Archive for February, 2010

Online Gaming Services – Proposals

I have a few ideas in mind on what I would want to do for a social networking project.

Troll

The first thing that comes to mind is to, like Hubert or Ralphie, troll a server, grief players, and become a notorious figure–however, I’m not a particularly good or dedicated actor. Even assuming I were one, however; trolling a server is a very unoriginal solution, and is also quite risky to do.

Garry’s Mod Environmental Sculpture

The idea behind this proposal is to create a generic, albeit enormous sculpture of some sort in Garry’s Mod, and host it on a dedicated server. The server would be advertised publicly on Steam, and possibly through other outlets (i.e. forums, IRC, word of mouth, etc.). One would require access to Steam, Garry’s Mod and a Source engine game (i.e. Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2, Portal, etc.) in order to access the server. Garry’s Mod comes bundled with some multiplayer-oriented source games for $25–Garry’s Mod by itself costs $10.

An MOTD (Message of the Day) will display to any players entering the server, instructing them to contribute to this large sculpture in some way–of course, they don’t have to follow these instructions. As GMod is a sandbox game, players are free to do whatever they wish; if they choose to kill other players or attempt to destroy the sculpture, there is nothing restricting them from doing so. However, anything completely disruptive, such as crashing the server, may probably result in a temporary or permanent ban, depending on the circumstances. To ensure that the sculpture itself is not destroyed, the server will run with the Wiremod addon, allowing the admin to save and respawn instances of the sculpture in progress via the Advanced Duplicator tool. Player performance (that is, the player’s behavior, what types of parts they add to the sculpture, their interaction with others) may also be recorded, via Valve demo recording or Fraps.

The primary theme behind this proposal is collective–or rather, the analysis of the collective, in the context of online gaming as a social network. This server serves as an experiment, to see how willing players are to contribute to and/or detract from an artistic work in progress that is built directly within a videogame environment. The project would last either a specific amount of time or until players’ attention spans are exhausted, before the work is ultimately finalized. The primary challenge of this concept is attracting players–what kind of incentives can be provided to players to encourage them to contribute to a massive work of art, and what would encourage them to persist in such an endeavour?

Screenshots later.

Online Gaming Services – Moderation

The moderation of gameplay experience is nothing new–griefing, cheating, hacking are often regarded with general negativity by the gaming populace. Prior to the advent of online services like PSN and XBox Live, very little was actually done to curb or discourage a playing style which seeks to break a multiplayer game’s rules and/or ruin other players’ online experiences. Under these circumstances, the best that could be done to punish an offending player was to temporarily (or permanently) ban them from a particular server or room. This, of course, does not necessarily teach the player anything–they would simply move on to the next server, and continue griefing there.

One could argue, however, that this level of discipline is the very limit–and that more severe punishments, such as the moderation on XBox Live and PSN takes discipline over the edge, as indicated in these two particular stories–in the former, a player is banned temporarily from all of XBox Live; and in the latter, a disruptive player was banned indefinitely from access to PSN.

This sort of discipline, from one perspective, seems reasonable–these players are deliberately bullying, disrupting the gaming experiences of other players for their own personal amusement; in short, detracting from the gaming atmosphere in multiplayer gaming. Furthermore, legal documentation (i.e. user agreement) still justifies a company’s right to discipline a player they deem disruptive:

3. COMMUNITY CODE OF CONDUCT

You must adhere to the following rules of conduct, and also follow a reasonable, common-sense code of conduct. Users are required to take into consideration community standards and refrain from abusive or deceptive conduct, cheating, hacking, or other misuse of PSN. Rights of other players should be respected.

