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I haven't played DAoC, but I can totally understand your wishes.

As it stands, when my rl friend and I play WWIIonline together, we call each other on headset phones (we live 5 minutes away), so we can coordinate like wingmen are supposed to coordinate when flying two planes (or having a tank or infantryman request some air support).

My guess is that the makers of DAoC merely tried to make the chat functional, and focused on the gameplay. Designing games is an enormous, ongoing chore, and a lot of times things are either missed due to a focus in another area of the game or due to a lack of deadline time.

I'd bet real money that once they got the chat up and running, the importance on making it robust was dropped in favor of making other shippable game elements.

But your ideas are spot on. When I was playing Phantasy Star Online 1.0 (Dreamcast), I loved the fact that I could send emails ingame (albeit short, 50 character emails) to contacts who might be offline, or just messages to those who were online, but not on my server. The game would show who was online and who was off if I asked, and it would even tell me which servers (ships) they were on, so I could just go and surprise them there if I didn't want to send them an email. It would even tell me if they were playing as a different character. In short, it almost accomplished everything you're asking for, and it was on a console system.


Excellent piece Jane.

I had a good fun run playing Phantasy Star Online in 2001 - thanks for reminding me of that Bowler. I had forgotten the handy short-mail system (I had a keyboard so I could actually express myself). What I still admire and wonder about is the PSO international translation system - by choosing statements from a series of hierarchical menus, you could communicate with other players, whatever their native tongue. And the menus weren't all "help" or "give me armor" they were also "i love soccer" or "have you ever been to Europe." I chatted this way with people from Spain and Japan (besides typing out some broken gamer-pidgin).

I've played a bunch of DAoC as well, and I agree with Jane's comments and suggestions. Reading over the DAoC Postmortem at GamaSutra you can see the designers talk of Dark Age of Camelot as a graphical overlay on a DIKU/text based role-playing game:

"we decided to create a graphical online role-playing game to compete with the then-new wave of online RPGs such as Ultima Online and Everquest, which were taking traditional text-based games and adding a graphical front end, with very successful results."

Given all the variables they had to manage in the game, I would imagine it was just enough to ship a useful graphical front-end that crashes as seldom as it does. Chat was probably not much more than what could be done with text. So I'm glad they got the game out. But the point-and-click ease of maintaining relationships you describe is tempting, and maybe could be built out of a text-basis. Maybe they don't have databases for tracking characters across players for players to access. Or they don't want to store mail between characters. I'm trying to make excuses for them, really because the chat functionality you describe in your piece above sounds very sensible, very year 1999 really. ICQ in game. Why not? Why not already?

One thing I must salute in DAoC though is the "party-finder" system. You can flag yourself as available for recruiting into a party, or as a party leader, you can say you're looking for a Fighter/Mage/Healer. All this is coordinated through an in-game window pane showing you who in your area might want to join you on your quest. I haven't played more than a few hours of EverQuest or Ultima Online, so I'm not qualified to call this an innovation. But it's useful, and it does hint at the sort of communications and state-tracking that Jane talks about here.


i agree that the "party-finding" system works prety well, if you are just looking for randoms; also if you remember the (sometimes arcane) names of people you've adventured with before, and want to find again, you can - as long as they are online. but you really need an instant button to add someone to your friends' list, too, so you don't have to suffer through misspelled attempts.

Bowler, that's funny what you said about playing on headsets with your friend! i used to spend a lot of time in a house of four guys who were all obsessed with Marathon. i played quite a bit of that game, too, but they used to play cutt-throat team multiplayer against each other. then one day one team started beating the other really bad. the losing team couldn't figure out what was happening at first, but then they discovered that the winning team had bought headsets and were talking to each other, giving them a huge advantage!

when justin and i play DAoC together, we have two parallel conversations - one in-game, with everyone else, and one outside, just us. so our team of my cleric and his fighter can be much more efficient. i was really excited when i found another couple who said they do the same thing online - but they didn't hide it, they would freely say things like, "oh wait, imp's talking to his parents, he'll be right back." whereas justin and i, for some reason, without ever talking about it, have apparently decided not to disclose that we are actually sitting side by side. i'm not sure why - i suppose i don't want other players to feel disadvantaged, or something? or i don't want to break the continuity of the game.


The simulationist argument seems like the strongest one here - if a random medieval plebe wouldn't have the ability to summon friends to the middle of nowhere when he needs help, why should chat let him?

Chat is magic. I'd like to see game designers explore the possibilities there - instead of the current paper chase for gold and XP, what if you had to nurture and maintain the magical device that lets you chat with your clan? What if it could be stolen? What if it had automatic distress-call functionality? What if you got more chat features as you levelled up? Or, even more interestingly, fewer?

