True Love pt. 1

2004 brought a major a major MMO release known as World of Warcraft. It has had a major impact across all of PC gaming and especially MMO’s. In 2004 however, I did not spend my time playing WoW. My attention turned towards and MMO that was released 6 months before WoW (though I did eventually join the fray a couple years later, but more on that later).

In 2004, I was in highschool, sophomore year I believe. I had stopped playing many of the RPG’s I had been playing up till now quite some time ago, and had spent a lot of time playing other online games, both cooperative and competitive. I played a lot of Half-Life mods (Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Opposing Force, Sven Co-op) and was also an avid fan of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six series (Rogue Spear and Raven Shield). These games were largely military based combat scenario’s, with games focusing on variants such as capture the flag, team deathmatch, or terrorist hunts (among many other variants). There was also Halo to play, given programs like XboxLink. While these games consisted of large communities and clan organizations, the interactions between players were limited to matches consisting of 5-10 minutes to occasionally even an hour long. While conversation did take place, it was often something related to what was happening, or casual conversation. Because of the limited engagements of these type of games (aside from clan organizations arranged through websites and forums), I will not address them in any in-depth manner as virtual worlds.

I had a large collection of games. I often made sure to keep them handy for I found myself often struck in the mood for a certain game after watching certain shows or movies. An example of this would be watching a zombie film and then wanting to play Resident Evil, or watching a movie like S.W.A.T and then want to play a squad based shooter.

To the point now. Almost. I had begun watching a new show (anime) called .hack//Sign (pronounced dot hack sign). The show basically revolved around an online role playing game in which the characters in the show would log onto and be represented through their avatars. The main character however becomes trapped inside the game, unable to log off. This left me with an urge to find another MMORPG in which I could play and interact with people in a fantasy world like they did in the show. I kept looking, but nothing I came across featured the level of graphics I had desired. Some that I came across were Flyff, Ragnarok, among others. They didn’t quite fit the atmosphere or art-style I desired. I was looking for anything 3d and styled after realistic graphics. After searching, I finally came across a certain game that was just entering open beta. Lineage 2.

(Screenshot of the original Lineage II Prelude login screen)

Now, I have to say this right up front. Lineage 2 has been my all time favorite virtual world experience. It was the first virtual world where I was actually old enough to comprehend everything around me; the first virtual world to be truly 3d; the first virtual world I was able to fully explore meaningful Clan interactions; and the virtual world in which I have invested the most time. I even hosted my own Lineage 2 servers (though illegal and we’ll touch on that later). Lineage 2 was my first love.

Because of my in-depth experience with this game and it’s vast array of features, I will actually have to break my discussion about it into many segments. In this article I have describe the events leading up to it, and will discuss events during the open beta and some events afterward, as well as the general idea of the game and it’s features. In other articles I will explore these features in depth and recall some of my personal experiences.

It all started with this open beta. I downloaded the client from www.fileplanet.com and began my adventure. Upon opening the game, I was required to create an avatar. I had to chose between five different races. Humans, Orcs, Light Elves, Dark Elves, and Dwarves. Each one had their own back story, and each one started in a different region of the world. I created a human and my first option ws to select either a Fighter, or a Mage. This was the first choice of your “class progression”, as Fighters would pursue classes dealing with ranged or melee weapons, and Mage’s would deal with spells and magic. You made no selection more than this during your avatars creation (very uncommon, and very much missed!). The Fighter and Mage selection affected your characters starting stats, and also the physical appearance of the avatar. Mage’s were shorter and more slender than Fighters for both the human and orc races. For Light/Dark elves, there actually wasn’t a difference. Dwarves could not be mages, however they were the only class capable of crafting to balance this out. I then customized my human fighters hairstyle and face with the limited options available. I say limited compared to today’s standards, but still the ability of even having options was a much appreciated one, and due to the detail of the graphics, and actually meaningful one (also meaningful because helmets are never displayed on your character, so your face is always visible). I created the character with the name of “Quatre” (a name borrowed from my favorite anime series, Gundam Wing), since my other choices were taken (Trowa, Trieze, my preferred Gundam Wing characters). I then finalized the character creation, and clicked enter and was teleported into the World of Aden, where I found myself in a temple on Talking Island.

(It is important to note that many examples I give may no longer be relevant as the game went “free to play” in 2011, and now ALL new characters start on a much revised version of Talking Island).

My Avatar at the original starting point for Humans. This no longer exists this way in the game today.

