Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Three Rs and All That

No, this is not about a pirate convention.

As you may have noticed, the blog's sidebar looks a little different now, with a little area for friends' blogs. This is because, well, it seems to be spreading. First was the Karinth Updates one (since moved to the forums), then mine, then that encouraged the Owl, then that further encouraged another little creature who I shall refer to as the Sage. I have also affixed there a link to Fern's shopping blog, which has all kinds of special deals and so on. I have no idea who the next will be, but there you go. And here's the connection: first Karinth, then the Karinthadillo, then the Owl (another animal), then the Sage (Owls are wise, too)... then the Fern (Sage is a herbish plant thing as well). So, to carry this along, we should have another plant-related contributor. Of course, everyone is welcome, and may find themselves added to the list, plant-life or not.

Why has all this sprung up? Well, I believe that writing is therapeutic, and it's definitely improved my mood as of late, thinking of things to share. Of course, it doesn't hurt to know that people actually read it, a little ego boost there, maybe. The text-gamers among us are fully aware of the pleasures of writing (and the frustrations too, sometimes), because that's what it is all about when you get down to it. Expressing thoughts, feelings, ideas through words, and enjoying the process. Like a connoisseur, sipping the words, savouring the way that certain things are said, noticing the subtle nuances of language, the usage of words often overlooked in everyday speech, the way that tones and knowledge can carry across through the medium.

This is important, of course. As everyone knows, the text-based genre is slowly being squeezed by the advancement of graphical technology and the commonly-available hardware required to harness it. I have previously written about how it is my firm belief that text games can continue to survive in a market that is dominated by graphical ones, much like books have survived when (arguably) the big bucks are in Hollywood, plasma televisions, thousands of cable channels and so on. But it is not a given, we have to continue to remember why we will survive, and not take it complacently.

Due to the nature of the medium, foremost among these reasons is the language: to those who appreciate good prose, poetry and all forms, the non-graphical medium forces attention to the words, encourages their appreciation and for others to contribute with their own thoughts. In a game such as ours, where there are few visuals to assist, grasping a subtle hint in the words can make the difference between success and failure in a great quest, perhaps even the life of one's character. It is why we place such a great deal of emphasis upon the descriptions of rooms, creatures and so on. We appreciate the language, and wish to share that with you; those who have already indicated their appreciation for the same, by playing the game.

What does this all mean? Without getting too dramatic, I believe that our text medium symbolises one of the great bastions of language within the gaming world. We have all experienced the deterioration and misuse of language, and even the formation of deliberately grammatically-incorrect dialects: none moreso than within the realm of popular graphical games. Clearly, some of this is done for good reasons, as these games tend to be fast paced, with a great deal of action to draw the eye, and as such some variation of shorthand is required in order to keep up and get the message across. We do not have these limitations, and I can only see the differences growing. In order to maintain one of the real foundations for the text game's future, we must maintain the integrity of the text and language.

It may be old-fashioned, passé, whatever popular culture wishes to label it as: but let us be proud of it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Theory of Games

Game Theory has been a recurring and unexpected theme for me in recent days. I've had dreams (worried ones) about a course I took in it that is long since over, and I've managed to get at least one close friend hooked on the stuff. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with Karinth or any kind of popular game at all, but is a section of economics that attempts to mirror and explain interactions by phrasing them as a head-to-head competition, a game between two players with each using a selection of strategies in order to reach their goals.

One of my favourite theories is known as the Tragedy of the Commons (what is it with me and sad stuff?!). To give a brief synopsis, this game takes one of the most obvious economic goals (if you get more benefit than it costs you, it's good) and sticks it into a certain situation: where there is a common resource that is shared by many yet owned by none. The traditional basis for this was the centuries-old tradition of every village having some communal grazing land (the village green) where people could leave some livestock to feed. You could also substitute international fishing waters or whatever suits your fancy, really. Anyway, we have this little village that has gotten by for centuries on traditional, back-home values like hard work, respect, community etc etc. They've developed a healthy unwritten code where everyone is careful with use of the common land and helps to maintain it and ensure that it keeps in good condition for the future, and everything's happy.

