Mobhunter: The Rising of the Trolls

War rages across Norrath once again. With the memories of the battles of Firiona Vie not so far behind us, we once again find a game-wide event unfolding over the month of July.

Adventurers found themselves sent to battle dragons in Kunark or cutting down a new troll warlord named Warlord Bortar. A new two-group events has players defending strange high elves performing a ritual in Innothule. Dark elves march on the Eastern Commonlands. Neriak spies lurk in the shadows.

Then war found Greater Faydark. For three nights the elven armies and orcish hordes gathered in the woods. War Suppliers asked for armor and weapons. No one knows for sure how the turn-ins effected the war but some believe they increased the forces on one side or the other. Four or five sets of thirty or so elves faced an equal amount of orcish forces.

The serverwide.war channel fluttered like CNN. Reports came in of orcish attacks. Victors revealed powerful weapons dropped by slain Elvish commanders. On Quellious, a force of over one hundred adventures faced off against an untargetable orcish general named Warlord Mish. Unfortunately the battle did not find us yet and wouldn't until a day later when the orcs finally marched on the elves.

The war wasn't without problems. Elven generals initially dropped far better loot than the orcish generals. Many opportunistic players switched sides and killed the generals who carried the shiniest items. Elven enchanters often charmed or tashed orcs, causing players to quickly become the targets of vengeful elves when they accidently attacked the wrong orc. Many of these problems were fixed but not until well into the war. On Quellious, however, the elves were eventually successful in their defense against the orcs.

This battle was just the beginning, however. The plots continue throughout the month and a new troll warlord far more powerful than Warlord Bortar begins to build his army in Lavastorm, Nektulos, and the Foreign Quarter. Keep an eye out.

Over the past two weeks and probably continuing throughout July, I have written some in-character reports of these battles including the following:

Report 1: Descent of the Trolls, Ithiasor the Black

Report 2: Warlord Bortar

Report 3: Xon Quexill's Plot, The Creature of Innothule

Report 4: The War of Greater Faydark

Any such reports are almost always written after the event, however. The best way to participate in the war is to watch the EQLive forums for new topics on the war and to join the serverwide.war channel by typing "/join serverwide.war". That channel helps people share information about the war as it happens.

This past week SOE also released a minor patch. This patch mainly fixed a few outstanding bugs with the previous patch and added a few smaller features.

One feature of the patch that changed Everquest that I did not talk about is the new option to autoconsent your group, guild, and raid to drag your corpse. Like the game-wide invites, this is a smaller feature that has a huge impact. Many many times entire raids have been destroyed because players can't drag corpses of their friends until that friend zones and consents. This new feature makes groups and raids far more mobile even when faced with the death of a comrade. Just grab the bleeding corpse by the belt, heave it over one shoulder, and head for the hills!

Of course, like the NewPlayers channel, General channel, and game-wide
invites, these tools are only useful if people choose to use them. Many players apparently don't read the patch messages very carefully. One has to go to the Options menu (alt O) and select the autoconcent group, guild, and raid buttons.

There were a couple of interesting articles that had popped up last week including an IEEE Spectrum article called "Engineering Everquest" and another on "Virtual Sweatshops" in the Guardian.

The IEEE Spectrum article, Engineering Everquest, spent far more time talking about the game of Everquest than it did talking about the technology. Considering the heavy competition in the Massive Online Gaming field, companies like SOE probably want to hold their system architectures close rather than give away all of their best secrets in a technical journal. The article talks about the "Death Star" (I bet every gaming company has a server vault called the Death Star), a server farm containing over 500 servers in a 1500 server army spread across three buildings. The article also talks a little bit about a recent software architecture change called "Just-in-time computing" that dynamically shifts system resources to the areas that need it the most. It isn't clear from the article but I believe this is how instances work.

The Guardian article Virtual Sweatshops talks about the third-world shops that hire people to play EQ, EQ2, and World of Warcraft to earn in-game resources sold out-of-game. They take a detailed look at a fellow in Romania who works for ten hours a day in a backroom of a run down apartment where eleven employees keep accounts running for 24 hours straight.

The article does a good job of shattering its own title. Compared to the child labor sweatshops where ten year olds work in heavy labor unsafe jobs for barely enough money to eat, these "virtual sweatshops" don't even compare. Even the author admits that some people working at these outfits come in and play on their time off. I doubt any ten year old kid went in on his time off to make more Nike shoes.

The article doesn't spend much time to show that this business is illegitimate and I suppose that is a small point when you talk about the larger topic of out-of-game sales of virtual property. However, from within Everquest, such businesses harm the economy of the game. It devalues virtual property when it is tied to an out-of-game economy. If taken to the extreme, it would one day be so cheap to buy platinum that
most anyone would choose to save time and just pay for it.

Whenever I read an article like this one I am reminded of an excellent short story by Cory Doctorow called Anda's Game about a young girl who becomes a hitman in-game against competing virtual sweatshops. It's a great read.

Thus ends this week's news roundup. Keep an eye on the shadows and watch out for the rising of ancient powers.

Loral Ciriclight
17 July 2005