Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Virtual World like Polka-dot Flypaper

Recently, the popular Second Life blogger Hamlet Au made a post raising a point of contention against Chris Abraham's remarks unfavorably highlighting the differences between SL and Twitter.  The specific point Hamlet took issue with went roughly as follows. Twitter is not like Second Life in and of the fact that it is "cheap, light, and open."  In essence Chris is pointing out several truths regarding the major differences between Twitter and Second Life.  It is true that Twitter is cheap, its free.  It's also true that twitter is light on system resources in comparison to SL, one is a text-based app, the other is a dynamic real time 3D environment.  Additionally it is also true that in relative terms Twitter is far more open than SL.  The potency of Twitters' API has been on prominent display throughout the #Iranelection crisis.  SL has a long way to go before it can boast such a promiscuous architecture.   

In response, Hamlet listed off a series of advantages SL has over Twitter.  To his mind SL has the advantages of being "unique, sticky, and profitable."  Unique in the fact that there is no real direct competitors to SL, aside from the Opensim grids.  Sticky in how much time users spend using the different services.  For this Hamlet points to statistics showing the huge lead in minutes per month spent on-platform SL enjoys over Twitter.  The last point, profitability is almost a gimme, in and of the fact that Twitter is completely funded by venture capital whereas Linden Labs makes a tidy profit off leasing land to residents.  

For the full post, you can read it here.  Honestly I'm not going to take sides on this one because while I view the argument as rather immature and the comparisons a bit sketchy, the truth is that both of them are right on all points.  What both of them are doing amounts to two blind men feeling up different sides of a elephant.  In this case lets call that elephant The Killer Social Platform.  In order to be effective and pervasive, this platform would have to be open, light, cheap, and unique.  In order to be sustainable, it would have to be sticky and profitable.  In more whimsical terms, the Killer Social Platform has got to be like polka-dot flypaper.  It has to be cheap and pervasive enough that its everywhere you want it to be, and compelling and unique enough to keep users hooked once they've tried it.  

Maybe the solution isn't text based like Twitter, or 3D like SL. Maybe it resides in the middle.  Perhaps the solution is a open, hostable 2D virtual world that utilizes ubiquitous lightweight technology like Flash.  It might be isometric like Metaplace, but my hunch is that a side scrolling style world would spread far faster, as its far easier to create content from a side view.  To be fair to Metaplace, they do a excellent job simplifying the task of bringing content reliably into a isometric world, something I applaud.  Flash is lightweight enough and ubiquitous enough that it could be embedded practically anywhere, and website embedding could allow non-users a window into the world prior to actually signing up to participate.  This is one of Twitters' strong points, as anyone can follow a conversation without signing up, effectively selling the receptive to the platforms' utility.  With persistent hosted environments comes the opportunity for profit, whether through hosting fees as SL does or through advertising. 

Additional profit can come from the sale of additional functionality, or the capacity to handle that functionality. Ownable persistent virtual property has definite inherent stickiness to it, especially when coupled with strong traditional social networking services such as groups, events, and content sharing.   The visual, location based aspect of SL coupled with its ability to allow the user to participate simultaneously in larger discussions is a large contributing factor to its stickiness.   In regards to openness, that is genuinely a structural business decision that must be made early in a product's development.  

The degree of that openness is debatable, as some will lean towards a completely open virtual framework for anyone to host, while others will inevitably prefer the hosted API route of Twitter.  Either way, the current trends point toward openness as a key element to widespread adoption.  Now we're left with uniqueness.  The fact of the matter is that a system that can pull all of the other elements off, and do it well, will be unique.  Sure, there may be competition, everyone believes they can invent a better wheel. Competition need not be viewed as a bad thing though. Historically competition has always been a excellent motivator for innovation.  

