Constitution

“Time and changes in the condition and [it] may require occasional and corresponding modifications.”Gary Gygax

If you don’t know who Gary Gygax is, he is one of the original creators of Dungeons and Dragons, the pen and paper, sword and sorcery, Cheetos and Mountain dew fueled roleplaying game that has been around for almost half a century. It set the standard for RPG games, both in text and video game form, and it all starts and ends with the D&D Rulebook. It is the tome where all adventures, characters, and worlds begin and end. It is the Bible of the D&D adventures, and it has gone through a lot of revisions. We are on D&D’s 5th Edition as of 2012, and still going, and that makes sense. As the game and its fan base have grown over the decades so has the need for substantial rule and gameplay editions aimed at making the game more enjoyable, more user-friendly, and just more fair for all the players involved… but here is the kick: That above quote is mis-attributed. Gary Gygax never said that, but Thomas Jefferson did, and he was talking about the US Constitution.

Amending the Dragon
Jefferson’s quote goes as follows -and we think it is worth reading in full: Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind that a solemn opportunity of doing this every 19 or 20 years should be provided by the constitution, so that it may be handed on with periodical repairs from generation to generation to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure.

Despite what you may think of old Tommy J, he was still a Level 20 Constitutional Scholar. He helped write it and he believed firmly that the Constitution should be a living document. He believed that the American people had the right to revisit our founding document every two decades, which also makes sense. The Constitution is basically the D&D Rulebook of government. Sure there are plenty of other sourcebooks that accompany it -The Senate Master’s Guide, the Tax Collector’s Handbook, The Judiciary, and The Forgotten Realms Adventures- but in the end it all stems from this one source. It lays out the basic framework of our government, and to date, there are only 27 amendments, the last of which was created in 1992, and addressed Congressional salary. For comparison, Dungeons and Dragons was in its 2nd edition at that time. That means that the last Constitutional Amendment was made three D&D editions ago…

We have seen more movement on the rules governing D20 dice rolling than we have seen on the rules governing… well governing. Now, some people will argue that is because the founders wanted it that way. After all, in order to properly run a country -much like properly running an adventuring party of five unruly friends with questionable moral compasses- you need a stable set of rules. You don’t want to be changing the basic governing principles every five years to suite the latest needs or crazes. That is why the Congress passes laws. Those laws are meant to be the changing rules that deal with the every day minutia of life, liberty, and the pursuit of the +2 Magic Goblet of Happiness. We understand that, but what happens when the rulebook does not account for all the ways in which the game can be broken?

The Power Players
Any experienced D&D player knows that there are some exploits and multi-class combinations which they can use to make their characters almost uber powerful. Typically these people are called Power-Gamers. They are the ones that figure our how to make characters that deal massive amounts of damage to other creatures, thus giving the GM a headache every time he tries to set up a level-appropriate challenges for the adventuring party. Power-gamers are the people who pour over the rulebook looking for exploits and loopholes, and there are a few. After all, it is a massive game with a lot of varying rules and abilities. That is why one of the reasons why D&D revises their editions is to try and reduce the instances of exploitation that can be used to create unbalanced characters and unfairly tip the game in their direction.

So why would the laws of the United States be any different? After all, people have discovered a fair amount of meta-exploits they can use to power-game the legal system. Issues such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, when executive nominations should be brought to a vote, congressional and judicial term limits, campaign finance, legislative proposal procedures, voting rules, and more are not covered in the Constitution. Thus, these vital rules have been left open to debate by various state legislators, congresses, and judicial courts. We agree that the Constitution should not be a document that is changed with every passing political fad or cultural trend, but it does need to be a rulebook that enshrines how to fairly and accurately create those laws, which are meant to deal with those issues. Right now there is a lot that is left open to interpretation and house rules.

House Rules are basically the verbal agreements that players of D&D make with each other on how to use certain mechanics or improve upon parts of game play that make sense for the group of people at the moment. It is a fine way for friends to find play styles that best suit their own individual tastes and come to an understanding of the social norms that dictate how things should be done. For the government, there are a lot of these “house rules.” For instance a house rule for the Senate may be that senators trade votes on issues, or the sanctity of good-faith debates. However, the problem with these norms is that they can easily be broken with no consequences other than a tsk, tsk from your fellow players. In a D&D group that could mean bad feelings and group chaos, but in the halls of Congress that could mean outright governmental dysfunction. That is why we need to start relying on our Constitution to enshrine some of the more sensible ideas as hard rules.

