Saturday, December 30, 2006

Designing a MUD combat system

Unrelated to the events in Harshlands I've been blogging about, I've been thinking about what I would do if I were designing a combat system for a MUD from the ground up, without having to worry about anything but making it cool and fun and interesting. While I like in theory how in Harshlands 95% of combat success comes from your character's skill, not yours, I also don't like how that makes combat an event to watch, not a game to play. What I'd end up with would look more like the Iron Realms model but with these major differences:
  1. Complexity in structure, not quantity. Lusternia has hundreds of afflictions, attacks, defenses, skills, and other moving parts. The number of things you need to do before you can stand a chance in a real fight is impossibly dauntingly large, and discourages people from joining in. I would have about 1/6 as many "moving parts", but I would design them to encourage more combos and synergies, including ones that a single person, not just a team, could use. It's be more like Legos: a vast array of possibilities from a modest handful of building blocks.

  2. Encourage systems. I would publish trigger texts and make them regular. I'd have very few skills that masked or faked afflictions, and those would be high-power, high-cost skills, rarely used. Curing would be difficult not through obscurity but through synergies of attacks and manuevers, making it a tactical game.

  3. Explicit, limited teaming. I would not discourage team combat, but I would make sure size of team wasn't the trumping factor by putting limiting mechanisms on teams. Lots of skills would be designed to work within a team and synergize with others in a team, but a team would be something you'd explicitly create and join, and be limited in size to about five. I'd put mechanisms in place to make it hard and dangerous for a team to help another team, to prevent people forming "meta-teams". Might also give smaller teams a boost to help make up for the number differences.

  4. Much, much slower. This is the big one. Everything would happen about 1/10th as fast. Everything. It would be possible to follow the spam without tricky techniques. You'd be able to use strategy and tactics during a fight. You'd even be able to talk with each other during a fight, and that'd mean leadership, cooperation, and team structure would become far more important. It wouldn't be a competition between tactics worked out ahead of time and coded into a system; it'd be a competition between the tactical wizardry of the players involved.
Can't help but wonder if anyone but me would like that. IRE's success comes from selling to a wide variety of people -- they're in it for the money. Would something like this, like many of my ideas, appeal to too narrow a market?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Not-quite-quitting Harshlands

Earlier today I reached a decision about Harshlands. Rather than quitting, which I've been on the verge of doing, I've decided to take an indefinite break.

It's become clear to me that Harshlands ranges from a source of frustration, to a simple source of boredom. The only reason I have found to log in is in hopes of running into someone who might further some bit of business, but with my business agonizingly on hold, even this is no longer compelling.

As I wrote previously, it's become clear that the failure of caravanning is entirely crippling, simply because everything else either has already failed, or depends on caravanning, for my current character. It's a pity that a single element of the game should have turned out to be such a linchpin; no one should have nothing to look forward to but their trade. But that's what it's come down to for me. For a variety of reasons, most (but not all) the fault of the admins making choices I consider ill-conceived, a lot of things have had the fun drained out of them. A lot of others depend on how much is made possible by silver.

So here's what I'm going to do. Right now, I'm less than a day from having a caravan trip to Azadmere either happen or fail to happen -- far more likely the latter. If it happens, I see it through -- no great hardship since, once we're there and I do the trade, it's a week with nothing to do until time to head back. While I'm gone, one of the employees of the Silver Plough tends my crops. Once I get back, that's when my break starts. If it doesn't happen, my break starts right away, though it's diminished at first since I have to tend my own crops.

Once the break starts, I only log in:
  • to tend my crops as necessary; thanks to the stupid farming craft timers, that could take a while, logging on for a minute every hour for a while
  • once every couple of weeks I might check in on my cart
  • by appointment -- if I'm contacted by OOC means to log in for some RP or business purpose
And apart from that, I'm gone. No more logging into Harshlands. (My IC excuse is that Reb is staying home with his wife, turning inward to reevaluate his plans in life, and hoping the Gentle Lady will finally give them a child.)

Forever? Maybe. Or at least until caravanning is viable. Guess we'll have to see if that ever happens.

That means I'm also stopping (sort of already have stopped) doing coding for Harshlands. I'll keep reading the forums, until or unless that turns out to become no fun.