I'll give the topic a rest for now, mostly due to the fact I am beginning to lose my train of thought in a haze of sleep deprivation.  I'll probably come back and describe this platform some more in the future, gotta tease this string out to see what unravels.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Sketchbook Dump Highlight Post

If you follow me on Deviantart, you'll know that I recently did a two part marathon sketchbook dump that ended with nearly twenty new pictures being uploaded.  From this I learned two things. One, I need a dedicated flatbed scanner, because taking snapshots of each sketch just doesn't cut it when it comes to quality.  Two, I have a weird obsession with drawing heads.  Maybe this has to do with the fact I'm insecure about my ability to effectively draw faces, so in response I just draw a lot of them.  Instead of spamming you with all the pictures, I'll give you a sampling of my personal favorites from the batch.  To see all of them, feel free to check out my deviant page.

A fun little cartoon beastie I did while 
experimenting with combinations of art styles.
This was an attempt to merge art nouveau and 
hispanic chibi (if that's even a style)

Not everything was cute, however.  These
are a couple of pen sketch concepts of some
generic cyberpunk/horror characters.

One of my absolute favorites from 
the set was also the last I uploaded.  
I think I have a thing for biomech vehicles.
Whether I'm any good at drawing them 
is a completely different matter.

Hope you take a look at the full dump, and please feel free to let me know what you think!  This artist loves feedback.

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Joomla for the Metaverse

I recently posted this question on Twitter and Plurk: if Opensim is the Apache of the Metaverse, then what will be the Joomla of the Metaverse?  Clearly I need to work on my grammar when tweeting/plurking, but I was being serious.  This isn't a idle or rhetorical question, its something which has to be answered if Metaverse solutions like Opensim are ever going to truly become the next incarnation of the Web.  

While it is true that the Web grew through its infancy without much in the way of content management software, it has become a essential ingredient to its continued growth.  Even in its early years, the growth of the web was spurred by programs and services like Geocities and Dreamweaver. These served to sufficiently lower the bar of entry into the world of web design to allow those with little or no technical knowledge quickly create a web presence.  This created a primordial sea of amateur designers and content from which the committed and skilled graduated to create bigger and better things.  

Right now the Metaverse scene is currently in the AOL stage, with a few centralized services offering walled garden experiences wherein they hold the monopoly on content and users.  A few pioneers (OSGrid, ReactionGrid, Openlife) cling to the fringes, boldly attempting to create more open alternatives.  However on their own they cannot compete on the scales of content and user population that the walled gardens offer.  This is why the developments in cross grid transportation in Opensim are so widely hailed, because in many ways they are the equivalent to the most powerful element of the Web: the hyperlink.  Once a critical mass of grids become connected and standards arise for commerce and content sharing, this new web of grids will begin to eclipse the walled garden providers.  But this critical mass must exist.

This is where the question of content management becomes so crucial.  Without tools and services to lower the barrier of entry, the growth of the open Metaverse will be stunted.    The open Metaverse will need its Geocities, its Dreamweaver, and its Joomla.  The barrier of entry must be lowered, which means making the deployment and management of entire grids simple, pain-free, and dirt cheap.  When the barrier of entry is lowered, it will open the gates to a stampede of amateur Metaverse creators seeking their slice of the pie.  Now to be clear, most of these amateurs will not create great virtual environments.  Just like the web now, most of the content will be mediocre. 

A Metaverse Geocities will probably offer free hosting for simple one-sim grids, with a simple template-based creation tools.  Revenue will most likely be provided in much the same way Geocities provided it, embedded ads for free accounts, or a monthly cost for those who chose to upgrade.  An astute observer will note some similarities between this and grid services currently provided, sans the advertising.  One of the primary differences will again be in the linking, as users of such a service will occupy a grid of their own, populated only with their own sims and any hypergrid sims that they should choose to link to.  

A Metaverse Dreamweaver will most likely provide a world creation tool set based heavily off of the tool sets currently used by MMOG developers to layout large environments.  When augmented with a marketplace function (much like a pan-grid XStreetSL perhaps), it will facilitate a drag-and-drop style of world creation.  Much in the same way Dreamweaver simplified complex web functionality into a WYSIWYG interface, its Metaverse cousin must do as well.  Commonly occurring complex scripted objects would be abstracted into click-and-place entities.  Any fine tuning of these worlds would most likely be performed in-world, the Metaverse equivalent to hand-rolling HTML and Javascript. 

