Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Holy Grail of MMOG Design, my speech at Gatech

I held a speech in the TSRB building at Georgia Tech yesterday that Michael Mateas organised. I gave it the somewhat ;) pompous title "The Holy Grail of MMOG Design".

Michael Mateas introducing 2005_11_28_Atlanta 021

I was positively surprised at how many people showed up. Great because I put in more energy than usual when preparing the slides. Sam Lewis (who just moved to Atlanta to start his new job as lead designer for Cartoon Netwok’s new MMOG) was kind enough to help me out the day before, and when it was “done” I had this feeling of it being a mass of words that wouldn’t say anything to anyone. I know Sam knows what I mean, but that’s just because I have explained it at length. How do it quickly… We came up with a design: Designorama Online - an office type game where the players task is to make games – and tested if we could come up with a simple game that would illustrate the Mind Module and the story deamons. That was great fun, here is the sketch:

2005_11_27_designorama 005

I was especially happy that Patrick Williams took the trouble of driving all the way from Athens. He is, toghether with Jonas Heide Smith editing the book “Gaming Cultures and Social Life” to which I made a small contribution. It was really nice meeting in person, and we went off to Starbucks with Hartmut.

Hartmut and me Patrick Williams

Here are the slides from the talk

This is the description of the speech:

Title: The Holy Grail of MMOG Design: Supporting Players to Perform Meaningful Narratives
Speaker: Mirjam Eladhari
Date: Nov. 28, 2005
Time: 2:00pm
Room: TSRB 132

One of trickiest problems in the design of massively multiplayer games is how to make the stories meaningful for all thousands of simultaneous players. Traditionally characterization is viewed as one of the cornerstones for a good narrative. But how do we relate to characterization in a media where there is a fictional setting and a back story controlled by design, but the majority of the parts are performed by actors playing themselves?

In this session we briefly touch upon
- The current game play paradigms of virtual game worlds,
- Characterization, self play and role play,
- The notion of heroism and the hero's journey,
- Basic conditions for the creation of narrative potential in massively multiplayer games.

What solutions can we build that use the creativity and sensitivity of the players to facilitate more emotional depth and more meaningful experiences of social game play?

The Mind Module is an attempt in this direction; an architecture for semiautonomous expressive avatars. The player would in the virtual game world not only take a virtual body into possession, but also a mind. This could give the player certain emotional biases towards other objects in the world, such as other players, and provide a basis for player generated stories that have an actual effect in game play terms.

An example implementation in production is the game prototype "The Garden of Earthly Delights" which is a pervasive massively multiplayer game that can be played both in the real world through cell phones as well as in a virtual world via a traditional 3D PC Client. The prototype is done in the work package "Massively Multiplayer Reaching Out", which is part of the EU funded IPERG project.

Mirjam Eladhari is lead game designer and researcher in the work package "Massively Multiplayer Reaching Out", which is part of the IPERG project. She is also working on her PhD thesis on the topic of "Player Character Mind Models for Deep Characterization and Emergent Story Construction in MMOGs". This research is conducted within the game research group at the Department of Technology, Art and New Media at Gotland University in Sweden, and within the School of Computing at the University of Teesside, UK. Mirjam has worked as a game programmer at Liquid Media in Sweden where she worked on a number of game titles including The Diamond Mystery of Rosemond Valley, a mystery game in real time 3D, for which she was the lead game programmer. She has also worked as technical lead and researcher at the Zero-Game Studio, a part of the Interactive Institute, primarily with the open research MMOG engine Purgatory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tombstone Hold em Atlanta 12th Nov 2005

Kiyash and Jane greeting arriving players

Jane McGonigal brought Tombstone Hold em to Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta this weekend, a lucky coincidence too good to pass out on. Lisbeth and I formed a team and actually managed to win one of the rounds at the table. I love the genius simplicity in the idea of translating tombstones into cards. These are the rules:

Rules of Tombstone Hold em

It did not feel strange play in a graveyard. Jane explained in her talk at the Austin Game Conference that graveyards through history has been used as social spaces, and that is something to reclaim. Also we were welcomed by a man who works at the Historic Oakland Cemetery who gave us a bit of history and warned us not to fall over and break our legs. But also it is a historical graveyard. It would have been different if it was a place were people are mourning newly diseased.

2005_11_12 059

Here you find all the photographs as well as links to other people's pictures and more information.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Austin Game Conference 2005, Summary

The highlights for me this conference was the session by Jane McGonigal on alternate reality gaming and the keynote by Richard Bartle; “Why are we here”.
I summarised all sessions i went to, but first some local color:

Austin was good for meat lovers:
meat Andy Tepper with meat Brian Green with meat

... Less good for vegetarians:
Elina with salad

Austin had this guy running for mayor:
Leslie in Austin

Friday 28 October 2005

Why are we here? Keynote by Richard Bartle
This was an excellent speech. I'm actually still moved by it. Bartle started out asking the audience why we are here. We are all going to die sooner or later, so why are we spending our lives doing this and not something completely different? Then he went on to talk about the original conception of hackers and hacker's ethics; which was a nice ethics with freedom and decentralization and passion and stuff. Where did all the hackers go? Well, why, into MMO development. Since Bartle and his coauthor consciously also embedded this norm system into MUD1, and since MUD1 constituted the basic game design paradigm of the genre it still lives. Wanted to give people the possibility to be who they really are, instead being what their social real-world context forces them to be. And that this experience is valuable to also bring back into the real life. Bartle seemed to want to get through the message that what designers build into their world have a real impact. And to not forget that by doing this work it can mean something for people. To not get blinded by the stress of the every day life, but actually remember why we are here. In Austin, at a conference about MMO's (ok, virtual game worlds). And to stop repeating the game play paradigms of the past: do more new things!
2005_10_28 051 felt a little bit fatherly. I liked that, it moved me. Since he DID build the MUD1 it is appropriate. I guess he is the only one in the world besides Trubshaw that can make this speech. And hey, read his book! It is a good book.
Full notes
All photo's from the session

