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Mar 17, 2007



I think the iceberg story is more about the belief deeply ingrained in the player of a game that he will be able to poke the game hard enough in some place to make it break, and that will impart treasure to him.

It's not just about viral spreading of urban legends; it's about a spreading of a legend that says, "You can make the game have user-content and make it respond to the user in ways the game-gods never intended". That's terribly compelling, and that's what a lot of kids do with games, they shake them and rattle them to see if they will break somewhere and possibly even yield an exploit. Game gods know that, from what I gather, and even build some of the game play into that.

Of course, there's the exploiters who then vacuum the fun out, like Chinese gold farmers in WoW, but I've found it humorous to see the new game now which is to figure out how to scam the Chinese gold farmers in turn about is fairplay, in ways that the game company can't possible crack down on because the Chinese gold farmers can't possibly complain about being scammed back after they've scammed.

So kids are making elaborate cheat and walkthrough sites not about the game, but about how to think up scams against Chinese goldfarmers. Like, you suddenly pretend to be a federal agent and demand that they turn over their accounts. Or you feign being an irate customer who never got their money delivered and you keep agitating enough that they finally pay you to get rid of you. Or you pretend you are a new employee in the gold farmer's same company and he's supposed to pass you the gold -- it's like a layer of Eve Online is being built over WoW now that everybody's already leveled up to 70 or whatever and has to find the new thing to do.

I remember in the Sims Online, there was a set of freak behaviours, sort of extra-game action, that had to be discovered, and then you had to align the sim and furniture "just so" to replicate it. Because began to work at discovering and replicating and spreading these maybe a year into the game, when all the levels and objects and animations had long since become tiresome.

There was something involving everybody going upstairs and piling on the ends of couches that would make the sim (the avatar) go off world or into a void or something -- everyone kept hilariously doing it to force each other into the void or to make wierd catapaults.

There were several behaviours that people discovered by accident or just by constantly pushing through every single cycle. So people even made special "offbeat" lots where they collected all these game oddities and tried to replicate them and show them to new people. That game got even more fun than the grind of job skilling and making simoleons.

I remember how thrilled I was apparently to be the only person to discover the "never-die orchid". The alien orchid was a hugely expensive item, it looked ugly in a beautiful kind of way as it was like an alien space plant. You had to keep it watered just so on a pattern or it died, and your $4,000 simoleon expenditure on it achieved by leveling and grinding was lost.

But it turned out that if you left out the unwatered orchids on your parcel at a certain phase, and then returned them all to inventory forcibly by buying a new parcel of land and departing your own parcel, when you took that orchid out of inventory on the new parcel, it now never required watering -- but wasn't dead, either. It might have the message "dying" or something but it looked fine. As long as you locked it up under glass and didn't accidently click on it automatically when your sim was making rounds (it would automaticaly pick up trash and throw it out), you were fine. So I was able to make a hothouse of never-die orchids, and I recall being pleased as punch that I could even gift Will Wright's avatar in the Sims Online with a set of them and explain this little game bug/easter egg that he himself didn't know about. There is nothing more thrilling than finding something a game god doesn't know on the game.

In SL, this is almost impossible to do because the thing is so open ended. However, the obvious area is anything that is "Linden" -- land, creations, cards, etc. So anyone who finds a patch of Linden road accidently for sale, so that it incorrectly can become resident property, is thrilled at the sport they have found and throws parties to show their friends. (The Sutherland Dam has that feature). Or if they suddenly find a giant version, or anoddly-renamed version of a standard Linden plant that usually comes out of script, they feel they have a "rare".

My sense of WoW is that it isn't because the world is chock-full, but because you are constantly forced into motion. You must always be running and killing something. There's no time to stop and socialize really, or hunt for sports and easter eggs and oddities. There's only the compelling draw of the quest itself and the clash of battle to level up. You're too busy for legends other than the narrative the game company imposes on you which you give the slightest possible attention to.

If I have one hope for Raph Koster's new game, it's that it won't impose that haste and that urgency on everyone, that is, if someone wants to go hell-bent off to quest for dragons and slay them on a busy and speedy track, they can, but there should be other tracks (and not just lame ones) that can be taken leisurely and can fan out with many possibilities.


This sort of thing goes back a long way. We had so many of them in MUD1 that we classified them as myths (collections/cycles of legends), legends (rumours which had come to be believed), rumours (things which people thought might be true but weren't sure), scams (attempts to convince people the truth of something the perpetrator knew not to be true), wind-ups (a scam applied to an individual), fobs (wild goose chases) and cliffies (something you tell someone just to stop them from continually asking you questions; sometimes, fobs can be cliffies).

