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Developing Online Games 240

Posted by timothy
from the step-one-buy-a-computer dept.
peterwayner writes "If you're a bit tired of programming books, API descriptions, tables of keywords, and arguments about which data structure is buzzword compliant, super-mega-efficient and intuitively easy to grasp, turn to Developing Online Games , a book that seems to have very little interest in many of the traditional challenges for programmers. The authors spend four lines discussing the best computer language for the job (C/C++), conclude that objects give "far more flexibility in design" and then move on to fun questions like how to make a online game compelling for achievers, socializers, killers and explorers. This book is a wonderful psychoanalysis of the gamer's mind and it should be the first and last book read by game developers about to start a quest to capture the hearts, minds and subscription fees of people on the Internet." Read on for the rest of Peter's review.
Developing Online Games
author Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Patrovsky
pages 495
publisher New Riders
rating 8
reviewer Peter Wayner
ISBN 1592730000
summary The Sociology of building online games.

The book's strength lies in the deep experience of the authors and the efficient, occasionally gimlet-eyed voice they use to analyze their collective addiction. Jessica Mulligan's bio lists work on more than 50 online games like Ultima Online, while Bridgette Patrovsky's includes time building games for Electronic Arts, Sony and Interplay Online Services. If you believe that Online games are the latest thing, Mulligan would like you to know that you're wrong. She wrote a column celebrating the 30th birthday of the Online game in 1999. Rick Blomme wrote Spacewar back in 1969 and Dave Arneson started an RPG named Blackmoor in 1970 or 1971. It was so long ago, he can't be quite sure.

All of this experience weighs a bit heavily on the authors. The book is more of a core dump than a logical progression and that means we hear bitter echoes of the past. One section is entitled "Yes, it really will take 2-3 years to complete" and another is called "No, More Programmers Won't Make it Go Faster." These sections don't add much to the usual literature about herding cats, but they do offer a strong reminder that this isn't a task for slackers who never could get around to forming that garage band.

The better parts are aimed at the design of the games themselves. While game players are slaying monsters or saving Princesses, game designers are questing after a full Player Satisfaction Matrix. Good games sate the player's need for socialization, accomplishment, discovery and conflict as they journey from the state of confusion (0-1 month), on to excitement (2-4 months), glide through the state of involvement (5-48+ months) before landing in boredom (until VH1 starts making "Behind the Game" documentaries). The trick to good design is making sure that there's plenty to feed the player's involvement.

For instance, you may be driven to create a new persistent world that emphasizes socialization because you're tired of all that death. The authors gamed that scenario and decided that "killers do have a positive role to play from the point of view of the socializers." Good can't exist without evil acting as a contrast and besides, players can usually find some other passive/aggressive technique for stabbing each other in the back even if knife objects aren't instantiated.

The authors tend to view the online realms as ecosystems. If you want to "increase the number of achievers," then the authors advise that you "reduce the number of killers, but not too much" while maybe "increas[ing] the number of explorers." I suspect that these recommendations are to be taken with a grain of salt, but they do reflect the observations of people who've spent a long time managing these games. I'm even tempted to develop my own Sim Sim that lets you simulate the process of crafting a simulation.

Ultimately it's hard for the authors to offer much more than these recipes and matrices. The details about the management, the strategies for stopping cheaters, and the intricacies of player relations are essential parts of the journey, but those are only half of the battle. Making the characters sing and the world come to life is a job for the artist.

This book is like many of the simple guides for writing a screenplay. They talk about arcs, hinge points and beats, but end up counseling that the screenwriter should aim to make each of these "good," This book can't tell you how to make your characters "good," but it can give you much insight into how others have done it before.


You can purchase Developing Online Games from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Developing Online Games

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  • by unclethursday (664807) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:35PM (#5737329)
    But, I think the main thing any online game really needs to do is work on optimization of network code. And for both dial-up and broadband.

    Sure, the majority of broadband adoptors, in the home, are online gamers, but broadband saturation is still very low; and the availability, coupled with the price will probably keep it low for a while. I know people in Canada who pay between $25-$30 US per month, and get better speeds with their broadband than I get paying $55 US a month for mine.

    Online games need to be optimized, no matter what connection the programmers would prefer. There's still plenty of lag on broadband when playing games, and a lot of it has to do with unoptimized code (which normally is fixed later down the road via patches on the PC).