We have done this in the past. The most prominent example is when the 32nd Level President, Franklin Roosevelt, stuck around in office for more than two terms. Up until that point Presidential term limits had only been a norm. The two term limit started back when the original GM, George Washington set the house rule in 1797. FDR, however, decided that he would just keep going, and there was really no way to stop him. So in 1951, Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment which officially limited the President to two terms in office. It was a good idea, and revising or even just adding several new amendments could really help a lot of the more intuitive norms of our government become unbreakable rules. As we have found out over the past two-years social norms are not strong enough to stop some players from ignoring them. Even worse, confusing rules -or often times unclear grammar and spelling- can embolden these players to do things that the original framers of the rulebook never intended.

A secondary reason to create a revised rulebooks in the gaming world, is because humans are just not perfect, even after fifteen rounds of editing, and that is true of our founding document as well. We’re sorry to break this to you, but -grammatically speaking- the US Constitution is far from perfect and far from clear. For example, the 26th Amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” Grammatically, that makes very little sense. If you break that sentence down by its commas, it is literally saying that all United States Citizens are eighteen years or older… and by the way their right to vote cannot be denied or infringed. Also, that amendment is not some archaic piece of legislation from the horse and carriage days. It was ratified in 1971. Even worse is the ambiguous grammar and punctuation of the 2nd Amendment, but we have talked about that before, so we won’t go back into it. D&D and other roleplaying games are often forced to release errata to their preexisting rules. These are clarifications meant to clear up ambiguously worded rules or fix other problematic ideas that cannot wait for a new print edition. Jefferson and Madison cannot do that, mostly because they do not have wifi where they are. So, instead, we need to admit all we really have in the US Constitution is a good first edition, but it might be time to move out of beta…

Succeeding over a DC 1789
There is also another reason was have seen 5+ versions of the D&D Rulebook, and that is improvement. The first version of the game was “fine,” but we have played it and from experience we can tell you that it seems a bit lackluster, and the rules are definitely broken or nonsensical in some places. If you go back and play the first version after playing the iterations that have come after it, then it is very easy to see why the game needed to keep growing, and testing, and trying new ideas and mechanics before it became game that nerds in basements all over the world have fallen in love with. Yet, that did not happen all at once. No, continuing improving the game’s core rulebook has led to a better and robust game. Sure there have been some pitfalls along the way, *cough* version 4e *cough* but on the whole the process has produced better results than what we would have gotten if we had just strayed with version 1 for the past five decades. When Dungeons and Dragons was first launched in 1972 the game was new and innovative. Pen and paper RPGs were not as ubiquitous or time-tested as they are today.

Similarly, the US Constitution was unique when it was first created, and yes there was some beta testing by the Greeks, Romans, and Iroquois, but the US system was something fresh in the world. It would make sense that the first version might need some tweaking and revision as the years went on, and to its credit the document has been changed a bit since its original inception. After all, the founding fathers did believe that it should be a living document and did include a way to create amendments. Unfortunately, they made that process incredibly hard to accomplish. Currently, the only way to make an amendment is either by a two-thirds vote by the House and the Senate, or through a Constitutional Convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. In our gridlocked and polarized times, both those two things are as likely as three Critical Rolls in a row. Basically, the document might as well be under a Flesh to Stone spell for all the progress it is going to make in our current political climate.

The unfortunate part is that our current political climate is exactly why we may need to make some revisions. Rules that would ensure a speedy nomination processes, a balanced budget, congressional term limits, judicial term limits, public financing for campaigns, better anti-corruption rules, a right to privacy for all citizens, fair and representative political districts, a federal right to vote -which we do not actually have at this moment-, and possibly even direct Presidential elections as opposed to the electoral college. Now, all of these are just suggestions, and are more or less covered -sometimes inadequately- by other laws, but enshrining them in our highest rulebook… err Constitution might go a long way to help re-balance this game which we call democracy.

Casting Magic Miscellaneous References
Now, you may think we are being ridiculous, comparing the US Constitution to one of the most successfully games ever created… Fine, that is your opinion, but using the principles of a game is not a crazy way to help craft policy or to create a better set of rules for governance. Ultimately that is exactly what the framers were doing. They were creating a set of rules by which they and everyone else would abide by when playing this game of American Democracy. Revising the Constitution could be a good way to remove the power from power-gamers, such a special interest groups and political parties. We could reset the rules so that everyone can have a fair and fun adventuring party as we set out to tackle the dungeons of global uncertainty, or drink ale together in the tavern of political discourse.

