Mud for teaching online gaming techniques

 
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Languard



Joined: 25 Sep 2005
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Location: Lenexa, KS

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 9:49 pm    Post subject: Mud for teaching online gaming techniques Reply with quote

Not sure if this is the correct forum, but as I am trying to get design ideas, I think it is.

Concept: I'm working on proposing a new class to the local collage I teach it. The focus of the class is Multiplayer Online Game Design. Basically, what issues, design, code, and social, do you have to deal with for online games. I plan on using a mud as the teaching tool. The students will be split into 1-3 groups (pending on class size) and each group will develop a mud.

Now for the part that I need help with.

I've decided to write a custom mud 'framework' if you will. It would have the barebone requirements to get a mud up and running: connection code, basic objects such as player, item, room, and so on. It could run out of the box, but you wouldn't be able to do much.

I don't plan on this framework being the 'next greatest design in mud-dom that will revolutionize mud-gamming'. What I need is a good framework that would help in teaching the ins and outs of online game design.

What features should shuch a mud have? There are a few that I've decided are a must:
    PvP - player vs player is a great source of conflict, and can't be ignored
    Scripting - Hardecoding is bad (most of the time at least) and a greate many commericial games use scripting languages. The mud would probably use Python
    Grouping - Players would be allowed to form groups for adventuring. Online gaming is a very social beast
    Clans - In game clans (or groups). Again, back to the social aspect
    Player ownership? - This gets a question because I'm not sure on 'owner ship of what'. Ability to own houses? business?


What are some of your thoughts on what should be included from an educational standpoint? What are key-points that can be used to demonstrate/teach aspects of online gaming? Again, this class isn't a 'How to Make a Mud' class, but 'How to Design Online Games' class. Just using muds because I don't want the students distracted by 3d models and fancy textures. It's about the game darnit, not the fluff Wink
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My honest opinion is that you shouldn't use a MUD. I've seen MUDs used to teach everything from introductory programming (relied heavily on components) to game design, and I don't think it works very well for the latter.

Why? Because RPGs are actually rather different from most games, and, further, to reach the critical mass where you can really use design theory, you need a LOT of features - look at MMOs now. Plus, to be easily completed by small teams in a quarter (better if you have a semester, though), you need to have some stuff implemented already, restricting creativity (it is possible to do more in a quarter, though, but it's hard).

I honestly think you're better off with having them build something off the PopCap framework or something.

Just my 2 cents on that, I'll post on game design ed later. Smile
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KaVir



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
The students will be split into 1-3 groups (pending on class size) and each group will develop a mud.


(snip)

Quote:
Again, this class isn't a 'How to Make a Mud' class, but 'How to Design Online Games' class.


Developing a mud is a huge undertaking, and if it isn't even the focus of the class then you might want to seriously reconsider what should be involved.

I did a 5-day Java course at Sun about a year and a half ago, and one of the many exercises was to create a very basic talker. You could probably do something like that, and cover it in one or two lessons. But if you want people developing fully playable games, you're likely to end up with that being the main focus of the class.
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cron0s



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 3:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just a couple of thoughts....

Don't discount the difference between graphical MMOG's and muds as merely fluff, they also have some fundamentally different design issues.

Rather than write your own codebase you could look at using an existing one as a starting point for your students. Nakedmud has a Diku feel with python scripting, a lot of useful tools built in but with little game content. There is also MOO or ColdC which give you the basics of networking and object persistence to build from.

If you aren't dead set against the graphical route then you could look at one of the Ultima Online server emulators which should allow you to script your gameplay while still using the canned graphics. These emulators appear to be condoned by Origin/EA, but using one may technically violate the UO TOS, so that would be something to be wary of.

If you haven't already, you might want to read Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard Bartle for some ideas.
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Spazmatic



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Let me clarify a bit on my position, as I think my earlier post came off... coarse.

