Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sugar Shack 69: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

 

Has it really been more than a decade?  Presidents come and go, economies fall and rise, children grow up and spread their wings.  And the code flows on, bright and warm, over at www.mxoemu.info.  Life is short, and the art is long, but Rajkosto continues to poke and prod the code for the simulation, to revive the world we lost over a decade ago.  I have started to explore its byways, revisiting old haunts and scenes of battles and parties past.  We have a few abilities and can revisit the clubs and towers and streets we inhabited a lifetime ago.  We can hope that more treasures will one day be unearthed. 

 

Yet what we have is a pleasure to explore, especially with commands which let us control our positions and easily get around.  With them, we can get outside the box and see the worlds which lay beyond our grasp back in the day.  Below I record one of the most intriguing of these hidden locales.  

 

We all wonder what lies beyond the edge of the world.  Back in MxO’s first heyday, I remember people perched on the precarious top of the Stratford Campus, spying east on the buildings heaped beyond our reach, and discussing a distant domed skyscraper with air navigation lights on it along with apparent activity, and speculating what might be transpiring there, and whether it was a secret play area for the devs.  On the dome at night, under the gloriously glowing, bloated moon, we imagined the champagne flowing and FM-1500s passed out like joints as party favors.  Alas, it was merely our delirious projections; apparently, we considerably overestimated the ingenuity and energy of the game designers and devs.

As vast as MegaCity is, after a few years the mighty, sensational metropolis felt a little cramped, and I found myself wondering how to escape its confines into an imagined greater world.  Everywhere there were barriers: boarded-up windows, roadways, bricked-up portals, high walls, or damned invisible partitions.    Only with the advent of non-corporate MxO servers was I able to get beyond this, with simple command-line commands:

 

-        &incx [positive number or negative number] for example, &incx 10 or &incx -10.

-        &Incy [positive number or negative number] for example, &incy 10 or &incy -10.  This is your vertical motion

-        &Incz [positive number or negative number] for example, &incz 10 or &incz -10.

-        &gotopos x y z, where the letters represent spatial coordinates within a district, such as downtown.  For example, the Canon Heights North hardline would be reached by typing &gotopos 1111 1 -410 from a downtown location.

 

Thus equipped, I was able to make my way anywhere in the simulation universe.  Having gazed so longingly for so long into the inaccessible distances, I decided to see what lay there. 

 

I had expected this:



But would find this, sort of:

 

Just a restaurant, I know.  But I felt touched that everyone stood up to welcome me.    Can’t get this at the French Laundry.  Wait!  No one’s wearing masks!

 

 

Outside the ranch, getting around is free, but not simple.  One cannot directly interact with the environment of ramps, steps, sloping roadways, and doors.  Like a disembodied spirit, one simply passes through everything.  Eventually the landscape settles down and after some tweaking of one’s vertical position, it feels like walking again. For regions never destined for human habitation, it seems odd that the devs went to this much effort to individualize the areas behind the curtain.  Perhaps at least some, immediately adjacent to the standard realm, were originally envisioned for players’ use.  Or maybe there were once plans for expanding the game’s four regions that were never left complete, and the easy part, dropping building shells, is as far as this ever got.  Regrettably, Hyperjump does not work, so one hoofs it everywhere. 

 

The easiest way to read the ethereal Peg’s is as follows:

 

  • 1.    Go to the Chelsea North East hardline.  Easy enough! 
  • 2.    Start heading east until you hit the cement wall; this does not take long.  Pause and catch your breath.
  • 3.    Go to the command line box and type &incx 10.
  • 4.    You have broken forth from the laws of the world.  It seems like you’re floating in space.  Type &incy 6 and you should be just above the pavement.  Your address should be around 449 7 -514.
  • 5.    Go east, stopping to enjoy the scenery. So spacious and free!  Around 598 7 -514 you pass through a cement wall and are standing in space again.  Accept it and keep moving.  Try not to look down.
  • 6.    Around 881 7 -539 you are back on your feet again.  A large empty plaza beckons.
  • 7.    Keep running to 1146 7 -544, and the diner is on your right.  You can’t miss it!  Even I could find it, and normally I can get lost in a dressing room.
  •  
  • Just a short walk makes all the difference…

Outside the reservation, so much freedom and open space.  No pedestrians but the cars still run.

 

For a few blocks everything is just like what we are used to: the storefronts, the apartment complexes, the office buildings, and even the cars (!).  There are no people, though, not even the strolling somnambulists.  The placement of the buildings is mechanical and annoyingly symmetrical.   After a few blocks, vast and open plazas appear, like the one directly west of the Stratford Campus building, but much larger.  It seems, after such crowded, crazy-quilt environments… unnatural, indeed generous, though less exciting and frenetic.  I’m older than I was in 2009, though, and enjoyed the space and the pace.  Soon I would discover vast, open plazas. Check it out at 



 

So open and spacious.  Perfect for condos for my kids.

