My Phantasy Star Online Experience

Having been a fan of Phnatasy Star Online (aka PSO) for the Dreamcast, I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon a previously played copy for the Xbox. After spending 19.99 plus tax, the game was loaded and I played offline for a bit in order to brush up on my skills. I was looking forward to the comraderie and challenge of online play via Xbox Live, and did not want to appear rusty in front of the players whose skills had been honed to perfection by countless hours of practice online.

Subsequent to logging on and creating a team by the name of “Newbie game”, I eagerly awaited my first cooperative play session in over a year. Whilst exploring the confines of the forest area, “MASTAR420” joined my game. After beaming down to the surface by using my thoughtful telepipe, “MASTAR420” proceded to tarnish forever my experiences on PSO.

Being that he was only 3 levels higher than myself, I was not prepared to see that the king of chronic was a juggernaut of mass destruction. His armor was impenetrable by the weak attacks of the enemy, and his mighty strikes clove the enemy in twain. The magic powers of his character incinerated groups of enemies with a single hit. In short, I was totally outclassed. To be honest, my level 99 Dreamcast character was outclassed by this level 10 upstart. It was obvious to me that this character was some sort of hacker, and that he had somehow provided himself a collection of the best and rarest implements in the game.

My only recourse was to ask him to leave my game. After various slurs and insults, after questioning my sexual orientation, after implying certain facts about my mother’s choice of career and bedroom proclivities, and after making the astoundingly cruel comment that, to put it lightly, my avatar was colored a shade which he found personally displeasing,
“MASTAR420” left. I was shaken, but perhaps it was a fluke.

The next character to join my game was much as I had expected. He was polite, shared the loot aquired from dead enemies, and was a real “team player”. THIS was the experience I remembered from PSO! We worked our way through the rest of the forest, supporting each other, clearing the nooks and crannies, and ocasionally trading small bits of wisdom or snappy witticisms. While we resupplied for our forthcoming assault on the cave systems, another player by the moniker of “TheSquid” joined our game. I welcomed him to our team and we soon embarked upon our spelunking expedition. My annoyance soon returned, as this individual carried a rifle approximately the same size as a circa-1945 German railway gun which hit the enemy with so much force that the pain was psychicly transmitted throughout the map, thus causing all other adversaries to lie down and ponder their impending demise while waiting for “TheSquid” to get around to providing the means of transport from this mortal coil to the place where cave beasts go when they die. My new friend and I were like the man who goes to the local tavern for some darts anticipating the ocassional bull, yet somehow is transported to the middle of Operation Overlord. Indeed, our puny blows were like the merest tickling of gnats compared to the thermonuclear explosions dealt out every second by “TheSquid”.

After this indignity, I began a new game, protected by a password. My friend joined up, and invited another aquaintance who was also not cheating. We set out and played the game, even though we were crippled without the incedibly rare yet readily available YHVH spell, or the equally obscure yet easily obtainable “Sword that Kills Enemies just by Looking at Them”. Together we passed the hours, and a great time was had by all.

The next day, I decided to examine some other teams. My dimay was multiplied tenfold when I realized that playing the game as it was meant to be played was attractive only to the tiniest sliver of players; indeed, the average player seems to feel that the game is simply unenjoyable without the best weapons and armor equipped almost from birth. Whilst navigating the depths of the first episode, I noted an amusing fact: These players, in a word, sucked. Being low level, though armed with high-powered weaponry and protected by the very grace of God, these characters could still be hit by the enemy. I was subjected to a constant stream of cries to “REZ ME!!” and “heel now1!”. I laughed as they charged into the fray, often dying and leaving only myself standing. I would carefully and skillfully destroy all the enemies with my, to them, puny 50 points of damage, and then ressurect their corpses at my leisure.

So, I will probably not purchase the online, nine dollar per month, “Hunter’s License” that Sega demands from those who wish to play on Xbox Live. I simply cannot envision myself spending my small pleasure budget to fight through a constant stream of duplicated items, hackers, and obstreperous 12 year olds with dental-drill voices.