Finally, a Metaverse Joomla would abstract and simplify the maintenance of large, complex grids in much the same way Joomla simplifies and abstracts the maintenance of large complex websites:  by providing high-level editorial, publishing, and management tools.  In the case of the Metaverse variant, this would entail on-the-fly creation of template based sims, the ability to monitor real-time activity, permissions based administrative controls, and the ability to extend the grid to include third-party functionality and themes.

I cannot begin to stress how important these services will be to the growth of a open Metaverse. I've listed these three comparisons in this order for a reason.  It is most likely the order in which they must occur.  Right now the major battles of cross-grid content transfer loom just over the the horizon, as the first transfer mechanics are just now being created.   While that battle rages, a Metaverse Geocities can be introducing the world at large to the idea of being a virtual world maker.  Inevitably some compromise will be reached, and a Metaverse Dreamweaver would capitalize from whatever content marketplace system emerges.  As these worlds grow and mature, and the need for simple dynamic management of large scale grids emerges, a Metaverse Joomla can fill the need.

So the question remains: if Opensim is the Apache of the Metaverse, what will be its Joomla?

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Quick thoughts on motivation in MMO design

I wanted to take a quick break from my talks on technology and more serious stuff to share with you a couple thoughts I've just had regarding social dynamics in MMOs, and online games in general. I hit upon them reading this article from WebWorkerDaily, which mulls the sociological and psychological consequences of looking for a job in a crowded job market. The basic thrust of the article is that as the number of potential candidates for a freelance position increases, an individual's confidence in getting that position drops dramatically. This immediately reminded me of the psychological effect know as the "Diffusion of Responsibility". This effect is tragically exemplified by the murder of Kitty Genovese, a young women who was stabbed to death on a New York street.

What makes her case noteworthy and tragic is the fact that there were dozens of people who either witnessed the murder or heard it occuring, and yet nobody took the initiative to save her or even call the police. In both cases we see a parallel behavioral trait emerging. In situations where there is a clear goal which requires a active commitment, a persons' willingness to engage is negatively impacted by the size of the crowd present. This is a important effect that designers of online games must take into consideration when crafting both collaborative and competitive scenarios. This may be one of the reasons why random matchmaking is so effective at spurring competition. By limiting the scope of competitors any one player will encounter in a play session, the concept of winning becomes psychologically acceptable.

Collaboration is a much trickier system to balance, but the basic principle still holds true. Smaller teams tend to be far better at organizing to the task at hand than larger ones. This would suggest that systems which allow for high levels of stratification in leadership would be the most successful at promoting collaborative play. The trick comes in the assignment and enforcment of tasks, something which often is a stumbling block for many systems. For instance, Planetside utilizes a highly stratified leadership structure with player groups consisting of squads, platoons, outfits, and armies in order of ascending permenance and scope. Often however, there is a serious lack of organization and discipline within these rather stratified systems because there is very little by way of carrots and sticks to encourage unit cohesion. A top level "general" can demand focus be given to a certain region until they're blue in the face, but without any adequate method of incentivizing that focus, their orders come across far more as a suggestion than a imperitive.

Another factor worth considering is the perceived cost of acting. In most online games this cost is time. If a player perceives a activity with a high desirability but a large time commitment, and another activity with a moderate or low desirability but with little or no time commitment, a large portion will inevitably go with the latter option. From a competitive side, this is one of the big drawbacks to random matchmaking, as it requires all the participants to wait long enough for a match to fill enough slots to be worthwhile. From a collaborative end, it means that when given a choice regarding several available collaborative tasks that will help the team, the trend will be for players to choose the action with the least time cost, even if it is detrimental to a teams' overall chances of success. In the case of Planetside, there very well may be incentives in place, but if it is not immediately and inutitively accesible to the commanding players in a way that encourages its use, then inevitably those palyers will take the route which requires less time and simply rage on the chat channel.

