Thursday, January 31, 2008

Seeing is Believing

This little news blurb was emailed to me by a dear friend and I wanted to share it with all of you. As I am fond of saying lately, "Welcome to your cyberpunk life..."

A monitor on your contact lens

Though this news story doesn't immediately relate to virtual worlds, I think you can look a little forward and see the coming implications.

I'm still digging out from a work related trip but I'm hoping to have some more material by the weekend!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Paradox Experiment, Issue Three

(This continues an ongoing series of articles about an experiment in MMO role-playing and collaborative storytelling.)

Their names were Terry Killganon and Zgon. Terry looked like a cowboy with a dragonfly on his shirt and Zgon appeared to be a spaceman... or an alien. The third was dressed in black armor and named Archus Condrum. Led for the most part by Terry, who had caught the scent of some good RP, began to interview Ren about his situation. As the details began to emerge, left in Paragon, no memories, odd note, one of the comments from the three men was, "Kid, someone wants you here in the city bad and you better figure out what for before it kicks you."

This was followed by someone else saying, "If I were you, I'd get the @#$@ out of here and forget about this city. You're being set-up."

Archus responded with, "I bet he's a spy from the Isles." (The Isles being the location of the sister game, City of Villains. The Rogue Isles and Paragon City don't like each other much.)

Having a blast, I played along and took each of their suggestions in-stride. My creativity was whirring. Could Ren by a spy? Possibly. A plant from the evil Arachnos to infiltrate the hero city? Was he being set-up by some other nefarious group? Could be. I liked Terry's comment the most for it left a little more room for manuevering the story.

We moved our conversation inside City Hall and while there they instructed me to speak with Hero Corps more and to keep my head low. It was during this time that Archus said something about needing more blood. I had Ren emote in distaste as Archus' emoted drinking a vial of blood. Ren summed up his feelings by looking at Archus and saying, "You're creepy."

This was followed up by the three men informing Ren of vampires, monsters, and other "freaks" around the city. Ren took it all in and nodded. The small group broke up as Terry left to attend to patrol issues. Though I was not able to get any help with the mission against the Skulls, I was able to hand the mission off to Terry who agreed to "look into it." Then, once again, Ren was left alone.

For the next forty minutes or so, I moved around City Hall looking for interaction. At one point, I tried to get some interaction out of a high level hero from a renowned role playing supergroup. To my disappointment, I was completely ignored. I figured Ren was pretty tired by now and plopped him on the steps of the City Hall where he was completely ignored by the numerous folks running to and fro. I had the thought, once again, that the experiment may be over. And, once again, just as I was about to call it quits, another character approached Ren.

Her name was Riskque and she emoted a small smile Ren's direction. I emoted Ren looking back and nodding, even added in a "Hey." Thus, a small conversation started and was only interrupted once by a large werewolf who came up to ask us how his outfit looked. I allowed Ren to be rather stunned by that one. When Riskque mentioned it was a slow day, Ren said, "Not for me. I've been called a spy, met a vampire, and mistaken by a detective as some sort of crimefighter. Did I mention I don't have any memories of how I got here? Oh.. yeah... and I just talked to a werewolf."

Riskque eventually left Ren alone to his thoughts sitting there on the steps. I had decided that since, game-wise, I STILL had the mission to defeat some Skulls, Davies has assigned him another mission to test him. I was going to try and find help again. Standing up, I went again to the area underneath Titan's statue.

I approached one character, a female who was a very high level, and did what was now becoming the trademark, "Excuse me.. I need some help." I was ignored. Turning away from Ren, she took off in a sprint away from City Hall. I had Ren shake his head, dejected and ready to give up. And then... I hit platinum.

The hero, coming from a short distance away, ran over to Ren right after I posted my emote. He was high level and his outfit screamed Golden Age Comic era. His name was Blinding Gauntlet. He asked Ren if he needed some help. Delighted, I began by having Ren tell him that there had been a mistake and that he kept getting these assignments from Miss Davies. The conversation went back and forth with Ren feeling increasingly comfortable but still hesitant to discuss his abilities and powers. Blinding Guantlet played the more experienced hero beautifully. "Miss Davies must believe in you and your abilities to give you such an assignment."

