A-Tractor

Slightly before Runescape there was another online world I participated in. The game was called A-Tractor. Its name was deriven from the fact that you start out in the game with a tractor. It was more or less an open world economic game. The user-interface was game client based, and was rendered in 3d. As soon as you logged in, you yourself are represented in the game in a tractor. Your character has needs in the form of thirst, hunger, and fuel. To decrease the amount of food and drink you need to consume, you have to purchase a house and stock it with food. You can purchase your house or obtain the skill from the school. The game servers are called worlds, and you can log into any world and your characters are unique to each world with their own inventories. The worlds last as long as the owner of the world keeps the particular game, or “season” to equate it to sports. The world I played on was called Zion, hosted by Zaruba.

In the game you could acquire skills, get jobs at other players buildings, earn income, and spend it either on your own businesses or goodies produced by others businesses. To start out a world, Zaruba would create a few “Government owned” buildings. A bank, which was a place for users to store their funds in an interest baring account; A school which provided 1 free skill to the user, and sold the rest. Skills could be building houses, agricultural buildings, industrial buildings, towns, or various working skills.

Personally, I would start out by entering the world, learning Build Housing as my first skill, and build my own house. This action also consumed resources (a few of which we started with). I would then proceed to use my only skill and remaining lumber and whatever other resource was required to build houses to build more, and mark them as “For Sale” so other players could buy them. Players could build farms which produced resources like lumber or corn, this corn would be consumed by manufacturing that created food out of these resources. This farms themselves required fertilizer, thus creating a system where every building was dependent on another. By hiring workers and supplying a wage, the buildings would receive a bonus in production. Owners of buildings could not have produce items from one building and put it in another one they owned. The game marked them and was aware when players attempted to do this. This prevented them from having monopolys. Instead, players had to mark their wares for sale, and have to rely on players buying the goods from one building, and selling the goods into another at whatever rate the owner put the “buy” prices at. Naturally, they would have to set their buy and sell prices that made it worthwhile for a player to complete the transactions for them. Thus a full economic system. I was never aware if there was a limit of the amount of consecutive users that could be online at one time, but the worlds did have a few thousand users each.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I returned to A-tractor to try my hand again at an economic based online world. I had previously played Zion II, and quit before its completion. I was one of the top 10 players. When I returned, it was now Zion VII (the 7th world/season), and just so happened to be a remake of Zion II. I adopted the same strategy of building and selling houses to players. When I had obtained the funds, I moved to producing buildings within my own town. Towns were required before buildings could be built, and the owner of a town could set the taxes. I became a formidable player in the economic world not only by building up all the agricultural, industrial, manufacturing, and retail buildings I could (forming monopoly’s and relying on help from individuals to bypass the inherent monopoly protection, but also taking advantage of a particular feature of the game.

Every so often buildings would appear for sale for only 10% of their actual cost. For example, houses defaulted at 250s, yet would go up for sale automatically for 25s (s standing for shillings. Shillings and pence were the currency in the game). I came to realize these buildings were going on sale because their owners had perished in the game. They would perish because they would either lack food, or not have logged on for 14 days. I also came to found out there was a command you could type to find out the last time a player had logged on. I began to take note of which players had not logged on for extended periods, and in exactly 14 days, their property would automatically go up for sale for only 10% of their cost. I would set alarms to warn me and log on at these times and buy up all of their property, must of which I would then resell for their full value.

Then the owner announced there would be an auctioning of the government buildings, which would put every building in the game in control of the players. At this point I was by far the richest players (our wealth was displayed in leaderboards). At this point I started looking for a way in which I could make this benefit me. I already  owned versions of every government building (accept a bank, which provides no benefit to an owner anyway). Our of the 10 towns that existed in the world, I owned 6 of them.  1 was government owned, and 3 were owned by other players. I concluded that  only a few players must of invested the funds into the skill to build towns (it cost 2500s, and was rather quite costly). Again, using a in game command, you could see every player that had learned certain skills. The list only had 4 individuals with the skill, and only one of them was a current player, me. I quietly outright bought two the the towns by offering their owners double what it cost to build them (so, 5000s each). And set my eyes own the government town itself, and the school- the only building in the game offering the “build town” skill. Come the government auction, I was easily able to outbid all the others. A day later I obtained the final town because it’s owner hadn’t logged in for 14 days. Upon obtaining the government school, I quickly removed the “build town” skill from the school. Not only was I the only player who owned towns in the world, but now I was the only player who could build them as well.