There are some examples linked from the MUDspeke Dictionary, which I'd list here in full if it didn't cause an anti-spam warning to appear when I tried.

This is the fullest example in there.



"Is the absence of such legends in, say, the otherwise beautiful Azeroth a hint at the underlying shallowness or sterility of a static world?"

I'm not sure I agree that these legends are absent from Azeroth (I thought there was another TN post on this topic where some were mentioned), but if they are, it might just be because of the size of the playerbase. With 8.5 million players min-maxing, it's possible that there are fewer legends because there are so many people testing out their validity.

"Is this a place where deeply hidden (and sometimes illusory) 'easter eggs' can lend wonder and awe to the world?"

"Deeply hidden" is important, I think. If all your legends are false, players will stop believing in them, and whatever wonder you instilled with the first few will be eliminated for the newer legends you introduce. It'd be interesting for a developer to catch on to these legends and implement them after the fact. What if, one day, the ice berg DID flip?


"Legends" and such always are created by improperly documented features. The worse the documentation, the more legends spring out.


I particularly liked the stories concerning the assassination of Lord British in the Ultima Series. I'm aware of the few documented ones, but I'm sure a lot of other stories exist. Know of any?


Well, the LB assassination is more history than legend. After all, it was even "photo documented" at the time. :)

I am sure I have mentioned it on TN before, but the commonest legend in UO was actually the one about the wisp language -- players were persuaded of the notion that wisps had all these complex AI behaviors, such as leading players to healers. And of course, that the wispish language could be decoded, when it was in fact gibberish with some English words salted in.


In addition to the EQ myths already listed on SmartMobs by a commenter, there were the ever popular (early EQ) "getting the Ancient Cyclops to spawn" methods. There were more systems for this than ways to win betting the ponies. I think every mob in the zone was implicated as a placholder, trigger, required-for, must-be-3-of-dancing-in-a-line-by-the-tents, by one system or another. I cynically concluded that Verant had put in the JBoots as food pellets for psychology experiments they rented out to academics somewhere on the East Coast.

My favorite myths aren't from MMOs/VWs, but from Battlezone. I lost hours of my youth trying to reach the mountains.


@Randlolfe: Oh.... Crap. Damn. I had TOTALLY forgotten about trying to find the mountains in Battlezone. You just woked up a whole chunk of neurons that haven't fired in like... 25 years. We need a name for that feeling... It's like the reverse of deja-vu or something.

Yeah... the mountains of Battlezone. The volcano. It waits for us still.


Oh boy. Theres been some classics in eve-online.

My favorite was the "ultra super speed battleship trick", where in a system I lived in, if you warped to a bookmark from a certain planet, you would end up inside the station then spat out at millions of kms per second (compared to the usual 200m/s. So we then ended up fitting every speed mod we could to try and improve it, and finally found the most hilarious way of dealing with enemys camping stations.

You'd use the bookmark, and angle it juuuust right, then come flying out at a mil km/s or thereabouts and BUMP the enemy thousands of kilometers into space. The confused and angry responses in local chat made it alll worth while.

As far as "memes" (man I hate that word.) go, probably the most common ones involved passive targetters. Turns out a recent one ended up true, that using them you could break the game mechanics and shoot people *inside* POS stations.

........so CCP declared it a feature, and the whole game went nuts in anger.


Another fun trick involved a group known as "Burt Reynolds corp" (Actually it might of been "Prank apple catering", I cant remember). They build a deathstar in lowsec, and started selling bookmarks in the markets to some sort of 'secret deep space complex' or something like that that actually warped them to the station.

Then they sat in the station, told it to kill *anything* that it aproached it, and just watched the comedy as hapless empire dwellers helplessly splatted all over the stations defences, and then they'd just go outside and collect the loot from the smashed up spaceships. Eve-online takes griefing to its rarefied highest form. Pure comedy.


Actually there are urban legends in Azeroth as well. It is told that is possible to somehow get into the aquarium in the deeprun tram if you jump at the glass at exactly the right spot and angle. Also the reflections in the glass of the aquarium are said to show images that have to do with some WoW lore.

Another myth is about the hunter quest in Ashara, where hunters need the "Perfect Courser Antler" from coursers that dwell there. They also drop the worthless "Broken Antler". Drops are completely random, but many people believe that the drops depend on the way the coursers are killed; more violent deaths would result in more broken antlers.

There is a similair myth about a quest in Tanaris where certain mobs can drop "laden dew glands" or "punctured dew glands".


"Or is it simply the case that in a world as chock full of magic as WoW, no further wonder-inducing stories are needed?"

