Thursday, October 19, 2006

Slothmud III Website Wayback..

I was doing a little research on the website history for a page I am planning to make. I found a few things while using the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is quite flakey so if any of the links below don't take you to a page, file a complaint to the proper authorities (AKA, not me).
  • 1998: Over 12,000 rooms and 3,000 distinct mobs, 4 classes (mage, cleric, thief, warrior), forging, brews, quests, multiple continents, and more, Sloth offers enough challenge to make even the most seasoned mudder never want to go anywhere else.
  • January 2000: Slightly New website design and update:..5 classes (cleric, mage, thief, warrior,avatar), forging, brews, quests, multiple continents, and more...
  • December 2000: Site redesign.
  • With over 21,000 rooms and 7,500 distinct mobs, our world is absolutely enormous. With the inception of 4 new classes (necromancer, druid, bard, and monk)
  • 2004: Relauched site on PHP Nuke with a different theme.
  • 2005: With over 23,500 uniquely described rooms, 8,300 distinct creatures, 12,200 characters, and 7,100 pieces of equipment...
  • October 2006: Changed to custom Sloth theme. (current site)

In total, in about 8 years we've gone nearly doubled the number of rooms, nearly tripled the number of creaturs and added a lot of equipment. I haven't tried to quantify the additions in functionality to the website, just the number of graphical redesigns.

If anyone has numbers on the size of the game or some screenshots of the website prior to 1998, I'd be very interested.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On Slothmud III there have been a lot of changes over the past nine years. We are embarking on making another (in my opinion small) change that is likely to be accompanied by a decent amount of controversy. The controversy is aggravated by the fact that though it is a small change, it seems to be relatively confusing (or perhaps I haven’t figured out how to easily explain it).

A few of the administration have discussed our approach to minimizing the controversy and have come up with a few simple steps. The approach revolves around being proactive with communication before we implement the change. Typically we announce changes after we implement them, so this is a pretty big departure. We’ll see how it goes and if we continue the practice.

Specifically we discussed the following steps: We will post an announcement on the Slothmud webpage announcing what is changing, when it is changing, why it is changing and what we expect the impacts to be.

Though we have the answers to all of these questions, it got me to thinking about all of the changes we make in general and how best to answer those questions. It got me to thinking that at a high-level that all of the changes we make go to ensure we have a game that has the following characteristics:

  • Is Immersive
  • Stays challenging at all levels
  • Rewards risk takers
  • Rewards explorers
  • Creates a cooperative atmosphere for players
  • Encourages grouping
  • Minimizes repetitive tasks or makes necessary ones easy (we are Sloth after all!)
  • Is fair to all players
  • Is balanced for all classes
  • Integrates well into the web experience

I’ll work on breaking this down into some more detail and you may end up seeing some version of on our homepage.

This brings me to the last point about changes on Slothmud. We have historically made changes that are in line with the above goals, but they have mainly focused on how they impact experienced and long time players and made a few changes that help truly new players. This applies to the majority of changes for the past nine years. From now until then end of 2007, I’d like to swap this with the intent of expanding our player base.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Back to Reality With A Vengence

This past week has been mainly filled with work and travel. These are two things that independently aren't the most attractive things in the world to me (business travel that is). When combined, they can really dig into my motivation and energy levels. It's very hard to stay involved in activities related the SlothMUD when sitting on a plane.

When I had a predictable commute to work on a commuter train, I would jot down area descriptions when there was enough room to pull out a pen and notepad. It is much less convenient to do this on a plane. I feel I am either putting up my tray table, passing along a drink to someone else in my row, getting up to let them out to the bathroom, or some other interruption. Not to mention that the 5 inches of leg room on a United flight cost $39. I'd pay half that for 3 inches, but they don't seem to offer that option.

In any case, I managed to a very small amount of coding during the week of travel. We'll see if my contribution ever makes it any where. I suppose the overall point of this post is that, despite our desires, even the most mundane of activities can really interfere with our ability to enhance this game.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Builders Port Experiment Part 2

One of the builders who has joined us recently has completed an addition to the game that we have moved over to the live point. I'm not clear on how much work is left before it actually goes live and gets connected, but it seems to me that the experiment (still in progress) has been pretty successful.

We have approximately eight people who have joined up on the builders port and are developing areas. As with any group of eight people, there are differing levels of completeness. This poses somewhat of a challenge for us as administrators since we haven't been scaled up this way in a long time. Typically we've been heavy on the administrators and thin on the builders. Now we are nearing the reverse situation where we have a lot of work to be examined, improved (through collaboration) and approved. It's a bit hard for us to actually track as we are usually self-centered and the projects we are working on are the ones we focus most of our attention on.

I'm working on a few scripts that should help the situation in that we should be able to tell who is nearing completion of rooms, monsters and other things without having to go login and look. The scripts (when finished) will show things like:
  • Rooms with descriptions, names, and doors.
  • Rooms missing any of the above.
  • Rooms that are approved (a formal status flag)
  • Monsters with similar settins.

I'm hoping this will help us keep ahead of the curve on getting the right attention at the right time and place. This is important to me as I've seen over the years that as we reach a tipping point of administrators to builders, we have found ourselves in the case where builders get frustrated and leave because of a lack of administrative support. We'd like to avoid that.

To be clear, the administrative procedures I've alluded to are not formalities of a beaurocracy, but a process that ensures all additions meet our quality standards and ensure that seasoned administrators provide feedback and suggestions to newer builders. This latter point is really the most important to us. We do really like to have correct grammar, spelling and punctuation in our room descriptions and do have a relatively formal building style guide which reflects this. But, these things can be corrected if missed (we'd still rather catch them first).

