Commentary that I just posted to the mud-dev2 mailing list, adding to a discussion thread entitled “Homogenized MMORPG Engines”.

Adam Martin wrote…

> OK, what exactly are you aiming at here? The vast majority of
> competent programmers will know one (or both) of those two languages,
> and if they don’t would probably benefit from starting (given they are
> responsible for the vast vast majority of all programming jobs
> worldwide, or so I’m told by people with vested interests ;)).
> If you want to make this available to people who both cannot program
> and have no interest in learning to do so with modern mainstream
> programming languages, then my above comment is irrelevant. But, if
> that’s the case, I seriously doubt you’re going to see any non-trivial
> game, certainly little that is interesting and novel.

I can’t speak to what the original poster was necessarily aiming for, but I’d like to chime in with my own two cents on the topic.

Frankly, I think most of this thread is coming at the problem from the wrong perspective.  Is this about generating creativity in terms of hacking out code, or about generating creativity in terms of designing “game”?

The creators of Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly, Texas Hold’em, American Rules Football, and/or Yahtzee didn’t need to know “modern mainstream programming languages” to design and develop apparently interesting and engaging _games_.  In many cases, they didn’t even need to know how to cast plastic dice, print playing cards, or forge metal goalposts in order to design and develop their games.  They just needed to have someone who could generate those resources for them at a reasonable price.

And, as a matter of fact, if they had been required to take the time and expend the effort to build all that infrastructure, even from base pattern and with copious instructions, they probably never would have gotten around to actually creating the games that so many have played and enjoyed.  They’d still be messing around with the different types of face card art, or new ways of making sure the dice were perfectly balanced, or inflating the footballs with different gases to “improve hang time”, etc.

Same deal here.

If the intent is to let people experiment with new ideas and concepts at the “game” level, then perhaps that is the level the toolset should attempt to provide the foundation for?  For example, I can only think of 2 mainstream 3D MMO titles off-hand where having the ability to walk a humanoid figure around the screen is not central to the experience (i.e. Eve and Auto Assault: yes, I know, there are probably more, just bear with me a sec, ok?).

A walking animation applied to a basic human model has to have been done 10^6 times or more.  Yet, to use most of the toolkits that have been mentioned so far, you’ll be doing it for the 10^6+1st time.

Right now, all of the offerings looking to offer a leg-up to those who want to experiment at the “game design” level fall on two ends of possible spectrum, IMO.  (Note that for this purpose, I’ve even dropped the “massive” part of the equation.)


BigWorld                                                ???                                             Sphere

MultiVerse                                                                                                NWN(1+2)

Torque                                                                                                      Arcanum

Engines give you the tools to build an entire universe utterly to your specs… as long as you want to start with protons and electrons, (or maybe even just quarks) and build your way up from there.  You can define any game mechanics your heart desires… but you’ve got one hell of a lot of (busy)work to do first.

Mods are far easier to get somewhere with very quickly, since Life, the Universe, and Everything has pretty much already been built… you really just need to rearrange the furniture a little.  Create a map, plop a character mob in the center, write a couple of lines of pseudocode applying the walk() method… ta dum!  Problem is, you won’t be making your own game, designing your own systems or rules… no, no, you’ll be using theirs.  Don’t have Hit Points in your game design?  Too bad… use them anyway.

Again, if the point is to experiment with new “game” ideas, then give people all the fundamental resources necessary to allow them to quickly prototype, test, and refine the “game”.  On the other hand, if the point is to teach C++ programming, or 3D modeling, or about direct preparation for jobs in the industry, that’d be a horse of a different color. But I was under the impression that the discussion was about the former topic, not any of the latter.


So, assuming someone ever makes such a thing, who would buy it?  Well, I obviously can’t speak for anyone else, but _I_ certainly would.  And here’s my perspective, in case that helps…

It is -not- that I don’t know how to crank out code: I write code all day long, multiple languages on multiple OS depending upon the client/need, all sandwiched between running the business end of my small business and helping handle service calls.  (Need a custom IVR app, or a speech rec/TTS platform, or a VoIP-enabled PBX?  Drop me a line.)

It is -not- that I don’t know the basics of 3D modeling and animation: took a series of classes specifically for that, as matter of fact.  Got 3DSMax sitting right on my desktop right now. Not very good at it, admittedly, but visual art has never been my forte.

It -is- that doing all of that is essentially a distraction (at best) from what I really want to be doing… working on/weeding thru my game design ideas, trying new twists, testing concepts to keep or send to the discard heap.  That “quick iteration” design process that’s been mentioned a couple times elsewhere?  Bingo.


There are products heading this direction, I know.  Some appear to be closing in pretty fast, actually (Torque/MMOKit), and others are at least making some nods in that direction (Multiverse).  I guess the point is, make something with some of the flexibility of the “Engines”, and some of the resources and ease-of-use of the “Mods”, and I am reasonably sure I could guarantee you at least one customer.

/rant off

My two cents…

Craig Huber

(crossposted to my blog)