The world owner, Zaroba, had 1 rule. Never to interfere with the state of the game. I had legitimately taken complete control over the entire world (Oh yeah, by owning towns you could also disallow building). Players realized my scheme too late, and were in an uproar. Zaroba laughed, and quickly broke his own rule, not only building another government school, but offering the build town skill for 1s. I complained, pointing out I did everything within the rules, but he pointed out it wasn’t time for the world to end (we were only a month into its 3 month span). I conceded, and went about my business. I ended up winning that season with a wealth greater then the three players below me combined.

I have written this post for two reasons. First, to talk about an economic based open world, but also as a self reflection… It seems I only excel at games by playing outside the intended parameters, and exploiting flaws within the game. I wonder how this reflects upon me as a person really. A digital yet physical thief in Runescape, a vicious business man utilizing commands and scheming dominance in ways that weren’t meant to be allowed, and you’ll see one of my stories from Lineage 2 also relied on an exploit for me to make an impact. Hrm…

This game still exists in the form of “The Universal”. A-tractor evolved into “The Universal”, and can still be played today. www.theuniversal.net. Information about A-tractor is surprisingly difficult to find, and I wasn’t even able to find screenshots.

First Contact- Runescape

Roughly 10 years after my first taste of the RPG game Crystalis, I found myself in the public library. At the time broadband internet wasn’t very common, and was considerably more expensive than dial-up, and it was still going to be many more years till I could talk my parents into why dial-up was inadequate. I would browse the internet and play flash based games on the few computers the library and enjoy their marvelous broadband connection. There was also an older group of teenagers that would frequent the library. As they were older than me I would never engage in any interactions with them, however one day one sat down on the computer next to me and began playing a game. I kept looking over to his screen whenever I was sure he wouldn’t notice me. What I saw was something like this:

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I was intrigued. As I observed I notice he was able to make his character move around on the screen by clicking with his mouse. Now, this alone wasn’t particularly amazing. I of course had played PC games with interactive user-interfaces, controlling units or characters (Starcraft would be a good example), but it was the other parts. He had a sword, a shield, and a wizards cap. He was engaging other humanoid characters in fights. And the part that interested me the most (once I realized) was he was playing with the person sitting across from us.

I noticed they were both appearing on the same screen, but they had their own screens to play from. Given at the time that split-screen was the most common form of multiplayer (at least in what I had experienced up to that point) I became quite intrigued. I notice the chat box in the lower left hand corner of the screen where they were communicating with one another, what they said appearing over their characters heads (we were in a library after all). It no longer mattered that they were older or that they were dressed funny, I had to inquire. “Are you playing co-op?” I asked. They laughed. That was it, the moment I was introduced to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs).

Runescape_Classic_Login

They explained it all to me. The website to go to. How to log in. How to create a character. And directed me where to go starting out. They also taught me how to contact them in the game if I needed help (I cannot remember if it was called whispering, private message, or tell at the time, but I *think* it was private message – That is, sending a message directly to a single person in the game who isn’t currently in your area). I was hooked.

In towns there were dozens, if not hundreds of people around me. Dozens of conversations occurring simultaneously in chat, or dozens of people carrying on a conversation. Players advertising goods they wished to sell or buy. There were also individuals looking for friends, and even boyfriends and girlfriends. Hundreds of people interacting all at once with a variety of tasks. This wasn’t anything like a chat room. We were able to “see” one another via our own avatars. We could put certain armors and clothes on, wear hats, and most importantly, run off on an adventure together if the mood struck us.

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It wasn’t just the player interactions though. The amount of things we could pursue were also amazing. Of course there were many quests to complete given by computer controlled characters (NPC’s). We could go out and attack evil creatures, or kill innocent farm animals and acquire meat, which we could then cook by creating a fire, or venture into a nearby house and use a stove. The more we fought, the more we cooked, the more magic we used, the more experience we would gain in those areas. All the while we could acquire currency which we would use to purchase more advanced weapons and armor (that is, if we weren’t so lucky to have the armors drop for us from creatures we killed). We didn’t have to rely on currency to purchase items as 1.) They could be dropped by creatures (mobs) as I stated, and 2.) You could go mining to acquire ore, then go a furnace to smelt the ores into bars, and then craft the bars into gear (adding several more activities a player could pursue).

As far as I remember, the levels of gear were ranked Bronze, Iron (dark grey), Steel (light grey), Mythril (dark blue), Adamantium (green), and Rune (light blue). Between these pieces of gears, and the levels of our characters, you could get a sense of how strong a player was and how much they played. Acquiring Rune gear early on in Runescape was a great achievement. The stronger your gear, the more damage you could produce and receive.

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(Update: This screenshot reminds me there is also a black set of armor too)

The world itself was of a medieval fantasy setting. Castles, towns, wilderness, deserts, caves. The world was inhabited by humans, trolls, giants, beasts, spiders, and your typical mix of creatures. There were shops to buy your items, Inn’s to congregate, buildings to train in, and random houses in place to create the atmosphere of a town. Usually you could find players within them pretending they were there house. All players (at the time of my playing) could only be human. And combat was largely automatic, as you would only select your “type” of combat (aggressive, controlled, accurate, or defensive), and watch your character win or lose the fight.

