’re wondering though — I ended the night on level 34 still. It was a near thing to 35 and another skill point — but the next thing I’m purchasing will be Mana Conversion, and for that I need yet another skill point which arrives at level 40. Mana Conversion is a skill that reduces the amount of mana it takes to actually cast something as the primary reason I want it — but secondly it also reduces the rate at which your magically imbued gear sucks its own mana reserves dry.

Handing in one of the earlier dungeon rewards — didn’t quite manage another ding after this one tonight. But given I started at 12 I think this is OK. :D

Thrill of the Hunt

In EverQuest you camp. WoW has you questing. But in Asheron’s Call you go hunting.

Ranging out near the edge of the safe lands. The pillars mark the edge, although it is still a transition and riding the edge can reap some rewards if careful. The pillars themselves also have a backstory — one I hope to uncover again in my travels, as it is lost to me presently.

Hunting takes many, many shapes and forms and can serve a range of purposes. My favourite approach being to roam the terrain. Rather than locking yourself to a specific camp or even area — you strike out and explore.

When I was new to Asheron’s Call this was less ‘ranging’ and more ‘puttering about within eye sight of familiar things’. Staying within a familiar locale grew to patrolling the wilderness around my home — Holtburg — in ever increasing distances. Hugging the natural line of the river became wanting to see what the nearby mountain range was like.

The first time making that next step was terrifying. The unfamiliar terrain could easily render your body full of goodies lost should you die.

But it was also exhilarating in a way I don’t think EverQuest, WoW or perhaps any MMO since has truly captured. Now I admit — Asheron’s Call was my first MMO experience ever. There is an incredible amount of positive bias that goes along with that. But in terms of unconstrained freedom to explore — I think I’m still sticking to the realm of objectivity to sing its praises above the others.

Right — opening this in all its glory is probably a little more complex than it should be unfortunately. But if you right click this link and tell it to open in a new tab or window, you should then be able to zoom in and take a look around at the nooks and crannies of Dereth.

Holtburg is in the North Eastern area of Dereth — the main landmass — resting alongside the North Western end of the river, or almost directly South East of the Crater.

Still — like I said. This was just one form. Creatures do spawn in places that make sense to them. If you had something specific in mind — you could go seek them out. Armadillos for a spine to craft the Sifili of Crimson Stars? Look to water banks.

Great Mattekars1 to craft a set of armor? Head for the hills — riiiight up the hills to the snowy peaks, leaving the valleys far behind.

And then there were dungeons. Some 700+ of them. Many containing their own story to uncover. You can find letters, or whole journals telling a perspective of a larger story. Lore hunts were a thing — looking for additional clues and insights into the stories we thought we knew. Sometimes it was through as small a clue as an inscription on an object. Although some stories were much better known, and personal to the nearby residents.

What I want to do next — is to work my way around the land of Dereth, uncovering the lore I once knew and have since forgotten. Visiting the dungeons, and places, and quests necessary to start reforming the story of this world for myself.

Not everything you find in the wild is out to get you — I came across a Healer living off the land who could sell uncommonly good healing kits.

And hell — maybe in the process remind myself of the grand sense of ‘place’ Dereth offered. From an above ground that made sense, to a below ground that times could be truly oppressive in the feeling of depth created. Some of the Olthoi dungeons in particular I remember feeling miles under ground before I reached the area I felt comfortable with — and yet, I knew from runs where I had friends along for the ride — that there was still much further to go and bigger challenges if I just kept on going.

I’m excited by the prospect of seeing all this again. And I think that without WoW Classic showing me there is actual real value in revisiting these past experiences and that it’s not all just smoke and mirrors or nostalgia glasses? I never would have bothered.


PS: I’m no longer on Coldeve — I’m now on Levistras. Coldeve had a higher nominal population count true. But this was multiboxers and buff/trade bots at least as much as actual players. Levistras has a strict no macro policy, so anyone you run into is actually — you know, a player. :)

Travel Down that Ol’ Town Road

Everquest isn’t the only old school MMO in town with an emulator scene. Asheron’s Call does too. Until recently I’d resisted making any attempt to return. I was alright with just leaving my memories as they were and in the past. To be occasionally plucked to the fore and examined kindly before being put away again for another day.