I find myself tremendously looking forward to it. I can't wait just to announce it on the forums, so it'll be real, a done thing, not just a plan. I kind of hope my caravanning trip doesn't go off after all. (If by some miracle it does, I'll probably still announce my break, once the wagons are in Azadmere.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The fluttering heartbeat of caravanning

As I noted in the comments, after a turn for the worse in Harshlands, I had a talk with the admins which (just barely) appeased me enough to keep me walking out. Today I got another token gesture: it's now possible to buy object-type (not mobile-type) dogs for use as props, though still not for breeding without admin intervention. I'm not availing myself of it, partly because the idea of dogs just makes me ill after how it was treated in the past, and partly because Reb's money situation is now so tight he can't spend any money on frivolities.

How's that? He's an active Master of what is supposed to be, according to canon, the most wealthy and influential guild in all the Isle.

So goes the theory. But the nerfing of caravanning in Harshlands continues on apace; it is already far, far less profitable than, say, woodworking or hideworking, and looks very likely to be made even less so.

It's hard to explain how and why to people without making their eyes glaze over, if they're not already familiar with business concepts like capital investment, operating funds, profit margins, cost of storage, etc. And most of the time when I try to explain this, people don't even remember the most basic of all costs, cost of goods sold. I have literally been stopped at selling things because of how big gross revenue looked!

The key economic factors that everyone always forgets are:
  1. Mercantylers add relatively little value, since they don't produce anything. Thus, their gross profit margins -- the ratio of gross revenue to cost of goods -- are far, far lower than in other trades. If a woodcrafter spends 100p on materials, the resulting goods will sell for 250p or so. If a mercantyler spends 100p on goods, the resulting sales will gross maybe 130p.

  2. Mercantylers have much higher overhead costs. In fact, in Harshlands most trades have no overhead costs until master level, and few after. They pay no taxes, no transportation costs, no permit fees, and only pay rent after becoming a master. All they do is drop their completed goods in a particular place and they sell at full price. Mercantylers, on the other hand, pay out handsomely for guards (the lion's share of the costs -- no pun intended), tolls, food and other supplies, wagon repair, and now we'll also be forced to pay for teamsters and hawking permits. These eat away quickly at revenue, and since most of them are fixed regardless of the quantity of cargo, they force a minimum size on a trip to make a profit at all. (Which is why having my wagons stuck at 1/8 the size that I was originally told they'd be completely ruined so many of my plans... one of many times that changing the rules on me midstream has forced me to yet again reinvent my business to try to make it work.)

  3. Mercantylers have probably the single highest startup costs. Only jewelers can hope to compare. As in real life, you need to have money to make money -- and you expect to get a higher yield when you do start with money, or else why bother to go into this level of investment?

  4. Mercantylers also require a higher level of operating capital -- that is, liquidity of assets -- to operate. People expect a wide selection of goods of a variety of types from a mercantyler, so it's always tempting to load up your stock. But you have to have a lot of free coin on hand, too. To handle the considerable up-front costs of each venture -- buying cargo, paying guards whether it sells or not, etc. To be able to take advantage of chances to buy when they come. To be able to absorb setbacks like not being able to sell your cargo. For instance, Reb's second trip last season earned him about 1400p on the sale of grains, and then tied up almost 2200p in furs that, if they sold, would have made him another 625p profit; but since they didn't sell, as the caravan market in Tashal remains non-functional, the trip on the whole actually drained 800p from Reb's coffers. He has 2200p worth of furs as assets, but these are all but worthless since they do not sell (not even to vNPCs, since they always go for the 1p-and-less bin).

  5. Mercantylers face a much higher risk than most trades. Both financially (the real risk of goods not selling as expected, which has bitten Reb time and time again) and physically (the risk of coming away from a venture wounded, maimed, or dead). High risk is like high investment capital requirements: the only reason people engage in it is for the chance of much higher rewards.
Of course, the factor that should, and did in real life, make caravanning profitable, even rich-making, in spite of all these, is quantity. The bigger your load, the smaller those fixed overhead costs become by proportion, and the more you can squeeze out of a razor-thin margin. And that in turn makes the need for huge startup costs and operating capital only bigger.

Despite all this, it seems like the admins look at the possible gross revenue from a single trip and panic and that's the end of the analysis. "160 bushels of wheat at 22.5p each means 3600p... we can't let someone earn 3600p! Especially if they can come back and do it again!" Except of course that the profit on that trip is only about 1000p, and you can't do it again for another year. If by some miracle I could make three two-leg trips a year, without ever having a cargo fail to sell and without ever being robbed by bandits, my net profit would be at best 6000p... which an active journeyman woodcrafter can make with zero risk, zero capital investment, and very little need for operating capital, in the same amount of time.