 

I strolled on.  I could have walked through buildings with the effortless ease of a neutrino, but respected the physical orthographies of the mind.  Curiously, one could open doors to enter buildings:



However the inside layout was…somewhat lacking.    Of all things, the inside of the doors was visible while the inside of the walls was not. 

 


Kind of a work in progress…

I moved on. 

Back in the day, I had often wandered the streets, sometimes alone, and sometimes in the company of my clanmates.  Sometimes the dark, infernal alleys of Westview, sometimes the well-lit and well-defended boulevards of downtown.  Often I had run stat hack missions at Seraph’s behest, shepherding sickly bluepills through streets packed with enemies, fighting off waves of foes and clearing the way ahead.  Times beyond number I had scurried down Megacity’s byways and highways to do the bidding of Agent Gray or the obsessive neighborhood contacts.  I had killed, rescued, escorted, gathered, and looted for them.    But now, beyond the veil, I was in a realm never intended for habitation, a world of surfaces behind which lurked nothing.  It felt like a dreamscape or a Dali painting.  It grew on me.   If you enjoyed The Martian or Castaway, you know what I mean. 

Up ahead I could see the end of the pavement and the buildings, as well as something else.  Something unexpected.  Something no one could ever have imagine a player setting eyes on.  Something that made me hungry. 


 


Off in the distance, the prospect of peppermint hot chocolate and maybe even wi-fi. 

 I had discovered the restaurant at the end of the universe!  Peg’s Diner is a mighty franchise, to be way out here.  I looked around from the outside, but inside this was only a vacant shell, like everything else around me.  Still, I paused to think of lunch, Douglas Adams, and devly creativity. 



I walked around it from the outside, and noticed something truly eerie.  I’d always admired the coding effort that gave windows reflections of adjacent buildings, reflections which moved and shifted as the player did.


Yet here, at the end of creation, with nothing else to reflect, I could still discern golden, ghostly apparitions of unseen buildings, as though these surfaces brought back light from some other veiled dimension, everywhere around me yet nowhere to be seen, which they alone could glimpse.  I moved back and forth for a bit to see the surfaces glide and flow, and then turned my attention to the brink of life and death nearby. 

 




What on earth are these reflecting?

 

Now I was perched on the edge of the world.  Beyond, on the map, there was darkness, uncreated and unimagined.  Crossing the border, I left behind the world of human construction, and paced the void, as ancient Chinese literati had written.  The city of my birth drew away from me.  Suddenly, surprisingly, I disappeared. Blinked out of existence!     A point of awareness on a sea of emotion, I thought of lines of poetry from college (“Ode to a Nightingale”, by John Keats): 

 

Fade far away, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other moan. (a prescient 19th century reference to forum fights, I think)

Distant skyscrapers loom.  Nothing like this in the world.

 

My consciousness had outlasted my existence, it seemed, and faded like last night’s barstool promises.  Like Peg’s, I had become a diner with no I.  This must be what out-of-body experiences felt like.    Moving through nothing as a nonentity, indeed as a zero with the edges rubbed off, seemed unsatisfying, so I turned around and retraced my steps, first to existence, then to the haunted diner, thence to the shadow-realm, and finally to Chelsea, watching the world once more form.    It reminded me of one time in college I got high and went with friends to the top of an office building to watch the sun rise.  As daylight peeped over the eastern horizon, I bent over, took a deep breath, and threw my head back.  Everything went dark, darker, until I was only an impersonal, pre-personality, flake of self-aware consciousness, blinking at the void, really scarcely there at all.  I could not even have said what I was, let alone who I was.  Soon my sense of self accreted in layers, then my name and awareness of the world, and then my identity.  Finally I was back to where I had started.  The journey had been unexpected, and not entirely pleasant.  In retrospect, doing it on the top of a building had been singularly ill-advised.  But I digress!  In any case, that’s what watching myself re-form from nothingness as the world took shape reminded me of.   I felt thankful to leave the silent, hollow land behind and get back to the car-cluttered, pedestrian-packed streets of Chelsea.  Even the code felt warmer.  But the lure of the uncreated world had caught me, and I knew I would return. 

 

Afterthought 1:

The restaurant I visited is not the one in this region.  Here are a couple of others, both downtown:

 473 7 -736 

899, 7, -756  

 I'm sure there are others.

Afterthought 2:

Some might prefer that we just use &gotopos to get to Peg's front door.  For me, the sensation of exploration and discovery was exquisite and worth the wandering around.


Afterthought 3:

In screenshots with maps, the name of the area does not correspond to the coordinates.  Once you leave the actual game world, the name on the map stops updating.  Because, of course, you are in the realm of the Unnameable.  Or at least the Unnamed.


 

 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Sugar Shack 68: My Life in MxO

My Life in MxO

Getting started.  MxO was my first MMO!  In 1999 The Matrix had touched my mind with its visual poetry, and touched my heart with Neo’s voyage of self-discovery and love.  After all of Morpheus’ instruction, and hacking mainframes hither and yon, and as many guns as you can shake a stick at, it was Trinity’s love that pulled him from death back to life.  It resonated. 