Until that was, WoW Classic blasted onto the scene. One thing in particular that WoW Classic demonstrated was that sometimes there is value in revisiting what came before. And that the old game worlds can still be played for enjoyment quite successfully.

That in mind, along with the longer-running thread through the community of enjoying Project 99 in all it’s glory, I set out to get myself up and running in AC again.

Getting setup was not too much of an ordeal, I just followed the instructions found here on the GDLEnhanced page. Despite what the instructions say, you can change the paths as you go. Just so long as you take account of the changed paths in subsequent steps. Otherwise though, pay heed to the details in each step as some of them are critical to success!

GDLEnhanced is one of the two major AC Server emulator projects at the moment. The other being ACEmulator — fortunately regardless of which server type you end up on, the instructions on the GDLE page work just fine.

And just like that, I was ready to go on to the character creation screen. (On the Coldeve server, incidentally. It seems the most populated — and I’m not ready for the PvP experience just yet anyway.)

Whoa — where did all the extra playable races come from??? How on earth is THIS explained by lore?

This was the first sign that something was awry.

Now — truth be told, I do have dim memory of this (and the subsequent horror of the changes to the skills on the next page) — being something brought into the ‘real’ AC nearer the end of its life. But I didn’t play very much during this era, and when I did I essentially buried my head in the sand and played existing characters.

But starting fresh I had no choice now but to look at it.

It didn’t feel like my Asheron’s Call any more. It was some undead beast lurching about in AC’s skin. And I already didn’t like it.

Even so — I persisted. I created an approximation of my old Sho Unarmed (now ‘Light Weapons’) build and logged in.

I was greeted with a familiar introductory sequence. It wasn’t there at launch but had nonetheless been a part of the AC I knew and recognised and therefore it was OK. The New Player Onboarding sequence sees you run through a few quick tasks to familiarise you with the systems and how XP is earnt and spent.

One of the last trials of the introductory experience sees you descend into a Young Olthoi hive, to recover an orb of protection.

But all too soon it was over, and I was thrust back into the world.

A sidebar:

Holtburg has ever been my ‘home’ in Asheron’s Call. I’ve bound and lived at other places, possibly for longer times all up than I ever spent at Holtburg. But it doesn’t matter. Holtburg (West, in particular) was where I very first started in Asheron’s Call.

The place I took my first timid steps out into the world around, my awe constantly growing at the realisation there were no ‘levels’ or loading screens.

I never ranged far afield at first, as I ever wanted to be certain I could get back home. Holtburg was safe, and had everything I ever needed as a young player.

Of course eventually, confidence grew — at least sufficiently that I was willing to travel by road to some of the nearby towns I’d heard of. Apparently people were selling elemental weapons in Cragstone, a little to the South.

/ End Sidebar

Right. So here I was, thrust into the world on my new character — and into Holtburg.

But… It was so different. There were too many NPCs. Additional buildings. New adjoining structures. And there was a town portal network, just… there? What happened to having to know your way around the world and where the portal loops of old could take you?

Character creation had been taken from me. Now it appeared Holtburg had too.

Asheron’s Call needed its own ‘Project 99’ it seemed, I was despairing of finding any common ground with this iteration of the game.

Still, not quite ready to logout yet, I ran from town in a southerly direction and soon found myself trotting the well-worn path to Cragstone.

Coming around one corner of no particular note, I was presented with the following sight and my breath caught.

South Holtburg Valley

Now if you’d simply asked me, ‘Do you remember the valley south of Holtburg, toward Cragstone bordering the river and the road?’ I would have said ‘No, not at all.’

You could have further prompted me, ‘It has a hut in it, with a peddler inside’ and I still wouldn’t have been likely to recall it

But seeing it… Oh boy, seeing it.

When you die in Asheron’s Call, there is no map marker or anything else to tell you where your body is. You have to just know, or else be able to find it again. This is a skill you learn over time, especially if you’re hunting in an area you’re familiar with.