More subtle suggestions can have a much larger influence on the longevity and popularity of an area. These are the suggestions we want to make sure we provide at the right time and to the people who need them.

So far so good on the builders port, but it is still too early to call it a success.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Addiction to Mudding

I wasn't surprised to see an article about addiction to mudding, but was slightly surprised and pleased (but with some guilt) that it was an addiction to SlothMud III. It's a good read and may help anyone who is playing this game get the perspective of another person affected by a gaming addict.

Here is my experience as a player of this game. I don't play at all anymore for many reason, but fighting addiction is pretty low on the list. The main reason is that I don't have enough time in the day to do all of the things I enjoy to do, so playing the game has gone way down the prioritization list.

I once struggled with gaming addiction as many of the long-time players of online games like SlothMud III have. I spent a good portion of time during my second year of graduate school balancing "exp runs" with experiments and research. I used the university network while I was at school and used the university dial-in when I was at home. This got to be a bit hairy since in that day there was a 1-hour usage limit and it would kick you off. There was also a limited supply of dial-in ports and a large demand for them. I would have to time my connection so that I would disconnect during a regen that happened between 50 and 53 minutes after I last connected.

Wow, it was a huge relief to start paying for dial-up which we eventually did. I "needed it" so I could "continue the day's simulations and coding" from home. I occasionaly did that, but I'll admit to really wanting it to mud. My wife knew of this addiction, and she rightfully complained about it to me, but it wasn't a too big of a strain on our marriage for whatever reason.

I was highly organized in my play (at least I felt like I was and was sort of proud of it).
  • I had scripts that did a lot of pretty cool things at the time.
  • I had all of the maps printed out and organized alphabetically by name. (There was only one continent at the time, so I never got to breaking it out to continents with tabs, but oh, I would have gone there.)
  • I had goals for equipment and did my best to learn the areas where they came from.
  • I logged fights to see where things went wrong.
  • I had a list of names of pthiefs and who they had stolen from for reference.

It was a mission to play the game well. Don't get me wrong, though, one of the things that drove me to this level was the people in the game doing the same thing. I'm somewhat obsessive compulsive mixed with competitive over achieving. This is a dangerous combination with a game like this.

Fortunately, I wised up after a while and went cold turkey from playing. It hurt for a while and there were definitely substitute games that occupied some of my time, but I managed to graduate within a reasonable amount of time overall. I do attribute a lot of good things to my mudding addiction which I won't try to justify in this post.

I mainly post this, since I have been doing a lot of stuff for the mud in the past 6 months and it came to a head this past weekend with the opening of the website and the corresponding quest. I was spending a lot of time in front of the computer and not spending as much time with my kids as I normally do. My wife correctly called me out on it and it has made me aware that I am somewhat addicted to being an administrator on this mud. It's a different kind of addiction, but it is there none-the-less. I don't intend to quit cold-turkey or necessarily cut back on what I do. However, I will be vigilant that it doesn't encroach beyond this into my personal and work-life.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

After several years of the same website theme, I was pleased to finally launch our newly themed website. As you can tell, if you follow this blog, it has been a huge effort for me and others involved.

There were a few things on our minds when we launched this:

  • Kjartan had suggested that the dragon and orc at the top should somehow be connected to the game. To that end, we centered the quest around them.
  • We wanted something original and eye-popping. We had to make some sacrifices along the way with the layout, but are very pleased with the final result. The biggest sacrifice from a web devleoper perspect was fixed column widths. In th end, it's no different than many leading commercial sites.
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. There are still a lot of little bugs popping up in the theme coding. I've fixed a few and know of several more that need fixing. Some will be easy and some will be hard, but there wasn't any reason in waiting longer to iron everything out.
  • The forums especially don't match the rest of the site perfectly, but that's one thing we'll work on slowly at some point in the future. It's acceptable for now.
  • We knew we had to get the increased mob hitpoint code in before the quest as big groups are a buzzsaw for mobs the way they were.

Outside of the finished website there was an extraordinary amount of work that went into preparing the quest. I wrote the script, Akasha wrote something like 800 lines of custom scripts and Splork wrote a large number of them as well as, just making everything move.

There were two somewhat dissappointing things with the quest. The first, as you may have experienced first hand, was a complete outage of the game box. It rarely ever happens, but couldn't have happened at a worse time. It couldn't be predicted or avoided. It just stunk.

The second was that we had hoped for a bit more creative collaboration between players. We gave out limited number of rods in hopes that players would figure out how to maximize the use of them by running to an area and gating someone with the rod or some sort of coordination like that. There seemed to be a lot of suggestion, but not a lot of action on this front. It worked out ok, but seemed that the group relied on a very small few to do the meat of the searching.

Perhaps this last thing is a factor of how many players really know their way around. I'd certainly fall in the bucket of not knowing much anymore, but 8 years ago, I would have been embarrassed if I didn't know the runs to 95% of the rooms on the mud. Anyway, I'll post about my obsession some other time.

On the bright side, we were please with the overall mood of everyone. It seemed to flow pretty well with people in and out of the group over the nearly 20 hours of real time that passed during the event. We also were happy with the way the new maximum hitpoints worked. It would have been near impossible to make a multi-run mob versus a group that powerful under the old hitpoint cap.

It was worth the effort, but we'll likely work on smaller projects for a while. At least we'll plan on them being smaller going into them.