Are you serious?

Few off the top of my head:
1) Wisps
2) Tillerman stories
3) All types of "How to get this to spawn" stuff
4) "Green Acres" (this actually existed, as a place of rolling green hills somehow "next to the map", I used to catch people there as a counselor)

Note 1 & 2 can be blamed on Raph :)

Cyclops Spawn technique (one of them did actually work)
Underwater Treasure (Sea of Tears)
Lots of "How to get this to spawn" for crafting

Lots of myths about "how to capture the Relics" without an army

SWG: (Pre-Cu/Pre-Nge)
The infamous "Twielik Slave Girl" encounter.

9 months of "Unlocking Jedi" dissertations on the forums, seriously SOE lost a valuable body of player generated lore when they purged the forums.

Spawn generating algorithim (that actually worked)
Dark Jedi Master NPC Spawn myths, and loot myths
Holocron Drop loot myths
Resource Spawn and Surveying myths.

For Jedi (Pre-CU)

x, y, z, or any combination therof would generate visibility, and get Bounty Hunters after you

For Jedi (Post-CU)

if x, (Probot), y (shuttle),z (NPC saw you) occured imperial troopers were about to land.

For Bounty Hunters (Pre-CU)

Lots of myths around how to find your "marks" since the droids were mostly useless (some worked some did not, but prior to vehicles a 6km walk through Yavin IV was deadly and long (but mostly fun)

Thats all I can think of off the top of my head



I never made it to the Volcano either :( Although in SWG I made it to a Volcano finally :)


Really interesting question Mike, though it sounds like the variety and consistency with which these "myths" arise is more an indication of a way that we try to impose understanding and predictability on our environment. On some level, I'd suggest this is a core reason we game at all, the desire to experiment and master elements of our environment, whether virtual, social, or personal. And certainly it extends to social worlds as well - There certainly has it's share of "virtual legends" of this kind, though none come to mind at the moment.

I like your view of the value of spontenaeity or wonder or discovery... or even creative myth making. This is one of the elements of the Burning Man experience (and it's really fun when it's real, as it were) that I highlighted in the panel we did on Burning Man and Game Design at GDC - the power and value of serendipity, new spontaneous connections, "random" occurrences that have signifigance for the viewer, etc. My part of the panel was backed by "random" slides of the event, just images I liked, and in this case, selected in no particular order by Mike Steele. My hope was that audience members would form unique and unforseen connections of their own... as an example of the value of designing "serendipity" as it were.


Which spawn technique really worked for the AC in EQ? Just curious.


Steven, since you asked about "killing Lord British" stories from the Ultima series, let me tell you what I remember from my days working on those games. My apologies in advance to Richard if I have any of these details wrong.

In Ultima I, Richard made the Lord British character simply have the maximum number of hitpoints. If you got a ranged weapon and dodged around buildings so he couldn't hit you, a determined player could eventually beat him. After that he started programming Lord British to be unkillable in every subsequent Ultima. But it seemed like every time there was one special case or odd trick that would let you kill him anyway. In Ultima III, the pirate ship you could capture and sail in would ignore the usual hitpoints system, and kill monsters instantly something like 1 time out of 3. If you attacked Lord British in his castle and ran outside, you could get him to chase you to near where you'd parked your ship, hop in it and blast away.

I remember in one Ultima (VI maybe?) people would trap him with the drawbridge and repeatedly raise and lower it to bonk him on the head. But that wouldn't do the job. The Lord British shape was set to be invulnerable. But... When he went to bed, he was changed to a sleeping shape, which did NOT have its invulnerability bit set. But it did have 255 hitpoints, too many to kill in one blow - and one attack would instantly wake him up, switching him to his properly invulnerable shape. So you had to go get the glass swords from Phoenix in the tunnels under the city. They would break and be unusable after that one hit - but the hit would do 255 damage, killing anything (including a sleeping Lord British) instantly.

Starting with Ultima 7, the programmers started putting in ways to kill Lord British on purpose. It had become a weird kind of tradition at this point, and the fans knew about it. The method they put in Ultima 7 was based on a real incident at the Origin offices. It was in the evening, and just about everybody had gone home already, but I was working late as I often did. (Apart from working a lot of long hours because I enjoyed my work, I also usually came in around 11 in the morning. If you play Ultima 5 and check out The Cat's Lair tavern, you'll find that Dr. Cat doesn't come in to tend bar until 11 - the guys' way of poking a little fun at me for being the last one to come in most days).