He assured Ren he would be alright, told him of the hospital teleporters and the healing technology. He instructed Ren to ask for help from other hero's his security level, to work together. In all of that he let fly with some great quotes including, "Being a hero is not about who's got the strongest powers, but rather, who's got the most determination to protect those in need."

What Blinding Gauntlet could not see on his end of the game was me leaning back in my chair and applauding. Boom. There it was. The Speech. The big classical hero speech that the young hero needs to get his spine and to start his heroic life three and a half hours into the experiment. I was so happy I stood up and replenished my cup of coffee and grabbed a handful of cookies!

Blinding Gauntlet had to run shortly afterwards, heading off to a meeting of his supergroup, but, his speech and RP had helped Ren to move forwards. I got a private OOC chat message from him that said he was intrigued and wanted to continue a story with Ren. Without giving any information regarding the experiment away, I responded that was perfect and I would give him some more information later. Meanwhile, Ren realized he needed to at least TRY to take on the Skulls. I saw Riskque of to the side and headed Ren over. She agreed to help him take on the Skulls and after some fun RP, they were both off to the mission.

I'd run this mission dozens of time with other characters since its the first mission for the Natural origin story arc. This might have been the most fun of all of them. The mission ran smoothly and in one instance both characters were in a tight spot, fighting hard to stay up in a swarm of Skulls. I decided Ren would keep his cool and not freak out. I also decided that at that moment Ren would realize, in-character, he could do this hero thing.
In the end, the Skulls were defeated, the abducted citizens were saved, and Ren has been notified of a security level change. (He had leveled during the misison.) I did not mark the time exactly but it was roughly 4 and a half hours into the experiment. Whew! Progress had been made. Indeed, slow progress in a game where if you don't RP you gain that level within fifteen minutes. But, it was progress and a story was beginning to emerge! Ren and Riskque headed back to City Hall.

With my timer just under 5 hours (which was all I had given myself that afternoon), I completed the first phase of the experiment with Ren going to speak to Miss Liberty. In-game, characters have to do this in order to "train" and gain their next set of powers and abilities. Its a static interaction but it was a good way to end an experiment that I considered a great success.

To wrap things up completely, I ran Ren back to the office of Susan Davies where I logged off. Its where he will be when I log back on and, for now, I think its a good way to end this phase of his story. Because of the success of the day, I'll be posting more episodes of his story. The Experiment is far from over.


I had asked several questions before going into this experiment. Below are the two stated questions and my reflections on them.

1.)Was collaboration and role-playing that rampant on Virtue?

I would have to say, at this point, yes. I had minor RP within fifteen minutes. However, to really test this I will need to do another experiment on another server or two with a different character. In my experiences, though, to have such responses within such a short amount of time was truly a good sign.

In order for role-play and interaction to be effective, I needed to initiate it almost every single time. Passive interaction with remotes such as "Ren sits and quietly watches the heroes come and go," will not get you very far. Even at times when I did initiate an RP conversation it went nowhere. Oddly enough this happened more with the higher level characters I tried to interact with and Blinding Gauntlet was the only exception.

2.)How long would it take to find RP and could you move forward in the game and up in levels staying completely in character the whole time?

The answer at this point -- A long time! Most players jump into game and either hit the streets looking for mobs (NPC bad guys positioned around the city for you to apprehend) or they do what is called a sewer run. Sewer runs are teams of heroes running through the Paragon sewer system hitting big mobs of bad guys. With a good team, level increases are fast and furious. In my experience, you can get a character to 8th or 10th level easily within the same amount of time I played Ren.

Given the nature of Ren's appearance in Paragon this kept him from an initial sewer run. It could have happened differently but it did not. Instead, he became a bit of a slow burn as far as levels. I believe that this was a trade-off for laying an excellent character foundation.

That's all for now. I hope that you found the experiment a success, entertaining, and possibly grabbed a few ideas along the way for your own play style.

I'm sure other things will come up as I continue the experiment. Stay tuned for more in the near future!

Embodiments Redux

Here's a quick break from the Paradox Experiment series...

