True Love Pt. 2

(Part 1 here)

As the subscription model barred me from continuing my existence in Lineage 2’s official servers, I delved into the underground, finding private Lineage 2 servers. As mentioned in the Private-versus-Official article, these servers were operated by individuals not associated with NCsoft, could manipulate the way the game operated, and could also make a profit by offering donations to the users. I had found my home on one of the first private servers to utilize Official server files. This server was known as HSC, or Hell Spawn Clan. The server owner, Duante, had begun his server using the L2j format (read Private-versus-Official article for a breakdown of that), and redid the entire website and server when he obtained the leaked Official server files. Now I was able to play the game like it was meant to be played, however at 5 times the normal rates.

By this time I had also recruited one of my best friends into highschool into playing Lineage 2. We both started our new Lineage 2 paths as Humans, again heading out into this bright new world on Talking Island. His avatar was named “Ferrath”, and I had stuck with “Quatre”. His avatar was a mage, and mine a warrior. As soon as we were able, we quickly formed our own clan. It was named “Chaos Legion”. We quickly advanced through the levels and acquired many guild mates along the way. At level 20 I became a Knight, while Ferrath became a wizard. We were progressing about on average with the other players in the world. Some played for much longer than we were able and were far more powerful than us as a result. The server owner also led his own clan within the server, and managed to capture the first castle, Gludio, with the majority of his clan mates around level 40. While this was highly suspicious that so few players at such a low level could take a castle so early, it was left largely unquestioned as Gludio was the smallest castle town, and he was the server owner after all. People thought it better that he take the weakest castle for himself rather than a more powerful one such as Giran.

Our clan grew steadily as our avatars progressed through the game. What was most interesting was our connections to other clans. Due to HSC being one of the first “official” private servers, it had attained a huge amount of popularity and attracted large populations from all over the world. This lead to ethnic war-fare in the servers! Lines were drawn in the sand between Brazilian players, Russian players, German players, Portuguese, and others! This led to many fights happening in the virtual world, many players attacking others on site if they did not bare the same clan as they were in. The language players spoke was also a give away. Chaos Legion was one of the first clans to obtain clan level 3, and we did so by buying the item required that had a low drop rate, spending a considerable amount of money to do so. By this time Ferrath and I had both achieved level 40 and progressed our classes to their final stages. I had become a Dark Avenger (a tank class featuring debuffs that was also able to summon a panther companion), and Ferrath had become a Necromancer (a DPS class focusing on debuffs and summon minions to aid him). Unfortunately, Ferrath soon stopped playing stating his mother would not allow him to play games that dealt with Demons due to her faith (on a side note, he was also barred from playing Halo, as the aliens were demons in her eyes). This left the management of the clan up to me. Through my experiences in the games, I had formed connections with the leader of the most powerful German clan. I had established this before ethnic wars had really come into being. Krycera and his Myrmidons remained loyal allies to those of us in Chaos Legion despite that we were Americans and they were Germans. This cultivated into our attempt to siege the castle of Gludio. I had amassed a large alliance of clans from both American clans and Krycera’s European allies, and we were set to attack the server owners castle, who naturally also had many friends. Unfortunately, the night we were to assault the castle, I was stuck in an outing with my family… By the time I arrived home the siege was already an hour and a half in, and our forces had been decimated without leadership. Duante’s forces had planned a cunning attack by hiding his forces outside the castle and in the river which surrounded it. As Krycera stood up and took lead, Duante’s forces emerged from the water and attack Krycera’s forces from behind, taking them by surprise and ultimately making taking the castle impossible. Luckily, this loss wasn’t a severe blow to anyone involved as taking on the server owner was more of a statement than an attempt to actually win the siege.

