Recently I’ve been listening to Myscha’s subway portal spammer rant over and over a lot.  It’s really funny, but the thing I took out of it with the greatest meaning for me is the term, "choad," and its more exclamatory form, "fucking choad".

choad /chohd/ n. Synonym for `penis’ used in alt.tasteless and popularized by the denizens thereof. They say: "We think maybe it’s from Middle English but we’re all too damned lazy to check the OED." [I'm not. It isn't. --ESR] This term is alleged to have been inherited through 1960s underground comics, and to have been recently sighted in the Beavis and Butthead cartoons. Speakers of the Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati languages have confirmed that `choad’ is in fact an Indian vernacular word equivalent to `fuck’; it is therefore likely to have entered English slang via the British Raj.

I find mself using this term very liberally, whereas I used to use the more syllable-intensive terms "moron," "dumbass," "mongoloid," "dickhead," and "vomit-headed jackass."  As I write this and occasionally alt-tab back to AC, I witnessed Lamustafa running into the middle of about 3 people, standing around in normal clothes and robes, leading a bunch of reedsharks, wasps, and other assorted nonsense.  He ran directly though us, which was not only rude and lame, but also very dangerouns since one of the 3 people happened to have 5 hit points and was obviously crafting something.  :P  So he runs through, out the other side, runs back directly through us again as the fletcher is trying to log out, winds up on the other side, and somehow manages to defeat his train of pursuers, none of which decided to break off and attack the bunch he ran through.
 

Unfortunately, I’ve been in this habit of randomly tossing heals around, and so I see he’s at low health, and toss him a heal.  I was hoping against hope that he might say something, at which point I would explain why it’s considered bad for to run a whole freaking pack of crap through some people standing around in normal clothing, as it may have been remotely possible he actually didn’t know any better.  He didn’t, and after some assessment and standing around watching us, he ran off.  This is a perfect example of a good place to use the term "choad."  But I digress… the term "choad" is just something which amuses me, and this isn’t really about making fun of Lamustafa for training monsters.  He was just lucky enough to get a walk-on.

THOSE GODDAMN TRADING CHOADS

I normally despise trading with people I don’t know (people I do know usually just hand stuff out to whomever is looking for it… until they get interested in being a trading choad, that is.)  Recently, though, Jin Lee started getting on some kick about using level VI jewelry and crap to cut down buff time and annoyance.  Being the impressionable blank slate that I am, I think "that sounds like a good idea!" and so begin looking for level VI stuff.  Unfortunately, one of the ways I started looking into was trading.

Now let me say that trading is not a bad thing… since the pyreal is worthless (more on this later), trading and barter is about as close as AC is going to get to a virtual economy, unless they start over and do things differently.  The problem is that because of certain circumstance (more later on this also), the general trend is for everything in the game to go steadily down in value.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass about weapons which are worse than the best weapon of its class that exists anywhere in the game, mid level devices (since nobody plays mid levels anymore… you guess it, more later), armor which is just "pretty damn good" instead of "godlike", etc.  Two of the reasons for this absurd trend, where a 113% yumi isn’t really anything special unless it has some absurd attack bonus AND Blood VI AND a nifty purple color AND a list/loss value less than a normal leather breastplate, are as follows:

Items Don’t Wear Out.  Although it pains me to do it, I present UO’s economic model, as horrid as it is, as having done a few things right, item decay being one of them.  You find an fortified eminently accurate longsword of vanquishing, you know some day it’s going to wear out and require repair, again and again, until it breaks and that’s that.  In Dereth though, as long as you don’t die and lose your corpse with a cool item on it or get hacked or drop it someplace where some choad can steal it, it’s good for as long as you want to use it.  And when you don’t want to use it, invariably you either give it to some vassal, toss it on a mule thinking that you might want to use ti again someday (never happens), or look to trade it to some other choad who will give you some other crap which will be around forever.  The fact that nothing wears out makes the fact that some items (113% yumis, high AL designer armor, super jewelry, etc.) might be hard to find totally meaningless.  Eventually lots of people will find them, they’ll work their way into the economy, and never ever go away.