    Uncle Thursday
    ---In Soviet Russia, I might have gotten the first psot.---

    • by glenrm (640773) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:38PM (#5737351) Homepage Journal
      Stop right there mister! This kind of talk could lead to a technical disscussion that has merits! Better to talk about "design issues", EULAs, and other stuff that everybody understands, too much code or science talk will just confuse the important "design issues"!
      • Please, forgive me.

        I forgot what really is important when desinging games.

        Thank you for bringing me back into the light.

        ;-

        Uncle Thursday
        ---Who wouldn't ever dream of talking about issues with merits...The EULA is obviously the most important thing.---

      • Network optimization and other technical aspects ARE important. Playstation 2 proves that. However, think back, have the games gotten any better? Are they much more exciting then the nintendo days or bards tale? Truely I say to you that the techinical aspects are somewhat important, however these days I see the tech of a game outweighting the playablility as well as the enjoyment of the players. if you play an adventure/RPG style game. Your playing for the adventure, not the eye candy. Muds where tremendous
    • by johny_qst (623876) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:41PM (#5737366) Journal
      Network optimized code is an important element of game design, but surely you can't mean it's importance outweighs the quality of the story being told through the narrative of your actions in the game?
      • by unclethursday (664807) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:45PM (#5737407)
        No, but it should be very important in an online capable, or online only game.

        Personally, I feel the most important aspect is gameplay. But, in online games, shoddy network code can ruin the gameplay.

        Uncle Thursday
        ---Gamer. Lover. Fugitive. Not necessarily in that order.---

        • I totally agree with you about gameplay being king. Especially in the current favorites of online RTS's,FPS's,and RPG's. If there is lag I won't keep playing, but if the gameplay devolves to become formulaic killing of opponents then the gamer will eventually seek out the game that allows his actions to affect the larger game world in concert with other to make a grand statement. I think I'm rambling so I'll stop after this... Gameplay is essential to any game, Solid Network code is essential to any onlin
          • Take a look at games like Starcraft and Tribes(1). There are still hundreds of active servers (just in north america) to join for each of those games. They each had great gameplay. But that game play would be greatly diminished if it wern't for the tight network code. You can't play either of these games if the connections are laggy. That would destroy their reputations as great multiplayer games.

            robi
        • Sure, it can ruin it. But that's just a negative attribute, saying that unless it's done reasonably well then it'll damage the experience. No-one ever bought a game bcos it had *really* *good* network code. ;-) Even with graphics, really good graphics won't actually do much to keep people playing (think of all those so-so FPSes).

          What makes a game successful is the gameplay every time, not anything technical. The technical side just stops it being a failure. And in the entertainment industry with horde
      • I don't know about the author, but yes I do believe that. We are talking about multiplayer games here, and not a single player game. Most multiplayer games only need a small backstory, a small (if any) story for the map, and that's it! Games like Battlefield 1942, Quake3, and Counter-Strike would be not as fun if you were interrupted for storyline reasons.

        Online RPGs are a different story (pun), and usually require a lot of writers for quests and dialogue. Online action and strategy games rely on gamep
    • Easy to do... make it text-based :-)

      If you need to be more bandwidth-friendly than that, compress it [zuggsoft.com]!
    • But, I think the main thing any online game really needs to do is work on optimization of network code.

      At this stage of online gaming much of this has already been done. Many people are already playing online games(specifically MMORPGs) in a lag free environment from broadband and modems alike. I'm not saying that there won't be more advances, but they will most likely be evolutionary and not revolutionary(ala what Quakeworld did for Quake).

      Online gaming is no longer in the infancy stage. People expec
    • Online games need to be optimized, no matter what connection the programmers would prefer. There's still plenty of lag on broadband when playing games, and a lot of it has to do with unoptimized code (which normally is fixed later down the road via patches on the PC).

      This is largely a myth. "Optimize," in regard to network code, means "fool the user into thinking it's faster." There is nothing you can do to get rid of network lag. It's a fact of life. So what game developers do is play tricks to make
    • I wish... As someone who works on a graphical(although not terribly massive) rpg, if all one had to do is optimize the network code I'd be insanely happy. Until just recently, I only had dialup so my only view of the game was through an itty-bitty 48Kbit-sec-if-I-am-lucky phonecord. When I got broadband a month ago, I expected to see something.

