Friday, January 22, 2016

The Beginning Of An Obsession

Last summer, a week before RAGBRAI, I started playing the game.  I've mentioned it in passing a few time in the last six month.  The game was called Star Trek: Alien Domain (STAD).

STAD was loosely based on Star Trek.  You started with a home planet and you built a colony, adding mines, labs, storage, and shipyards.  Eventually you built starships and fleets of starships and explored the sectors of "fluidic space".  You established new colonies which provided more resources you could use to upgrade and strengthen your fleet.  As you explored you gained experience which allowed your character to go up in level and opened up new sectors to explore and starships to be built.

My character was a member of the Federation.  As you explored you battled the fleets of other players who had chosen to be Klingons.  Along with the resources generated from your colonies, you also gained resources by looting Klingon player colonies.  Equipment like weapons and shields were obtained by opening crates that you found while exploring.  What you got out of the crates was random - luck was a very important part of the game.  The crates made the game a game of chance but it often didn't feel like it to me.

I started playing the week before RAGBRAI and in those first five or six days I became hooked.  I was planning how to gain experience as fast as possible while optimizing the gathering of resources I would need to get the next starship class.  As I rode my bike through the backroads of Iowa my thoughts often went to the strategy I would use when I got back home.  Yeah, thinking about riding a bicycle across Iowa was not enough of a distraction for me.  The game always wormed it's way to the front of my mind.

After RAGBRAI was over I jumped back into the game for another five days.  I sunk deeper and spent more time playing.  A week after RAGBRAI I left on my Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) camping trip.  Like biking RAGBRAI, hiking through the beautiful mountains of RMNP was not enough to stop me from thinking about the game.  Part of me just wanted to get home so I could build the next starship and explore the next sector.

After returning from RMNP I went off the deep end.  I stopped all the exercise and training that I'd been doing prior to RAGBRAI and RMNP.  I knew this would happen.  I figured I would pause my training for a month before restarting it as Appalachian Trail training.  That one month power down replaced exercise and training with gaming.  I would get up at 6:00AM when I normally would get up to feed Iago but, instead of exercising,  making breakfast, and watching the news/checking social media, I would sit in front of the computer and play the game.

A month after RMNP I didn't restart anything.  The game, by this time, had sunk it's claws in me and I was spending between six and twelve hours a day playing the game.  I did my chores and did what was needed to keep the house but the rest of my time was dedicated to the game.

The game was similar to many games I've played before.  There was one aspect, though, that was new to me.  This game was an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online).  In the lower left corner of the screen was a chat window.  You were not playing the game alone.  You were playing with a community of Feds and KDF (Klingon Defense Forces) who were chatting with each other while they played.

At first I ignored the chat window but after a while I saw that it was full of important information.  Players were exchanging hints, tips, and trick about the game.  When I ran into roadblocks I began posting questions to the chat and answers usually showed up in a few minutes.  Before long I became a full fledge member of this STAD community both getting and giving answers.  Over time friendships formed.  I would describe them as being like workplace friends.  You 'saw' each other when you played the game, talked mostly about the game, joked around a lot, and didn't socialize much outside of the game.  That was OK since I was socializing with them most of my waking hours anyway.

STAD was a new game and was not complete.  When I started there were only seventy levels you could reach and only sixteen sectors you could explore.  I reached level seventy sometime in September joining a lot of older players who had languished at the level cap for over a month.  Even with the level cap you could still upgrade your fleet and make it stronger for battling against other players during group melees called System Battles.  My fleet strength grew quickly and I slowly gained the respect of some of the other players.

There was little player vs player (pvp) fighting in the game.  Early on I lost my fleet several times to marauding Klingon but over time the Feds and Klingons chatted with each other, we enjoyed each other's company, and the number of Klingon/Fed attacks dropped a lot.  I found myself helping some newer Klingon players to improve their fleets and offering them advice on playing the game.  Some of the old timers would still attack Klingons on sight but I would usually leave them alone if they left me alone.

In general, the players were great people.  There was little conflict.  When the game changed and began requiring the Feds/Klingons to attack one another once a day to get prizes, players would politely ask the other faction if they could be attacked for the daily reward.  The smallest, weakest fleets would be loaded up so both the Fed and the Klingon could meet their daily requirements with the least amount of wasted resources.  It was very gentlemanly.

In early October the game was updated and the cap was raised to seventy-five levels.  Three more sectors were open up to exploration.  Two months later most of the big players, myself included, hit the cap again.  But I was still having fun and by then I was playing more for the chat with other players than for the game play.  We all chatted, wondering when the cap would be lifted again, joking around, and discussing how to make our fleets stronger.  Then came the Halloween event.

To Be Continued ...

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