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  Policing Role-Play In ‘Age of Conan’  
Posted 2008-05-03 by Tony Walsh
The operator of the upcoming adult-oriented Age of Conan MMO intends to establish strict rules about role-playing on designated servers, according to an official community bulletin. This might be great news for role-play enthusiasts, but I have to wonder if AoC's operator has a plan to police and enforce its own proposed rules. Any such plan must involve human moderators at some point along the chain (software isn't smart enough for the job), which is an awfully costly investment in role-playing, if you ask me.

Names from outside the 'Conan' universe (as in, from another fantasy universe, such as Pokemon) are not allowed. Names from inside the 'Conan' universe (such as Conan) are also not allowed. Neither are derivatives or sound-alike names. Out of character chat is to be "avoided." Making fun of role-players is not allowed. Using role-play to justify immersion-breaking actions and exploits is not allowed. Interfering with in-progress community-driven role-playing events (such as a wedding) is not allowed.

These rules are setting the game operators up for major headaches. A good rule is one which doesn't need to be discussed--it's simply incontrovertible. These are bad rules. Not only do they require human supervision, they are open to interpretation. Who's going to moderate player names, and when will that moderation occur? How much out of character chat is acceptable, and when is it acceptable to speak OOC. What if the sight of weddings drives my character into a berserker rage--isn't it about my immersion, too? What if my entire clan of players has an in-character grudge against that wedding?

Unless the rules are tightened up, enforced transparently, frequently and consistently, the whole system's going to spiral out of control. Transparent enforcement (i.e. we see who was busted for what, and how the policing or punishment was carried out) and frequent enforcement are expensive. Consistent enforcement is sure to be a joke--I can't even go to a bank and get the same answer about the same question from 5 different tellers.
  Game Narrative Quick Links for 2008-03-19  
Posted 2008-03-19 by Tony Walsh
  The Retro Roots of ‘Champions Online’  
Posted 2008-02-22 by Tony Walsh
I can't wait to try Champions Online, the MMO adaptation of Champions, my favorite superhero role-playing game (the kind you play sitting around a table). It looks like Cryptic, the developers behind the excellent superhero MMO City of Heroes, is using everything learned from developing good heroic character-creation and game play and fusing this with a time-tested, highly-flexible rules system--City of Heroes Evolved, if you will.

Continue reading: The Retro Roots of ‘Champions Online’
  Quick Links for 2007-11-28  
Posted 2007-11-28 by Tony Walsh
  A Glimpse at Supergroup Culture  
Posted 2007-07-17 by Tony Walsh
The Central Nexus Blog gives us an inside look at various types of player-populated "supergroups" in the comic-book game City of Heroes. Supergroups, known as "clans" or "guilds" in other games, are teams established and maintained by players, often with a central theme in mind. These groups range in purpose, focus, and activity, for example a "Taxibot" supergroup's sole purpose is to assist other players by teleporting them around the game world.

Central Nexus writer Omnitron discusses several types of supergroup, ranging from the kinds that form simply for in-game benefit (a.k.a. "rules play") to others which are firmly rooted in story (a.k.a. "role play"). You may recognize these types, as they're not entirely exclusive to City of Heroes. Of particular interest to me:
  • "STRICTLAND": A group run to a strict, narrow set of social and metagame rules, such as mandatory costumes or specific kinds of chat behavior. As Omnitron puts it "In a game like City of Heroes where you can be so unique, conformity doesn't come easy to some players."
  • "(RP)": The role-players. Great description by Omnitron: "Some of them don't know when to stop. And it can become confusing when you have to know what you should know (or not know) about the characters and/or the roles they are playing, and they story they are doing... [Separation] of player knowledge and character knowledge within the confines of the group can become at times tedious and at other times impossible."
Several other types are described in the original (short) article. Worth a read for descriptions of the "Villain Wannabes" and "nAmeZ" types.
  The Suspense is Killing Me  
Posted 2007-06-21 by Tony Walsh
I had a conversation just like this two weeks ago.
  ‘City of Heroes’ Hosts Inclusive LGBT Party  
Posted 2007-06-20 by Tony Walsh
Wow, kudos to the makers of the massively-superheroic online game City of Heroes for endorsing a "Rainbow Prom" which honored the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender player-base while including all others. The game's official newsrag The City Scoop sent a reporter to transdimensional disco Pocket D, where attendees such as "Gaycicle" and "Captain Pride" partied hard and competed for the best outfit. It seems my previous underwear-party comments weren't far off the mark.

An employee of NCSoft (publisher of City of Heroes) showed up to hand out an event-specific "Golden Title" to prom guests--a coveted temporary status-symbol. The Rainbow Prom was reportedly well-received by attendees, who were happy to have official acknowledgment for their lifestyles. One guest told The City Scoop "I think Rainbow Alpha made history in gaming, especially with developer support. I thought the music was great, the company was wonderful, and it made me proud to be a bisexual gamer."
  Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-06-19 by Tony Walsh
Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
Spider-Man crawls 'Second Life' walls. Photo credit: Onder Skall.
A couple of years ago, superhero-comic publisher Marvel sued superhero-game makers NCSoft and Cryptic for copyright and trademark infringement. Marvel felt that NCSoft/Cryptic's game City of Heroes induced infringement by giving players tools to create facsimiles of proprietary characters such as Spider-Man and The Hulk. The issue was settled amicably the same year, and Cryptic Studios is now officially on board for the development of Marvel Universe Online.

Elsewhere in the metaverse, the sandbox-style social world of Second Life has been wall-crawling with bootlegged superheroes for about as long as City of Heroes. Using Second Life's tools, it's not only possible to re-create a Marvel character's appearance more accurately than in City of Heroes, but to sell these facsimiles like Halloween costumes for a virtual currency easily convertible to real dollars. So why was City of Heroes threatened by Marvel while Second Life has been ignored? I asked attorney Benjamin Duranske, author of the blog Virtually Blind, for his informed opinion.

Continue reading: Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
  Why ‘Heroes’ is a ‘360 Experience’  
Posted 2007-04-23 by Tony Walsh
Fabric of Folly's Dan Taylor summarizes NBC's cross-platform offerings for its TV series Heroes, which extends well beyond standard "show site" material into genre-appropriate graphic novels and user-generated content. According to Taylor, "huge swathes of unofficial audience created content" outstrips official show content by over double (not sure how he's measuring"volume of content" though).

At least a few user-generated ideas seem to feed back into the series as series creator Tim Kring says in an official video clip. The fact that fan input is captured and responded to (even if not in an obvious way) is probably one reason why the levels of user-generated content are so high (this seemed to work for LOST, too). Another reason has to be that NBC is actually permitting fan fiction and other derivative works to flourish rather than fire a barrage of lawyers across the community's bow.

Continue reading: Why ‘Heroes’ is a ‘360 Experience’
  Buy My Comic Books Through ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-12-19 by Tony Walsh
Featured Item
Users of the virtual world Second Life may now order the He Is Just a Rat comic book series, written and drawn by Tony Walsh (that's me, you fool), exclusively through SLBoutique. Buyers receive not only a virtual T-shirt for their avatar, but 5 real-life comic books delivered to their door--and I'll optionally sign the comics in each package for the first 50 orders. Ordering details here.

Although I plan to test out virtual-item sales in 2007, this effort is mostly about clearing out my house of boxes of real comic books. Even though I sold thousands of the comics back in the mid-1990s, there are still a few hundred left of the various issues. I'm charging L$2000 for the comic orders, which covers postage, the envelope, and my time preparing each package. The He Is Just a Rat bundle is one of the few real-life items offered by, a service I've found to be very well designed and implemented.
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