Friday, May 04, 2007

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Onder's Game: Midgar

Arashi_baxter
Arashi Baxter on Midgar's mean streets

Onder Skall reviews some of the Grid's most intriguing games

With the constant threat of fanfic lawsuits and DMCA takedown notices, it's a wonder anybody dares show appreciation for anything anymore. Still, there are those among us who remember one of the best RPGs ever created, Final Fantasy VII (by Square Co Ltd), and dare to dream about it.

Midgar_039

In February a group of SL residents opened a sim inspired by the spirit of a great RPG, and in an extremely rare moment of fan appreciation, the original company gave their blessing. At least... that's what everybody seems to think.

This is the story of Midgar.

Arashi_and_xanadeas
Arashi with and Xanadeas Cordeaux

Name: Midgar
Genre:  RPG
Creator(s): ... Um... we're not real clear on that. See below.
Estimated Number of Players: Around 300
Gameplay: Find your way around the corporate-owned metropolis, become a Shin-Ra SOLDIER or an AVALANCHE rebel.
Top Qualities: Incredible attention to detail in the build, large explorable areas, interesting animated combat system
Current Shortcomings: Easy to get lost, no HUD, some areas lack detail
Where to Play/Buy: Midgar (direct teleport here)

Getting details on how Midgar was formed, who owns it, and whether Square Enix (or Square Co. Ltd., or Squaresoft) ever gave their blessing was a real challenge. I'll get into that in just a moment, but first I should tell you a bit about what you'll find when you enter the Midgar sim.

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The premise behind Midgar is a wealthy city built on gigantic columns over of a series of poor towns and slums. The layout is circular, with the Shin-Ra headquarters at the center. At the top of the city plates the corporate overlords rule Midgar with the help of their huge military, their elite "SOLDIER" program, and the ultra-elite Turks.

Below, the rebel eco-terrorist faction "AVALANCHE" works to bring down the corporate monster and save the planet from being drained of its life force. At the same time hackers from Q.U.A.K.E seek to take the system down from within.

When you first arrive in Midgar you're invited to jump right into gameplay. The combat system is inexpensive and you can puchase "materia" as well, which gives you special powers such as healing or shooting lightning. The class system is very basic (chose between Fighter, Gunner or Caster), and after a few clicks you'll find yourself in the city itself, shopping for weaponry.

Wanders_nowhere_and_arashi_baxter_s
Wanders Nowhere confronts Arashi

The FFCS Health System running here keeps things really simple - you just manage health and stamina, and magic runs through the materia you have attached. We're in the early days of the Midgar sim so there isn't all that much weaponry for sale, but what I did find was a lot of fun.

Wanders_and_arashi_fight

I found a great set of claws with embedded, easy-to-trigger combat animations, but there are also guns and swords aplenty. Still, there's no HUD. Instead we have text floating over everybody's heads with stats and their "in-game" names. It gets to be a bit distracting.

One night in Midgar I decided to pay a visit to the towering Shin-Ra headquarters and stumbled across an interesting scene:

Midgar_005

Twenty hopeful recruits stood in a row in the lobby. They were a bizarre collection of cloak-wearing sword-wielding misfits ready to be molded into the killing machines that SOLDIER is famous for, or possibly to even become an elite Turk. A commander was walking up and down the row, telling them how difficult the application process was going to be, and how they might not survive. One thin recruit plead his case, saying that he was stronger than he looked and would do anything it took to complete a mission.

Midgar_015

Meanwhile, underneath the city, the 7th Heaven bar was running a recruitment drive of its own. Members of AVALANCHE and the mysterious Q.U.A.K.E groups were recruiting anti-Shin-Ra freedom fighters.

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Among the ruin and destruction of the slums, only the church stood as a reminder of how beautiful the world was before Shin-Ra took over.

Midgar_041

Later, I discovered the mako reactor itself, the source of Shin-Ra's power that was draining life from the planet. I wandered down into the depths and stumbled upon an operation underway to recover a creature that was living in the reactor's energy pools. It was soon captured and returned to headquarters.

Midgar_049

Everywhere I looked I saw some amazing role-playing action. The Game-Masters are numerous and active in Midgar, constantly planning events and plot twists to keep things moving. Good role-players for non-player-characters are always in demand as a result, temporarily adopting a special set of statistics in order to pose a serious threat to a large group.

Xanadeas_cordeaux

As I sought out the game's creator, the confusion began. While I know that there was an original Shin-Ra tower built by Ramsus Wake, he had no intention of expanding it and has left the project since. Darshe Aliev came along and actually found the investors for the sim. Some of those investors became GMs and active game creators, while others are confirmed to be silent partners. Apparently there was a big falling out with a single leader at one point (nobody will really talk about this), and so now everything is run by the GMs as a council.

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Nobody's really sure who owns the sim. A financial officer on the GM council pays tier with donations from the players. That's all we know for sure.

As far as Square's sponsorship of the whole thing, we know for sure that they aren't directly involved. Among the GMs I spoke with, almost all of them were 100% convinced that Square had given some kind of blessing to the proceedings, but nobody was positive who exactly got that blessing.