Over on my other blog I had started a series of posts called Embodiments which focused on cool avatars in-world which have caught my eye for either their beauty, their creativity, or both. I had been thinking of starting the series up again when, while running around Paragon City this morning, this fellow caught my eye. I was so impressed that I even actually called for him to come back so I could snap a quick pic.

What's fun about this avatar is that his character name was Rikti Diplomat. "So?" I hear you ask. The reason this is fun is because the Rikti are an interdimensional alien race that features prominently in the COH storyline. Currently, they are continuing to invade the place. To the right here is an image of some Rikti invaders that you fight in-game. They have names such as Rikti Mentallist, Rikti Gunman, and so on. Obviously, the name for this character said it all. I can only imagine the amount of pressure he must be feeling these days. Tough job.

Since I am currently on a character kick these days, I wanted to showcase the creativity and good job that went to this look and this idea. To top it all off with a big helping of whipped cream was that the player also knew how to RP and communicated in-character with the similar style of the species.

Thumbs up!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Paradox Experiment, Issue Two

(This continues an ongoing series of articles about an experiment in MMO role-playing and collaborative storytelling.)

I took a few seconds to get my interface working, some things tweaked, and then I walked Ren up the steps toward the crowd that usually forms around Miss Liberty. My broadcast channel was filled with requests for teams and some banter. Assuming the Broadcast announcements would not be emitting from the cloudless sky, I had Ren ignore them in character since he had only his backpack and the clothes he was wearing. My first goal was to get Ren, in character, to the contact of Susan Davies.

While near the crowd, I cast out with a few emotes like "Ren stands at the edge of the space, watching everything, and looking slightly nervous," as well as, "Ren looks at a small piece of paper and then looks around at the chaos with confusion." There were a handful of characters nearby but none took notice that I could tell. There was certainly no overt reaction.

Finally, after several minutes of this, I had him approach the knot of heroes and say, "Excuse me." I waited for a response but nothing happened. About the time I was about to do one more emote to push the issue, one of the heroes at Miss Liberty turned around, "Yeah, kid, what do you need?"

Quite happy with the turn of events, I had Ren hold up the note and ask, "Do you know where Miss Susan Davies might be?"

Protokin, the hero, responded with something like, "Never heard of her, kid. My guess is she's in the City Hall." He then emoted that Protokin waved a thumb at the large City Hall building which dominates the center of Atlas Park. He finished it up by turning to Miss Liberty and saying, "Now, Miss Liberty, where were we?"

Success! Though minor, I had hit Roleplay within 12 minutes of coming into world! I had Ren thank him and moved toward the City Hall building. My plan was to have Ren ask more questions when he got inside the building.

Unfortunately, the inside of City Hall was empty. The only other characters around is the NPC character run by the game itself to handle players creating supergroups or guilds. Ever the artist, I had Ren run up to the empty counter and say, "Hellloooo? Anyone back there?" A few players ran past but no responses.

Ren would then logically move onto any other official looking people in the area. There were two in the room, one is the City Representative and the aforementioned Supergroup Clerk, both of which are run by the game and stay silent. Regardless, I had Ren run up to them and post a few lines to represent his side of the communication. This only took a second to draw the attention of a character called Big Daddy Sweetlove.

Big Daddy Sweetlove was not a roleplayer. He was, however, the epitome of a helpful player. This type of interaction happened frequently to me when playing Rusty in character during the Mainland excursion. Basically, a fellow player who believes your roleplay is actually someone needing help on the out of character (OOC) player level, not the in-character (IC) character level. When it happened it always caused me to send a tell to them privately telling them I was RP'ing.

Big Daddy ran up to Ren and immediately asked, "You need help?" I mentioned I was looking for Susan Davies and he responded with, "Nav screen up?", referring to the player interface that allows the PLAYER to move the character around in the game with the aid of maps, compass points, and chat windows. Unfortunately, for him, I had Ren respond with, "What are you talking about?"

"Can you see a compass on your screen?" he asked.

Ren responded that he had no idea what Big Daddy was talking about and that he just wanted to find Susan Davies. I think Big Daddy started to sense the RP at that point and simply said, "ok. follow." He ran me around the corner and to the stairs. From there, he told me where to go to find Susan Davies.