No game is ever perfect in its first version. Any game designer will tell you that no matter how you plan or what you do, there are always people out there who will figure out ways to get around rules or break the system for their benefit. Revising rulebooks and taking into account what works and what does not is a good way to correct some of those unforeseeable problems. It is the same for the Constitution. It should not be a static document, and yet the farther from its original creation we have come, the less and less we seem willing to change it… which is crazy.

The Constitution should be an evolving set of rules by which we can keep the intention of our original game designers alive. D&D also teaches us one more important thing that we need to remember. This game should not be about competition, but cooperation. We need rules that help us work together fairly, whether our goal is slaying a dragon or reducing our debt crisis, because at the end of the day we are all players on the same team and we are all friends.

Games give you a chance to excel, and if you’re playing in good company you don’t even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game -Thomas Jefferson… err Gary Gygax

Our Friends over at Shortcut have clued us into this amazing and interactive history of online gaming. So check out their work and take a tron cycle ride through the world of games online. From dial-up bulletin boards to augmented reality headsets, online gaming has leveled up a lot since the 1970s. These advances wouldn’t have been possible without hardware breakthroughs and the evolution of the internet itself. Our thanks to the people at Shortcut for sharing this graphic and letting us share it with you.

No Man's Sky

We want to start out by saying that this is not a review for No Man’s Sky, the hotly anticipated game by Hello Studios. If anything, this is just us thinking aloud about what this game is and what it means for gaming going forward. The game we released for Playstation 4 on Tuesday and is being launched on PC through Steam today, and there are plenty of reviews already out there. We have poured over all those reviews from both professional and amateur game reviewers and one theme has emerged among them, most people still don’t know what to make of No Man’s Sky.

An Atlas to a Larger Universe
Here is what we know so far with reading reviews and playing through the beginning of the game. First, No Man’s Sky, is -at its core- a game of discovery, but it is also a survival game. Gathering resources to fuel and repair your ship, to power up your exosuit, and even to upgrade and arm yourself are essential gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, this means that -especially at the beginning- you are going to be spending a lot of time gathering resources just to stay ahead of dying. Thankfully, this is not a hard thing to do and all indications seems to point to the fact that once you upgrade your tools and exosuit a little the task will become easier to accomplish. However, we doubt it will disappear entirely, but that may not be a bad thing.

Being forced to mine also means being forced to explore and if there is one thing that No Man’s Sky gets high marks for it is the sheer scale and wonder of the galaxy it inhabits. While searching for minerals or just trying to survive you can find yourself coming across the most amazing sights. This includes animals of all shape, sizes, and temperaments; plants as big as houses; subterranean caves of fire or ice; or almost anything you can imagine. The galaxy of No Man’s Sky is generated completely by complex mathematical algorithms, and has literally quintillions of worlds to see. That means that whenever you step on a planet or see an alien creature -or run for your life from an alien creature- you are almost certainly the first person ever to do those things. You might be the first person to feed a pink giraffe, or the first person to set foot on a world with floating forests.

Exploration might be the stated goal of the game, but real truth is that there is no goal of this game. You can choose to be guided by an artificial intelligence named Atlas, but even this computer’s instructions are only limited to the most basic of hints. For the most part, players must figure the game out on their own, and that is good. Too often modern games hold our hands and tell us where we need to go and what we need to collect or destroy. No Man’s Sky seems to religiously avoid any hint of having linear goals or quests. This will turn some people off, because it means you may never find that sense of satisfaction you might get from completing a game or beating a final boss. However, there is also a marvelous sense of freedom that comes with literally being your own person. It is just you, your ship, and the ‘black.’ This will probably be the most divisive aspect of the game, but it is also its core principal.

As your own person you can choose to continue exploring or even try your hand at space piracy, but be warned there are consequences. Combat in the game is possible and even sometimes necessary, but thanks to automated sentinels and over-aggressive space police choosing the route of violence has serious consequences. Being a pirate means garnering a vast amount of resources quickly, but it also means having to fight your way past an ever increasing number of galactic police that make the cops in GTA seem tame. It is the kind of thing that would be easier if you had a partner, but that actually leads us to the biggest oversight of No Man’s Sky.