So what are the lessons here?
  1. Keep group sizes small to keep competiton and collaboration fresh and personal
  2. Create stratified levels of leadership to prevent task overload for any one player or role
  3. Be mindful of the impact of large groups and how they can effect competition and collaboration
  4. Ensure that the cost of actions, be it real or perceived is balanced in a way that promotes the kind of behavior that is desired.
  5. Create leadership functions which allow for painless task assignment and role enforcement
Ok, enough with my ramblings. Back to building characters in Flash!

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sourcery: Transparency for Stuff

Today I want to talk to you about stuff. Real stuff, products you buy and use every day in life. In specific I want to talk about where it comes from and how its made. Let's start this off with a little exercise.

Look around you and identify/pick up something in your proximity. In my case it's a wireless USB mouse. If it's name-brand, then you should be able to identify the company that made it with relative ease. My mouse is made by Logitech, a company whose products I've traditionally trusted but recently I've become frustrated with. Now for some this name-brand identification is enough, but let's dig deeper. If your object contains more than one piece, its fair to say that someone made those pieces. Its also fair to assume that in a complex object like a wireless mouse, that the pieces were made by different companies, using different materials and methods. In turn the materials used to make these components While we can know this truth, for most this is where our knowledge ends. for instance, I don't know who made the plastic casing on my mouse, or even what its made out of. Similarly, I don't know anything about the methods used to make these pieces, what company made them, and what their practices as a company might be. For all I know, I'm using a mouse that is powered by the soul of a baby seal clubbed over the head with a rod of plutonium. While I certainly hope this is hyperbole, it illustrates my point.

Shouldn't we, in a world of connected and relational data, be able to easily discover what is in our products so that we can buy intelligently? As a informed and concerned consumer I would love to be able to know with relative confidence where everything in my mouse has come from, whether it contains any materials I would rather avoid, and that it is indeed radioactive-baby-seal free. For granola-munching progressives like myself there are obvious advantages to this system, as it allows people to truly see what goes into the making of the things they buy should they chose to do so. However this kind of system would be of utility of anyone concerned about the how, what, and where. For example, informed parents would be far less likely to buy a product for their child if they knew that one of the manufacturers of one of the components used a chemical in the process that has been clinically proven to negatively impact children. Someone with hometown pride may favor a one product over another if they knew that it contained a component made in their home town. This concept may seem like a bit of a stretch, but its worth noting that there are several forward thinking companies which have already begun self-reporting on their sourcing. Their logic is that by being transparent to their customers, they not only hold themselves accountable as to what goes into their products, but also establish a trusted relationship with customers who will in turn reward them with brand loyalty.

So what would this system (lets call it Sourcery, because it makes me feel clever) look like Clearly this is too much data for one company to maintain with any semblence of agility or accuracy. A single edition of such a report would take years to compile and would be woefully out of date from its release date onward. So instead I look towards the Wikipedia model. Like Wikipedia, Sourcery has to be agile and decentralized, self-editing, and contain a tolerable level of credibility. Entries in Sourcery would be divided into three categories: products, companies, and materials. Product entries would list materials used in their manufacture, other sub-component products, and the company of manufacture. Company entries would contain a list of products produced by the company. Material entries would contain basic information on the properties of the material, and a description of how the material is created. Sourcery should be open enough that anyone willing to contribute knowledge can, but also allow companies the ability to officially confirm and validate the information contained on entries pertaining to their products. Herein lies the largest challenge of the entire system. Individuals should have the power to openly participate, as with Wikipedia, yet in order to be fair the system must allow companies to differentiate between factual information and baseless claims. At the same time, companies must be limited in their power to censure information, otherwise the system completely loses its utility. Perhaps the method lies in differentiating the powers of users and company representatives. Anyone can sign up to edit the articles, thus allowing the company the same level of access as everyone else. Companies can sign up for a official representative account, which adds the power to tag various information as officially confirmed or contested by the company. The official account would not allow for the deletion or wholesale censoring of information, but would instead simply allow for the company to add its position to any claims contained in regards to their products. Occasionally a company will want to protect its intellectual property, especially when it comes to proprietary materials. They should be allowed to do this, but with the understanding that the more which is withheld, the less inherent trust will be placed in the product.