Two people told me that Katsuhito Tal had spoken to Square, so I followed up with him.

"You were the main contact with Square, right?" I began. "Did they say it was OK to create/run Midgar?"

"Never got a word back," Katsuhito Tal tells me.

"Did ANYBODY try to contact Square apart from you?"

"One other," says Tal, "but that was Square-Enix Germany.  Not much help there.  Waiting two weeks only to get 'it is not our decision to make'."

"You wouldn't believe how many people are under the impression that Square is all cool with it... [who] seem to be under the impression that there was a kind of informal 'we won't sue, you guys rule' from Square."

"Oh?"

Hmm.

Wanders_nowhere

I will say this, though: operating as if Square gave approval has made them act as if they work for Square. They have rules about never sharing information about pirating Final Fantasy gear, and are the best promotion of any brand in Second Life. If Square were ever to come to Second Life, no PR manager could dream of creating a more dedicated player base than this one.

Krauser_cusack_and_xanadeas
Krauser Cusack with Xanadeas

If we're lucky Midgar will be around long enough to rent out the rest of the apartments in all of those buildings. As a monument to one of the best games ever made, this incredible build can't be beat.

Midgar_050

Onder Skall (above) writes about SL games on his own blog, and continues to cover them for New World Notes.  To tell him about a Second Life game, IM him in-world, or e-mail ruagamer at gmail dot com. 

Screenshots of Krauser Cusack, Wanders Nowhere, Xanadeas Cordeaux, and Arashi Baxter by Hamlet.  All other images by Onder.

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Comments

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Helenangel

Nicely done! I think you've done a good job capturing the essence of my #1 free time hangout. ;)

I've been playing in the Midgar FF7 sim since the beginning of 2007. I play 3 different characters (the manager of the Honeybee Inn and 2 barmaids at 7th Heaven) there and help newbies get started in the RP.

There are some amazingly talented people in the sim and it's become a haven for Final Fantasy lovers as well as people who just like to have good roleplaying. There's always a good plot going and even on quieter days, a lot of us will generate side-plots to help keep the story moving and get other people involved. I have never, ever logged on and been bored.

As for whether or not Square has given their blessing, I don't think a huge company like them would be worried about our sim. It's really just like a fan website, only on an interactive level. No one is making a profit off of this and it's generating interest in their product. If you do a quick Google search you will see literally a hundred FF7 fansites and RPs: ours is just another one on the map.

With that said, I think anyone who works for Square would be entirely impressed. The GMs, the builders, the citizens- everyone has really done a fabulous job on this sim. If there was any fan-generated content worthy of their seal of approval, this would be it. =) I know I'm biased as I invest so much of my time there, but even the casual observers I've talked to have been duly impressed.

TypeKey

"They have rules about never sharing information about pirating Final Fantasy gear"

Because only THEY are allowed to infringe copyright - not anyone else.

Douglas Cartland

Sweet! This looks amazing! Though wonder how long it will take before Square-Enix send a cease and desist letter. :(

Hopefully never, though I've never been under the impression that SE are fans of this sort of thing. :(

Tezla

You know, Ramsus did not at all create the Shin-Ra tower you see in that sim. The one he created in the old one sucked.

Speaking of that idiot he's the reason I quit being a GM/Scriptor there.

Ramsus

@ Tezla

You were forced to quit due to stealing the sim's funds.

sam mile

hello this is a new one to me and i thing it looks cool how do i do it id love to try it out pls

Kenny

ooooooooo I'm in there...Ahh....old times...

Mike

Ok, at the rist of sounding a bit unfair, I will say that in the beginning, I was quite inpressed with the Midgar/Junon sims. Ok, so, I hung out, attached huds, RPd with the other players...and had a generally good time. What people have been impressed about is duely noted...however...a few things realllly have bothered me. One, the horrid lagg present with all the prims in close proximity, and the scripting, and the multi-combat use of spells. They should have seperated the plates by at least 300 meters, and just built a false cieling over the slums. I have heard midgar will be rebuilt in some parts to try and curb this soon, however. Hopefully they will get this adressed, because we old-timers are sorta used to the fast play. Another REALLY big point, is that perhaps Midgart should not go public, if the public is sorta shunned there to begin with. I have been in the presence of many experianced players there, who got involved in combat, didnt die, Rp'd better than the oldies there, and applied for Wutai, ShinRa, Avalanche, and others. They were never even acknowleged, or written to, or allowed into even the testing for these groups...myself included. Ok, then if you complain legitimately, the ones who are IN these groups already, just try to shut you down, saying you shouldn't complain and no wonder you werent accepted, and how they waited months to be accepted-which is total BS.Later, i heard many bragging to others they were accepted within days or weeks. Look, dork-wads...haha, If It is public...the public needs to participate, as many of us played FF7 and others when it came out, unlike a lot of these upstarts. Oh well, probly most of these kids who are hot-shots there anyways. Lol, If you percieve venom in my words...yep...

Final Fantasy 14 Review

love final fantasy.. still waiting for final fantasy 14 to come out on xbox.. taking forever

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