Mücke's Musings on MMORPG Making

"Die Spieler machen das Spiel."

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I can be contacted as hobold at this domain name.


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#42. Detour: An Apology, an Excuse, and Diablo III

Another three or four months have passed with no new blog entries. I still owe you readers out there some point, some conclusion of my musings about the design of virtual worlds. The foremost reason is that, at long last, my other project about computer graphics has had some success. A final experiment unexpectedly showed workable results. For a few days I was absolutely clueless what to do; success had not been part of the plan. :-)

The trouble is, what I am attempting to do is really basic research much more than development of a marketable technology. Still, I now believe to know with certainty that a particular approach will work. An approach that covers all the way, from mathematical model, over extensions of tried and tested algorithms, over applicable code optimization strategies, and finally connecting to well established user interfaces for graphics artists.

After talking to a retired former computer graphics professor of mine, I am very much aware of how much more work it still is from here, and that it will not be simple or easy. After talking to another younger professor (the successor of the aforementioned person) I am very much aware how difficult it is to return to academia at my age, with nothing more than a university diploma (roughly equivalent to a master of science in international comparison).

Things are further complicated by the fact that I want to to bring my own research project, which is dangerously close to asking them to create a position specifically for me. Of course there is no research grant and no other money budgeted for crazy inventors like yours truly who come walking into the university offices one fine day.

Nevertheless, I was met with interest and curiousity, and I will be given a chance to work with the local computer graphics research group for a few months. I guess this is a way of keeping me around so they can evaluate my abilities more thoroughly. It is still up to me to decide if I want to dedicate another large chunk of time to my pet project; it could take the rest of my professional life (what I have picked as my challenge just isn't easy). But because this is basic research, I could well find out that, yes, it does work, but not well enough to be practical.

I am torn. Which, dear readers, is absolutely not your problem. :-)


There is another, more sinister reason, conspiring against me blogging about other insightful analyses or constructive suggestions here. This reason is that I was asking myself: "Unraveling the secrets of why virtual worlds work, am I about to give players something of value, or am I about to give MMO producers the perfect drug?"

I confess the above question contributed somewhat to the first five month hiatus. I have since resolved to no longer being afraid of what game companies could do. The players are not stupid, and collectively they will eventually wise up. Purely addictive game designs, that pestered social platforms with attention-whoring automatically generated messages, are already being abandoned by the lion's share of players. That kind of bad game was interesting while it was new, but it cannot stay new forever.

But another concern is nagging me these days. The real world continues to be virtualized further. Simultaneously, society is being exposed to the concept of gamification. I wonder how long it will be until governments begin to use ideas from game design to guide and/or control their citizens. That would be a MMORPG from which you cannot log off ...

I am probably just being paranoid, as usual.

I hope.


And finally, the last excuse for the silence here: Diablo III, and some ... events ... surrounding its development. I felt an urge to write a thorough "Diablo III Post Mortem" analysis ever since I had completed the story arc on inferno difficulty. But I realized that this would have to be a long text by my standards. And I had a hunch that such a well founded criticism would cause almost physical pain to someone very near the top of Diablo III's design team hierarchy ... I had had this intuitive insight that there was a very specific pattern at the heart of most of the game's problems.

So whenever I thought about blogging here, I had a bad conscience that I was delaying the Diablo III analysis with something else. And whenever I thought about a Diablo III posting, I felt bad about hurting whoever it was in the Diablo III steering committee.

Can you imagine how sad I was when Jay Wilson, Diablo III's game director, made a twitter post that is now deleted as well as famous? Because in that moment I knew who the poor guy was who suffers pain whenever he is exposed to criticism. This is something most people will not understand. But some, often the creative and the gifted, are much more sensitive to criticism, are crushed under its weight, in ways that the average human never has to experience.

If someone like that ends up in a position where she or he is formally the boss, there is a grave danger that the underlings eventually stop reporting criticism upwards. Not because the boss is a choleric who "kills the messenger"; quite the opposite. The boss is usually a nice gal/guy who has earned the respect of the whole team, and the others don't want to see her or him suffer!

Needless to say, such a constellation is almost always the death of the project. When things cannot be criticized, then errors cannot be named. And when errors cannot be identified as such, they cannot be addressed. Game Over.

This particular story recently culminated in Jay Wilson abdicating the throne. As far as I can tell, all signs point to him doing this out of loyalty for his project and for his team. A vocal part of the player base may favour a less friendly interpretation of the events. But this final chapter is part of the pattern, too. When the product is finally released to the public, criticism will again flow all the way to the top. And at the top is someone who is very much capable of recognizing where the problem lies.

Kudos to Jay Wilson. He is not in an enviable position now. I am not talking about the superficial dent in his career. I am talking about the hardest challenge any human can ever face: turning yourself into a different person, motivated by your own insight. Most mere mortals avoid this challenge and just tell themselves that the world is full of idiots. Kudos to Jay Wilson for tackling the challenge.


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I can be contacted as hobold at this domain name.