But for characters starting out — the best advice I ever received and could hand out in turn was to hunt around a landmark.

This valley? It was a spot my friends and I often guided young players to, and suggested they keep within the bounds of the valley until they were a little more confident. Behind me in the screenshot is a Lifestone — so should they perish, the valley is right there and is a confined space to search.

Across the river in the old spawning rules of the world was slightly higher level creatures than what was in the valley itself, so it offered a natural progression as well.

To see it again, after the despair just moments before, was quite a stab to the feels. And it gave me some hope that maybe I can adjust to the changes made — that the core of the game I loved so much in some fairly fundamental ways is still here.

Still… I’d really love for at least one of the emulator projects to go down the P99 route. Or at LEAST consider stopping before the race and skill change were made. :P

Why Do I Play Games?

This question has been percolating about my brain a bit of late. At least since mid-July in fact. Because The Gaming Diaries covered it then and I’d already been trying to work out just why it was — if games were truly an escape, or a way to relax — that my time spent with them fell through the floor when it might otherwise seem such an escape was so desperately needed.

With Blaugust 2019 officially into ‘Getting to know you’ week, it seems like the perfect time to tackle it.

I think when I left my comment on The Gaming Diaries’ post on the matter, I was looking at it a little too black and white. I don’t think the fact that I have a tendency to pull away from games during times of turmoil really invalidates the reasons I hold for playing them otherwise. Rather, I think there is a limit beyond which games shouldn’t be used as the answer.

A realisation that would have seen me in much greater stead had I realised it earlier in life, no doubt.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little here — I’ll come back to this. First; what do I believe are the reasons I play games?

To De-stress, Decompress and Relax

I’m not an extrovert. I just play one on TV in day-to-day life. Work in particular.

It’s a necessary part of managing and being part of a functional team. But come time to go home, I’m very much ready for some recharge time. To let the issues of the day — whatever they happened to be — slough off into a corner somewhere to be forgotten for a while.

Of course there are family commitments as well so this isn’t always possible during the week. And I can manage that without going crazy pretty well.

But! My Sundays are sacred. No going out bar super special circumstances or emergencies. Not for any religious reasons — but rather for mental well being and ensuring I’ve properly recharged my social-energy batteries before Monday arrives.

Gaming is the main vehicle in which I achieve that recharge.

Social Connectivity

Seemingly in direct contradiction to the prior point — but my friends and I don’t get to visit each other in real life as frequently as we would otherwise like to these days.

We have children, partners, busy jobs and all that other carry on that comes with ‘adulting’.

God I miss some of the people I met in this game. (Asheron’s Call 1)

Instant online connectivity and the ability to share a hobby without spending 40+ minutes travel in either direction is a huge boon.

Over the years I’ve certainly changed my online social habits. And at least in the context of MMOs, I’ve become more and more closed off from creating new meaningful relationships. I now think this is in large part because I approach most games as a ‘BYO friends’.

The blogging community is sort of game-adjacent for the purposes of this discussion, but one enables the other and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

Occasionally, to be Challenged

Both Rakuno and TheRoyalFamily recently spoke to challenging games by and large not being for them.

I understand the point of view, and while I’m not overly keen to admit this — generally I’m in the same boat. I’d much rather the game provide me with the perception of being challenged than actually taking me out back for a swift kick up the backside.

Nooo! Not THIS much challenge! D: (Dark Souls 2: Ruin Sentinels)

Although if a game doesn’t offer even the slightest amount of resistance, then this can be a turn-off too. I ultimately stopped playing Ni No Kuni II for this reason. I believe they’ve since patched in a harder difficulty to address this, but for me at least — the damage is done.

Like Rakuno acknowledged though — there are exceptions. A couple of them we even have in common, namely the Dark Souls series and Monster Hunter: World. Both games quite happy to give you a rapid and repeated what-for. But when the right mood strikes, taking on this challenge — and ultimately beating it — is really quite the rush.

Circling Back Around to the ‘Limits’ of Gaming, then?

Where to start… I guess first, while this actually isn’t the ‘confessions’ style post I was inspired to do by Quin’s Museum of Bad Behaviour post, it could well do a good job of pretending to be. That post is still coming though.