The violations that are prohibited include but are not limited to the following:

* You may not engage in deceptive or misleading practices.
* You may not abuse or harass others, including but not limited to stalking behavior.
* You may not take any action, or upload, post, stream, or otherwise transmit any content, language, images or sounds in any forum, communication, public profile, or other publicly viewable areas or in the creation of any Online ID that SCEA, in its sole discretion, finds offensive, hateful, or vulgar. This includes but is not limited to, any content or communication that SCEA in its sole discretion deems racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually offensive, libelous, defaming, threatening, bullying or stalking.
* You may not organize hate groups.
* You may not upload, post, stream, or otherwise transmit any content that contains any viruses, worms, spyware, time bombs, or other computer programs that may damage, interfere with, or disrupt PSN.
* You may not use, make, or distribute unauthorized software or hardware in conjunction with PSN, or take or use any data from PSN to design, develop or update unauthorized software or hardware, including but not limited to cheat code software or devices that circumvent any security features or limitations included on any software or devices.
* You may not modify or attempt to modify the online client, disc, save file, server, client-server communication, or other parts of any game title, or content.
* You may not cause disruption to any account, system, hardware, software, or network connected to PSN for any reason, including to gain an unfair advantage in a game.
* You may not bypass or attempt to bypass any user authentication systems or security feature.
* You may not attempt to hack or reverse engineer any code or equipment in connection with PSN.
* You may not provide anyone with your name or any other personally identifying information, or the name, password or personally identifying information of any other person or business through any means, including messaging, chat or any other form of PSN communication.
* You may not take any action that we consider to be disruptive to the normal flow of chat or gameplay, including without limitation uploading, posting, streaming, or otherwise transmitting any unsolicited or unauthorized material, including junk mails, spams, excessive mails, or chain letters.
* You may not introduce content that is commercial in nature such as advertisements, solicitations, promotions and links to web sites.
* You may not introduce content that could be harmful to SCEA, its licensor, or players such as any code or virus that may damage any property or interfere with the use of the property or PSN.
* You may not take any upload, post, stream, access, or otherwise transmit any content that you know or should have known to be infringing or that violates any third party rights, any law or regulation, or contractual or fiduciary obligations.
* You may not impersonate any person, including an SCEA or third party employee.
* You may not provide SCEA or any third party company with false or inaccurate information, including reporting false complaints to SCEA Consumer Services or providing false or inaccurate information during account registration.
* You may not sell, buy, trade, or otherwise transfer your Online ID or any personal access to PSN through any means or method, including by use of web auction sites.
* You may not conduct any activities that violate any local, state or federal laws, including but not limited to, copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy, identity theft, hacking, stalking, fraud, and the distribution of counterfeit software.

Unless otherwise required by applicable law, there is no requirement or expectation that SCEA will monitor or record any online activity on PSN, including communications. However, SCEA reserves the right to monitor and record any online activity on PSN, and you give SCEA your express consent to monitor and record your activities. SCEA reserves the right to remove any content from anywhere on PSN at SCEA’s sole discretion. SCEA has no liability for any violation of this Agreement by you or by any other player.

But on the other hand, being barred access to a gaming service can also be unreasonable, especially since mainstream games as a whole are completely reliant on online services for a multitude of features–ranging from online gaming to achievements, to access to premium downloadable content. Effectively, the confiscation of these features inhibits the general value of a user’s gaming system and their respective games as a whole–arguably, disciplinary action of this level is unacceptable towards players who are barred from access to such services, despite having invested at least thousands of dollars in XBox 360/PS3 videogames, online subscriptions and DLC.

I am not arguing for either side, however. Arguably, while the consumer owns the games and the gaming console, the company still owns the service, and has the right to moderate and maintain the sanctity of such a service–even if it is at the expense of specific archetypes of customers. I would argue that there is a limit before an offensive customer is no longer a potential source of income. On top of that, there is no genuine way of policing misbehaviour and poor conduct in videogames. One would have to find a way to police such behaviour on the internet as a whole, before they can even think about applying such tactics in a videogame.

