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Community Detective Issue #20: Xsyon [Updated]

Jef Reahard

Welcome back, intrepid readers. After a bit of a hiatus, Community Detective is back on the case (that case being the chronicling of various MMORPG communities and customer service experiences).

When I left off a few weeks ago, I'd just completed a whirlwind tour of DC Universe Online -- the PC and console versions -- and this week's issue couldn't be more different. We're talking polar opposites here, as Notorious Games' Xsyon sandbox is everything that DCUO is not (although the two titles do share half-baked chat functionality).

I'll be honest here: I tend to cut sandboxes an inordinate amount of slack because a) I love them, and b) they've been relegated to second-class citizen status on account of the casual MMORPG explosion. Join me after the cut as I attempt to maintain some semblance of objectivity while recounting a couple weeks' worth of Xsyon community and customer service adventures.

Winter fishing
For those unfamiliar with Xsyon: It's a survival-style MMO set in the Tahoe basin after some sort of unnamed near-future apocalyptic event. Humanity is slowly working to reclaim the wilderness (or destroy it; Notorious is leaving the title's general evolution in the hands of its players). Sandbox fans are tasked with all manner of gathering, crafting, and building options, and oh yeah, there's open PvP as well.

Combat is -- how can I put this diplomatically -- somewhat rough, and frankly it's a drop in the bucket in terms of the game's systems and content (the majority of which are crafting-based). That hasn't stopped PvP players from descending on the game (and the forums) in droves, though, and there's currently quite an interesting battle of wills going on in terms of whether Xsyon should continue its crafter focus or cater to the PKers.

As you might imagine, this makes for some interesting community discussion, though much of it happens outside the game. Inside the world of Xsyon itself, it's not uncommon to go whole play sessions without encountering another member of the community. The world is fairly vast, travel is fairly slow, and the smallish population means that would-be Grizzly Adams types have plenty of secluded land on which to build their hermit retreats. Global chat in Xsyon is also atypical of the genre. In a nutshell, there isn't any. There was, up until a point several weeks ago when the developers disabled it (much to the relief of soloists, roleplayers, and non-trolls everywhere). There is a strange sort of zone chat still in evidence, and it basically allows anything typed in /say to be read throughout the zone of the speaker as well as the two adjacent sectors (though Xsyon's world is seamless, there are quadrants, and they've been mapped).

Community case file
Long-time readers of Community Detective may be wondering when I'm going to get around to my usual polling questions, and while they're coming up shortly, I have to admit that I almost scrapped them this time around, simply because the Xsyon community experience is completely unlike my experiences in most of the other games I've profiled over the last year. Though I've been playing between five and ten hours per week since early March, I've yet to interact with anyone outside of the sectors where my tribe elected to set up camp during the head-start period.

Travel is a pretty time-intensive undertaking, and the few times I've attempted it have resulted in some sort of grisly death (usually by grizzly bear) followed by a quick return trip to our tribe totem. So this issue is truly a localized snapshot of Xsyon's community. Your experience may vary quite a bit.

For my first community question, I posed the following:

How do I equip a weapon?
After my first couple of death-by-grizzly episodes, I figured it was time to learn how to defend myself. Even though I took unarmed combat at character creation, my hooks and jabs only served to delay the inevitable. Xsyon's interface is somewhat archaic and unintuitive at first blush, and it wasn't readily apparent how I was supposed to go about equipping the giant knife that the pre-order gods had granted my survivalist.

As it turns out, double- or right-clicking the knife in your pack does nothing; you've actually got to drag it from an inventory slot to one of the two hand icons underneath your paper doll. I suppose this is probably obvious to many who play, but due to the bewildering number of slots on the character window (and the lack of tool-tips), I figured it was quicker to ask. In the interests of the column, I planned on querying my neighbors several times over the course of several days as I've done in past games that feature far-reaching chat channels. With Xsyon, though, the same people kept answering, and it quickly became apparent that getting a huge population sample wasn't going to happen.

As it turns out, my tribe had settled in a region near several other amiable groups, and my experience likely would've been quite different if I'd run afoul of some of the game's ornerier sorts.

For my second question, I asked the following:

Where do I get a saw?
Xsyon newbs are randomly granted equipment upon character creation, and despite the fact that I chose woodcraft as one of my initially trained skills, I lacked the basic tools. Aside from another opportunity to observe my immediate community, this was actually a very practical question, and after a couple of days of asking around, I managed to acquire what I needed. My particular corner of Xsyon's world is filled with helpful folks, and there's a lot of bartering, haggling, and gifting that goes on among the tribes in my area.

If this particular community is at all representative of the game as a whole, I'm happy to report that it's one of the friendliest I've encountered.

Customer service case file
Xsyon's customer service isn't quite as notable. In fact, aside from a cursory reply from an in-game GM, I haven't heard from CS reps regarding a support ticket that I filed last Wednesday. I deleted a pioneer saw from my inventory (don't worry, I had a spare) and filed a test ticket at Xsyon's support weblink. After several days with no response, I asked for a GM by typing /h in the game. I was told that GMs cannot restore lost items and was directed to email the Xsyon support team for further assistance. I did so around noon on Sunday and am still waiting for a response. (This column runs on Tuesday.)

If this incident is any indication, Xsyon's customer support is the same sort of work-in-progress that typifies much of the game itself. I hesitate to blast Notorious Games here due to the size of its operation, but I'll also say that the response times need immediate improvement. Resolution is another matter, and I'm fully OK with the fact that my saw is likely irrecoverable. Timely communication from the support team shouldn't be optional, though, and I'm looking forward to revisiting this aspect of Xsyon in a future column.

For more on Notorious Games' post-apocalyptic sandbox, check out Massively's recently concluded Choose My Adventure: Xsyon miniseries.

[Update]: I'm happy to report that Notorious GM GuideRaguel contacted me via email on Thursday (approximately four days after sending the support email) and offered to reinstate my item upon my next login.

Tribe campfire
Join Jef Reahard every other week as he goes behind the scenes to file first-hand community and customer service reports from the front lines of your favorite genre titles. From Aion to Zentia, the Community Detective case files are an essential part of any game-hopper's research library. Suggestions welcome, care of

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