I've seen introductory programming courses taught with aspects of a MUD appearing again and again in projects. Very basic level stuff, of course, such as basic object-player interaction and so forth, mostly to teach C and C++ trickery.

I've seen MUDs used in a software engineering course (as a choice for the quarter-long project). Did a pretty decent job there, since a good MUD design can be very component based, demonstrating all sorts of good SE principles. Also, generally, any given component of a basic MUD can be tackled by an individual person - that is, it doesn't require multiple perspectives and a lot of expertise to build a basic telnet port, whereas building a webserver could make you cry. So, it has advantages there too.

BUT! if you want to teach game design, I highly recommend AGAINST it (and RPGs in general). This, again, I have experience with. I took a senior software capstone that has a healthy dose of game development (the course gets nice chaps from Valve and GPG and so forth to come chat). Notably, the course is not oriented towards MUDs, but multiplayer, online, graphical games. The year I took it, nobody developed anything RPG like, at all. I promise, there's a point to all of this... Now, the positive part of the experience follows:

A) It is possible to develop some pretty amazing stuff in a quarter.
B) Data-driven is so the shiznitz. Fully data-driven, self-repairing game engine with a dozen or so games on it ranging from flight simulators to shooters.

The negative aspect:

A) I had 11 (ELEVEN) team members, lived and breathed the stuff day in and day out, and we generally pulled a miracle and a half to get it deployed.
B) This experience was sufficient and of sufficient caliber to net me job offers (offers, no application required) for program management positions at several companies with base salaries that included the equivalent of several years worth of bonuses.

Yeah.

Here's the dirty part... yes, we did have to deal with graphical problems, and connection optimization problems, and some AI problems, none of which would ever come up in a MUD. And we did have to build a client. But, to be honest, an absurd amount of time was taken up by content, and while content is really fun, it's actually not that great of a "game design" learning experience.

See, the game aspect of, say, a MUD, consists of mechanics. Sure, there's content (as in world design) and good backstory, and good story moving forward, etc... and those are all very important (in my opinion, just as important, if not more). However, those are not game design. Nor, in fact, do they teach much about software engineering, networking, or anything generally useful. Honestly, I love content, but the educational value is very very low... namely, because you can't get anything DONE in a quarter, or I imagine even a semester.

If they want to learn content, development, have them hit up the numerous muds looking for builders.

If you want to teach game design - that is, everything from accessible interfaces to constant interaction to goal-driven gaming to all the other fun stuff that makes some games addictive and some games soporific... you don't want to use an RPG of any sort.

Which leads into part 2, namely what happened the year after, when one group DID decide to do an RPG (and I imagine this is the same problem that cropped up in previous years when previous groups developed RPGs, but I can't be sure about those). It didn't go well. At all. Content was nearly impossible, and it ended up more of a shooter with classes and very bad game balance.

Now, the question comes up: maybe content is easy enough in MUDs that it won't have this problem. After all, it's text! Consider this:

I'm running along, happily playing a game of, say, deathmatch. This requires coding players, maybe some upgrades, and perhaps a half dozen to a dozen guns. You need maps, and you need time spent balancing, and you need art for those players and guns. Believe it or not, basic art can be put together VERY fast, even by inexperienced individuals (of course, it looks horrible, but still). Thus, most of the work is spent balancing the game, deciding on a good game structure to keep players interested, deciding on good gun design to keep things fun, and... a bit on art and mapping, depending on how long you plan for them to play.

With a good engine, this can be put together in under a week. Honest.

If you're modding, this can be done in under a DAY. Honest.

And it can be fun enough to keep players interested for MONTHs. Again, honest.