In the Matrix, as in the Desert of the Real, love and commitment sustained life.


I joined as soon as I could in beta (I still have my email of acceptance!), and learned to manage abilities, struggle with inventory, run missions, and explore the world.  I liked the clothing styles, such as they were (Lotus Blouse FTW!), which was not much.  I liked the emotes (and wished for one for smoking, but this was not to be).  The great customization of my character was very satisfying.  The visual textures of the world, backgrounded by the music, were wonderful.  It was thoroughly absorbing.  It really felt like the Matrix.  I had not seen games like this before, and was initially amazed that when you unloaded a machine gun into an opponent, he would just get up and jump away; I had expected more.   The snow falling, the invariably full moon at night, the Asian influences of the International section (I had lived and married in Asia and felt a deep connection), and the various clubs felt wonderful.  Mara Central was, really, an upscale dump, but its chatter sizzled, the music was exquisite, and I loved sitting and listening to my fellow redpills.  

 


Is this where I apply for the Collective? 


During Beta I joined The Collective.  Then and now The Collective (TC) was exclusive, and folks told me it was difficult to get into.  Plus, they had a definitely bad boy reputation.  One evening I ran into a player, Karla, who had been erroneously admitted into TC and quickly expelled; she was crushed and as I listened to her brokenhearted story my interest was piqued. I’d already received offers to join the Sirens, the Mainframe, and the Children of the Code, but intuitively I wanted the one that had not invited me.   I yearned to belong.  I wanted The Collective.  I set myself the task of learning everything I could about them.  I knew they often hung out around Mara Central, and did the same.  I listened to them, identified the vocal members and the opinion leaders, and noted what they thought and what they liked to talk about, and prepared opinions of my own (I still have my notes!). Sometimes I would prompt people to say more with follow-up questions, like this:

            Dasein:  The viral abilities are too good to be true, and you can be sure they’re going to get nerfed in the next update.  Use ‘em while you got ‘em, kids!

            Me:  Wow, I know Garutachi’s really into viral.  What did he think about that?      

Then next time I saw Garutachi I would strike up a conversation with:

             “Hey, I was talking with Dasein and he said you think the viral abilities….” 

             (Just kidding.  In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing Dasein in game very much, even though he was on the TC Council, listed as “The Thinker”.)

This led to conversations, which I drew out, extended, and developed.  In addition, with other members I started conversations, ostensibly asking them about the guild but actually getting to know them (and vice versa).  They were all great people, they had a history together, they were tight, and the more I learned, the more I wanted in.   I yearned for that closeness.   Sattakan was my champion: warm, insightful, and supportive, advising me on the tides of opinion, giving tips, directing me to ditch my Mervish sig (which quoted the Merovingian), and helping me approach the Council.  I had several separate interviews, with Sattakan, Sneaker, FarrenJ (or was it AgtWeezer?), and Garutachi (hope I did not miss anyone!), and was accepted.  Now, fifteen years later, the sense of accomplishment I have from this has few equals in my life.  In fact, when encouraging my children in how to develop their social networks, I have occasionally referred to my experiences in winning entry to The Collective.  Who knew?  

My journal from 2005 tells the story of how I approached my task:

1.    Reading all forum posts by Collective leaders, for ideas and phrasings to use when talking to them.

2.    Designing a character backstory that totally motivated me to join the machinist cause.

3.    Chatting with existing members and leading them to suggest to me that I join their group, emphasizing that it seemed like their idea.

4.    Taking time to speak to every Collective member that I met and, when doing so, mentioning the names of other Collective members I had spoken to recently.  I also praised them, as when mentioning to someone that I had seen Sneaker98 at a party and that he was a savage dancer who could discourse on databases while doing dives.

5.    Seizing every opportunity to talk to Collective Council members such as FarrenJ and Sneaker98.  In these conversations, I made sure to always agree with them and show interest in things they cared about.  This info came from their posts, their forum, my talks with them, and intel from other Collective members.

6.    Acting nervous when talking to them in interviews, asking if what I was saying made sense, and typing dramatically, using emotion-laden language (which comes naturally to me!), and thanking them profusely, but not too profusely.

7.    I avoided probing my application status with friends in the guild, to strengthen those relationships and eliminate any sense of conflict of interest or mixed motives.  Besides, no one wants to seem needy.

In short, I approached it the way I had approached getting asked out in high school.  Some might say I over-played my hand.  I might say I succeeded.  In record time, according to Sattakan.  

 

Peak anxiety in beta…clanless, an orphan, all alone at Stamos, getting an update from Azzael on my TC application.  The red pumps did not help.  So stressful!!


