Messrs Bartle and Trubshaw’s astonishing contrivance.
[edit: Follow along with Richard's slides available here (PDF)]
Thank you all for getting up early or not having gone to bed yet. Feel free to keep cellphones on so if they ring they can wake people up.
I am going to tell you things that i have never told others before about the origins of MUD.
I am here because i cowrote the first virtual world MUD. Almost all today’s MMORPGs descend directly from them, but that isn’t actually relevant. What mattered isn’t that we were first, but that we were unaware of any others. We would have gotten virtual worlds anyway, the important thing is that when we did it we didn’t have anything to base it on, which meant we had to establish some principles and guidelines, and form views on what we were making and why.
This isn’t meant to be a history lesson. So i won’t be talking about how our computers were the size of exhibition halls, or telling you how great text is compared to graphics, because it is an argument i have won many times and still lost, i won’t be telling you about how great permadeath is …. God uses it, it can’t be bad… And i won’t talk about customer service and how we managed the game back t hem, or how we tried to get money and what legal systems we used or didn’t care about.
Instead, “if i am to create a world, how shall it be, and why?” that is what i will be answering.
This is a picture of a snowman in a furnace in world of Warcraft.
When Trubshaw started, he was interested in the machinery, the technology. Rube Goldberg. Build an intricate machine and set it ping and whoa, it works. But he was also interested in making a world that was separate to and hopefully superior to reality.
I was more interested in the world creation side, to build a world where people could BE and BECOME themselves, all to do with freedom. But i also was interested in systems. Therefore from both these points of view, it was important for both of us that players would feel that they were part of the world, that when they visited, they were IN the world, a concept now called immersion. Because then, it shows that your programming works but also because it means we could give you what it was about– LIBERTY.
Computing dept 1978, not a lot of girls around. I married one of the two girls, two years below me. Not a lot of social graces around, you’d speak to a girl, even if you were pathetically charming, they’d grab your heart and throw it on the ground… But in a virtual world, that didn’t matter.
So we wanted to make a world that was separate from the real world.
When Roy started, he wanted to make sure that the technology worked. That took hm about an hour. Sending messages from one player to another. The next thing was implementing the physics, how the world worked. That took him about a month.
Today, if someone hands you 30 million dollars to start an MMO, you might think oh i should make a fantasy world, or you might thing about genre, and where to put expansions. But you wouldn’t think about the core physics.
If you are a game developer, you don’t make games you want to pay, you make games you want to develop. When i ask students why they want to make games, they say that they have liked games their whole lives, so i ask them if they like beer. Brewing is nothing to do with drinking beer…
So starting from physics is about asking what are the tools in your toolbox… If you start by thinking about the world, you are making assumptions about what is possible to implement, whereas if you think about the physics, that lets you go beyond what is possible.
Roy and I had another good reason for trying to think in terms of basic science. This is news to many in this part of the world, but there is this wacky theory called “evolution”… One of the things that the human brain has gotten through evocation is the ability to process information in an instant. I can’t stop my brain seeing you as people. I can see o this stage that i am above the ground, and millions of processes in the back of my head have figured out that there is distance here.
The brain expects the world to work in a mundane fashion. When we were designing MUD we felt we should put as few barriers as possible i the way of believing that you are in the world. So we tried to make the world appear to be as realistic as we could. When it didn’t, we wanted people to think there was a reason, that it was intentional and not a bug. If there is not explanation for something, it is either a bug or players shouldn’t notice it at all.
Our rule was, if there is no reason not to conform to reality, then conform to reality’ so that people aren’t constantly challenged to suspend disbelief. This is why it was more simulationist than we might do today. This was a coarse approximation… If you carry an icicle it would melt, but we wouldnt implement the equation for heat transfer.
And yet in world of Warcraft my orc is carrying the same glass of milk in her backpack after four years!
So when i talk about physics, it is this kind of thing. Light cannot pass through a closed wooden door. Most MMOs don’t have doors these days… Or what happens when you pour four pints of water into a three pint container. Most MMOs don’t do this. And plate armor doesn’t float… Barbarossa on the Crusades got really hot and decided to swim in a stream with his armor on and never came out.
So this is what an uninformed player would have expected to have happen without evidence otherwise. When you poke with a sword, it should give you a nasty cut, it is what “should happen”. And then the more inclined you are to believe it really is real.