Static Uber Quest Items.  If an Atlan Sword has a base of 9-18 and is undroppable and never gets lost, can be made to do all sorts of elemental damage, and can be enchanted with Blood VI by yourself or your twinky mage pal, and potentially everyone who uses swords can get one, why would you bother with a mere 8-16 with Blood Drinker V, Heart Seeker III, and Swift Killer IV?  Why bother keeping a nice suit of 140 AL amuli armor if you can go get undroppable shadow armor or, for the more burden-conscious, a mattekar robe?  Who cares about a stupid 87% longbow when you can get a composite bow that does about the same damage as a 113% yumi and is undroppable?  Many players, specifically among the "reroll of the month" crowd, think only in terms of the top-level weapon they know they can get eventually (probably after lots of lame twinking), and base the value of weapons on that.  And if something gets "nerfed" (fixed), the whining is interminable, as players know that at some point it was possible to get AL 190 GSA, and so the new version of it "sucks".  Choads have long memories.

An example is this thingy I found walking around on Crunch Island.  Now if I was an archer, I would cream myself if I found this… even if I had item, a 113% with Blood VI in place saves me time and mana, and I’d sacrifice just a little bit of damage due to economy… sort of the same idea behind mages using VI jewelry instead of casting, right?  With the other enchantments, I would be pumping my bow up to 279 as fast as possible.  When I relayed news of this find to some other players, the typical response was "eh… marginal."  WHY?  Because it’s not really good enough now to have a 113% with Blood VI and some other crap on it, it needs an attack bonus.  What the fuck is that?  If you happen to be an archer with a 280 bow skill and feel you need a +5% bonus to your attack to hit some sort of supermonster that’s l33t enough to actually evade high-level archery consistently, maybe you should think about attacking something else.  It’s unbelievable.  Fewls would rather start out their gimpy 10/10/100/10/100/100 flavor archer which they’ll get tired of in a month, enslave someone to twink them up to 50 so they can cast Blood VI, get a 113% with an attack + and spend time and mana enchanting it, and use that all for one damn bonus, rather than just grabbing this bad boy and going to town.  Maybe I could trade it to someone who has a level 1 archer vassal for a mote.  You people are insane.  I quit.

Why complain about this now?  Everyone knows that the economy of AC has been fucked for a long time.  But somehow trying to trade for items has shown me that not only is the inherent economy of AC is broken, but the player economy which replaced it is out of hand too.  Can it be fixed?  Nope.  Too late.  An inherent problem with persistent online games based around the building of characters and the accumulation of imaginary crap is that players like things to be reasonably static, in terms of "the rules."  Those of you with enough alimentary fortitude to visit dev boards (forums which are designed to repel and digust any dev team member who mistakenly reads one) already know the amount of insipid uproar that comes from any minor change to game mechanics which has a small chance of adversely affecting gimpy flavor of the month characters that were created with a balance problem in mind.  Imagine the scene when the State of the Code informs them that something untoward might happen to their precious imaginary crap!

In order to get around these problems, a new version of the game would have to start with a few changes in the way that items work.

Item decay.  Things wear out.  They can be repaired to an extent by a blacksmith (look for this to be a popular 100 strength 100 coordination 100 focus mule design), but they eventually have to be discarded or sold for scrap.  Magic items burn out slowly from constantly channeling mana, probably far more slowly if using a passive effect (i.e. Blade Protection IV) instead of an active one (i.e. Wand of Black Fire).  Clothing takes some damage if the armor is pierced.  And so on.  Something not insane like weapons wearing out when you reload them in System Shock 2, but just something there to allow people to know that this thing will eventually have to be replaced.  Problems:  People will hoard all kinds of stupid shit against the possibility of wear and tear; decay bugs can pop up, like the ones that eat player houses in UO, pissing everyone off; if static items are still available they will be camped mercilessly so someone can have 100,000 high quality pyreal ingots which they use to get new weapons when they notice their Atlan Bazooka is doing 1 less point of damage on average; the crippling effects of non-magery become more pronounced as enchanters trek out every day with store-bought crap gear while the manaless fighters carefully protect their prized weapons from nicks and scratches.

No more no-drop.  One of the reasons nobody gives a crap about high quality armor is that they tend to lose it on death.  Not so with shadow armors.  Hey, you want to go into Super Dangerous Land™ when you’re not ready to do so with shadow armor, an impious staff, an atlan weapon, and a composite bow, go crazy… you’ll be well equipped, but you can lose it if you fuck up.  The demand for high quality replacement crap will increase dramatcally and, since the availability of such crap is sharply diminished, the demand for slightly cheesier but still decent crap will also go up, insuring that such items are no longer spawned just to be sold off.  Problems:  Online games are inherently flaky and you can die for any number of stupid reasons, making this something of a sore point; even more hoarding as people start stocking their mules like shelters waiting for the bomb to drop.  Note that if everything gets wear and tear that the importance of no-drop lessens, making its elimination less crucial.