There was always a great feeling of closeness and belonging for me with TC.  My guild came to be known in the community for PVP prowess, but I was never interested in this.  It was the folks around me that I hung out with that mattered most.  When discussions of builds and tactics started, I listened and sometimes took notes; it was running missions and infusing myself into my character with people I liked which appealed.  This is quite a departure from every other Deacon Blue interview I have heard so far, but this was the abiding appeal of MxO for me.  There were other reasons as well.  My teenaged son was committed to WOW and my daughter was playing other games, and MxO gave me an insight into their world, its patois, its themes, its stupid dramas, and its casual cruelties (I still seethe over a troll who stole my daughter’s ingame property.  From my child!).  Plus, over time, I unexpectedly started learning about myself; we are never more ourselves than when wearing a mask, and in this parallel life I found myself saying and doing things I could never have imagined IRL.  Though not that often.  Seriously!    


Other memories of beta:  There were several server resets requiring you to level your character all over again.  Often this was done with scant notice; at the very inception, communications from MxO to its players was poor.   Often players responded with cries of anger and despair: “Death to the devs!”, “Devs burn in hell!”, “I’m going back to Ultima Online!”, etc.  Already we were attached to our characters and loath to start over.  The grind was never sweet, and starting over was always a chore.  I waited till my kids’ homework was done, freed them to their pursuits, poured a glass of wine, put on the trance tracks, and started from ground zero, with periodic checks to make sure the house was not on fire.  Other things I remember:

  • Bugs with the world, but none that crashed it. 
  • Some missions that just never seemed to work in beta, like The Coroner. 
  • The agonizing frustration of an unconscionably limited inventory.
  • Speaking of inventory, it could be reliable as a wet match, and sometimes items just disappeared.  This occasioned much concern.

Pre-TC life in beta: When items evaporated from inventory, no option but to farm them again.  And with the Runner Street thugs lounging in the stratosphere laughing down at me (“Come and get it!”), that’s not going to be easy.  These were the times that tried my soul.  

 

  • The outstanding forums, which had great personalities and spirit (I still have some of the threads from back then!). 
  • The sense of collaborative creation as we betaed not just a game but an entire glorious world.    
  • Thinking back (and reading an old chat log from 2005 (!)), the character wipes affected my entire approach to the game, and put me on the path that I chose.  After one of them it occurred to me that in being forcibly reborn I had lost everything I had, and that the only thing that I had been able to salvage was the connections I had made with other players.  This epiphany was an inflection point in how I approached the game. 

The end of beta was unforgettably devastating: in a mad evening of cold eyes staring down from a rust-tinted sky, Matrix characters appeared among us, often summarily rejecting us, as the Merovingian disowned his votaries.  A rumor spread that Neo had been seen flying around town.  In the end, everyone was meatwadded!  What a way to go!  Discarded like a false eyelash!  Truly, we entered this world with nothing, and ended it with an empty purse and a spent debit card. 


Subtle hint from the devs….


In case you did not get the message the first time…


Manipulations from the Devs?  One moment in beta struck me, and in retrospect I think I over-interpreted it.  Someone, I think it was Morpheus, made an appearance (I think in Debir Court), and a huge crowd gathered around him.  I mean, more than a hundred folks.  Then a PVP zone was silently declared and everyone became flagged.  Suddenly messages started appearing in the sky telling us that someone had died.  Most of these names were well-known (I think SunDog was one of them).  Yet one of the “deceased” was standing right in front of me, as right as rain.  The announcements had been provocations to gin up anger and get fights going.  The idea that the devs might seek to manipulate had never occurred to me.    There were similar instances of this later (though not for fighting).    Persephone tasked The Sirens with compiling profiles (I have read them) of the major Zion and Machinist guilds; I think this was not just to create friction, but also because the devs themselves had little insight into what the players were doing.  I started to sense wheels within wheels after this; it piqued my interest.  Later I came to realize I was ridiculously overestimating the ingenuity of the devs.


Sometimes I just had a feeling that the devs were watching me…


Joining the Council.  When I joined TC, one member of the Council, Verlaine, was a woman.  However, after a while she left abruptly, with the parting recommendation that I take her place.  There was, ahem, substantial discussion about this in the Council, and I knew nothing about it.  On its face, the notion was astonishing.  There were many people who had been with TC _much_ longer than I had.  Almost everyone was _much_ better at combat than I was.  I was there for the sumptuous company of my guildmates (though a serious introvert, I am seriously a people person).  However, Verlaine thought that I would be a good addition precisely because I was so different from everyone else and had a different perspective: soft skills, conversational tactics, networking, consensus-oriented, and an ability to draw others out.  I never saw this coming, and not everyone in the Council supported it (the first generation of TC Council members were primarily savvy and ferocious fighters, and at least one thought I was an idle piece of fluff, totally unsuitable for command rank).  But once I was in, we were family, and we supported each other 100% for years, even in disagreement.  I could never have asked for better friends, even (or especially) when I posted incoherently after my mother died.  The Council was quite varied in their involvement: I was in-game almost every day, others, such as Dasein and Seraosha, were very influential but seldom visible.  Sattakan is always visionary in how he approaches things, always thinks strategically, and is as sharp as a hatpin.  I just re-read a chat log from 2005 where he outlined the three types of people in MxO, and how we needed to recruit with variety in mind so we were not one-sided.  Beyond that, he said, “We give those who do not make it an alternative so that they can still fight with us on the machinist side!”.   Now _that_ is far-sighted. 

