[Mathew Kumar, who has just taken over our online worlds site WorldsInMotion.biz, is still doing the super-fun Worlds In Motion Atlas -- and this one's an overview of ForumWarz, from Crotch Zombie Productions, polished and popular browser-based RPG that satirizes internet culture while including community features such as leaderboards, clans, forums and player vs. player challenges.]

2008_07_14_forumwarz.jpgName: ForumWarz

Company: Crotch Zombie Productions

Established: February 2008

How it Works: ForumWarz is experienced on the web through html and was written using tools including Ruby on Rails, MySQL, Haml, memcached, script.aculo.us, Prototype, Mongrel and NGINX. It requires no installation and navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2008_07_14_forumwarz1.jpgOverview: In ForumWarz, players choose one of three classes and begin a largely single player adventure to gain levels, earn Flezz (the world's currency) and "pwn forums".

Each player is allowed a limited number of forum visits per day. Players who choose to can take part in multiplayer aspects, including clans, "Forumwarz Domination" (a player vs. player challenge), building new forums or Incit, a mini game about creating amusing text to accompany images.

Payment Method: Forumwarz is free to play, and earns revenue through donations, which grant players special in-game items.

Key Features:
- A very polished and technically accomplished browser RPG
- Multiplayer features for players who wish to compete and also co-operate
- Live chat, forums and clans

ForumWarz: In-Depth Tour

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So first things first -- I'm going to make no bones about the fact that ForumWarz is by far my favorite browser RPG. I've already played through the entire single-player campaign and had a great time doing it, and as a result my level 10 troll has been languishing unplayed for quite a while.

Unlike Kingdom of Loathing you can reach the level-cap of your character by playing through the main quest quite easily (though it does require some level grinding) and as there's no "new game+" mode there is roughly no reason to keep playing the single player mode over and over again, with or without input from the community. It's very fun once, however.

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As a result, most of the things which are going to keep you playing are the community features. These aren't what I would consider especially well integrated with the main game. Incit, for example, is essentially a multiplayer mini-game that has little connection to the main game of ForumWarz and is still in test phase. In the game you compete against other players to write amusing captions for "motivational posters" (random images) until a voting stage, where you can vote on the one you think is best.

ForumWarz Domination is a more in-depth multiplayer mode. A player versus player mode, each week there is a new round and you compete against other players by earning "scoops" -- achievements earned by doing certain things in the game or the community, such as defeating a number of forums in a row, or especially fast. The winner with the most scoops of a certain flavor, most in total, or highest minimum (yes it's slightly complex) wins a medal, but you can spend your scoops during the round to purchase "domination cards" which will allow you to screw over your opponents. Medals have no meaning other than status within the community.

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For more creative players (or players who'd rather just play more forums) there's the Forumbildr v2.0 Beta, which allows players to collaboratively build new forums for the single player game, or simply play these created forums. Players who create the idea for a forum, or sections of the forum – for example enemies, thread titles or posts, etc -- that are accepted receive Flezz (ForumWarz' in-game currency) and all players can take part in the collaborative process, from simply voting on which submissions are good or bad, or creating themselves.

These three sections make up the majority of the multiplayer on offer in ForumWarz. There are several other features, such as a friends list, "Klans", a forum, and leaderboards --some players are perfectly satisfied battling for supremacy of their chosen ranking (such as most popular or most forums defeated) -- but much like the rest of the community features, they don't play a significant role in the main game.

ForumWarz is an interesting browser RPG -- it's incredibly polished, and the single player campaign is incredibly fun, for example. But wha is especially interesting about it is that it has chosen to work under the operating idea that most players will happy playing a single player RPG, but also offers separate community features who'd like to talk or compete with other players. As I've said already, I think the single player game is beyond compare, but how do I feel about its community? And does ForumWarz truly count as an MMO?

ForumWarz: Conclusion

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It's a cop-out, but whether you think ForumWarz is an MMO or not really does depend on how broad you consider the category is. If you think Facebook games count as MMOs then it definitely is, but if you absolutely demand an integrated real-time virtual world, then it isn't.

My opinion? Any game/world that has a community built around common goals -- socialization, building, completing puzzles -- counts, so I think ForumWarz is an MMO. And on that basis I think it's a very good one.

The key lies in the way the game has been built. When I like to play through an RPG I tend to do it myself, and if I get stuck I'll refer to a guide. I don't consider that cheating (in all honesty, I subscribe to the idea that if your game requires a guide then it's your fault, not mine) and I'm often happiest playing games alone. In ForumWarz, that's totally possible.

On the other hand, if you like playing with people, you can. Either take part in ForumWarz Domination while you play, or get involved in one of the other community aspects -- playing with a Klan, the mini-game of Incit, or building new forums. These don't change the main game a bit, but each of these options is as valid as playing alone.

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This isn't a game like World of Warcraft or City of Heroes where you are penalized for playing alone through making leveling slow without a group, or certain content being unavailable -- you can have as much as you want no matter how you play.

And the reason I compare it to the subscription MMOs rather than it's contemporaries (like Kindgom of Loathing) is that ForumWarz is a step ahead, with a gorgeous interface, clever cinematics and a very strong and balanced design.

If there's one problem, it's ForumWarz content -- being based around the seedy underbelly of the internet, it can be quite offensive to those with weak constitutions, and the community that has raised up around it can in turn be even more offensive. It's not a game for everyone (it really is adults only) but if you can stomach it, there is a lot to learn from ForumWarz, as a game just as good played alone as played with friends.

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