No more static god gear.  Let’s face it:  the idea of having a quest to get one’s hands on a top-of-the-line superitem isn’t really a bad one, and is a staple of lots of fantasy fiction where the author wasn’t smart enough to come up with something better.  However, very few people since beta have ever bothered to actually research and do the quests… the first person who figures it out blabs it on CoD or wherever, and then the only remaining quest is finding a website with all the spoiler information.

A quasi-realistic supply and demand economy for NPC’s.  You think any town’s NPC armorer is doing well?  I don’t… nobody buys normal armor as a general rule, and they’re always having to shell out for truckloads of low- to middling-quality metal caps, chain shirts, and studded leather girths the local rednecks strip off the corpses of their enemies.  Yet they always have cash to pay for it.  What if they didn’t?  A realistic system of cash supply and item demand would limit the abilities of players to rake in hundreds of thousands of pyreals on a daily basis, but would also have to extend to monsters… assuming Ven and the other NPC armourers are also selling to them.  Small town shopkeepers wouldn’t tend to say "NO MORE GODDAMN MORNING STARS FROM YOU SASHI," but given their volume of business, they might not be able to pay that much either.  Problems:  Really hard to implement; players get annoyed as they run from town to town looking for the best prices on a daily basis; the first players in the fresh economy will race to get the most cash possible, leaving jack in terms of NPC resources for the guy who starts his account 1 week after release.

I doubt any of these things could be implemented into AC now, especially item decay, the most important one.  I have to assume that the original designers of the game’s item economy were thinking that things would leave the economy through (1) unrecoverable death, (2) sale to NPC’s for cash, and (3) account/character deletion.  Expectations like these overlook (1) players’ tendency to get their bodies back no matter what, an easy task since players tend to camp one well-known area for weeks and months, (2) the fact that cash is astoundingly easy to get and the only reason to sell items is to unburden your mules, and (3) account sales, item sales, and the tendency for characters who do not go in for eBay togive all their stuff away to friends of theirs who are just at good at hoarding as they were.

So it’s broken.  It can’t be fixed without a hue and cry from the admittedly dysfunctional user base.  Four months from now newbie players will pop in at the starting outposts and have bundles of slightly-less-than-optimum weapons, armor, devices, and mounds of trade notes heaped on them simply because there would be no other demand for them.  Eight months from now, the devs can address the non-decay issue with a patch that changes all items made by the treasure generator to 2 types:  "Best Possible Item of its Class" and "Crap… Sell It".  I expect the aforementioned yumi to be in the latter category.

DAMN STORY WRITING CHOADS

I wrote "Liquid Moves the Air" a little over a month ago, and I like it, which is unusual.  What was disappointing is the fact that I set as one of my goals to sicken readers to the point where they vomited, something I don’t think I managed to accomplish based on my feedback from the story.  I figured I had a better chance of doing this with my small-time "press release" to the various AC sites out there touting it as "Another madcap romp with Mu and his wacky pals!"  I think it might have worked if Allen actually printed that instead of the first two paragraphs of the story, which were a big hint that the story was not funny at all (well, it is to me, but I like that sorta thing).

Coincidentally, around the same time, the devs announced their big in-game writing contest.  Now normally I don’t go in for this sort of thing, but I figured, hell I just spent too much time working on this thing that maybe 12 people might actually read, so I submitted it (sans the ending; damn word counts).  I didn’t win.

Ranter Musashi, of Frostfell, turned in a remarkable story that would have won handily, had it not been more about the Virindi than the Isparians. It did not agree with our (as of yet unrevealed) back story on that mysterious race, and had to be disqualified. Nevertheless, his words haunted me for days afterwards, and I couldn’t in good conscience let him get less than an "honorable mention." I highly recommend you go to his site and read "Liquid Moves The Air ".  — Chris L’Etoile

The idea that this story haunted Chris for days warms my heart a little.  It means it had some sort of effect; it’s not as good as making him vomit, but it’s okay.  If only I could get him to re-open his damn .plan page.  Much bitterness was to be found there.