      Zilch.

      We already had our per-client bandwidth down to like 28kilobit/sec(the head honcho likes to play using his zaurus with a wireless modem) unless somebo
    • For some reason gaming companies got the idea that the only popular games are those that are maximally realistic. As a result, they consistently sacrifice gameplay for gee-whiz graphics. This leaves people like me, who aren't willing to a pay a graphics tax to play games, happily stuck with CounterStrike. When will the industry get a clue?!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:37PM (#5737342)
    I never actually played Everquest. I just read the Cliffs Notes, and talked about it in chatrooms.
  • by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:37PM (#5737343)
    "...and then move on to fun questions like how to make a online game compelling for achievers, socializers, killers and explorers."

    It's called Grand Theft Auto 3. Now if they'd only make it massively multiplayer on-line, then the holy grail will have been achieved!
    • I wouldn't want to play GTA online. Can you imagine an online world where 1% of the city's inhabitants drove normally and the other 99% were maniacs with guns? That makes it more like Quake, and takes the fun out of GTA, IMHO.
      • Actually, I would think that makes it more like Richmond, VA than it makes it like Quake. But what do I know?
  • by petronivs (633683) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:38PM (#5737350) Journal

    What we really need to know is how to make a decent game without doing any programming, merely posting a bunch of unrealistic demands to a web forum that lets us make cool icons and signatures!

  • I hate (Score:5, Funny)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:39PM (#5737354) Homepage Journal
    when reviews give away the plot...

    From what I've seen, they way to capture an audience is to make them wait for hours before spawning a monster, let high level characters be able to farm, and have little to no support.

  • by 0x00000dcc (614432) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:40PM (#5737359) Journal
    I learned most of what I know from a web site. Of course this gets back to the whole learn via book versus learn via google searches saga, but I think there's a wealth of info on this site. [gametutorials.com]

    I know, I know you can't learn everything from there and you should pick up a book after a while, but nonetheless a great place to start.

  • The Big Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by InfinityWpi (175421) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:43PM (#5737388)
    My question is, does this book tackle the big problem of most MMORPGs, namely, that there's very little in the way of plotline? Sure, they're great of killers, socializers, achievers, explorers... but what about people who want to be entertained by a good story? If I'm paying you twenty bucks a month for this thing, and it's not giving me 15-20 hours of involving story/gameplay, I'm better off buying 'classic' games like Deus Ex or Jedi Knight 2 or Real War. Give us something other than levelling via meaninless repeated tasks to look forward to. Give us a storyline that we actually run into! Not just something that'll unfold as news updates every month.
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by L7_ (645377) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:48PM (#5737436)
      until MMORPGs actually have an advanced enough engine where real-time world updates are possible, then you won't get the storylines that you want.

      The game engines that are avaliable don't seem to have too much a cause-effect relationship to provide the in-depth immersion that is neccesary for good storytelling.

      I mean, you can kill a monster 100 times in a row... and nothing happens.
    • I don't see how you not being their target audience is their problem... Getting a good storyline for $10/20 per month is already being done, and being done much better by hollywood.
    • Well, I agree to a certain extent. I think these MMORPGS should dichotomize (word?) into those with a plot ands those without (shootem-ups) for marketability. And it's not that there is a certain group out there who only likes one and not the other, personally I like both. Lineage started to piss me off after while because the learning curve was a bit big for becoming an elf. Then again, I was only playing for 8 hours a day, not 10 or 12 like most who are insanly addicted.
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by syle (638903) <syle@NosPam.waygate.org> on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:57PM (#5737507) Homepage
      I think, if it's done right, a storyline isn't necessary. I'm assuming you're experiences are something like EverQuest, where the endgame basically involves raiding the same sets of supermobs over and over until your whole guild has the best stuff, then moving on to harder supermobs.

      That's one way to do it. I don't think it's very fun, but a lot of people obviously do. Even though there are a lot of lore-based quests in EQ, it's fair to say the story is missing because the player doesn't encounter it in day-to-day play. It's there if you want to search for it, but you're certainly not immersed in it.

