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Reminiscing about Ultima Online in the comment-field in a different post made me all nostalgic, like. And I came to realize that no MMORPG (or MMO, if you prefer) I have played since has struck a chord with me to the same extent as it did. Not just because it was my first MMORPG – I recognize that very little compares favorably to one’s “first”, but also because UO awoke in me a desire for virtual worlds. Take note that I used the word “worlds” there and not “games”. I like games. I’ve played games all my life, and will continue to do so for as long as I am able to. Virtual worlds, however – that’s the stuff dreams are made of! Also, the Matrix.

Let’s take it from the beginning

Attending the Court of Truth on Atlantic

On the 31st of December 1997 I started playing Ultima Online. It sounded like a dream come true at the time; to be able to run around in the Ultima-universe alongside other real people living out our alternative lives, dispatching hordes of monsters, living the stories, even baking bread? Hallelujah!

A cousin of mine got the game as a Christmas gift, after I had been drooling over the game for months and he had barely heard of it! O, what cruel fate! Luckily for me, though, his computer did not meet the minimum required system specifications (Pentium 133MHz, 16MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM Drive!) to run the game, so the game ended up being installed on my beast of a P200 MMX instead *rubs hands gleefully together sometime in the distant past*

A couple of months later I got my own copy of the game and from then on there was no looking back (until now).

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This is the fourth installment in a series of posts I’ll be making about Raph Koster‘s The Laws of Online World Design, as explained in this introductory post. I will start at the top of the list, and work my way down until I’ve poked and prodded every law in the list, not skipping any unless I really feel like it, or unless I should happen to be distracted by a pretty butterfly or something. Which is exactly what happened after I wrote Part III of this series in July 2009!

In this long awaited (right?) Part IV of the series, I’ll concentrate on the following law:

  • Macroing, botting, and automation

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Ownership is Key

A study (published yesterday) from the University at Buffalo School of Management, which followed 173 players who were part of a large MMORPG community to figure out strategies in which to increase player loyalty/retention, concluded with what everyone who has actively played Ultima Online and/or Star Wars Galaxies (and/or MUDs) have known for (a) decade(s) or longer:

“It [the study] examined whether two different game-playing strategies were successful in producing loyal players.
One strategy found that giving players more control and ownership of their character increased loyalty. The second strategy showed that gamers who played cooperatively and worked with other gamers in “guilds” built loyalty and social identity.

“To build a player’s feeling of ownership towards its character, game makers should provide equal opportunities for any character to win a battle,” says Sanders. “They should also build more selective or elaborate chat rooms and guild features to help players socialize.”

It doesn’t take a brain-surgeon to figure out that this isn’t rocket-science:

  • Ownership is, has been and will continue to be a key ingredient to player retention.

Sources: The Escapist, University at Buffalo

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MIGS logoWell, MIGS is over for this year. It was the first game-development conference I have attended, and for the most part I enjoyed it greatly. Interesting stuff being exhibited at booths/demo-stations, both from small-time indie-developers promoting their games (like for instance gamesbymo’s A.N.N.E. – one to watch!) and from big-time guys like Wacom, Autodesk, Granny, Epic and more showing off both hardware and software related to game-development. There were also other miscellaneous stuff going on, like a “sketch duel” competition, job fair for those looking for new (or their first – lots of students there too) gigs, and more.

Unfortunately I missed a good part of Tim Sweeney’s opening keynote since Google maps directed me to the wrong metro-station (NOT the one right next to the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, where the event in question was being hosted), but hopefully I’ll be able to scrounge up a summary of it from somewhere.  The other conference-sessions I attended were of mixed quality (name/link-dropping to follow).
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The next two days should be interesting! I am, along with a bunch of other people from work, attending the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS) – which (surprisingly enough) is taking place right here in Montreal during the Montreal Digital Festival (MTL DGTL for short).

My schedule is filled to the brim with what will hopefully turn out to be great sessions on everything game-development related, hosted by a diverse bunch of folks including (but not limited to) such personalities as Tim Sweeney and Peter Molyneux. For those interested, the complete schedule (and information about the sessions) can be found on the Montreal Digital Festival homepage.

This will be my first time attending such an event, so I’m looking forward to it with great interest! I shall try my best not to ambush any Peter Molyneux’es I come across, but I make no definitive promises…

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As observant readers might have observed, I am not very good at updating this blog regularly.

Instead of following up a thought like “Hmm… maybe I should update my blog?” by actually updating said blog, my mind immediately leaps off in a random direction, hurling distractions my way one after the other, until the original notion of updating the blog is so deeply buried under layers of “I just have to X first…” that I never get around to it. Nevertheless, from time to time the thought floats back up to the surface, and makes a nuisance of itself until I oblige it by writing another blog-post. Sometimes I get away with only writing drafts, and never actually publishing those posts, but that does not always work.