And that's just how things are today. Almost every variable that led to the 6000p possible annual income, is currently being considered for reduction.

In fact, right now, the admins are discouraging me from practicing my trade at all "until the work behind it is complete so it is setup properly". Admittedly, it's not even been a week since the last time we talked about this, and that week included Christmas. But it's been three months since I got my caravanner license. It's been six months since I was eligible to get my caravanner's license. It's been 14 months since I announced my intention to become a caravanner. When should I start counting from? Particularly when all the plans right now seem to be limited to ways to nerf caravanning farther.

The fact is, caravanning could be functional right now, according to the plans I posted last week on the forums, if someone finally made about three decisions, and then someone spent a few hours, maybe one day, on building. There are refinements that would take longer, but it'd be functional with just that. The same few hours of work I've been asking for for months.

I find myself feeling like I have to be on the defensive because the need for large profits on this or that trip to provide operating capital for the following trips comes off as rampant greed. Now, I've played Reb as having slightly absorbed some of the "ethic" of his guild; he's flippantly casual about sums of money that would have made him faint when he was apprentice, and he hasn't hesitated to spoil his wife with fine jewelry. But at the same time he's still the humblest member of his guild; all he's bought himself is a fine sword (which has probably saved his life already; he sees it as operating equipment, a business expense) and two suits of moderately nice clothes (but linens, not silk and lace and frippery). I still find myself thinking other people think I am money-hungry -- like I'm treating the size of my coffer as a score and I want to get high score -- and explaining the economics of caravanning does little to diminish that opinion, since no one ever listens long enough to become convinced. All I want is enough to make it work and keep working -- not my fault that that happens to be a very large number! That's the nature of the trade.

All this is, quite ironically and amusingly, entirely moot. Since even if caravanning were implemented and feasible and profitable enough to justify its costs, it's not currently possible in Tashal for a rather stupid reason: lack of guards.

The mercenary company in Tashal recently lost two people. Just two. But since one of them was the only one with high enough rank to order around the NPC members, all those NPCs are now also unusable. There's no IC explanation for why those NPCs cannot be used on missions anymore. By all rights one of them should be the new captain, in fact. As a result, the entire company consists of only two usable members.

Hire NPCs, you say. Good idea. Only trouble is, where canon says you can hire a guard for about 40p round trip (and even the Harshlands price list still says so), it now costs about 3000p to hire one. That's because you have to prepay for 10 years service, and you have to supply all the required equipment. Remember what I said about startup costs and operating capital? For me to get enough NPC guards to make a trip to Azadmere viable would cost all my profits from the next 18 trips. If I suddenly came into a huge pile of money, I couldn't earn back the investment for, at a minimum, six years. How could I even hope to ever raise that much -- particularly if the only means to raise it requires that I already have it? (Can't even go into debt to do it; maximum amount of debt I could go into isn't even enough to buy a single guard, even though I'm a member of the guild that makes the loans.)

At this point, with almost half this year's trading season gone, I'm reduced to begging every passerby who can hold a sword if they will let me overpay them to go to Azadmere, and almost everyone can't because they're all apprenticed to someone, or employed by someone. Even the Crimson Leopards, which includes the Royal Foresters, can only front at best three people.

As of this writing, if every single person who said they might come comes, we will just barely have enough to make the trip. If even a single person doesn't log on at the appointed time, we're screwed. I haven't even gotten a cost out of the Leopards, nor do I have a clear idea of whether I'll have to pay just the hawking permit, just the bulk markdown, or both, so it's possible that even if it does go off I will only break even.

But can I complain? No. If I talk about this, most of the time people just don't believe me. Without knowing about caravanning or even basic concepts of business, without any insight into the history of how caravanning has been changed in Harshlands, they just look at the large numbers and they're blinded by them. They're sure I'm just being a negative-nancy, defeatist, that I don't really want to find a solution. They start proposing ill-informed, half-baked solutions, and I shoot them down one after the other, and they get discouraged and blame me for it. Understandable, but it's not my fault! If there were an answer that obvious I would have found it. They get the impression that I'm not even trying, when what's happened is actually that I've been trying for a long, long time, and as unhappy as I am, I'm still trying from long before they tried and until long after they'll give up.