In a text world, people rally did get very immerse, because there were not pictures to persuade you otherwise. But sadly the principle of mimicking reality was carried forward, the reason for it was not. And that means that if you don’t know why it is there, you change it for operational or other design reasons. And over time, people have left this simulationist aspect behind, and now people are not simulating reality but rather the last MMO. Things we do today that would have baffled players in the 80s:
If the goblin had a sword, why was it hitting me with a stick?
You can dye armor but not paint it? But you can paint the walls of your house, but not any other walls? Wall paint is special paint that only works o the walls of MY HOUSE.
I can build a snowman in a fire, and neither is affected. In real life, one of them is going to lose.
Why don’t those foul creatures come to help their allies? I can see them, why can’t they see me? Does this axe have a silencer? You walk into a dungeon, armor clattering… So in MUD, you are being attacked by a goat, and there is a thief in the room,m, and maybe if the goat was doing well, he might join in, but if the goat was losing, the thief would leave in case he was next in line.
In mud2 there were a baton and bow, wave one and it would teleport you to the other. One player dropped the bow in a well, where it fell in a river at the bottom, and was carried by the current and got stuck in a grate that led to a secret room, and people used it as a secret place to stash your stuff. A player did all this, realized there was no other way into the room.
MUD2 also had a keg of gunpowder, usually employed in shooting out a door with a cannon. But another player put it in a coracle, set fire to it, dropped it down the well, the coracle flows downstream, hits the grate, fire spread to the gunpowder, and exploded and killed the guy in the secret room who thought it was safe.
This worked on 33mhz box with 50 simultaneous players. It would probably work on my remote power point clicker. It is not hard to program or expensive to execute. It isn’t too complicated for players… Rather, it makes less sense for things NOT to fall with gravity.
It also doesn’t leave the door open to exploits unless you have implemented physics inconsistently. If you use multiple inheritance, you get a lot of this behavior for free. Just inherit from explosive object…
However, it CAN annoy players. So a player had 10000 sovereigns, or 176lbs. So carrying his money is carrying a fully grown man on his back. But this does open up puzzles.
But exasperating players is a valid reason not to do something. That is why when you go into the restroom in a movie, you know that something bad is going to happen rather than us seeing them go to the restroom. In real life, we do need to go, unless we are british royalty, or are in Star Trek and have it beamed out of us…
You could actually piss on a fire and put it out in MUD… Unless you were s female character… There were more than cosmetic differences between male and female characters.
But today’s virtual worlds are really quite superficial. Why?
This lack of understanding of immersion goes beyond the physics. There are some things that people do for a laugh that break immersion. You go into the bank in storm wind and thief are NPCs named Olivia, newton, and john… Is this bad? No, the question is whether you even thought about the issue in the first place. You should know the consequences of it. If you do it because people seem to like a joke, then it is at a superficial level.
Likewise the horror a mud player would have of the following exchange
You salute smartly.
I didn’t say smartly! Ask your self, do you want players to be immersed or not? The answer No is perfectly fine, but you should make the decision consciously.
Here is Dagna the dwarf from Dragon Age…
Once physics existed, then there was the setting. I could have chosen anything. I wanted it to be immersive, in some ways familiar but also unfamiliar… So i decided to root it in English folklore. These days that is called just “fantasy”. I had experimented with it in a board game. I wanted players to know enough about the world to think they could survive, but to feel disquieted… Not knowing if the gait was friendly.
To this end… I had read Tolkien. But i didn’t put in orcs. I had wad Robert e Howard because i was a boy. I had layer dungeons and dragons. But i eschewed all of these.
I could have done things that i liked instead. Serious candidates included three musketeers… But there were no good roles for women. There was the arabian 1001 nights, it has a magical world, it would have worked well. Another idea was escape from a prisoner of war camp, escape from a Colditz castle sort of thing, but it was depressing, and if you escaped, then what? And Camelot was also on my list
But i went for English mythology was because it was a continuum, it just goes back in time, not a point in time like the others. And then i could use time as a metaphor for menace… Back then we didn’t flag a zone with just levels, we used time to flag menace, if you were in the1930s it was somewhat more safe, but if it came from the 1830s it was dangerous, and if you saw something from the neolithic, you were going to die.
How many designers today have the luxury of using metaphor?
You all do. You just don’t.
I am not here to gloat. I am here to say that you do have the choice. Why make MMOs? You could be working in a bank. If you want to do it because you want to help the world, go work at a charity. Why do you do it? Because somehow you want to express something, and yet people don’t even though they have the tools right there.