Alone in the Void
There is no multiplayer, and that needs to be stated clearly and unequivocally. You will never be able to find your friends or meet up with another human in the game, and in our opinion, that is the biggest missed opportunity of this franchise. No Man’s Sky could have been like DayZ, but in space. We’re not sure how that would work with the procedural generation of the galaxy, or the astronomical mathematical impossibilities it might take for two players to actually find each other among quintillions of planets and stars, but just knowing that it would be possible would have been a great addition. Multiplayer has been one of the biggest mysteries of this game. Even we were fooled initially by the early reports of what No Man’s Sky would and wouldn’t be. Perhaps, Hello Games never saw this as a multiplayer endeavor, but a game about surviving alone in space. Unfortunately, we believe it may take away some of the replay value for some people. When that initial awe of exploration wears off, what are the vast majority of people going to do?

We are going to use DayZ as a comparison. Similar to its younger space-based brother it is a survival game. There are no goals but to collect items and loot corpses to give yourself a better chance at surviving another day in a zombie-based world. However, the survival and even the zombies do not give the game its main appeal. It is the interactions between players, the weird and crazy things that happen when people are allowed to roam free with no clear objectives. People form survival groups, become fire-extinguisher wielding superheroes, play in a Hunger Games like contest, and generally just get to experience the mean, generous, sadistic, crazy, caring, insane world of a game driven by the players. Now can you imagine all that, but in in an infinite galaxy of worlds and stars? How long would it take before a group of players become a galactic empire, or started a Federation? How long would it take for people to form a Firefly-esque crew of smugglers and outlaws, or an Enterprise-esque crew of explorers? Maybe that would take away the initial lonely space survival feel that Hello Games was looking to achieve, but it is an appealing idea.

To Infinity and Beyond
So what does the future hold for No Man’s Sky? Hello Games has already stated that they will be continuing to support the game with new patches and features going forward. They talked about things like player-owned freighters and even space stations. Maybe they might even choose to add in multiplayer one day, but that is pure speculation on our part. After all, the game is selling like hotcakes -which makes us wonder how well hotcakes actually sell these days- and with today’s release of the PC version there seems to be no indication of it slowing down. It will be interesting to see what the game looks like in a month or six. Will people still be enthralled by its endless wonder or will they have moved back to Call of Duty?

As much as it feel sanctimonious to suggest this, maybe No Man’s Sky is not quite the game we have been waiting for all our lives. Do not get us wrong. We love it and we will be playing for a long time to come, but it is not quite there, at least not yet. More and more online games are trending toward the idea of directionless-player-driven content, and maybe this game is just another large step in the direction we want to go. All it means is that we have not yet reached the Ready Player One aspect of gaming, where players can travel, explore, conquer, and completely shape the game they inhabit. It may take 20 years but we believe that is coming.

So maybe it is unfair to judge No Man’s Sky based upon our astronomical expectations, because let’s face it, if this game had only half the hype that surrounded this past week’s launch then by any metric it would have been a mind blowing success. Over the past few years the game became a magnet for everyone’s unrealistic presumptions, and yet even with all the inflated hype it still manages deliver a beautiful and immersive experience. Perhaps that is why most people and most reviewers -including us- still don’t know how to classify this game. Is it a space-sim, a survival game, some sort of genteel zoological study? Then again, maybe going forward those types of labels are going to be less and less applicable. With the increase of computing power and more open and infinite world simulations, we might find it harder and harder each year to be able to label exactly what games are and what they aren’t.

End Transmission
As for the freshman game by Hello Studios, most of us still aren’t even sure what or if this game will evolve into something completely different later on down the line. The developers have been very tight-lipped about the surprises, Easter eggs, and other content that players are going to find and discover as they progress. Maybe there is still amazing things to uncover that we cannot even fathom yet. What we do know is that No Man’s Sky is about exploring, but real exploring. Truly surviving in space would be a tedious and sometimes incredibly dangerous endeavor and this game does not shy away from those aspects. Yet, even those annoyances are overshadowed by the sense of scale in No Man’s Sky. It is truly mind-blowing.

Living on Earth we might have the academic or existential understanding that we are small specks floating on a small speck in one corner of a small galaxy in a near-infinite universe of stars and planets. However, when you are playing No Man’s Sky that understanding is not just academic, it is driven home with almost every action you take. You could walk for hours on a planet and not even experience a fraction of all it has to offer, and yet you can get into your ship and rocket into space watching as that singular and unique world becomes nothing more than a mote of dust below you, as if it never mattered at all. If there is one thing we can say that this game succeeds wildly at, it is making us feel very very very tiny.

