Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Theory of Fun (?)

As I mentioned before, I've got a small list of reference material that I plan to read or access as I work through this project. One of them is A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster.

I got the book almost two weeks ago, and finished reading it almost a week ago. I've wanted to write about it earlier, but... well, I didn't know how.

I suppose you could say that I'm a fan of Koster. He was the Creative Lead on Ultima Online, my favorite game, and he has always seemed personable (in postings on the ultima mailing list) and knowledgeable (on his website). That's why it's hard to say that I was disappointed by this book.

The shortcomings of the book as a production, first: it's a half-height trade paperback, 244 pages. Half-height really cuts that down by half. A drawing on every second page does so again. A somewhat large font perhaps again. So, we've got a book of 30 pages of content. To be fair, some of the drawings convey some useful or enhancing information. So, say 50 pages? I'm glad I didn't pay the cover price.

The content is about fun in games, and I suppose I'm to blame for assuming it meant online games, or video games specifically. Still, what applies to all games, including board games or tic-tac-toe (a frequent theme in the book), should be applicable to all games, right?

I finished the book feeling like I didn't learn anything. I don't feel that I have any better idea on how to make a game fun than I did before. Does that mean that I just knew everything Koster had to say? Or that I just didn't get it?

To be fair, the book is what it claims to be: a theory of fun. Quite theoretical, I'd say, to the point of it really just analyzing the concept, but not necessarily telling you how to use the results.

I'm sorry, Raph. Perhaps I'm not being fair? Perhaps I read it too quickly, and didn't let things sink in? Perhaps it's just beyond me?

Perhaps I'll re-read it in a few months, and give it another try.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Background reading...

Before I dive into this project (as I usually do), I decided that it would be reasonable to do some research into the development of virtual worlds.

Currently, I'm reading Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard A. Bartle. Bartle is usually known as the Father of MUDs, as he's often attributed with creating the first one (though he points out in his book that this isn't so).

I'm almost a third through the book, and it has been interesting reading so far. I kind of see Bartle as the Dr. Phil of virtual world design, in that everything he's saying seems like common sense, but it isn't until he actually spells it out that you know it.

I mean this as a compliment, because the "common sense" of virtual world design isn't anywhere near as obvious as real-world common sense is (thus the "common" part). But none of his discussion seems wild or out-there -- and you realize that it's good to have an old hand guiding you, so you don't make the mistakes of others. "History repeats itself" is very true in virtual world design, both good and bad.

I've also picked up Developing Online Games: An Insider's Guide by Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Petrovsky, but haven't cracked that book yet. Also ordered and apparently on its way is Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster. I'm looking forward to this one because Koster was involved (Lead Designer? Producer?) in Ultima Online, which is my jeu du jour.

Additionally, I'm subscribe to the MUD-dev mailing list, but admittedly all the messages get stored in a folder right now for lack of time to read them. This, I expect, will be a great source of information, since it's more "live" than a published book -- though established knowledge is just as good as innovation!

I also frequent the occasional blog that talks about MMORPGs and virtual worlds, though not necessarily from a developmental point-of-view.

With all this reading, will I ever get to designing and writing this engine? Sure, but I want to know that the initial decisions I make are reasonable, and aren't going to make me start over again (and again).

If I had just one Wish

For those who follow the gaming industry or the virtual world industry, you've probably heard that Mutable Realms has cancelled the Wish project.

Even though there have been quite a few virtual world projects that have failed in the last year, I was still surprised by Wish. Why? Because it actually made it to Beta (Beta 2, in fact). The other projects that I heard about (and, because of their demise, I have forgotten with the exception of Ultima Online 2) did not even make it that far.

The reasons for Wish's failure aren't clear. Some speculate that it's financing, while others believe that the Wish system just wasn't able to perform as Mutable Realms had hoped -- they called themselves the first ULTRA MMORPG, purporting to support (or be able to support) 10,000 simultaneous users in a single world (without "cheating" with zones, facets, etc.)

I don't know why other projects failed, either, but they were earlier in the lifecycle. Perhaps those others realized earlier that today's hardware couldn't do what they need it to? Perhaps their investors finally realized how expensive it would be? Or perhaps their game just wasn't turning out fun or appealing?

