Manifold Mischief

Mission reviews, essays, and documents of record regarding The Matrix Online. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sugar Shack 66: MxO: The End, Part Two: Really The End

Looking back, it’s time to post Part Two. Thanks to Vesuveus for reminding me! Two parts follow. One’s a reflection on the end of the world and its characters. Then some feelings on how SOE lowered the boom and lowered the curtain.

1. How the World Ended.

The great poet P.B. Shelley wonders in "Mont Blanc" would the world matter if we were not here to witness it all. And what of a world that purges all observers? What will happen to those we have known for years, in our absence? More to the point, what will happen to us?

The Merovingian, having survived many a previous Matrixy catastrophe, has started to migrate to safety all he holds dear or at least interesting. Perhaps he has found some means of sequestering himself in the Desert of the Real until some unknown, unknowable future when his empires of desire will once more flourish and bring hope to the desperate. Long may he survive and prosper, and long may Persephone succor him.

The dazed, blinking bluepills will be resettled into the cool podded sleep. In unconscious bliss, they will never know what they were or what they have lost. Their mechanical overlords, the machines of loving grace, will engineer some new means of calibrating their electrical systems. Perhaps in the long night soon to engulf us, Pace and Grey and their colleagues will confer to learn from past losses to more perfectly serve the system. Past iterations of the Matrix left us the Angels, 01, and the seething Valkyries. In some future, in some other reality, intemperate adventurers will encounter swarms of nattily suited Agents, all against a backdrop of personalities we can scarcely imagine. But one thing we can be sure of: their hair will never be mussed.

Annihilation will take them all. In that one mad moment before oblivion engulfs them all, all the hopes and all the fears of all the exiles and all the bluepills will flail and fail. Late this coming Friday night, the floating population of Exiles, like the obsessive Hypatia and the cryptic Mr. Po, will instantly freeze and be locked out of time. Their passions will be lost, and their yearnings and furies will have the soul stripped from them, stored forever on idle backup tapes. No, not forever, until someone, somewhere at Sony decides to save some money by decluttering the off-site archives. Then, our sleeping world will go the way of last Christmas’s wrapping paper, perhaps recycled, but certainly expunged. There will be no future when an angry god will wake and seek his rightful place; there will be no god, no world, and no future.

The mighty winds that blow the emerald code through the steely canyons downtown will settle and still, and their angry code bits will eddy into crinkly piles of static. In perpetuity they will fret and simmer, lost with none to observe, frozen like insects in amber. The windows downtown will all grow dark. The restless traffic will fall silent. The yearning searchlights will grow blind. The lyric drone of DataMine will choke and fail, as the entire construct subsides into incoherent bits, like one colossal data cluster collapsing into itself in a scream that none will hear. And that’s just in the first ten minutes of death.

So will pass the Matrix, this maddening world that has preoccupied me for so many years now, from the first time I watched and felt with Neo as he made his journey to self-awareness, and understanding the love of others. With it I watched my children grow into a world that would someday leave me behind. Through it I learned their language and culture, and shared in its trivial intricacies. Occasionally it was a refuge from stress, though seldom without guilt at the ones I felt behind, however briefly. When death struck my family last year, it lost all color and feeling; only slowly could I return, and then never feeling the same as before. I could never forget the former life, and sometimes would watch the marching bluepills and the fretting mobs and envy them their peace and calm. I would see the world of code, still the same, and wonder what had happened to the woman I had been before, also watching them. They evoked for me the world I had lost. Yet the ties to my guild, and the ties to their enemies, gradually restored pleasure and purpose.

What will survive? For many of us, megs and megs of screenshots, or vast video archives will let us touch the pleasure of the lost world, to bid it adieu as it recedes. Most will move on to other games, perhaps with better luck. Time will tint our memories with sepia, and our furious fights and drama will come to seem like items in an old stamp collection.

For myself, I do not know. I came to MxO because I loved the Matrix, not because my time management goals compelled me to choose an MMORPG. For me, nothing can substitute. I will likely go with my guild, even as my family shake their heads at me (before going back to NeoPets and World of Warcraft!). Fortunately, my friends and in-laws don’t know of this secret love of mine that scarcely dares to speak its name. Who wants to be labeled as a geek?

My ever-lasting thanks to all who labored to craft such great beauty from such cold code. May it always flow bright and gold for them.

2. How the Game Ended.

Afterthoughts at Thanksgiving.

1. The last weeks of the Matrix were intense, and everything it should have been: new stuff (often small but cool), classic mishes, lots of socializing, and a dev that spent some time ingame, interacting with customers. Obviously I’m easy to satisfy! Like an end-of-the-world pot-luck, lots of people brought cool stuff to the game. The closer we came to the end, the more Bayamos et al unlocked new features. A lot of the effects were so great, so pretty, and so easy to do (even I could get them to work!), that it was hard to understand why Walrus and company never thought of (or, more likely, couldn’t be bothered) making them available to the community. Really, it was worth getting FRAPS just for long, lingering vids of dancing, fighting, running around with wings, datamining, and running new effects.