      Take a look at other games like SimCity or Civilization. There's no storyline, but that doesn't make it exactly meaningless. You're given a task to accomplish: Take over the world, build your city, destroy the orc hordes, etc. Any storyline made to support it is obviously artificial, and rather irrelevant. The fun is in accomplishing your task.

      I've played Shadowbane a little bit, and it feels like a strange combination of the two genres, but it works pretty well. You're given a task: Take over the world. Expand your nation diplomatically, or by war, or economically, or however you like so that you control everything. There's a little story behind it, sure, but it's mostly irrelevant. The leveling treadmill is there, but it's vastly shorter, because the real point is the far-sighted goal of world domination. You could say they strategically opted out of storylines (though they do exist).

      Anyway, this isn't an advertisement. Things can be fun without the traditional storytelling approach the works so well in single-player though. I think EverQuest is a good example of why it usually doesn't make a lot of sense to try to extend that to MMORPGs.

    • Give us something other than levelling via meaninless repeated tasks to look forward to.

      If you aren't interacting with other people, adventuring with friends and the like, yes, MMORPGs are not really competitive with traditional CRPGs.
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gutboy (587531)
      Give us a storyline that we actually run into! Not just something that'll unfold as news updates every month.

      EverQuest tried a small sample of letting the players change the world. Ok, so those 40-60 people went and changed the world. The 20,000+ other people then bitched that the world has been changed, and they didn't get to do it.
      • Of course they bitched about that. However, was it a success otherwise? If so, maybe a larger subset of the population could be allowed to change the world?
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lightwarrior (73124) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:42PM (#5737900) Journal
      Play Shadowbane, and make your own plot.
      Stop laughing, I'm serious. What more do you want from a MMORPG than to influence the rise and fall of nations? Leveling isn't a chore, it serves as an introduction to the game. Once you join a guild, you're taking part in your nation's saga.

      Let me give you an example:
      A guild of which I was briefly a part was at war with a bigger, more powerful guild. There were many nights where our armies met on the rolling plains and sparse woodlands around our city. We were routed, time and time again, until we were forced to become allied with a different rival nation. Together, we turned the tides of battle - now we take the battle to them.

      It's not about levels, money, war, or diplomacy - it's about all of them. Being skilled at some of those four will make up for deficiencies in others.

      And take the reviews you read with a grain of salt. The review I read at Gamespot made me wonder if he was playing a different game.

      -lw
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by secolactico (519805) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @03:50PM (#5738502) Journal
      I seriously doubt you can get a decent storyline in a multiplayer game. At least, one that's involving.

      Sure you are paying $10 - $20 each month, but so is everybody else. When every one gets to be a super powerful mage that gets to save the world from evil "forces from the north", it kind of loses its appeal.

      Instead, everything is reduced to competition: who can level faster so they can kill more monster so they can level even more!

      And who cares about a quest where you have to slay the dragon that's ravaging the countryside? It will re-spawn a couple of minutes later so someone else can do it!

      You want storylines? Buy an solo game. The last game with a good storyline I played was "The Longest Journey". I'm partial to adveture games more than FPS and RTS, so YMMV.
      • You miss the point. A "super-powerful world-changing Mage" does not a decent story make.

        First off, the MMORPG can't be as massive, maybe 100-200 players tops. Second, they have to give up some things, to get the story.

        #1 They apply, as in submit an application, to become a player.

        #2 Their character is mostly chosen for them. Perhaps they're given 3-5 different characters to choose from.

        #3 They're given a detailed history of their character, and must know it by heart, before playing. Playing out of chara
    • Re:The Big Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The MU* community solved this one a long time ago. There used to be plenty (and still are a few) MU*s which could boast rich, involving storylines.

      The problem is that the MMORPG developers think of their job as developing a fancy virtual world engine for people to go ape in. This is like a MU* administrator thinking that their job is to write LPMUD or TinyMUSH, rather than work on their actual game content.

