Archive for June, 2007|Monthly archive page

Music and MMO’s

I was just listening to a Jason Mraz CD that I’ve got at work and I can’t help but think back to my time spent in EQ2 over a year ago when I was listening to the same CD. The same thing happens when I listen to Dream Theater and Un’Goro Crater, as well as Switchfoot and Asheron’s Call. Does anyone else have similar experiences? I’m curious to know 🙂

~Kanthalos

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Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 2 of 2

I described the Uncanny Valley hypothesis and how I related it to MMO’s in my last post, choosing to look at the technical aspects of whether or not players will one day be able to feel as though their avatars are an extension of themselves or whether in fact, they even desire this. For the second part of this, I’m going to focus on the emotional aspect of this idea. Social interaction with other players and NPC’s would play the greatest part of course, as well as character freedom. I will warn you I do get a bit side-tracked at times, but I think everything ultimately relates to the topic.

I’ll start with social interactions. It’s clear that currently in MMO’s there is very little true social interaction, at least that actual involves your avatar. Sure you can click on an NPC to obtain a quest and type a message to another player on the keyboard, but your character simply sits there while you perform these actions. I think the first step in changing this involves voice communication, which we have recently seen an influx in with the use of software like Ventrilo and TeamSpeak. In fact, some games have already included systems built into the game that allow voice chat, either through a third party program or one they’ve created themselves. Dungeons and Dragons Online has a built in system, Lineage 2 uses MSN messenger, and EVE Online is currently implementing a system as well. Again, though, this is simply for players to communicate what they want or need from other players. Rarely is it used to role play, speaking as the character would. This is part of the problem that many players currently have in using voice chat. They feel that it breaks the illusion when a 13 year old middle-of-puberty boy starts talking in Ventrilo while playing a 300-pound dwarf. While I agree that this breaks the atmospheric feel of the game, I would argue that so does reading the text that people type into a box. You don’t see people walking around with a whiteboard and a dry erase marker writing everything they want to express (I hope,) so why is this any more realistic than a 54 year old man with emphysema talking for a night elf woman? Also, companies have started creating voice chat programs that will altar your voice such as MorphVOX Pro (Vivox is also working on a program as well) to whatever you want yourself to sound like. While they are far from perfect it’s a sign that things are changing and heading in this direction.

More than just talking to other players though, I think a large step towards realism in MMO’s is NPC’s actual talking to you. I know EverQuest 2 has started with this and some of the quests you obtain will actually have the NPC say it out loud to you. The biggest problem you run into with this is getting voice actors that are actually good. If they are poorly done, it’s worse than just reading it so you have to be careful when implementing something like this. Also, I think if you get good voice actors, people might be more interested in actually reading the quests more than they do now, usually just clicking the accept button and reading the objective later, but quests are another subject I’m going to tackle after this. Also bodily movements (expressions) and mouth movement are essential in this. No matter how good the voice actors are, if the NPC is a rock then it will just be awkward and simply won’t work.

True character freedom is also very important in creating a sense of realism in order to feel a part of your character. Characters will need to actually be able to have control of the way they move. While this might not be possible in combat yet, there needs to be some way of doing so when not in combat. Asheron’s Call uses a combat/peace mode system. Perhaps this would work for the proposed situation. This may not be possible with the current mouse and keyboard configuration, but is just one more step towards realism. The ability to push someone, pick up a rusty axe off the ground, hold someone’s hand, or even scratch our characters head (your imagination can come up with all sorts of other possibilities I’m sure) would be incredible addition to a game. While we do have e-motes, they just aren’t the same.

Well there you have it. These are the most essential things that I’ve come up with when it comes to having a more realistic take on our characters we play for hours on end. There are many more things involved in believability in MMO’s, but they involve gameplay which is a completely different subject in my opinion. So is truly connecting with your character something you even desire within a game? Clearly we desire our games to be based on our reality, but how much is too much? These are questions I would love to hear your responses to, so let me know what you think. I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll be back soon to talk about questing and possible improvements that could be made.

