Game talkRandom UO anecdote #2

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Aug 162014
 

UOHorseI just stumbled across this old story I told somewhere, and thought I’d share more widely.

In Ultima Online, the player was a container — one you couldn’t open, but which held your equipped items, your backpack which was the container you could actually see, etc. Because of the freeform “gump”1 style containment system used in the Ultimas, you could position anything to any location in a container, which meant they were basically treated like maps, with coordinate systems in them.

Then we added mounts.

When you rode a horse, we simply put the horse inside the player, and spawned a pair of pants that looked like your horse, which you then equipped and wore.

When we first did this, however, we forgot to make the horse stop acting like a horse. Pretty soon there was a rash of server crashes because the horse inside the player was wandering around, picking up the stuff it found inside the player, rifling through the player’s backpack and eating things it thought were edible, and eventually, wandering “off the map” because the player’s internal coordinate system was pretty small, and the edges weren’t impassable.


  1. According to UoGuide, “graphical user menu pop-up.” It was the term that was used at Origin back then, long-forgotten now expect maybe among the UO emu community. Basically, any UI window of arbitrary shape floating above the game. In UO, inventory systems did not use slots but free placement on a coordinate system. 

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.

Game talkUO Classic Postmortem video on GDCVault

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Jan 042013
 

Ultima Online is, of course, still very much alive. But that didn’t stop us from doing a Classic Game Postmortem at GDCOnline this past fall. The GDCVault has posted it up for free here:

GDC Vault – Classic Game Postmortem: Ultima Online.

No embed, alas.

The session was very informal — don’t expect a lot of actually useful development takeaways, five things that went well and five poorly in Gamasutra-approved format, any of that. Instead, it’s mostly war stories and anecdotes.

A thing you cannot see in the vid — when at the very start Starr asks how many people in the room worked on UO, a lot of people in the room stood up. And when asked who played — it was almost everyone. A nice moment.

Oct 112012
 

Well, we basically winged it, but it was a blast. We told stories, mostly out of order; fessed up to bad code and goofy decisions and being painfully young; and lamented the loss of that sens of crazy freedom.

Luckily, Gamasutra has you covered if you weren’t in the full house.

In the alpha, the team had wolves that chased rabbits across the map as part of its emergent gameplay system.

In those early days, the rabbits would actually level up if they got into a fight with a wolf and managed to escape.

“People would wander off in the alpha and try to kill a rabbit, and pretty soon they were playing Monty Python: The MMO,” joked Koster.

The game was tweaked to disallow this, though Koster confesses that they left one monster rabbit in the world when the final game shipped.

I wore my original UO shirt… and forgot to point it out! Doh!

Basically, during the period when we were skunkworks and ignored by the company (it was mutual, we ignored them back) we did our own marketing. So that meant we made our own t-shirts with a made-up logo. And I still have that shirt, in surprisingly good shape for being from 1996. All credit to Clay Hoffman for making it, way back when…

 

 

Game talkUltima Online is fifteen

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Sep 252012
 

Today was the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of Ultima Online. For those who would like to read up on some of the stuff I have written in the past, you can do so by clicking here. Warning: rambling ahead…

Here’s something that I think no one has ever seen. My wife and I were driving from Alabama (where we were in grad school) to Austin, to visit friends there — Sherry Menton and Rick Delashmit. All four of us worked together on LegendMUD.

Kristen and I had been talking about making another mud, one with deeper simulation elements. We talked about having abstract properties running behind things, instead of hard-coding every quest. How much cooler would it be, we thought, if the NPCs were simulated entities, rather than merely responding to player actions?

We took notes on a pad of paper, as we drove. We took turns, which is why the handwriting in these images changes:

One of those pages has the old address of Ancient Anguish, a mud we were checking out. It’s still up. As you can see, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by my wife, the economist. :) Some of this stuff ended up making it into LegendMUD — the weather stuff, for example. You also see there the notes on the genesis of the moods system that was first in Legend, then eventually in Star Wars Galaxies. It wasn’t until ’05 that I was able to do the water flowing downhill stuff, as part of an R&D project at SOE that was never used for anything. It worked, though.

Here was born the resource system. When we were asked to submit design samples, the resource system is what we sent in. It was more elaborated than this, much closer to what was eventually built for the game. Then they asked us to submit quest samples. They had sent us some sample code, to ask if we could read and understand it. We could… and we weren’t very impressed by it. I sent in the Beowulf quest from Legend as my sample…

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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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Game talkGDCOnline: Ultima Online postmortem

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Aug 172012
 

Game Developers Conference | Check out the origin of Ultima Online at GDC Online 2012.

This is one of three things that I’ll be doing at GDCO in Austin this October. I’ll let you know what the other two are as they get announced. :) Have you registered yet? Why not?

Speaker/s: Rich Vogel (Independent)Raph Koster (Playdom, San Diego) and Starr M. Long (The Walt Disney Company)
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Design , Production / 60-Minute / Lecture / All
GDC Vault Recording: TBD

Description: At first, it was mostly a team of newbies. For a while, the office space was a few rooms on a floor that was gutted for construction — you could literally walk off the 5th floor of building and plunge to your death if you weren’t careful. The artists sat in the hallway. And the team was out to change everything. Ultima Online was not only one of the first graphical MMORPGs, it also set the standard for player vs player combat and sandbox/emergent gameplay in online titles for many years to come. Three of the UO team’s chief members — Raph Koster, Rich Vogel, and Starr Long (all of whom went on to shape the online gaming landscape) — will deliver a postmortem on the landmark title, reflecting on the challenges they faced from early development to maintaining the game well after its launch. Come learn how a combination of insane ambition and idealistic cluelessness can sometimes result in creating something that changes people’s lives and the course of an industry.

Takeaway: Skunkworks development can actually work! Learn about the challenges in spinning up a service organization from scratch. And what exactly happened with that crazy dragons eating deer thing?

Game talk“Making of UO” articles at MMORPG.com

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Feb 172012
 

Read them here: Ultima Online UO General Article: The Making of a Classic Part 1 and part two.

I wasn’t able to really sit down with Adam Tingle, the author, but he did run around the blog archives a fair amount. There’s some inaccuracies here and there, but it’s a decent overview.

Some things I spotted:

Throughout 1979 Garriott would design his computer role-playing game, revising it, adding to it, showing his friends, and finally when “D&D 28b” was finished, he renamed it Aklabeth…

It’s “Akalabeth” not “Aklabeth” — you can actually play it on your iOS device these days.

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