LOTRO: Not Quite There Yet

by Theo Dentchev

Video games today are the closest thing we have to a commercially available virtual reality like that in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Lord of the Rings Online is in many ways quite similar to the Metaverse. You have an avatar, you can interact with other avatars of real people in real time, and you can even have houses in various neighborhoods. Of course, all of this is much more limited that in is in the Metaverse; your avatar is only customizable within the confines of the pre-made models and features (you can’t code your own), interactions with other players are much more limited in terms of facial expression and body language (sure you can type “lol” and your avatar will laugh, but your avatar can’t be made to mimic your real life body and face movements), and while you can change the furniture in your house you can’t do much about the structure of it.

And you can also fight. The true core of any game is the gameplay, with everything else, no matter how detailed or flushed out, being simply shiny accessories. In LOTRO, whatever else it may have in its vast universe, is at it’s core a PvE (player vs environment) game where the player fights all sorts of monsters in his various quests. The core of the Multiverse gameplay is to mimic real life, but without the limitations, but you can still have sword fights in it, thanks to some nifty code by Hiro Protagonist. In LOTRO you have a great deal of control over your avatar when fighting. I happen to be a champion, so I know a thing or two about virtual sword fighting. I can decide what kind of attacks my character will use and when. If I time it right I can fit in special attacks in between auto attacks, or I can have two special attacks in a row. I can heal, and I can run away (sort of).

But after reading Snow Crash I realize just how limited the gameplay really is. In the Metaverse skill is in part determined by how closely you can get your avatar to move the way you would in real life. In many ways it is like a fight in real life; you actually have to pay attention to how the other player is moving, and react accordingly by dodging, blocking, counter attacking. All of those are automated in LOTRO, determined by mathematical formulas and probability. In LOTRO you don’t even pay attention to the actions of your avatar or the enemy you are fighting. If you asked me to describe how a spider in LOTRO attacks I couldn’t do it. That’s because in LOTRO you’re just standing still face to face with your enemy, hacking away, and you’re paying much more attention to the health/power bars in the upper left, and the skill icons in you skill bar (whether they are available yet, or how much cool down time is left) than you are to the actual movements going on. Not to mention the fact that your movements don’t really have much of an effect anyway. I may have just used a special move that slashed my enemy four times, but the enemy will look just the same as it did before. In the Metaverse slashes actually have visible effects, such as severing the arm of an avatar from its body.

Reading Snow Crash makes me realize just how far off games like LOTRO are from achieving virtual reality, despite all the cosmetic similarities. And yet, there are similarities. If you compare LOTRO to early arcade games the difference is huge. We’re making strides, and who knows, maybe another twenty or thirty years from now we’ll have a Metaverse in Reality. In the meantime I’m going to go kill some spiders, and maybe I’ll pay a little more attention to the animations this time.

  • TD
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Snow Clash

I’ve always been a fan of literature and reading in general. That being said, it’s surprising when I think about it how much I prefer reading about sword fighting than actually engaging in the violence in a virtual world such as LOTRO. Snow Crash makes no attempt to be passed off as nonfiction. It is a satire with elements so exaggerated that many come off as nearly if completely comical. I mean, a guy walking around Los Angeles with a pair of Japanese swords strapped to his back? Not something you’d typically see in ANY city (unless there was a convention of some sort being held).

Yet it’s more engaging. In LOTRO I have more at stake with the fight; it’s my character representing me that is fighting, compared to a character in a book where the outcome is fixed whether I read on or not. But it’s not as immersing. Possibly it has to do with imagination. When reading the book I am able to imagine all sorts of possible subtle movements or effects of each action; in LOTRO I’m stuck watching the same animation over. And over. And over. This is especially disappointing if, like me, your computer isn’t built to handle games (or anything else) requiring any amount of relatively advanced graphics. I have to completely minimize the game quality in order to play it at all. Might I be more engaged in the game if there was actually visible detail? Maybe a little, but probably still not to the same degree as when reading the novel.

Snow Crash also has a little more of a realistic feel to it. Despite being only text rather than actual images of humanoids as in LOTRO, I find the combat more believable. Part of it is definitely the weapons. In LOTRO I’ve found myself wielding something named along the lines of “Steel Greatsword of Endurance,” which means it gives my character “+12.3 in-combat moral regeneration” (or something) and a “+ chance to critically hit.” In Snow Crash, Hiro Protagonist dual wields a Katana and a Wakizashi. While “Katana” doesn’t immediately sound as epic or mystical as the Steel Greatsword of Whatever, it turns out that a Katana gives me a “+12.3 to Reality” and a “+ chance to slice a dude in half.” That’s just more appealing to me if I’m going to read about combat. The description elements mixed with my imagination create a scenario many times more believable than the scenario simply given to me by LOTRO.

Also, how can you not cheer for a guy named Hiro Protagonist? No matter how hard I try, I’ll never have a character with a name THAT awesome in LOTRO.

-AlecSJ

I Fought the Law and the…..Law Lost!

by Evan Schrager

Stephenson’s depiction of the future world is rather extreme-the laws of our current society seem to have vanished. The pizza delivery cars are allowed to drive at ludicrous speeds (no pun intended). I like his introduction of the “pooning” concept. I think the new magnetic device is a realistic invention that could exist in the future. The Kouriers can be compared to a futuristic hitch hiker-except it is their decision whether or not they “grab a ride”. And if these pooning devices really did exist, attaching to any old car would certainly be illegal. Y.T.’s escape from The Clink also expresses the lack of law enforcement in future America.

Stephenson’s future society is obsessed with the flow of information. Obsessed. There are an abundant number of hackers, whose job it is to find more and more information, ‘til they drop dead. In the meantime, they hope they hit the jackpot by finding out some extraordinary piece of information that somebody in the world needs. The Metaverse allows for the exchange of this information smoothly, through the hypercards. Computer viruses still exist and serve the same purpose they do today, as they crashed Da5id’s computer.

Snow Crash immerses you in the new society-immediacy is definitely achieved in scenes such as the pizza delivery, as well as the fight between Raven and the group of crips in the high grass. An example of hypermediacy can be seen as well, in the sword fight between Hiro and the Nipponese businessman. He cuts him up into pieces, but we know that it was a fake sword fight-the victim’s body frame lay on the floor without insides. This is an obvious reminder that the sword fight was not real. But he can’t respawn for about 5 minutes. Sucker!

While the rules of society seem a bit absurd, the people in the story still act like human beings. The lack of law leaves room for villains such as Raven to wreak havoc at their disposal. His “super-knife” scares me because it passed the metal detector test-what if people with cruel intentions decide to bring them onto a plane in the future, slicing and dicing whoever they wish? In order to prevent our society from becoming the society in Snow Crash, we must uphold the law under all circumstances.