Thursday, December 30, 2010

Flashbacks to old computer games

I've long been following Shamus at TwentySided's discussions of implementing graphical elements/world building using procedural methods to generate a world (versus using static maps, hand placed art, etc.)  He recently linked to Sea of Memes, and the programmer there's project to build a game and his discussions about his approach, technical explanations etc.

All of which, is interesting, to a certain set of people, what really struck home for me today in the latest Sea of Meme's Let's Code #6, in which one paragraph gave me a very vivid reminder to a computer game I played in the early 1990s.

I have a number of reservations with this approach. First, it's not very user friendly. People need to know how to get from one place to another. They need to give each other directions. And they need to be able to form a mental map of the place. Saying "start in the space station, go out the airlock and you'll be in this shopping mall, then exit the mall and you'll be in a jungle with dinosaurs, then jump into the volcano and you'll be at my place", probably won't work well.
From late 1990 through 1993, I played LPMuds, MUSHes and MUSEs, and eventually collaborated with some good friends to build our own world.  The description above fits many of the adhoc, player built worlds that were around and dedicated to a particular theme (Pern, Dune, Star Trek).

Much more vividly, it recalled my favorite LPMud, whose name I can't recall that I played in 1991 (and I think was served out of Los Alamos National Labs).  There was no purpose to the game aside from being able to run around, hack and slash in environments created by other people with other players present, the real fore-runners of todays MMORPG games.  The game had similar elements as the quote above, you could go to the Brady Bunch area, and kill Alice to retrieve Sam the Butcher's cleaver, one of the best weapons for low level characters.  You could then wander through about 20 rooms with at least 3 different themes to get to an enclave of actors and actresses to beat up.  I remember that Keifer Sutherland was one of the tougher ones in that zone.

In many ways I miss those days, especially the creativity of building and programming the world for other people to enjoy and play in.  As a privileged user, you could create objects, attach descriptions to them, and by putting the right text in the right places, create ambiance through words.  Want that ball you just picked up to convey something more than just being a ball?  Simple, set the get property to tell the player "You grasp the ball and are suprised by its unexpected weight before putting it in your bag".  Want every one else to know that the person just picked up the ball, set a different property to send the text to everyone in the same location "<Player> strains to pick up the ball before putting it in their pocket".  The programming could get a lot more complicated.  On the project my friends and I worked on, we had a working sustenance, economy and combat systems all built using the in-game programming language.

Thanks for this walk through fuzzy memory lane with me...8)  And ya  know, if you take out the space station, there are elements of World of Warcrat that pretty similar as the authors paid homage to SciFi and Fantasy worlds that had come before them.