On the other hand, what if we just admitted that players will open up an IRC window in the background anyway. *sigh*


Good points, all. Misuba - your last point about IRC in a separate window might be affirmed by a recent announcement by the makers of DAoC that they will finally explore allowing DAoC as a windowed application. At first they dis-allowed DAoC as a windowed app, as a means to prevent cheating. But users have still been clamoring for it. I would love it for referencing online maps and spell data, and ICQ too. So Mythic has just recently announced a trial version of a windowed Dark Age of Camelot client.


i was thinking about the last two posts and the obvious advantages of chat both in game and outside. maybe it should be utilized in a way that gives advantage to opposing teams as well. why not model chat on real world physics? This would solve the authenticity problem and give some much-needed disadvantages to chat.

In games like The Dark Age of Camelot maybe chat should have the same restrictions sound has in the real world. moving away from a person who is speaking makes them less audible, so to speak, unless they shout. other people around can also hear the conversation if so inclined and avoidance of this intrusion would be to whisper or simply walk away to a more secluded area. ps games like cs would also follow these rules in that, at close enough proximity, the opposition could also hear commands and counter-attack. These audible features would force groups to stick together and develop their own communication. This would also encourage players wandering around to approach other players to exchange information like which way to the ____? or have you passed a group of necromancers on this route? things you would see in real life would form such as meeting spots or social areas (bars, hills, etc.)

Although, one could argue that this increased realism could kill a game.


I've been playing DAoC for a year now, and I find that its in-game chat system is far from crippled, but is actually a very good trade-off of functionality and simplicity.

By using tabs and colour-coded text for the five basic chat "channels" (local area, zone broadcast, private guild, private group, custom group), the designers built a system that is actually quite flexible for most in-game situations, yet quick to understand and master. On top of that there are also private messages with /send, guild officer announcements and alliance announcements to fill in some of the gaps. I much prefer the tabs to the idea of individual windows because even at 1200x960 I want the game interface windows to intrude as little as possible into the game universe and for me, window space is at a premium.

The biggest limitation in the standard chat settings is that by default, if you are set to one channel, chat on the other channels is filtered out, and if you are paying attention to your group's chat you may miss something said in your guild channel. What many players don't know is that you can customize your chat configuration by right-clicking on the lower chat window, allowing you to set filters individually for each of the five tabs. I can't think of much else the game devs could have realistically included that I would actually use in-game. Would I use cross-server friends list and chat? No, if I'm playing Albion on Prydwen I don't want to be pestered and called back to Hibernia on Excalibur. Would I use an annotated friends list? Probably not, not even to keep track of my crafting orders - the notebook I keep next to my computer for that purpose is faster and more efficient to use.

"Would actually use" is a key phrase, and DAoC's "party finder" system is a good example of an enhanced functionality that seems like a great idea when you first encounter it but is generally considered to be a failure. For such a party-player matchmaking system to work, you need a critical mass of players using it, and most players have had negative experiences with it early on and given up. In the discussion surrounding the development Star Wars Galaxies, DAoC's "party finder" has often been used as an example of what does not work.

In terms of efficiency, ALL text chat is cumbersome, particularly in high level RvR when seconds count. "TROLLS INC SW" or "ALBS L" is about as much as you have time to type before the battle is upon you, which is why the most competitive guilds use real-time voice chat software to coordinate their groups. And if you've ever tried it, you'll know that there isn't much that can pop the role-playing illusion faster than the real life voices of your realmmates. It's not for the faint of heart.

Finally, it is overly simplistic, but you can divide DAoC players into two classes. For the first type, communicating and interacting with other players is the heart of the game: meeting people, making friendships, forging alliances - and the communications commands in the game, including chat and emote, are the tools that make the game richer or poorer for them. The other type of player is more competitive, seeking to get to high level quickly, form or join a successful guild, and amass a "high score" of realm points. They tend not to be roleplayers, and generally once they have hit level 50, explored the epic zones and dungeons, killed the dragon, led a relic raid and gotten a million RPs or so, then they have done just about everything DAoC has to offer and they move on. I bring this up only because more than once I have heard this kind of player refer disparagingly to the DAoC "endgame" (life after 50) as "3-D rendered chat" - they, I think, would see very little point in an enhanced friends list or in-game ICQ.

Oh, and for fleeing those nasty boulderlings, try /macro HELP /y and pop that on your quickbar.


Okay, that's some thorough DAoC tips and experience.

