[Over at sister 'online worlds' site Worlds In Motion, Mathew Kumar has been doing a sterling job expanding the Worlds In Motion Atlas, so we're going to highlight his work profiling the more GSW-friendly games featured - such as this classic alt.MMO!]

Here's an overview of Kingdom of Loathing, from Asymmetric Publications, a popular browser-based RPGs that features a multiplayer component, with in-game chat, clans, player-stores and more community aspects.

2008_06_27_kingdom.jpgName: The Kingdom of Loathing

Company: Asymmetric Publications

Established:
February 2003

How it Works:
Kingdom of Loathing is experienced on the web through html. It requires no installation and navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2008_06_30.gifOverview: In Kingdom of Loathing, players choose one of six classes and begin a largely single player adventure to gain levels, earn meat (the world's currency) and eventually rescue a king. Adventures are turn-based with a limited number of turns each day. Players can engage in Player vs. Player, join clans and sell items from stores when they reach the appropriate level, and those who pass a literacy test can take part in chat with other players.

Payment Method: Kingdom of Loathing is free to play, and earns revenue through donations (which grant players special in-game items) and merchandising.

Key Features:
- Browser RPG
- Player vs. Player combat
- In-game chat
- Clans
- User owned stores/economy

Kingdom of Loathing: In-Depth Tour

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There have been a lot of things said and written about Kingdom of Loathing as a purely single-player experience already, so I'm not going to dwell on that too much. The initial things that are going to strike any player is that it's graphically incredibly simple (stick figure sketches) and it tries to be funny from the instant you start creating a character (you choose between classes including "Seal Clubber" and "Disco Bandit").

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As I currently live in "the frigid Northlands" (Canada) I thought I'd play as a Seal Clubber, and began my quest, rationed at 40 "adventures" a day. The first thing any community minded player of Kingdom of Loathing must do is pass the test at the Altar of Literacy, which allows them the ability to take part in in-game chat. It's an amusing requirement (expecting knowledge of the use of "their", "they're" and "there") and has led to a community that is unusually well-spoken.

Once that's done (and after working with the "Toot Oriole" on Mt. Noob to learn how to play) the next thing to do is to join a clan, where the main multiplayer experience can be found. You can't join a clan until you are level 3 (which requires a few days adventuring) and once you've reached this level there are a bewildering range to choose from. I just chose at random, selecting the "Seven Lances" clan, and have no idea if I chose wisely or not.

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The game has several artificial barriers of this sort -- for example, you can't own a player store until you reach level 9 (though you can sell items in the flea market) -- all of which require you quest in the "main" game for quite a while (a period of perhaps weeks, due to the limited number of adventures per day) and while this can seem restricting, a major part of play is taking part in your clan chat, which allows you to receive advice from other players (which tends to stop short of outright spoilers) beneficial "buffs" for your character (making combat easier, or leading to more item drops) amongst other benefits.

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Another aspect of the community is player vs. player combat, playable by choosing to smash the "Magical Mystical Hippy Stone" that exists at your campsite. Combat takes the form of bizarre, in-direct statistic comparisons, and winners can take rank, stats, meat (the game's currency) and items from losers. I chose not to take part for fear of crippling my still new character completely.

I've been unable to access some community features, too. I haven't been able to contribute the required amount of meat to my clan's coffers to raise enough karma in order to take part in Hobopolis, one of the game's main multiplayer areas. Hobopolis is a dungeon in which clans can go on adventures together. However, similar to the content intended for clans in games such as World of Warcraft, this is almost solely for high level characters due to the difficulty. As a lowly level 6 "Malamute Basher" it'll be a while yet before I'm able to take part.

Kingdom of Loathing is a fairly unique game, particularly when it comes to its "massively multiplayer" content. Several multiplayer aspects of it are surprising -- a great example of this was the "grey plague", an in-game event in which players became diseased, leading their font to become unreadable. Players had to work together and quest to find the cure, which had to be used on other players.

There are many examples of this sort of thing, and it's a great way to explain the unusual way that Kingdom of Loathing fits the MMO concept without fitting the template at all.

Kingdom of Loathing: Conclusions

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Kingdom of Loathing has an amazing community. Sure, it could be considered small -- there tend to only be a few thousand players on at any time -- but you only have to look at the incredible depth its spoiler-filled wiki goes to to see how into the game its players are. That's not to say they're closed off -- they're welcoming to "newbies" and most clans accept any and all players, but you do have to play by their rules. Which means using proper English (they don't make you pass a literacy test for nothing!) and taking part in the community in a positive manner.

If you want the "proper" Kingdom of Loathing experience you're best to forget that wiki I just linked (as the temptation to browse it will be just too much) and play through the game using the help of other players in chat. Kingdom of Loathing is a game full of surprisingly difficult (and obscure) puzzles to solve that are often explained in a rather roundabout fashion (the developers clearly love wordplay) so you're going to need the help.

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Played like this, I'd almost be willing to argue that Kingdom of Loathing is about as "multiplayer" as any other online RPG -- after all, aren't all of these games about players working together to solve puzzles (sort of)?

And that doesn't take into account the absolutely incredible player-based economy that has been created in-world. I don't know how it compares to something like Eve Online (which we might look at in future) but the idea that there are players trading individual items worth millions of meat is mind-blowing. I don't entirely understand, for example, why the spices I received for killing goblin chefs are worth thousands of meat to other players while their resale value to NPCs is low (and other players could surely kill their own goblin chefs) but I guess I'm just not an economist.

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When you look at aspects like that, Kingdom of Loathing isn't just a great game, but a really unique and interesting MMO. It does have its failings -- I think the interface is absolutely terrible, I don't find the stick figures that pleasant (even if it does feel like a Purple Ronnie MMO) and like many other RPGs it's completely bewildering to beginners (though the community can help with that.)

I wish I had reached a level where I was able to discuss Hobopolis, the multiplayer clan dungeons, but unfortunately the limited amount of adventures per day mean I haven't been able to get that far yet. I don't consider that a failing -- I rather like the idea that I can only play so long each day -- and have even wondered how such a system would work in a fully fledged MMORPG.

Anyway, Kingdom of Loathing probably isn't the kind of game you'd plan to look at if you were trying to work out how to build a community in your MMO, but it only take a short time playing to realize such an assumption is dead wrong. Kingdom of Loathing might be more of a "game" than an "MMO" but as either, it easily outclasses many of the competition.

Useful Links:
Official explanation
Coldfront KOLWiki (Unofficial Kingdom of Loathing Wiki)
RadioKOL (Kingdom of Loathing Radio)