Just a link to one of Aaron William’s (Nodwick, PS238) newest endeavors… (In case you aren’t familiar with his work… Mr. Williams is a legendary gaming/RPG cartoonist from the early days of Dragon Magazine… Nodwick the henchman has been around for decades.)

Backwards Compatible

From the strip for Feb 13, 2008 (I’ll try to get the direct link for posterity’s sake later):

“MMOs are practically Barbie Dolls for gamers… it’s all about having the hottest outfit, whether they’re armored or have a cape.”

On the mud-dev mailing list, Mike Rozak wrote…

Several amateur MMORPG development kits are now on the market (Multiverse, Realmcrafter, Torque), with more to come. Some amateur authors are using the toolkits, but despite the fact that there are around 100x as many MMORPG players as MUD players, there only seem to be 10x as many amateur MMORPG authors as amateur MUD authors. Why is this? Where are all the amateur MMORPG devs?

Number of worlds as a metric:

MudConnector lists 1500 text MUDs. Sure, a lot of them are dead, so let’s assume the real number is 200 (just to be on the completely-safe side).

Those 200 MUDs are supported by a community of (my guestimate) 200K players. (It used to be 400K(?) pre MMORPGs.)

In other words, there is about a 1:1000 ratio of MUDs to players. Given a guestimate of 5 contributers per MUD (could be only 2), that means that 1 in 200 players are contributers. Or it could be 1 in 500 (if only 2 contributers per MUD on average).

There are approximatelly 20 million MMORPG players (100x the number of MUD players). Why aren’t there 200×100 = 20,000 amateur MMORPGs out there? Why aren’t there 40,000 amateur authors contributing to these worlds?

Yeah, sure, MMORPGs are more difficult to create, etc. So why aren’t there just 2000 worlds (not 20,000)? Or even 200?

The tools are available, albeit not very stable/mature: There’s Multiverse, RealmCrafter, and Torque. Metaplace is coming. My own toolkit (kind of MMORPG-like) is coming.

And there’s NWN 1 & 2, which actually do have around 200 worlds. Multiverse lists around 25 worlds, with (as far as I can tell) only a few being public, and none (as far as I know) are actually done. Realmcrafter’s forums are only accessible if you purchase RealmCrafter, so I haven’t been able to gague their developer population, but from posts elsewhere (and searches), it seems like only a few worlds are limping along. Torque has Minions of Mirth, and a few groups proudly displaying screenshots, but not much else.

Forum posts as a metric:

Watching the forums, it feels like hundreds of amateur authors (maybe a thousand) are out there. Not 40,000. MudConnect and TopMudSites get 10 (?) developer/author posts a day. Multiverse and MMORPGMaker are around 20-ish each. Even the NWN1 and NWN2 forums, while more active that MudConnector and TopMudSites, are not super busy (50 dev posts a day?).

Given 100x the players (MMORPG to MUD), I’d expect 100x the amateur authors, and 100x the forum posts… that’s around 1000 posts a day. My rough count is more like 100 posts per day on all the MMORPG-ish development forums.

Why haven’t amateur authors flocked to these tools?

For my part, I would respond with 3 points…

First, MMORPGs are a more visceral experience than the text MUD.  While there is possibly a similar ratio of discontent and interest in exploring alternatives for both MMOs and MUDs, I would suggest that there is far greater “low level” participation in the MMO realm… which I would define as people who are interested in being entertained, nothing more…. because it is easier for the typical individual to relate to and interact with the visual elements of the interface.  Such individuals, upon growing discontent, do not look to create their own alternative, but rather simply turn to some other form of diversion.

Second, MMO creation is difficult, particularly because it is multi-disciplinary in nature.  Not that writing a decent MUD is simple: however, it really only requires a fair amount of imagination, programming skills, and an ability to write engaging prose is a plus.  By contrast, a decent MMO requires artistic ability to generate sprites, models, animations, and what-have-you; some sound effect and music compositional skills are helpful; and knowledge of user interface design techniques is highly relevant, all in addition to the skills for the MUD developer above.