MAGFest stands for Music and Gaming Festival. It is an annual convention -now in its fourteenth year- that takes place every winter in Washington DC’s National Harbor. MAGFest is a great place to check out video games, board games, and roleplaying games, as well as geek-tacular music and panels dedicated to all forms of gaming. With a library of board and tabletop games, as well as an entire wing dedicated to retro arcade gaming MAGFest is also the place to be if you consider yourself a gamer or if you just like rolling a D20 every now and then. Independent developers set up booths to show off their latest games and allow fest-goers to playtest their products. MAGFest is a great opportunity to see a lot of impressive wares and interact with the men and women on the forefront of the Indie gaming community.

The NYRD sent a few representatives down to our nation’s capital to eat, game, and be merry, and this is five of the best and brightest products and people we think you need to keep an eye on. Check out what they found:

5. Ninja Burger
Ninja Burger is not necessarily what you might consider a new find. MAGFest offers  a wide variety of old and new games in their board game library. Ninja Burger was created by Steve Jackson -who created the successful series of Munchkin games- and has been around for a few years now. However, it was new to the crew at The NYRD, so we felt strongly enough about the game that it deserved to be on this list. We found this game tucked in the far corner of the game library in a beat-up old box and we could not be happier that we did.

A wildly imaginative and not-so-serious game, in Ninja Burger you take on the role of a ninja in the Ninja Burger franchise. You must deliver your burgers to customers ranging from super spies to speeding car drivers, all without being noticed, in true ninja fashion. To do this you complete mission cards with a set of skills and fortunes. Failure means that you bring shame on yourself and the franchise, but success brings honor and possible a nice tip. Gain enough honor and you could be promoted.

This game was so fun that The NYRD crew had to go back for a second round of gaming the next day. We highly recommend this find to anyone who enjoys playing casual and hilarious card games with friends.

4. Just Beats and Shapes
Just Beats and Shapes is an award winning Indie party game. By far, the most frequently played Indie game by The NYRD crew at MAGFest. it is fun and challenging, yet the controls are simple enough that even the most inexperienced gamer can jump right in and play along. Just Beats and Shapes won multiple awards at PAX East and GDC, and the game has not even released yet.

You and up to three of your friends need to navigate your node around obstacles and impressive graphical side-scrolling shapes all to the beat of some catchy tunes. Even if you are not into dance music or techno beats we promise you will be toe tapping along with the songs on this game, mostly because you will have to redo level sections multiple times as you fight and maneuver your way through minefields of colorful lines, blocks, and fast-moving dots.

According to the developers the full version should be ready by the summer for release on Steam and most major gaming platforms. You can also follow the developers on their Twitch feed to get live updates and watch the progress of the game as it develops.

3. Eight Bit Disaster
A mix between the Dave Matthews Band and that creepy kid in college who did nothing but play Mega Man with the lights out, Eight Bit Disaster is the kind of band you need to experience live to truly understand. Immensely talented musicians this group of five gentlemen rock out to classic and modern video game, TV shows, and cartoon music remixes.

We definitely recommend checking out one of their shows if they are ever in your neighborhood or if you are ever in their vicinity of North Carolina. With a saxophonist leading the charge, old and classical video game songs become new again. There is also plenty of musical interludes where the individual musicians get to show their talent and jam out with guitar, keyboard, bass, drum, and of course saxophone solos. Eight Bit Disaster was anything but a disaster at this year’s MAGFest and both the audience and our crew members came away cheering and clapping.

You can check out their music on Band Camp, but -be warned- it does not do justice to their live show.

2. Liege
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for The NYRD crew at MAGFest this year, Liege, is a serious and dark Indie game done in the JRPG style with a twist.Created by CodaGames, Liege takes the classical turn-based combat approach of JRPG’s and gives the player a dynamic and innovative tactical element to go along with it.

Though we were only able to play the Alpha run-through the game looks not only mechanically fun but graphically beautiful. This is definitely a title we would recommend keeping your eyes on. Currently the project has over $81,000 but we would love to see this game brought to full realization. It is an exciting title with a lot of potential for fun and incredible storytelling. Any fans of Final Fantasy or other classic JRPG styled games would enjoy Liege.

