Hosting multiplayer games – advice please

I have a bunch of games that have a multiplayer option but my ISP (SBC Yahoo) does not allow inbound socket connections unless you have a business account (which costs $$$$$$).

What do other people do? Does your ISP allow inbound connections? Which? How much?
Seems like it would be easy to write a little port-forwarding thingie to run on my Dreamhost shell account and then connect to it from my house to fake local connections. Anyone know if such a thingie exists, before I write it? Seem like a good idea?

Constraining vs Enabling in Video Games

[I wrote this months ago. Posting it now (unfinished) to clear out my backlog – ed]

A little while ago, a bunch of us went to see Nick Yee give a presentation about Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) at PARC. Over a beer afterwards, we discussed one of my favourite MMO topics and were neatly divided down the middle on the subject.

The topic concerns bad behaviour by other players in the game and what the developers should do about it. The bad behaviour in question might be stealing or killing or scamming or any number of other things that would annoy other players. But not cheating. We are all agreed that cheating – causing lag to gain an advantage in the fight, using a bug or exploit to create gold or any number of other ways of gaming the system – sucks.

One side, who happen to play rather a lot of MMOs, said that it is the developer’s responsibility to prevent such bad behaviour. The other side, who don’t play so much any more and includes me, claim that the developers should enable the other players to prevent such behaviour.

Broadly speaking, the first group want to narrow the rules of the game to make bad behaviour impossible. The second group want to expand the rules of the game so the players can create their own systems of justice – their own rules, ther own morality – within the game. Martin Fowler calls these attitudes enabling attitudes and directing attitudes.

The ones who play might claim (and do claim) that they have won the argument by the very fact that they play the games in question – but there is a self-fullfilling prophesy at work. The games are targetted at a particular market and those outside the market simply stop playing.

Next-Generation Joysticks

According to the Neurophilosopher a patient with epilepsy was fitted with a BCI2000, a device that monitors brain activity, to monitor his seizures.

Because the patient was required to remain connected to the BCI until he had a seizure, engineers programmed Atari software [space invaders] so that it was compatible with the device, making the wait more entertaining for the patient.

“He cleared out the whole level one basically on brain control,” says Eric C. Leuthardt, an assistant professor of neurosurgery involved in the work. “He learned almost instantaneously. We then gave him a more challenging version…and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination.”

The Wii will be out of date before it even ships on November 17.

Soccer is skill-based

Raph Koster uses an analogy with sports to make a point about structure in multi-player games. He chose the wrong sport though.

First some terminology. Most of the recent online games require you to choose a class (a healer, a warrior, a wizard or whatever) and you are then constrained to learn only those skills that that class is allowed to learn. When you form a group to battle the dragon, you have to choose a balanced mix of classes – a healer to heal, a warrior to fight, a wizard to cast spells – because, clearly, there is no way that a warrior might know some magic or that wizards might learn some first aid. This gives the games, to me, an artificial feel. It takes away opportunities to improvise.

A lot of sports are like that – American football, baseball, cricket, rugby – they have rules about who can throw the ball, who can wear extra padding, who can stand in front of the back foot of the scrum. As a result, the people who excel at those sports start to look a little freaky. All the locks are 8ft 3in tall, all the linemen are 400lbs, all the batters look like they are on steroids.

Soccer is not like that. There are only two classes. The goalkeeper and everyone else. The goalkeeper is a special case (and freaky) but everyone else has the same skills – they all tackle, they all pass, they all score goals, they all cross the ball. They just have different blends of the same set of skills.

Look at Henry. You probably wouldn’t even pick him out as a sportsman. He just looks like an ordinary chap but he is one of the best players in the world. Look at Ashley Cole & Gabriel Heinze. Both defenders by trade but both able to slot in to the attack as well as any world-class winger. Players in the same role often have wildly different skills sets – Rossi, Rooney, Crouch, Adriano, Drogba and Shevchenko are all strikers.
Go to any random city in the world and find a group of 12 years to play some soccer and they will all be able to play in any position. Some will be better goal scorers, some will naturally choose to defend. Sure, they’ll argue over who is going to go in goal because goalkeeping is a different animal altogether. It’s the exception that proves the rule.

Soccer is skill-based. That’s just one more reason why soccer is the beautiful game.

What’s the deal with behavioral conditioning ?

I attended the PARC Open Forum today and heard Nick Yee share some fascinating insights about MMORPGS. Nick gave the presentation that I expected Raph Koster to give – also at PARC – a couple of months ago and he seemed to be really enjoying himself throughout. I know I was.

The talk covered enough topics to keep me blogging for weeks – and his own web site has heaps of good stuff – but there was one thing I wanted to ask before it slipped my mind.

Nick gave a fly-by overview of behavioral conditioning (The Skinner Box and all that) and made a comparison between the kill-the-monster-gain-a-level reward structure of most recent MMOs and the pass-a-test-get-a-certificate education system.

He suggested that the entire education system is centered around this behaviorist model of reward and punishment and that the Real World is not like that. For a lot of people, life after school is unsatisfying because they have been trained to expect continuous feedback and constant rewards for effort but they don’t exist in the 9-5 of shelf-stacking (or lawyering or doctoring). For these people, MMOs are comforting because they provide exactly that kind of feedback. (He also made it clear that people play MMOs for LOTS of different reasons).

My question to Nick is – was the education system designed for a population that thrives on continuous feedback and rewards or do we expect such feedback and rewards because the education system conditioned us to do so?

Just asking.

Who is the target audience ?

Aaron is complaining that Nintendo has renamed their forthcoming Revolution to Wii (pronouced “we”). All my game playing buddies are bewailing the same thing.

I asked my son and all his 5th grade buddies and they said :

  • “weeeee!”
  • “Coool!”
  • “Cowabunga”
  • “Can we get one the first day it comes out ?”

Guess which market Nintendo is selling to ?

I keep telling Dylan that as soon as he gets to middle school, he’ll start growing hair under his arms, liking girls and wanting an XBox 360.