Thanks to Big Daddy Sweetlove I had made my first goal in 28 minutes.

Susan Davies is a contact within the game. What this means is that when you run up and click on her, a pop-up window opens letting you read what she is saying to your character. A contact will usually offer you a series of missions to complete which, in turn, moves you up in levels. At some point, they will offer to have you meet someone new. This new contact will have different storyline missions and game content. A player can then move onwards from there up the level ladder.

For me, this got me a static response of "Do your job well and we'll get along fine, Ren Paradox," that I got to have fun with. I waited for a player to run within hearing range and while facing Susan Davies had Ren say, "What job? What are you talking about?"

The downside was that there was no response and the player exited. Thing slowed considerably at this point. Susan Davies is the contact for Natural origin characters. Needless to say in a superhero game, there are not a lot of "Natural" origin superheroes. Players were few and far between in the office of Susan Davies. Perhaps that is why she was constantly reading the paper?

Everytime a player would draw near I would post something similar regarding Ren's side of the conversation. After nearly fifteen minutes and several players ignoring me, I realized I had to change my tactics or be stuck in Davies' office for the rest of the afternoon. Clicking on the task of going to speak to a Detective Brogan, I turned and headed back outside of City Hall. A few attempts to ask heroes in area about where I could find Detective Brogan turned up nothing and things began to really slow down with no interactions. Perhaps the experiment was going to fail?

At this point, I had to make a few creative changes. First off, I decided Susan Davies would not have just accepted a note and story like Ren's, smile, nod, and then have him to go run off and see a Detective. Some actions would have been taken. I made a few story decisions. I decided that Davies, head of the ELITE department for the entire city, had him scanned and tested with ELITE's equipment. They had found nothing suspicious and had determined he was, indeed a natural with super abilities. She had registered him as a hero in the city's database, sat him down and maybe briefed him a bit, handed him a communication/navigation unit and THEN, sent him out to talk to a detective.

She, did, after all, have a newspaper to finish and could not be bothered with anything less then the city exploding. All in all, I figured this would have taken several hours at best.

I fast forwarded a bit and dumped all that into the character idea. The bottom line is that I still had a young confused man in an unknown city being told to go find a detective that showed up on his communicator/navigation unit. My attempts at having any interaction outside the City Hall proved useless so I moved onward.

I had him run out to the Detective and avoided a few of the bad guy groups scattered around at streetside. At one point, I had him watching three NPC bad guys who are programmed to look like they are breaking into a door. I assumed Ren was NOT about to jump these guys and pull a hero act. As I watched though, a hero ran up and began to paste them with energy beams. I emoted with, "Ren watches the battle." When it was all over the hero ran slightly past Ren and I had Ren say, "That was awesome!"

The player had his hero wave and then kept moving.

In a way, I chalked that up to some good RP. Right out of a comic book, actually.

While at the Detective, I did some more one sided comments but there were no players in the area. Things were starting to look grim. Eventually giving in, I clicked on the task the Detective had for me which was to go save a rave dance party from a gang of super criminals called Skulls. Though I thought it odd for a newbie to get the assignment, I figured Ren would freak out a bit about this. I also decided it was time to get him back to better RP waters for said freakout.

Back at City Hall, I had him slowly work his way up to the podium underneath the giant statue of Titan outside of City Hall. This area, close to City Hall, is typically known as an unofficial gathering area for the players that goes back years to the games beta testing stage. Once there, I saw one or two other players roleplaying a bit. I had Ren move to the outskirts of the social group. The goal was to see if A.) someone would try to help him with the assignment or B.) have Ren hand off the Skull assignment to a "real hero." Like at Miss Liberty, I had him ask again, "Excuse me."

At the one hour and a half mark, things were about to finally get going...

The Paradox Experiment, Issue One

As promised earlier, I present one of the new features for Frontier's Horizon!

Knowing I had a pretty open afternoon coming up today, I decided this afternoon would be the launch point for an experiment and feature I had wanted to run here on the blog. That experiment concerned role-playing and story creation on an MMO (multi-player online) environment.