I concocted this backstory for the Virindi based on what little information is available, their appearance, command of magic, etc., inspired to do so by endless Larry Niven novels.  (Niven is a master of extrapolating logical rationales for imaginary races and cultures through observation of their obvious characteristics, rather than just shluffing it all off as "It’s MAGIC!" or some other cheesy black box device.)  Same with the idea behind lifestone function, which was a pain to describe since the terms "Dirac Jump" and "Non-Locality Theory" are very 20th-century physics-specific and would probably not be used by Virindi.  It seemed plausible… so plausible that I was delighted when I read some email and message board traffic (ugh) debating how I got my insider information.  Unfortunately the cat’s out of the bag now:  I made all that shit up.

However, I had this feeling that the winners of the writing contest would have to have their works recognized as at least plausible fiction, if not canon, once they were printed up in books that maybe 5 people will buy in game.  What an opportunity to fuck with the design team!  With my usual arrogance, I figured that my backstory was probably better than the one they had cooking, to be revealed in some insane 12-part quest for level 100+ characters 6 months from now that 2 people will complete, everyone else waiting for the spoiler to appear on news sites.  With this assumption in mind, I figured that if I wrote a story good enough, I could change the backstory of Asheron’s Call to better suit MY ideas.

It didn’t work, but that doesn’t prevent me from thinking about other changes I could make to the folklore of the game, all based logically on observations about monsters and people and the way things work in the game, rather than some dumb shit like "It’s MAGIC!" or "It’s ancient and mysterious, and if you translate these clues you’ll find out it’s MAGIC!"  Here are a few changes I was going to force on the dev team:

There is no food chain in Dereth, since nobody really needs to eat.  Oh sure you can buy (but not catch) a fish or bake a pie, but nobody actually does anything with them except infuse them with oils to get minor magical effects.  And yet there have to be microorganisms to accomplish things like culturing cheese, breaking down corpses (very quickly too), etc.  Since nothing really evolves unless a patch dictates it, we can assume that most of these microorganisms are dinoflagellates capable of changing their form and function to serve whatever purpose is needed at the time.  A vast majority of them live in the ocean, where humans don’t screw with their ecology and they have no predators.  Eventually they perform some oddball task that endangers everyone in Dereth with horrible illnesses and choking atmospheric attacks near the shores.  Look for the new monthly event, "Red Tide Rising."

People in Dereth are not diurnal; they can function for days on end in high-stress functions like combat, with no regard for the day/night cycle at all.  "Logged off" time cannot be construed to be a sort of multi-cycle sleep pattern, as there is no regularity to these periods at all.  Where do they go?  To find the answer, one would also have to consider that there are no children in Dereth, no pregnancy, no real death or birth cycles.  Humans in Dereth are immortal and sterile.  They also have a lot of stress from long days spent killing shit and spamming for subway portals.  They are also immune to disease (except during the "Red Tide" event), and so when they’re not actively doing this, they spend their off-time in risk-free, enthusiastic orgies!  The secret will be out in several updates, when players can discover and visit the new "Seraglio" dungeons, where they can watch the avatars of people who are logged off engaging in all sorts of unnnatural practices.  If a visitor recognizes someone they know exchanging fluids with a particularly hated person, they have the opportunity to take a screenshot and blackmail him/her with it.  Scandal, intrigue, and sex sex sex in, "Pokemuff Snap!"

Higher level drudges are supposedly engineered to be superior fighting machines.  They are in fact drudge superheroes, genetically altered and possibly cyborged specimens who are compelled by some sort of controller (a brain implant, hypnosis, maybe one of those "invisible fence" shock collar thingies) to hang around in the direlands and northern Osteth until they get killed.  No mechanism is perfect, and eventually it stands to reason that an altered drudge would shake out of his forced servitude and, armed with improved body structure, enhanced intelligence, combat implants, and most importantly free will, run to the assistance of his less fortunate bretheren, mowing down newbies around Shoushi like so many 10 endurance choads without a twinker for the first time in their miserable lives.  Who can stop "The Six Million Dollar Drudge?"

I am currently looking for a new job.  "Dev team dude" sounds good if I can do it from home.

CHOADS WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE SPELL ECONOMY

I am continually astonished by players who vent on message boards about game mechanics that "NEED 2 B CHANGED NOW" because they are a little inconveniencing.  The best of this trend is the recent (and not so recent) push by "mages" complaining that the spell economy is only a hindrance to mages, since everyone is casting VI, and should be removed.  I recognized a few of these names as big advocates of SplitPea when it came out, claiming it wouldn’t hurt the economy, would have no effect on the economy, etc. etc.