After leaving the temple I come across fox like creatures called Keltirs. I find that movement is controlled via clicks of the mouse, and I can activate attacks using the F keys. Hold the right mouse down, I can adjust the camera angles. I come to a bridge, and across the bridge is a walled town. I run in and come across more wonderfully designed NPC’s, buildings, oh, and a lot of players. In terms of quests, from what I can remember, it was a bit more limited. A few were offered, but I know I spent a lot of me time exploring and attacking creatures. Each kill granted me experience, and currency known as “Adena” in this virtual world. Every few levels I could run back into town and acquire new skills, though I must stress this was done rather infrequently, as one would gain levels very slowly.

L2spider
(My Avatar battling a spider larger than himself)

Traveling the island, I came across many different creatures and areas. I found the docks which featured a ship that I later came to learn could take us to the mainland. In the hills I came across giant spiders, which I found especially fascinating, as they scared me. The beautiful 3d graphics made it all the worse, but at the same time all the more exciting as I would rush into battle against these creatures I would be terrified of in the real world.  Just beyond this area was a large waterfall that I would frequently venture to the top of and look out across the land. There was also some ruins that led to an underground temple. This area was much more difficult and players often formed at least parties of two to venture into it. It turned out to be the area for a quest around lvl 10 where you were expected to kill so many creatures. I guess you could equate it to a dungeon, but do not get them confused with modern day versions of dungeons. In Lineage 2, everything is open world. Anyone can enter this dungeon, and everyone in it is viewable by you and can interact with you.

(An Original! screenshot of me and a friend at the bottom of the waterfall)

There are probably two key things I should also bring up at this time. After spending a few minutes in town shopping, I ran to the northern gate of town and saw a large group of players amassed just inside of it. I noticed outside of the gate were two players wearing metal armors, one equipped with a dagger and one with a bow. At this point most of us were armed with our starting weapons, and either wearing wooden or no armor. Their Avatar names were displayed in red. I saw a player run right past the group of us standing, apparently he didn’t bother to stop and analyze the situation. Upon leaving through the gate, the two players instantly began to attack, and killed him. Several players starting yelling at the two red named players, saying they were ruining the game and there was no way they could take us all on. The red named players replied with laughter and dared everyone to try. One player ran out, followed by a second, and then followed by a mass. The first two were indeed cut down, but the other 5 or 6 were able to make contact with the red named players, successfully killing one, and the other one fled. The red named player that had been killed now had a white name. He laughed and returned respawned back in town. He then immediately walked back outside the gate and began attacking a player that chose not to pursue the archer. The formerly red players name turned purple, and when the player defended himself his name also turned purple. The formerly red named player defeated the straggler, and after a few moments his name returned to white. The other red name player then returned, having successfully killed every player that had pursued him. I opted to leave town through the West gate.

These acts were what in general are called PvP, or Player versus player. Lineage 2 featured a system in which players names were normally displayed as white. When a player entered combat, whether defensively or offensively their name would turn from white to purple. If two white name players engaged in battle together, both of their names would turn to purple, and any number of players could also engage in battle with them, their names also turning purple. However, if a player proceeded to kill a white name player who never engaged in combat, the player who killed them would now have their name turn red. This would be what is called a Player Kill(PK), and would result in the player killer earning Karma points. The most player kills the player has, the more karma points he receives. A player could obtain a white name through two methods. Killing creatures, or by being killed. Both of these actions would decrease their karma points by a certain amount. The less PK’s an avatar has accrued, the easier it is to return to a white name. The kicker is, as long as a player has a red name, they are at risk of dropping a greater portion of the goods they have on them.

I say greater portion of their goods because every player has a chance to drop items they have on them when they die, even their equipped gear. On one of my journeys around the Island, I came across a dead body with a sword sticking out of the ground next to it, and orc standing over it. Apparently the orc had killed the player, and the player dropped his sword when he died. I ran up and snatched the sword first, and then dispatched of the orc. The player then asked if I could resurrect him (at this level, could only be done via scrolls). I did not have any as they were costly and I never invested into any. The player then asked if he could have his sword back. It was an orcish sword (ironically), several tiers above the sword I currently had equipped, and worth a whopping 64,000 adena (mine was worth about 1,000), while the top tier of the 1-20 gear cost roughly 260,000 adena. After thinking about it carefully, I informed him no, he wouldn’t be getting it back. It was my first run of good luck in this virtual world and would save me several hours if not days of work. The player was rather upset, and respawned (presumably back in town). Fearing a confrontation with the player, and being empowered by my new sword, I felt it was time to attempt the travel to the main land via the boat.

An orc sword I scavenged off a deceased player.

