My plan to crash my favorite MMORPG server required a little help from an unexpected place
After losing my best character’s most powerful staff in my favorite online game, I knew I had to take drastic action to get it back. I discovered that if I could just crash the game database – say, by summoning 257 dragons in a single zone – I could force the game to restore an old backup where my character still had his stuff. I would, once again, be the most powerful evil cleric in the game. My plan was flawless.
I started posting announcements all over the taverns, and pretty soon word spread all over the server. I told everyone it was a Dragon-summoning competition, where the best looking dragon would win over 2 million platinum pieces. But people began to suspect that something was up. In the hours leading up to the contest, the streets of neighboring towns were filled with panic, looting, and debauchery.
At last the hour was at hand. I knew that I had to somehow get these guys to summon 257 dragons simultaneously before the end of the evening, when the server would back itself up and my opportunity would be lost forever. A low fog hung in the air around the ruins of the old temple where I decided to make my move. In the nearby village, a horde of playerkillers were killing everything in sight, oblivious to their reputation, screaming about the end of the world as their swords glinted in the blood-red sunlight and fires crackled across the blackened husks of what used to be player-built housing. The signs of Armageddon were all around; on the cracked and overgrown steps leading up to the temple ruins, priests shouted at the incoming sorcerers to repent, REPENT!
And on a nearby hillock a Bard sung a song with only his drums as an accompaniment:
That’s great it starts with an earthquake
Birds and drakes and players slain
Lenny Bruce is not afraid;
Wizards going PK, listen to yourself say
“Gimmie buffs” it’s not enough
Knights are shucking armored stuff
Preachers casting cure light wounds
Lining up the two moons, wetting in their pantaloons
Less leet, dead meat, cast flight, bright light,
Going down you level up it’s allright … right?
It’s the end of the world as we know it!
It’s the end of the world as we know it!
It’s the end of the world as we know it…
At least online.
The song was suddenly interrupted when a mammoth scaled foot crushed the bard with a tremendous wet squish and final, agonized cry. The dragon who had done the dirty work shone bluish-green in the diffuse sunlight, smoke pouring from his nostrils. He was just one of the dozens of fell beasts who stomped amongst the broken stone pillars or circled above the hillside, knots of sorcerers from numerous guilds below chanting the high-level incantations to bring them into being. Already the framerate was chugging; magic users on lesser machines had to stare at the ground to keep from crashing.
But it wasn’t enough!! By my count there were just under a hundred dragons in the ruined temple zone, already an impressive feat but by no means enough to crash the server. I yelled above the din, trying to get the magic users to invite their friends over, but they insisted that everyone they knew who could summon dragons was already there. Already the great beasts filled the sky … and soon the sorcerers would be asking for their 2 million platinum piece reward.
I didn’t even have two million platinum pieces! I was counting on the server to crash. I began to pray for a miracle at the ruined temple altar, shadows of the dragons above crisscrossing the stone surface.
That’s how he found me, the old man in the tattered black robes. I estimated that the Wizard before me had been a character since the game first started, but his wrinkled, scarred face showed an age beyond his years.
“On your feet, plebian! Speak the truth, man, for I am the Divine Unix Server Administrator, and your wretched machinations have aroused both my interest and ire!” he boomed. “WHY have you requested 257 dragon handlers? Why not the binarily divisible holy number of 256? Could this be an attempt to bring some part of the database to its knees? Speak, nose morsel!”
Was he a game admin sent to bust me? Or another player who had uncovered my scheme? I didn’t know, but either way, in the hour of the apocalypse, I had nothing to lose. “Yes … I’m going to crash this server. Crash it dead! Bring it down like Sodom and Gomorrah, topple it like the walls of Jericho, so that it’ll restore my backed-up character from a week ago.”
The gnarled man nodded, stroking his chin. “I thought as much,” he typed back. “For over a year I’ve been trying to do the same thing. I’ve nested 257 backpacks into one another. I’ve flooded a chat channel with over 1000 screaming bots. I’ve created characters with 6000-letter-long names. Yet the server has withstood my nefarious orchestrations. But you, little man? You must know something I don’t. I will see your little plan to fruition.”
He turned his back to me and raised his arms toward a hillside. I frantically typed questions after question to him, only to be ignored. What I didn’t understand until moments later was that he was private messaging his guild.
Suddenly, through a veil of shimming white light, a line of wizardly figures slowly emerged until their silhouettes stretched across the horizon. They carried staffs and wore pointed hats. As one, they raised their arms and began summoning. There were easily 200 of them.
“…who!?” I typed.
At last the Divine Server administrator answered. “The Koreans,” he said. “The most powerful single body of MMOG players in the world. They can mobilize thousands of cybercafe surfers in the time it takes to send a single cell phone text message. And now, they will summon your dragons. Fall to your knees and grovel, goatish vassal, for you stand between the cheese-filled toes of GIANTS!”
