Friday, December 19, 2014

Adrift in Archeage, Part II - Squatter's Rights

I'm now a proud landowner of a scratchy 8 by 8 plot in the northern foothills of the Windscour Savannah, courtesy of a helpful guildie named Promac, who pointed it out to me when I plaintively asked for help in guild chat locating a suitable site. It's no piece of paradise – the land seems more suited to lantana (a vicious, noxious, invasive, scrub and thicket forming weed I've had the misfortune of having to clear vast tracts of when I was a youth) than anything else, being set an alarmingly steep 45 degree angle and located at the foothills of a ring of mountains. It's at the very edge of a large player settlement north of the Windheart Lake, miles away from amenities, vendors and the like, and located in a PvP zone which cyclically erupts into open war. Like an immigrant to a new country, my avatar has to begin at the margins of established society, to fill vacancies and do jobs shunned or avoided by the mainstream. If the established players of AA are the landed gentry with plush homes, fast gliders and sleek seafaring vessels, then my avatar Hatakeyama is a penniless immigrant, with more in common with the thousands of folks that poured into America and Australia during the days of the gold rush in California and Ballarat respectively. I can visualise her going to sleep at night with her belongings tucked carefully underneath her, her Gildas rattling in a can, counted and recounted numerous times. In the morning she climbs the mountains north-east of Anvilton to mine for ore. It's backbreaking work, but she does it dutifully, humming a tune in an exotic tongue, to the mild bemusement of her fellow miners. On the way home she walks past the row of beautifully appointed homes in quiet envy, and in her heart of hearts resolves to one day have a house like this.


It's no piece of paradise, but it's hers.

Before finding her plot Hatakeyama had to resort to planting “illegal” farms all over the world, and hoping that her produce wasn't pilfered before she was able to return to harvest her crops. This led to a kind of twisted game of hide and seek, as I found out to my chagrin that there are players out there who specialise in finding and uprooting these types of plots. The very first time I planted out in the world was around the corner from the crafting vendor behind a nearby barn. When I returned my pumpkin and lily patch was gone - instead, the ground around the area was littered with red footprints. Some cheeky bastard had stolen them, but thanks to the footprints I could actually see their name, as well as report the thief to the judiciary. Undeterred by this initial failure I decided to try my luck again, by finding a spot a little further secluded and out of the way. Once again I sowed, watered and congratulated myself on my cunning, then logged off. On my return I found that the pumpkins and lilies had been carried off again, and not only that they had been carried off by the same guy. It made me wonder if he was running some kind of script which allowed him to find these farms.

As a last ditch attempt Hatakeyama resolved to find the most remote, inhospitable, out-of-the way locale she could find, and try to raise some crops there. She found it in this abandoned mansion below – a quest area some distance from the nearest settlement, populated by man-eating plants and bots. Behind a stand of bushes at the rear of the mansion, Hatakeyama found a secluded spot far away from normal transit routes and questing pathways.

Here, in this eerie and forbidding location Hatakeyama found the ideal location for her “illegal” farm. These farms are "illegal" in the sense that people pay no taxes on them. Player owned property guarantees security from pilfering and theft at the cost of a tax upkeep. Planting crops or raising livestock in the wild avoids this tax entirely, but your produce is vulnerable to the predations of other players, although there is a deterrent in the form of the justice system, which catalogues these types of actions as a punishable offence. Whether they get punished or not is up to the jury they draw in their trial. For Hatakeyama, however, this haunted manse gave her a place to grow crops and raise a gaggle of geese in relative obscurity.


The site of Hatakeyama's secret farm - a dark and foreboding manse on the edge of nowhere.

Her secret garden was only discovered once in the three or four days she spent there. While feeding her geese another player walked into her patch, leading to a tense confrontation. She was unsure as to what to do – this area was, after all, a PvP zone, which meant either player could flag and attack each other, despite being on the same faction. Hatakeyama was prepared to defend her ducks to the death, but it didn't prove necessary. The other guy backed off. Hatakeyama followed, like an angry bear whose cub had been threatened, but to her surprise, he didn't go very far. She found him at the far corner of the estate, and there, behind some cottages, was another illegal farm, much more substantial than hers. The other guy didn't realise he had been followed, and an awkward silence ensued when he realised that she was there. From his buffs I could tell that he was not a Patron – he was a F2P player who could not own private land.

“I'll leave yours be if you leave mine be,” I offered.

“Deal.” And with that an agreement was reached, and both of us were able to farm in peace for the remainder of the week.


Hatakeyama tending to her flock of geese.