I figure that this is partly due to my tendency to spend ages writing each post, previewing, rewriting and carefully over-thinking every word in every sentence.  As such, I am contemplating to try posting shorter posts, more often, while forcing myself not to over-think everything. Which is not easy for me; I have read and re-written even these few paragraphs of text multiple times, and often my mind runs itself off course and I have to forcefully steer it back on track before it derails completely. Even now, I have to fight the distractions looming in the back of my mind to keep writing, so I should probably try to wrap this post up before this ends up as yet another unpublished draft.

To give this post slightly more (or less – maybe I’m actually watering the post down by…wait! I’m over-thinking this again, gah!) substance, here’s my TO-DO list of random activities that I have planned for this weekend:

  • Update my blog
  • Continue to further educate myself on C++ programming through LearnCpp.com
  • Hack in more fixes and updates to UOX3
  • Watch more video-lectures from Brandon Sanderson’s class on Creative Writing
  • Start writing a novel for NaNoWriMo (I’m already ten days late, and my previous attempt at this was all the way back in 2008!)
  • Finish Torchlight II
  • Finish Skyrim
  • Try to catch up on the TV-show Fringe (4 seasons behind)
  • Try to catch up on the TV-show Leverage (1 season behind)
  • Find out what’s inside Peter Molyneux’s Curiosity cube
  • Update my blog again? Maybe? Maybe.

The Winds of Change

The wheels of the gaming industry churn, developers come and pass, leaving games that become legacies. Legacies fade to obscurity, and even obscurity is long forgotten when the development cycle that gave it birth comes again. In one development cycle, called the Facebook/Gamification-cycle by some, a development cycle yet to come, a development cycle long pass, a wind rose in the hills of Montreal. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the churning of the wheels of the gaming industry. But it was a beginning.

Ahem. Horribly mangled Wheel of Time-quotes aside… As March transitioned into April this year, it meant I had spent exactly four years in the game development industry, after I packed my bags and moved to Oslo (and later, to Montreal) at the end of March in 2008 to join up with Funcom – a few short months before the launch of Age of Conan. Since then I have worked primarily with refining, updating and maintaining AoC’s state-machine and animation-systems, while also temporarily taking on a few extra side-jobs where needed such as basic rigging/skinning and animating in Autodesk 3ds Max (very useful for fixing minor issues with character-animations and 3D assets), the creation of particle-effects for spells and environments, scripting triggers and conditions for said particle-effects to play, as well as creating and hooking up triggers for sound-effects for monsters. The common denominator (in my case) for all of these tasks is their link to the animation-systems and/or behavior control center (state machine).

When I crossed that four-year milestone two and a half months ago, though, I decided it was time for a change. Without change, without new challenges, the mind can grow stale and one’s motivation can falter. As luck would have it, an opportunity for change arose, and I took it. As a result, on Monday just hence, when I came back to the Conan-team after a five-month temporary hiatus spent working on particle-effects for monsters in The Secret World (which is just about to launch, btw!), I sat down at a new desk, next to new people (well, people I hadn’t sat next to before, anyway) to start training for a new position: AI Designer!

This is a new and untested field for me, but hopefully I can draw on the knowledge and experience I have acquired over the last four years to smooth out my transition into the world of AI Design for video-games.  It will definitely be in my favor that I have extensive knowledge about the state-machine (which is prominent in AI scripting for AoC), and that I am at least somewhat familiar with the primary tools I’ll be using as an AI Designer. I do, however,  have a lot to learn – though there will always be challenges to overcome and new things to learn. Anyway, interesting times are ahead, that much is certain. Who knows – perhaps this will be the start of another exciting four-year (or longer) journey into the future! :)

(For an insight into what being an AI Designer for Age of Conan involves, check this link. While “slightly” out of date (it’s from 2008!), the general principles (and tools in use) are roughly the same.)

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Hello blog, old friend. It has been a while; fourteen months, to be exact. I planned to write – no really, I did! I even almost finished writing the drafts for several interesting and exciting posts I was going to send your way, only to scrap them when I realized they weren’t really all that interesting and exciting. You didn’t miss much.

Hm. I guess I should give you a status update, since it’s been so long since I last communicated with you. Let’s see; I just returned to Canada yesterday after having spent two and a half weeks celebrating Xmas and New Year with friends and family back in Norway. Saw a movie about Sherlock Holmes. Good times.

I still work for FC, and I am now in fact just three months shy of having spent four years working for these guys, during which I have no doubt become more experienced as a data-entry monkey, exporter of GFX-assets, amateur 3D animator and/or fixer of minor skinning/3D modeling issues, particle-effects designer and jack-of-a-thousand-more-trades. In fact, when people ask me what my job is, I just shrug and try to change the topic, because it is not easily explained in less than four paragraphs worth of words. Oh well, at least it will fill out my otherwise meager CV until I can land a proper game design gig. I never wanted to be an animation/particle-effects guru. I always wanted… to be a lumberjackgame designer! *fingers crossed*

Other than that, I guess I’ve been playing the same games everyone else have been playing recently. Skyrim, SWTOR, Jungle Hunt on C64, etc. I’m sure you’ve been flooded with enough thoughts and opinions about these games to last you a lifetime, so I won’t say more than this: I’m enjoying Skyrim immensely for its immersion, open-world and non-linear gameplay. I’m enjoying SWTOR despite the whole “single-player in a multi-player environment”-thing it’s going for. Dialogue system, companions and group-conversations rock, other parts not so much. Jungle Hunt I think speaks for itself.

