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, 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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Mar 202012

Once upon a time, there was a game set in a science fiction universe where the economy was very important. Its name was not Eve.

In this game, players could, if they so chose, run a business. They could

  • designate a building as a shop
  • hire an NPC bot to stand in it
  • give the bot items to hold for sale
  • specify the prices at which those items would sell
  • customize the bot in a variety of ways
  • make use of advertising facilities to market the shop
  • decorate the shop any way they pleased

With this basic facility, emergent gameplay tied to the way that the crafting system worked resulted in players who chose to run shops being able to do things Ike build supply chains, manage regular inventory, develop regular customer bases, build marketing campaigns, and in general, play a lemonade stand writ large.

The upshot was that at peak, fully half the players in Star Wars Galaxies ran a shop.
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Game talkDynamic POIs

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Apr 302010

Way back in Pre-CU [Star Wars Galaxies] while ‘walking’ from Eisley to AnchorHead a Twi’lek (I think) stated my avatar by name (could be wrong) and gave me a disk then some stormies spawned and killed her then came after me.

Anyone ever finish this quest? What was it like?

This was a rather complex quest. Does anyone know how this was coded? Why would my avatar be chosen over others?

Daylen, posting over at

The Twi’lek slave girl quest was part of what we called “dynamic POI’s.”

A normal POI is a “point of interest” — something to break up generic wilderness. it was a term we used back in the UO days that we got from Richard Garriott, and was probably older still. POI’s are normally placed by hand, of course; you sculpt a location for them, add a little bit of something unique or flavorful, maybe some interaction, and there you go. They can be as small as a little faerie mushroom ring, or as large as a bandit camp or something. In other words, they are the static content of a world… usually not the main quest lines, but just “interesting stuff.”

Of course, adding these in by hand is excruciatingly slow and requires an army of developers. That’s the cost of content. In a game as large as SWG, we had a real issue here. At one point, there was a large roomful of junior developers who did nothing but put down little interesting locations on the maps… and it was nowhere near enough, particularly since they had no interactivity with them.

Part of the solution that we wanted to try, then was dynamic POIs.

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Jun 082009

Regular blog reader mrseb has a blog post up on emotional avatars in virtual worlds inspired by this article (it’s behind a reg wall).

In short, the research is about how important blushing is as a social lubricant, as evincing embarrassment or shame serves to reinforce the social rules held in common by groups of people. It’s a sign that the person knows they are transgressing to some degree and is sorry for it, and people judging them tend to treat them less harshly.

Which leads Sebastian to ask (emphasis mine!),

Why are we still running around in virtual worlds with emotionless, gormless avatars?

It’s not that the question hasn’t been asked before. For example, back in 2005 Bob Moore, Nic Ducheneaut, and Eric Nickell of PARC gave a talk at what was then AGC (you can grab the PDF here)., which I summarized here with

The presentation by the guys from PARC on key things that would improve social contact in MMOs was very useful and interesting. Eye contact, torso torque, looking where people are pointing, not staring, anims for interface actions so you can tell when someone is checking inventory, display of typed characters in real-time rather than when ENTER is hit, emphatic gestures automatically, pointing gestures and other emotes that you can hold, exaggerated faces anime super-deformed style or zoomed in inset displays of faces, so that the facial anims can be seen at a distance… the list was long, and all of it would make the worlds seem more real.

I was at that talk, and in the Q&A section, which was really more of a roundtable discussion, the key thing that came up was cost.

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Jun 022009

Still confused about this use of the word persistence; coming here with the dictionary meaning and trying to understand a seeming contradictory concept.

— David, in a comment in the earlier post

The technical sense of the term arises from “persisting something to the runtime database.” The base states are usually in a template database of some sort, along with all the other static data. The template database is read-only as the game is running, and only developers get access to it. The runtime database is where everything that players do goes. (See here and here for more).

The base data in the static template database doesn’t count as “persistent” or “persisted” because it’s actually baked into the world’s rules in some fashion, as a starter state. Delete everything in the runtime database, and that map will still be there, usually. You will have playerwiped WoW, but the world of WoW will still be there: every loot drop, every monster, every quest, every house.

The virtual world definition of the term means “to save changes on top of the base dataset.” So a base character starts with no real gear and newb stats, and a designer sets that up in the template database as the definition of a newbie character. But we save their advancement. That’s persisting a character to the runtime database. The stats and gear might go up OR down, but they are different from the base.
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Jan 072001

Let’s see, what’s up.

I’ll be speaking at the end of January at Entertainment in the Interactive Age. The official invite looks like this:

The University of Southern California’s

Annenberg Center for Communication


The Interactive Digital Software Association


Entertainment in the Interactive Age

Join leading game designers, critics, researches and educators for a

two-day exploration of the art and craft of interactive entertainment

and game design.

For conference information and to register online, visit our web site


Some of the other folks who will be there include Geoff Zatkin, Warren Spector, Will Wright (keynote for him, of course!), Drs. Greg & Ray from Bioware, Janet Murray of Hamlet on the Holodeck, Hal Barwood, Tim Schafer, and more. It should be a lot of fun, and it’ll be nice to see some of these guys at a place other than E3 or GDC! The project is going well, but I can’t talk about it. But check out the official Star Wars Galaxies website for info. I have been posting there under the name Holocron. Yet another handle to add to the ever-lengthier list… *sigh* I have a bunch of updates to the Online World Timeline to do, but I didn’t get it done for this update. I kinda want to rearrange how I did the timeline, since it seems to have turned into a somewhat more widely used resource than I expected.

Crossroads of WWII Online recently reprinted a little thing I wrote on monthly fees being necessary for online games as part of their FAQ. I hear it also made the news at Evil Avatar. Maybe I should add it to this site too. :)

Got a note asking to use Declaring the Rights of Players as a debate topic in a debate society on Cybertown. That should be interesting, but I never heard about it again…

Game talkRecent News

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Dec 092000

I’ve added a recent interview I did with to the Gaming/Talks section. I hope to add the second “Myschyf’s Roundtable” soon as well (once I get permission).

The cat is out of the bag–I’m working on Star Wars Galaxies. The site went live, and I am back on the boards. It’s nice to be in contact with players again.