M*U*S*H - Sunday, April 13, 2008, 10:17 AM
Tyr despams. Nyssa will have to work on this code. Nyssa says, "That should fix it." Nyssa grins Vl says, "So, you're solid now?" Nyssa says, "For security reasons, I'll say no. ;)" Vl says, "Awww" You say, "Hi, everyone, and welcome. This is the first in an irregularly-scheduled series of peresentations which I'm giving as part of my obligation under the M*U*S*H Architect-in-Residence Program. The purpose for me being here today is to explain what I'm doing with my game, which I'm calling 'The Empire MUSH.' This is a working title, and may change before the game goes IC. The game is a combination of several hobbies and interests of mine, not least of which, of course, is MUSHing. Many of you here also know that I've studied history; I'm fascinated by it, quite frankly, and German history in particular. The game is set in medieval Germany, in the region of Thuringia (or Thringen, in German). Much of historical Thuringia is now contained within the boundaries of the Free State of Thuringia, one of the 16 States of the Federal Republic of Germany. The game will focus on a few areas within Thuringia of historical and contemporaneous political significance, namely the area surrounding Weimar, Erfurt, and Arnstadt, as well as a few outlying locations. I'll begin by discussing, briefly, how the game will work. I'll then progress to explain in more detail why I chose this setting, in which I'll detail a bit about the history of the region leading up to the game setting. After that, I'll talk a little about some of the challenges I've encountered, and how I've dealt with them, and I'll conclude by giving an overview of what I'm doing in the near future to bring the game toward a state in which it would be appropriate to open for RP (even if not fully 'IC')." Vl says, "May I recommend less text per speech, that was quite a wall :P" You say, "So noted. I'll try to make my paragraphs shorter." Nyssa cheers Tyr on. ;) You say, "Obviously, in order to make sense of the game, I'll have to intersperse some historical commentary. I expect I'll mention a few events, people, places, or concepts that are unfamiliar to some of you here; I'll go into greater detail in the historical overview, and after we're done, I'll hold a Q&A session so if you still have questions, I'll be happy to go into yet more detail then. The initial grid set-up, as I mentioned, is going to include an area in roughly central Thuringia. The game is set in the 11th Century, during the time of the Salian Dynasty of German Kings/Emperors. In this period, Thuringia as a region is under the control of various magnates who report directly to the King/Emperor, and the areas identified in my introductory paragraphs are what I consider to be the most significant jurisdictions in the area. As a means of saving space, each region will consist of a small number (no more than three or four) of rooms. In this way, I hope to keep RP concentrated. In particular, the areas being built are: Arnstadt, Erfurt, Alteburg, the Wandersleben Gleichen (a castle on a hill near Erfurt), Weimar, Hersfeld Abbey, and the ruins of the Harzburg (a castle built by Henry IV, which was destroyed in 1073 by a Saxon rebellion)." You say, "As the game grows and player density increases, areas will be filled in as appropriate. But, of course, this method could present certain difficulties; any given room could consist of several square miles of territory, and so it would obviously be inappropriate for all players in a given room to interact. In order to alleviate this, places will substitute for rooms until the player density increases to a level considered appropriate by the staff (which presently consists of myself and Moe) to allow for infill. Included in this will be mutter code, to allow 'noise' to escape from certain places; the mutter code will include a 'volume control,' and players will be able to lock places, so those wishing to engage in entirely private RP will be allowed to prevent other players from knowing what's going on. I also intend to study the feasibility of including a distance algorithm to determine whether certain places would be able to 'hear' each other at all; so, for example, players on one side of town would not be aware of the RP of players on the other side of town, regardless of the 'volume.'" Vl says, "Question, why go through all that trouble instead of just using rooms if the players are effectively isolated anyway?" Nyssa says, "I think it makes it more realistic in terms of open areas." You say, "I'd appreciate it if you could save your questions for the end; I'll make a note to answer you first, Viila. If anyone has any questions, please make a note of them, and I promise I'll try to answer at the end when they're asked." Vl says, "Alright." You say, "Thanks." Nyssa says, "I'll save the comments for then as well." You say, "I had mentioned in my application that I was going to include weak AI 'mobs,' and I'm still considering this idea, but it's taken a lower priority as my concept of the game has evolved. I'm still planning an economy system, one that would allow players to engage in commodity production and exchange, and require a certain amount of maintenance. Although the focus of the game will be the struggle for supremacy during the conflict surrounding the Investiture Con(flict|test|troversy), there can be a fairly substantial non-noble population that, although affected by the strife, may not participate directly in it. Further, commerce and exploration are common themes running through nearly every game. If players wish to engage in events that are 'off-screen,' so to speak, there