Game talkOnline Game Pioneers at Work

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Jun 042015

If you are interested in online game history, you probably want to check out Online Game Pioneers at Work. Morgan Ramsay managed to corner a whole bunch of people who were key figures in online game development over the last several decades, and interviewed all of us at great length. It’s a follow-up to his earlier book Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play.

Among the people in the book:

  • Emily Greer telling the story of Kongregate
  • Victor Kislyi explaining how World of Tanks came to be
  • The entire incredible story of Richard Garriott
  • John Romero and the birth of the online FPS
  • Jason Kapalka explaining how PopCap was built
  • Ian Bogost being, well, Ian

And way more… Funcom, Supercell, CCP, King, ng:moco… with a foreword by Dr Richard Bartle.

My own chapter starts clear back with MUDs, and goes up through departing Disney, including the business saga of Metaplace. The book has an emphasis on the business side of things, more so than the design side, so it often gets into telling the nitty-gritty stories of how companies get built and manage to stay alive.

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Game talkAn Industry Lifecycle

 Posted by (Visited 2633 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jun 022015

002A new platform on which to play games is invented. It might be a new graphics technology (Vector graphics! Color! 3d! VR!). It might be a technical advancement of a different sort (Modems! Servers! Streaming! D-pads! Small screens! Big screens! Touch screens!). It might just be a new marketing channel (Games in bars! Games at home! Games in restaurants! Games in stadiums!).

Its distinguishing characteristic is that it is worse at the old sorts of games than the existing platforms, but better at something new.

It’s still cheap to make something for it, usually, and it’s risky. Big companies stay away, or they try porting over something that has worked before. It doesn’t do great because it’s a mismatch for the new capabilities — and restrictions — of the new platform.

Small companies make something that fits the new platform well. Maybe it has the right controls, because the new platform offers something new. Maybe it has the right interface, or the right play session length, because of the new platform demands on the player.

It’s almost inevitably something new in mechanics, with fresh game system design in some fashion. It has to be, you see, to take advantage of what the new platform offers.

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Apr 272015

logowhiteRead the other posts in this series:

This is the last post on SWG for, well, a while. I am sure there are plenty of other things to say and more questions that could be answered, but… it feels like a natural stopping point. I must say, the response to these essays has astonished me. Here’s hoping you’ll all care as deeply about the next game I make…

Why now?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions as to why I am writing this series of posts about Star Wars Galaxies now. Do I have something to sell?

No, I don’t have anything to sell. This past week was the fifteenth anniversary of that small SWG team first forming in Austin, refugees from Origin. We were a bit over a half dozen. It’s also ten years since the NGE, and in the last few years, we have seen a lot of changes for a lot of parties involved. I was asked some questions by a former player, and for once, it just felt like the time to answer them.


So, was it a failure?

Well yes, of course. And also, no. It depends how you ask the question. There are a lot of assumptions out there about how the game did, particularly in its original form. So, let’s start by tackling some of those:

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Apr 222015

femcharsswgjpgLast time, I talked about the basic skill and economic infrastructure that Star Wars Galaxies provided. Fundamentally, these were about equality. They made the different roles played by players have the same standing in the game. However, it’s still a game, after all — players are going to engage in radically different sorts of activities, probably some will be more fun than others, and nobody is going to just “work a job” for their leisure time.

There was every expectation that combat was still going to be at the heart of the game. Few social MMOs were out there at the time, though they were achieving impressive numbers. Second Life did not yet exist when we began (they actually came to visit me at the office during the early development of SWG, to talk social design and tech). The skills and actions available were dominated by fighting, and this was by and large what the market expected.

However, we could still try to reinvent what people thought fighting meant. In the classic Diku model that players were used to, you basically had classes that were alternate types of damage-dealers. Some dealt it fast, some slow. Some could take a lot of hits, some only a few. Today we think of these as tanks and nukers. The lone support class was the healer type, who basically replenished the combatants so that they could keep going: basically, an indirect damage-dealer more than someone who actually healed.

Given our emphasis on making a social web, we needed to think in terms of different kinds of support.

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Apr 212015

swg player city SolaceOnce upon a time you could drop things on the ground. It’s one of the first things a baby does, one of the most human things to do. You pick something up, drop it somewhere else. You build piles. Piles turn into houses. They turn into furniture. They turn into gathering places, into churches, into seats of civilizations. Dropping stuff on the ground is pretty important to who we are.

In the last post, I talked about the technical underpinnings that allowed us to provide a dynamic environment in SWG. But really, all that was in service of something bigger: having a living society. One of the challenges in creating online worlds is that societies are powerfully shaped by the environment they are in. A static, unchanging world will inevitably give rise to certain sorts of behaviors: spawn camping, for example. Players flow like water around gameplay obstacles; if a game doesn’t offer them the ability to run a shop, they’ll set up their character as a bot and sit online for hours to replace the system — or rather, the standard human social structure — that is commerce.