      Which leads to an interesting point: this is a book about game design, written by programmers/desi
  • MUDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:45PM (#5737404) Homepage Journal
    If you really wanna make an online RPG, its best to start with a mud. MUDs take a lot less time, and you can tell right away if the game ITSELF will be interesting enough. Once this 'prototype' is done, use the same engine as a guide to making your 'product online game' engine, and add your wizbangs and graphics.
    • Re:MUDs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by syle (638903) <syle@NosPam.waygate.org> on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:21PM (#5737700) Homepage
      I was right with you until you suggested using the MUD engine to drive the real thing. Forget it; write the real thing from scratch. MUDs just aren't designed to provide the scalability that real MMORPGs require. 2,000 people on one server sending only text? Sure. But in the real world, you'd want 2,000 people spread over 30 servers sending a lot more, and the players moving dynamically between servers. No freely available and well tested MUD base today (Circle, LP, etc) allows anything like that. You'll spend more time converting the prototype into a real engine than you would writing a real engine from scratch.
      • I said to make the mud a guide when you build the real thing. The fact that MUDs use only TCP/IP alone would make a MMORPG engine halt to a grind (not even looking at the size of the packets muds send). I was suggesting that you use the ideas of the mud as the heart of how things should look once you've completed your MMORPG, not as how to code the engine. Sorry it wasn't clear in my original post.
  • by Allen Varney (449382) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:48PM (#5737432) Homepage

    Jessica Mulligan does indeed have one of the longest and most respected resumes in online games. I was distantly acquainted with her back in 1989-91 when (as Richard Mulligan) s/he was product manager for GEnie's online games, and even then her knowledge of the field was extremely comprehensive.

    Now she's involved in The Themis Group [themis-group.com], an interesting venture that basically lets online game services outsource their customer support [themis-group.com]. (Another notable figure on the Themis team is the esteemed game designer Greg Costikyan [costik.com].) Given the problems some online game companies seem to have with customer support, sometimes regarding it almost as an afterthought, I wish Themis well. They're good at conveying the important message that an online game company isn't selling the game, it's selling the service.

    • by lightspawn (155347) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:10PM (#5737613) Homepage
      There seems to be a pattern here:

      Jessica Mulligan
      Dani Bunten Berry [anticlockwise.com]
      Jamie Fenton [fentonia.com]

      I hope I'm don't come off as intolerant, but this got me thinking: Is this a coincidence? Or maybe it's just that video game programmers (or programmers in general) tend to be dissatisfied with their lives, and thus more likely to try something extreme?

      • I hope I'm don't come off as intolerant, but this got me thinking: Is this a coincidence? Or maybe it's just that video game programmers (or programmers in general) tend to be dissatisfied with their lives, and thus more likely to try something extreme?

        Yes, we're sure to see Joan Carmack in a decade or so.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I didn't just wake up one day and say "Gee, I think I want to be a girl instead". It's something that many of us spend half a lifetime denying or fighting with. Consequently, many of us spend/spent considerable amounts of time alone or online with our computers. Furthermore, with all that internal struggle going on, quite a few of us tended toward under-developed social skills.

        Online, you can create a persona for yourself that is not dependant on your physical appearance. Being online (role-playing in game
      • I guess they all took mulligans on their birth-assigned sex.

        I kill me.

  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:48PM (#5737434) Homepage Journal
    I don't know what the big fuss is about "online" games. You can't just slap on "online" features to a game and expect it to play well.

    The best games will always follow the 'good gamer' strategy: have plenty of customization, tight control, run fast on older hardware, and light bugs (fewer than 4 or 5 if possible.)

    While these ladies seems to know a bit about how to paint a gauntlet in Ultima Online or the coolest magic effects in EverQuest, I can't see anyone following this advise in a professional gaming environment. The commercial depression is just too high.
  • by burgburgburg (574866) <splisken06@[ ]il.com ['ema' in gap]> on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:48PM (#5737435)
    "as they journey from the state of confusion (0-1 month), on to excitement (2-4 months), glide through the state of involvement (5-48+ months) before landing in boredom"

    You realize what this means? I've been playing /., and I still have at least two years left.

  • Irony (Score:3, Funny)

    by moc.tfosorcimgllib (602636) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:51PM (#5737461) Journal
    Am I the only person that finds irony in the last name "Mulligan" for an author of game design books?

  • Required Reading (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jpmahala (181937) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @01:54PM (#5737483)


    I really appreciate the fact that this book focuses more on theory and concepts rather than code, but statements such as "...and it should be the first and last book read by game developers..." is a little ridiculous.

    Please give a little thought before you post something.