Now, consider you're developing a MUD, even a simple one. You're going to need the basic mechanics, of course, but we'll sweep that under the rug. You're going to need some sort of development structure, hopefully tons more interesting than the junk you find in online flash RPGs - maybe classes, maybe skill trees, but something to keep players moving forward. That's your first content barrier - most RPGs use skills, classes, or uber l3wt as their hook, with the rest using some form of complicated gameplay that, honestly, moves away from the normal MUD concept and lands you in a very different boat (which I'll describe at the end of this very long post). Let's assume it's hack'n'slashy and not pure PK (PK being actually simpler, but again, a different boat). Then you need content to hack'n'slash (or, you know, books to find and read to boost intelligence, whatever floats your boat). If you've seen the ten million Diku derivs, you know why this is a problem.

Now, time spent in game design? Not a whole lot.
Time spent generating content? A whole heckuva lot.
Game design theory employed? Very little. RPGs use a handful of hooks to keep players interested - the most successful ones just do that very well (take, say, WoW, which relies mostly on a smooth leveling treadmill and sufficient content to allow players to keep changing areas).

Time to get a playable MUD to keep players occupied for months? A helluva lot more than a day.

If you move far away from the basic RPG paradigm, you end up in a whole 'nother 'verse. Push far into the economics paradigm, for example, and you're running more of a stock market sim or something along those lines. Push far into the strategic aspect, and you've got the text-based equivalent of Utopia or Earth. Push far into... you get the idea. Don't take this as a statement against those types of games (or MUDs that implement those ideas)... they're awesome. But if you're going to push that far out, I think you can dramatically lower the non-game-design-crap that your students have to deal with by say, doing a dumbfire browser strategy game or whatever. More game design, less... other stuff.

Still, my suggestion is to make good use for the lovely PopCap framework they've open-sourced. Not only is it the MOST successful (in terms of players) gaming framework in history (Bejeweled has a playerbase greater than all known MMO players summed up), it's going to let them explore a diversity of game design concepts. Heck, they may even be able to deploy more than one game, which is the only real way to compare design techniques (such as, say, the "constant danger" approach to the "constant improvement" approach, or say "player improvement" versus "character improvement"). Think about the game design concepts that come up in a simple implementation of the Raiden Fighters concept compared to, say, a scroller with no upgrades. That's an opportunity for them to learn a lot per minute spent.

Development time for a PopCap game once the framework is learned? Not long. You get good support, and feedback from PopCap pros. And they know their stuff.






So, that was all rather long-winded, but I hope I got the point across. My own research is in education (help-seeking behavior from a causal perspective, actually), so I'm not pulling this "value added" crap out of... my rear. It's worth considering that MUD dev is fun and all of us here love it but... it may not be your best choice.[/b]
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Languard



Joined: 25 Sep 2005
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Location: Lenexa, KS

PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Still processing the posts, so I'll get to specific responses a bit later. However, I did notice a semi-common thread in the replies, which I want to address.

I wasn't very clear apparently on the focus of the course, so let me restate it, and give a bit more on the class environment.

This course would be part of the GAME section at Johnson County Community Collage. You can take a look at the current draft for required class for an associate's degree here. I currently teach GAME 200, Game Design, which focuses solely on game design theory, no programming involved.

If you looked at the draft, you'll notice there's no courses on online game development, and that's the void I'm trying to fill. I misstated it slightly when I described the course as 'online game design'. That would be part of it, but I suppose a better description would be 'Fundamentals of Online Gaming'. Still working on the class, so bare with me on the fuzzyness of the description Wink