Online Gaming Services – Applications

In the context of the history of and the current usage of online gaming, how can the online gaming service be explored from an artistic perspective? In order to explore this, we must understand that, although online connectivity in videogames is a major step forward in the advancement of videogame culture, there are still a lot of problems with online gaming–not in terms of technology, but as a social medium.

One of the major problems with this medium is the normative reliance on competitiveness in gaming. Multiplayer gaming, as a form of social interaction, can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways–most commonly, we can enjoy these games with friends and family, for entertainment. On the other hand, multiplayer games are, every now and then, regarded as a form of “electronic sports”. That is, to say, that games are regarded in the same light as popular sports, such that organizations as the MLG exist to officially regulate and organize gaming matches in the same vein as real life sports matches.

This perception of gaming, while largely unknown to the mainstream, is actually quite normal. Historically, videogames such as Quake have been quite useful as a means of electronic competition. For instance, consider the 1997 Red Annihilation tournament, a Microsoft sponsored tournament in which the winning contestant won John Carmack’s (The creator of Doom, Quake and a key member of id Software) personal Ferrari 328 GTS. The tournaments themselves can also be regarded as a form of entertainment–the EVO 2004 match between two players, Justin and Daigo, in Street Fighter III: Third Strike; is one of the more memorable tournament-level matches, particularly in the final moments in which Daigo utilizes a seemingly nigh-impossible technique to win the match, much to the amusement of the audience.

While these types of events effectively demonstrate productive usage of videogames in other forms, they have also developed a competitive atmosphere in general gaming, which has carried over into contemporary online gaming. In some cases, kids are even allowed to drop out of high school for the sake of videogames. In others, especially in the context of online gaming, many players utilize the social medium to “perfect” and “refine” their skills at specific games.

This is, more often than not, at the expense of casual players who are only looking for personal enjoyment–however, the competitive nature of gaming has become a norm, such that online gaming, in its struggle to maintain some sort of balance between casual and competitive gamers, has no choice but to segregate the two. For instance, XBox Live allows its members to define their “gamer zones”, which effectively establishes a user’s preference and personal views on gaming, allowing them to search for and play with other gamers in the same zone.

Another major problem in online gaming is griefing/trolling, the act of presenting an annoyance or a hindrance to a game, usually through obnoxious behaviour, exploiting videogame physics, cheating, and so forth; effectively causing grief. “Griefing” is not actually anything new–What makes griefing easier online than in the real world is the shield of anonymity, which enables the user to torment his peers without the danger of imminent repercussion. Although online gaming services like XBox Live and PSN are more than capable of punishing the user for griefing, this never actually seems to deter the incentive for griefing.

The following Youtube is a sort of performance by a user named Diamond Milk in a game of Garry’s Mod. Assuming the alias “Hubert”, Milk portrays a character of poor social skills; and seeks to form an online friendship with complete strangers. Despite “Hubert”‘s seemingly benign intentions, Their treatment of him is that of the typical attitude towards griefers.

Although amusing, do I really want to do something similar to this?

Online Gaming Services – A Brief History

The Bulletin Board System (BBS) is the precursor to the Internet forum. More importantly, it is one of the earliest forms of the online gaming service. The BBS was invented in 1973, during the early infancy stages of the Internet. Furthermore, the world wide web was virtually non-existent during this time. Because of this, internet connection mediums such as broadband did not exist–both the user and the server were reliant on early dial-up modems, requiring to dial in, via phone line, directly to the BBS. The BBS’ popularity peaked in the 90s, when PC gaming became increasingly mainstream. The BBS can arguably be considered an early form of social networking–It provided much of the basic functionality provided by contemporary internet networks. This includes the ability to communicate, via text messages, with individuals; online chat, etc.. More importantly, it also served as a medium for early online games. One prime example of a videogame which supported the BBS for online gaming is One Must Fall 2097, a PC fighting game developed by Rob Elam which could be played online, via BBS Link. Another particular example is Kesmai Corporation’s GEnie service, which supported popular multiplayer games (at the time) such as Multiplayer BattleTech and Air Warrior. Other examples include Neverwinter Nights, one of the first graphical MMOs, which relied largely on AOL’s online service to play. By 1996, however, as the world wide web became more commonplace, the BBS soon became obsolete, being replaced with more contemporary internet solutions.