Most of the packages mentioned make few attempts to provide a comprehensive set of graphical elements as part of their distribution.  Help files and documentation is often highly technical, and fairly spotty to boot… meant more as a reference than a guide.  Examples are rudimentary and relatively poor in terms of leading interested parties through the process of generating a sample world to begin to flesh out.  In some cases, costs can run into the $500-1000 dollar range just to get a rudimentary world in place with a handful of models to animate.  In short, they are not currently situated to truly encourage widespread amateur use.  (Much the same is true in the MUD realm, and even arguably more so in some ways… but the simpler nature of the task, combined with the more focussed skill set requirements and cost-free access to materials, still equates to a far lower barrier to entry, I suspect.)

Finally, the question as posed in the email essentially assumes the the MUD/MMO crowds are fundamentally separate, that there is no crossover whatsoever between the MUD and MMO sets of participants.  I don’t believe that is really the case.

While it may be true that a large percentage of MMO participants are relatively uninterested in MUDs (see point #1), I question whether the reverse is the case.  Is it not likely that an individual with an interest in creating an MMO might not start by investigating MUDs, as a simple, relatively straightforward introduction to the endeavor?  They might quickly move on, or become discouraged and drop the idea entirely… but they’d still be counted in both MUDs and MMOs, not just one or the other.

Anyway, those are some of my random thoughts on the topic… anyone out there with a different take?

… Boo!

Okay, it only seems like it.  As you may have guessed, real life got in the way for a while there.  Pesky stuff.  To borrow from Night Court… “but I’m MUCH better NOW.”

Of course, getting back into the groove is harder than it seems.  Sadly, I haven’t even been keeping up with my usual round of blogs.  I have no idea where the conversations are now… ah, well, I’ve always been a bit off the beaten track anyway.

Random stuff, to start…

  • If you have a fascination with disasters-in-the-making, I am currently scheduled to run a roundtable at the IMGDC.  At least it’s a roundtable (I shouldn’t have to talk much, praise heaven), and on a topic I have some claim to experience with: the concept of roleplaying, and how it might apply to MMO design and development.  I’ve even got my own little picture and promo on the presenter’s page, if you can believe that.  (WARNING: my visage has been known to induce screaming fits in small children.  View with caution.)
  • I can’t remember if I’ve ever linked to this in the past, so… www.onrpg.com is a site I ran across a bit ago that links to a variety of indie, free-to-play MMOs, “engines”, and the like.  Might be of interest, in case you’re casting about for something to fill some time or offer inspiration.
  • It being election season here in the U.S. (is it ever NOT election season?), I’ve been shoehorning in a little candidate research, and ran across this WoW-related gem (titled “re: Your Brains”) on a couple of political blogs.  Not sure if it’s made the rounds on the MMO blogs yet… I thought it was quite humorous.

Well, more tomorrow.  I’ve actually had a few topics building up steam of late… I may actually have something of potential interest to pontificate on!  (That’d be a change, huh?)

Building on previous posts in the same line: for example, this one on potential Races, this on potential Travel options, and this on Economic levels and options… rambling through some of the occasional thoughts I’ve had re: a mutation mechanism for a Gamma World type of setting.  As always, feedback is welcomed.

The Difficulty

As most probably already know, mutation in real life (in most known lifeforms) doesn’t really work the way it is presented within the Gamma World mythos: “expressed” mutation is a process which occurs over generations of offspring, not within a single individual.  Since the setting is at least implied to be a future version of our own world, this is a potentially significant issue: if it doesn’t work this way now, why would it in the future?  However, the concept of mutation occurring regularly to an individual is a central concept to the Gamma World paradigm (and a sizable factor in making it an interesting setting)… I want to retain it for the implementation.