Richard had just headed out to drive home. But as I sat typing at my computer, he came into my office, looking for someone to tell what had just happened to him. The first thing I actually heard was the clank of a heavy metal bar being dropped or thrown onto the floor. I looked up and saw Richard, looking very upset, with blood on his forehead and in his hair. And he said "Imagine what that would feel like if that had just hit your head!" Apparently the magnetic bar that held the door shut for the card-key security system had come off the door, and was just clinging to the electromagnet. Richard had already pulled the door open when his girlfriend pressed the button normally needed to unlock it from the inside, and the bar fell on him. The owners of the office complex apologized profusely, and got it fixed in a big hurry.

After word of that got out to the fans, one of them sent him a yellow hardhat, saying they wanted to make sure Lord British would be safe from falling objects so that he could stay alive and finish Ultima VII. It also had a little picture of a duck on the front of it and the words "Ankh Ankh". Which is the answer to a riddle asked by Chuckles the Jester in Ultima VI. I found it particularly amusing because I'd written the dialog for Chuckles in that game. (The riddle was "What did the duck say to the avatar?)

So in Ultima 7, the programmers made it so there was a stone in the entryway to the castle that you could click on, and it would fall on Lord British's head and kill him. I don't know if this was done with Richard's knowledge, or if they threw it in and surprised him with it, or if maybe he told them to put that in there... I left Origin right as work on Ultima VII was just starting. I also don't know if you could kill Lord British in Ultima VIII and IX. The one Ultima I know for sure you couldn't kill Lord British in was the Gameboy game, Ultima: Runes of Virtue, which I got to design and lead the project team on. (I still love that little game - it all fit in a 128K ROM Cartridge and had 250 levels, with lots of puzzles and tricks.) The game was so simple compared to most of the home computer Ultimas, it wasn't too hard to make sure there was no way to kill him. At least, no way that I know of to date! ;)

That he ended up getting accidentally killed in Ultima Online just seems to fit in with the whole legacy of the single player Ultimas, somehow...

Origin had a fairly rich culture in the 80s and 90s. If you run into someone who worked there way back, ask them about the Donald Glinkie Letters. (The NPC Glinkie was actually a regular customer in my tavern in Ultima V.)


Theres a bit of a myth in eve-online that if you leave any smaller non-consequential 'rats' (NPC's), it blocks the 'officer' and 'faction' npc's from spawning (which is a bad thing, as officer and faction loot is veeeery profitable.) LEAVING smaller ships WILL increase spawn rates of usual npcs. But destroying them will NOT increase officer ones. Causes heaps of fights.



I believe it was a function of killing spawns (placeholders) until AC popped. Its been a long time, but I seem to recall that was the method


Thanks Dr. Cat. I read about some of those in magazines and websites but your explanation makes them even more interesting (and hilarious).

As for Mr. Glickman, do you know if he sent the check yet?


Oops, not Mr. Glickman...I meant Mr. Glinkie.


It's cool and interesting seeing this discussed because I think there is a correlation between the closeness of the community and the proliferation of "virtual legends". Note that Eve seems to have many more than WoW -- I'm sure there's a reason.

Legends were RAMPANT through Sierra's The Realm (later purchased and run by Codemasters). It was hilarious and insane. Players thought that if they conjured certain large numbers of bread (they laid them out on the ground) and then spun in a circle X times (usually 50+) before running an instance (I can't remember what the name for this was at the time -- players usually referred to specific ones as they do in modern MMOs), they'd have "good luck" and some kind of modifier on the treasure they'd received. They REALLY thought this was true and there were a number of other similar myths -- it amounted to a fairly comprehensive virtual world superstition system, and if you ask me, one hell of an interesting study in human behavior. Not to mention some very interesting potentials for deepening or altering community in virtual spaces from a developer standpoint by actually making some of these *work*.


re: the rumour regarding passive targeting in Eve-Online. This one is actually false and always has been. The modules is not required to taget people inside incorrectly set up pos's at all, anyone can do that...

As for myths, I remember a few from early Ultima Online. It seems that the most prolific myths are those regarding spawns cycles of rare-loot dropping npc's, no matter which game you look into for them.


re: the rumour regarding passive targeting in Eve-Online. This one is actually false and always has been. The modules is not required to taget people inside incorrectly set up pos's at all, anyone can do that...

As for myths, I remember a few from early Ultima Online. It seems that the most prolific myths are those regarding spawns cycles of rare-loot dropping npc's, no matter which game you look into for them.


Unrelated to online worlds, but something I've heard talk about, is the myth of the iPod random shuffle "Intelligence." Or, as talked about here, its "animism."


The original Guardian article is unavailable, but you'll get the picture.

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