Check out their Kickstarter to learn more and see if you want to pitch in some money to help.

1. Bit Brigade
By far the highlight of MAGFest was a band called Bit Brigade. They are a staple of the festival and they never fail to amaze. Their self proclaimed lead singer is a practiced classic video game speed runner. With a range of games from Contra to Castlevania he can blow through games in under an hour, often with one or less deaths.

However the real joy of Bit Brigade comes from the band standing behind the man who is hunched over a controller on a small 90’s mini TV. The band plays through the entire game, giving each level of classic 8 and 16 bit music new life with wailing guitars and reverberating drum beats. This year the band treated their crowds to performances of Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2. There is nothing quite like rocking out while also being transfixed by the skill and magic of a live speed run.

We recommend you check out their page, their skill, and their tour dates, because if you see one video game band live this year, it should be Bit Brigade.

The NYRD crew had an amazing time this year at MAGFest. It is a far cry from the media and entertainment circus that can sometimes be New York or San Diego Comic Con, but that does not mean it is a modest convention in the slightest. Instead it feels like a gathering of thousands of thousands of like-minded friends who just want to come together, play some games, and rock out to some quality musical groups. For anyone who has not attended we highly recommend the experience. You will not be disappointed.

No Man’s Sky is one of the most highly anticipated new MMORPGs. It will promise to put players into a near-infinite universe with never before seen planets, animals, and environments. It will also give the player the ability to interact and have an impact on the game universe itself. There is a lot of hype and a lot of hope for No Man’s Sky as being the next leap forward in the MMORPG genre, but it is not the first, nor will it be the last in a long list of massive multiplayer online role-playing games.

A Text-Based Past
In all fairness, maybe the distinction of the first multiplayer role-playing game should go to Dungeons and Dragons. First published in 1974 this pen and paper role-playing game helped set the standard and the preferred genre for many MMORPGs to come. It is no coincidence that most MMOs use the fantasy setting and a system of experience and leveling in their gameplay. Most of those early programmers were spending their off time rolling D20’s like a dungeon boss. So maybe it is only natural that they took the IRL experience they loved and tried to insert it into the virtual world where they worked. The initial results were mixed at best.

It is hard to pin down the first official MMO, but a lot of people tend to point to a small 1978 game called British Legends, which -given the time period- sounds more like a David Bowie album, but you should probably do your best to disassociate it from Ziggy Stardust as much Destiny should be disassociated from Paul McCartney –despite what they have tried. British Legends was also not the first online game. Maze War created in 1974 predates the first MMO, but Maze War is considered the first first-person shooter, and that may be another article altogether. Originally, British Legends was simply called MUD or Multi-User Dungeon. The name was changed because MUD eventually became the descriptor for the genre itself.

Multi-user dungeons were not much more than various locations connected by chat windows. Text-based gaming was all those old machines could handle, as they did not yet have the memory or capacity for graphical representations. All movements, actions, and even magic missiles had to be done through a series of keys. “N” to move to the north, “S” to swing a sword, etc. The other problem was that these games were not “massive” by any stretch of the imagination. Moira which was developed in the 80’s could support up to 15 players on one connection and at the time that was seen as an astounding feat of programming.

Paying for Quality
Things started to get truly weird in the 80’s, and we’re not talking simply about parachute pants and that one time MTV played a music video. Graphics were slowly creeping into the MUD genre, but mostly things just got expensive. Games like 1985’s Island of Kesmai were among the first commercially available MUDs, as previous games were basically just small programs shared around college campuses like MIT or among small groups of hardcore computer geeks. Remember that most people back in the 70’s and even 80’s had no idea that the Internet even existed, let alone how to access it to play crude text-based typing games. However, with the materialism of the 80’s, a few people apparently thought, “Yeah we can sell this.” So games like Island of Kesmai hit the shelves and forced players to dish out 12 dollars an hour to play, -and you thought your monthly subscription to World of Warcraft was too steep.

The first graphical interface was introduced in 1988 with Club Caribe, produced by none other than Lucasarts. Originally called Habitat, the game was not a role-playing dungeon crawler so much as it was the forerunner for Second Life, and every online interaction that eventually leads to a meeting with Chris Hanson. The concept was basically an online chat room with visual avatars interacting in -what we can only assume- was a seethe virtual night club, and because Lucas was involved it probably involved a lot of out-of-place toy endorsements and uncomfortably racial-stereotyped alien monsters.