There were many other interesting instances and characters I came across in my time in HSC. I had come to form friendships with two people in particular, Fresh and Rajah who were my clanmates. I also formed friendships with the servers most economically successful Dwarf and his brother, their names were Ruff and IamApple. I still have contact with Fresh, Ruff, and IamApple to this day. Ruff was a dwarf, the only class capable of crafting, and had dominated the market in producing soul-shots and spirit-shots (consumable items that greatly enhance each attack), and became the go-to guy for all crafting needs. He even extended me a line of credit in the form of crystals I needed to obtain my C grade sword. Sadly, he later became banned for utilizing multiple accounts. It was discovered that he had multiple characters logged in, all dwarfs, set up to sell the much desired soulshots in each town. While helpful to players, it was not allowed on this server for players to use more than 1 character at a time, and Ruff being one of the most well-known players on the server, was banned to set an example. A bit later he was allowed to return, though all his previous accounts had been deleted, destroying his vast wealth and collection of items. Ruff named his new avatar “TheReturnofRuff”. Fresh and Rajah became my right and left hands. Fresh was a treasure hunter and Rajah was an Elven Elder. We spent many months partying together and taking on various challenges in the game. As a guild, we were able to successfully defeat Cruma tower’s “Core” and “Orfen” of the Sea of Spores. These bosses were later named Raid Bosses, like most MMORPG’s now a days, but back in the day they were simply known to be bosses and didn’t require the label.

The biggest advancement that came about during my time on HSC was the introduction of “C2” graphics. “C2” stood for Chronicle 2. Lineage 2 released it’s content updates (expansions) in the form of Chronicles. While the server wasn’t able to have a lot of C2 features as it was using hacked servers based off Prelude and C1, it was able to allow us to use the graphics. These graphics weren’t updates to the graphic system, rather updates to the textures of gear. In C1 not all of the armor pieces and weapons were given unique textures as not all of the content was done. The items could be obtained, but would feature bland appearances or be copying lesser quality items textures. With the release of C2 textures, we all became amazed at just how beautiful these items now looked. In lineage 2, all armors and weapons were pre-determined with names and stats, there was no randomization of the gear like in newer MMO’s. Each set of gear was assigned a letter rank. No-grade being the worst, and (at the time) B-grade being the highest (the game has now moved to S-rank and beyond). The textures had only been set for No-grade and D-grade. C2 brought us new visuals for C-grade and B-grade. Within these grade’s you also new what sets were available within them, there was no guessing. All of No-grade through mid D-grade were available in the shops. Each class generally had access to a low-grade, mid-grade, and top-grade set within each ranking. In the city of Giran, players could also obtain low C-grade and mid C-grade gear by exchanging crystals (which required a dwarf to break items down for, and creating another market). Anything above mid C-grade had to be either crafted or dropped from creatures. Both of these methods required going out and slaying specific creatures which had a low chance to drop the crafting materials, and an even lower chance of dropping the actual item (we’re talking .001% chance for a top C grade item here). Because of the rare chances of obtaining this gear, and the distinct appearances of it, players were able to set themselves apart by wearing it. Unlike MMO’s like World of Warcraft where it’s hard to tell what an item is just by seeing it on an avatar, in Lineage 2, everyone either knew what the item was and the amount of status to assign it’s bearer, or would immediately ask the player wielding it and then would know.

I myself had become a rare item collector and amassed a lot of these items. I eventually quit playing on HSC as my clan dwindled and the server became overcrowded. I was sadly never able to claim a castle of my own (only 5 existed at the time), and lost interest in progressing with the community. I ended up selling the majority of my rare items to Rajah for cash.

