Game talkOnline Game Pioneers at Work

 Posted by (Visited 559 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
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.

Continue reading »

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.

bullet

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:

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Nov 212014
 

500px-WOW_logoTen years of World of Warcraft. Well. So many thoughts.

WoW has always been a contradiction of sorts: not the pioneer, but the one that solidified the pattern. Not the experimenter, but the one that reaped the rewards. Not the innovator, but the one that was well-designed, built solidly, and made appealing. It was the MMO that took what has always been there, and delivered it in a package that was truly broadly appealing, enough so to capture the larger gamer audience for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a knock on it. If anything, it’s possibly the biggest game design achievement in all of virtual world history. After all, we’re talking about taking a game skeleton that was at that point already almost a decade and a half old, one which had literally had hundreds of iterations, hundreds of games launched. None of them ever reached that sort of audience, that sort of milestone, that sort of polish level.

Continue reading »

Game talkRandom UO anecdote #2

 Posted by (Visited 5181 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
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. 

Game talkImaginary Realities is back!

 Posted by (Visited 2791 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Dec 172013
 

And here’s the link to Imaginary Realities vol 5 issue 1!

image00

For those who don’t know, Imaginary Realities is the mud-related journal originally published by David Bennett. It disappeared way back in 2001, but Richard Tew has resurrected it. I’ve already glanced through the first new set of articles, and there’s some interesting stuff there for both MUD devs and non-mudders, I think.

All the original issues are mirrored, so if you want to look at the stuff that ran from ’98 to ’01, it’s there too!

 

Game talkGamemakingThe Ready Player One MMO was Metaplace

 Posted by (Visited 8111 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: ,
Aug 302013
 


MMORPG.com has an article about a hypothetical Ready Player One MMO.

For those who haven’t read it, Ready Player One is a novel by Ernest Cline that describes a network of virtual spaces running on a common operating system, called OASIS. The story is a fun romp, not too deep, about a kid who is looking for the secret prize hidden in an insane scavenger hunt scenario by the network’s creator.

The book is full of geek references. The skillful playing of Joust is a key point; so is the ability to recite Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from memory. But of course, part of what captivates a gamer is the description of OASIS itself: a giant network of virtual spaces, capable of encompassing pretty much every sort of virtual space you might want.

So the article asks, what about building something like that. Well, we did.

Metaplace predated the novel. But really, the book describes basically what we built, and which is now gone. (The tech survives, within Disney, but isn’t used in this fashion anymore).

I think many MMORPG fans were barely even aware it existed, because really, it got almost no marketing. And while we were around, people were perpetually confused as to what it was. Frankly, I found it too big an idea to wrap up well in a marketing message.

  • a generic server architecture that could handle anything from arcade games to MMOs. Servers ran in the cloud, so it was designed to be really, really scalable. Just keep adding worlds. At the time we closed it, there were tens of thousands of them.
  • the ability for players to own and make their own spaces. You didn’t even need to know how to make stuff in 3d modeling, it imported SketchUp from Google Warehouse even. You didn’t need to host your own art.
  • scriptable to the point where you could make a whole game in it. The scripting used Lua, which was a barrier for people. We had made moves towards letting people snap together behaviors (drag and drop AI onto something in the world, for example) but probably didn’t go far enough.
  • full web connectivity in and out, so that you could have stuff from the real world manifest in the games, or game stuff feed out to the web. Like, an MMO where the mobs are driven by stock quotes was easy to make. Or hooking a Metaplace world up to say Moodle (for education) or having NPCs read their dialogue from external sources. We had one world which performed any Shakespeare play by reading the plays off of a remote server, spawning NPCs for all the parts, and interpreting the stage directions.
  • agnostic as far as client, so you could connect lo-fi or full fancy 3d — in theory. We never got to the 3d, but we had clients running on mobile devices, PCs, and in web browsers. If we were still pursuing it, you can bet we’d be doing an Oculus version right about now. :)
  • worlds connected to one another, and you might change from world to world, but you also had a common identity across all the worlds. You could walk from Pac-Man into Azeroth, so to speak.

I think a lot of people were turned off by the 2d graphics, and a lot were turned off by the fact that there wasn’t a full MMO there to just play, and a lot of people found building too hard. A huge part of why we didn’t succeed is that we were too many things to too many different people, and that split our efforts in far too many directions. The result was a tight but small community that never started to really grow.

But if you were ever wondering why something like the Ready Player One/Snow Crash style world hasn’t been made — well, there it was… open from 2007 to 2009. It saddens me to see it forgotten so quickly, though in many ways it really did end up as just a footnote in virtual world history. I get a lot of “the last thing you did was SWG in 2003″ from people who clearly didn’t know it existed or weren’t interested because it wasn’t a hack n slash gameworld.

I might spend the time to dig through some screenshot archives and post up some examples of what got made. I miss that community a lot.

Game talkUO Classic Postmortem video on GDCVault

 Posted by (Visited 6200 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
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…