Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adrift in Archeage, Part III - Crime and Punishment

Note: This post was written in early November, during my first run in Archeage - I'm now in my second run, having picked up from where my toon had stalled (41) when WoD was released.

I've now stood trial on two occasions in Archeage, and in both cases the jury has found me innocent of all charges. “Innocent” is actually a misnomer in AA – the game keeps a perfect log of your behaviour in the game, and the jury's role is not to ascertain whether or not you did those things, but rather to determine if your offence is pardonable (“innocent”) or punishable (“guilty”). I haven't been a juror yet, but the impression I'm getting is that the jury has the option to apply a sliding scale of sanctions based on the severity of the charges. Every time you steal, assault or murder someone in AA, you leave behind bloody footprints as “evidence” of your misdeed. Any player can come along and click on these, and once done, your crimes are added to an online rap sheet. You can tell if you have been reported by players by the accumulated Crime and Infamy points on your character sheet. Once these numbers begin to rise it means there have been “witnesses” to your crime, although they may not have actually seen what you did first-hand. They have an option to write an account of what they actually saw, but most of the time they have simply chanced upon a blood spatter on the ground, and clicked on it.

My first ever trial, in the main court. The NPC judge sits in front, the jury sits behind (in this picture we are waiting for two more jurors to port in for a total of five), and spectators can wander in from the outside to watch proceedings. The court room is not instanced, it is part of the persistent world at large.

In my first trial I was accused (and rightfully so) of stealing crops and livestock growing in the world at large. There was no need for the prosecution to prove that I had done the nefarious deed - the computer with its all-seeing eye had recorded my misdeeds, although it did need someone to click on my bloody footprints for my crime to be reported. This means that AA requires players to be active citizens if they want to uphold “the rule of law”, because unreported footprints eventually fade away and the offenders escape “justice”. It would be an interesting experiment to see how many people actually take the time to report crimes in AA. I used to do it religiously, until the presence of bots changed my mind. Because you can kill members of your own faction, you can effectively kill bots in PvP zones by flagging yourself purple. The downside is that this is considered a crime, and you will have to convince jurors that you were, in fact, killing bots as opposed to innocent friendlies.


My second trial in AA, in Court Room B. I was wondering if there was only one courtroom in the game, but clearly there are quite a few, as this one was different to my first. It's actually below the one depicted above.

In my defence I didn't originally set out to be a thief. I just chanced upon some plants growing in the world and pulled them out. I only realised that they belonged to another player when I started to leave a trail of bloody footprints behind me. A cursory mouse over is more than enough to reveal the status of a plant or animal, so ignorance is only an excuse in the first few instances until you become familiar with the mechanic. In my second AA post I mentioned my difficulties in establishing an illegal farm, and how my makeshift plots kept being plundered by other players. I no longer uproot or harvest plants or animals I chance upon the world, given my epiphany about F2P players not being able to own land and being forced to plant in the wilderness to do any kind of farming. But in the early days of scrabbling for crops I undertook in some tit for tat behaviour, uprooting and harvesting other crops which didn't belong to me because my own farms had been subject to depredation. It took that encounter in the haunted manor to make me change my behaviour (see last post). I'm not saying I won't steal crops I see in the future – but for now, whenever I see plots of illegal farms I leave them be. I have to confess that the prospect of spending jail time acts as a mild deterrent, although I'm sure I won't care should I chance on an Archeum tree growing in the wild.

Killing bots. In this fight, Xigfsm feels the wrath of Hatakeyama. Luckily they don't fight back!

In addition to the thefts, I was also charged with several counts of murder. AA is one of only a few games I know which allows you to flag and kill members of your own faction. This has several interesting repercussions. As mentioned earlier, you are able to kill bots on your own faction – something which every gamer has had dreams of doing, I'm sure. While farming in the haunted manor, I noticed that I wasn't only the one who had noticed the seclusion of this place. There were also about three to four bots merrily farming the man-eating plants roaming the manor grounds. Bots in PvP zones have to choose the most secluded, out-of-the-way places in order to run their scripts to avoid being ganked. When the light bulb went on in the brain I went on an orgy of bot-killing, using them as moving target dummies to test out combos and to measure my damage output relative to an enemy player's health bar. Despite being a PvP game I have seen almost no PvP at all in AA – levels 1-30 are spent in protected zones, and even the contested zones, despite my earlier trepidation, are fairly tame compared to the carnage happening in the levelling zones in the opening days of WoD. This bout of bot killing represents the high point of PvP for me in AA to date – all the other times have involved a level 50 running by and swatting me down as a casual afterthought, or being completely ignored. There was one occasion where I blundered into the war in Halcyona by mistake, looking for a quest turn-in which also happened to be the enemy objective. I was trampled by over a hundred red enemies, and had to rethink this plan. Before I could do anything, however, I was teleported away from the battlefield, and I suddenly found myself in a packed courtroom filled with AFK players, a solemn judge with a funny looking hat, and a jury panel behind, which filled up as the jurors arrived. A rap sheet appeared in the middle of the screen detailing a list of my offences, the times and dates, as well as commentary written by “witnesses” who had reported my crimes. My first trial had begun.