There are two basic options for dealing with the apparent disconnect between “how things really work” and “how things work in this imaginary future”: 1) simply ignore it, or 2) come up with an explanation for why this changes.  My preference is to attempt the latter: nothing wrong with going the former route, I just believe that by developing a coherent (tho fanciful) story for why this change occurs, a foundation for further enhancement and future decision making is also created, making a consistent setting and plot more likely.

This is a long one… much more beneath the fold…

Read the rest of this entry »

If you’ve ever read any of my random musings on my “dream design”, you may recall running across references to “Awareness” scores in one form or another.  One of the challenges I was fighting with (prior to getting buried at the office) was how to effectively convey the needed information about Awareness to the player in order to make it a viable and interesting part of the design.

Fundamentals

In Voyages, the Awareness score is an objective mechanism meant to measure whether the character detects various potential events/stimuli, and in what level of detail.  Prevalent examples of situations in existing games/systems that would be analogous might be things like trap detection, secret door detection, listening at doors, detecting hidden/invisible opponents, etc.  In Voyages, the intent was to take the concept to a finer level of detail than is usually offered, and give increased control to the player.

In essence, the player is asked to monitor and control up to two related Awareness scores: a “general” score and a “focus” score.  The “focus” score applies to whatever specific stimuli the player indicates the character is focusing on: selecting a trap detection technique, for example, would tie the “focus” score to that endeavor, leaving all other stimuli to be compared to the (usually lower) general score instead.

On the other side of the coin, every stimuli is assigned two threshhold ratings: a “detection” rating and a higher “recognition” rating.  If the character’s current Awareness exceeds the “detection” rating, the player is notified of the stimuli in general terms (“You hear someone speaking quietly nearby.”)  If the “recognition” rating is exceeded, far greater detail is offered, potentially limited by other knowledge/skills (“You hear a guttural male voice whispering in Orcish, about 40 feet to your left.”)

The intent is to tie this system in to nearly all aspects of the game.  For example, attacks in combat include detection and recognition threshholds: an attack must be detected to defend against it, and recognition offers the additional detail of whether the attack will miss despite lack of defensive action.

Interface Issue

The question I’ve been worrying away at for a while is, how best to offer sufficient feedback to the player such that the Awareness mechanic is a viable part of the gameplay?

I wanted to try to avoid using simple status bars, if possible.  One idea I was playing around with briefly was the following:

combinedawarenesscircles.png

The larger golden circle representing general Awareness, the smaller overlapping golden circle representing focused Awareness.  The blue filled circles would represent current score, expanding and contracting based on the character’s actions.  Each stimuli would generate the two “open rings” demonstrated in each display (the inner ring being detection, outer ring being recognition), popping in as the stimuli occurred and fading away over a second or two.

In action, it kind of gives off a “radar/sonar” kind of vibe, which seems appropos.

However, plenty of problems as well.  Problems with the idea include:

  • There can be multiple nearly simultaneous stimuli; displaying 2 rings for each could easily lead to confusion with relatively few events;
  • Even with the overlap, this takes up a lot of real estate on the screen: the example is 100×100 pixels;
  • There is no obvious way to express changes of scale: a buff that increases potential Awareness significantly, for example, might be difficult to indicate to the player;
  • The number of “steps” in value that can be effectively indicated is small (relative to the screen real estate consumed, at least).  The larger circle is 80×80, and really only can express 40 discrete “steps” in value as proposed.

One alternative I started to play with was using the same base concept, but using “barbell” lines to indicate stimuli, which would essentially radiate outward from near the center to near the edge, somewhat like hands on a clock.  That would increase the number of stimuli that could be displayed simultaneously… if the lines were separated by 22.5 degrees (out of 360, of course), that would give room to display 16 at once (12 if you cut out the overlapped area…)

Anyway, I’m kind of casting about for some original ideas here.  Anyone got anything?

Through the magic of the 4-sided die (first time I’ve rolled one of them in a while), the winners of the drawing for the IMGDC passes were determined to be Ethic and Emi.  (Apparently the letter of the day was “E”?).  Drop me a line at huberc -at- frontiernet -dot- net, and we’ll get the registration process figured out.  My apologies to those not selected… if I could, I’d spring for more.