Initially, however, online gaming did not advance well. Multiplayer games such as Doom (and eventually Quake) became exceedingly popular, but until the late 90s, support for online connectivity would be nothing more than a simple TCP/IP connection. A more common case, however, was that games would only support Local Area Network and modem play. The solution to this was the online gaming network, the next step from the BBS. As with early forms of internet gaming, these systems provided the bare essentials, except with a largely improved infrastructure and new features. These features included full-fledged support for online gaming with specific titles, hosting rooms, lobbies, the ability to create a friends list, send instant messages, etc.. Examples of these include what used to be Microsoft’s Zone.com, Sega’s Heat.net, Mplayer, Kali, and so forth. Some of these are still active today, but do not have the peak popularity of mainstream online gaming.

Meanwhile, id Software’s Quake took a rather different approach to online gaming. Because Quake, as a multiplayer game, relied on low-latency gameplay over a Local Area Network, internet play was never seriously factored into the equation. As a result, Quake, for the most part, fared rather poorly on aforementioned multiplayer gaming services, as well as direct TCP/IP play. To address these problems, QuakeWorld was created. Rather than rely on a lobby and room system as with most online gaming services, QuakeWorld was in essence a network of “dedicated” servers, linked to a central master server which provided the user with the locations of these dedicated servers. Unlike rooms, dedicated servers had no active host–instead, the server was under the control of an administrator, who monitored and regulated the game experience as required. The basic system behind QuakeWorld is still used in the majority of PC games with online support, especially in the majority of id Software’s games, as well as Valve’s Steam service.

Today, the increasing popularity of videogame consoles led to the integration of internet connectivity between a videogame console and the internet. The console is a computer–much like a personal computer, except streamlined. This has made contemporary consoles a more viable choice over PC gaming, as the console is far more accessible to the user than a PC would be. Aside from Steam, today’s online gaming services include PlayStation Network, a dedicated free-to-play online service for the PlayStation 3 and the PSP; and XBox Live, a membership-based subscription online service for the XBox 360. These services, for the most part, take advantage of the features included in earlier PC gaming services–however, because of their brand name and their respective accessibility, PSN and XBox Live are by far much more popular than any online service to date.

Online Gaming Services

Many people by are familiar with the likes of XBox LIVE, PlayStation Network and Steam. These applications share a lot in common:

  • Through download stores, you can purchase and download additional content for games, or if you’re so inclined, entire games altogether. XBox LIVE and PSN also allow for the download of other types of media, such as digital comics, movies, etc..
  • PSN in particular now allows you to purchase and download PSP games, rather than having to utilize UMD media.
  • XBox LIVE allows you to use Facebook. I guess it counts.
  • You can maintain a friends list. This list can be simple or highly sophisticated, i.e. allowing you to create a party of friends for multiplayer games, form clans, report players for cheating and/or misbehaviour, and so on.
  • Online leaderboards and trophies. You can acquire trophies primarily for bragging rights, which you can compare with other players who are playing the same games.
  • Earlier forms of gaming services traditionally had chatrooms–this was because at the time, the user base in online gaming was not as immense as it is today, so players typically had to organize games through online lobbies. Dedicated server networks, such as the software used by QuakeWorld, render this obsolete.
  • On that note, dedicated servers are also becoming increasingly obsolete. They are still used by Steam, but Xbox LIVE and PSN rely on matchmaking instead for players who want to play immediately without looking for friends.
  • Some games normally do not support VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) directly–in these cases, one would have to rely on third party software, such as TeamSpeak or Ventrilo, to actively communicate with friends via VoIP. Gaming services such as Steam, however, negate the reliance on third party VoIP software by implementing it directly through their own application.
  • I haven’t ever felt like setting mine up, but you can display a card presenting your XBox LIVE Gamertag, PSN ID or SteamID, as well as their respective statistics, as an extra feature on your website, a forum signature, and so forth.
  • You can create a three dimensional avatar. On XBox LIVE, avatars can be used in certain games; Same with the Wii. (i.e. Mario Kart Wii)
  • Online services act as a sort of DRM system–owners of pirated games are very unlikely to possess the same online capabilities as a regular user would. This would limit them to, at best, playing on virtual LAN networks such as Hamachi. (Curiously, DRM solutions like SecuRom and StarForce can still be found on certain Steam games)