Still, it looks like there's more innovation to be done with multiplayer communications in these games. And it's happening in the console space - the PS2 EverQuest will have more chat built in than the PC version:"EOA will have buddy lists, to help friends easily find each other online. The PS2 game will also have an in-game mail system (a feature even its PC counterpart does not have), allowing players to shoot messages to each other within the game. When players log into the game, messages will pop right up in the screen."GameDaily on EverQuest Online Adventures (PS2)


Very interesting post.
I did a survey on MMORPG gamers' attitudes toward communication features some time ago. I really must get round to putting together a real article.
Personally, I would agree with Jane that the communication features in DAOC need some serious work.


I've been playing DAoC for about two years now and I've been constantly surprised by the amount of work the team puts in each week. About a month after this post first aired, Mythic updated the group finder to be much more functional. The only gripe I really have about the current finder is that you cannot see who is in the group with the group leader, and their respective levels.

To the later comments:

MMORPG mail is nothing new. It started with MUDs and grew through the early graphical online games, suck as The Realm. I think the reason current MMORPGs dumped it is a reason many people don't think would happen in a game. You get spam. And lots of it. It would require days of coding to put in a spam filter, and also there is a very much higher chance of people getting scammed out of their accounts.

Oh also check out Penny Arcade's pic of Jane.



I've been through many MMO's even up to beta's of unreleased ones, but DAoC's chat interface is by far the cleanest, most well organized, and best functioning chat systems to date. Yes, improvments can always be made, but I personally think that MMO's should START with a DAoC chat system and improve from there.


"...for example, who is online and who is off, and if they are off, when they were last on; who is active, who is idle; who is away from keyboard (“AFK”), who is in combat, who is searching for a group, who is happily solo, and who is riding a horse wishing someone would initiate a chat to pass the time"

it DOES say who is afk, as long as you know who you're trying to contact, & you find out pretty fast who is online or not. also, doesn't the Camelot Herald also tell you who has been on in the last couple days?

it was mentioned that the chat in daoc is unrealistic because IRL you wouldn't be able to contact anyone in another zone, etc. (unless you could yell really, really loud!) well, if you were riding on a horse from Fort Veldon to Galplen, would you realistically have anyone to chat with IRL? (unless, of course, they were traveling right along side?) yeah, it's a long, boring, tedious, boring, annoying, and boring ride, but that's what GBA/TV/afk bio is for! either way, about the chat being realistic... uh... people can cast spells and fight monsters. i think we're already beyond reality. :)

btw - windowed mode is the best thing that could have ever happened to me as far as daoc is concerned!


"A Tale in the Desert" has built-in e-mail...


I belive that one of the main reasons that they dont have cross server/realm chat is pretty obviously they dont want people to exploit that, or accedently break one of the EULA rules accedently.
If you were planning a relic raid on kay, and you were chatting with a friend you met on Merlin, and they say hey come over and group with me. and you go cant busy getting Rams to finally get some relics in hib, and your friend over on merlin happens to have a mid or alb on kay you have just blown a possible successful raid without even meaning to, and imagine what people who are less than honest would do with that.
I know on kay there was a person who had 2 accounts one for hib one for mid and would coordinate raids on relics in alb with both accounts at about the same time so the doors would be down and they could waltz out with the relics. alb was very upset about that so was hib.
Not to mention the servers arent really connected in any way as far as i cant tell so i dont know how you would talk cross server hehe. but My point is, I have played a lot of MassMogs, and so far DaoC is the best chat hands down. Ac has an incredibly annoying /rp /rt commands which dependeing on your current conversation could really mess you up when recieveing mulitpul tells. one thing i would like to see is the ablity to move forward and backwards in your current text box to allow for changeing of a couple letters since misstelling is pretty common, and its a pain to retype it every time. another thing that would be nice is the ablity to add friends when they arent online.
Anyway Daoc has a lot of flaws but one of the strongest things in it is the chat.


Ok, so it's not an MMORPG, but it does have a fair amount of community enabling in-game: Tribes 2.

built-in email, forum/newsgroups, irc-style chat, buddylists and 'clan' grouping for every player was/is included as part of the "find-a-game" section of the game. while you don't acess these features while in the game proper, it's there. Dynamix basically realized after tribes 1 was released that it just made sense to have these in the game, as the community that grew up around the first game had all of these anyway.

but, the setting also allowed this: futuristic sci-fi with computers and mech-suits. i guess an 'internet-like' entity in the game is a plausible idea with the backstory it was providing.

I, for one, also think that games of the multiplayer sort really do need to think about these types of community building tools built right in to the game. playing in a window is fine and dandy, but, i feel like i've lost a level of immersion if i play this way. and to me, immersion is the real reason to play the game.

from a design point of view, i think anything that keeps you in game is valuable.


Two words: Xbox Live

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