Let’s think about this for a second (no longer; I know that any more than that and most of AC’s player base’s heads would explode).  As far as 99% of players are concerned, SplitPea is part of the game now.  Really.  Turbine might as well give Merry a few publishing points and integrate it into the engine.  Why else would there be a waiting period and about 400 miles of running required every time you tried to get 40 chorizite?  Sheesh.  Ever try to actually research a dispell on your own?  Even if someone told you the correct structure of the formula and you had a bunch of diamonds, 40 chorizite might get you one spell.  You could figure out a few of them if you got lucky and went to the medium grade ore mine every week for over a month.  Why is it so damned hard to get this crap?  The rationale is obviously, "Well, we want to make these spells rare and prized, and obviously no one is going to research more than a couple of them manually, so let’s make the components incredibly hard to get!"  I take the difficulty involved in harvesting chorizite to be acknowledgement that everyone is going to use SplitPea for tapers, much as BSD and the Lugian Citadels were concessions to the fact that most players just want to twink and powerlevel rather than play.

There are a couple of things here about the economy and SplitPea which bounce obliquely off the pointy heads of message board mages.  First of all, there is no way that any sane person can say that SplitPea does not affect spell economy.  People like to say, "duh, well mages would just learn the VI buffs they needed anyway to tank tuskers and shit, duh."  How many of these choads have actually researched a V or VI without the use of a taper program?  It’s a long, expensive, and most of all annoying process.  It was supposed to be one of the balancing points for mages:  research costs a hell of a lot if you do it yourself, and most people get sick of it, meaning less mages, especially post 30′s.  Before automated taper calculation, people typically would research up to IV in general, and maybe a few would go for V and VI for very crucial spells, i.e. Armor, Bludgeon Protection, various masteries, and favored war spells.  In the final analysis, though, high circle magic was a big pain in the ass to research, not many people used it, and as a result more people played fighters/archers than mages.  No longer.  There’s no reluctance about selling off your level 60 mage on eBay because you can just get the spells all over again on a new account, very easily.  Anyone can do it.  If there was no SplitPea, there would be fewer mages, and far less use of V-VI than there is today, which has a definite impact on the economy for these spells.  So let’s just toss that argument out.

Secondly, what people don’t understand is that in general, the presence of an economy, even a shitty and ruined economy, is generally better than having no economy.  No economy = spells do their base effect, which is the minimum level.  Do you really want your spells to be exactly the same as spells used by monsters?  Anyone who runs around the dires with Armor VI and Bludgeon Protection VI and gets zapped by a diamond golem with Imperil VI and Bludgeon Vulnerability VI, then fights tuskers in the open, knows that while it still hurts, it’s better than just eating a hit with your base armor and no protections.  Even easier, just take a look at your favorite bathrobe or garden gnome costume (hooded faran) after you dump an impen on it.  Your AL bonus is always higher than the listed bonus for the spell.  What message board mages really want isn’t no economy all the time, it’s maximum economy all the time.  You might as well demand that Turbine add circle VII and upgrade all player spells by one level for free.  See how well that goes over.

Spell economy is part of the game.  Because SplitPea is also a de facto part of the game now, you could say that a shitty spell economy is part of the game.  As it stands, I personally don’t care about a minor boost to economy, since playing "well" relies on 80% character control, and 20% character power (design, skill levels, and spell economy for that matter).  Choads who lick walls all day or sit on a goddamn rock with a bow might care, since the first 80% is irrelevant to them.

THAT WOODCHOPPING CHOAD

Something new and fun in a patch?  Vengeance for all the mean things I’ve said?  Both?  If there’s something unusual in a patch to seek out, like a quest or something weird like that, any true roleplayer knows the first place to look is on CoD, home of spoiler information, available 5 minutes after the servers go up.  I was not disappointed, and before some mongoloid in Teth could spam for a gate to the subway, I was on my way.

No this is nothing you probably don’t know already.  Yes, when I got there the place was full of spectators trying their damndest to jump on Paul’s knee and rebound onto the auroch.  Yes, he only says it about once every half hour or so.  Still it’s my second favorite part about this latest patch.

Right after the destruction of Choadwic.

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