Now I am left to wonder if I have grown too old for gaming, or if I have simply reached a level of maturity not shared by the majority of players. Perhaps I will soon degenrate into telling the kids with their ear-destroying robot voice that in my day, I had to walk uphill seven miles to get down to the mines, and that the astounding weaponry and armor they employ is nothing more than foofawery foisted upon the weak. In fact, while you are up, why don’t you fetch me a cup of tea, since you probably have a unique tea-making Saucer of Caffeine +10.


Great post! And so accurately captures some of the pitfalls of online gaming.

I dunno if PSO skews more immature for some reason maybe, or not, but aspects of what you describe aren’t that uncommon elsewhere either.

Wasn’t Xbox Live supposed to stop hackers/cheaters?

Sega coded it poorly. It was a disaster even on the DC version. It didn’t start out that way, but it was still relatively easy to dupe items in the game. The DC even had the problem where people could kill other players, and even corrupt their data. They also could get into passworded games, etc, etc, etc. Sega sucks at security.

It is one of the perils of making a game where a character can be played both on and offline. Really hard to secure anything that way.

I interviewed a couple of SEGA people for the book I co-authored. When I asked them what they’d learned that surprised them most about online gaming, they both said “That there are so many people that will cheat.”

Apparently, they hadn’t bothered to research much, or they’d have figured out you can’t keep anything vital on the client.

(DISCLAIMER: I work for Mad Catz, which makes the gameshark, a competitor product to the Codebreaker. I work for them as a freelance writer, with no connection to the peripherals or code-creating departments, but still felt I should make my employment clear before continuing.)

You can’t abstract the dreamcast experience to the Xbox. There’s one BIG difference between the two - the codebreaker. The assholes who run the GSCCC took pleasure in creating codes specifically to ruin people’s experience in PSO. Codes to crash servers, codes to crash lobbies, codes to PK people in non-PK games, codes to delete other people’s characters, etc. They’re such egotists that they posted public demands that Sega beg them for the exploit information, if they wanted it to stop. Interact, the former owners of the Gameshark, didn’t cause this kind of a problem, as they refrained from creating any malicious codes for PSO.

Thankfully, Microsoft nipped this problem in the bud by filing suit as soon as Interact or Pelican attempted to create a memory-editing device. So, PS2 has a codebreaker, Gamecube has a codebreaker, and Xbox does not. The closest thing on the xbox is a device to let people import saved games - which, so far as I know, is incompatible with PSO, as it digitally signs games with the serial number of the originating xbox.

That’s an interesting post, quatoria. I had not realized that MS had filed suit to prevent memory editing. We have the same problem with EA sports and online, with knuckleheads causing desyncs and winning against the CPU to boost their scores. We’ve found a way to detect alterations to the memory kernel and prevent users from logging on – for this year. Who knows what sort of magic these companies will dream up in the future.

Some of them are fairly unashamed about advertising cheat codes for online. And while EA isn’t charging for its online experience, if Sony institutes a subscription-based online model for PS3, I’m almost certain that there would have to be a legal showdown with these device makers.

Quick question: what’s GSCCC?

A website, formerly independent, that used to make codes for all types of memory editors. Used to be the “game shark code creators club”, until they got embroiled in legal battles with interact. They’re now the official code creators for the Codebreaker device.

Some of the same problems remain with the Xbox, especially with the duped items. It basically consists of dropping an item and quitting, before the console has a chance to update the save game. Actually saw it happen all the time when I played the DC version.

In reguards to the EA Sports problem, what about DNAS? I thought that was supposed to guard against stuff like illegal copies and third party devices. More hocus pocus from the sony, or were there other difficulties. I play EQOA (still) and it checks for that, and I haven’t heard of any errors besides those that take advantage of game mechanics.