A few months later another Lineage 2 server was announced that was using the latest features available on official servers. This server was called L2 Extreme (L2x), and featured 2 servers, one using 7x rates, and another using 35x rates. Intrigued by the aspect of starting over on a fresh server and the increased rates (HSC was only 5x), I gathered up a few of my HSC buddies and we set out to reform Chaos Legion on this new server. With me I brought Fresh, Thimbelina, PlatinumV25, and Adamyy (just the ones I can remember off the top of my head). We quickly set out in the world, pursuing the paths we knew to increase our efficeny. Again, I was the Human Fighter Quatre, and I quickly ascended to Knight hood and then to Dark Avenger status once again. This server offered more donations than HSC did, and one of the things you could do was donate cash to bypass the 2nd class change question (so for me, that would be Dark Avenger). The server also allowed you to use adena (the game currency) to purchase the items instead of competing the quests. As such, donators and dwarves were the first ones to change classes, while I had to power through the long, excruciating quests. We still managed to keep pace however and were one of the first 5 clan’s to achieve Clan Level 3, and this time by obtaining the item ourselves. Like on HSC, ethnic tensions were high, except not as divided. It basically came down to Russian’s, Brazilians, and everyone else. It may be important to note that Brazilians and Russians are still among the most dedicated Lineage 2 audiences to date. While we progressed at a very good pace, we met a few hiccups along the way. First of all, the GM’s were not particularly good GM’s (Game Masters, users with the ability to ban users, grant items, spawn mobs, etc. Think “god” like users). One in particular, Xara, was not to fond of Fresh and I. We were outspoken players not afraid of punishment dealt out by biased and unfair GM’s. In one particular incident, Chaos Legion had signed up to Siege Dion castle, and Xara had shown up and claimed that the castle was bugged, so instead of fighting the guards she would spawn other things for us to fight. She ended up spawning hundreds of “Kariks”, high level creatures that we were unable to defeat. Because of this, we were unable to take the castle, and we voiced our frustration. Xara however had made the mistake of arguing with us in public, and with so many witnesses, was unable to discipline us as she had intended. The server owner, Schmee, was well known for giving out items and favors to people he preferred, it was later exposed that female users in particular were able to get bonuses in the game for interactions via webcams.

Again, we were never able to acquire a castle. My clan never grew to the size and strength of the other major contenders. The most powerful clan was one that formed later in the servers life. They were called MERC, and were a group of the servers most powerful characters who had left their guilds to form their own organization. They would aid any party who paid their fee’s, and used this wealth and power to acquire the most powerful castle in the game, Aden. I was friends with their leader, Ashe, who would offer me discounts for his services.

I had quit HSC out of the decline of long time players and increasingly new, foreign players. On L2x it was quite a different story. The servers economy had suffered extreme inflation due to the length of time the server was up, and the lack of money sinks available in the game world. As such the cost of items sky-rocketed, and obtaining anything higher than mid C-grade was a heavy financial burden (as drop rates were too low to count on, and crafting materials also sky rocketed in price). I myself had amassed a healthy fortune, and acquired a rather unique weapon through trades and purchase. It was a Sword of Damascus +10. This was a top B-grade sword that had been enchanted 10 times. Any item enchanted past +3 only had a 60% chance at success. This sword had survived 7 of those 60% chances. At the current market price, it was valued at 3 billion adena. That was an amazingly vast amount, and it was an equally incredible sword. So why would I quit with such a rare and unique item? Well, the server owner and GM decided to step in and fix the inflation problem by introducing an “A-grade” item shop (A-grade had recently been introduced). Instead of having to receive the drops or craft the items, players would be able to purchase them from a “GM” shop. A “GM” shop is a shop added to the game as an extra to sell items that would not normally be available. This shop featured the top A-grade sword at a mere 300 million adena. Because it was A-grade, its base stats were far superior to the base stats of my B-grade sword, and the A-grade sword could be enchanted to only +3 and match the stats of my sword. So my sword went from being worth 3 billion adena, to only 300 million. Because of this, I quit.