I don't mean to suggest that caravanning is the only reason for Reb to exist, for me to log in. But almost all the other reasons either depend on it, or are dormant for other reasons.
  • The Silver Plough, Reb's charitable organization, has nothing particular to do; we're brainstorming tinyplots we can set up and run ourselves, but we can't find any that won't require at least admin permission, which I'm loath even to ask for, and any good ones would require admin support, which I can't even vaguely hope for.
  • Besides, the only reason the Plough is not defunct from lack of coin is that I have not junked as much coin, food, and clothing as I ought to have by now, plus a few big donations; but caravanning's large revenue was the entire raison d'etre for the Silver Plough, so if that is dried up, the Plough is doomed, eventually.
  • Reb's marriage and family life are entirely off-camera since his wife hardly ever logs in.
  • His farm has had all the fun drained out of it by an exceedingly poorly thought out change to farming crafts; the only reason I planted this year is because the revenue from farm goods (enhanced by my ability to sell them at wholesale) is what's keeping me financially afloat, but I resent every time it takes me 10 game minutes to plant a single carrot seed.
  • Hanging out in Tashal in hopes of roleplay, when farming doesn't make it impractical, rarely leads to anything these days: there are rarely more than a few people around at any time, since so many people have been splintering the player base into other locations, so we now have 5-6 pockets of 2-3 people unable to get anything started, where we used to have 2-3 pockets of 5-6 people engaged in somewhat vibrant roleplay.
  • Plus a lot of complaining about people being AFK means people now log in, check if anyone's there, and log off if they're not, and when everyone does that, there are never people there.
What it all adds up to is simple: no reason to log in. Right now the only reason I'm logged in is the very, very remote chance that some cluster of able men-at-arms will suddenly show up and want to be hired on, so I can make this trip to Azadmere happen. Even though I know that will likely be a source for more frustration when I prove unable to sell the wheat, or some other caravanning-nerf ruins my plans mid-stream. I have to try -- that's how I got this far -- but by the same token, I've endured through enough reason to give up a dozen times already, buoyed up by the promise that I would finally, at least, arrive, and get to spend my time doing the things I wanted to do from the start -- the adventure of caravanning afield, the development of character when at home. Each time that arrival becomes again delayed indefinitely, it's that much harder to believe it'll ever come. Right now, I don't really believe it at all. Haven't for a while. I'm just going on sheer pigheadedness now. And pigheadedness is an affliction that doesn't last.

A new look for my blog

I used the new Blogger features for customizing your blog's layout (without coding HTML, like I'd done before). This unfortunately narrowed the main text column again.

I hate HTML layout that puts all the text into a narrow column, leaving most of your screen wasted. If I wanted a narrow column, I'd resize my window. Why do so many sites do this? I know it makes some HTML coding easier, but that's like saying it'd make it easier to write applications if you code your program to force all other programs to quit when it runs. But on the web we tolerate it.

Anyhow, this template uses the width that you, the viewer, chose. I'll have to get used to the links stuff being on the left, though. I didn't like the original color scheme associated with this template, but fortunately I was able to revise it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The best rock album of all time

How's that for a pretentious title?

I'm not talking about the album with the best song on it, or the album with my favorite song, or the album with the most good songs, or the album that sold best, or the one that's most significant in the history of rock, or anything like that. I'm talking the album that is best at being an album, period.

Obviously I'm not qualified to really put the "of all time" bit on there because there's plenty of albums I've never heard. There's whole swathes of rock albums I'm not familiar with. There's a period of about six years I barely heard anything new, and then all the time since those six years, I've been still fairly out of touch.

But hey, this is my blog, so who cares about that? I'm going to post my answer and let everyone else post theirs in the comments.

And the winner is:

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell

The individual songs are each strong, without a single one that feels like filler or doesn't live up to the standard of the album. They fit together with one another, with a good sense of pacing and balance, allowing each track to lead into the next. As an album as a whole, I find this to be essentially without flaw. It's that rare creation where a large number of strong talents came together, but the result didn't feel like a hodgepodge, but like a single cohesive creative vision. Listening to this album, I cannot think of a single thing I could imagine changing that would make it stronger as an album, not even the tiniest of changes. And that's what makes it win: every other contender has some tiny thing I can imagine could have been done better.

Of course there are runners-up that are very, very close. Ask me on another day and I might choose a different winner, they're that close. Here are some:

Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon

Probably the first choice to leap to most people's minds, and for very good reason. Holds together as an album even better than Bat does, providing an experience that is second to none. The only reason I am not picking it first is because I think that some of the songs don't stand as strongly on their own as each other, giving the album a sort of unevenness. It's a very slight unevenness, mind you, but it's enough in this cut-throat competition.