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Players could also interact by attacking one another. When I began playing it seemed a new adjustment had just been made to the game. Previously, you could attack players outside of any town. Now, player combat was limited to the “Wilderness”. An area on part of the world where once you crossed into it, players could freely engage you in combat. Alot of times you would see a large group of players standing on the border. They would quickly cross the line, attempt to kill someone weaker than them or fleeing another player, and hop back across the line if they became endangered themselves.  I remember one fortuitous moment when the game servers crashed for a moment, forcing all players to log back in. Even though the servers had crashed, combats that were in progress were resolved, and there were piles of items all around marking where players had just died. I quickly ran across the line and picked up all the pieces I could, and ran back out as other players moved in to pick up items themselves, or attack weak players that had been so bold. I cannot remember if dropping the items you carried was a feature of death, or limited to only the wilderness.

One particular moment I’m not so proud of: The game became more and more popular, and more and more of us at the library would begin to play the game. Technically you could only sign up for the computers in 30 minute blocks, however if no one else was signed up after you, you could remain on the pc. With the growing popularity of the game among the kids at the library however, it became a battle to obtain PC time. It escalated to such a degree that the library had to program the computers to automatically log off a user after their block of time was used up. This is however besides the point, I just wanted to convey that the game was popular in the library. One day another kid was playing beside me. We were familiar with each other, though I cannot recall his name. He was a year or two younger than me. While playing, I suggested we try playing each others characters for a bit. I did this because I had ill intentions. He accepted, and the only reason I can fathom that he accepted was to try his own hand at misdeeds. So the contest began, we had to figure a way to outwit the other player and take advantage of using their character. Now, in games now a days, it would have seemed natural to want to try using another persons character as they are diverse, often have different classes and abilities, however in Runescape these features did not yet exist. Our characters were the essentially, with slightly different gear. His character in particular had a sword I envied, a Rune Longsword. The moment came, his little brother was calling him over for something. He got up and left the computers. I was now playing his character unmonitored. I quickly sent a message to my female accomplice to meet me in town. She arrived and I quickly traded the sword on his character to her and told her to move away so he didn’t notice her. I then got back on my computer and character and continued to play. He came back and noticed I was back on my computer, and ran to his seat and checked his inventory. He yelled “Give it back!” as he turned to me angry. I replied “give what back?” “The sword you took!” I denied having his sword and freely showed him my inventory. The sword in question was nowhere to be found in my inventory. I logged off and set off to head home, however he pursued me outside the library. I had bested him and obtained his valuable sword, however I had done so outside the parameters of the game. He kept insisting I give it back, I said no and got on my bike to leave. He quickly grasped the handlebar and noticed the hand grip slid right off. He now had something of mine. This left us in a stalemate for a bit. I kept saying he was stealing my property as he was holding it in his hand, he had physically taken something from me, whereas I had only stolen from him virtually in a game. He said he saw no difference and wouldn’t return it until he received his sword back. I was unsure how to proceed. I needed my hand grip, because it wasn’t mine, it was my fathers bike. He would notice it was missing and I would be in trouble. However, I wanted the sword, and besides I may not even be able to get it back at this moment. I didn’t have it, my accomplice did. Ultimately the decision was removed from my hands as his mother pulled up in her vehicle. She began to yell at him as she had already been waiting 20 minutes for him to come out so they could leave (that’s why his brother had called him over to begin with). I was scared. Now an adult was going to become involved and I would be punished for stealing. He turned to his mother and began to complain how I stole his sword in the game. It was out in the open now, I was a thief. I looked anxiously to see what his mothers response would be. Would she make me give it back? Would she report me to the librarians? Would she tell my parents? She didn’t even look at me. “I don’t care about your stupid game! Get in the car now we’re going!” Stunned and defeated, he dropped the hand grip and got into the car. I had succeeded! A virtual theft didn’t matter at all. At least, not to a mother who needed to get home and prepare dinner. I hurried home, logged on and obtained the sword from my accomplice. I thanked her and told her I would give her and her sister a call later. They lived around the block.

I shared this story because it involved my first forays into the concept of virtual ownership, and is my most significant experience of the real and virtual worlds colliding within my Runescape experience. Perhaps I will expand on this later.

As for Runescape, it was a wonderful time. I played with a few real life friends occasionally, but none of them were able to play as much as I was or get as far as I could. After a year or so of playing, I became bored with Runescape as the game grew more complicated and I moved on to actions shooters such as Half-Life and its modifications and Tom Clancy’s rainbow Six series, and eventually Halo.