 

In the middle of dispensing relationship advice- Wait, what?  They selected _who_ for the Council?

During applicant interviews, he would bring in non-Council members to get their input, and also to watch their questioning.   As they watched applicants, he was watching _them_.  He (and others) realized that for the clan to be successful in the long term it needed to have enough of a leadership bench so that there was no single point of failure.    I will always feel grateful to Sattakan, Illyria1, Sneaker98, RemagDiv, Garutachi, Seraosha, Calliente, and the others for the opportunities and encouragement they gave.   Many clans, like Furious Angels and The Tetragrammaton, were absolutely successful because of one strong, effective leader; we were effective through team leadership that could respond to the game with a mosaic of expertise: extroverted strategic leadership, unemotional technical strength, intense PvP prowess, detached high-level insight, and team-building facilitation. 

I was devastated when members left, Garutachi most of all (I just looked at a screenshot of him tagless standing across from me in Mara Central and over a decade later feel a twinge), and remember times cajoling, persuading, pleading with them not to leave.  One time at Mara Center, when Roukan declared his intention to move on, I tried to bring him back but nothing I said could reach him.  At the end of a long, anguished discussion he dismissively said I was being too emotional!  As if!  I could hear Sattakan chuckling when I told him all about this.  Sometimes it brought me to tears (which were difficult to explain to my family)!  In retrospect, I realize I was acting out of tensions I felt with my son and daughter, who were in the time of life when they were starting to drift away on their own paths.  And so sometimes I found myself saying things to strangers that I wanted to say to my children.  Conversely, I was surprised to see how hard my heart grew when friends became enemies or, worse, just left us.  In my desert of the real, I kept (and keep) this repressed; in MxO it found free expression with no rules of engagement.  

 

No screenshot sadder than this…

Contributing to the Guild.  I felt a strong commitment and wanted to contribute and promote my guild.  But PvP was not my thing.  And some guildies were so full-throttle that when beta ended and MxO went live, they had started over and made it to level 50 in two days or less (Bi0hazard ruled the roost!).    Therefore, I sought ways to exert soft power to promote TC: socializing, indirect interrogation, verbal PVP, training, planning, writing, cooperation, drawing quiet folks into conversation, trying to make everyone feel involved and valued.    For me, many guild meetings were like Thanksgiving dinner, where I was always mindful of everyone around the table, making sure everyone was engaged and satisfied; some took my attention more than others.  I never wanted to be the Leader (we had enough of those); I wanted to make sure that everyone was working together and that the guild was strong and stable.  The nicest thing anyone ever said to me was from Illyria1 who once told me that I reminded her of President Roslin from Battlestar Galactica: quiet and powerful.  But without the people around me, I was nothing. 

LESIG.  I joined LESIG (Live Events Special Interest Group) but could not find the time to prepare and cultivate a new persona to be used as a liaison; eventually I asked to be given the blue pill and resigned from the group to give someone else the opportunity.  During my time there I did not encounter or even hear about any leaks or exploits, etc. from any participant; everyone I knew was committed to making it work and many members put a lot of time and effort into it. Many LESIG members make great efforts to create vivid, well-defined characters to represent the Machines, the Merovingian, or Zion.  When I watched them during Machinist meetings, their representations were note-perfect.  I wish I had saved some of my LESIG forum posts.  

Just another day in the service of the System.


Writing.  Another way to promote the guild was through writing.  I did a series of more than 50 walkthroughs, chatty narratives of the dozens of neighborhood contact missions (still (incredibly) available at my blog manifoldmischief.blogspot.com).  This took a while, but was worth doing and helped build our brand.  When Aquatium started The Megacity Times, I joined the staff, contributed mission write-ups, and did an interview with Rarebit (soon to appear on my blog with his blessing).   Most years I wrote annual summaries, and did posts on interesting things to do, what made guilds successful, etc.  Plus, even in beta, I wrote long posts about topical events, like inventory, evening jaunts, and the torturous resets.  Many I saved and almost fifteen years later, they still read well!  I wish I had done more write-ups for in-game events, like the hunt for the fly monster, the Blue Sky event, the Valkyrie runs, and the Christmas missions.


What, am I early for the Christmas party?


Dealing with Other Guilds. In MxO, it was easy to have enemies; every PvP-hungry twit was ready to rumble.  But building alliances was more difficult, and something I worked on, particularly with a non-aggression pact with The Sirens.  They, of course, were not bellicose to begin with and this worked out smoothly, though there were some impulsive, hot-blooded folks in both guilds who took it personally when someone killed them.  Who knew?   Thinking I had witnessed devly manipulation during the beta PvP breakout, I wanted strong ties with other guilds so that we would be less subject to it.  If there was going to be manipulation, I wanted it to be ours, not theirs.  For me this was a strategic goal.  By and large it was not shared by other guilds.  I was shocked, shocked, to discover this. 