will be dynamic rooms available which can be re-desced at will, and certain stock 'sets' will also be made available for use as well (by this I mean stock room sets and descriptions). I also have a somewhat novel solution to dealing with the problem of travel." Noltar has arrived. You say, "As you may know, the quality of roads in most of medieval Europe, particularly the area outside the former Roman Empire, was not very good. Travel took a long time, especially in areas where population was sparse. Although by the 11th century, there had been a number of improvements made (mostly clearing of forest for roads and a certain amount of improvement of existing roads), travel till took a long time. So as not to unduly isolate the playerbase in the several non-contiguous grid areas, players will play every other day. Although one RL day will equal one IC day in terms of the amount of time that passes over the course of the entire day, on any given day, players can decide what time of day they want it to be for the purposes of their RP. If the IC week started today, for example, tomorrow (Monday) would end up being Tuesday ICly. This way, if you're going from, say, Erfurt to Alteburg or Weimar, you won't be stuck off the grid for several days on end." You say, "Player stats will be done with FUDGE. I thought about doing a homebrew, but decided that it was too much time and effort. The other game systems out there aren't really well-suited for the game that I'm working on, especially not d20. I don't want the players to spend a lot of time worrying about their stats, but I do think that having some kind of stat system helps give people a reasonably clear idea of their character's capabilities, especially vis--vis other characters." You say, "Of course, in any game that involves factional conflict, you need a means of keeping track of who is loyal to whom. Code that permits players to show their allegiances, especially in the case of the Ministeralies (unfree knights) who are bound to a lord's retinue, is essential. However, the shifting nature of alliances and the lack of a centralized pay system means that this system will not resemble classic faction codes, and there will be no 'paycheck' from the faction. The nature of wealth in the Middle Ages was largely a consequence of agrarian economy. In spite of the fact that there is some manufacturing capacity, trade in this period is still relatively undeveloped and primarily an exchange of necesseties - there is some trade in luxuries, but the nobility is the only social class that can afford them, and so the demand is relatively low. Of course, precious metals are highly valued, and there are silver mines in the mountains to the northeast, so this is also a source of wealth. In modern economic terms, the medieval economy was largely based on excractive industries, and the economy system will reflect this." You say, "Extractive industries, that is." Trinsec has disconnected. You say, "Nobles and other wealthy and influential people will be able to keep track of the revenues they derive from their lands, both in Thuringia and out." You say, "I'm going to do this by assigning 'cards' that represent particular lands and industries (such as mines), which can be bought, sold, and traded among the owners as they see fit. Each source of wealth will have a particular value, which will fluctuate over time; depending on how long the game is around, the value of a particular concession (such as a mine) may drop over time as the resource is exhausted." You say, "The nature of the society in which the players will find themselves is one of great stratification in wealth and therefore privelege. Everyone here is at least tangentially familiar with the social divisions of the Middle Ages. Although Germany differs from France or England in the degree and extent of stratification, there nevertheless exists a class of great territorial magnates, whom we call noblemen, and their families and retinues (their 'households,' as it were). Players wishing to play one of these magnates will be required to demonstrate a certain amount of maturity and RP ability; instead of having a large staff devoted to creating RP, the nobles and other major figures will be responsible for plotting and generating RP. I.e., they will be the RP staff. Nobility, I should mention, is not strictly limited to secular figures, as the German Church was itself a great landholder and was owed the allegiance of large segments of the population." You say, "This is, IMO, a better way of dealing with the classic problem of the division between 'IC' and 'OOC' leadership, i.e. the people who are in charge when it comes to actual roleplay vs. the people who are in charge when it comes to coordinating the plot and generating RP. This has always struck me as an entirely artificial, and inefficient, division." You say, "I'll now move on to an abbreviated overview of German society in this period, and a brief explanation of why I chose it and how my vision has evolved since I started this project." You say, "The game will be set in the late 11th Century, somewhere around 1075. This date is extremely significant in German history, because it was the year that Pope Gregory VII issued his decretal 'Dictatus papae,' in which he spoke against the practice of lay investiture. Lay investiture was the practice whereby secular authorities would 'invest' prelates (church authorities, i.e. Bishops) with the symbols and authority of their office. You're all familiar with the concept of the divine right of Kings; this concept has ancient origins, going back to the late Roman Empire, and evolved over the course of the Middle