As mentioned in my previous post, the Virtue server is known as the unofficial role-playing server for the game City of Heroes. I wanted to put that to the test. Was collaboration and role-playing that rampant on the server? I've been a longtime veteran of the server and had some idea of just how much went on. However, I wanted to try it out with a new character, totally fresh, and utterly in-character the whole time. How long would it take to find RP and could you move forward in the game and up in levels staying completely in character the whole time?

The Rules

1.) Stay in character the entire time. Any out of character game jargon were to be taken as if the person had ACTUALLY SPOKEN the words. The idea was to literally plop a character down in Paragon City with little back history and little understanding of what things would be like. On top of that, the character was to not be a hero before hand. He would wander into the city and the rest would be left to chance and to my own interpretation in-character. The full idea was to be a fully experienced RP'er playing a complete and utter newbie to the City.

2.) Keep an eye on the clock and note times to record how long it took for things to occur.

3.) To not overly fish for RP or to force scenes. Let the other players, within reason, control the scene with their own ideas and input.

4.) I would roll a die to randomly determine what powers the character would have. From this, I would work towards a personality and an outfit.

The Character

I needed a character that was fresh faced and that matched the idea of the "young hero." The original idea was to keep sexual gender out of it by designing an android type character. For this particular experiment, I opted not to do it since I did not want people to feel alienated by a non-human character. I wanted other players to feel comfortable around the character with no sense of alienation. I decided, for this run, on a young man, around 18 or 19 in age. His clothes would be simple and comfortable looking, pants, jacket and shirt. No fancy costume, not yet. No bright colors either.

His hair would be white due to the experiences he had been through with his abilities. Experiences that he would not remember at first. I also thought that the white hair would be a nice symbol of his purity and goodness. (But, thats just me. *lol*)

As stated, the character creation process was entirely random. The City of Heroes character building process is a thing of beauty all by itself since it gives the player an immense number of combinations of powers, origins, and outfits. In City of Heroes terms, I rolled a Natural Illusion/Kinetics Controller. What this means is that my hero's abilities came from within himself. They were not mutations or originated with technology but instead natural abilities and talent. He would have the ability to cause illusions on the bad guys as well as manipulate kinetic energy to help himself and his teammates. In the game, a Controller is one that tends to hold villains in place, stun them, and to "lock down" enemies instead of going in and brawling them.

I decided that he would not really know where his powers came from but instead were just extensions of his will, of what he wanted. I figured the other stuff could get filled in later or possibly by other players. Again, I wanted it to be collaborative.

The name was incredibly important and after a long grueling process which I won't go into now, I decided on Ren Paradox. Ren was short for Renaissance (A favorite name of mine for close reading fans will remember) and Paradox... well it would link to the character's story.

Character's Story

A good beginning mystery should be simple. I wanted something that would plop Ren right smack in the middle of Atlas Park with little other strings attached. I decided that it would be as easy as getting off a bus...

When someone would click to read his bio, this is what would come up...

1/19/2008, Noon, The Redhound bus pulled up to the steps of the Atlas Park City Hall. The only disembarking passenger was a white haired young man carrying a backpack and a look of confusion about him.

The other twist I decided to add was that Ren would have only one solid memory. He would remember waking up on the bus just as it pulled into Paragon City and finding a typewritten piece of paper in his hand that said, "When you awaken, see Miss Susan Davies." This would key into the first thing a Natural hero is told upon logging in for the first time which is.... you guessed it... "See Susan Davies."

I had a few ideas as to how he got onto the bus but nothing would be set in stone. Again, I wanted to see what would, if anything, come up.

With great excitement, I hit the button which would send me into Paragon City. Within minutes, Ren was standing at the steps to Atlas Park City Hall and I posted a quick emote about how he had just stepped off the bus.

What happened over the next five hours is the reason this post is labeled Issue One. There was just too much to tell so I had to make it a series!

Friday, January 18, 2008

To Tell The Tale...

One of the things I continue to explore with the MMORPG environment is the ability for individuals to use the world's environment to tell a story. This could be a character story, a group's story, or even a story that features the environment itself. For instance, Rusty's journey to the Mainland posts which stretched over several weeks last year or, more recently, his entrance into City of Heroes' Paragon City. The environments are dynamic, the characters available to interact with, player as well as game driven, are almost uncountable, the role-playing table is open 24/7, and, in the case of some MMO's, the world holds a rich store of material from which to draw.