I wasn’t the only player to become very distraught by the admins overreaching their roles. Many of us got together and formed PK raids. I had already developed a character for the pure purpose of killing others. He was a Hawkeye class (archer) and was named Trieze. I was able to rack up over 600 player kills on him. Though He was meant for killing players, I always avoided killing the same player more than once, and would often compensate players financially if I felt I had overly inconvenienced them. This also stemmed from the fact that I was intentionally going into lower lvl areas and murdering weaker players than myself. I did this so it would take longer for higher level characters to reach me, and when they did reach me, they would be scattered and easier to pick off. I did not use Trieze however in this series of PK raids. I was lent a much more powerful elven archer for which I only had to supply the gear, which was easily obtained thanks to the new GM shop. Generally players would not use their best gear on characters meant for Player Killing, as with Lineage 2’s karma system there was a high chance you would drop he gear upon your death. This is why players often pursued player killers; not to distribute justice, but in hopes of killing them and obtaining high level gear. We however did not care at this point, and were armed to the teeth. We began our raid in a lower level area known as Cruma Tower. We chose this location because it was like a maze inside, and densely populated by players as it was a popular leveling area. Better still was the fact that it had 3 separate levels which you had to teleport to, which you could only do by reaching a certain point on each level. This created two barriers that protected us. First, it meant players had to sit through load times because of the shifts between levels of the tower. This meant that if we were pursued, we could run to a teleporter, teleport, and wait for our pursuer to teleport as well. An avatar always appeared on the other side before the player’s computer would be able to load the data, thus we could kill their avatar before their screen even loaded. Secondly, upon reaching the top of the tower, you could use this access point to teleport back to the beginning of the tower, which we would do and then come up behind all the players that had entered the tower to kill us. Due to the players we had with us, we had extremely high level buffs for our running speed, attack speed, and attack power. So we could outrun and out hit all of our unorganized pursuers who were simply trying to score a rare item. We killed hundreds of players in that run with just 9 of us.

In the final major feature of my Lineage 2 experience, I will discuss how I operated my own Lineage 2 servers, talk about the last server I played on, and how Lineage 2 stands today.

True Love Part 3

Digital Anthropology

Why Digital Anthropology?

Anthropologists have only recently dived into the world of the “digital”, and there is still resistance to the merit of the work. Miller and Horst (2012) define “digital” as “all that can be ultimately reduced to binary code but which produces a further proliferation of particularity and difference”. I believe Miller and Horst (2012) also provide a good explanation of why anthropologists can learn from the digital- “The digital should and can be a highly effective means for reflecting upon what it means to be human, the ultimate task of anthropology”.

Possible Research Topics in Anthropology:

The Computer Games and Virtual Worlds Workshop Report suggest many potential areas for future research:

 

•investigating how CGVW play affects group interactions and rewards when conducting in-game activities.

 

• examining how CGVW play reproduces existing hierarchies of power through visual representations as well as player behavior in “locking” out players perceived as undesirable.

 

• drawing upon player accounts of game play meaning to see how immersion affects emotional reactions to stress.

 

In regard to “Culture of Commitment” they recommend questions such as:

 

• How do users experience a transition from novice-ness to “serious leisure” (e.g., a play career trajectory)?

 

• How do social practice and organization within CGVWs develop and reflect cultures of commitment?

 

• How are CGVWs increasingly the sites for compensated labor?

 

• What new forms of peer-learning and knowledge-sharing practices are emerging from CGVW cultures?

 

• Under what conditions and situations does game-based play become work, and similarly when and how does work of using virtual worlds become play?

 

In regard to “Practices and Platform”:

 

• How do players engage CGVWs offline, or engage alternative reality games played across physically located venues as well as on the computer?

 

• Who is playing these games? Are there differences in the gaming communities and identities of players who chose to play these games? What do any potential differences indicate about the play and practices in these CGVWs?

 

• What impacts do these platforms for play have on networked culture, the home, and daily life for players?

 

• What are the differences in activity between game-based and socially-based online spaces?

 

• How do players from different cultures engage with the same game?

 

• How does game play emerge or be guided to become a professional endeavor and line of work for highly committed game players?

 

 

 So with all that, what am I doing?

 

Well, I pondered over this list again and again trying to decide what the best avenue of research would be. In my Undergrad project I looked at Avatar’s people created within the virtual worlds of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2. I had selected these worlds because they offered very unique features geared towards creating avatars that pretty much equated to giving your avatars actual personalities. These were settings or actions you did with your character, independent of merely acting it out. I identified this as an emerging trend focused around getting users more attached with their avatars and allowing greater identification within virtual worlds. I chose both worlds due to circumstance, not because that was how the research plan was laid out. As a result, I also touched upon migration between virtual worlds. These virtual worlds are not only constantly being updated, but have to face out with more and more virtual worlds being released by different publishers offering more features, and some of them are actually even unique.

