Thursday, August 7, 2008


I'm still playing Ikariam. I'm not really sure why, except that it doesn't take much time. I'm right around 100 in the ranking of players in my world. I head an alliance, but there's really not much for us to do.

Ikariam is far from unique. (It apparently has better graphics than most similar web games.) But the gameplay is typical 4x RTS stuff, only in realer time than most Real-Time Strategies. That is, it takes hours or days to reach one island from another.

Basically, though, you accumulate resources which allow you to build buildings which help you collect more resources and (of course) build better troops. The MMO (which I guess this qualifies as, though it's obviously simpler than an immersive 3D virtual universe) presents an interesting scaling problem. Namely, how do you keep people who have advanced in the game from kicking the noob's ass?

In a RPG MMO, I believe it's done--no, I've never played an RPG MMO, or any MMO, except Ikariam--by having no-kill zones, by establishing areas where people can go that accords with their level, and so on.

I know there are RTS MMOs out there. Nothing at World of Warcraft level, of course, but I wonder if part of the problem is that it's difficult to scale an RTS and handle this problem.

One thing that the Ikariam guys do is make everything exponentially more expensive. (Well, it's not quite exponential but it sure as hell ain't linear.) As they've continued to add features to the game, they've included a "corruption" feature.

I don't know who originated the "corruption" gag first, but I remember it most prominently from Civilizaiton 3. Basically, what it says is that the more colonies you have, the more corruption you have, resulting in diminishing returns for each new colony. (In earlier versions of Civilization, you could spam cities, and win the game wiith a bunch of crappy, small cities that produced just enough to give you a giant military.)

I'm not 100% sure, because they backed into this mechanic, but a new colony might just be a negative benefit until you get rid of the corruption. You get rid of the corruption by taking the same (nearly exponential) expense it cost to expand and applying it to a governor's residence in every colony you have. So they take the already outrageous amount and multiply it by n where n is the number of colonies.

In other words, expansion is basically out after a few colonies. (I have five colonies plus my capital, but I've spent most of my time in the past month playing catch up with those colonies as corruption kicked in.)

So, you can't expand after a while. What else is there to do? Well, you can attack someone.

Until recently, I went through most of the game without much of a military. Military upkeep is huge. Deploying the military is even huger. Coordinating attacks with allies is nearly impossible.

And the rewards for attacking are dependent on the level of your victim's dock. So all a guy has to do is demolish his dock and he's pretty much impervious to anything you can do to him, and you have no chance of making your money back.

They obviously have something in mind: You're supposed to, eventually, be able to temporarily take over someone else's colony. That could be make attacking more interesting.

Still, it's thin gruel. I'm not inclined to buy into it, and I rather dislike the premise of having to pay for a better interface, and then to only receive it temporarily. It might be more ineresting if there were some RPG-like elements, say chances to perform missions or acquire resources by capturing map points.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing they're not making much money on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.