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.

 

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 talkThe ludic fallacy

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Dec 092008
 

I was just pointed to this wonderful essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.

First Quadrant: Simple binary decisions, in Mediocristan: Statistics does wonders. These situations are, unfortunately, more common in academia, laboratories, and games than real life—what I call the “ludic fallacy”. In other words, these are the situations in casinos, games, dice, and we tend to study them because we are successful in modeling them.

–Edge: THE FOURTH QUADRANT: A MAP OF THE LIMITS OF STATISTICS By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It’s not the only ludic fallacy I can think of. Recently I had a discussion with a management and leadership consultant, and we were discussing the generational characteristics of Millenials versus Gen X in the workforce, and we were talking about how a gamer mentality may have affected the way Gen Y behaves in the workplace: more likely to follow the rules, more likely to work in teams, more needful of reassurance, less creative and risk-taking, less likely to see the full scope of irreversible consequences of a choice, and less likely to see things in shades of gray. In a way, these sound like thinking trained by games. Continue reading »

Game talkAvatar-the-word

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Oct 292008
 

I turned to F. Randall Farmer, a creator of the online multiplayer game Lucasfilm’s Habitat, for the origins of the term’s current incarnation. He and Chip Morningstar invented the game in 1986, when they also coined avatar in the “online persona” sense (though gamers had already been exposed to the word’s Sanskrit meaning with the 1985 computer role-playing game, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.) “Chip came up with the word ‘avatar,’ ” he recounts, “because back then, pre-Internet, you had to call a number with your telephone and then set it back into the cradle. You were reaching out into this game quite literally through a silver strand. The avatar was the incarnation of a deity, the player, in the online world. We liked the idea of the puppet master controlling his puppet, but instead of using strings, he was using a telephone line.”

–On Language – Avatar – NYTimes.com.

Very nice, but — “toon” does not come from Toontown, Randy! I first heard it in connection with Sierra’s The Realm; I remember being slightly confused when some Realm players logged into UO and started talking about how small their toons were.

Most mudders, of course, referred to this as a “character,” taken from D&D, and that carried through into UO, since we were mostly mudder types. But to my mind, both the avatar and the character are the same sort of thing — a graphical version of what we tend to call a profile in a broader web sense. Be it icon, textual description, or a/s/l, it’s just identifying information.

It may be that Second Life is indeed why “avatar” is so widespread today, though I would be just as likely to give the credit to Snow Crasha major inspiration to many of the virtual worlds of the 90s. There were bokos and conferences called “avatar” during this time period. Snow Crash frequently got mistaken credit for the coinage.

Another minor sidelight: a few years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary was running a project on finding the earliest citations of science-fictional words, and I did manage to get Chip & Randy proper credit. :)

Game talkInterdependent systems

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Apr 222008
 

Next Generation has an informative email from Russell Williams, the CEO of Flying Lab, giving the reasons why they are having to merge servers. It’s a great insight into the complex equation involved in estimating how many servers to have.

One of the items in particular caught my eye:

Game systems
Pirates’ gameplay is very organic, designed in such a way that the different systems feed into one another. In a PvE-only game, focusing mainly on content, this isn’t a big deal. But in Pirates of the Burning Sea we have systems that require a minimum number of players to function correctly, such as our economy, and they break other systems if they’re not working correctly (such as PvP). If we didn’t have these kinds of interdependent systems, we wouldn’t even be considering server merges.

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Game talkGanking, meaning, and playing as you are

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Feb 062007
 

Thomas Malaby has an interesting post on ganking over at terra Nova in which he suggests that ganking isn’t a game, because there’s no challenge, and that gankers are effectively “ducking the question” by not really participating in the game structures. (Ganking is defined as “someone powerful attacking someone weak.”) The article seems primarily influenced by the sort of ganking that occurs in World of Warcraft.

I’m speculating that ganking happens when a player who does not want to be challenged to play a game (i.e., encounters where the outcome is contingent), instead opts to do something where the outcome is a foregone conclusion: kill a player that is vastly lower in capabilities. If meaning is found at the meeting point of inherited systems of interpretation (cultural expectations) and the performative demands of singular circumstances (something I talked about here), then ganking is a denial of that meaning. It is a retreat from the demands of the new, and it signals a disposition that does not want to be performatively challenged. Ganking lower level players is, then, a somewhat pathetic attempt to feel, well, something.

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