Another critical component of Sourcery should be the linking of materials and companies to related data. For example, I should be able to see clinical studies related to a material, or a report on human rights conditions at a company. This is where the true usefulness of Sourcery would really reside. Without it, I may know a product contains a certain material, but without the context that this is something I may want to avoid the system loses its meaning. With it, it creates a climate where through disclosure, companies can be petitioned to make their products safer/better/more sustainable. Companies that would fight against such a change would inherently be at a disadvantage when competing against companies with less qualms about being honest with their customers. A feature that would certainly be a technical challenge to create, but a boon to utility would be ability to extract high level summaries. The feature would take a request for a summary on a product based on search parameters and dig through the web of sourcing data and return a summary based on anything matching the parameters. For example, lets say I want to know if anything in my mouse was made by a certain company, or made in a certain country. Doing this search by hand would take some time, but could be easily discovered by the feature and returned quickly. This functionality could lead to a whole new dimension of comparison shopping, allowing consumers to quickly get a summary on several similar products and make a decision accordingly.

Undoubtedly, if Sourcery was ever created, there would be those who would decry it as unfair, but to my mind it is the essence of fairness. When we buy a product, we are in essence voting for a supply chain and a method of production which we may or may not actually desire or approve of. By being informed, we can make better choices, what ever those choices may be.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Clearwire, Backlog, and other Mumblings

I will honestly admit to a case of literary blue-balls from the past two weeks. I wanted dearly to finish the second part of my rant on MMO structure, and perhaps there was a bit of stage fright which came along with it. Meanwhile, ideas and thoughts kept piling up in notepads and in the back of my mind, which has only added to the frustration over the incomplete status of the posting. Now that its out, I can finally update briefly on several fronts.

First, I am most excited to report that I have freed myself from the shackles of AT&T's DSL morass and have happily switched to Clearwire, a budding WiMax broadband Internet service. Every negative assumption I had prior to taking the plunge (due mostly to bad experiences with DSL and Cable net) happily turned out to be wrong. It was affordable, offering the same bandwidth for half the price, easy to order, dead easy to set up (quite literally plug and surf), and so far rock solid in terms of stability. As someone who is not a land line phone user nor a TV watcher, the ability to have simple, effective, reliable Internet access without the need for other services is a absolute boon. But enough gushing, undoubtedly I will have something to eventually grouse about.

I've finally made the plunge and got myself a YouTube account (gasp!) which I have noticed gives me a subtle motivator to produce new work, now that I have a venue in which to display it. For your viewing pleasure, here is my demo reel, updated slightly to include some additions which should have been included long ago.

Rest assured you'll be seeing a lot more articles soon, I have a couple big ideas that will all naturally clump together which I will hopefully begin on shortly. These won't be art related as they have more to do with some of my thoughts regarding technology and innovation. But those posts are for another night, and it's nearly 1AM. Goodnight folks!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

The Currencies of the Realm, Part 2

Ok, so it took a little prodding, two weeks of procrastination, and a weekend obsessing over the nightmare in Iran, but here we go with part two.

In part one I made much mockery of what could be called the standard MMO formula, and especially at issue was the ever present mechanic of grind, which exists for the dual purposes of leveling the players' character and providing a method of generating income. More often than not, this income is used to purchase gear to grind more efficiently. At the center of all of this is the imperative to gain experience in order for the player to be admitted into the next major segment of the games story narrative. Yet at the end of the day, experience seems to a somewhat awkward way to measure someones inherent immersion and affluence in a MMO. Its used as a one-size fits all metric for battle-prowess, story progression, social sway, and worldliness. All its really measuring, however, is how many hoops you've jumped through thus far. But enough ranting, you get my drift.