Promoting TC in the Community.  That was one aspect.  There were other things we did to advance TC interests.  I found that many opponents would fight with the guys in the guild, but would easily answer any questions coming from someone in a dress.  In chat, leaders and members of other guilds could be provoked into making asses of themselves (seldom difficult).   When the Endless clan migrated to our server (Recursion), their leaders were smart and taciturn; I approved.  However, this did not stop me from chatting up one lower-level member who promptly told me everything about their plans.  After a few weeks of PvP, a few of its members approached us at Stamos sheepishly asking if they could join.  Some of the Council opposed it, but I insisted we admit everyone who wanted in, to drain talent from a competitor; this hemorrhage was a great win for us and a significant blow to them.  My conviction was that in MxO you could never gain territory, and could never own in-world assets, but you could gain people, meaning that members were the ultimate form of wealth for any guild (think back to my epiphany in beta).  And over the months, I came to feel affection and respect for them, even though initially I thought some of them were total jerks.  They had become family (looking at you, Unholynixon!).  These were all tactics which helped advance TC.  And that was what it was all about for me.

The Story?  What Story?  Tragically, socializing and clan management (by many others, and not just me) took so much of my in-game time that I tended to lose track of the story.  I have to read summaries by others to remember the details.  And now, eleven years after playing, it’s hard for me to recollect the intricacies of builds.  Historians, forgive me!

 

First the system is a lie, and now they’re out of vegetarian soy hotdogs!  What else could go wrong?  At least they’re not shutting down the game, so maybe in 2010 they’ll add vendors here.  Maybe with different flavors for different ability boosts.


Favorite Adventures.  There were so many.  The best were all ones with stories and memorable loot.  Pandora’s Box.  Christmas missions to earn snowflakes for seasonal outfits.  Halloween pumpkin kills for awesome masks of major figures from Matrix and MxO lore.  Finally I could be Persephone! Zero-One was another fave for me. I loved its Area K coat quite aside from its awesome stats.  The stat hack mish, given by Seraph, required shepherding a bluepill through a crowded, hostile neighborhood to let him find his way in life; for you this results in a stat hack to let you re-set your ability scores to find your own new way. The visual effect from running this consumable was one of the loveliest in the game (I made a vid of this, thanks be to God).   Others with the slightest of backstories, like the SSR stuff on Datamine, the Valkyries, and Sati’s Playground, could also have good clothes, but were less emotionally satisfying.  Good loot would redeem lackluster fights, as with farming RSI pills (which were quite awesome: everything from hairstyle to tint to skin color!).  For complexity and story, nothing compared to the Pandora’s Box (PB) with all the components to acquire, the rich cast of characters, and the evocation of previous versions of the Matrix.  Vesuveus has a great, resourceful writeup for this on YouTube.  And the fights yielded vast quantities of loot. As many times as I participated in a PB run, it never got old!

Besides the backstories, one thing I especially enjoyed about these was the loot.  The sheer soul-satisfying pleasure of acquisition could never be overstated.  My inventory was constantly creaking, but there was always room for a few more in emails and mules.  The group hunts for the Area K jacket in Zero-One were a favorite, and I farmed the coat for all my characters.  The glasses and shoes from the Valkyries were another late-game fave though there was not much of a backstory (as I recall).    Still, they looked great!  And the profusion of T-shirts for the Smith Virus event was outstanding.    But the epic fights and prizes of the Pandora’s Box arc were some of the best, most memorable, most hard-won in the game.     

I had to pawn my Area K jacket to afford these shoes, and all Agent Brady did was look away and bark “get a job, operative”.  After Agent Gray’s words of encouragement, this was crushing to me.  You’d cry too.


Later, sitting in a club with a drink and a smoke, still thinking about my Area K jacket hocked in the pawn shop.  I need a sugar daddy.  Maybe Sattakan’s in game.


How It All Ended.  But I do remember the last day, the day the servers died, as if it were yesterday.  On an alt I ran three suites of neighborhood mish contacts to get comprehensive screenshots for Vesuveus: the Bartender (you meet Persephone!), Mr. Po (delightful writing!), and Hypatia (fellow bibliophile!).  Then, as me, I spent some time in Mara Central watching the endless, outlandish effects (razor slashes, mingling agents, code bombs, players running as angels) and hysterical PvP.  Dracomet (a dev) ran a videogame history quiz that was accessible to perhaps 5% of the audience, doling out, if I recall correctly, a couple of high-end Agent handguns (TM-1500s) to the winners.  I should have taken screenshots; anyone would have laughed at the arcane obscurity of some of the questions.  Well, arcane obscurity to me, at least.  Illyria1, who was one of TC’s toughest skirmishers and a superb Council member, was always down for some Agently affection, yet had inexplicably never earned an FM-1500 Magnum from one; we cajoled a dev into gifting her what agents had withheld.  And about time!!  It’s not like anyone was worrying about game balance at that point.  After that I danced and chatted and mourned with some folks whiling the world away in Club Hel.  Finally, I joined my brothers and sisters in my guild to stand on a bridge between buildings in International to watch the world end, and us with it, the same as we had done in beta. 