I suppose I should have posted clearer class goals in my first post. Here are some of the things I have planned for the class. Some of the items assume I'm using a Mud as the learning tool of course. Also, this is a semester course, so I have 16 weeks to work with the students.
    Create an identity/theme for the game
    Make the minor changes to the codebase to reflect this identity on startup
    Advertising - Must advertise on at least two sites for the mud. This will take the form of BB postings, since I can't make them (or want to make them) pay for banner advertisement.
    Players - Must have at least 5? (not sure on number, 5 is probably to small) unique ips create characters on the mud. If from the jccc.net domain, email addresses must be provided. Fellow classmates don't count.
    Staff - They must hire 1? (again, unsure on numbers) staff member to assist with the mud. Can be hired for any area except coding. This new staff member cannot be given shell access for a variety of reasons, some security based (this will be on a collage server) and some teaching based
    They must add (if the codebase doesn't have it already) the ability to store ip created for the characters, and email addresses
    They cannot use the (cast 'spell name') or (cast spell name) way of doing magic. The only way a cast command would be allowed is if they wanted to put in fishing. They must then figure out how to deal with the fallout of getting rid of such a common command.
    They must learn to deal with griefers. If nothing else, I will log onto their muds from my home machine and pretend to be a greifer to see how well they deal with it.


Now that I've put a more descriptive post about the class, this may or may not alter opinions already posted. And like I said, I'm still processing the previous posts, and will probably respond later tonight to them.
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KaVir



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 565
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2005 8:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry if this comes across as very negative, but...

Quote:
Create an identity/theme for the game


So they'll call themselves DBZ muds?

Quote:
Make the minor changes to the codebase to reflect this identity on startup


Change the login screen.

Quote:
Advertising - Must advertise on at least two sites for the mud. This will take the form of BB postings, since I can't make them (or want to make them) pay for banner advertisement.


Spam various mud forums.

Quote:
Players - Must have at least 5? (not sure on number, 5 is probably to small) unique ips create characters on the mud. If from the jccc.net domain, email addresses must be provided. Fellow classmates don't count.


Continue spamming until they get players to connect (and who are willing to give out email addresses, which will cut the number down dramatically).

Quote:
Staff - They must hire 1? (again, unsure on numbers) staff member to assist with the mud. Can be hired for any area except coding. This new staff member cannot be given shell access for a variety of reasons, some security based (this will be on a collage server) and some teaching based


Spam the 'staff wanted' sections of forums.

Quote:
They must add (if the codebase doesn't have it already) the ability to store ip created for the characters, and email addresses


Potentially make a couple of very minor changes which might well come as stock anyway.

Quote:
They cannot use the (cast 'spell name') or (cast spell name) way of doing magic. The only way a cast command would be allowed is if they wanted to put in fishing. They must then figure out how to deal with the fallout of getting rid of such a common command.


Comment out one of the commands.

Quote:
They must learn to deal with griefers. If nothing else, I will log onto their muds from my home machine and pretend to be a greifer to see how well they deal with it.


And ban griefers.

Sorry, but that does not sound at all appealing. A course on online game development? Sure. A course discussing the issues of designing virtual worlds? Interesting stuff. But a course on how to run a stock mud? Please, please, please...don't do it. There are plenty of school kids who do the exact same thing in their spare time - there's no need to make a degree level course out of it.

Perhaps you could give more detail about what it is you're trying to teach the students? Is it how to run a game? How to design it? Is it a mixture of design, development and running? Are you trying to introduce students to the social aspects of running a game? How to work in a team? How to interact with the existing mud community? If you can clarify this part then perhaps I can try and give more positive feedback, but based on your current suggestion it sounds to me like the students will spend about half an hour 'tweaking' the mud (changing the login screen, etc), then spend the remaining 16 weeks sitting in their little worlds while spamming adverts on mud forums.
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Languard



Joined: 25 Sep 2005
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2005 12:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bleh, this would be why I'm posting this here. None of the other staff is familiar enough with muds to give crtiques like that.

The only concern I can address right off the bat is the spamming issue. I would insure that they know spamming the boards would be a big no-no (read: loss of points).

What I am trying to do is design a class that is a combination design, programming, and management. There are some very important concerns with creating and maintaining online games that aren't as important as offline games, and I'm trying figure out the best way to try and teach that.