(One more week of “crunch time”… it’ll be nice to get back to normal.)

Old news at this point, I imagine, but I weaseled my way into the latest SUWT, kinda by accident… the show is available as part of the Virgin Worlds podcast collective here (with links and show notes) and on iTunes.

Host:
Darren – Common Sense Gamer

Guests:

John – Ancient Gaming Noob
Dennis – Potshot
Michael from MMOG Nation, etc.

… and me.

Topics:

    • Introductions
    • Listener mail/What we’re playing
    • Cheater cheater, pumpkin eater
    • Predictions for 2008
    • Out of the Gate
    • We all get a hug

    Blog of the Week:
    WorldIV

    As many may recall, there is a game development conference here in Minnesota at the end of March (29-30), the Independent MMO Game Developers Conference.  As per the site…

    IMGDC is a venue for Independent designers and developers to come together to share ideas and learn in all areas related to MMOGs.

    It was a great conference last year, and I’d really like to encourage the denizens of the MMO blogosphere to come and join in the experience… perhaps we can have a blogger sub-convention of sorts?

    As an incentive to encourage attendance, I’d like to have a little contest.  I have a couple of extra conference passes to give away, and anyone who can make it to the conference is welcome to put their name in the hat to receive one of them.  (In addition, anyone who wants to save on hotel costs is welcome to crash at my place, as well… it’s not exactly the Ritz, and a ways out in the burbs, but it’s got a roof and 4 walls, and plenty of room.)

    To submit your name for the drawing, simply leave a comment after this post.  If you have a blog, please leave a link.  If you don’t have a blog, list a couple of blogs you frequent and comment on.  I do want to try to keep it confined to people who are involved in the MMO blogs on some level, but beyond that, no restrictions apply.  Depending upon how much interest there is, I’ll do a random drawing from amongst the submitted entries to determine the winners, if necessary.

    Other people likely to be at the conference include Brent (virginworlds.com) and Cuppy (cuppycake.org).  I’m assuming Michael Zenke from MMOG Nation will be there as well (Madison isn’t _that_ far away :-) ).  Aaron from Anyway Games will be attending as well, last we talked, assuming it works with his schedule, of course.  I’m assuming other locals like Cameron, Kendricke, and Ethic will be there as well (or at least available for a dinner gathering, perhaps?)

    And, of course, there are the actual speakers at the event… check out the list at the conference site.  It should be a great conference.

    So, free conference passes up for grabs.  Anyone interested?

    Obviously, I’ve been a bit distracted/busy/overwhelmed of late (pick whichever strikes your fancy, all apply).  I will be returning to regular posting only slowly, I’m afraid… still a bit of pressure from real life to deal with before something approximating normalcy will return.

    BTW, on an utterly unrelated note, anyone else looking forward to finding out what the monster actually is in that Cloverfield movie, coming out on the 18th?  I haven’t been much of a monster movie fan over time, but the refreshing POV on this one captivates me…

    Anyway, just a “not dead yet” note.  Type at you tomorrow…

    My 2007 list is here

    The only one I can claim unmitigated success with is #2… I hit 225 in July, actually, and maintained fairly ever since (227 this morning… but it’s the holidays).  I guess I could claim success on #1… I’m still here blogging… but I don’t really feel I’ve improved the site much.  #3 and #4…

    Well, let’s not dwell on the past. :-)

    1. Maintain the blog for another year, and hopefully improve it.

    2.  Get back into the swing on my volunteer projects.  (This one will be tough… the office is going to be a demanding place this year.)

    3.  Get something _done_ with my own Voyages project (low priority).

    4.  Go to my 25th high school reunion, which should be this year, assuming there is one.  (Could be fun…)

    5.  I will be more generous this year.  (My charitable giving was down slightly this year according to my records.  That needs to change.)

    Happy New Year, all!

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