In the following days, I logged on occasionally, from a murky desire I could not articulate.  Each time my name and password were accepted, and I could see the list of servers, each with its load listed as “heavy”.  The “heavy” represented not teeming masses of operatives and exiles, but the seething tsunami of agents destroying every living thing, be it of blood or code, and then going on to tear apart the entire edifice of Megacity.  Every club I had danced in, every building on whose top I had perched, every bookstore whose serried volumes I had perused, and every street I had wandered in the falling snow, were all torn asunder, savagely obliterated, stray bits dancing like ashes in a typhoon.  In a few days, my username and password were rejected.  And that is how my world ended.

 

My alt, the day the game shut down, hard at work for Vesuveus, running mishes and amassing screenshots to salvage the legacy of our world.


On the way to oblivion, we stopped by Club Hel for a spell. 


Standing next to my sister Illyria1, aghast at the words I had never wanted to read….  I had few regrets, mostly the over-the-top shoes.


Our last moments.  Meatwadded and mobbed by special agents.  As a crumpled pretzel of fabric and flesh, I shot off my last hard-won Stat Hack, figuring it wouldn’t be useful for much longer.  Even from beyond the grave, it still worked.


MxO and Life.  And that’s in game.  I had an ailing parent as well as two kids going through the rough years of adolescence (i.e., all of them); together with managing my household, IRL normally took all my energy.    MxO was a deep, guilty pleasure; back then online gaming was not as mainstream as it is now, and if my friends (or, worse, my Asian in-laws) had known I was running around toting guns and kung-fu moves, I never would have lived it down.  It would have been more socially acceptable to admit I was using drugs or alcohol!   But the films had spoken to me, and I felt such a strong connection with Neo’s journey.  And over time my clan members always drew me back, regardless of how unexciting the post-50 world could be.  I think I sensed it at the time but did not realize that even in MxO I felt the satisfaction of parenting.  As if my kids weren’t enough!

Weaknesses.  I adored the game.  Yet there were issues: 

  • Communications with players was poor.  Some of the forum moderators and CSRs, like Brewko, were captious and inept, on their good days.   Of which there were few.
  • Walrus was absolutely ineffective in building up the game and the community.  Being absent for months at a time was only part of the issue.
  • Backgrounds for in-game characters such as the neighborhood contacts were missing or lacked depth and could have been done in a few days, or outsourced to an RPG module designer. It’s not like they needed Marcel Proust to get it done.
  • Too many doors could be opened to find developer placeholders, i.e., checkerboard walls that just said “WALL” in case you could not figure it out.  You can still find these in the emulator. 

 

So I guess this isn’t the ladies room.  Even years later, some things were still a work in progress.


I like the size, and Marie Kondo would approve of the lack of clutter, but still….I expected more from my kitchen.


  • The community increasingly became toxic.   Yet now, after listening to Deacon Blue’s podcasts and realizing how many players were just children, I’m surprised it did not happen sooner.  In beta, the community was much better, IMHO.  The discussions in its general chat were often genuinely interesting. 
  • Drama whores.  They were most obnoxious in the forums, but they would sometimes take a shine to a guild, and do their utmost to whine up a storm.  TC definitely had its share of their malign attention, and then some.    But now, who even remembers them?    And who should? 
  • With hyper-jumps in our possession, it was totally unnecessary to add ladders and the ability to climb them.  Yet the devs still invested the time and effort to incorporate this.  It’s a riddle the Oracle herself could not unravel.
  • The light switches were pointless.  Why?  Why?  These and the ladders seem like debris from a former, Hyperjump-less version of the Matrix game that persisted in ours. 
  • The inability for a long time to scroll through email was simply maddening.  This was at a time when other games fielded this without difficulty. 
  • The inventory was never adequate (for me, anyway).  The devs never seemed to understand the sheer delight of acquisition and a full closet, at a time when other games had much larger personal inventories.  At least on my hovercraft, I had a cargo bay for a walk-in closet.
  • There were some clothes I liked (many), but the color schemes were massively annoying.    Every time I see a screenshot of myself in a supple blouse and skirt topped with a black fedora, I groan.  I swear, I did it for the stats!   
  •  In the following days, I logged on occasionally, from a murky desire I could not articulate.  Each time my name and password were accepted, and I could see the list of servers, each with its load listed as “heavy”.  The “heavy” represented not teeming masses of operatives and exiles, but the seething tsunami of agents destroying every living thing, be it of blood or code, and then going on to tear apart the entire edifice of Megacity.  Every club I had danced in, every building on whose top I had perched, every bookstore whose serried volumes I had perused, and every street I had wandered in the falling snow, were all torn asunder, savagely obliterated, stray bits dancing like ashes in a typhoon.  In a few days, my username and password were rejected.  And that is how my world ended.

 

 

Even so. There were so many lovely aspects. 