Led Zeppelin IV

Every song is a gem, and this album contains a few of the best hard rock songs ever written. And they hold together pretty well, too. But they don't hold together perfectly; there's some uneven pacing.


Never was there a better example of the freshman band that blew all its best work on their first album. Almost every song could have carried an entire album, and some of the instrumental work is spectacular. The pacing is good too. In the end, though, it's just a bit too shallow to win.

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

An inevitable inclusion if only because of its hit-generating, chart-lurking staying power. The breadth of the music on this album is remarkable, and almost every song feels solid, but it also feels a bit of a mismatched hodgepodge. While that has its virtues, it's not what I was going for with this ranking.

Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

I'm including this mostly so I won't get lynched. I don't deny for a minute that this is a seminal piece of work, a breathtaking breakthrough. But I really don't think it belongs on this list. Maybe it made all the other things on this list possible, and it was certainly the winner at its time, but it was soon surpassed as an album -- personally I think Abbey Road is the best Beatles scorer in this competition, in fact.

U2 - The Joshua Tree

I've come back to add this one to the list while wondering why I didn't add it before. When the album first came out, I didn't like it that much, but after I came back to it later, it really wore well and became my favorite U2 album by far. The last song is a little weak, though.

Now I'm looking forward to being told how wrong I am. I am sure my #1 choice will not be agreed to by many! Plus I'm sure there are a lot of albums that I've never heard that will be nominated. Have at me!

Friday, December 22, 2006

A turn for the worse

Gradually over the last few months my discontent with Harshlands has been waxing and waning, but generally increasing. During the last few weeks I've been nearing a turning point. My character has a caravan trip he's been trying to make happen and I'd pretty well decided when it was done (one way or the other) I'd be deciding whether it was the last.

One of the reasons I put off the end was that something my character's been planning for almost five game years had finally come to fruition and involved a lot of other characters. That feels something like an obligation -- those players got involved, and I don't know if the whole thing will hold together without my character. I'd try to pass it off so it wouldn't wither, but things like this often wither anyway once the creating force leaves. That's happened with similar things in other MUDs.

But I was increasingly finding myself wondering, why bother to log in today? And having no better reason than habit. About all I've been doing the last week or so is trapping rabbits once an hour to build up my stock of rabbit meat... something I've done literally a thousand times before, and which completely lacks any pleasure. Even bashing mindlessly in Lusternia is more fun somehow, if only because of the pace. Otherwise, all I could do is wait for the few other players I needed or wanted to see, most of whom rarely log on.

What else did I hope for? Adventure? The only real adventure possible for a character like mine is caravanning, but after almost a year and a half of working towards becoming a caravanner, the admins had still not even decided how caravanning should work, let alone put it into place. All my last round of trying to get them to decide had accomplished was to make them change some of the rules midstream on me -- for instance, my wagons suddenly held about 1/8 as much as I'd originally been told, and the main cargo I'd built my plans around (and built up a hefty stock of) was suddenly not worth enough to make any profit on. From the bare skeleton of a caravanning system with only one workable trade, instead of getting a fleshed-out system with multiple trading options, all I got was a big step backwards to where caravanning was impossible again. After 5-6 game years of struggling through unpleasant things in hopes of finally being able to be a caravanner, instead of finally getting the payoff of all that work, all I was getting was more unpleasant struggle, but I did manage to tentatively eke out a means to make it just-barely-work. Again. At least until the rules got changed against me again.

But the continued failure to address caravanning, and the tendency for my suggestions and ideas to go unanswered about how to do it (along with my offers to code whatever was needed for it), was only a small part of my discontent. I kept telling myself, I love the setting, I like the codebase, and I like most of the players. But the way the game is set up, you simply can't participate very much without admin cooperation; too many things depend on it. And every time the admins got involved, I felt like I was being spit on. Most of the time I was ignored. Not even a "we're thinking about it", just nothing. I was usually denied the simplest requests for the worst reasons, and then often found that someone else had gotten the thing I was denied without any problem, with no real reason for the difference.