Of these reasons, only the first bothers me. I have no financing for my own engine, except for my own free time, so unless that gets cut off (which it very well could, I suppose), I'm good for "investment". The "fun" or "playability" reason doesn't really apply to me either, for the primary purpose of MMORF is not to make a game (though that's a great secondary purpose), but to make a game engine. This is why the first reason concerns me.

Did Wish fail because they couldn't support 10,000 players as they wanted? Was it because they didn't have the talent, or that hardware can't keep up? Was it their design that was flawed, or could no one do it?

While I haven't set any goals, benchmarks or targets for MMORF yet, I'm sure there will be some reasonable expectation about performance that I'll want to meet. Knowing that Wish has been cancelled, and guessing that it might be because of a lack of performance (Viagra jokes aside), I worry that I might design or code myself into a similar situation, which is of course what I don't want.

Could it have been the playability that sank Wish? I had wanted to be in the Beta (especially because they had specifically targetted Ultima Online players), but I didn't make it in. While my goal isn't to create a game, specifically, my goal is to allow others to make a game on top of my system, which means that the game has to be able to allow the game designer(s) to do everything they need to make the game appealing. This means that any decision I make that might be seen as a "restriction" is something that I'll have to give careful thought to, so as not to make an engine that is lacking.

The other theory I've heard about Wish's demise (and a reason that has been cited for other failed worlds) is "the competition". Specifically for Wish, it has been said that World of Warcraft (WoW) is what made Wish not come true. Apparently the sales of WoW are staggering, and that might have led to investors to bail out of Wish. Or, perhaps the gameplay of WoW was above what Wish had, and thus there was no point in releasing a game that was already "obsolete" in terms of playability, features, and design?

Again, this doesn't concern me that much, because I'm not looking to compete with WoW, or UO, or anyone else. This is for me. However, one thing that will always been on my mind is "can MMORF do this like UO/WoW/EQ does?" Not whether any game built on top of MMORF will do these things, but whether MMORF can support a game that does.

Basically, I want it to be possible for you to write UO on top of MMORF, to write WoW on top of MMORF. Granted, I don't have any experience with most of the "surviving" MMORPGs, so I'll have to learn there, too -- read fansite or strategy sites to know how each game works, what it allows, and to be always asking myself if MMORF could do that too.

Thursday, January 06, 2005



This weblog was set up to give me a sounding board for my own ideas (and those of others, I suppose) for designing a MMORPG system.

The five Ws:

  • Who? My name's Wayne Pearson. I've got a Computer Science degree from the University of Calgary, and have been programming for over 23 years. My interests in computing are wide, from the cool to the dull.
  • What? The system will be a few separate projects, actually. There will be a backbone server (the foundation) that handles objects generically, but has no idea about the rules of the RPG that will be placed atop it; the rules (and the ability to create and change them) is another part of the project -- I want to be able to run a fantasy world, a sci-fi universe or a wild-west town all on the same base; and the client, which is how people interact with the world, be it through a text interface, 2D, 2-1/2D, 3D, or neural implants.
  • When? When I have time. This is a project that gets a lot of "mind time" when I'm doing things that give me time to daydream (exercising, driving, surgery). There's no timeline for when any part of this will be done. It may very well go the same route as many other ideas over the years, and never see even this much mention in print.
  • Where? Right here. This weblog will be my diary or journal for what I'm thinking about, what I've decided, and what I might have actually implemented. The main site will have links to code and software if that ever exists. And there's even a place where I can be contacted if you've stumbled in here.
  • Why? Why write a(nother) MMORPG? For the challenge, mainly. I'm not looking to compete with Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies or World of Warcraft. I want to see if I can write those games myself. I'm a UO player myself, and as I play, I find myself thinking, "I know how I'd do that" or "I bet they have a such-and-such system to allow this to work this way". I want to prove (or disprove) that I can write a system like this. This is why the When? above is so vague -- those companies have whole groups, doing it as a full-time job. I have my spare time (and as just mentioned, it can be filled with Ultima Online).

If this sounds interesting, please stop by every so often. If it looks like this page hasn't changed in a year, then I apologize for taking your time -- I must have been distracted by something else.