Ages in the claim by the German Emperors to a divine investment in themselves by virtue of their position as King and Emperor, under the rubric of 'rex et sacerdos' (King and priest). The notion that the Pope is the paramount representative of Christ and God on Earth is a relatively recent one." You say, "The problem with this declaration is that, by insisting that it was the Pope's responsibility to invest bishops in their office and not the King's, the Pope effectively deprived the King of authority over the Church, which he had heretofore enjoyed. It was at this same time that the various territorial magnates wished to elect bishops from among their number, so as to ensure that the prelates would be sympathetic to their interests rather than those of the Monarchy. The Pope, in order to strengthen his position (which had been elevated in no small part due to the work of the German Emperors and their involvement in Italy, the control of which they contested first with the Eastern Roman Empire (which we call the Byzantine Empire), and later the Saracens (Arabs) and Normans), issued this decretal which undermind the authority of the Emperor. There were other political issues involved in the conflict as well." Molikai has connected. You say, "I call this the Investiture Con(flict|test|troversy), as something of a joke, because those are the most common names for it; perhaps most common is Investiture Controversy, but I feel that term doesn't completely capture the extent of the dispute." You say, "I should say, most common in the English-speaking world." You say, "Germany at this time, furthermore, was not the united whole that we think of it being today. Indeed, the country was divided a number of different ways, perhaps the most significant being the 'Stem' or 'tribal duchies' (stem deriving from the German 'Stamm,' which has a number of different translations, all of which derive from the notions of a common origin). At various times, these duchies had been Saxony, Bavaria, Alemannia, Franconia, Thuringia, and Swabia." You say, "At the time the game is set, Saxony had ceased to be a Duchy for awhile because the Dukes of Saxony became King, but they eventually elevated a new family to that position. Thuringia was conquered by Otto I 'The Great' in the 10th Century after the Duke rose against him, and would never rise to the status of a Duchy again. Thus the King/Emperor (at least theoretically) held the allegiance of the territorial magnates (the Grafs, or Counts) directly, and was responsible for appointing them." You say, "In this period, the distinction between High, Low, and Middle German dialects was more than just linguistic. Due to natural barriers such as forests and mountains, Southern Germany, Central Germany, and Northern Germany were somewhat isolated from one another, and thus the various peoples that now make up the German people were still linguistically and culturally distinct enough to maintain a sense of separate identity. The Emperors at this time had their origins as Dukes of Franconia, and are thus known as the Salian, or Frankish, dynasty. Prior to this, as I mentioned, the Emperors had their origins as Dukes of Saxony. The various 'tribes' and duchies had a history of jealousy regarding their independence. The Emperors themselves were also not always the most stellar personalities. In addition, due to a number of problems stemming from Henry IV's minority, and Henry's own ambitions, he came into conflict with the Saxons and the Thuringians, which he ended up using the Swabians to fight." Impster has connected. You say, "In addition to the free nobles, there had arisen an extensive class of unfree knights, the Ministeriales, whom I mentioned earlier. They served a number of functions, not least of which was defending and administering Church properties, since the Church was theoretically supposed to stay out of secular politics (or so the reformers maintained). They also served the King/Emperor, and the Grafs and Dukes. They were bound personally to a lord, granted fiefs and allods (the former being a grant with obligations of service attached, the latter being a grant of land without any such obligations and not subject to taxation) to maintain themselves. Due to the strife of the preceding centuries, a great number of free men had pleged service to the Church and to various nobles in exchange for protection." Judge Dredd has connected. You say, "Thus, the game will center around the competition of various factions for supremacy in this region, surrounding the breakdown of authority due to the papal decree. Henry IV is excommunicated 1076 and declared anathema, i.e. Christians have a duty to not aid him in any way. Henry himself had tried to depose Gregory. Various nobles will line up on either side, with a few remaining ostensibly neutral and waiting to see who ends up on top." You say, "I originally started with the idea of making a fantasy game set in a historical period, but the fantasy elements have slowly fallen by the wayside as the game has evolved." You say, "I initially wanted to do the 10th century, but owing to the almost-total lack of documentation on this period, I moved forward a bit. I've encountered this problem a great deal in attempting to research the period; the sources are difficult to access if they exist, and they tend to be in German or Latin, neither of which I read with anything resembling the degree of proficiency I'd require to make sense of them." You say, "I decided to Germany, however, precisely because it was off the beaten path. Most people's understanding of the middle ages is derived from work on medieval France and England. Germany, however, presents a fairly radical difference in the way it develops. While France is largely in chaos in this period, Germany is still relatively cohesive. There still exists a substantial free population. It is also, to a large extent, the center of power in Medieval Europe. The Emperor is in theory the successor to the Roman Emperor, and the Kings are theoretically his subordinates." You say, "I'm also something of a Germanophile." Nyssa says, "Not to rush things, but I will need to go soon. Can we ask questions now?" You say, "I've had a great deal of difficulty figuring out how to work the fantastic elements into the game, and at this point, I've almost decided to throw them out altogether. The most fantastic element I have at this point is allowing players 'gifts,' which are commonly believed to be granted by God (or the Devil), which allow them to do some things with a superhuman level of ability." Impster has disconnected. Vl says, "Out of curiosity, have you played the old computer game Darklands? (RPG set in realistic 15th century Germany)" You say, "No." You say, "The question of religion has also been a problematic one. The Middle Ages were dominated by the Christian Church, which was not noted for its tolerance of differences. Heterodoxy of any kind was routinely persecuted. I considered incorporating the structure of Medieval Christian metaphysics into the game, but I couldn't come up with a way to do this and not deal with the problem of how to have a God that was at once beneficent and all-powerful but vindictive and intolerant of heterodoxy. I decided that, while discourses may be framed in terms of God, with biblical references, the actual existence of the deity is an open question. This ambiguity will allow me to develop this aspect of the theme further as the game progresses." You say, "This allows all parties' claims to divine sanction to be dealt with on an equal basis." You say, "That is, if you believe it, then it's true for you and anyone you convince of your position." Stoko has disconnected. Nyssa politely bows out. Nyssa wanders north into the foothills. Nyssa has left. You say, "Since I've gone way past the original time window I'd intended to use, I'm going to wrap up the lecture portion more quickly than I'd initially intended. As the game goes forward, I'm going to need to get the grid built and the coded systems in place. I've started a little building, and I know what code I need, but I need to specify in more detail how the code will work. I'll also need to attract a playerbase when I'm ready. The grid will be owned by regional builder characters. The biggest problem I see is giving the players an adequate overview of the history and sociology of 11th-century Thuringia, especially in the broader context of Medieval Europe, without going into excessive detail. Much of what is known about Medieval Europe is actually irrelevant to the play of the game unless the players wish to incorporate it. And that leads me to what I think will be the greatest strength of the game: Players will have the option, and indeed will be encouraged to exercise it, of adding new things to the game by writing a proposal, backed by some scholarship (I'm not expecting even an undergraduate-level research paper, but a brief summary and the sources used; I or other staffers will evaluate the sources and determine whether they're credible and the concept works). For example, I know very little about classical German paganism; if a player wished to incorporate some pagan holdovers, they'd be required to explain how the religion worked for the purposes of the game and tell me where they got the information. If they want to make something up in the absence of sources, I'll consider it, but I prefer historicity. Finally, the game will actively encourage the players to build and code, and I will eventually hold regular classes on this, player relations, game administration, and RP. The latter, of course, is tricky; many people have developed systems, but I want to be more open, and just encourage people to do what they think is the best way of describing what they're doing in a way that makes it acccessible to others." You say, "Okay, now for Q&A. To answer Viila's question, Nyssa's comment is one factor. I also thought it would be more elegant, and would allow players to get from place to place more easily, within a given area." Wilco says, "Tyr, hi, Roger Wilco, Corporate Expanse News. It sounds like your game is going to be pretty historically rigorous. Are you going to do anything to accomodate the more 'casual' player with a less thorough interest in eleventh-century Germany and make it a fun game for them?" Tyr hehs @ Wilco. You say, "I was just about to get to that." You say, "Nyssa told me ElseMU* that you had asked that." Wilco says, "Thank you, Nyssa elseMU*! :P" Wilco wasn't expecting you to take as long as you ended up taking. You say, "Neither was I." Vl says, "Unless you have some sort of "pass through exit timer" limitation, I'd suggest that rooms is easier. It's one less abstraction and uses existing functionality, so it's easier for both players and devs. Besides, I can never remember what syntax the various places codes I encounter have ;P" You say, "The 'pass through exit timer' was one mechanism I'd intended to use in order to enforce the IC travel times." Vl is about to fall asleep (lateness of clock, not Tyr's voice :P), so I'll idle quietly in a corner from now on. Tyr chuckles. "Yeah, I took way longer than I'd intended to, so I understand. Thanks for coming, Viila." Vl says, "Np. The game sounds interesting." Vl says, "I hope you get it launched to great