A lot of MMO design, especially in the last decade, has been about preventing behaviors, rather than enabling them.

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Apr 202015

Corellia0023This post is dedicated to the memory of John Roy, lead environment artist on Star Wars Galaxies. Help out his family here.

Let’s do some math. Let’s say that you need to have a pretty big world: sixteen kilometers on a side, and made out of tiles.

A tile needs to know what texture it is. That’s one byte. Not much, right? You only get 256 tiles on a planet, though, which isn’t a lot.

But wait, we can add some variety there, by putting in some colors. We’re in 3d, right, so we can tint the tiles slightly and get variation. It’s normally three bytes to apply a color, but let’s instead just say that each planet has a fixed list of colors, and you can have 256 of them, and that way each tile can look up into a list of colors and we only need one byte.

Oh, and it’s a 3d game heightfield, so we need to know what the elevation of the tile is! We’ll just say that there are only 256 levels of height, and that way we can keep it at a nice conservative three bytes per tile.

Corellia0004That’s good, because we need a lot of tiles. They’re one meter on a side. So that means that for a planet we need 16,384 just to make one edge. We need 16,384×16,384 to lay down the whole world.

That’s 268,435,456 bytes for this world. Of course, we need ten planets, not one. So, that’s more like 2,684,354,560 bytes. Nobody uses bytes, so that’s 2,621,440k. 2,048mb. 2.56 gigabytes, uncompressed.

That’s… not going to fit on a CD. I mean, that doesn’t include any art yet.

DVD drives weren’t yet widespread in 2003. In fact, taking up 2.5 gigs of space just for maps was unheard of.


The solution to that problem didn’t just let us ship Star Wars Galaxies, it also unlocked everything from player housing to crafting to giant Imperial vs Rebel battles.


Patent disclaimer

Before you read any farther, you should know that Sony Online actually patented some of the technology that I am going to describe. If you are someone who should not be reading technology patents, you should stop now.

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Game talkGamemakingA Jedi Saga

 Posted by (Visited 7012 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 162015

Yoda_TPM_RotSContinuing here with the questions that were sent in by Jason Yates! Yesterday it was the TEF system… today it’s Jedi! Some of this stuff has been told before, but it’s actually kind of hard to find it all in one continuous tale. I have to preface this with a huge huge disclaimer, though: it’s been fifteen years since this particular story started, and a dozen since it ended. My memory may well be faulty on many details.

#2 What were the thoughts on Jedi and why were such drastic changes made in patch 9 to the entire system?

-Jason Yates

Well, my opinion is Jedi are evil. Heh.

You see, Jedi are an immense attractant to players, readers, viewers. As a kid, I too waved around plastic lightsabers (we kept bending them as we struck one another, I am pretty sure my mom got really sick of buying new ones). Who can resist the fantasy of having this awesome sword, effectively magical powers — mind control, telekinesis, telepathy, and more — and of course, the classic Hero’s Journey? I mean, it’s basically an ideal play scenario.

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Apr 152015

swgfactionbattleI was sent this list of Star Wars: Galaxies questions by Jason Yates; he had seen this video interview, and didn’t know enough Spanish to be able to follow the answers. I posted up an English translation of the transcript here, but really, the interview didn’t much overlap with the questions he had.

Is there the possibility of you ever giving a question/answer session in relation to SWG, your views on the game development and direction, aspects of the game you felt worked, worked well, didn’t work at all? Like many, I have so many questions about your involvement with SWG and will likely never get all the answers I would enjoy hearing, but it never hurts to ask. ^_^

Well, honestly, for me it has been fifteen years since I started work on SWG, and twelve since I stopped. So a lot of these questions have either been answered before, or I outright don’t know or remember the answers! So I will give it a try. But the first answer turned out to be so damn long that it’s all I have time for today.

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Mar 312015

The GDC Vault has posted up one hundred and forty free videos from GDC 2015. Holy Cow, almost as good as being there. :)

Among them is the talk that Rich Vogel, Gordon Walton and I presented on “Community Management in the Culture Wars.” I’ve embedded it below, and I’ve also added it to the already existing page for the presentation, which also has the slides.

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Game talkGamemakingJackpot Trivia

 Posted by (Visited 1870 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: ,
Mar 102015

A while back I mentioned a few game announcements coming soon. One was, of course, Crowfall, about which I hope everyone knows at this point. This post is about another one!

A year ago or so I started working with NTN Buzztime as a consultant– these are the folks who provide bar trivia to venues all over the country. You might have seen their stuff if you ever go to a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, for example. They have been doing networked bar trivia for decades now.

I worked with them to revise the core trivia experience. The press release about the resultant game, Jackpot Trivia, went out today. The chief goal was to make playing trivia more of a local multiplayer game, and to get more people to feel good about playing when they’re in a world with terrifying trivia experts. And yet, you still want expertise to come out ahead… so it was a fun design problem. Read on for how we tackled it…

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