  • Sitting near the fires of Stamos with Sattakan and guildies, talking about the clan, our families, the game, and other people. 
  • Watching the waves and imagining on what other shores they broke.
  • Christmas gift delivery missions, and the outfits one could earn with snowflakes.  Not to mention walking through the falling snow, which never ever got old.  And the happy reactions from the bluepills we served were always satisfying, especially since most missions ended with death and destruction for someone


So what if I’m not dressed for the weather?  I _loved_ the snow.

  • Savoring the flow of code every time I logged in. 
  • The gorgeous colors and styles downtown. 
  • The ingenuity of the devs in using Matrix references for coding issues.  When things broke, you would often have a black cat appear.  Tricky and cultured.  When a room had not come up yet, there would be a red brick wall in the doorway.
  • The incredible visual effects for the viral abilities, and for many of the other effects in the game (stat hack, cake, and awakening glasses being examples).  They have not aged at all, and would be a credit to any game of any type.  Thanks be to God that I recorded as many of them as I did. 
  • The autumn leaves and handouts (“The System Is A Lie”) endlessly drifting along the ground, even on tall buildings, in perpetuity, good weather and bad.  When you walk past them, they swirl in your wake.  This was art for art’s sake.  Someone definitely had to do some serious coding for that. 
  • Data-mining, watching the mysterious nodes and the droning background music.  Immensely soothing.  I loved the entire Datamine environment. 
  • The elegant, well-lit nihilism of the white corridors.
  • Meeting Morpheus and Seraph.  Sneaking into a faction meeting with the Merovingian even though his hot-blooded acolytes quickly gave me a dirt nap.  They were like white blood cells with a germ!
  • The intricate paths of cigarette smoke endlessly seeping heavenwards from club ashtrays. 
  • Unceasing opportunities for great conversations with people new and old; this never wore out.

I never knew what conversation I was going to have.  Yet real or fake, they were all compelling exercises.  Note the stylish outfit.

  • Watching Illyria1 sweep any battlefield like a scythe.  She was an inferno in pumps!
  • Hypatia’s, Mr. Po’s, and the Jeweler’s missions.  And almost all the others. 
  • My fishnet stockings.   Indulge me, I want to say more!  I often wore them, even in beta.  One evening years before MxO, on a date in Hong Kong with my boyfriend (a year before we got married), I was talking about our plans for the next day and saw his attention slide away from me to our waitress.    I followed his gaze and saw he was carefully studying her legs in their fishnet stockings.  The next day I bought some and never looked back.  How could I not adopt them ingame?   Over ten years ago, cleaning out a dresser, I came across some; when my fingers stroked them, I felt the sharp pang of longing and reminiscence, like high school yearbooks or the madeleine in Remembrance of Things Past.  For me, they were verbs in the language of love.  Plus, they made my legs look longer.  
  • My glorious awakening glasses (with endless code flows). 
  • Walking through the falling snow. 
  • The lights changing in office buildings; sometimes creepy!
  • Reflections in building windows of adjacent structures.  Sometimes very eerie (see my forthcoming essay, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”).
  • The moon visibly moving through the sky. 
  • The great background music, especially at Mara Central.  That piece (GrillD) in particular I use as a ringtone for my family now. 
  • Writing my backstory, “The Accidental Redpill”.
  • The live events teams were committed and professional and did their best.  Some that I remember most were the lowest-key, such as the Chessman stopping by for a game and Rose wandering through the residential developments.  These gave a feeling of depth to the game and its characters.  Not to mention the larger live events.  These tended to get crowd-swarmed, though, and sometimes part way through I’d be disconnected.  Though this was not so much a reflection on the game as on the puny infrastructure of the times. 
  • Every one of my neighborhood mish write-ups.

Even the shutdown’s complete, absolute freakout of meatwadding, under skies teeming with staring eyes and the terse, savage admonition to “Wake up!”, was like no other day of my life. 

TC decided to migrate to SWTOR, and I rolled up a character when it came out.  Yet the SWTOR is not MxO and I drifted away from everything and let life get in the way.    Today I have not logged in on the guild website in years.  Maybe it’s true what they say, that you can never go home again.


Now I just make do with my books and my memories….


After-Life.  If you have read this far, you should absolutely check out the MxO emulator, available at www.mxoemu.info.  It is the entire world that was the old game, including areas such as Sati’s Playground and Zero-One, and even some locales which were never used in the game.  You can even re-visit the tutorial construct, which I just did a few days ago for the first time in 14 years!  The cars and pedestrians and clubs and contacts are all there.  The contacts cannot dispense missions (read my blog to re-live those!) and most of the vendors don’t work, but through the character generation process you can give yourself anything you want.  Hyperjump and a few other abilities are available but combat and PvP are not yet.  If you miss MegaCity and want to relive some glorious old times, definitely pay a visit.  You can also visit previously off-limits areas such as the white rooms, and go beyond the walls of the cities.  I’m doing a write-up for one of these, titled “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”; watch for it soon on my blog!  The tools are available to let you go anywhere you want and be anyone you want.  There’s still a lot to enjoy, and I encourage folks to visit. 

Such a narcissistic piece of self-reflection.  But I thought that it might be interesting to see how one minor member in one major guild experienced the game.