The last hours had some people in tears, for different reasons. For some, tears of sadness at watching a world pass with nothing to replace it. For others, tears of frustration at such unrealized, botched potential. I had no tears, only calloused resignation; the game team had long since lost my love. I liked seeing Recursion consistently at “Medium” for a change. Seeing old friends again was a deep pleasure; seeing old enemies was a deep vexation, and would have been worse, but for liberal use of “Ignore”. The end for me came with my clan in the same location where we had ended beta, gathered with those we loved to face the inevitable, surrounded by dead special agents, and gently pulsating data-clusters. For my meatwadded eyes, the sky was Sati-perfect. Walrus’s systemed “thanks” to all of us was a nice gesture that would have meant so much more had he made some slight effort to, you know, support his game more.

That being said, Walrus and “team” once more unerringly chose mediocrity for the end. A single dev was borrowed from another project for massive efforts, like popping a red-bit vendor, who still sold anniversary shirts no one could buy. Dracomet’s obscure quizzes were surely a delight to old-time videogamers; for me they might as well have been about soccer scores in Bengali. And after years of hearing how damn fragile the damn database was and how any effort to tinker with it would precipitate Armageddon, it was refreshing to see just how easy it was to make everyone 100th level with four billion or so info without breaking the system. (And in passing, let me note what a pleasure it was to stop by Data-Mine and slap Raeder to death.) Clearly, where there is a will there’s always a way. Too bad no one had ever felt like making the effort. And as much as I enjoyed trying new abilities from pills, such as Razor Attack and Wall Kick, I couldn’t help asking myself what had been the big deal that they had not been able to make these available years ago. Clearly the System and the Simulation were way more resilient than anyone had imagined. Too bad no one had bothered imagining. Oh, wait, I can see it coming- they would have _unbalanced_ things. Like it would have made such a big difference!

Unlike most, I don’t blame SOE for closing MxO. If a game’s not paying its way, they’re sure not under any obligation to pour money into it. And it was not the recession. Now, from the long view of a few months, I think many of the problems were there from the outset, in terms of high-level management of the game’s development. And, for a change, here I don’t mean Walrus. MxO, I believe, was his first game. Where were his mentors? His steering committee? His sponsors? More support would have made him more successful, I am convinced. But that is not all. After a time, the MxO community grew toxic. You could see it rabid and frothing on the forums. But ingame too, the sexist and racist abuse, the incessant personal attacks, were all signs of a community gone bad. For me this is the greatest mystery and the greatest tragedy. How to create a positive, nurturing community? How to stop people from being twits? These days I am watching my daughter play Maple Story, and this game seems to have been more successful here, though at the cost of a lower level of interactivity. And no emotes!

Some might blame gameplay for the failure. But I don’t feel this is true. I’m not sure anyone ever made the effort to reach out to lapsed subscribers to get a feeling for their reasons for leaving, but it would have been invaluable. Ironically, some of the most annoying, vociferous whiners posted almost daily on the forums. No problems with gameplay could ever stop them from coming back (much to my personal dismay). However, no amount of gameplay makes up for a venomous play environment.

And so the world ended. Nothing dramatic like beta. No story explanation of why we were all dying. No eyes in the sky (unless you provided your own). Just some casual looting, denial grinding, lots of dancing (always fine with me), and a sprinkling of devil-may-care exchanges with Walrus, Virrago, with some typically terse, cryptic exchanges with Dracomet and 9mmfu. The final impression of half-hearted miscellany was like when you’re unprepared for your four-year-old’s birthday, and you rummage through the kitchen looking for _any_thing he might think was special: trade show tchotsckes, old Halloween candy, a glowing pen, a forgotten slinky, a few candy canes from last Christmas, some unopened TicTacs, and a few shiny pennies plucked from your purse. Happy birthday! And that’s all, folks! Wake up!

2. I’ve discovered I was completely wrong about something. Rarebit’s departure had nothing to do with self-generated hacks created by some ingenious players. The Nerfocelot exploit was done from the players’ side, not from the admin console, which I must say makes it very impressive, if ultimately pointless. But I suppose this qualifies as one sort of player-generated content!

3. Incredible talent thrives at mxoemu.info. Through nothing but sheer scary brainpower they have created a working version of MxO than will run on your computer. There’s no server, no player interactivity, no abilities, and (big sigh) no inventory. But there is still the whole wide world to wander in, including the matchless graphics and the great music. I got my son to set it up for me; smarter people will be able to do it themselves. Besides all the standard locations, there are also available several intriguing constructs which were built but never populated or developed. And I finally got to see the White Room!

4. Many MxO refugees have washed ashore at SWTOR, where there’s been talk of settling on a common server, an idea which I strongly encourage. That way you know right from the outset who your friends and enemies are.

5. How apropos at Thanksgiving to be thinking of MxO, which gave so much and could have given even more. Thanks for such depth of soul for an artifice of code.