    (of curse now, someone will find a typo in my post...;)

  • by Drey (1420) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:02PM (#5737544) Homepage
    If anyone cares to read the original article discussing the types of MUD players (which does translate to other online games), Richard Bartle's paper "Players Who Suit MUDs" can be read here:

    http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm [mud.co.uk]

    This is the source of "reduce killers to increase achievers" and such. I haven't had the chance to see this book yet to verify if they give him the proper credit for his research, however.

    • Just about every MUD resource online can be found via the library at kanga.nu [kanga.nu], as can some extensive archives of the online game development list (MUD-Dev), which you can find if you nose around the site [kanga.nu]. Several of Jessica's articles can be found there, as well as Dr Bartle's Suits article referenced above. The mail list itself can get fairly heady, but might as well be required reading if you're serious about being part of the industry. There's more social engineering and business plan traffic on the l
  • by thatguywhoiam (524290) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:04PM (#5737561)
    And I'll tell you why.

    The biggest problem with games like Ultima and EverQuest is that there is very little actual role-playing going on. This is news to no one in here, of course, but I do find it interesting how the term 'RPG' has been kind of mutated.

    Traditionally I would not call something like Final Fantasy an RPG, but that's what it is in computer game terms. You don't get to shape your character's identity, or their destiny. You don't get to 'act' the character. You merely plod along the pre-determined timeline towards your only fate; in the case of FF, sometimes this line abandons you, to search for the next game thread. That's not what I want RPGs to be.

    An interesting approach to online RPGs: throw away the Massively Multiplayer aspect. It's possible (in my mind anyways) that this is just an unattainable fantasy, to have a fluid, engrossing, plot-driven world where everyone is a character. The qualifications just aren't there. They've already identified these little subgroups (achievers, killers, etc.) and those players, for the most part, don't seem that interested in the role playing itself.

    Rather, I like the dynamics of Neverwinter Nights. Small groups of people, who are like-minded. It's what you look for in your typical RPG anyways; the party comraderie, the give-and-take, clasing of personalities... a great story to tell later, if successful.

    What if, rather than selling a packaged online game for all comers, you started a sort of RPG Society? You'd apply for membership, pay a monthly fee, knowing that every player is absolutely into the role playing. Applying would consist of your character history and thoughts about what you want to get out of it. Keep the number of players on each server small. Several instances of the game world. That way you' d be guaranteed of a much better experience. Pipe dream I know, but a nice thought.

    I mean, look at what has happened to Star Wars Galaxies. Ugh. It's already become fucked up before they've even released it (yeah, I'll smuggle stuff on foot. In Star Wars.)

    • What if, rather than selling a packaged online game for all comers, you started a sort of RPG Society? You'd apply for membership, pay a monthly fee, knowing that every player is absolutely into the role playing

      So what you're after is an online version of SCA?

      Honestly, look into the world of MUDs - there are quite a few out there that are more about role playing than character advancement. As with everything else, it's merely a matter of looking in the right place.
      • So what you're after is an online version of SCA?

        You mean I could play Asheron's Call, but as a Klingon wearing a T-tunic, since it's close enough, and I don't have to pay, unless I want to be the King or run something big?

        I won't go into the getting blotto drunk or chasing tail all over while putting on an atricious accent... let's just leave it at "SCA == everyone is absolutely into the role playing" strikes me as rather amusing... and I'm a kingdom webmaster.
    • Oh god.

      Maybe you've never heard of "live action roleplaying", exemplified by the "Vampire: The Masquerade" from White Wolf. I'm sure someone around here has.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @03:12PM (#5738167)
      > An interesting approach to online RPGs: throw away the Massively Multiplayer aspect. It's possible (in my mind anyways) that this is just an unattainable fantasy, to have a fluid, engrossing, plot-driven world where everyone is a character.

      /me screams through the flames "the Heretic speaks the truth!"

      The best "multiplayer" RPGs, plot-wise, were the single-player Wizardry series. One player commands six people. The first week, it always seems weird - these guys are cannon fodder, these guys are generic spellcasters. The second week, it sorta gels that they're working together. Fred's the guy who's mean with the sword, Zapp's workin' on the polearm. By the end of the third week, all six have their own (imaginary) personalities and the party just wouldn't be the same without 'em.

      If I'm gonna play an online multiplayer RPG, let it be with three of my friends from meatspace, the four of us taking on the world, to emerge as heroes a month later... only to re-roll and do it all over again as another party if the adventure was good enough the first time.