You see, one of my prior blogs was called ‘Modicum of Gaming’. It was so named because some years before that blog, there was a time when I applied very little control to the hours I spent whiling away in some MMO or another. University — and everything else — for a time was taking a backseat, to say the least.

In fact it might be better to say we didn’t even occupy the same vehicle much of the time.

The idea for that blog came about when I happened to capture a random but powerful thought. ‘I don’t want my kids to ever game like I did.’ The follow-up thought for the blog then being to ensure the better balance I’d found was maintained over the long term.

Because that earlier sort of uncontrolled behaviour? That is what using games as an escape can look like.

Now I know, I know- most of the time ‘escape’ is simply being used as a stand in for ‘relax’, or not meant in any fashion more intense than the way one can ‘escape’ with a good book. And that’s fine. I think my brain understands this colloquial difference.

But to this day — seemingly unconsciously until I went through the effort of unpacking it all — there is a certain threshold of seriousness after which I don’t believe games are the right answer, even just for relaxation or temporary escape. Better in these circumstances to face it more directly, have the necessary discussions and get past it that way.

Perhaps I can call this a sign of maturity — in fact, I shall.

Looka’me, supes mature! ;)

Nostalgia and Moving On

Sometimes I feel a bit… Old. Especially when I make realisations like this one: I could probably wax nostalgic about waxing nostalgic. Not quite what we’re here for today though. Isey started a conversation, wondering why nostalgia works. He reaches a conclusion in his post that it might be to do with taking a snapshot in time and freezing it as a memento of the surrounding life conditions and the feelings they evoke.

There is a recognition that we can’t — in most respects — freeze time. But in the context of games and the likes of Project 99 to a greater or lesser extent, you actually can. Here, we might be able to take some control. It’s worth taking a look at the Isey’s whole post for additional context, too.

Asheron’s Call. My own usual trip down MMO-memory lane. (Image Source: Asheron’s Call Archive)

I’m not entirely sure Isey’s conclusion holds true for me. At first, I was sure it didn’t actually. But upon further reflection, there might be an element of this.

Sure, I can recall aspects of my life from the times spent gaming. With some very vivid snapshots in time recalled in short-form but otherwise very complete narrative form even. I remember well my room, it’s layout and contents, the anticipation of the loading/patching ‘tubes’ of loading up Asheron’s Call.

I remember when I had moved out into my first flat and was downloading the Shadowbane beta client (All 600+MB of it) on 28.8k dial-up. And then having it not work. (The Shadowbane beta was very rough.)

These experiences were objectively bad. Long waits. Things not working. Yet even though this is something I recognise looking back at those times now? Yeah, I remember them fondly. In a sort of, ‘I was there’ and ‘Look how far we’ve come’ type way. More about the ‘cred’ of being there ‘back in the day’ than anything else, I think.

But that’s the experiences surrounding the games.

What About the Nostalgia in Actually Playing?

One principle of nostalgia that typically holds true for me is that I need to have experienced the specific ‘thing’ (TV show, game, movie, whatever it is) when it was current.

I get essentially nil nostalgic value out of experiencing something from the same timeframe, even if it is almost identical in look, execution and general approach to something else I did experience at the time.

A good example of this is the ol’ Sierra adventure games. I played and loved the ever-loving heck out of the Quest for Glory series.1 There was a time when I was playing through these every year or two. Yet I never played the King’s Quest or Space Quest games when they were current. I once thought to try them out but I bounced off them almost immediately. My love for QFG remained untarnished, but there was no getting on board with KQ and SQ.

The same holds true of MMOs. You couldn’t pay me enough to spend any serious time in Project 99 from all I’ve heard. Two weeks on a single camp? Level percentages in measured in turn by their own percentages? *Gack*

In an alternate timeline where I played EQ instead of Asheron’s Call though I could imagine being all over it. Or at least… I would love to have the option to be all over it. To know it still existed and that I could jump in at any time and revisit the world I’d known.