 

In the IVECG (Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games (formerly CGVW)), there was a seminar video titled “Ethnography in Computer Games and Virtual Worlds”. In the end a question is posed that I very much enjoyed because I too have seen it as an issue with virtual worlds. The question basically put forward the idea that these virtual worlds are very objective/quest driven and don’t leave as much room for original human interactions within these worlds. While this would be very easy to negate in regard to Second Life, I pose it is very applicable to virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft. The respondents shrug it off by explaining that what they are looking at are the interactions between players and their choices which are not defined by the game… I however disagree. Yes, players do have a bit of freedom, but they are still largely constrained by the parameters of these digital worlds.  Luckily a new wave of virtual worlds are approaching this that can aid me in exploring what I believe will give us better means to address many of these research questions in a more “natural human” setting, that is, one less constrained by the parameters of the virtual world and more open to human choice and action.

 

These new virtual worlds coming out are being referred to as “Sandbox”. While some have existed, the newer ones are coming out with a lot more advertising power behind them, and making available many more features to their users. This sets them apart from virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft that are now labeled as “Theme-park” virtual worlds. Whereas theme-park virtual worlds set up the parameters and guide players through a certain path through the game, setting up the activities and goals, sandbox virtual worlds are making it all dependant on the player. The Players are able to undertake such activities as building cities, homes, shops, crafting all their own gear, and creating a player driven economy. Players have the option to help one another or kill one another without only being allowed to kill people assigned to an opposing faction (like World of Warcraft, which even prevents you from communicating with the opposing faction). Keeping it brief, I believe what will result from these interactions is a much more “human” experience.

 

So that is what I want my research to focus on. While we are at the cusp of this transition of “theme-park” virtual worlds to “sandbox” virtual worlds, I want to identify Why players are interested in such virtual worlds (As they must be since many developers are in the midst of producing them), What these new virtual worlds can show us over the old ones, and then upon their release see if they actually do offer a more “human” experience.

 

In my more immediate work, I intend to look at the “Commodification of Play” in virtual worlds, and explore how virtual economies shape users experiences both online, and offline through the selling of virtual goods for actual currency. I also intend to analyze how religion is portrayed in virtual worlds, introducing a massive audience to certain concepts and ideals that are actually quite different from their original meanings (such as the use of “Mana”), and possibly analyzing this as positive or harmful.

Lineage 2- Private versus Official

Luckily the subscription fee for Lineage 2 didn’t keep me from playing for too long. Roughly three months (or possibly sooner) of the official US launch of the game, I became aware of “Private” Servers operating. As I looked into what “Private” servers were, I came to find that fans of various games had found ways to develop their own servers through various tools which allowed them to host and play with others on their own terms. Basically, they were able to create their own server separate from the company that owned Lineage 2. Thus, this was technically illegal.

Regardless, a technicality such as legality wasn’t about to stop me from playing a game I was very fond of. Users of a certain forum had collaborated together and were re-creating Lineage 2 servers by coding them in Java (a programming language). This became known as L2j (Lineage 2 Java, and is still used today), and is an example of “Server Emulation”. As these users were re-writing the server code, there were two rather crippling compromises that had to be made. First, they couldn’t just copy paste any code, they had to rewrite it all from scratch. This scratch was based off of the design and formula’s they calculated by gathering information from the “Official” servers. Because of this (which leads us into our second compromise), the data had to be collected from the official servers, tested, and then implemented, AND, naturally, any new features coming to the game had to hit the official servers before it could even begin to be designed for L2j.

As these servers were mere “emulations”, coded from scratch based on estimated formula’s, they were not nearly as good as the official servers. Skills were not accurate, NPC spawns were inaccurate, and many base features of the game were missing. One bug I remember well was using a skill designed to create aggro (Aggro is a term used to refer to aggression, which generally is a game mechanic that forces NPC characters to attack a particular player). When you casted it, it actually killed npc’s instead of causing them to attack you. Much insanity ensued when players realized they could cast it on each other for the same effect. These emulations however had two very big things working in their favor. Players desperately wanted to play in these worlds and would regardless of bugs that could be ironed out, and the game could be altered to better fit player preferences – Specifically this meant that the “rate” of the game could be changed, allowing players to progress much more quickly through it.