One of the worst examples was dogs. My character has a skill to breed dogs, but nowhere in the trade city of Tashal, or the highly agricultural nation of Kaldor, or the adjoining kingdom of Azadmere, or in the freetown of Trobridge, or the nearby city of Heras, was there a single dog to buy. Not one. I pursued IC and OOC methods many times over the course of two game years and could not get a dog for, literally, love nor money. Never was I given a reason why; it was just as if dogs were incredibly scarce, which makes no sense. Eventually, after travelling hundreds of leagues, I was able to buy one single dog. This dog very soon after died due to a combination of stupid code limitations, and a single misplaced keypress; and of course, there would not be another dog available (though by this time I was so sick of the subject I didn't even want one anymore).

I forced the issue at a player/staff meeting, at which point I was told that we can't have dogs because we might use them as combat machines -- which is patently absurd, both because mob dogs are barely strong enough to beat a duck, and because the dogs used in breeding aren't even mobs anyway, just objects, and besides which, plenty of people walk around with a retinue of NPC guards and none of them has ever tried to take over the world. Personally, I've had an NPC I can control for more than 3 game years and I have never once used him to do anything more twinkish than helping me carry grains he would then sell. Once. Yet I still didn't have the trust to be entrusted with a mob dog that can barely kill a duck. And I wasn't even asking for one; I wanted an object dog to breed, for the purely-RP-motivation of wanting one to guard my caravan (even though due to the way travel works, you never really need guarding while you sleep on the road, since you never do) and one to guard my wife at home while on the road (even though she's never logged on so there's nothing to guard).

Recently I found out that another player, who the admins like, created a new character and within the first few days he had dogs for breeding. Just like that. He asked and they gave them to him.

This is just one example; dozens of others could be listed, equally absurd, equally making me feel like I was being pissed on. Like I had to fight for even the most simple of things and always, even when I got them, feeling nauseated for having to go through pointless mind games to get them. Most of these times I came away feeling that if someone else had asked, they'd've just gotten it, no problem.

So with things like this piling up and my mood growing more and more sour about Harshlands, my wife decided to try a gambit to getting things fixed. She contacted the guy who used to be head admin when we started, to ask if maybe he could shed some light on the problems with the new head admins, or even help with it. He flat out admitted to some of the problems: that the admins has long had a habit of not answering harder questions and just letting them fall through the cracks (how hard would it be to get some kind of issue tracking system put into place?), and that the admins very often tended to fall into a habit of treating everyone like a twink because they'd been burned by a few twinks, even when someone had proven themselves repeatedly not to be one. But he offered little that would help directly, apart from his willingness to chat with the current head admin.

This leads us to today. We ended up having a very productive conversation about the considerations in making caravanning work and what would need to be done. Why we didn't have this conversation years ago I don't know, but it was nice to talk through and some good ideas came out of it. And then the subject changed all at once, and became very painful, ugly, and angering.

See, my character has been working towards being a caravanner, and carvanners are part of the mercantyler's guild, but because there were no PC caravanners, he had to put in his 4-5 years of apprenticeship and journeymanship as a peddler. Caravanning is (or at least was) a trade with a high profit potential, and correspondingly, a very high startup cost -- 5000p for the license alone, and another 5000p for wagons and cargo for your first trip and other costs. Just like in any world, you need big money to make big money. Trouble is, for various reasons, some of them codebase limitations, peddling is a desperately poor profession. Hardly anyone else ever made it through, because you make so little coin, that it's hard to get by, let alone flourish so well as to be able to make up those incredibly high startup costs. I put in an incredibly huge number of gameplay hours doing desperately tedious and unfun things to scrape out every penny, no doubt giving a lot of people and possibly the admins the impression I was actually money-hungry, when I was really being an overambitious skinflint just as a means of bridging the gap between peddler income and caravanner startup costs. I endured it all in hopes of getting to the payoff -- to be a caravanner finally and not have to do that kind of unfun struggle.

When my journeyman time ended, the admins just let things sit there. They had no caravanning system yet (despite more than a RL year of warning I was going to come to this point one day) so they just ignored my comments about my mastership coming up, and my inquiries. I was sitting on 8800p, the cumulative earnings of 4 game years of scrimping and working 2-3 jobs, which I kept in the form of silver so it would be liquid enough to pay my license fee when the admins finally gave me the goahead -- I kept thinking that was any day now, for months. To keep that huge amount of coin safe, I kept it double-locked in the most public place on the entire island of Harn, a spot constantly patrolled by guards as well as what the roomdesc describes as a crushingly busy crowd even in the middle of the night. Even the most sneaky thief would be unable to take the time it takes to pick two locks in the middle of this huge crowd, and if they could, how could they carry off a jingling pile of more than 8000 coins through the crowd entirely unseen?