      The idea of being an anonymous luzer scraping out a living killing orcs in a vast countryside teeming with 100,000 other anonymous orc-killing luzers... shit, if I wanted that, I'd play The Sims Online... or I'd just drop the RPGing and stick to real life.

    • The biggest problem with games like Ultima and EverQuest is that there is very little actual role-playing going on. This is news to no one in here, of course, but I do find it interesting how the term 'RPG' has been kind of mutated.

      Finally, someone on /. who isn't pixel-blinded as to the definition of "RPG".

      "MMORPG" is a misnomer at best, and really dilutes the meaning of its "RPG" element. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here: Quake + character.creation != RPG. Unless the R stands for "roll", no

    • Rather, I like the dynamics of Neverwinter Nights. Small groups of people, who are like-minded. It's what you look for in your typical RPG anyways; the party comraderie, the give-and-take, clasing of personalities... a great story to tell later, if successful.

      I agree with many of your points. The best way to bring the players closer together would be voice chat. Naturally you'd need a small, NWN-type party system in order for it to work. The griefers just love to abuse voice channels. You need to gam
  • Dave Arneson (Score:5, Informative)

    by anonymous loser (58627) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:07PM (#5737592)
    Dave Arneson started an RPG named Blackmoor in 1970 or 1971. It was so long ago, he can't be quite sure.

    Talk about an understatement. This guy is one of the founding fathers of the RPG, who co-created D&D with Gary Gygax. Here's a good article [cgonline.com] detailing a little more about exactly what his role was in the development of the RPG.

  • by zarthrag (650912) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:09PM (#5737606)
    IMHO, Online games haven't gone through their rennasiance yet. There are lots of glaring issues with actual gameplay mostly those about giving the player a sense of purpose, importance, and acheievement in a game. I'm currently involved in a (maturing) independant MMORPG project, and I must say, we're on the right track. Most RPGs are too much like the first, and define (and limit) Adventurers and Trams, Beat-nics and PKers, and other balance aspects much such too strictly, and never in the context of role-playing! Everything I've read in this book so far isn't an insane leap of logic. As far as networking code goes, it's not the unoptimized networking code that *really* matters in the end (the increased benefit only allows more clients to connect, but doesn't *truely* improve ping times and such.), but it's the way the game presents you with other players that matters. I've said too much already, but if you're interested in a much different game, there is one coming, *I promise*.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:13PM (#5737628)
    I think that as the electronic entertainment industry slowly matures there will be a familiar scene of two camps emerging for consideration of what is "good." One will undoubtedly be the eye candy type that will talk more about the presentation aspects to those currently successful genres (good advise unless you want to make good money in the long term, just ask investors... beware trends) The other will be those who will focus on content. This means anything from story, immersion and gameplay to yes the eye and ear candy as long as that is the focus of the experience. Perhaps that is the problem with the extremists here is they forget "experience." I think it is safe to often ignore those who say to mindlessly follow trends but also would advise you never use trends as fodder for idea generation. Don't shun certain populations anymore than you would cater to them and sell yourself out.

    However, where does programming, networking design, latency considerations, etc fall in here? Well that is the difference between specific concern about the game making and the game creating. Being a programmer I of course hoard every book on game making. (why yes, I do actually have a new book on game oriented data structures :) Yet that will not help me to understand the important design issues that act as a composer. The coding is the implementation portion of one part of the game manufacturing process but there seems to be a shortage of design oriented books available.

    Personally I think this reflects the industry as a whole. This is why you get (via customer comments) the endless stream of clones pumped out with no real feeling of content. Or perhaps it is better to say that the lack of materials focusing on this is just as much a symptom as the cookie cutter games themselves. What seems to be the real problem is short term greed. Too many publishers want games that only fill the niches in name. Instead of actually focusing on specific aspects of the game and thus specific target audiences and making it great, they would rather you dump in the "mass market components" box of crap that will justify their claiming a game has "elements of" something. Look at MMOG's. There are a many that exist now and are in production that call themselves Role Playing Games when it is obvious that they are nothing but persistent action/adventure with thousands of simultaneous players. Each seems to be nothing but another cookie cutter game to absorb your money and time until a game comes out that really fits the description of what you are currently playing. However, many like these games. It would be foolish to ever change games like EQ and UO. Instead focus on the niche. Have a game or two that is totally different from these in respect to gameplay and character/avatar involvement and development. You will attract a different set of folks and will have less to worry about the "corruption" of each other game type. The RPG'ers want more "non artificial" RPG elements in the action/adventure diablo type games while if it was RPG's out then you would have the hack-n-slashers demanding more focus on killing endless hoards of critters. Don't merge the two, focus on the differences and make them better. Imagine if Baskin Robins advertised "32 flavors... all mixed together into 32 different containers but with all different food coloring."