I’ll now take a moment to explain the “rate”, as it is (was) the biggest upside to “Private” or “Emulated” servers. As a basic concept, you might think increasing the rate at which a player can advance through a game would spoil the intentions of the game, however MMO games (Especially Korean MMO’s) are notorious for “grinding”. That is, having to kill hundreds or even thousands of creatures to advance from level to level. While the article was lost to time, I recall reading how a player would have to play 20 hours a day for 3 months to advance from level 84 to 85 in Lineage 2. That may help illustrate why accelerated rates were desirable. These “rates” refer to several rates. XP rates, SP rates, Quest rates, and Adena rates. XP was the amount of experience a player received. If a mob gave 50 experience, a 2x rate server would grant 100xp instead. SP referred to Skill Points (required to buy skills), Quest rates amplified the rewards for a quest (XP and goods), and Adena was the currency. In these servers, each of these rates could be altered on their own. Generally, XP, SP, and Adena were increased, usually on an equal level though not always. Quests were a minor part of Lineage 2, and often seen as a hindrance. These rate adjustments made the game much more enjoyable and allowed a greater audience to access the game.

About 2 months into my following the Lineage 2 community, another major development occurred. The “Official” Lineage 2 server files were leaked from NCsoft’s office in China. This made it so individuals could now use the same files that the official servers were using, without having to rebuild the system from the ground up. This was quite exciting as players now had the opportunity to enjoy the game as it was meant to be played, that is, all the features. The server files still allowed the “rates” to be altered, so now players could enjoy the “real” game instead of an emulation, and at an accelerated pace.

Again breaking stride, I just want to point out that this development did not kill L2j development. It continued and today is used much more widely. L2j evolved to have custom features not offered in the official servers, and L2j servers were much easier to host than official server files. An L2j server can run from a single server/window, while official servers were actually seven independent servers that had to be run. Some examples are login server, authentication server, world server, npc server, and items server. Because there were more servers to run, a very powerful machine had to be used. L2j could be run on a much weaker system, though was buggier and less stable.

While today the server files for Official or L2j are pretty even in comparison, back then it was an extraordinary gap. The private server I was playing on referred to as “HSC” (Hellspawn Clan) was one of the first servers to adapt to the new files. After a couple weeks of “beta”, the server opened up to the public as a fresh and clean private server with an initial cap of 1000 players, and it was consistently full.

To support that many players using these files, not only was a very powerful machine required, but an excellent internet connection far exceeding our Time Warner Cable of Verizon subscriptions. Thus, these servers were generally rented from a “Server Farm”, requiring large monthly payments. This actually gets us into an interesting area in regard to private servers. To pay for these fee’s, server owners would either request donations, or as became quite popular and profitable, selling virtual in-game items for cash (though this was referred to as a “reward” for donating; Hosting these servers was illegal as it was as they did not have permission to use these files, therefore profiting off of stolen files greatly exasperated the problem which we will get to in another post).

HSC offered donation rewards in the form of some potions, and character feature changes, much along the lines of what games like World of Warcraft offer for purchase. Though I have not researched this, I only saw games adopt the strategy of “selling” features such as name or sex changes after they had become incredibly popular options from private servers. Through these donations, the server owner, Daunte, was able to continually upgrade the server until it was able to support up to 3,000 active users at the same time. A cap had to be set to prevent more users from access and bogging down the servers beyond their limits.

It was here at HSC, a Private Server, where I made my Lineage 2 home for roughly the next year. The server launched still before World of Warcraft was launched, and featured rates that were 5 times greater than official servers, thus allowing you to progress five times faster. The best part of course, was that this (And all Private servers for that matter) was Free (That is why Private servers are so damaging to the companies that own these games and often charge $15 a month per user).