So one day there was a scare involving undead in the city. A couple of game days later, my coins were still there just fine. A few days after that, they were all gone. Every penny.

I cried foul. There was no way, and I still see no way save magic or divine intervention, that someone could carry off that theft realistically. But codebase limitations mean it's actually remarkably easy to pull off... if you don't mind twinking. Ignoring room descriptions, pretending NPCs are insensate, etc. The game is always full of twinks who'd do that; half the coding things I'm asked to do are geared towards stopping twinking.

My concerns were dismissed. The admins mostly just trivialized them rather than answering them. The first answers were that it must have been done during the undead scare, which wasn't possible; and that I'd been asked to pay protection money to avoid this and ignored it, which I hadn't. Hearing the first two answers for why this theft was just fine and not twinking and having them both be factually wrong did not do much to bolster my confidence that the admins were evaluating this fair; the casually dismissive, accusatory, and downright insulting and rude way they worded these responses was extremely offensive and angering. Later answers suggested things like that the square isn't always full, which contradicts other things I've been told; that I should have kept my money in the form of certificates, which I could have, if I hadn't been being kept on the hook by the admins waiting for my mastership for months; and finally, one of the admins admitted that they fudge in favor of the thieves because of a number of codebase limitations that make life hard for them (similar to the ones that made it hard for me to earn those coins in the first place). All of these things were both insulting and hurtful to me, and entrenched my sense that I was being treated unfairly.

I responded in anger and hurt, and at one point, my answer included the word "bullshit". I apologized the next day for the tone, but I did not, and still do not, retract my two concerns. First, that they treated my concerns in an insulting, dismissive, and rude way; and second, that I remain unconvinced that the theft was really fair.

I also planned to retire the character. There was no way I could go through another 4 game years trying to earn that coin back the painfully hard way. Even if I wanted to start over from scratch, my situation had changed; it was no longer possible to earn it the same way, nor could I count on a few strokes of good luck that had gotten me that far in the first place. The admins laughed off this agony and insisted, not in so many words, that I was being childish and I should just take my lumps, further adding to the insulting tone. At no point did they apologize for any of these bits of rudeness, nor did I expect them to.

Instead, I pursued the matter by IC means and I soon found that, while the admins swore up and down that the theft was fair, the thieves themselves had their doubts. They went to great lengths to find an IC way to reverse it as far as possible, and in the end, they gave me back almost 6000p in exchange for nothing at all besides a public statement that I should have paid the protection money (which my character would have said anyway). They bent over backwards to undo the mistake the admins insisted was not a mistake... again, further undermining any confidence I had that the admins hadn't made a big mistake.

Making 10,000p by starting with 50p is impossible in a way that making 10,000p using 6000p just isn't, and I was able to get through a few more months of incredible, unpleasant struggle and recover from this still awful, but no longer crippling, blow. And I put the whole thing behind me. After a few weeks, I didn't even think about it anymore. Eventually I even got my mastership and my wagons and did two caravan trips, though more than a half game-year late.

So today I got asked, after that fruitful conversation about coding caravanning, if I had ever thought more about that and considered apologizing for it. I was truly stunned, and the conversation went from bad to worse. Essentially, I got told that at least one of the admins was still upset about that, four RL months later, and essentially refused to be involved in any petition or issue involving me as a result, for fear I might say something like "bullshit" again.

That I apologized was completely ignored -- apparently my apology means nothing, so long as I still am not convinced that the theft wasn't unfair. They seem to be completely unable to separate the two concerns: whether the theft was fair or not, and whether the way they answered me was rude and insulting. So four months later, they take the entirely unprofessional tack of simply ignoring me because I said a bad word -- as if it's more important whether the word can be used on primetime TV than what the words mean, as if it doesn't matter how rude you are as long as you don't swear while doing it.

More importantly, the fact that I had gotten as much insulting, trivializing, rudeness as I gave out, and then some, was not only denied but not even comprehended. There's a sense that both of the two head admins still don't see that anything was even there to apologize for. Such deep denial that it completely prevents any possibility of resolution.

On the whole, the conversation made me angry, gave me a pounding headache, and reopened a long-scabbed-over wound that made me almost sick to my stomach. And clearly, there's nothing I can do about this. The problem I worried I had with the admins treating me like crap was true: they are, and I can't stop it. I can't do a thing about it.