Well, I guess that’s it for now, I’ll let you get back to fending off spam-bots. I noticed they had clogged up the tubes to the comment-section since I last visited (thankfully your filter seems to be still intact), so I cleared them out for you. Don’t mention it. Anyway, I’m off. See you around, blog!

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that mobile frequency bands in Montreal are not compatible with the old, trusty workhorse of a cellphone (HTC Diamond) I brought along from Norway and would only allow me to use it in 2G mode, I finally bit the proverbial bullet and shelled out for a new cellphone (in fact, I ended up shelling out for two, since the service provider refused to sell me a SIM-card and subscription without also selling me a phone, and the phone I wanted wasn’t in stock, and they would not let me order one…*shakes head in a mixture of wonder and disgust at the way business is being done in Montreal, and at stupidity of self*)

Google Nexus One

Google Nexus One

Anyway, the phone I was after eventually came back into stock, and the Google Nexus One (N1, for short), is a pretty darn decent smart-phone. Large, nice touchscreen (mine has the SLCD one), excellent camera with LED flash, extra mic for noise-cancellation, fancy Android operating system, access to more than 160 000 downloadable applications from the Android Market, etc and so forth. All that jazz. It’s even possible to call people with it, and send messages and stuff. Pretty cool.

One of the main reasons why I bought this particular phone – even though it’s not the newest of the new, not the fastest of the fast,  not the slickest of the sli…actually it is pretty slick – is because this phone (and its kin) is amongst the first phones to receive updates and fixes to the Android operating system directly from Google whenever those updates become available.

Imagine my frustration, then, at discovering that my cellphone provider actually blocks the official Android updates from being pushed (fancy buzzword, wooh!)  to N1 phones bought through them and operated on their mobile network. Apparently they want to make sure that the updates don’t “break” anything for their customers or their network before making the updates available. I guess that might be seen as admirable by some, but it also makes one of the reasons for why I bought the phone redundant. Android updates are in general being pushed out by the phone producers only after extensive testing, in many cases causing the customers to be stuck with old versions of the operation system (1.6) and potentially not receiving updates at all when the phones go “out of date”, as the producers want to focus on newer, flashier phones. I had hopes to avoid those situations by buying a Nexus One, but apparently my hopes were naive and unrealistic.

So far I’ve only missed two Android updates – one (3 1/2 weeks ago) which fixes a WiFi-connection issue that affects me both at home and at work, and another (yesterday) with updates to various system applications. A larger Android update – version 2.3 aka “Gingerbread” – is also on its way, and will probably be here before Christmas. Normally, as a Nexus One user, I should expect to have access to this Android-update shortly after it’s been officially released – but at the rate of updates I’m receiving through my service provider it does not bode well.

However! All is not yet lost. The phone comes unlocked, root access is available by the snap of a couple of fingers, ROMs and kernels can be flashed, and I can basically circumvent my service-provider and install the Android updates myself. Additionally I can install user-developed mods, hacks and feature-additions (hidden hardware features such as FM radio, 720p video recording, even CPU overclocking).

Still, it is a pain in the ass to be forced to jump through such hoops to get hold of updates that many other Nexus One owners have already gotten with no hassles, when all that is stopping me from getting them sent to my phone and installed automagically is the “helpful” attitude of my Canadian mobile service provider.

Oh, and I also gave in and added an authenticator to my WoW account. A version of it that runs on my Android-phone, of course!

It’s a oft repeated mantra that the days are gone when single-person development teams could succeed in the game development market. These days you’re not going to get anywhere unless you have a budget that numbers in the millions, and enough manpower to build a life-sized replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza, with some additional manpower to manage your workforce and prioritize which stones should be put where in the pyramid, and in which order they should be put in (and which stones should be cut altogether, for budget reasons). That is not always the case, though.

Markus Persson has since May 2009 worked on Minecraft all by himself, and the game has almost half a million registered users, with nearly 30 000 players playing at any given time. What is more impressive though, is that the game – which is still an Alpha-version  - has actually sold almost a hundred thousand copies (99147 as I type this). Let me repeat that: The Alpha-version of his game has sold almost 100 000 copies.

I can understand why, since I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I purchased a copy a couple of days ago. It’s dangerously addictive, there’s always another block of stone to mine (the game-world is basically of infinite size, since it generates more world-data on the fly as you move towards the edges of the map), always another tree to chop, always another fantastic structure to build, always another mine-shaft to light up with torches. Maybe there’s a rich vein of iron ore just behind the next block of stone. Must. Keep. Mining…

(Check out my Minecraft-progress in the screenshots below)

The game’s success even while still in early development goes to show that if you have a good idea for a game and possess the necessary skill-sets to implement said idea, only the sky is the limit.

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