Runescape still exists today. It has undergone several upgrades and is now referred to as Runescape 3. Just as it was then, it is a browser-based client (which is why it was so widely accessible) and sports thousands of users on its servers. It has reportedly had 200 millions accounts registered since it’s creation. I never played beyond what became known as Runescape Classic once Runescape 2 was released. The game was upgraded with more 3d graphics (no longer 2d sprites for characters/monsters) in an attempt to compete with other MMORPG’s being released.

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Runescape certainly wasn’t the first MMORPG as their existed some such as Everquest or Ultima, however it was the first I came across and helped shape my expectations and perspective from that point on.

In the beginning…

Now, first I must stress where these stories are coming from. Obviously I haven’t been jotting down notes my entire life. This first post will in fact be my first memory of my favorite NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) game, Crystalis. I was roughly three years old at the time. So this story is coming purely from my memories. I am well aware that they may be skewed or possibly altered from reality, but the best I can do is recite them the best I can remember them. Besides, it is in the manner that I have perceived them, whether true or false, that has shaped my perspective today.

So, as I already revealed, my first virtual world experience that I treasured was in the NES game, Crystalis. I remember I was at my grandmothers house, meant to spend the night there when my father called and told me over the phone he had come home with a new game (he came home from college on the weekends I believe it was), and I was excited to play it so he came and got me.


Crystalis was a game released in 1990. The story revolved around a world that had arisen from the ashes of a great nuclear war. Technology had led to mans downfall, and in the post-war era, technology and science were shunned. This led to a revival of magicians and magic. However all is not well as a powerful magician begins to use technology and combine it with his magic. Establishing his fortress from within a floating tower, he begins to forcefully bring the world under his rule, creating the Draygon Empire. To combat him, several magicians unite and forge four swords based on the elements- Wind, Fire, Ice, and Thunder. By combining the four swords they could then forge the ultimate weapon, Crystalis. Draygon learns of this plot, obtains the swords, and unable to destroy them, scatters them across the world.
Broken and defeated, the magicians look to records of the Great War and learn of a great magician that was imprisoned in a cryogenic freezing. Using the last of their power, they revive him. You play the role of this hero, your first action is to input a name, for your character has lost all of his memories. You must find the swords, forge Crystalis, and defeat Draygon.

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The world of Crystalis was quite pleasing at the time, and in today’s settings I find it wonderfully simplistic. There are several towns you can come across, some poor, some simple, some in ruins. Each town generally has various item shops and inn’s, as well as many homes of residences of which you can enter and talk with the local inhabitants. Different environments are also featured as you go from your standard forest/field layouts, dark caves, snowy mountains, and even swampy jungle areas filled with poisonous clouds and killer insects. As you progress, you obtain coins which you can use to purchase better armor and items. You also find items, as well as the swords, which used with your magic make up your arsenal. Each sword is attached to a certain element, and can launch a ranged attack based on that element. There are also added bonuses such as Wind breaking stone walls, and Water forming ice bridges.

 

Outside of towns the lands are dangerous as mutated creatures lurk in every direction. This ranges from slime creatures to bats, to boar like humanoid creatures throwing axes at you. The list can go on and on (snow zombies that rise from the snowy earth). While the world mostly consists of only humans and these beasts, you also come across a race of small folk from the village of Oak, cut off from the rest of the world due to the poison swamp/jungle. There is also the village of Amazones which consists of only women and seems to reflect Amazons, though they still appear to be human. You also befriend a dolphin who you can ride across water.

 

The joy came from exploring all of these towns and interacting with all of the characters. Gaining experience points and levels, eventually becoming strong enough to defeat certain foes easily, while becoming immune to others. The excitement of walking into a new environment and facing its obstacles was so much different from the other games I had played at the time (mainly Mario and excite bike). While at the time I couldn’t understand much of what was going on, it all became clear when I purchased the game myself about 5 years later and beat the game myself without the aid of my father. Even then it still amazed me. And when the gameboy color release for it was announced, I instantly bought it up and beat that too (There were distinct differences between the two story wise, as Nintendo edited the game, but as an experience, this matters not). And still it thrills me to play it, as I more recently bought the game, now for a 3rd time, and placed it in a protective sleeve (complete in box) and have it sitting in my game collection.

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While certainly not the most advanced game I have ever played, it is the one closest to my heart, as it introduced me to the Role-Playing Game (RPG) Genre.

A lot of information about this game can be found on this website http://tpb68.tripod.com/tom.html. Despite the site being one hosted by a free service, it’s actually well put together and the information is valuable and accurate. I have accessed it many times over the years and would like to extend my thanks to its creator.