These may seem like nothing more than gimmicks to a person who rarely or never plays games. Features like these were present in older forms of gaming services, such as MPlayer.com and Kesmai (as a kid I was always excited about Battletech, but I never ever played this particular game hosted by Kesmai), which were not as successful as the above three gaming services for a wide variety of reasons–primarily because they were not as profitable.

Today, however, online gaming has become a staple of mainstream gaming. It’s indicative of the increasing need for multiplayer gaming–the Resident Evil series, for instance, was initially a single player endeavour. However, upon Resident Evil 5‘s release (initially on the PS3 and Xbox 360), splitscreen and online co-operative play was introduced in order to compete with other mainstream titles at the time. As another example, the Metal Gear series was also primarily a single player adventure–however, by the time of the release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, online multiplayer was one of the primary selling points of Subsistence. Metal Gear Solid 4 expanded upon MGS3′s multiplayer system, and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for PSP is incorporating co-operative gameplay on top of competitive play.

And in turn, with the increasing need in mainstream gaming for multiplayer, there also comes an increasing reliance on social networking. Videogames today are also relying increasingly on the social networking capabilities of online gaming services in order to increase their longevity and popularity–this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it also lessens the incentive to play older games, or games which will most likely never assimilate itself into the functionality of online services. (i.e. computer games not tied into a system such as Games for Windows or Steam; Nintendo Wii counts because it for the most part lacks many of the features described above of the XBL and PSN)

MMOGs and Violence

Massively Multiplayer Online games, games in which thousands or even millions of players participate in an active, persistent world, have become extremely popular over the past decade. Examples of notable MMO games include World of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, Second Life, and so forth–earlier forms of MMOs include the likes of Neverwinter Nights (1991) and Meridian 59 (1996). In addition to increasing popularity, MMOs serve as a kind of social networking hub–typically, there is far more emphasis on social interaction than there is on the elements that comprise the best attributes of videogames of their respective genres. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as can be attributed to the user base of titles such as World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft, to date, has more than 11.5 million subscriptions.

Generally, I have never really liked MMOs. While I do enjoy certain aspects of MMOs, such as avatar customization, (i.e. City of Heroes) I tend to find that MMOs require a lot more investment in time than with any other game. This certainly does not hold true for others, who probably enjoy the social networking component of MMOs, moreso than I would.

However, this also brings up another problem–the immersion in MMOs. This is something I enjoy about videogames in general, outside of MMOs–while they can be quite immersive and occasionally agitating, they aren’t afraid of showcasing themselves as a form of entertainment; nothing more. On the other hand, MMOs require not only a lot of investment, but a general devotion to the game as well.

In short, MMOs ask for the player to take the game seriously.

In a computer RPG, a rare sword can probably be discovered via a difficult quest, or by investing a certain amount of time in killing certain monsters; it holds no monetary value in correlation with real money, whatsoever. Not so with MMOs–if you acquire that same rare sword in a massively multiplayer environment, chances are you probably spent hours upon hours of tedious grinding, until you finally acquired said item. It becomes something extremely valuable–there’s a very good chance you could sell it for in-game currency; or better, real money.