But no! As time passes, the community changes. You get new folk coming in from different backgrounds: some city folk with summer cottages, some big farm produce wholesalers buying up land, or just a general deterioration in the community atmosphere and the development of a more "modern" every-man-for-himself mentality. So now what happens to the grazing land there? Well, clearly, the more people use (and abuse) it, the less valuable it becomes: more animals, less grass for each animal, less time for the grass to grow back, and so on. Hey, this is economics anyway, not farming. Just as clearly, these unprincipled new folks are going to keep bringing more animals to the commons as long as they get some benefit from it (it's free, after all).

So, the logical end result? Left to their own devices, the community will use, re-use and abuse the common land until it is totally worthless. This scenario still goes on everywhere: farming, overfishing, to the extent that it has been known to cause international incidents - think about the issues regarding endangered animals that are still hunted.

This blog isn't about the rights and wrongs of whaling, sealing, poaching or whatever. This blog is about Karinth and text-based gaming. We have a community: a free one, one where we trust all of you to your own devices with minimal interference, one where the community and quality of interactions between players determines the survival of a game just as much as the existence of good grazing land determines the fate of a village. Most of us have probably played games where members of the player community have tried to attain dominance by taking advantage of the game and other players, by undermining the enjoyment of others. The nature of this kind of game means that your behaviour as players will directly impact the enjoyment of others, and the value of the game itself. Think about it.

A quick shout out to the Owl, whose blog can now be seen in my favourite links area to the side there. Please take a look and say hi, but be forewarned: she's way smarter than me, so make sure your brain is locked down tight.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Karinthadillo Returns

I'm quite sure that this won't receive the acclaim that accompanied Batman Returns, but some loyal followers have been clamouring for more armadillo, and it wouldn't be right to keep the faithful waiting any longer. So, I'm sorry for the lengthy Karinthadillo-less interlude there, and we'll get right back into it.

Incidentally, to help keep things fresh and let my fanbase get involved, I'm very willing to take requests for topics that would like my input and discussion here. Any method of getting it to me is fine, the comment section here works, and I will try to add my insights into these questions in later editions of the blog.

One of the major strongholds of the traditional MUD, I believe, is the area. Everyone knows what an area is, they're everywhere, most MUDs are made up of a whole bunch of separate areas all strung together. There are many advantages to this, not least that it neatly lets builders focus on their own areas and get their work done. Everyone has their own little world to build, they beaver away at it, and then they all get attached to form the world at the end. As well, it neatly divides the world up and ensures that everything is tracked and attributed correctly.

So, why challenge this view of the game world, when it seems to have kept MUDs in general in such good stead for years? Partly because I'm just generally a rebel that needs a cause, but moreso: the MUD world, as previously discussed, isn't in such good stead as it was a few years ago. Players, generally, are no longer loyal to games that just do what used to be done, individual zones are no longer enough to keep the attention of those who could easily get them in colourful graphics if they so chose. One area that text games have an advantage over their more illustrious graphical counterparts, as previously discussed, is flexibility. We have the choice to do things differently, a lot more easily than those who are involved with having to design character pictures and so on.

The plan, then, is to create more of a world of its own merit, than one solely based on the areas that make it up. Essentially to break down the arbitrary delineations that separate one area from another, making them seamless rather than instantly recognisable as being built by different people. Having the NPC inhabitants of the area realise that there is a greater world outside, their knowledge not limited solely to their immediate surroundings. Encouraging the player to see this world as a world: something breathing, living, evolving; rather than a bunch of zones to go and kill things in. Well, everyone wants this, right? I mean, we'd all welcome increased immersion and an easier suspension of disbelief, where everything just seems to fit together and be placed logically.

Easier said than done, as with most things, unfortunately. Builders are different people, of course, and it requires a major change in focus to get away from the traditional, technical viewpoint of creating a standalone area, to one that encourages collaboration, knowing what everyone else is building, integrating your area with other areas that it would make sense to integrate with. It takes time, especially when trying to integrate with old areas whose creators are no longer with us. Time that could, following traditional rules, be used in building more areas.

But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, they say. This is my first step. One small step for the Karinthadillo, one giant leap for MUDkind? Probably not, but let's go with it anyway.