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.

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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.

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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.

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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 4186 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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Nov 222013
 

Here is the full video of my talk at EVA13, entitled “El mundo de sistemas” (the world of systems). It’s in Spanish, and it’s an hour and a half long!

Sorry, no translated subtitles or anything. The talk starts out talking about systems and games, how there are many sorts of games but that a large proportion of them have what I call ludic systems underlying them. I talked a little bit about what some of the implications of systems are, how we learn from them and what sort of lessons they teach. And, of course, also how flaws in systems (or even emergent properties) can cause systems to really run amok, or enable players to really break everything.

That then leads to some anecdotes and postmortem thoughts from Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Most of these are probably ones that many of you have heard about before:

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Nov 052013
 

Here are the slides for my talk at EVA ’13 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last week. They are in Spanish, of course.

If I had to summarize the talk, I would say that it covered a lot of the same sort of ground I have touched on before in terms of the ways in which games teach systems thinking. I open with some discussion of the wide range of stuff that we call “games” — something that is also discussed in the GDCNext talk I am posting shortly. I talk about what a ludic structure looks like (something that folks who read the blog will probably find familiar), and the way in which ludic structures arise naturally in the world, and thereby are playable even though they are not designed games.

And then I move into anecdotes on exploits and loopholes and other ways in which we didn’t grasp everything about the systems we ourselves had designed, in games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. The talk ends on speculation on what we’re doing to the world, as we create systems that break outside of games. Are we the most qualified to do this? We might be.

It likely loses a lot without the actual speech, compared to most of my slideshows, but hopefully the video will go up at some point. In the meantime, the PDF is here.

 

Aug 282013
 

I didn’t plan it this way, but we have two interviews on back to back days! This one was for Adam Tingle over at MMORPG.com, and it focuses mostly on MMOs specifically, as you might expect, with a lot of retrospective stuff. You can read it here.

We talk a bit about the making of Ultima Online, the development travails of SWG, the promise of Metaplace, and even the origins of sandboxy features back in LegendMUD. A snippet:

MMORPG: Do you believe in structuring a players experience, or prefer giving them tools to create a more emergent adventure?

Raph Koster: Both, really. But I strongly believe that you can’t build the emergent tools on top of a static world. As soon as you decide to make storytelling or quests or whatever the basis of your experience, you sacrifice having dynamic and emergent things in the game, because you can’t break or upset all the static content. Whereas if you start with a foundation of simulation or UGC, and layer static stuff on top, that works fine, because the static content is built to assume shifting foundations.

Sep 172012
 

On Saturday I met with the Omaha Game Developers Association in a Google Hangout for a couple of hours of interview-style questions. The whole thing was streamed live on YouTube and also captured afterwards, so here it is for those who have the patience.

Among the things we talked about:

And way more… vid after the break.

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