March 2009


Ecology: The branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.

Organic systems combine randomisation, parameter tracking, and growth/decline cycles to create virtual environments that change with or without player interaction.

What does this mean exactly? Let’s look at an example, with pretty pictures:

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Back in the days before Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was released, the Vanguard: Saga of Heroes forums and affiliated sites were a thriving community with much discussion and speculation as to what the game would actually be like. Like most MMORPG communities, the dev team would occasionally reply to threads. At the time, I was championing Crafting and crafting systems, since I am, to a fault, a crafting junkie – I started crafting alts for each profession in WoW that I eventually went and levelled, just so I could keep progressing through them, I played  A Tale in the Desert, and after quitting EQ – where I also mastered all the crafting professions – I played Horizons: Empire of Istaria hardcore for three months before burning out on the game and uninstalling it from my hard drive.

So anyway, back in those heady Vanguard prerelease days, I championed the cause of crafting. Like any other prerelease community, there was a lot of expectation and speculation about what the game was going to be like, and much like today, people agonised over and examined every single word the devs posted on the forums.

One day Brad McQuaid, at the time head of Sigil and holder of the “GOD OF MMOs” title, made a post in a thread about crafting, explaining how crafting in Vanguard would consist partly of players creating a number of items which they would have no use for in order to prevent the economy from being flooded with crafted items. Not knowing the whole story (Vanguard eventually went with a system of ‘work orders’ where player took ‘crafting quests’ from NPCs to create X copper nails and hand them in for crafting exp, if I remember correctly), and fearing another crafting grind like in Horizons, I took it upon myself to single-handedly convince the devs that their intended crafting system was flawed, and ended up with a two part piece which I ended up calling “Death to Crafting Treadmills”. With some minor editing, here is the first part:

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Steve Williams’s musings on a virtual ecology just got me thinking about some stuff I wrote up over three years ago on MMO environments that change with and without player interaction. So blame him if this place suddenly begins to suffer a huge influx of migratory walls of text.

Also from Kotaku is heads up about this video on Youtube. The moment I started watching something jumped inside of me. There is definitely a game to be made based on that idea right there, and luckily for me I already had a bunch of stuff that would fit in perfectly with how it would play. If I had the means, I would probably be working on a prototype right now, instead of just blogging about it. Still, GDC is next week, and I can almost feel the magic in the air.

Kotaku features an article by Leigh Alexander in which she talks about ‘maturity’ in video games. It’s an interesting read, and it makes me feel even prouder about my earlier post on Legitimacy.

I recently followed a link to Man bytes Blog and discovered Blogs of the Round Table. After reading a few of the January and February entries I was hooked – Corvus’s ‘a lego orange’ would be a great example of what I was talking about when I wrote the piece on legitimacy, a game that depicts violence without glorifying it, and allows the player to experience that truth withouth the real consequences. Also, his  ‘an incomplete life’ for the February BoRT is definitely close to what I had in mind when I posited a game that put the player in the shoes of an African American slave in the pre-Civil War years. Among the many excellent entries, Hero’s Blade is probably one of my favourites on paper.

The March edition of BoRT continues the literary theme, this time focusing on aspects of authorship. Now I’m wishing I’d discovered this earlier this year so I’d had a chance to get in on this sooner.