The biggest selling point for the MMORPGs is the “massively multiplayer” part of the acronym. At the time that many small Dungeons & Dragons groups were gathering 3-8 players around the dining room table, folks at Essex University in the UK were creating the first text-based “MUDs” or multi-user dungeons that could have as many users all playing in a shared virtual world.
While on the surface it would seem that there is a lot in common between these two scenarios, they are actually quite different – the former has a small group of players sitting face-to-face and working through a roleplaying scenario using the standard rules of conduct of any public social interaction. Sure, they may be playing in character, but because the person is sitting directly across the table, all the power of verbal and non-verbal communication is at the group’s disposal, making for an infinitely complex and memorable session. In an MUD, the number of players was greatly increased, but there comes with that a great deal more anonymity, and none of the non-verbal methods of communication one can have in-person. Communication was by text only. It’s the difference between a small town where you know all the neighbors and a big city where thousands of strangers walk by without ever speaking to each other. Ironically, while it became much easier to gather large groups of gamers in a MUD, it’s was still very difficult to produce the quality of interaction you’d get in a small tabletop roleplaying session.
Occasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here. You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.
Another in the line of Lovecraft Country supplements, Escape From Innsmouth details the decaying seacoast town infamous for its ‘fishy’ inhabitants. The cover–a young man hiding behind a wall as the shadows of strange, webbed things pass by in the night–is excellent, and joins the fine art Chaosium is doing for the Call of Cthulhu game these days. The interior pencils are nearly as good, and the layout in general is sharp. At 157 pages, the treatment of the town is an exhaustive one, although not altogether satisfying.
So The Secret World(TSW) went ahead and implemented something that, upon consideration, seems a no-brainer—they added an in-game web browser. Hit the “B” button and you’re taken to Google, and from there, you have access to the entire internet from within the game. In makes complete sense for an MMO set in the modern day, especially given the need to research clues and solve things like Morse Code puzzles. Sure, we could do all that in an outside browser as well, but having the browser right there not only keeps the player in the game, but also makes for a more immersive experience. In several quests, it’s actually necessary to browse out to a website created by the TSW developers to solve the puzzle. Given the number of times I’ve popped out of other games to look up information in the browser, I’m wondering why more games haven’t attempted to present their lore in-house.
One of the things that had me laughing most when South Park did an episode on World of Warcraft (“Make Love, Not Warcraft” in Season 10) was just seeing their Warcraft characters onscreen. You had Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman all playing these prototypical fantasy types – burly warrior, stout dwarf, and so on—but with the crew’s “real,” squeaky voices. It’s probably the thing that folks who don’t play RPG’s laugh most about – the geeky kid playing Conan the Barbarian, but in this case it was also cartoons playing cartoons.