Those days are over for Hatakeyama, given that she has her own plot of land now. She actually has two plots – Promac showed me two places where I could place an 8x8, and I claimed both using both Hatakeyama and my alt Beorn. Beorn's journey to claim the second plot is an odyssey in of itself – he travelled across 40+ PvP zones as a level six avatar, dodging mobs and flagged enemy players before finally descending down a sheer cliff face to get to his destination. He made it to the plot and was able to claim it, but was then subsequently ganked by an irate purple (same faction) player who perhaps had designs on his land. Too late, bud – once Beorn planted his farm it would remain his as long as he remained a subscriber and paid his taxes on time. So now Hatakeyama has access to two small plots of land (you have free access to your alt's land as well, although you have to pay taxes separately). When she left her “illegal” farm for good, Hatakeyama debated whether to butcher her remaining geese, but decided against it. Game mechanics dictate that these geese would eventually starve and die if not looked after, but I like to imagine that Hatakeyama released them into the wild to hopefully thrive and raise further generations of geese. In the grounds of a haunted manor. Occupied by man-eating giant plants.

I have never played Ultima Online, or Star Wars Galaxies, and thus my only experience with player housing up until now has been the instanced type typified by SWTOR (player spaceship) and WoW (Halfhill farm, and now the WoD garrison). I've never played Minecraft or EQ Landmark either, so manipulating the environment is a new thing to me – in my limited experience the world has always been just scenery, not something a player can interact with in a meaningful way. I love the non-instanced housing in AA, and the fact that crops and livestock can be raised anywhere. I think I understand why AA has a half-finished feel to it now. Perhaps it was a design decision to leave vast tracts of land open, for the pure purpose of allowing players to modify it in their own way. Last week in the region of Ynstere, there were cherry trees as far as the eye can see, travelling the length of the road from Glitterstone in the mountains to city of Carnord on the coast. Some areas in Ynstere have been converted from barren hills into dense woods composed of hundreds of cherry trees. The screenshot below shows a battle at the Crimson Rift (a raid level world event against hundreds of AI soldiers) taking place underneath the boughs of this man-made wood. Player reaction to this has been mixed – some players have been cooing at how beautiful the wood is, while others are annoyed at the disruption to the Crimson Rift event. It's a mystery to me how the wood survived the week – I would have thought that a bunch of avaricious players would have taken an axe to these trees already. The presence of this wood is a clear mark of player agency made manifest in the persistent world. I don't know how long the wood stood, or if it still there now - I wrote this post in early November, just prior to the launch of WoD. But the fact that people can alter the persistent world in such a fashion has opened my eyes to the possibilities of virtual worlds beyond the instanced, phased, and carefully sub-divided versions typified by WoW and its clones.


This beautiful wood composed of cherry blossoms is completely player made, and in this screenshot is a site of an ongoing battle.

Archeage is dying a death of a thousand cuts, roundly criticised by all and sundry for the inept mismanagement shown by the stewards of the Western version of the game. The consensus on AA seems to have been that Trion had a rough gem on their hands, but any attempts to leverage this into mainstream success has been torpedoed by their failure to clamp down on the rampant hacks, the botting, and the flagrant "double dipping" epitomised by their subscription fee and the P4P cash shop. I can't tell you how disappointing this is, because I really do like this game. It is the first game of its type I have played, and I am hoping to see more MMOs like this in the future.

5 comments:

  1. Hey Duke,

    Congrats on the land. If you want an aqua farm I know a bunch of free spots. Cause I think we're in the same guild now ...

    Also, there are no subscribers in AA. Everyone is a FTP using the cash shop. Patron status is just higher cash shop status. That's the way they designed it. We assume we're subscribers, but we're not in their eyes.

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    1. Haha Adam, you are like the Mystery Man in AA - I know your avatar is around because you are on my friends list and guild list, but I've never seen you in game because we log on at different times.

      I'm going to play AA more once I finish gearing up my ret paladin in WoW, which should take a couple more days. I'd like to level cap my AA toon and start looking at what the end game looks like on that title. Not sure if I should cancel my sub and just go free to play like Saylah at Mystic Worlds. It's hard to feel like a valued customer at Trion, especially after how well Blizzard and Zenimax have treated me in the past.

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  2. I'm on Melbourne time, usually log on every morning and evening for a bit. What's your toon name? I looked on the guild roster but couldn't find you.

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    1. I haven't been on for a while to be honest, but once I am on holidays (starting from tomorrow) I'll look for you in-game. My subscription just auto-renewed, so I'll be in AA at least one month longer. That should give me enough time to hit level cap and to see what the end game looks like. A lot of the negative stuff I hear about AA is from other bloggers, so I need to see with my own eyes in order to confirm or contradict the things I read about.

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    2. And toon name is Hatakeyama. If I'm not in the guild maybe I have been kicked out for inactivity?

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