I'll chew on this some more and try and come back with a clearer picture of what I want for the class. Don't worry about the critiscism, if I didn't want to hear anything negative about the idea I'd tell it to my mother Wink

Edit:
As a side note, the reason why I'm leaning towards writing my own code base is that the only language I can be reasonably certain the students know is C++. I don't think it would be in the best interest of the class to force them to take a crash course in Linux and C so they could work with some of the existing codebases.
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Tyche



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2005 2:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Languard wrote:

They must learn to deal with griefers. If nothing else, I will log onto their muds from my home machine and pretend to be a greifer to see how well they deal with it.


How do you deal with "griefers"?
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2005 3:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Okay, so, if I get it right now, you aren't interested so much in teaching general design principles for online games, as you are in teaching persistent world design, server programming, and persistent world management...? Because, like I said before, MUDs are certainly not your optimal choice for generalized principles and theory (well, persistent worlds aren't an optimal choice in general).

If you really want to teach online world design, you may want larger teams... split them (or have them split themselves) into a content group, a backend group, and a management group... maybe take a page from the big gaming ed programs and bring in non-CS folk for the last part... have them build like crazy for 2 weeks, and then shuffle the groups and start again. You'll get software engineering principles, teamwork principles, and at least a chance to try out some real design theory and learn from your mistakes. Much better than groups of 3 smashing heads and hacking login screens.

Of course, you'd have to look towards management carefully... maybe even look towards separating content carefully... Let programmers be programmers and architects, let managers be managers, and let Lit Crit folk be content artists. Of course, if you want everyone to learn everything, just shuffle shuffle shuffle.

Still think you should use PopCap though. I can't stand to see another course do this. Sad
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Sandi



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 1:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Consider studying D&D/AD&D, then looking at how Diku dealt with putting it online. Continue with the improvements made by Merc, and then ROM. Perhaps contrast this with the approaches in Circle. Finish with a field trip to Aardwolf. For extra credit, drop by GP3.
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Ashon



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 9:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm afraid, that you are focusing the class on the application of game design then you are the theory of game design.

Take a look at just these forums. Most of the Discussion is on Game Design Theories. It is left mostly to the developer to apply it to the game itself. A class on Game Design, isn't the same as Game Development.

You need to decide whether you are doing Game Design or Game Development. If you want game development, you are going down the rightish track (Taking into Account Spazmatics thoughts on the issues.)

If however, you want to do Game Design, then you are mostly likely gonna be able to do better, on doing case studies, and discussions, and creating Design Documnets/Design Papers and comparing them to live systems, instead of trying to cram design and development into a one semester class.
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 1:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
If however, you want to do Game Design, then you are mostly likely gonna be able to do better, on doing case studies, and discussions, and creating Design Documnets/Design Papers and comparing them to live systems, instead of trying to cram design and development into a one semester class.


You don't want pure theory, though. At least small games, small projects - application of ideas, will help enforce the ideas a lot.

After all, there are some REALLY fun, tiny, one-trick Flash games out there. They could do that more than once, even, during a semester, and learn more each time.
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Languard



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 2:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Let me stress that we have a class on game design already. In fact, I teach it Smile In there we focus mainly on theory (we use the Rules of Play book. very good read btw) but they do have 4 game projects they must do. Two were modifying Go Fish (yes, you read that right, Go Fish), one is creating a design doc for a digital game following the Dogma 2001 'rules' (which you can find at http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/037_Dogma_2001/037_dogma_2001.htm, and one other project which will either be a board or card game, I haven't quite made up my mind. First semester teaching it, and the previous instructor didn't leave great notes :p

I think I've become a little to focused on the technical side of the course, and not what needs to be taught. So I'm going to step back for a moment and work on solidifying what I want the students to learn, and then post a draft here to see what the opinions are on how it would work using Muds. I still stubbornly hold to the idea that a Mud would be a good tool to use to teach the class, but your responses have reminded me that I should really work on the objectives of the class first, then worry about the teaching aides. I'll probably post something again in a few weeks, but I will be keeping an eye on this thread.

*bows* thank you all for the excellent feedback.
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