Hollow Earth

Learning from Others: Left 4 Dead Cold Stream

With the source for Uru newly released, it made me think about other fan content I’ve seen and the potential pitfalls involved. In short: Fans should have the rights to download the fan ages they choose to include in their experience.

For those who don’t know, Cold Stream is a custom fan-created map for the Left 4 Dead 2 game. There are lots of fan-created campaings and maps for the game, but what stands out to me is the fact that Valve included the Cold Stream beta map as a small downloadable update. What I dislike about this, and where I see this as a problem for Cyan, is that Cold Stream is not as good (in my opinion) as other maps available. However, Valve has nonetheless included it in an update.

The issue for Cyan is this: Fans are not going to be happy when the ages they want to play are not included in the game. Left 4 Dead solves this by letting anyone add campaigns at will, but Cyan has said that “As new writers arise with new books, the books are tested and documented – and books that are approved by some new kind of maintainers guild will (hopefully) find their way to the MOULa server where the public can enjoy new worlds once again.” This implies strongly that fan content will be vetted and added to the MOULa server (which is great). The problem that I see is that there’s no alternate way (at least for now) for fans to still explore the Ages not yet released on the MOULa server.

Filed under: Learning from Others, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

The Guilds Part 2: The Guild of Cartographers

Of all the Guilds I analyzed previously, the Cartographers have changed the least. Sadly, that means they are still a Guild in name only. The Guild does not exist, plain and simple. This is disheartening to me because the GoC is one of two Guilds which require no input from Cyan to reach their full potential (Messengers is the other one). The point is, the GoC could be the most successful Guild, instead of the least.

The major problem is a lack of organization. People can make maps on their own, sure, but people don’t necessarily have the skills to do a full map. Perhaps someone can do the lineart, someone colors it, someone checks to make sure it’s to scale, etc. There’s no structure right now around which interested people can find others who can help them. As such, the few maps that have been released are primarily solo projects which, while they are stunning, are not sustainable.

A second problem is a lack of advertising. This is no scientific thesis, but I would be willing to bet most in the Uru community (such that it is) has no idea what the GoC is or where to get involved. There needs to be an easy and attractive way for people to get involved in the Guild. More importantly, there needs to be a passionate person directing the Guild who can inspire and attract people to the group. The question is: Will it be you, reader?

This gets to the core of what needs to happen to get this Guild functioning again.

First, the Guild needs to be replaced/remade. A dedicated site (rather than being hosted on another domain name) would help promote a solid, professional air to the group. A clean, easy-to-use site with an equally-easy uploading system would help encourage new members to create maps. With this also comes the need for a charismatic leader.

Second, the Guild needs to work with the other Guilds. I imagine a day when I (or anyone else) release an Age and include a map with it the day of release. I imagine when I can have a pod-age-style map in the Age itself. Not only that, but the Greeters get a copy to distribute to lost players, the Messengers have a copy to put in their news post, and the Maintainers have a copy to use in their inspections.

This is all easily possible and all incredibly beneficial to Uru as a whole, the fuel for gaining interest in Uru. Right now, I see no one doing any work in the GoC, so it is ready for someone to come in and work on re-building it. The question, as always, is: Will that someone be you?

Filed under: The Guilds, , , , , ,

The Guilds Part 2: The Guild of Greeters

The Greeters have suffered similarly to the Maintainers in that their membership and activity has dwindled. The key difference here is that the Greeters appear to not recognize this as a problem. Ja’de, the GoG’s current leader, herself told me the GoG was trying to decide whether this was an issue. It’s an issue. That they were “debating” something as plainly obvious as this struck me as like debating whether fire hurts. In some ways, the Greeters are what the Maintainers will become without Marcus’ recruitment drive.

Another important difference is history. The GoG is old, in existence since 2003. Unlike all the other Guilds, the Greeters existed long before Cyan re-introduced the Guilds (though the Writer-like Age-creators existed in the form of H’uru before the Guilds were announced as well). This contributes to the Greeters’ unique mix of issues. Another difference is organization. More than any other Guild, the Greeters are a private club. You cannot just become a Greeter, they have evaluations, etc. which (they claim) have served them well.