    Lets start focusing on what you really want in a game and how to make those unique aspects as good as they can be. Learn from other genres but don't force merging and evolution... let it happen naturally.

  • What language? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @02:22PM (#5737712)
    The authors spend four lines discussing the best computer language for the job (C/C++)

    Am I the only C and C++ programmer who finds the "C/C++" label annoying as hell? Having it come from HR people who don't know any better is one thing, but hearing it from programmers drives me up the wall. I sometimes suspect it comes from C++-only programmers operating under the mistaken assumption that because C++ is a superset of C, they know C, too.

    Despite similar syntax, C and C++ are completely different languages. C++-only programmers write C code that's on a par with the code produced by C-only programmers dabbling in C++. Perl, PHP, Objective C, and several dozen other Algol-descended languages have really similar syntax, but no one says "Algol/BCPL/C/C++/PHP/Perl/Pascal" with a straight face.

    My guess is that if the authors are extolling the virtues of objects, they are primarily extolling the virtues of C++.
    • Re:What language? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @03:37PM (#5738400)
      Well, I can understand the confusion. Even C++ isn't always C++. I mean, the difference between a full-fledged Stroustrop-complete C++ program and a simplified, Java-style object-oriented C++ API is large. I can actually read and follow the latter - the former is still a bit of a mystery to me (who learned C++ back in the day before it became such a broad, all-encompassing language, and didn't really touch it again for quite a few years).


      So I don't know if I'd say that C and C++ are totally different languages, just that C++ in its entirety is such a complex language that there are many stylistic variations possible that result in greatly different program structure. C certainly has different stylistic variations possible too, but not to the same extent, and clearly structuring a program in C and in C++ usually result in fairly different designs and solutions, though it doesn't have to be that way (object-ish C programming is certainly possible).


      I think it's fair to say that somebody exposed to all of these stylistic variations is able to better pick and choose the appropriate techniques for the job at hand, and equally importantly, is able to pick up and read a much wider variety of code than your average schmoe who claims to be a "C/C++" programmer.

  • Gimlet-eyed? Had to go look it up at [reference.com]. What an odd expression, especially given the second definition of gimlet as given by [reference.com]. (It means "having keen vision")
  • by MCS (202073)
    After reading some posters comments on Jessica/Richard Mulligan, I found the following site on google:
    Bites The Hand [skotos.net]

    It is her bi-weekly editorial/thoughts on the gamming industry. Skimming over these bring some interesting insight into the industry over the last 20 years.
  • by alansz (142137) on Tuesday April 15, 2003 @03:23PM (#5738266) Homepage
    For what I think is the source of the fourfold player type thing (explore, socialize, kill, achieve), see this 1996 article by Richard Bartle [brandeis.edu], a mud pioneer.
    • For what I think is the source of the fourfold player type thing (explore, socialize, kill, achieve), see this 1996 article by Richard Bartle [brandeis.edu], a mud pioneer.

      FYI, in 1987 or so, TSR came out with the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, which explicated a three-fold typology of gamers, in its DM section. They were (approx.) "hack-n-slasher", "dectective" and "role player". Not online-specific, but obviously similar and for an obviously similar purpose.

  • It seems like no independent developer has made a successful game since the late 80's.
  • I wrote my own MMPORG a couple of years ago. I learned a lesson. I built my own 3d engine and network code. And it was glorious; fast, lots of fancy effect, and beautiful lag tolerant lurping. I was very proud.

    It was ready to do the 'easy stuff': content. Thats when things got bogged down. Turns out that games have huge lists of people on their credits because there is a huge unavoidable time sync in doing content. This article says 2-3 years and I say they are being very aggressive with that estima

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