There was technically two methods to travel to the main land. The first method is the use of a Gatekeeper. Gatekeepers allow you the ability to transport to many areas around the land you are currently in, and also to adjacent towns. The costs could range from a couple hundred adena to several thousand. Because talking island was so far from the main land, the cost to transport was 18,000 adena. This may have also been due to encourage players to stay in that area until they were capable of accessing the next area which was roughly meant for players above level 12. The other method was via the ship that would travel between Talking Island and the docks at the town of Gludin. To take the ship you had to purchase a ticket, which cost a couple hundred adena (thus, much more cost effective). The ship was always a very fine journey.

 

The ship actually traveled across the ocean physically. Unlike the airships that transport players in World of Warcraft that simply zone in and out, players sat on the ship for the entire journey. It was especially fun during this beta phase of the game. Being beta, naturally not all of the bugs had been worked out. While the ship would move from left to right in the virtual world, the game wouldn’t always adjust the position of the players on the ship. This would often result in players going “over-board” and being lost at sea (and drowning and having to spawn back in town). The ship quite frequently had 30+ people attempting to make the trip from Talking Island to Gludio, with little more than half making it successfully. Because of the positioning issue, players had to continuously maneuver their characters on the boat to make sure they didn’t fall off. It became a fun game in and of itself. The game would also not always check if you had a ticket, sometimes resulting in a free trip.

Upon arriving at the docks in Gludin, you are able to disembark and run up the hill to the town of Gludin. Here, you have access to a higher quality of guilds, and upon reaching level 18 you are able to gain access to the class change quests which you can complete and change your class at level 20.

I will conclude the introduction to Lineage 2 here. As beta ended, the game moved into its official launch and required a monthly fee. Being a jobless teenager, I had no means to pay for such a thing, and had to stop playing. But my lineage experience doesn’t stop there. In another article I will continue the story of my journey, and in other articles I will describe the many features and concepts I have mentioned here, and many more.

(My avatar wearing the gear I most likely had upon reaching Gludin. At the docks with Gludin in the background)

Before proceeding to part 2, I strongly recommend reading Lineage 2- Private versus Official, where I explain the development of Private Lineage 2 servers and why they were preferred to regular lineage 2 servers. Part 2 and on will refer to my experiences in “Private” Lineage 2 servers, aside from the conclusion (Part 5) that is.

True Love Part 2
True Love Part 3

Mu Online

Mu Online
Developer: Webzen (Korean)
Platform: PC
Release: October 3rd, 2003

Between my Diablo phase and before my next major influence (Lineage 2), I spent some time playing Mu Online (beta). I largely played this with my best friend with whom I had spent a lot of time playing Diablo II with. I had wanted to move to a game that consisted of many more users interacting with each other all at once, more like Runescape and far beyond Diablo II’s limitation of 8. I found Mu Online to be a game with graphics like Diablo II (slightly more advanced), and also allowing hundreds of players to actively be logged on at once and visible on the screen with one another. In one of the main towns alone there could be several hundred users all carrying on conversations and trading their valuables with one another.

Mu-Online-Town

 

As I said, I joined this game during its beta. It only featured 3 classes at the time; A Dark Wizard, a Dark Knight, and a fairy elf (ranged attacks). The top tiers of gear for the 3 classes (in which they looked their best) were red for the knights, blue for the wizards, and white for the fairy elves. Having this armor was a mark of prestige. The game followed closely along the lines with Diablo 2. Using attacks, you kill creatures, gain XP, lvl up, obtain objects (loot) from the creatures you kill, and use it or trade it for other items you would rather have with other players. I spent only a couple months within this world. As it was beta, the amount of things you could do was a bit limited. One feature I quite enjoyed however was the ability to “sit” in chairs or on benches, or to “lean” on walls inside buildings. I know, a small, irrelevant thing, but it was a welcome addition that added to the immersion and visuals of the game. Waiting at the bar, leaning against the wall, waiting for your companion to arrive, the head of your avatar following wherever your mouse cursor was. It gave you a sense of a more in-depth control of your character. This is a feature that is lacking in most MMOs even today that I find quite unfortunate.