But here lies the problem. The clubhouse population is growing sparse. I recently popped into Uru and there were no Greeters. The hood was empty (or occasionally had a new player or two, never Greeters) and there were no greeters in the city. This is due in no small part to the Guild’s recruitment policy. It’s nice that some random person can’t come in and claim to be a Greeter and then harass another player, but this also stops new people in general from feeling like they can contribute. The rules and processes initially meant to maintain a professional staff have led to the Guild being a closed group living off a dwindling membership. This closed-ness extends to opinions about Uru, with few Greeters publicly disagreeing the the Guild views on Cyan, Uru, and the Guild practices themselves. There is no dissent in the Greeters, at least none the public can see.

The other issue is that the Guild members that do exist seem more pre-occupied with other franchises. Like with the Maintainers, it’s nice to have people advertising Uru in other games, but in this case (and, I would argue, the Maintainers’) it serves as a distraction. When a Greeter has some spare time, they choose between Uru (which is often empty) and another franchise. They are already predisposed to choose another game because those games have more people, but the choice is made even simpler when the Greeters claim they have a foothold in that game (World of Greeters).

The source of these problems, I would argue, is the Greeter’s official sanction by Cyan. Ignoring the favoritism charges, being made official comes with restrictions that hamper the Guild’s development. Being official keeps the Guild from accepting people out of liability concerns. Moreover, these liability concerns can be used to exclude those who disagree with the Guild. The Greeters would benefit from relieving itself from Cyan’s sanction because they would be able to relax their rules. Of course, the question is: would they?

This gets to another source of problems: the Guild’s leadership itself. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, Ja’de once said that the GoG wasn’t sure if a low membership was a problem. Since there have been no recruitment drives that I have seen, I have to believe that this faulty idea persists. If the Guild is not led by strong individuals who can recognize problems, then the Guild is doomed. If the present leadership is too proud to ask for help or too closed-minded to accept new ideas, then either the present leadership should be replaced or a new Guild should be formed- one dedicated to helping explorers in an open manner rather than trying to run a private treehouse help service.

This idea has its roots in the equally preposterous idea that Uru is destined to be small. Many use that view as a crutch to keep the community small, or to explain away critiques of the game. That, because we are non-violent we must be an unpopular or “niche” game. This is a lie. Uru and MYST in general are small because we have allowed them to become small. With the success of Portal and other primarily non-violent puzzle-oriented games, this idea that non-violent games are shunned is laid bare as false. Why shouldn’t Uru be successful and widespread? We’re the most difficult-to-kill community out there not because of how small or strange we are, but because of how dynamic and creative we are. The “hackers” who made UU possible, who developed the plugin for Blender, did not believe that Uru must be small. They believed that Uru was a powerful idea that needed its users to succeed. So why do we insist on thinking so cynically that Uru is too out of the mainstream to warrant a large following? Why do we limit ourselves based on the notions of violent vs. non-violent games? It doesn’t do Uru, MYST, non-violent video games, and video games in general any good if we insist on defining “mainstream” or “popular” as “violent.” Certainly violent video games are portrayed as more popular because they appeal to the most basic desire, but that’s a discussion for another day.

To bring this back to the Greeters, there’s no reason why the Guild should not be large and open. There is no reason besides misplaced paranoia of troublemakers and misguided pride in Cyan sanction that registration to be a Greeter should not be more open. There will be troublemakers in every organization and every group. This applies in the world outside Uru and inside. People should be warned that Greeters may be just as troublemaking as others, but that they are less likely to be so because they are recruited to help new people. In other words: there will be troublemakers, stop trying to figure out how to eliminate them and focus on how to keep them from reaching their goals.

Finally, this cannot be stressed enough: the GoG should be more open. Nobody wins when the fan help service is placed behind these sorts of barriers. The fans will feel the extra scrutiny means they deserve a better experience than the one they’re having. The volunteers feel they’re either being accepted into a needlessly proud organization or being forced to jump through hoops to serve the game they love. What if people were allowed to register to be a greeter simply by picking up the shirt, but were “promoted” based on reviews from the people they helped? A greeter does their job and politely asks that the person they helped if they would consider contacting person X or going to site Y to tell the Guild how their experience went. Then the Guild would get at least some information on how effective both the greeter and the Guild itself is in helping people. The key in this is to actually take the advice. Don’t just blow off my critique because it’s not showering you with praise. Take criticism, even “destructive criticism,” and ask yourself how the Guild or the individual greeter could make the experience better. You may not fix the problem the way the reviewer wants it fixed, but you’ll resolve the issue.