I'm utterly fascinated with the creative human drive, perhaps instinct, to take a combination of experiences and combine them into a coherent piece of expression. I would almost dare say it is a form of art. My love of it began early on in my life when I used tabletop RPG's as a springboard for character and story creation with my own writing. I continue to look towards the MMO as a tool for doing the same thing.

For instance, take a look at This wiki site is a collection of characters and stories which have been created on one particular server for the game City of Heroes. The Virtue server has become the unofficial role-playing server. What this means is that the majority of the players there have come to that server to engage in not just a drive towards the next level or the perfect combination of character skills and abilities but, instead, have come to tell an interactive story. The Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Univers is a fan run wikis and is modeled after the Marvel Comics produced Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe which was originally put out in the eighties as a handbook for the huge amount of Marvel character. (Of which, I am a proud owner of several.) The Marvel books would take individual characters from the Marvel universe and devote at least one page to description, history, and essential information about the character.

Virtueverse does the same thing except players create their own entries for their own characters. Each page is an homage to a player's favorite character. A small digital collection point for that person's creative buzz. Some, both on Virtueverse and a score of forum boards scattered over the internet, have created stories, whole cloth, from their adventures and encounters within the confines of the game.

Do yourself a favor when you have some time and click on the link in the left bar of the Virtueverse website titled "Random Page." Wander around and take a look at some of the amazing (and, granted, not so amazing) stories which are being woven everyday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Virtual Campus

NC State students are constructing their campus on Second Life.

"Designers are still working on the library and some of the various colleges in the project are still constructing their buildings. But aside from that, Robertson said, the project is still very much in a research phase."

It's not a supported venture by the Unversity but it is an interesting article on the early stages of an educational system in virtual space.

In other news, I'm working on a "Cast" of characters for your enjoyment as well as some ideas that might help facilitate in-world story ideas. More to come as time permits!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Frontiers for Little People

I found this an interesting overview of what is happening with the youth-based virtual worlds. My 10 year old plays Club Penguin and loves it.

Brave New Virtual Worlds

I'm mainly just posting this because it uses the word "Frontier" in relation to virtual worlds. *grin* However, what they say is true. " The sites are the new frontier of an old concern." There is a lot to be aware of before letting your youngster go gallivanting off into a new world!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year Re-Launch

Greetings and Happy New Year! Welcome to 2008!

It’s the new year and it’s time for a new look and a new take on things. Frontier’s Horizon originally started as a vehicle to journal and comment about my experiences in Second Life as well as other virtual worlds and to look at the phenomena of the same. I believe that there is something in the experience, something in the interaction of the virtual world and real. Something that is, in fact, positive, not negative as the media would have you believe.

That was the origin. As things go, of course, it morphed a bit. Along the way, it changed to a fictional chronicle of the good Captain Buchanan and moved away from the other. And then, Rusty wandered over to City of Heroes and somewhere things got lost. Unfortunately, the fictional work began to take its own toll on my ability to produce steady content as it pulled me a little further away from what I was originally intending to do. On top of that, I started an intense full time job which took large chunks of time away from my time to get writing done

I feel that over the past several months the blog lost much in its ability to be entertaining and useful. (This, of course, could have something to do with the utter lack of posts. *grin* ) I let several good posts go to the wayside in the pressure of continuing to tell the Captain’s story and, in a way, I let the cart lead the horse. I allowed things to get a bit muddy as to what EXACTLY I was trying to do with the vehicle.

So, to be a bit more succinct, this is a re-launch.

I've got some ideas that I want to try out as well as some new things to try out. For one, you will see two different authors on this site for now. (Possibly even more if I get some volunteers.) You'll still see Rusty posting his stories and comments. Who knows? They might even be entertaining? However, now, you'll also have me in there throwing out a different viewpoint as well. In fact, most of the posts from here on out will come from your truly.

And, do not despair, the stories will continue! And, in fact, there are several more characters coming on board! I am a huge fan of this stuff and its ability to be used as, if not a storytelling medium, then an inspiration for the same.

I hope you enjoy the switch over!