I chose fantasy because it provided resonance, and dissonance. But today choose fantasy because it is a well understood trope that delivers solid knowledgeable expectations. If you are being progressive your dwarves aren’t drunkards with a scottish accent. I noticed that in Dragon Age. O love dragon age. I played it all the way through and will do it again, because i have no life.
MUD didn’t even have dwarves, it had dwarfs, and not as player characters, and tolkien couldn’t spell.
Inventive doesn’t mean a new class hybrid. There were text MUDs with hundred classes and 30 races… I didn’t know what to choose? Which collection of consonants with no vowels or vowels with no consonants? Di you even need classes?
When I this talk supposed to finish? Five minuets? You say that but you haven’t got the tasers.
Trubshaw didn’t build in game rules. It was more eve online than second life though, acting within the context. But the hardware was not up for it. So we had to gameify it… Adding game elements into the physics. It was a major change in our philosophy. MUD lacked a sense of purpose. So i out in what we now call an achievement system, examining options like equipment, which we ruled out because of lack of disk space, skills, levels, xp without levels, linked quests which we decided againt because they were too structured. I also had ideas Ike democracy, ,be voted on to gain a level.
I settled on levels, because they were easy to understand, and gave you a sense of your place in the social order. And they give you intermediate goals. The thing is, other things would have done that. So why choose levels? What tipped the balance in favor was that they showed CURRENT social order. Roy Trubshaw and I raged against the british class system. To you Americans, my british accent sounds like erudite and Ike a hollywood villain. To british people, i sound like I work on a farm and roy like he works in a factory. Do i hate VOIP, yes! So we had levels so you could break out of class structure. MUD only had ten levels, each which had its own personality. Players spent enough time to know that what level 9, legend meant [puts his Legend award on table, applause]
There was nothing to stop you from advancing except ability and strength of character. It was meritocracy. So all of you playing these MMOS with levels, it is because you are raging against the british class system. It was a political statement.
Not a chance i would get this Legend award in England.
The people who followed the subsequent MUDs and MMOs didn’t know this. They added other things, and didn’t understand the soul behind this, and added more levels. Again, it is fine to have a million levels, it is about KNOWING WHY.
At the moment, gear is the preferred achievement system when you reach the level cap. Why are you doing that? What is it saying? It is consumerism is good, the more stuff you have e more important you are. I am not going to make judgements about it, you give me stuff, i am aas happy as anyone else. But if that is what you want to say, why not have a fully consumerist game? Why not have a no levels? If you know the point you are trying to make you can remove the distractions and press on with what you are really trying to say.
This is a man in a shop.
Roy thought that combat would be handled by the physics of the world. The first thing that i made in MUD was an ox that if you hit it with an axe, it died. Much like a real ox. But that wasn’t a lot of fun… Kind of, but not the kind of fun where you think the ox might hit you, sort of a like taking an axe to a toddler.
There are basically two ways to make fighting… Where you did it command by command, or as an event stream where stuff happens automatically. Roy did the second becaues he was short on time. I interspersed the other kind, so you could do special things while the stream happened.
Today this remains. But the range of combat options is wider while the CHOICE is narrower. Fifty spells you could cast but you only use four.
We had different weapon effects on different monsters, and creatures could level up.
But we didn’t have classes. We didn’t have races, and i still think races are a bad thing. We felt they were a racist concept. Character classes came later, with wholesale adoption of ideas from dikumud.
So MUDs changed from being about being yourself, to being a guided experience.
Combat was one of the weakest areas of MUD and it has gone on unchanged since then…. Why are there no experiments?
It is as if you “man shop” it. A woman looks at everything and picks the best one. A man shop is where you walk in and say “that one will do.”
So we had to think through everything from first principles. We tidbit have a paradigm to work to. I am sure that the other folks who invented these things like Jacobs, Flinn and Taylor, Farmer and Morningstar, Klietz and Alberti, would have the same anecdotes.
I have two points.
The WHY you do things are important.
And the choices are still available to you.
Normally my slides look like this other look. Why did my slides look like this old fashioned style?
So i could criticize today’s game design principles under the guide of a history lesson. It was a contrivance.
And that is what mud was too, roy and I ripping into the class system… We were the first in our families to go to university ever. It let us say unpalatable things about the real world under the guise of a game.
We wanted to make a virtual world because we didn’t like the real one. And you can do the same thing.. If you are a game designer, you have to have some of your soul in the game design.