Filed under: The Guilds, , , , , ,

The Guilds Part 2: The Guild of Writers

With this article comes my usual disclaimer that I am a member of the Writers. Therefore, I am not the most objective observer, though I do think my membership gives me the opportunity to understand the issues the GoW faces.

The GoW has been progressing nicely since my last article back in 2007. The Guild has been creating Ages both from individual members and from groups of Guild members organized towards a common goal. Guild members recently started a GoW shard, the Deep Island shard, and are now working on a fully fan-built client for MOULa.

The primary objection I hear about the GoW is “drama.” Let’s be honest, the GoW does attract drama in part because of it’s ideological stance on coding for Uru (aka “hacking”) and on the role/importance/respect deserved of Cyan. Another part is the way in which members (mostly myself) choose to argue those ideological points. Without getting too personal, I think that as much as I can be a divisive figure, this is more about the message and less about the messenger. The point I make is that no one (who is now complaining about GoW drama) was concerned about drama when it supported their position. From the GoW’s perspective, there are plenty of people who use similar or subtler offensive tactics to get their ideological points across. I think all sides need to work on accepting differences and working to improve Uru and its associated groups based on constructive criticisms. I got off this in my critiques, so I need to get back to doing so, however other sides also need to consider whether they truly look objectively at other opinions.

A second objection is simplicity. When you look at the GoW Wiki, you see largely-confusing pages which are still in fairly technical language (with few visual aids, etc.). The Writers (or someone else) needs to clean these up and make them simple to understand. Moreover, the plugin should be designed with simplicity and ease of use foremost in mind. While Grandma will likely never make an Age, there should be simpler ways of building Ages.

Overall, the GoW needs the least amount of work. My personal view is that their unstructured format lends itself to less drama and more good work. This is a model that Guilds should follow in the future.

Filed under: The Guilds, , , , , ,

The Guilds Part 2: The Guild of Messengers

My original thoughts on the GoMe were somewhat muddled when I made them over three years ago and they have certainly changed. Back then, the post did not clearly define the Messengers and the post was largely an article on the use of “umbrella” organizations.

I’m here to say my view on so-called “umbrella organizations” has changed dramatically. I no longer believe that the Messengers should be as tolerant as they are of the pre-existing groups at the expense of the Guild. What originally was a Guild advertised as a means to unite the Messengers in common purpose now is little more than a hollow tube through which too little passes. The primary issue is that the organizations act too much like organizations and not members of a larger organization.

I believe the “affiliates” act now too much like modern media outlets, competing against themselves to get the “scoop” rather than news distributors bound in commonality and desire to inform. Too often it seems the affiliates are more concerned with collecting and reporting news, then *maybe* giving it to the GoMe. Too often the GoMe is used not as a source of news and information, but as a calendar of dates. The GoMe should be THE organization that originates all stories, with the affiliates distributing that news to their viewers. The GoMe should be focused not only as a reporting agency for cavern event dates, but also as an interviewer of important figures, an investigator of claims, a researcher of ideas, the foundation of new growth through the collection and distribution of information other Guilds can use to do their jobs.

I do not mean to overlook achievements the messengers have accomplished, most notably to me the acceptance of fan shards into the news and the work Leonardo has done in managing the all-Guilds meeting (an excellent use of the GoMe’s resources). The networking the Guild has done, too, is intriguing even if it is misguided. It is rare to get groups in the Uru community to work together in a common cause.

Except that is largely what the GoMe has failed to do. Because the affiliates aren’t really part of the GoMe, they’re just affiliated. Personal disputes between news organizations have taken prominence over the organization’s true job of distributing news. Therefore, the present leadership of these organizations should resign and be replaced with the ultimate goal being the closing of those organizations and their absorption into the Guild. This shouldn’t be some pie-in-the-sky idea, these leaders are people who got into their respective organizations because they felt they could do good. The problem is that reality has made their leadership into a liability and the way they could best serve their group is by getting out and letting the new blood take the reigns and maybe improve.

What’s clear is that the present system cannot survive. While the GoMe’s actions have been tremendous and they have gotten the organizations to do some good work, it is largely temporary. Any small dispute or challenge (like this post, for example) could break it. We need something stronger.

Filed under: The Guilds, , , , , ,

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All posts are my opinion only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others.