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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Sep 062012

So the third thing I will be doing at GDCOnline has now been announced:

A Theory of Fun 10 Years Later

Design | 60-Minute | Track Keynote | All

Ten years ago, at the very first Austin Game Conference, online gaming pioneer Raph Koster delivered an inspiring keynote on why games matter, how they teach players, and what fun is. That talk served as the foundation for his valuable book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, challenging game makers to build entertaining, engaging, and addictive experiences. Now, for the tenth anniversary of his presentation, Koster will revisit A Theory of Fun to discuss what has changed in the science and the theory in the intervening years.

Yup, this is actually the tenth anniversary of the original Theory of Fun talk. Hard to believe! I think most did not become aware of it until I reprised it as the keynote of the Serious Games Summit at GDC the next year… And then, of course, the book also followed later that year too.

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Game talkMiscOnline Game Legend

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Aug 302012

Today the press release went out announcing that I was selected to receive the Online Game Legend Award at the GDC Online Choice Awards. This award is voted on by fellow developers, and it’s basically a lifetime achievement award.

The Online Game Legend Award recognizes the career and achievements of one particular creator who has made an indelible impact on the craft of online game development.

This rather leaves one thinking, “Well, now what?”

(Warning: introspection ahead…)

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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 talkTwo cultures and games

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Jul 062012

In which I act like a crotchety old man urging the kids off my lawn.

Between this piece at Gamasutra by Neils Clark (and especially Keith Burgun‘s comments in the discussion thread), and this blog post that caught my eye, “Designing for Grace”, I am struck once again by the way in which the gap between two cultures is causing strife in the game design community.

I mean, take a look at what Jonas Kyratzes says in “Designing for Grace”:

To say that story is a form of feedback rather than a game mechanic is not so much to make an incorrect statement (well, it is, but let’s not go there now) as to make a statement about a different matter in a different language on a different planet in a different universe[emphasis mine]

Holy Cow. Talk about a culture gap. Now, he goes on to discuss what it is he aims for, which is “grace,” and which he defines as something very real, but that the engineering-minded cannot grasp.

This is temper-tantrum-inducing for me, because I have been working hard on being an artist for a period approximately equal to the time that Jonas Kyratzes has been alive.

But I have no beef with him overall, really, because Jonas Kyratzes is reaching for the value of games.

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Game talkGDCOnline reg is open

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Jun 142012


Game Developers Conference Online 10.09.12 – 10.11.12 | Austin, TX.

This will be the tenth anniversary of what was once known as just the “Austin Game Conference.” It has always been focused on online, from the first day, back when getting together enough people to talk about online games for multiple days was a challenge.

Now online is where it’s at — just as we were saying all those years ago. It’s shaping up to be a a great set of sessions (disclaimer: I am on the advisory board, so I am biased!).

Trivia: this means it will also be the tenth anniversary of “A Theory of Fun” — the original talk was a keynote at the very first conference.

ReadingRay Bradbury, RIP

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Jun 062012

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . .

“Boy,” whispered Douglas.

Dandelion Wine

MiscMinor blog downtime

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May 102012

The blog’s hosting server is getting an upgrade sometime in the next 48 hours… there will likely be some downtime in the early morning hours. They tell me it may last up to a couple of hours.

Game talkGDC Online 2012 Call for Speakers

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Apr 202012

I’m on the Advisory Board again this year. Submit your talks!

GDC Online 2012 Call for Speakers Open through May 2

The call for submissions to present lectures, roundtables, full day tutorials and
panels at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) Online 2012 is
now open through Wednesday, May 2nd.

GDC Online focuses on the development of connected games including
social network titles, free-to-play web games, kid-friendly online
titles, large-scale MMOs, and beyond. The event returns to Austin, Texas
on October 9-11, 2012.

The advisory board is seeking submissions from social & online game
professionals with expertise in any of the following tracks: Business
& Marketing, Design, Production, Programming and Customer Experience.
We are also accepting submissions for the four summit programs; Game
Narrative Summit, Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit, Game Dev Start-Up
Summit and GDC Gamification Summit.

*Please see our submission guidelines and full details here:

*Submit a proposal here: