Lecturer: Brody clasps his hands behind his back. "Good afternoon, and welcome to the Innovations in Text-Based Gaming Conference at M*U*S*H. Sorry it had to be rescheduled from two weeks ago due to technical difficulties, but glad to see many of you could return. We've had some schedule changes. Several event presenters haven't rescheduled, so we're going to run a series of activities in here. First, the keynote speech, then a presentation on HSpace Trueline 4.2.1 from Gepht, then Bobson from FiranMUX will talk about the Art of Crafting. After that, I'll hold a roundtable discussion on community-building and MU* publicitiy. Finally, last scheduling note, Adam Dray from FiranMUX had been the scheduled keynote speaker, but due to family obligations, he cannot attend. Shayd, his appointed FiranMUX representative, will give the keynote speech on Adam's behalf. Adam deserves a lot of thanks for filling the void for us, and I look forward to hearing what Shayd has to say. Everyone, give a warm welcome to Shayd."

Shayd carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

Lecturer: Brody claps, smiles, and heads out.

Brody comes down the few steps from the stage.

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Hello, and thank you for inviting me here. It's an honor to be allowed to speak here and to be chosen by Adam to represent him at this place."

I know you were all expecting Adam Dray, who is the co-chief-wizard and primary coder for FiranMUX, so I feel a little obligated to introduce myself. Adam could not make it because of unforseen real-life committments, so he picked me. My name is Scott Roberts, and I've been around for some time--not as long as many, but for a while--in the TBG community. My credentials include serving as the Roleplaying Director on Shadowrun MUX: Seattle for several years in the '90s, moving from there to Shadowrun MUX: Detroit, later in the '90s, then to FiranMUX where I am a Jr Wizard. Additionally, in 2001 I accepted a professional position working as the Director of Customer Experience and Quality Assurance for Skotos Tech Inc., producers of the online pay-for-play TBGs Castle Marrach and Galactic Emporer: Succession. While I was at Skotos I also wrote a somewhat-popular column on text-based gaming called "The Mummer's Dance"."

Now that the curriculum vitae are out of the way, let me begin addressing the topic at hand: Innovations in Text-Based Gaming. For the next three hours you are going to hear from a variety of speakers on a number of topics, from MUSHcode to competition with graphical MMORPGs and various community-based discussions. All of the people represented here--not only the lecturers, but the audience members, have a distinct and intense interest in the future of TBGs, and I applaud you all for participating. We are not quite a large community of people compared to, say, the fans of Everquest, but we are a strong one."

One of the questions I am often asked when people hear what it is I up-till-recently did for a living revolves around why TBGs are popular still. How does a company like Skotos make money, charging people to play text-based games when there are so many different options out there for varieties of MMORPGs with enviable graphics engines, soundtracks, and excitement?"

The answer is simple and elegant: imagination and individual expression. It's certainly a niche market in a world filled with people who greatly prefer to be passively entertained, or who prefer for their active entertainment options to be guided, but it's certainly present. Text-based games offer something that no matter how flashy or good their programmers are, MMORPGs cannot offer: individual creativity and expression for the players of such games. When one enters the medium of a graphical game, one is constrained by its nature to the imagery provided by its graphic designers. The look and feel of the world, the atmosphere, everything down to the nuances of personal expression amongst characters is controlled by the designers of the game."

As TBGs develop, as they innovate, we become more and more filled with depth that can never be matched by MMORPGs. After all, 90 percent of all MMORPGs are based on poorly-copied versions of old MUD code with pretty graphics on top of them, such as is the case with Everquest. Combat, manuvering, grouping, emotes, and the like are based, for the most part, on technology that we have surpassed a long time in the past. Text-based games are, despite their lack of graphics, on the forefront of what is *possible* in computer-based gaming today. We don't dabble in graphic design, no--and we don't (for the most part) have linked in soundtracks. But when it comes to means for players to /DO/ different things, the world is wide open in what we as a community can do. We are not constrained by market limitations or corporate influences--in point of fact, it is my belief that a company such as Sony or the like could never duplicate what we do here."

The striations and bureaucracy of a corporate structure such as those possessed by most MMORPG companies and sponsors demand a certain amount of similarities in everything they do so as not to scare off their primary customer base. You /have/ to have some form of PvP. You /have/ to have respawning monsters so that all of your players can eventually fight the same things. It's /tremendously/ difficult, not to mention costly, to change the world once it has initially been created; plus it tends to piss off a lot of your paying customers if their Bastard Sword +12 is only half as effective as it was before you added the new zone with the additional monsters."

Our communities are smaller and our playerbases are smaller--but would they really be so small if we had better marketing talents and the cash to throw at the problem? My experiences with Skotos ended with the conclusion that the people working there really had not the foggiest idea how to run a text based game. None of them had even so much as played for a year on a MUSH-like environment before dabbling in the company that they created."

They had a vision that was their own, but one which resisted input on any serious basis from those who have done this before, who have seen what worked and what didn't. That's not to say their work is valueless, but rather, it's sort of like watching the early development of the computer industry. They made some assumptions that didn't work out like many other companies had done. They may yet succeed in their ventures."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Of course, as Brody is going to be bringing up in a later open round table regarding communities online, we have our own problems. Ego and interpersonal fighting tend to be rampant amongst staff members and players in TBGs. More excellent TBGs have crashed and burned because of infighting amongst staffers and emotional issues than have gone down for any other reason."

Putting several artists and creative folk and coders in the same place and hoping they'll agree on a vision and remain friendly and stable with each other /without/ being paid to do so, well, some might say that's a recipe for disaster. I'll let Brody cover that topic later in the Round Table, of course, but one of the primary /blocks/ to innovation in TBGs is that conflict of egoes and artistic visions that tends to occur on individual MU*'s and across MU*'s--which is one of the reasons I am honored to be speaking to you here today, because this conference represents a willing and open exchange of ideas between people who, quite traditionally, tend to think that their vision is the coolest and best, and who tend (and this is a gross generalization) to resist new ideas and innovations that conflict with their vision."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Firan MUX, run by Stephanie and Adam Dray, of which I am but a small part, has been around for a while. I'd like to share a few thoughts about it, before I get to my conclusion. :)"

Originally, years ago, I was an arrogant bastard who thought he knew everything there was to know about MU* communities and how to handle them. I became known on Shadowrun Seattle for my apparently favorite phrase, "IYDLIYCL"--If You Don't Like It, You Can Leave. I provided strong leadership to the community there, and think I did some good work--but I was also unfailingly arrogant and full of myself, resistant to input that disagreed with my conclusions and absolutely convinced I knew what was right, even if it pissed off my players. And then I left that community and entered Firan."

I have yet to see a place that combines the traditional 'benevolent dictatorship' power structure of a MUX with so much open input from staff and players; a location with so much innovation in code and structure, a place with so many rich opportunities for the players, in any gaming community ever. I have been there for almost four years now and I *still* get surprised by social systems, code systems, and commands that do neat things that I did not know about. I'm not here to tell you all to try to emulate Firan--it has a steep learning curve; it has things which some players disagree with; it has systems which many people find daunting and it's not a really great place for amateurs."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "But it certainly has some examples that can be looked at and decided on, systems and structures, innovations in code and social interaction between players-and-players and players-and-staff, that looking at can benefit the creative Wizards in all of us. So you should probably take a look sometime and see what you can see. It humbled me to go there, thinking I knew everything there was to know, and then realizing that I still had lots to learn. :)"

In conclusion, I'd just like to say this. Every one of you and all the people you talk to and even the most irritating player or staffer in the gaming world has something we can learn from in them--even if it's who to avoid in the future. The key to innovation in text-based gaming is to focus on the two things that make it unlike any other gaming medium: imagination, and true creativity. Nothing else that you can play these days allows such a degree of personal creativity and the ability to create a TRULY changing and interesting world where players can leave a mark as much as designers can. Listen to everyone, develop filters for what's useful and what's not, and see what you can do to give people more options, more code, more social structures, more empowerment as a community to express themselves. I guarantee you that you'll have a better experience that way, and so will all the people who come to your games. Thank you very much for listening."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "I'm open for questions if anyone has any. :)"

Gepht ponders.

Viila says, "Should we use these 'raise hands' or just fire away?"

Lecturer: Shayd blushes.

Brody grins. "I think you can fire away."

Viila snickers... "Ok, I'll just fire away. Where can we find Firan? :)" Sita chuckles.

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Ah, the website is: http://www.legendary.org/firan."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "And Skotos is at www.skotos.com, you might've seen their adverts on Keenspace if you're an online comic reader."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Firan's MUX address is firan.legendary.org 5000."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "207.239.159.232 5000 for those who prefer IP addresses. :)"

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Anyone else? :)"

Gepht nods.

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Go ahead, Gepht."

Gepht says, "I know we're time limited, but I have a sort of straight forward question."

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Please go right ahead."

Gepht says, "You mention Everquest and other RPGs of a graphical nature. And while I agree with you in many respects regarding their depth, do you think there is a future for MMORPGs that can be deep, and if so, will that make obsolete text games?"

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Hmmm. "I think there's a future for MMORPGs that can be deep, but I don't think they'll be 'true' MMORPGs. What I mean by that statement is that since MMORPGs are by definition 'massive', they can't really contain by their very nature too much room for individual expression and creativity within them. Individual players can't truly change the world in such games--or even make much in the way of personal creativity. The closest I've seen to this has been Neverwinter Nights--but that's not really an MMORPG. The Sims Online has a similar paradigm, a bunch of smaller personally created worlds in a larger server. But..."

The reason /TBG/s will never be obsolete, in my opinion, comes down to one command and one command only. The 'emote' command."

In a graphical game, emotes frankly look stupid, and you can never do a sequence of actions that are fluid, that touch the imagination and creativity."

I could not, for instance, ever do this:"

Shayd turns around, taking a drag from his cigarette as he surveys the crowd. His expression is one of nervousness, wondering if he just blathered on pointlessly for 40 minutes to a bunch of bored folks or actually said anything useful. He smiles casually, attempting to appear much more confident in his ability as a lecturer than he actually is.

That wouldn't fly in a graphical game of any nature. :)"

Brody says, "Other questions?"

Gepht smiles.

Brody chuckles.

Gepht says, "Thank you, Shayd."

Russkaya just raises a brow, and has a query on that last.

Brody claps and says, "Thanks, Shayd!"

Lecturer: Shayd says, "You're welcome...Russkaya?"

China applauds. Brody waits for Rus. Elwyndas claps loudly.

Russkaya looks up, "But how much of what you said is not based on the true fondation of TBG or simply bandwidth and coded tools? Bandwith to carry the amount of data required fora graphical presentation and the coded tools to allow you to e-mote that pose? i would thing the strength here is as you originally put it, in the individual creativity being in the hands of the users .. I would not, however, say there will not be a time where that can not be done with graphical tools. We just ain't there yet :)

Lecturer: Shayd grins at Russkaya. "Well, yes, you're right. It could be done, but I believe that when we can emulate the same range of human expression in graphics that we can with text we'll be in the world of cyberspace, datajacks, true virtual reality, and all that sort of thing, and by then, will we all really /want/ to still play with text-based games? After all, I'll probably be dead when that happens; Shadowrun predicts it'll have to be at least 2050 when that's done and that's probably optomistic. :)

Russkaya noddles :)

Brody carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

Lecturer: Shayd says, "Thanks, I'll not take up any more time but if anyone has individual questions you can feel free to page me. :)"

Shayd comes down the few steps from the stage.

Lecturer: Brody grins. "Thanks again, Shayd."

China applauds again. :)

Gepht claps.

Viila applauds.

Lecturer: Brody smiles. "Our next guest took a hiatus from HSpace for a while, but now he's back with HSpace Trueline 4.2.1, the latest incarnation of Gepht's space system that started back on Hemlock MUSH. Everyone, give a warm welcome to Gepht."

Gepht carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

Brody comes down the few steps from the stage.

Shayd cheers Gepht!

Lecturer: Gepht taps on the microphone.

China claps.

Lecturer: Gepht says, "Can you hear this ok?"

Lecturer: Gepht says, "Great."

Alright. I've got a half hour, so I'll watch my time closely."

I feel honored to have given some time to Shayd. :)"

I've been out of the loop for a year or two, now."

But I'm around. I exist, and I'm back in the loop with a foot or two."

First of all..."

I'd like to give some very generous thanks to Brody for inviting me."

To Titan for helping me a great deal these days."

To RPG-Works for giving me the tools I need to spread the word."

To Javelin for making it so much easier to use PennMUSH these days and for developing with a clear idea."

To all of you for coming.."

And then to all of the players who have played my games over the years and flown in my space. :)"

HSpace has had a long development history."

It started nearly ten years ago on Hemlock 1."

Hard to believe it's been that long..."

Hemlock 1 was my first game, based in space, and science fiction for all practical purposes."

The first game I administrated, I should say."

I didn't know how to program much outside of MUSH."

So I wrote it all using MUSH commands and functions."

In many cases, the functions were so long that they reached the MUSH limit on line length."

After several years, we shutdown Hemlock 1 to move on to Acer Isle, an intense role playing game."

And yet a few years later, I was contacted by some former Hemlock admin and players that wanted to start a new Hemlock game."

I agreed to provide them an updated version of HSpace, which had no name at that time..."

I had learned to program in C and knew that I could make it faster and better."

In the process, I began to realize everything I could do using C and how much more I could put into the space system."

Ultimately, those people never opened Hemlock 2, so I decided to do it."

That was around 1996, and I started it with a few admin by my side."

The opening days were rough since HSpace wasn't very tested."

But ultimately, it got more stable and more robust."

We converted from a purely world-based interface to one that contained a lot of ascii graphics"

And as people played more, we got a better feeling for what to do with the system."

In the end, I needed to focus more time on my studies, so I left Hemlock 2 to the other admin."

"But before doing so, I released HSpace to anyone interested."

That was the first time I openly supported the package as a downloadable plugin."

That was HSpace 3."

Stable, but very messy under the hood."

Anyone that says they can program HSpace 3 and make additions to it is really a hard core hacker."

Those poor souls."

Brody chuckles

Elwyndas smiles.

Lecturer: Gepht says, "About 4 years ago I met a woman who is now my wife. She and I moved back to France, where she is from."

I was a freelance programmer working for my clients in the U.S."

Living in Paris, working freelance. Ahhh, the life. ;)"

But I had a lot of time to kill."

So ... yes .. the illness struck again."

I began thinking of HSpace."

I had learned much more over the years of programming, and I had transitioned to C++ over C."

I started realizing everything I could do with C++ and how flexible I could make HSpace."

So I started work on HSpace 4, entirely written from scratch."

And I released it about 6 months later."

To fully test it, I started Merchant Wars, a simple game based on space trading and combat."

Elwyndas cheers.

Lecturer: Gepht says, "But shortly after, I accepted a job working in the computer game's industry, and they said my HSpace work would conflict with the job."

So I stopped development and turned the package over to Revian, who maintained it for a while."

"Recently, the package sat idle for a while, and I received a lot of requests to work on it, so I accepted."

I now work for a different company, and the rules are more relaxed on my personal development."

The current version is HSpace Trueline 4.2.1, moved from beta to full release last week."

I use the Trueline signature to indicate that this is the version I support."

And most closely related to the original development series."

There are some fantastic other versions out there, and sometimes it's not clear who is developing which version."

The current version has a reworked core to make it more flexible, faster, and stable."

I've tracked down a lot of bugs reported to me and smashed them, reworking code where needed."

Over the last few months, we've altogether managed to come up with a pretty stable release over what was previously available."

Having listened to requests from numerous people using it, I've come up with a list of future modifications I want to make."

Including more reworking on some of the code base to provide some added flexibility..."

A component approach to ship classes so that a ship is no longer just a bunch of data, but will really be a collection of individual, unique components that can be added and removed from the ship like objects."

And even more interesting is a communications layer I will be distributing for developers to use."

This layer will allow people to develop Windows software to communicate with a remote game using HSpace to fully administrate the system."

No more complicated and obscure text commands."

"Everything will be done using a Windows program so that it's visual."

That, alone, I think will push the system really into the future of game administration."

So that's a quick synopsis of where the system was, and where it's going. If anyone has any questions, I'll answer them. Then, I want to give Titan a few minutes to speak on HSpace as a "user" of the system."

Gepht opens to the audience.

Brody nods to Titan, smiling.

Viila says, "What about non Windows users?"

Elwyndas swoons from the excitement.

Lecturer: Gepht says, "Right. There's always the question about users of Linux, and it's fully understandable..."

I will also be releasing the communication layer as a non-Windows layer, so to speak."

Russkaya seconds Villa's question :) Elwyndas patpats Russy.

Lecturer: Gepht says, "It will be slightly less "plug and play" on linux, but will be fully usable on OS's other than Windows."

Now..."

Keep in mind that I am not developing the actual administration application."

I am developing the communication library, on top of which other people can build administration tools."

I think there are enough programmers out there that it will work out."

I will maintain the comm library, and everyone else can maintain their own applications."

Plus, I think that will allow for individual creativity beyond my own."

Anyone else?"

Right."

Elwyndas says, "Just want to say welcome back Gepht, you were gone too long."

Lecturer: Gepht smiles.

I'm going to give Titan a few minutes to speak, then."

Gepht comes down the few steps from the stage.

Titan carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

China applauds for Gepht.

Gepht takes a seat in the Right Front Row.

Brody claps

Viila applauds.

Shayd applauds for Gepht's lecture :)

Elwyndas applauds loudly.

Russkaya yeas!

Lecturer: Titan says, "Howdy. I'm Titan, Humble wizard of Otherspace and Star Wars: Reach Of the Empire, and also co-owner of RPG-works.net (shameless plug) After Gepht's speech, this will probably be somewhat anticlimatic. As I said, I'm a wizard on Otherspace and Star Wars: Reach Of the Empire, both of which run HSpace 4.2.1 Trueline, and I'm here to answer questions on softcode and HSpace and what you can do with HSpace."

To give you and idea of what can be done; On SW: ROE we have a softcoded trading system that delays ships until the cargo is loaded. We have softcoded gravitation wells on planets, preventing hyperspace entry and will also pull a ship out of hyperspace, which of course enables the infamous Interdictor Cruiser. I've also coded a reasonably simple ship upgrade system, whereby players can purchase additional systems, and tweak existing ones. And lastly, my current project is Genesis, a random planet generator, which will most likely be released for public use once done. Each system took merely days to code and are now fully operational."

In conclusion, it is very easy to softcode around and for HSpace, making things interesting for players. I could go on for quite a bit about the various systems I've created on SW: ROE for HSpace, but I won't, instead I'll answer questions about it and what can be done. Before I let loose the hounds, I'd like to thank Gepht for returning and also plug his website, http://hspace.org, hosted by, you guessed it, RPG-works.net :)"

Gepht cheers Titan's generosity. :)

Lecturer: Titan says, "Those of you who have questions, if any, may ask them now."

Brody looks around. "Questions?"

Shayd says, "Can you use HSpace for in-planet atmosphere stuff?

Like say I wanted a WW2 air combat system as an example."

Gepht ponders.

Lecturer: Titan says, "Good one, we've actually been looking at this a bit, and the short answer is, yes. By using multiple universes and territories, you can simulate it reasonably well."

Elwyndas says, "That would be cool. Layered in between hspace and pennmush?"

Lecturer: Titan says, "I'm currently doing something like this, to simulate Bespin, on SW: ROE."

Gepht says, "I hope, in the future, to make all messages and screens full customizable."

Lecturer: Titan says, "Mind you, it isn't working yet."

Gepht says, "At which point, it might be much easier to simulate planes."

Lecturer: Titan says, "Does that answer your question Shayd?"

Shayd says, "Yes it does, thank you."

Lecturer: Titan says, "Seems that was our question tonight, so I'm off, again, thank you Gepht :)"

Gepht thanks Titan.

Titan comes down the few steps from the stage.

Brody carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

Elwyndas applauds.

Viila applauds.

China says, "yes, I'm new at all this, and not much of a flyer but I been on some ships of those who are, and wondered since the one game I was in I knew had HSpace had jump gates, jumping into different sections of space with it's own set of asteroids, planets, etc. Are those are part of the space system, or coded in? I know CSpace was one big wide open 'space'."

d'oh. sorry. I was slow in typing."

Lecturer: Brody grins and waits for Titan to handle that.

Titan says, "Right, there are space objects such as asteroid fields, nebulae, blackholes and wormholes :)"

Titan says, "There are also generic objects, which allow you to softcode just about any object you can think of."

Viila says, "Neat. Does it simulate time dilation near black holes too? =)"

Gepht chuckles.

Titan defers that one to Gepht ;)

Lecturer: Brody thinks it mostly simulates hull dilation ;)

Gepht says, "While realistic, HSpace does skip over some of the deeper realities of space. :)"

Viila snickers at Brody.

China says, "I guess my base question is tho, is the space wide open, or broken up into sections connected by jumpgates? :)"

Gepht says, "Either way you want it."

Titan says, "Either way you want it China :)"

Elwyndas says, "Thank goodness I say."

Viila says, "Is it newtonian mechanics or simplified?"

Gepht says, "It supports either."

Gepht says, "Simplified."

Gepht says, "Text-based gaming demands certain compromises."

China nodnods. "thank you." :)

Elwyndas says, "Check Reality at the door."

Gepht says, "Alright. Everyone please forgive me, but I've promised my son an afternoon in the park. So unfortunately I must excuse myself."

Viila snickers. "Ok, I'm through."

Gepht says, "I appreciate the chance to speak." Gepht bows.

Lecturer: Brody clasps his hands behind his back. "Up next, we're going to hear from Bobson, top coder at FiranMUX. He'll be discussing the art of crafting - one of those integral systems that can help players feel like they actually have an impact on the world they're inhabiting. Firan has earned its strong reputation for coded systems, the crafting mechanics not least among them. Everyone welcome Bobson!" Claps for Bobson.

Bobson carefully walks up the narrow stairs to the stage.

Brody comes down the few steps from the stage.

Elwyndas applauds

Lecturer: Bobson says, "I'm not sure if Adam was supposed to give this talk or not, but he couldn't make it and so I volenteered to step in. I'm Bobson, aka Dan from FiranMUX. I've been there for four and half years, in various positions, and I'm a coder (as opposed to another type of admin) by strong preference. So if I get too into the code details of our craft system, you'll have to forgive me."

Bobson pulls out his notes, clears his throat, and starts reading. (Let me know if I'm going too fast or too slow.)

Bobson says, "On FiranMUX, to simulate an economy, we have various items players can make if they have the appropriate skills, which they can then sell to other players or the coded market. Since it would get pretty boring if every single item was the same, and it would be pointless if every single player could make whatever items they wanted or needed, we designed and created our craft system."

"To create a chest, for instance, a wizard first needs to set up a parent chest, so that the code will know just what, exactly, a chest is. As part of that process, the wizard will specify a skill a player needs in order to know how tomake a chest, a roll players have to perform when they make the chest, and a list of ingredients that are required to construct it."

"When a player goes to make the chest, they must first gather all the appropriate ingredients. In this case, that's three lumber, one bronze ingot, and ten nails. All three of these are items that can be produced using the crafting system as well."

"Once the player has all the ingredients in the same room, they simply type "make chest", and the code will then proceed to make numerous checks to see if they can really make the chest. First, it checks to find out if it knows what a chest is, and if it's something players can make. We don't want players making "laptop computer" or "weapon", after all."

"The second check is to see if the player has the appropriate skill. If I had to make a chest IRL, I'd have no clue how to go about doing it. On Firan, that would be represented with a carpentry skill of 0. Most items require a 1 or higher in the appropriate skill in order to be able to make them (on a scale from 0-5)."

"The next check is to see if the player has enough energy points to make a chest. Players gain energy by eating food (either made with the craft system or purchased from the marketplace), and then they use that energy for using various systems. Crafting takes energy. Combat takes energy. Pushing a cart takes energy. By tracking a player's energy, we can avoid players doing the MU* equivalent of building Rome in a single day."

"Some items require a set of tools to make. Chests require "carpenter's tools", for instance. All tools can be made via the craft system or purchased from the market, but they tend to be expensive. On the other hand, one crafter will probably only need one set (one object) of the appropriate tools, and that set will last a long time. The tools do break after enough usage, although they can be repaired, and players can't use broken tools to make items."

"Assuming that everything checks out, the make code moves on to the ingredients. As I mentioned above, a chest requires lumber, bronze ingots, and nails. The code will sweep the room, looking for objects which represent these three things, and in sufficient quantity. We track both what kind and how many physical objects a certain code object (henceforth called thing and object, respectively) represents via an account system."

"The account system is really a subject for another discussion, so I'll just mention it briefly. On each object is stored an attribute (or several attributes) ac-<thing>=<amount>. For instance, once we finish our chest, the object will have an "ac-chests" attribute on it, storing the number 1. This means that the object represents a single chest. The lumber would have "ac-lumber" on it, and it would need to be 3 (or higher), and so on."

"Assuming the code finds all the appropriate things, represented by the appropriate accounts (on either one or several objects - although under normal circumstances, one object will never represent two things), the code is ready to actually make the chest. Finally!"

"Once all the required ingredients are located, the appropriate amounts are deducted from the accounts stored on them. If this brings the account to 0, there's none of that thing left, and the object gets destroyed. Then, the code makes the roll for the player, to see how well the character did in making their chest. Firan's dice system could be the subject of another talk, so I'll just describe it briefly. A roll is made by adding two numbers (usually a skill and an attribute, on scales from 0-5), and rolling that many "dice". Each "die" that rolls above the difficulty number adds one success. Each die that rolls a 1 removes one success. The final result is the total number of successes (or just "successes" for short). If the roll returns 0 successes, it's considered a simple failure. If less than 0, it's a botch. If greater than 3, it's a bonus success, and 1, 2, or 3 is a normal success."

"What happens at each level really depends on what product is being made. However, a bonus will generally produce a good quality object, and some other bonus (less material, less energy...), a failure won't take anything extra but might or might not produce the desired product. If it does, it will be low quality. Finally, a botch will never produce the desired product, and may take extra materials or energy."

"And that's the end of part one. Am I going slow enough? It's really hard to tell with copy/paste."

Viila says, "It's perfect pace for me. Thought I'm not everyone."

China is managing to keep up. :)

Lecturer: Bobson continues, then. :)

Lecturer: Bobson says, "On FiranMUX, we have two kinds of objects that players can make - customizable ones and non-customizable ones. Most things are customizable. When a customizable item is made, an "Unfinished <thing>" is created. For our purposes, that will be an "Unfinished chest". There are four commands players can use to modify this unfinished chest: name, ornament, describe, and finish."

"Name allows players to change the name of the object they are creating. This simple "chest" can become "griffon carved chest with pearl inlay", or whatever else the player wants to name it. The one caveat is that the word "chest" MUST be in the new name. If the object was "iron long sword", then "iron long sword" must be in the new name. This is to keep people from taking something like a chest and naming it to be a gun, or a cloak, or something else strange. Players can use ANSI codes in their object's name as well."

"Ornament allows players to add items to the design of the chest. Most small things you'd expect can be ornaments - gemstones, precious metals, etc. Adding ornaments to a chest will make it heavier, and will increase the value. Also, if a chest is described as being gold plated, the crafter is supposed to actually buy the gold and use it as an ornament."

"Describe is really the most powerful of the commands. This is where the heart of the player's side of the crafting system lies. Every object, when first created, contains a generic description, usually a line or two long. Crafters can replace this description with anything they want. ASCII artwork, flowery poetry, descriptive prose, a one-line badly-spelled sentence, random symbols... anything. Peer pressure tends to discourage the latter two, luckily."

"The finish command is really an extension of the make command, rather than the customizing commands. Typing finish <object> will remove the "Unfinished" from it's name, and perform general tiding up to make the object ready for whatever the player has in mind for it."

"And that's the end of my prepared speech. If anyone has questions, please ask - I feel like I haven't talked enough. If you want to see an example of an object, I'll see if I can find one."

Viila says, "Does the ornamenting check that the player really has the gold for example when he describes the item to contain gold?"

Viila says, "Or that is not a freeform 'field'?"

Lecturer: Bobson nods. Yes. It requires the player to be carring the object, and then it moves that object into the chest, so it shows up in the contents.

Viila nods. "Ok."

Lecturer: Bobson says, "And he could describe the chest with gold, without actually ornamenting it with some, but that's bad form."

Brody looks around. "Other questions?"

Viila says, "If there should be variations, like this is a wooden chest, could there be full iron chests too, or would those need to be separate parent objects?"

Lecturer: Bobson says, "Good question. Every item the players can make has to have it's own parent. So to create iron chests, someone would need to create a generic iron chest. However, if that was the case, we'd create a simple "generic chest" which had almost everything the code needs to know about chests, then a "generic wooden chest" and a "generic iron chest", parented to the generic chest, which only contained information for that specific kind of chest."

Viila nods.

Lecturer: Bobson glances around. Anyone else?

Lecturer: Bobson coughs nervously. It echos.

Brody chuckles

China grins.

Brody says, "I have one question, actually."

Lecturer: Bobson looks gratefully at Brody. Yes?

Viila has one more too after Brody finishes with his.

Brody says, "Less from a coding perspective, more from a player's: What are you hearing are the most beloved features of that system? How much use does it get?"

Lecturer: Bobson would say that describe is probably the best-liked, and it's the largest contributer to our huge database. The products from the system are used everywhere - clothing, food, weapons, containers (like the chest)... There's over 600 generic chests out there now, for instance.

Brody nods, then says, "Quick follow-up, then Viila :). How do you survive the DB bloat?"

Lecturer: Bobson says, "To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. I think that all that the only major problems the db bloat causes are large save files when the game saves and a large process. We just get more powerful machines. :) Adam could proably add more to that."

Brody grins.

Viila guesses Brody doesn't have more followups, and shoots his question: "Is the code publicly awailable, and if so, where? :)"

Lecturer: Bobson says, "ftp://ftp.legendary.org/pub/Softcode/softcode/player-ic/make.command"

Lecturer: Bobson isn't sure how current that version is, but I don't think it's changed much recently.

Shayd says, "Almost all of Firan's code systems are GNU public licensed and can be found in the ftp.legendary.org/pub directories. Though they're sometimes out of date. :)"

Adam says, "And they're released as-is, with no promises of support. =)"

Adam says, "If you ever forget where our code archives are, they're linked from the Firan web pages at http://www.legendary.org/firan."

Lecturer: Bobson glances around. Anyone else?

Brody grins. "Thanks, Bobson."

Bobson comes down the few steps from the stage.

China applauds. :)

Viila applauds.

Russkaya clapclaps Bobson takes a seat in the Right Back Row.

Shayd says, "Yay Bobson!"

Brody paces up the aisle, but stops short of the stage. He settles onto the steps and says, "This next activity will be a roundtable discussion, focusing on the issues of community building and MU* publicity. I'll be heading this up. I'm Brody, and I run OtherSpace, Star Wars: Reach of the Empire, a new Trek MUSH in development called Star Trek: The Lost Missions, and an SF/Fantasy gaming/books/TV/movies site called Online Escapes. I've been developing and marketing my games for about five years now. In my opinion, if you build a strong enough community, that can go a long way toward covering ground with word-of-mouth publicity. But you still need to do more, as a MU* developer, to keep that community growing and keep getting the word out. We'll keep this fairly informal. Those who are participating, go around and introduce yourselves. Then we'll proceed."

Brody says, "And, BTW, ANYONE in the audience can consider themselves at the table, if they like."

Elwyndas takes a seat in the Left Back Row.

China says, "By participating? You refering to some pre-selected folks, or all of us?"

Brody says, "Anyone here :)"

Brody says, "It's open participation."

Cheetah says, "Those wanting in?"

Adam says, "Hello, everyone. My wife and I run Firan, which has been open to players for over four years and has community of about 200 active players. We host an annual convention for our players (RL), and last year (the third annual FiranCon) saw 60 players show up to party and socialize."

Brody nods.

China says, "I've been slowing building a game for the last 3 years, very slowly since I don't know much about coding. Reciently I've gotten some volunteers who are willing to help me when they can. I'm open to learing all I can about what makes mushes successful and ideas for making it so the players enjoy."

Brody nods to China. "Welcome. What's the game called?"

China laughs, "that's the least of what I been working on."

Viila smirks, "Me being one of those volunteers :). In addition I'm an admin here, and building two other new, but not yet open MUSHes (SC-MUSH, Cat's Dream. Both joint ventures with Cheetah). I myself have been MUSHing for about 2 years now."

Brody grins.

China chuckles, as her answer probably sounded stupid, but she'd not even thought about a name yet.

China smiles at Viila.

Viila says, "Oh, and, I'm a codey kind of wizard :)"

Viila likes to tinker with all kinds of coded systems.

Brody says, "Anyone else getting in on the table? Or just observing?"

Brody notes that we'll welcome folks to chime in with questions as we go.

Cheetah says, "I'm Cheetah, net addict, as such another of the volunteers, admin here, god of two very much 'under construction MU*s, immortal at a MUD, err, phew.. I do too much ;>'"

Brody chuckles.

Russkaya points to Brody, "He dragged me here ... though I've been dabbling with gaming and the gaming industry since the mid seventies. An' don't worry ... I'll speak up when I got somethin' to say :)

Viila says, "(ex?) IRCop too, Chee ;>"

Cheetah says, "There's one place where I actually just play, too :)"

Cheetah says, "Yeah, still IRC Operator at EFnet.vuurwerk.nl."

Cheetah says, "Though I just do that laid-backly."

Brody says, "All right, first topic of discussion for the table: It's one thing to build a nice-looking grid, install readable news files and a presentable website to lure people in. How do you keep them coming back? Especially with 1,700 other games - minimum - vying for their attention?"

Cheetah blurts (out of turn?), "Uniqueness of some sort."

Brody nods to Cheetah. "Elaborate."

Adam says, "I think you have to try to give them something they can't get anywhere else. You don't have to be completely different. Just different enough. Even if you're creating Yet Another World of Darkness game, find some way to differentiate yourself."

Adam says, "In quality, in theme, in service... anything."

Cheetah says, "Well, generically speaking, if you have something that is either unique or very scarce, be it the theme of your game, special code, whatever, that's going to make it appeal to players."

Adam says, "I think Brody said something that is key: 'vying for their attention.' The fact is, I've found that games aren't really vying for the attention of players. They may want players, but they don't try very hard to get them. Players DO want personal attention when they log in. If you can give them that from the moment they log in as a curious guest, you can hook them."

Brody grins. "One thing to keep in mind, I think, is that being unique or slightly different *gets them in the door*. But to keep your game in the forefront of their recreational attention span...that requires something more. My opinion here, but you MUST have a mailing list. You need some way of giving them recognition for what they do, to prove they're not whistling into the wind...or typing into the abyss. It also helps to have open forums where they can talk. I think Adam's idea of conventions work too."

Adam says, "How many times have you logged into a game with a great web page and a fascinating theme, and sat there tossing out hello's onto the Guest channel and getting no response?"

Elwyndas says as introduction, "I've been involved with MUSHing for quite a while, Was one of the Merchant Wars space testers for Gepht. That's how we met. I have been on staff at few other mushes and am working a few others with my son that are going very slowly due to RL. I love SciFi, am an original Trekkie, love flying in virtual space engines. Now a question, 'How do you keep those coming in as players from trying so hard to change your vision to theirs?"

China says, "I was going to say, I think most important is the people there. If they're friendly, helpful, etc, folks like coming to be among such to spend their online time with."

Brody nods. "And, unfortunately, there's no magic formula for drawing that right combination of people."

Viila says, "That works for a game with established playerbase. What about one that sits most of the time with only the odd wizard online getting covered in cobwebs?"

Cheetah nods, "Here, as a mortal even, I had code put in the master room. That's a very nice piece of accomplishment IMHO :)"

Adam says, "There's no magic formula, but you can shape your community anyway. You can encourage a certain kind of people, and get rid of undesirable elements. No rule says you have to keep every player that applies to play on your game. Carve out problem players who ruin the community."

Cheetah says, "Doing something that makes being around worthwhile is the fun bit."

Cheetah idly notes that half the fun is in knowing that it got used lots.

Brody nods to Adam. "That's where you find yourself balancing publicity concerns. And walking the fine line between quality control and a reputation for hardheadedness. I've run into that, from time to time. But, it's true: Sometimes, the community won't survive unless you kick someone off the island ;)"

Adam says, "I suppose a lot hinges on the definition of a community? What's the difference between a community and just a big group of people? It's a sense of belonging. How do you make a player feel like he or she belongs to your community?"

China says, "listen to him?"

Cheetah says, "Have them have an impact on the environment."

"Something simple I know that Firan does is the crafting system," Brody says. "I mean, in some way, a player can create something lasting. On OtherSpace and SW:ROE, we do it with news and RP logs."

Adam says, "I think you need to make an effort to remind every player to reach out to the other players, to make new players feel welcome, to do things that reduce elitism and cliques, and what Cheetah says: give each player a way to contribute something back to the game."

Adam says, "For RP games, make sure that a player can alter the events of the game and make history. There's nothing more powerful than a sense of shared history among players."

Cheetah grins, "And to, years later, reminisce over and over again to their grandchildren, 'Did I tell you when I, back in the day..' ;)"

Adam says, "And RL get-togethers do amazing things for a sense of community."

Adam says, "Firan uses IkonBoard, mailing lists, an online bb system, and OOC channels to build community."

Brody nods to Adam. "What I've found is that the bigger a game gets, especially one centered on story, the more difficult it is to maintain that close-knit feeling that a smaller game enjoys. It's kind of odd, seeing how ROE, which has been open about two months, has a warmer, fresher atmosphere than the more established OtherSpace. Cherish the small times ;)."

Brody says, "OS still has a lot of helpful players, but it's so huge, with so much history, new people can feel overwhelmed and isolated rather easily."

China says, "how do you combat that, Brody?"

Viila nodnods. "I once looked at OS, but I was a bit overwhelmed already at the website. I inted to come by and have a looksie sometime :)"

Viila says, "Though."

Adam grins at China. "You can prevent your game from being large. No one ever said a large player base was better than a small one."

China says, "well I was in one where all started out at a 'college' and each newbie was assigned to a 'mentor' on the college staff. When you graduated on, and got assigned to your ship, you by then knew a lot of other folks, crewmates from your class, etc."

Adam says, "That's a neat idea, if your theme supports it."

Viila says, "I like that one."

Brody says, "It's a tough nut to crack. We hold newbie seminars, and we have the mailing list, BB, channels and web forums to keep people in the loop. But it's still going to require a player to climb a mountain of information before they get a new character. So we made the Survivor's Guide, to offer some basics. But it never covers *everything*. And as soon as the next arc ends, it's out of date ;). The only way to really combat that kind of thing, ultimately, is to put *everyone* at virtual square one on the learning curve."

Cheetah says, "It's also good to have sub-groups within the community as a whole. Like, here we have the farmhouse people, the gothic mansion people, the #0 people, the Party Hall people.. But they're not bordered off, like, the party hall people, gothic mansion people and farmhouse people cling to one another, hop over, have puppets at the other hangouts, etc.."

Ambrosia grins and waves her hand.

Adam says, "I think that mountain of information can be a barrier to entry, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Those who make it over the mountain will likely be a certain kind of player who will stick with it. Once you've worked hard to get into something, you're more likely to stick around to see what develops."

Brody nods, then looks to Ambrosia. "Question?"

Ambrosia grins. "Question for Adam, about him saying to keep the playerbase smaller. The original question was, how to keep players from coming back to your game, and make it attractive for new players...how to make the MU* unique and appealing. Wouldn't that be something that automatically causes a larger playerbase to gather over time, instead of keeping it a small one?"

Ambrosia says, "After all..such a MU* would become well-known, probably."

Cheetah ors.. "Keeping playerbase steady."

Adam says, "You can always shut off registration, no? Or make it hard to get a character through applications."

Adam says, "Growth can be a bad thing, if you can't maintain the same service level you offered as a smaller game."

Brody nods. "It's a double edged sword."

Adam says, "By the way, I wrote an article on building virtual communities a while ago. You can read it online at http://www.electricsoup.net/a2.html."

Ambrosia hms and nods. "True. Okay, thanks :)"

Adam says, "Firan uses the roster system to control the rate of growth."

Brody says, "Now, Cheetah, I think, asked a while ago about the cobwebby factor of a game that doesn't yet have a playerbase, right?"

Adam says, "Bootstrapping!"

Viila did. But that's allright.

Cheetah points accusingly at Viila, "It was him. It's him you wan ;>"

Brody points to what Adam just mentioned. "He's written articles. I've written articles. I've made a general nuisance of myself at places like Top MUD Sites and The MUD Connector. Electric Soup is newer, but an excellent site. Get your name out there. Get known."

Adam says, "The trick to bootstrapping a game with few players is to make it look like there are players there, even if there are not. ;)"

Brody nods to Adam. "Ayep."

Viila says, "And how would one do that when the WHO glares emptyness? Lot's of extra characters for the admin to keep on? :)"

Adam says, "I recommend that you tell your staff to grab characters to play, and keep them logged in whenever they're online. If a new player joins the game, there will be someone around for the WHO list, someone to chat with on the Public channel, and so on."

Brody played lots of characters in the early days of OS, with anyone who was online.

Adam says, "It only takes a couple weeks of this to get a small active player base, if your game is appealing to the general public."

Brody nods. "Right :)"

Brody says, "Also, publish a cast list on your website :)"

China says, "your website?"

Brody nods. "The game's, yes."

China says, "do most games have websites?"

Brody says, "A lot of the successful ones do."

Adam says, "Mostly, what you want to avoid is a player logging into an empty game. You don't want crickets on the Guest channel or the Public channel. That means your staff needs to be on a lot, too. If the staff aren't there, if the staff aren't RPing, why should anyone else?"

Brody says, "A website, regularly updated with news and current events, discussion forums, can be a great place for players to keep track and hang out when they can't be on the MU*."

China nodnods, "I know a game that died, cause it ended up everyone just sat in 'their' room, and chatted over channels."

Adam says, "I think that's a different problem, China. In that case, you have people logged in and active, but not interested in the game itself."

Adam says, "You have a community, but no game. ;)"

Brody nods.

Adam says, "That requires a different kind of prodding. You can't force people to RP, but you can lure them. I recommend more carrot than stick in that case. Make them WANT to RP. Lure them in with some exciting plot or opportunity." Adam says, "Which is another trick to creating an active player base: recurring events."

China nods, "yeah, too much a 'community'. Made me think of not having channels, pages, etc. when IC ...if that's even possible.

Viila says, "Yes. That is possible."

Brody nods. "We've also got a +vote system at OS and ROE. At the end of each month, we give out XP and recognition to the notables. In order to get recognized, players need to RP with each other and +vote for each other."

Viila says, "Though, in my opinion atleast pages would be usefull to have, even while IC."

Adam says, "Firan runs a festival every IC Spring and Fall. It's an excuse for people of all clans to get together and mingle, even if they shouldn't normally be hanging out. You can make new connections and friends there. It's a big gathering of people with many RP opportunities. There are lots of contests and events to attend."

Brody nods to Adam. "One of our staffers ran an interstellar olympics. Always fun :)"

Adam says, "I discourage people from removing pages and channels. You need that for your community."

Adam idles a bit.

Brody also prefers channels and pages. "They can talk via AIM and IRC. If *you* don't want to see them talking, turn off the channels, but let them keep em."

China says, "well my idea was to have lots of ways to communicate, but have it IC'ly done, so even if 'chatting' their IN the game ..and maybe in the game frame of mind then too. :)"

Brody grins at China. "It's a noble thought, but a lot of community building relies on some OOC hooks."

Cheetah says, "A MU* where I play has only like 8 channels."

Cheetah says, "Public, Spam, Code, and faction channels."

Brody would LOVE for people to come to his games and do nothing but play their characters, but they need to share interests, vent, show sympathy, etc.

Ambrosia shrugs. "I've seen some with about 4 or 5. It's mostly the social and space MU*s wit the chan overload ;)"

Ambrosia says, "witH"

Cheetah says, "They also don't get used nearly as much as on here :)"

"The public chan doesn't get used nearly as much."

"Also, maybe 20% of the people online at any time are even ON the channel."

Brody nods.

China says, "I jsut find it odd, that 'in game' characters will oocly chat on a channel things that could icly be whispered, or such and fit into the game."

Brody chuckles to China. "That's IC/OOC crossing over."

Brody says, "A different problem."

Cheetah says, "However.. The faction channel I'm on is used sorta like public here :)"

China says, "oh."

Brody is talking about people ranting about The Phantom Menace on Public, rather than chatting ICly about it.

Elwyndas listens quietly.

Brody says, "Everyone can get together on Jar-Jar Binks being a terrible idea. A common enemy!"

China says, "I LIKE Jar-Jar Binks. :p"

Brody facepalms.

Brody leans over to Adam. "Remember that at tribal council."

Cheetah snickers, "Brody.. There are ALWAYS exceptions. Even to this rule ;>"

Viila snickers...

Brody chuckles. "Well, except that the defender of Jar-Jar becomes the de facto representative of Jar-Jar. This can be detrimental to community building ;)"

Brody writes up a quick rule. "No talking about sex, religion, politics or Jar-Jar."

China chuckles.

Brody says, "Other questions? Thoughts? :)"

Cheetah adds, "Microsoft, vi vs EMACS, coding styles, the meaning of life..."

Ambrosia says, "42"

Brody peers.

Ambrosia ducks.

Brody chuckles. "All right, folks, if there's nothing else - thank you ALL for coming, and thanks to our panelists for taking part!"