(Brief background on myself. I've been playing RPGs since the late-1980s starting with 2nd edition AD&D. I played PNP Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun both as a player and a GM. The first M* game I played was Battletech 3055 MUSE around 1991-92ish. I have staffed a few places as a GM. I have done some minor coding / building. Sindome was the first and only MOO I have played on.)
(A lot of this review is going to read like a meta-critique of the player base, more so than a black and white break down of the game system.)
Sindome is the kind of place that I need closure with, and having said that I hope it offers some glimpses into what other players might be getting into. I spent a month playing there and the overall feeling that I was left with is one of frustration. I wish that I could break this down into black and white Pros and Cons, but the two are so intertwined that the best I'm going to be able to manage is a stream of conscious recap.
The overall gist of my experience playing there as a newbie was, "You're going to learn through trial and error, and you're going to get the crap kicked out of you (both ICly and OOCly) in the process."
First of all, Sindome comes across as a brutal PVP simulator. That aspect seems to drive everything else. All of the code is tightly focused around conflict and PVP. The mechanics behind the code are kept intentionally obscured. While there might be mentions of 'great roleplaying' on the website and what not, that comes with enough caveats that I'd take it with a grain of salt. Short poses and coded emotes are par for the course. There might be some good writers playing here, but if there are, they are likely doing their roleplay in non-public places where they can actually relax long enough to craft well written poses. That being said, the 'pose' code is pretty cool, if a bit non-intuitive and rough around the edges. The way that it sorts out pronouns and adjectives so that they are displayed in the right tense to other players is pretty awesome.
The obfuscation of the game mechanics is combined with a draconian approach to IC / OOC crossover and meta-gaming. Like most things in life, this is good and bad. The game has been around for so long, that the sense I was left with is that some of (the majority of?) long term players project that sense of geek hubris that comes from A. 'knowing' how things work and B. the ego affirmation of using that knowledge to be 'better' than others. The knowledge of the system that the long term players have accumulated was done through brutal, and often traumatic trial and error. That seems to have created an environment where the general attitude is, "Being new here sucked for me, so I'm going to make sure it sucks for you too." As a new player, you need to go into this game aware of that. Do you want to go through re-living the collective trauma in what I can only equate to a hazing ritual?
As another reviewer wrote recently, Sindome has the best and the worst of the internet in it. If you have been role playing online long enough, you are familiar with players who live a better life through their online personas, than they do out in the real world. I say this as someone with those tendencies myself. Sindome takes that to another level, and then another one. There was a conversation on the OOC channel about how the strict rules against any sort of OOC contact with other players (eg you can't exchange Skype info, Facebook profiles, Discord names, etc, etc) is mostly there to protect players from other players. There are apparently players who take the game so seriously, that they will cross boundaries. Even though I only played there for a month, I completely understand how those attitudes come about. The effort required to progress is significant, and the cost of failure is so high, that players will do whatever it takes to preserve what they have sunk their blood, sweat and tears into.
As a new character, you are going to start at the bottom and have zero ability to affect the world around you. You are going to be pawn for other players. You will not get much support from the staff. Due to the intense obfuscation of the mechanics, basic questions about commands will likely be met with decidedly less than helpful responses (at best) and outright demeaning or hostile replies (at worst). The game is not about you. There are other players there who have plenty of things going on with themselves and their social circles. You are a brand new character without any useful skills. Few will be all that helpful about helping you figure out how your skills work. The 'only' way to figure out how your skills work is through conflict, and the conflict comes at a super high price. Either conflict with other characters, or conflict with coded systems owned by other characters. And all of that comes down to the perpetual conflict, the paranoia, the constant warfare.
In my experience, it seems like the best parts of the game come from the worst parts of the game. "Everyone" is there to screw you over. While that is completely thematic in alignment with the dystopian and cyberpunk environment, it doesn't make for a fun place (for me) to play. Not only are people there to screw you over, they are screwing each other over. So there is the sense of paranoia that just does not go away. Again, that is thematic, but not so fun to play. There are multiple mentions made about "Your friends are going to be the ones who really screw you over in the end." Again, thematic. But as a prospective player, ask yourself if you want to spend time your time building relationships with people who you never really trust.
I think that Sindome is the kind of place that anyone who enjoys playing text based games should try once. It is like playing a computer based RPG on hard mode with no saves and perma-death for your character. The new player experience and figuring out the systems is rewarding, but you'll only get it once. Once you figure out how things work, you'll never really be "new" again. The basic human inclination to use that knowledge to your own advantage going forward is impossible to avoid. For example, I had a good time meeting other characters and figuring out how to make money. It was fun because I was new and I truly had zero idea about how to do that. I had genuine interactions with other characters around that, and I think that some of them really did find enjoyment in having a new face around, and being able to help out a little bit. But I will never have that experience again. No matter how good a roleplayer a person might be, there is a huge difference between being new, and acting new. While every character who comes into the game is brand new, the reality is that the players are not.
From a pure code perspective, the game is amazing. I saw so much code there that made me nostalgic for other places that I have played in the past. It feels like they ported huge amounts of the old Shadowrun Seattle (circa ~1997) code base over, and then cleaned it up. It is great to see Johnny and Slither and other staffers actively coding. So many places that I have played are stagnant from a code perspective. They have a stable code base and aren't messing with it. The only "newness" in those places are buildings. That's not the case on Sindome. It is in active development, and it is stable (mostly). I do IT for a living, so I definitely appreciate the challenges inherent in actively developing in production. There is one specific bit of code that I want to rave about, but I won't because it was such an edge case, that I don't want to spoil it for anyone else who might, maybe, experience it. But it's one of those moments where I literally sat there for a minute and thought, "There's no way that somebod(ies) considered the interdependence between the game systems at that level of abstraction. But they DID. And the proof is right there as a coded object, in my character's hands."
I am glad that in the end, I played there for a month. I am glad that I made my major mistake before sinking too much time into it... sort of a wake up call to cut my losses and quit while I'm ahead, so to speak. It feels like the online gaming experience of a bad fling. My mind knows that I'm better off for moving on, but there's that small part that is always going to wonder what it would have been like if I stuck it out. It's kind of cool knowing that places like Sindome still exist on the internet, even if they aren't for me.
I don't know where else to fit this tidbit in, so I will leave it here at the end. The push to figure everything out ICly (FIOC), combined with the at times confusing code, combined with the high price of failure, creates an extremely uncomfortable disconnect. It's the kind of disconnect that could be significantly mitigated by helpful staff and players, but isn't. I the player, ended up screwing my character over, due to a lack of understanding about some code mechanics. It's the kind of situation where a thirty second face to face conversation, or a five minute text conversation with someone patient, could have avoided it. But that kind of conversation can't take place, due to the IC / OOC crossover prohibitions. As a player, you can't ask other players, "Hey, I'm here at X trying to do Y." because the fact that your character is at X and doing Y is IC information being communicated OOCly. And while you might be able to attempt to ask staff, odds are the help request is going to go into a backlogged queue where the odds are the response is going to be "Try it out and see what happens."
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