Playing in the Sandbox

Sep 04, 2009 18:50:43

As I write this, September is nearly upon us – and with it the release of three new mmos (Champions Online, Aion and Fallen Earth). Like a child with a new toy we will all be excited as we explore the new worlds. Some of us will spend time rushing to the level cap so fast that it would make an SR71 spy plane blush with envy (if they COULD blush at all of course). Others of us (those one or two of you out there) will log on for the first time, feeling like a virtual Magellan on verge of discovering a new land and take their merry old time exploring every nook, niche, and cranny of the virtual world..

Then it will happen…
Just as it happens the week after Christmas or a birthday, the child will grow bored with the new toy and the complaints will soon follow. Just as professional football has audience members who are “arm chair quarterbacks” any given game, online or no, has “armchair developers”. On a recent No Prisoners, No Mercy (NPNM) Show Paul Barnett, Creative Director for Mythic making Warhammer Online, told the following joke:

“How many developers does it take to screw in a light bulb? You don’t know – you’ve never made one.”

As true as those two sentences may be, it is one thing to empathize with them and another altogether to experience them – even if it isn’t on quite as grand a scale. Recently I have been spending a great deal of time “modding” my favorite game. For those of you who are not acquainted with the practice, there are some games like “Fallout 3” and “Oblivion: the Elder Scrolls” who lend themselves particularly well to the practice of modding. Both games are what is known as “Sandbox” games and are developed by the Bethesda game studio. The easiest way to think of it is like an unofficial patch on the low end of the scale all the way up to an unofficial expansion on the top end of the scale.

One of the virtual in habitants of my mod is “Bob, the out of work alien vendor” who resides on the bridge of Mothership Zeta (the newest “expansion” of Fallout 3). As popular as bob is with those individuals who play the mod, he has found the truth of what Scott Hartsman and Paul Barnett both spoke about on NPNM. Everyone who meets Bob in game seems to have a different opinion of just what his programmer (me) should do with him – none of which seem to be compatible, and most of which would require reprogramming Bob from the ground up. Scott Hartsman pointed out to my co-host and I that some of the suggestions he has received as a game developer would take “a team of a hundred developers three years to complete”.

As for myself, I have a luxury that game developers do not. I can simply say to the audience “Bob is happy where he is” and program him to do what I want. People like the developers who work on Aion, Champions Online and Fallen Earth, however, have the unenviable job of having to make their respective games be all things to all players. They can never take the sage advice of W.C. Fields who once said….

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. Don’t be a damn fool about it.” – W.C.Fields

See you online, Julie Whitefeather

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