~Kanthalos

Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 1 of 2

A few months ago I came upon the hypothesis of Uncanny Valley (in relation to MMO’s). In a basic summary, it means that as robotics become more realistic, humans will begin to think of them more in terms of a human than a machine and will develop sy(e)mpathy for them. I’m looking at this in relation to MOGers and their avatars. I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, because I’m twisting it (or perhaps pushing it further.) While I can see players thinking their characters are realistic, and seeing them as more of a real entity, will the average player (barring psychological issues) ever relate to their avatar enough that they feel a part of their character? MMO’s can be incredibly enjoyable and you can have a lot of fun with your characters, but rarely (at least for me) do I ever feel as though I have just experienced it rather than my character. I’m going to break this up into two elements which are technical and emotional. I’m going to focus on some of the technical aspects here that I can currently think of, focusing on how realistic your character looks and their movements and such. The emotional will focus on character freedom and social interaction and such which I’ll look at in another post.

There are definitely several elements to this, but I think currently the main element has to be graphics. As of now, there aren’t really any games out there that are realistic enough to be considered lifelike to sympathize with your character or actually feel connected to them. While Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online have upped the bar on graphical expectations of MMO’s, they are still not realistic enough to feel as though you are looking at a living, breathing being. Perhaps with the wave of MMO’s hitting the shelves in Q4 2007 through Q2 of 2008 this distinction will become less noticeable, but it isn’t likely to see extremely lifelike characters until probably 2012 or later. Is that enough, though?

As an extension of the graphics issue, character creation is not nearly customizable enough to make a character that really looks like you currently. Also, there are a lot of people that won’t want to make a character that looks exactly like them anyway. Most people want to make characters that are aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the fact that it won’t look anything like them. This isn’t that unusual as it is a game hence it’s a break from reality, so making a character unlike yourself isn’t strange whether we could do it or not. So if we choose to make characters that don’t look like ourselves, does this break the possibility of truly relating to our character? This is also taking into account only human characters, not elves, dwarves, gnomes, ogres, etc. To me this doesn’t seem possible to truly relate to your character as a different race, but maybe that’s just me putting a limit on my imagination.

Another element that I think breaks the illusion in MMO’s (and many other games) is the third person view. This is sort of bordering on emotional, but it is also technical in the way you actually see your character. While you can use a first-person view in most MMO’s to do so would greatly reduce your field of vision and hamper your game play, so it’s not really feasible to do this. That said, if you are looking for more a role-playing version of the game, then you can do this, but you would always be facing the fact that you are limiting yourself, so could you do this?

The last aspect that I want to focus on right now is actually controlling the way your character moves. While this might not be possible with the current mouse-and-keyboard setup, this will be a very big barrier in terms of believing in our characters and believing they are an extension of ourselves that needs to be solved for this possibility.

I guess the bigger question that needs to be answered is whether we even desire to relate more to our characters or not. I’m sure there are a lot of elements that I haven’t covered, but I’m in a slight hurry right now but I really wanted to get this out, so let me know what you think and I’ll be back later with the second part of this topic.

-Kanthalos

My "I Win" button ain’t broken.

Recently Kanthalos and I were put in the midst of a sticky situation. Kan’s WoW account was hacked. We’ve been fighting with WoW for the last three weeks, trying to get them to believe that Kanthalos is indeed the real Kanthalos (because, well, I know he is!).

Today, friends, I got very good news in my inbox. Kanthalos got his account back!

Neither of us are currently playing WoW, but it’s the principle of the thing. Stealing video game accounts instead of doing the work and putting in the hours is uber-lame. We may never play WoW again, but that doesn’t mean it’s alright for some loser to run off with the fruits of our labors.

So, gaming folks, make sure your passwords are airtight. Make sure your information is kept under lock and key. You too may fall prey to the internet scum’s scheme to steal accounts. Lucky for Kanthalos, his gear seems to be intact as far as the Armory can tell me. After nearly 5 hours of dealing with Blizzard, numerous hours of us comiserating over the phone back and forth, and the general anger from being robbed has not been fun.

But I win! Kanthalos wins! Just like in Azeroth, justice reigns.
~Anaktoria

(Kanthalos will be back with more gaming news shortly. It’s been a very hectic summer, folks. )

Sorry for the Break

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the break in posting. I have been extremely busy this summer working and travelling between my apartment at school and living at home as well, on top of going on trips and such. I have had literally no time to play any MMO’s so I don’t really have anything to say, other than I plan on giving LotRO a shot when I get some time. In two days, I’m going camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan basically in the middle of nowhere with some family for a few days, then I’m going to a cabin in Traverse City for a week, so I should be back to gaming in about two or three weeks, and I should have some things to write about then. Again, I apologize and look for updates when I get back.

-Kanthalos