East versus West: design differences in MMOs in Asia, panel moderated by Jessica Mulligan

East versus West: design differences in MMOs in Asia Jessica Mulligan; East versus West: design differences in MMOs in Asia

My ears turned into funnels during this session. Marketing budgets of millions of dollars! Campaigns where one publisher pays to have posters from another publisher taken down! Players paying for software that plays the game for them while thy watch! (instead of playing themselves!) Having little number tags on food thingies sold in 7-11 that gives the player items in games! 300 games coming out each month in Asia! Subscriptions where the player can choose the bundle that also makes it possible to play the MMO via the cellphone... Aaaaah I'm so ignorant, i must immediately learn more about this!

User Created Content; Boom or Bane?

Panel - Moderator: Daniel James, Designer & CEO, Three Rings - Andrew Tepper, eGenesis - Richard Vogel, V.P. of Production, Dauntless Entertainment - Walter Yarbrough, Producer, Mythic Entertainment
Panel, user created content Daniel James, Designer & CEO, Three Rings

Burning Man or Las Vegas?

MMO Rant
I was late so i missed out on Jeff Hickman's and Brian Green's rants, but Brian posted his rant here:; an absolutely hilarous letter to Stephen King, on why he as a reader knew everything better than King since he has read so many scary books.
Jessica Mulligan ranted: Stop making the same mistakes all the time!
Gordon Walton ranted: Don't be such cowards: Dare to take risks!
The panel gave plenty of room for the audience to rant as well, and the session turned into fiest of pie-throwing; very entertaining.
MMO Rant ACG 2005

All pictures from the session
Full Notes

Fun Meters for Games: The Ins and Outs of Measuring the Player Experience, Nicole Lazzaro and Larry Mellon
Lazzaro is continuing her work of measuring fun, now with the help of Larry Mellon. She has extended the type of work she presented in “Why we play games” to use metrics.
Full notes
the photos

Mellon & Lazzaro

Thursday 27 October 2005

The future of massively multiplayer gaming, Keynote by Smedley SOE

Smedley gave the audience two visions, one form the player's perspective; how players can tap into the same persistent games from different platforms globally. One player could sit at starbucks in LA while the other is in Tokyo. The other vision was from a distribution and production perspective; how SOE would distribute thin clients for free making it possible for players to use the clients on hardware that lacks big storage space. From a design perspective he stressed the importance of persistence.

Smedley, SOE ppt slide from Smedley's keynote at ACG 2005

More photos from the speech

Full notes

Alternate Reality Gaming, Jane McGonigal
McGonigal's session was for me one of the highlights of the conference. The way she has been working with this type of low-tech pervasive gaming is fantastically inspiring. The greatest strength as i saw it was the daring and innovative game design, how she and the people she work with manage to create fun experiences that has a built in nice and kind subversity to them. That was most obvious when she explained how they used the concept of pronoia; the opposite of paranoia, that there is a conspiracy to make one happy.

Jane McGonigal at Austin Game Conference 2005

Full notes
More pictures from the session

Panel: Building MMO worlds through Human NPCs
The panelists were Carly Staehlin, Michael Sellers, Patricia Pizer, Lee Sheldon and Sheri Graner Ray. The discussion revolved around how to create better NPCs... Full notes:

Panel:  Building MMO worlds through Human NPCs, ACG 2005

What Vegas can teach MMO Designers, Damion Schubert
Schubert made some really interesting observations about how important it is with cozyness of social spaces, how the journey from point A to B should be more interesting, how good it could be with automated spectacular events and how cheaters should be beaten down by “the hammer of god”.
Full notes

What Vegas can teach MMO Designers, Damion Schubert, ACG 2005

Wednesday 2005-10-26

The Language of Games, Hal Barwood, Designer/Writer, Finite Arts
Barwood gave a concise walk through of storytelling, drawing parallels between techniques for movies and techniques for games. Barwood spoke mostly about single player platform games, so when he said that the player character “equals what you can do” and that character development is power ups it makes sense to me. I appreciated his speech.
Full notes

The Language of Games, Hal Barwood, Designer/Writer, Finite Arts

Team Building
The session was about that diversity in teams is good.

From Team Bilding session at ACG 2005

Alternate Reality Games, Maureen McHugh, 4orty 2wo Entertainment
A look at the work behind ARG games like ilovebees and Beast.
This speech was the highlight of the day for me. McHugh's speech was peppered with historical references, anecdotes from the making and playing of the game. She explained in detail how they needed to, while the game was played, add features like puzzles.

Full notes

Writer's workshop
I went to the one about characters and emotion. The discussion was nice, but i think the group was too large for the discussion to get really started. We never really got beyond generalities.

Writer's workshop at ACG