Furthermore, MMOs, unlike regular videogames, can be very unforgiving. Death in a videogame results in a game over screen–you can laugh at it; then either continue the game from a checkpoint, or start over. In an MMO, death can be very punishing. If you die, you may lose rare items you acquired before, or you may be punished in some other way that stunts your progress or even cripples your character in some way. If another player was the culprit, they may even acquire a reward just for having killed you. In many of these cases, you’re effectively screwed.

Why do people enjoy MMOs, then? It’s because of this aforementioned danger. Many people enjoy playing a game where there is risk involved, even if the only thing they’re risking is their egos. On top of that, people enjoy playing a game where there is not only risk, but there are people watching out for them, or working against them. However, when the game is taken far too seriously, stories like these can happen, often with terrible consequences.

I don’t mean to say, however, that MMOs by nature are socially destructive–that is, still, the person’s fault. If anything, the MMO is only responsible for providing an entertaining medium in which social interaction can make or break communities.

John Freeman, cont.

If anyone wants to know what was used to create the Machinima adaptations to Full Life Consequences:

Garry’s Mod is a sandbox game based on the Source Engine. (the game engine which powers Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, L4D, etc.) Unlike other FPS games, there is no real objective. You’re free to do whatever you want; building things, creating NPCs, etc.; with only game assets from Half-Life 2 and other Source Engine games, or third party addons. I’d elaborate further, but I don’t mean to advertise for GMod.

I’m primarily interested in how GMod can potentially be used as a creative tool, as was demonstrated by Djy1991′s Machinima films. This stands in comparison to the virtual world of Second Life–whereas Second Life is purely a massively multiplayer social network-based application that simultaneously grants full creative freedom to the user, Garry’s Mod adapts an engine designed for a first-person shooter, and transforms it into a creative tool based around taking advantage of pseudo-realistic physics and readymade assets.

Garry’s Mod, like most other Source engine games, supports multiple players (users) online, which additionally introduces the potential for collaborative efforts.

Here’s the blooper reel for Half-Life Full Life Consequences: Free Man. While it’s technically a blooper reel, some of the content also shows some of the magic that Djy1991 and co. went through in creating the Full Life Consequences series.

More links:
Quarter-Life: Halfway to Destruction, written by Peter Chimaera (also a troll)
Quarter-Life: Halfway to Editing
Hero Beggining Bloopers

The Rickroll

Here’s one everyone’s seen before.

This is the Rickroll, a meme based on a 1987 music video, “Never Gonna Give You Up”, performed by Rick Astley. Considered to be one of Astley’s worst songs, it is one of the more popular choices for internet pranks. Rickrolling is a bait and switch–typically a user is tricked by another individual into reading or watching a link of major interest. Sometimes, the link is even masked to prevent a potential victim from determining whether or not it is a Rickroll. The results of this endeavour can be amusing, or aggravating.

The Rickroll is popular such that it has been utilized in derivative versions of the Rickroll, in other forms of media as well, or even the real world. Here is one such example.

Crime and Facebook

Colin Gunn, one of England’s most notorious gangsters, is able to run his criminal empire from the confines of Facebook.

The fact that a gangster is able to communicate and manage his criminal empire from a computer isn’t as surprising in light of the fact that gangsters have always had means of controlling their empires in some way–the evolution of technology only makes the process easier.

What is more surprising is the fact that the internet and social networking sites can have the power to be be abused for such purposes. I don’t own a Facebook account, and I tend to see a site such as Facebook as nothing more than a simple social networking site of little to no importance or relevance to me. However, the fact that it is used by criminals (and within prison walls, on top of that) demonstrates the increasing power and significance of social media; not only to the technically proficient, but to just about anyone on the planet.

The internet is a double-edged sword–on one hand, it has become a potentially vast, limitless source of information. On the other hand, it is also a medium for unscrupulous behaviour, just as cellphones and earlier forms of telecommunications once were.