success :>" Vl stops babbling while he's still at least semicoherent. You say, "Wilco: That's a really good question, and it's something I've been worried about. Players will have to read a few pages on history and the society to get acquainted, but I don't expect any player to be engaged in graduate-level research on 11th Century Germany. I've had to spend a couple months digging through sources to figure some of these things out, and I was lucky enough to know how to engage in the kind of research I've done. A lot of people don't have the kind of background in archival research that I have by virtue of my study of History, particularly those in more technical fields. Unfortunately, I don't see any way of making it directly accessible to the average player who wants to engage in the metaplot." You say, "There will, quite simply, be a barrier to entry. I realize that this will reduce the amount of interest in the game to some extent, but as I said, I really don't see any way around it. If you have any suggestions, I'd welcome them." You say, "Anyone else?" You say, "Or do you have any more questions, Wilco?" Wilco says, "Are you going to provide all the background information needed to play the game or are you going to expect original research?" You say, "Oh, I forgot to mention one aspect of the game, which is that I'm going to have a character matrix, which I need to develop, in order to determine what roles will be appropriate and how many of a given role will be available at a given time. That having been said, I'm going to provide a lot of background, but certain aspects of the game will remain undeveloped until players express an interest in them, and when they do, they will be responsible for doing the research. As I said, I'm not expecting rigorous scholarship, but a certain amount of research will be necessary in certain instances." You say, "I simply will not have time to do the necessary research and run the game at the same time." Wilco nods. You say, "Furthermore, I don't know how much longer I'll have access to certain research tools, such as JSTOR, which I've used to access journal articles I've seen referenced in other sources. I'm using access that I still have from Indiana University, but I'm no longer a student there (at least for the time being), and so I cuold conceivably lose my access at any time." Wilco nods. "My one concern is that, for Joe Average Player, your game would end up being more work than fun, due to the historical rigor that you seem to be stressing." You say, "I'm not expecting *that* much rigor. :) Really, with what I've got now, I have just enough to run my game. If I wanted to write a book, there's way more to be done. But you do express a valid concern, and it's one I've shared, but I hope that the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the game will outweigh the amount of work. Furthermore, the players willing to put in that kind of time and effort will be rewarded (both ICly and OOCly). Joe Average Player won't be expected to do much research, frankly." You say, "Or are you referring to the amount they'll have to read?" Wilco was referring to both reading and researching. You say, "Okay. I realize that reading manuals is out of fashion, these days, but the average player shouldn't have to read more than a few pages. Most of the information will eventually be up on a Wiki to make it more accessible." You say, "By 'a few pages,' I'm thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of about ten or twelve pages to get the basic idea, and they can read more as they get a better feel for the game. I also expect other players to help by giving them basic pointers. I don't think it's necessary to know as much about 11th-Century Thuringia as I've learned to play the game, you just have to know what's relevant to your particular role within the game." Wilco nods. You say, "I'm tryig hard to keep the barrier to entry as low as I can, but as I said, it has to be there because of the nature of the game. I'm willing to sacrifice a certain amount of player population for the quality of the game." You say, "In the future, I may do other games; I briefly considered another timeline shift forward to the 13th Century, during the Hessian-Thuringian War of Succession, and it would be very interesting to do a game for an expressly mature audience set in the Crusader States. Part of the purpose for doing this game is to educate as well as to entertain ('edutainment,' if you will)." Wilco says, "All right, as long as you know that you're doing it." Tyr nods. You say, "Anyone else?" You say, "Or do you have any more questions, Wilco? :)" Wilco is done. You say, "Okay." You say, "Well, it looks like everyone else is idle." Noltar was reading, but unfortunately is multi-tasking too much to come up with any questions that haven't already been asked. Tyr nods. "No problem, Nolt." Noltar says, "It sounds like a very interesting setting, hopefully you can find the right balance between the level of quality it deserves and the ease of involvement for the playerbase." You say, "Me, too." You say, "Alright, that seems to be it, then." You say, "Thanks for coming, guys. Hopefully, the next one will be better-attended. I'll see about getting the log posted soon for those who missed all or part of the presentation." You say, "The next presentation will update on what I've accomplished since I gave this presentation, and should be in the next couple months (no later than the end of June)." Noltar nods, "Great." Noltar says, "Thanks for putting in the extra work to give these presentations on top of all of the work going into your game. :)" You say, "My pleasure."