One by one the dragons appeared in the skies above, until their swirling bulk blotted out the sun. And then they kept coming, appearing in flashes of yellow and purple magic, white sparks raining from the sky like hail.
Soon the individual dragons became indistinct, as the dragon models – spawning in so quickly – were drawn on top of one another. Above the ruined temple the blackened sky was filled with indiscriminate blobs of multicolored wings and tails and teeth, flapping and swinging in every direction.
Then, when one of the chaotic evil dragons attacked one of the lawful good dragons, the stuttering server suddenly lurched them all into active combat mode, and fire exploded in all directions. By now, even the most powerful of computers couldn’t render them all; every few seconds a frame would appear on one’s computer monitor, a hellish conflagration of scales and explosions, claws and teeth locked together like a satanic M.C. Escher portrait.
The noise was inhuman, by now a continuous bellowing roar, as if a million Ford Pintos suddenly backed into each other in a stadium filled with mousetraps.
And above this monstrous din, I asked the Divine Server Administrator why a wizard as powerful as himself wanted to end the world.
“Over a year ago?” I asked, as a few feet away two dragons came crashing to the ground and began fighting claw-to-claw with their smoldering wings torn to ribbons. “But the backups are done weekly.”
“FOOLISH MORTAL!” he boomed. “So distraught was I on losing my lewt that I visited the server farm of this game in person. The grotesque reprobates who run this sham of a service refused to restore my character, but while I was there I surreptitiously snapped the write-protect tab off of their backup tapes.”
My mind whirled. I didn’t know what to type. The Administrator seemed to revel in my confusion.
“That’s right, little man! Those fewls THOUGHT they were backing up their database every week, but it hasn’t been backed up since January 12th, 2003! AND NOW BY MINE OWN HANDS I SHALL ROLL BACK TIME AND REGAIN MY LOST LEWT!!”
He began to chant a spell that would summon the 257th dragon. “Noo!” I typed, and I frantically equipped my sword to try to attack him. But my framerate crawled; I staggered toward him, sword outstretched … slowly … slowly … But then his spell was done.
No dragon appeared, but the mass of dragons above us suddenly froze, and an eerie silence descended.
“Had they written this in Linux,” scoffed the Administrator, “It wouldn’t have crashed.”
The next two minutes would live on in legend. None of the players could see it, but the 257th dragon overwrote the shop inventory part of the database, meaning he appeared in the storeroom of a bakery in the town below. The beast struggled amidst a pile of dough and flour, but the game read the data all wrong, so from the AI shopkeeper’s perspective his inventory now included 47 stickybuns, 119 deceased trolls, and two towns. He sold the latter to a player who thought he was buying a piece of cake, and for this reason moments later players were teleporting into the player’s inventory. On hearing the voices in his head, he frantically tried to drop the town, which created a gaping hole in the game map where the town used to be. This hole led into a part of the database that tracked monster spawning behavior, where several players innocently walked, causing a horde of locusts and lich lords to assault the capital. 65536 lich lords, actually – far more than the server could create. Fire rained from the sky as a solid wall of undeath poured through the town gates like water. The townspeople, those who weren’t petrified at the sight, fled in all directions, screaming that the end had come. All but one, a bold high-level cleric, who bravely stood on a platform in the town square and cast “turn undead.” Unbeknownst to him, the majority of the over 65,000 liches had been spawned into the heightmap data file, so by exorcising them the cleric turned the seas to blood, the land to lava, and sent several towns 1000 feet below sea level. Their inhabitants drowned instantly and (thanks to an overwritten value that now set the game’s map size to 16x16 feet) they respawned into the magic spell effects tables. This briefly turned everyone who still lived into pretty butterflies before the server finally crashed entirely.
Twenty anxious minutes passed while I tried to log back in, desperate to see the results of the horror once the servers were restored.
My character woke up in a green swaying field of grass near one of the starting towns. I checked my inventory – one rusted short sword, a melon, and a gnarled stick I had carved myself. Nearby, a rat saw me and it attacked. He bit me, and half of my hit points went away. I frantically attacked it with my stick, missing, missing, and finally hitting. It took seven blows to kill the beast, by which time I was almost dead.
I sunk into my chair. Darkly I remembered that I had just started playing the game in January of last year. “No,” I whispered in hideous disbelief. “No …”
My character fell to his knees, looked up to the cruel heavens, and waved his ordinary wooden staff in the air as he shook his fist. “I’m a newbie! I’M A NEWBIE! NNNOOOOOOO!!!”
Hey, can you spare a copper piece or two? I’d like to buy a piece of bread. It’ll restore one of my six hit points. *sob*
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