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A Story Begins

I introduce myself and how I came to start on my current project a browser based MMO. First in a series documenting the progress of the projects design and development. Part personal story. Part Game design. Part Technical implementation.

To be completely honest I'm not sure if this whole thing is a good idea or not. I feel like I might be giving away the gold by starting this blog. I'm somewhat worried that I might be giving away all of my good design ideas by revealing too much about my project. I'm equally worried that I might be exposing publicly that I am a much worse designer and programmer than I think I am. Hopefully I can find a happy medium between protecting trade secrets and reaching out to people who might be interested in what I am doing.

I've been programming professionally for ten or so years now and along the way I've had the opportunities to pick up a wide range of skills. As a younger programmer I event had the insanely ambitious idea to build my own game engine that would allow the creation of MMORPGs to rival Everquest. We are all young and stupid at some point in our lives but frankly I amaze myself at how young and stupid I was. As I have gotten older I've come to the conclusion that I would love the chance to make games professionally. Alas with no prior gaming industry experience, and having to compete with newly minted graduates with gaming degrees I recognize that the chance for me to get hired directly is pretty slim. If I want in to this industry I'm gonna have to force my way in, and the best way that I can see to do it is to actually make a game.

Aside from my personal background this story really starts in a small pub that is normally patronized by supporters of the local cricket club. I've had the fortune to live in the UK for a few years. Anyway one night a week the pub is taken over by a local group of board game enthusiasts some of whom I've become good friends with. One friend in particular who we shall call 'R' has had a rich and diverse career and at one point worked in Quality Assurance on America's Army. I was impressed. I knew there were people in the world that made games but I hadn't until then actually met any. By the time I met R she had been out of the games industry for a while, but I still get the impression that she would like to get back into it. One night while we were playing a board game, R and friends were talking about a game they were playing online, and being curious I joined the conversation. They introduced me to Ikariam.

Ikariam is not a bad game, but its not a great game either. The problem was that I didn't notice the games flaws until after playing it for half a year. During that year I did become part of a group of players who adopted me into their clan. It turns out that many of my clan met while working together in the games industry. This was awesome. It was like the insider route to the game industry had been handed to me. On part of me wants to exploit them as a resource, but there has been a problem with that plan. They have all turned out to be great friends and I just can't bring myself to act like enough of a self-promoting whore with them for it to work. 

Meanwhile we played Ikariam for a while. Ikariam is a browser based MMO where players build cities and armies and fight it out. The longer we played the more obvious the games design flaws were. Its worst offense is that it is essentially a rat race. You can inch your way ahead in the game by playing it obsessively, but you can't really compete with other obsesive players who started playing before you did. There is a system to have your armies fight, and take some resources from your victims. If you found yourself on the loosing side of a fight you could alway turn off resource production for a while and produce unstealable gold and science. The games highly polished graphics got you to start playing, and the illusion of tactics kept you playing for a little while, but eventually you figure out that its just not that good of a game.

The reason that Ikariam is important to this story is that using the systems analysis skills I have acquired over the years I was able to look at the gameplay and make a few inferences about the technology that runs it. It wasn't too hard to reverse engineer what tables its database would have and the relationships and fields of those tables. The point was that to me the game didn't look technologically complex. It had lots of polish on its user interface and graphics, but the data and rules of the game were relatively simple. It was at this point I realized that I could build a similar system with the skills I had from years in private industry. I was begining to think that I could build my own browser MMO.

This was just about a year and a half ago.

 To Be Continued.

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