“…a stroll around the old neighborhood is plenty. It’s like stopping off in the village where I grew up. Sometimes I do that, when I pass by on my way to somewhere else. Take a wander round, see what’s changed. What hasn’t. Yet. Then back in the car and move on.”

Bhagpuss (2019), Two Weeks in Another Camp: Everquest (Inventory Full)

Bhagpuss nailed it for me with this. Although the gaming equivalent might be weeks or a month — this was how I was treating Asheron’s Call before it’s shut down at the start of 2017. It was a place to visit, look around, remember the history fondly. Play a little. Smile. Move on.

Missing Connections

He’s absolutely right about the modern approach to MMORPG gaming on PC. Compared to the original experience, what we enjoy today is adulterated, fractured, incomplete.

Bhagpuss (2019), There Is No Mystery Left (Inventory Full)

This was said in response to Pete’s post on the topic of finding a happy balance between computer and console gaming. How he is able to achieve a better degree of immersion on console by power of the fact that there isn’t the same ready access to a second monitor, filled with social media ticking by, ready at a moment’s notice to be flicked through.

I know what Pete is talking about, as I’m exactly the same. My second monitor will have some mix of Discord, Twitter and general browsing pages up. Sometimes even a TV show. I find these ‘distractions’ to be a welcome part of the PC gaming experience, though. So I don’t find this breaking of immersion as problematic.

But it did start my mind down another track entirely.

Changes to Social Interaction in MMOs in the Absence of Social Media

I’ve talked about changes in social interaction before, but then I was tackling a perceived shift in my priorities and loss of even openness to forming relationships in MMOs or games fullstop. I attributed this in part to the shifting nature of the games themselves, without much of a look at the external factors.

And to clarify, in this context perhaps actually I less mean ‘Social Media’ as it is understood today and more mean a lack of any ubiquitous communication platform upon which you could aggregate your social contacts.

The effect of this being, as Bhagpuss also said, “…turn-of-the-century MMORPGs were the social media of their day.”

Certainly in my experience, this meant that the relationships you formed — even the close ones — remained exclusively in the confines of the MMO itself, for me this being Asheron’s Call. There didn’t seem to be any real extension of communication to email, or any of the Instant Messenger clients which were starting to pop up in that era.

I looked it up to confirm when writing my comment on Bhagpuss’ post, ICQ came out in November ’96 — so even if not by ’98 when I started into the beta of Asheron’s Call, then certainly by the release late ’99 or shortly after I would have been using it.

So WHY Did I Not Save Those Connections?

I struggle with this question, looking back on things with hindsight. There were friends made, relationships established, that at the time meant a great deal to me. I would now give a great deal to have a do-over in which I didn’t let those contacts slide.

But I don’t recall ever making the effort to ensure the communication could exist standalone from Asheron’s Call itself.

One theory I have is, as I alluded to above, a lack of a ubiquitous platform on which to actually achieve this. I was using ICQ, but this was not common place. Instant Messenger had not taken off as a mainstream concept yet. Then when it later did, there was AIM, ICQ, MSN and any number of others.

Another is that I was simply young and foolish. I was 16 in ’99 when Asheron’s Call entered Retail. I very likely didn’t even give any thought to the possibility of a need to secure channels of communication outside of the game. Asheron’s Call was forever. For me. For you. For everyone.

But some people did drift from the game. People could pass first to days without being /seen, to weeks, to months. There was no Facebook, so those remaining could only speculate on what might have occurred. Sometimes I was the one who would take days, weeks or even months away.

Especially after the transition from Beta to Retail where I had two groups of my friends split and make different decisions on server to play on. My core group decided on Darktide (the PvP server) whereas quite a number of my other friends were going to stay on a PvE server.

I had good intentions of splitting my playtime, but ultimately Darktide won out and my visitation on Morningthaw became more and more sporadic, with less and less of my friend’s list around each time.

Some of those losses are actively painful, and I wonder whether that might also have been at least a tiny contributing factor to my stance on social interaction in MMOs today?

In any case — I am curious, for anyone else who might’ve played back during the EQ / AC / UO era of MMOs, was this your experience too? Or did you make more of an effort to secure communication channels separate from the games? Or was this simply not a concern?