Mumore

The Blizzard effect

Around 2001 or 2002, I came across a couple games from a company known as Blizzard. They were called Starcraft and Diablo II. Both considered masterpieces of PC gaming playable as single player games , via a Local Area Network (LAN), or via the internet. Starcraft was a real-time strategy game set in a futuristic world where humans had encountered two other alien species. The humans were called Terran, the aliens Zerg and Protoss. I mention this for it has given birth to some concepts that have consisted throughout gaming culture. While the game featured a single player campaign, it became immensely popular for the online play where up to 8 players could compete in free for all or team based competitive matches. It also featured a campaign editor that allowed players to completely customize the games maps and settings and even afford the opportunity for maps that were completely cooperative. The game became a major source for online competitive play and even featured  leagues that revolved around it (especially popular in Korea). One term that arose from Starcraft was what is referred to as “zerg rush”, “zerging” or just “zerg”. In Starcraft, this referred to a player using the Zerg race, utilizing a strategy that consisted of creating the most basic unit (a zergling) and immediately attacking their opponent. The intention was to attempt to kill the opponent before they were able to produce any units or defense of their own. This slang carried over into other games and was applied to any attempt of a (generally) a group of players attempting to rush their opponents before they have time to prepare. While there are certainly more examples of influences Starcraft has had across all gaming, I’ll leave it at that.

Diablo II, though developed by the same company, was a completely different game. It was a Role-Playing Game where the user was able to select 1 of 5 (7 with expansion) classes and give the character a name. They would then proceed through the games 4 (5 with expansion) “acts” (zones) completing quests given to them by NPC’s. It was fantasy based and set in a medieval sort of world with magic, monsters, and demons (the main protagonist, Diablo, being the Lord of Hell). The game featured random drops of gear of varying value and rarities that were designated by different colored titles for those pieces of gear. Treasure chests, dungeons, all sorts of creatures, and shops to spend your gold in. Another key feature was the ability to play the game with up to 8 other players. While this was largely a cooperative experience, players did have the option to enter into combat with other payers if they accepted it via in-game menu’s. When players beat the game, they were able to play it again on a harder difficulty, and continue leveling their character and obtaining even rarer gear. Players were able to locate each other via chat channels, and also by their games being listed in a public channel based on their location (server) they selected before entering (my memory only recalls US East and US West (this system was also used in Starcraft)).

Both of these games contributed heavily to LAN gaming, as well as online gaming. We can see the  success of both of these titles cumulating in the online phenomena known as World of Warcraft, which I will address later. As mentioned above, they also served as inspirations for many other future games, in the RPG genre as well as the others. The Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft series have all elevated Blizzard to  be perceived as one of the best game developers in the world.

Games by Blizzard: Starcraft+expansion, Starcraft 2+expansion (and 1 more due), Diablo, Diablo II+expansion, Diablo III (incoming expansion), Warcraft, Warcraft 2, Warcraft 3+expansion, World of Warcraft+4 expansions.

As for my experiences, while I joined both games later than their release dates (both had had their expansions released by the time I got to them), they were still extremely hot titles and far from dropping in popularity. Starcraft I largely played online. I became quite fond of developing my own maps, and mostly only played UMS (Use Map Settings) games, as these were the ones that completely customized the games parameters and offered unique forms of cooperative play. Through hosting games and sharing my maps, people began to initiate conversations with me and enjoyed my work, and thus I was invited to a clan. Thus my interactions within the Starcraft community was largely with map makers and users looking to play cooperative games.

I approached Diablo II later, and actually got into it with a couple of friends from the physical world. We played online together, leveling, doing quests, and securing rare gear. I also played with a few friends from the Starcraft community. Most of my time was spent progressing myself however as my friends preferred to play utilizing the “open Battle.net” servers, which allowed you to use your offline characters online, which allowed you to utilize “hacks” to modify your characters stats and gear. This led to competitions between my friends and others online for who could find and utilize the best hacks in player versus player (PVP) combat. I preferred the “closed battle.net” servers, which restricted you to only using characters that you created to be used on their servers, those “closed” meaning you had to be on their servers and utilize those characters. They could not be accessed offline. This is how most MMO’s are done now-a-days, requiring you to connect to their servers to access your characters. This was a feature many liked as it created an environment where you could use their characters offline and then with your friends in open battle.net, or simply utilize closed battle.net and be on equal standing with all others. LAN users obviously could not use closed battle.net, however they could use open battle.net.

On another note, these featured options were sadly removed with the release of Diablo 3 over 10 years later, and required all users to connect to Blizzard’s servers in order to even play single player (called DRM, digital rights management). This caused Blizzard’s fans a large amount of distress as this meant players could no longer enjoy this extremely popular title on their own terms, with Blizzard standing on the grounds that this prevented people from pirating the game. However, this is a discussion on another topic, and only majorly impacts gaming several years after the release of Starcraft and Diablo II.


(A screenshot of Error 37. This error was so widespread it has become synonymous with  not only Blizzards greatest misstep, but is commonly referred to when any game now has a server failure at launch, generally connected to too many users trying to access a network that cannot handle the load. The latest example at this time I experienced was Late August-early September 2013 with the Launch of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. More on that later).