The Ready Player One MMO was Metaplace

 Posted by (Visited 11620 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.

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.

Aug 272013
 

I did a little interview with Patrick Miller for Gamasutra, as part of the run-up to GDCNext. A snippet:

How do you see the role of games (and the kind of experience players expect) changing? Are there any games/other work do you see around you now that is indicative of an emerging trend in this regard — something which you think you’ll later point to as a watershed moment in the evolution of video games?

It feels like we are swimming in this water already and not realizing it. Just recently, Gone Home charted on Steam above some big AAA releases. That’s a landmark moment right there. The press has already turned the corner to a significant degree – the debates over the artistic merits of a title like BioShock Infinite were already louder to my ears than the sort of traditional review discussion we used to get. The titles under discussion by craftspeople at conferences are the indie games, not the AAA games. We’ve seen the rise of artist enclaves, bohemian attitudes, old guard resistance, jejune manifestos (mind you, I think virtually all manifestos are jejune) and all the rest.

I think the floodgates are open. We’re at the point now where the kids who grew up with widespread “mass market” gaming are adults and are steeped in the gamer culture and mindset, and with that is coming all the self-examination, the desire to see substantial thematic content, and so on. The revolution has happened.

via Gamasutra – What’s Next? Koster talks ‘the revolution’, future of games.

I am sure I will take flak for the jejune bit. #nodads 😉

Tools don’t stifle art!

 Posted by (Visited 10593 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Aug 132013
 

Luke McMillan has a nice article on Gamasutra entitled “An Intro to RLD,” which is about using math to assess the difficulty of jumping puzzles (and by extension, other parts of the content ramp in your game design).

I’m not here to talk about the article. It’s a nice article. I’m here to talk about one of the reactions to it.

The article is a nice, straightforward illustration of how quantitative methods can bring greater clarity to something that designers do every day, usually by “feel.” And of course, the challenge with “feel” is that it only arises from experience. As I have termed it before, the “apprenticeship model” of learning game design: you do it until you develop the feel, and have internalized heuristics of your own for things like difficulty ramps. Then you struggle to communicate those heuristics to others, and they learn it the hard way themselves.

Michael Joseph, in the comments, states the following:

  • that the article shows “a desire to depersonalize game design”
  • that no one has “proved that ‘zen’ style of game design is a significant problem”
  • that these methods are “design encroachment tool by the business side so that any hairless monkey can churn out a game”
  • and that the method “reminds me of the Auto-Tune used by some singers with questionable talent.”

McMillan responded very politely to this comment. I on the other hand… this stuff makes me mad enough to be sarcastic and blunt. I apologize in advance to Joseph, since I know his track record in the industry, and it doesn’t seem reflective of the comments he’s making.

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Ways To Be Right

 Posted by (Visited 7838 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Aug 062013
 

In response to http://ellaguro.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-talk-of-magicians.html:

You can choose an art style that is broadly accessible, or not.
You can have training in your new mechanics, or not.
You can expect to make money at your art, or not.
You can see your art as a business, or not.
You can regard player needs as paramount, or not.
You can require absolute adherence to your own artistic vision, or not.
You can embrace the sordid need for marketing, or not.
You can select a populist price point, or not.
You can wish for many to embrace your work, or not.

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