The first real graphical MUD was 1991’s Neverwinter Nights. It was co-developed by Dungeons and Dragons and AOL, and it only cost a meager 6 dollars an hour to play. In the beginning each server could hold up to 50 players at a time, but that was increased to 500 by 1995. The game also started a lot of the tropes you see today in MMOs, most notably the formation of player guilds, which accounted for the games popularity. By the time the Neverwinter Nights servers shutdown in 1997 the game had more than 150,000 people playing it. That was an unheard of number for players for old-time MUDs.

The Big Three
The age of MMORPG was born with the creation of Ultima Online. By the end of 1990 almost 54 million people owned home computers, and by 1995 3 million of them were paying for Internet access. CompuServe and other service companies lowered their hourly rates down from 12 dollars to $1.95 per hour of use, and the Internet was starting to enter the collective cultural conscience with names like AOL -mostly because they kept sending people a ridiculous number of CD’s for “10 Free Hours.” Times were a-changing and it was onto this stage that Ultima Online stepped.

1997’s Ultima Online coined the term MMORPG as it was the first game to reach widespread popularity -including with may future members of The NYRD staff. Ultima was not the first MMO to give players a 3D avatar, but it was one of the smoothest running games of the time. It also introduced some ideas that would not be replicated for years, such as allowing players to buy property, customizing clothes with dyes, and even a player-crafted economy. The game was far from perfect but it jump-started the genre like none before. Suddenly, walking around in a virtual world with hundreds of people as a wizard or warrior was not just possible but terrifying. -Seriously, the world was open PvP and if you left the sanctuary of town you had to run or risk getting ganked by some high-level jerk of a rogue, not that we’re bitter-

EverQuest and Asheron’s Call were both released in 1999 and along with Ultima have been honored as “The Big Three.” EverQuest, in particular, if often cited as bringing MMO’s to the western mainstream. Unlike the MUDs of the past, these games charged only 10 or 15 dollars a month to play, but they cost upwards of 10 million dollars to develop. In today’s multi-billion dollar gaming industry that may not seem like a lot, but in the 90’s that kind of production cost was unheard of and a huge gamble. EverQuest did not have as many player customization options as Ultima, but it was a lot more graphically impressive and the streamlined leveling system did a lot to set the standard for most future MMORPGs, including World of Warcraft.

No Man’s Future
World of Warcraft, incidentally, is still the most successful MMORPG to date, with more than a 10 current million players and 100 million over its lifetime, but it is not the only one. Nowadays, MMOs are big business and you can find one for everything from Star Trek to Star Wars, DC to Marvel, Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. The market is only growing, which is surprising considering that one of the latest trend is Free-to-Play.

Starting in the 2000’s a lot of MMOs transitioned to free-to-play, particularly Champions Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, as a way to draw in more players. Though many initially saw this as a last ditch effort to save flagging games it turned out to be a wise investment strategy. Players who play games for free were more willing to use IRL money to purchase perks or swag for their characters, using micro-transactions to buy everything from impressive looking mounts to new starships. Even World of Warcraft jumped on the band-wagon, allowing players to play for free with restricted access and limited levels. Currently, many MMO’s use the idea of allowing players a “free taste” before tempting them to buy the full game or other in-game purchasable items. Even console are getting into act with games like Destiny reaching unprecedented levels of users.

Right now the sky is literally the limit for MMOs, as new innovations continue to drive the genre foward, including goal-less and quest-less gaming, such as in Day Z. The point of these games is that there is no point. Players are given a sand-box world with certain abilities and physics-based restrictions, but the game experience is entirely up to the player, leaving people free to explore, kill, and even get into some of the weirdest experiences you could ever possibly imagine. No Man’s Sky will be built along this premise, except that it will take place in a near limitless universe, a place so big it may be possible to never see another human player throughout your entire gaming experience. It will be one of the first systems to use a mathematically created and randomized universe, rather than a developer crafted environment, for the player to explore. In other words, not even the developers themselves have seen everything this game has to offer.

We are excited for what the future will bring. Though we at The NYRD have doubts that MMOs will ever turn into something as all consuming as the Oasis system from Ready Player One, or as immersive as anything in Tron, we do think that there is a very real possibility that in the future most people will have normal second or third identities in these virtual universes, like the one one being created by No Man’s Sky. To think this all began with a few lines of text on a screen.

So do you want to go on an adventure (Y?/N?)…