Experience points are really a holdover from tabletop role playing, a system where the player count is inherently limited and you are constantly under the vigilant guidance (be that helpful or not) of the GM. The job of a good GM is to provide a custom tailored role play experience that fits the current skill level of their players. In a MMO, the presence of literally thousands of players makes the task of such personalized story telling at this point completely impractical. So in order to compensate, the process is abstracted into a framework of preset quests and a environment full of generic beasts and enemies which act as a proxy to the personalized experiences a GM would provide. The core difference of course is that the GM is providing you with encounters as a method of furthering the player narrative, whereas in a MMO its really just used as a placeholder. A excellent example of the kind of bland game play experience this can breed can be found here in a excellent post by Eric Heimburg. Because of this fact, something has to rise in importance to fill the holes in the narrative. It needs to be something that you are striving towards, something that comes with a promise of more. Therefore, experience and level are elevated from their simple clerical function in tabletop systems where it is used primarily by the GM as a method of scaling the difficulty of the encounters. Instead, it becomes the driving force behind player action and in doing so loses what was fun about the system to start with. In some cases it is been taken to ludicrous extremes, such as Jade Dynasty (snarkily call AFK Dynasty) in which you can literally pay real money to have the computer grind for you. Colin Brennan of Massively.com has a amusing article on this, one which begs the question what is even the point of having a experience system if you are literally giving players every means possible to avoid confronting it?

So how do we create a system that meets the needs of a MMO? What would a system that promoted player interaction, the shifting needs of players, and accurately reflected all aspects of a character's influence? Ironically, the answer is to utilize some good old arbitrary metrics, but to do it more intelligently. Experience points aren't a problem because they are arbitrary, they are a problem because it is a metric ill-suited to the task at hand. So what do we want to measure? To my mind there are three metrics which really encapsulate a MMO experience: Economic Capital, Social Affluence, and Battle/Competition Effectiveness.

Economic capital is an obvious and already implemented feature in the vast majority of MMOs, be it coins, credits, very small rocks, etc. Aside from experience points, economic capital is probably the biggest motivators driving grind. However, its a essential part of any system where a capitalist framework exists. It would certainly be interesting to see a MMO or virtual world attempt to build a system without economic coinage.

Social Affluence is a feature which has at times been used by MMO's, but generally in a secondary role and most commonly only as a penalty system against greifers and trolls. However, such a metric could be used as a reward system for participation in social events, pro-social behavior, and generally any activity deemed to enrich the player community. In many ways this metric seeks to quantify a players contribute and inherent value to the continuing vitality of a community. A few posts ago I mentioned Cory Doctrow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom , a tale which featured a economy based completely of a social capital currency called "Whuffie." Whether a economy based exclusively on such a system is feasible or even desirable is a point of debate, and certainly one Doctrow explores in the book. But there is a definite utility in such a metric.

Battle or Competition Effectiveness is often the most common attribute associated with our old friend experience points. In simplest terms this is simply a metric for determining, well, your effectiveness in a competitive or combat related scenario. Often these are broken down into sub-categories of health, energy, stamina, armor, etc. There's nothing inherently wrong with this system either, but often in games there is a sense of inevitability and linearity that its association with experience imparts.

So up to this point, what's actually new? Not really that much, as all three metrics have seen some use in games. So why bother spell it all out? Because by abandoning the notion of experience points we can get to a core truism of the MMO: all three are really currencies. We don't generally think about them this way, but in fact that's what they are. The reason we don't think about them this way is with the exclusion of coinage, developers and designers tend to treat them in a very non-currency fashion. We can think of the game as a central bank with the power to print its own currency. This currency is handed put arbitrarily and incrementally to players for achieving certain goals, a meritocracy-based pay structure. Its at this point however, once the player has been given possession over their currency, that developers cease to treat it like currency. Players can seldom redeem their experience for anything aside from the promise of increased access.