So there I was, looking for a quest turn in over on the Western continent - that is, the enemy's continent - and I found it. Along with about a hundred reds who ran over me, and whose actions sent me to court. Once you have 50+ Crime points, being killed in PvP will send you to trial for your crimes.

In AA players become eligible for trial once they have accumulated over 50 Crime points, and are initiated the first time the player dies in PvP combat after this threshold is reached. The aforementioned rap sheet appears before the "accused" as well as the jurors to help them in their deliberations. Before long the entire jury had been assembled - five players picked at random – and I was asked to plead my case. I played the wide-eyed newbie card, which wasn't far from the truth.


My rap sheet, where all my heinous deeds are recorded by Big Brother. I ask you, members of the jury - is this the face of a murderer?

“Does the defendant have anything to say?”

“Oh wow, this is cool – court room and everything.” I went with the wide-eyed and bushy tailed approach.

“First time?”

“Yes, sir.” Best to be respectful to people who hold your fate in their hands. And hope this juror isn't a woman, lest I offend her with my presumption of her maleness.

“Do you want to experience jail life?” Hell, no – I was looking at maybe an hour of downtime here. And thank God it's not a girl.

“If that is your decision.” Have to stay humble.

“All the PKs look like bot kills to me. Innocent!” My heart leapt.

“Lots of uproots, though. He should do some time for those.” Oh, shit. I willed for this guy to have a disconnect or something, lest he influence the rest with his clear-headed, rational thinking.

The jury deliberated. After a few minutes, the verdict came in – innocent. I had gotten away with my stealing because bot killing is an approved activity amongst the general player base, and in my case, the amount of bots I had killed outweighed the crops I had stolen. This would vary from jury to jury of course, and there is no way of knowing the character and the composition of the players judging you. In my second trial my defence was curt and succinct. “I killed bots. That's all I did.”

“How do you know they were bots?”

“Look at their names on the rap sheet, please.”


I received my second innocent verdict without further deliberation. Bot killing is a publicly approved activity in AA it seems, although I believe if you roll the dice enough you will find a jury that will convict you anyway. Jury trials are broadcast in zone chat, so it is interesting to see how these player trials play out and the vast array of defences put on offer by the defendants. Some defendants come out transparently humble and apologetic like myself, only to turn nasty when convicted. Others are courtroom lawyers, using logic and precedent to plead their case, only to find to their dismay that logic and precedent don't always have a place in MMOs. The funniest moments for me occur when one defendant is acquitted for a series of crimes, and the subsequent defendant gets hammered for an identical one simply because he/she drew a belligerent, irrational or simply apathetic jury. I can sympathise with the subsequent defender, who can rightfully complain, "Wait a minute...the last guy killed more people than me, and he gets off scot-free? WTF is this?!? I only killed people in self-defence!!!" You can imagine hearing them screaming in outrage as they are clapped in irons and dragged away to the prison. It makes me chuckle every time.


Justice is served - not guilty!

One particularly memorable defendant was a player who jumped on the podium and went on an long-winded tirade against the jury, saying, “Fuck you all, you bunch of baddies. You lot are a bunch of sorry excuses for players. What a joke. Learn to play you useless twats. Go ahead, do your worst. This is all you losers can do. ” He got hammered with a three hour sentence, so clearly that defence didn't work out so well for him - however, there is something slightly inspiring about going down in flames unapologetically. There are also cases of brazen corruption, in which the defendant offers gold for an innocent verdict. They sometimes get it, too, which makes me wonder how the jurors get their assurances that they'll receive their bribes. It's not all one way traffic either – unscrupulous jurors will sometimes put their hands out and ask for gold in return for a not guilty verdict. Sometimes prominent or infamous members of the community, or players associated with hated guilds are put on the stand, and people in zone pipe up with comments like “Innocent!” or “Free him!” Alternatively, there can be cries of “That bastard killed me”, “he's a Pker – put him away!” or “he belongs to a pirate guild - max sentence!” It's a great feature of AA – it really makes the world come alive, builds or destroys player reputations, gives context and consequence to “illegal” acts, and allows players to make the decisions whether to commit, report, and convict acts which would otherwise be meaningless in less layered MMOs. 

It's such a shame that the game is plagued with such chronic P4P issues, because AA is a rough but unmistakeable sandbox belonging to the same species of games as EVE Online. However, I don't play AA the way I play instanced, balanced PvP games like SC2 or WoW Arena, and I don't have the same expectations - namely, the requirement for scrupulous balancing to ensure that skill is the primary determinant of victory. In sandboxes like these I accept that asymmetry is a fundamental characteristic of persistent open world PvP, and just accept the real money element as another factor similar to levels, gear, state of readiness, group size, political affiliations, time played, individual player skill, etc., which can contribute to unbalanced encounters in the virtual world. The onus on me as a player in these type of games is to maximise the factors which work to my advantage (i.e. practising, joining large social guilds, taking advantage of surprise, etc.), while mitigating the areas in which I am weak. Of course, some players take exception at the intrusion of real world asymmetry (money) into the virtual world, and I can't say I blame them. At this stage however, I am willing to overlook these to take part in an interesting virtual sandbox - at least until i) TESO releases their Justice system (and open world PvP) and/or the Imperial City; and ii) Camelot Unchained is released.

1 comment:

  1. I'd be hard-pressed to render a guilty verdict when faced with those puppy dog eyes.

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