Monday, March 20, 2006
Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies
"Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies" by Scott Jennings, aka Lum the Mad is a book for beginning MMORPG players. Makes you wonder why I review it here, neither me nor the majority of my readers are beginners. But the book is actually quite interesting even for the MMORPG veteran, no, make that MMG veteran, the abbreviation the author prefers.
About the author, Scott Jenning, using the name Lum the Mad was the worlds first MMORPG blogger. And that at a time when the word "blog" didn't even exist yet. So you could say that if I am "standing on the shoulder of giants" with this blog, they are Lum the Mad's shoulders. He then moved on to be first a database programmer for Mythic Entertainment, and recently a game developer for NCSoft. Which is a good thing, because Scott has a lot of very sensible ideas about MMGs, which could use some representation among game developers.
The book is part of the "for Dummies" series, published by Wiley Publishing, and follows certain convention of that series, like starting each chapter with a "The 5th Wave" cartoon. Like most of the "for Dummies" books, it gives an excellent introduction into the subject, even for people that start out with zero knowledge. The book comes with a DVD with demo versions of Dark Age of Camelot ® and Shadowbane ®. The sad thing is that on one place in the book it is mentioned that there would be a World of Warcraft demo on the DVD, which would have been a much better choice for beginners than Shadowbane, but obviously the publishers couldn't get Blizzard to allow them to do that.
The book starts by giving an introduction into what MMGs are, what you need to play, why you need to pay a monthly fee, and what games there are. In spite of having worked for the company making Dark Age of Camelot at the time of writing, Scott remains surprisingly neutral in his descriptions of the different games in the book. There are more DAoC screenshots than the market share of that game would justify, but no blatant preference of DAoC over other games.
The second part is about your first day, and your first week, in your chosen game, explaining character class archetypes, quests, and how to get customer support when stuck. Part three then goes on to explain how to group, and how to behave in relations with other players. Part four explains guilds, from their use to all the dramas that can happen in them.
Part five is especially interesting for veteran players as well, as it talks about the endgame. Scott has a concept of a MMG being two different games, one about leveling up, and one about what to do when you are at the top level. While it might sometimes feel like that, I don't totally agree with that, I see the endgame more as leveling up your meta-level with other means. But that doesn't invalidate Scott's options about what to do at the top level: being an online merchant, roleplaying, raiding, or PvP.
The book finishes with parts six and seven talking about the game outside the game, message boards, blogs (Damn, he didn't name me! Just kidding, I didn't expect him to. :) ), and the like. It does a couple of lists of ten, like "ten things I wish I knew when I played my first MMG", or "ten proudest achievements in an MMG" by some other people. A glossary of MMG jargon, index, and a chapter on how to install the DVD end the book.
I really enjoyed reading this book, because I agreed with most of what Scott Jennings is saying. There are some minor mistakes (e.g. he recommends looking for people with a question mark over their head to find new quests in WoW, when in fact its an exclamation mark.), but those are just minor niggles. For the most part it is surprising how Scott manages to describe things in a way which are true for many games at once, be it DAoC, SWG, EQ or WoW. It just shows how little variation there is between underlying game principles in the different MMGs. Even the description of human nature revealing itself in things like griefing or guild drama are spot on, and true for many games at once. While the games described are those of late 2005, most of the book will remains true for many years to come, until somebody comes up with a completely new way of doing a MMG.
I recommend buying this book, even for a MMG veteran. You will enjoy reading it, and you can still pass it on to your little brother, or significant other, or whoever else you think needs some more education on the basic facts about massively multiplayer games.