So what if we did treat each as a full fledged currency from start to finish? What if a player could one day decide to cash in their battle-efficiency and purchase social affluence instead, allowing them to move from a play style centered on battle to one centered on socializing. As long as the developer finds clever and compelling services and products for each currency to be spent on, the market will for the most part balance itself. For a developer concerned about exploitation of the system, all they have to remember is that they control the spigots that allow each currency to flow into the system, and they control the cost of the goods and services. They can even control the exchange rates, should they choose to do so.

By making all these transactional, it allows developers to create activities which give rewards accurate and pertinent to the actual activity, and allows them to create self sustaining player dynamics by balancing the supply, demand, input and output of these currencies through the system. Admittedly, it seems counter intuitive to be able to trade ones physical attributes for money or social capital, but in many ways it fits better than the experience points model. For example, I could go to a blood bank tomorrow and depending on the blood bank, either donate my blood, thus gaining social capital, or sell it. Compare that to the notion that somehow by squishing 30,000 rats that a player is somehow qualified to slay demons. The only real world analogy which works here is that of muscle-building (which might as well be a form of real-world grinding).

This system need not spell doom for storytelling, which is still a vital part of any form of entertainment. Quite to the contrary it gives developers a greater power to influence player action and participation in the storyline. A story could very well roam from the battlefield to situations where social clout is necessary, to sections in which monetary wealth would be of great importance. By granting players the ability to trade between these three currencies, they are granted the flexibility for their character to evolve and grow over time. But as always, with great power comes great responsibility, and developers and storytellers will be harder pressed to create more rich and compelling worlds and story lines should they choose to use such a model. Perhaps for some developers the answer would lie in smaller linear narratives, much in the same way World of Warcraft includes new dungeons with patches. Others may be more ambitious and choose a branching open ended universe model, in which the narrative is defined by a constant set of conflicting choices presented by compelling NPC's and informed by a rich explorable world (Deus Ex was a early masterpiece in this regard). Still others may abandon developer dictated storytelling altogether in favor of creating game play mechanics which cause player-driven interactions to create stories of their own. The possibilities are nearly endless. It really boils down to the needs and desires of the developer. Some storytelling methods inherently are more developer intensive, and each carries with it a set of strengths and weaknesses which should be carefully considered.

After I wrote the first part of this article, a coworker who follows me online commented I was long winded. In retrospect I would have to agree, and hopefully this has been at least a tolerable read. I don't pretend that this system isn't without its problems, nor do I view it as a panacea to cure all the ills of MMOGs. This very well may be completely off base, but my hunch is that the MMO scene is looking for something fundamentally new, and this might be a good place to start.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Random Thought of the Night

I promise to continue my crusade against vanilla flavored MMOG's shortly, but before I crawl off to bed I thought I'd share some musings about everyones favorite animation platform that no one knows about; Blender.

So I've decided to give learning Blender another go. It's become powerful enough and the industry is finally starting to catch wind, so its a good time to get reacquainted. I have to admit that while I'm finding some parts of the interface natural and intuitive, other things are just leaving me scratching my head.  Why, for instance, is it that when I'm deleting a obiviously redundant edge, I cannot simply remove the edge itself without completely obliterating the face upon which it rests? The other big thing that bugs me is the camera.  I want to orbit around the object of interest with a camera without the camera randomly beginning to keel over like a drunk penguin.  Its not exactly conducive to a rapid production pipeline.  Am I just being thick here? Do I simply not posess the knowledge of some painfully obvious preferences which would make my life easier?  Probably.  I hear the next release is slated to have all manner of UI improvements, which I welcome wholeheartedly.  Now all of this might simply be the grousings of a modeler who has invested a good chunk of brainmeat to conforming to Maya's similarly eccentric workflow.  But it sure as hell feels easier to do simple things like rerouting a edge loop flow in Maya while in Blender I feel like I'm asking it to fly to the Moon using only a peice of tinfoil and a q-tip.

Meh. Maybe I'll actually look at a tutorial for once tomorrow.

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