I'd already been inches from quitting for weeks now. Several times during this conversation I was already clicking to post my departure on the forums, and moved the mouse to close the chat window, and then stayed my hand. When you're angry and hurt and suffering a pounding headache, that's no time to make major decisions. It's been a few hours, and the hurt is fading, and the anger finding its way to the background, but the conviction to leave is still there.

My decision is to give it a few days in case the admins go over the discussion and have some kind of change of heart. Maybe go back and look at the emails and chat logs from that time, and conclude that yes, they were rude and insulting, and an apology is owed. Maybe talk between each other about this and reconsider if the apology I gave maybe means something, and it's time to put the grudge aside. Maybe review the two years of interactions with me, most of which have been entirely sensible, and decide to finally forgive one understandable moment of anger and frustration. Maybe rethink whether I contribute something to the game that's worth preserving. Maybe take that first step to where I stand and look at things from my perspective and see that it's not that ridiculous to doubt that there might not have been a mistake made -- or realize that thinking one mistake got made is not some irreconcilable gap in trust, that they can learn to live with me thinking they made one mistake.

I am not too hopeful about any of this. In a few days, I expect to start trying to find ways to wrap things up. The scale of this possibility is daunting, so many things still to work out, but I don't see how I can keep going like this, knowing that the problems I've had and the fun-draining threats have no hope of being resolved. There's a time to say goodbye already.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Moved to the new Blogger

If anything odd happens with my blog in the next few days, that's probably why.

In theory, the RSS feed should now start having comments included. Not sure if I have to do something different to enable those, though.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Keep Christ in Christmas and out of Yule!

It's that time of year when the inevitable "Keep Christ In Christmas" signs start popping up, so it's about time I stated my whole-hearted agreement.

Keep Christ in Christmas, so you can get him out of Yule.

It's important to remember, when celebrating Christ's birthday, that that's what you're celebrating, not some other holiday, some pagan or commercial or secular holiday. So I encourage you to remember that come spring, since that's when Jesus was born. Go check your Bible, the signs are there. For example, even in Bethlehem shepherds aren't watching their sheep by night in winter, only during lambing time in spring.

Celebrating Christmas in December was proposed first in the fourth century AD as a means of trying to overshadow the many pagan festivals of the time. Nearly every culture has had a festival right around the winter solstice (usually December 21, and most commonly called Yule in modern American culture), across the whole world.

Little wonder that Christmas is infused with pagan elements (the lighted tree, the Yule log, mistletoe, etc.) and secular elements (snowmen, giving gifts, feasting). They were there first!

But it's hugely ironic, in a satisfying way, to watch the Christians whining about other things invading the space of their holiday and displacing it, since the entire reason their holiday even happens is because it, very intentionally, invaded the space of existing holidays to displace them. Can't stand the heat, boys, stay out of the kitchen.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Moving to a cell phone

Primarily as a cost-cutting measure, we have eliminated our land line phone and gotten a second cell phone. In spite of an egregious $5/month charge from DISH Network for not having our DVR hooked to a working phone line (which the DVR never uses, since we never buy PPV movies), this still will save us a bit more than $10/month, plus a number of other advantages.
  • My wife handles calls for us most of the time, because I hate talking on the phone. Since the cell phone has been our primary number through several moves, that means any time I carry it, I risk having to be the one to deal with calls, often about subjects I'm not keeping up on. Now there's no reason for me to ever carry that cell phone.
  • When we're both away from home, but not together, I'll still have access to a phone in case of need. This doesn't happen often but when it does, it's a big deal.
  • I can use a Bluetooth headset, which I love, as it leaves my hands free and lets me walk around and continue doing things.
  • The cell phone has lots of features I didn't have on the land line, some of which I may even use (like connecting to my Palm's address book via Bluetooth).
  • Text messaging is nice, plus it means my computers at work can page me via SMS when something's wrong.
  • When DISH Network finally releases the update that allows that stupid $5 charge to go away, the monthly savings will be up to $15.
Just to be fair, there are downsides.
  • In case of some catastrophe in which someone else is at our house without either of us there and that person has no cell phone, they can still call 911 right now, but Verizon won't guarantee that that'll stay.
  • It might be harder to get DSL in the remote chance Verizon ever gets around to offering it in our area.
  • If I had to dial in with my laptop, I would be unable to do so via modem.