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Sense of History
As I walk through the house, it is hard to imagine that almost 300 years ago my ancestors walked these hallways, opened these doors, handled this black leather fire bucket with gold lettering that I hold in my hands. Centuries before I was born they lived here, cooking over that same fireplace, playing with the doll lying in the cradle. Children, now long dead and buried, ran and played in the field outside, now a park. On Sundays they walked half a mile down that same road, then unpaved, to the church, which has been rebuilt, but stands in the original location. The townspeople listen, rapt, as my ancestor preaches a fire and brimstone sermon. The great trees have seen this all, and are still here to see me, visiting the ghosts of the past at my ancestor's house.
In the spring of 1998, I started AnsibleMOO (http://www.ansible.org) with a group of friends. These are some of the things I've learned since then about running a MOO.
A MOO is a type of multi-user, text-based game which is accessed over the Internet. There are many different kinds of these games, such as MUD, MUCK, MUSH, and many others. The difference between these lies in the server code, which determines how the server runs, the programming language used to build the game, and the commands used to play the game.
The first thing you'll want to do is figure out what you want your game to be about. What is the story behind the game? Who are the characters and what is their goal? Do you want the game to be hack and slash, with lots of monster fighting, or will it be more of a place where people can hang out and talk? Should the players be required to role-play (pretend that they are their character) or can they just be themselves? Will it be based on an existing story (for example, our game is set in the Battle School described in Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card)?
Once you decide what the game will be about, you'll have to make will be which of these servers to use. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Many different factors are involved in choosing. We chose MOO because the main technical person was very familiar with it, its flexible, it's secure, and the code is relatively easy to learn. If you aren't already familiar with a particular server, or if the one you're familiar with doesn't fit your needs, its best to research around for a while to figure out which server is best for you. Its *very* helpful to be familiar with the server you are going to run, or at least the programming language that server uses. If you aren't, you may want to visit other games that use the same server in order to get familiar with the commands and play around with the code for a few months before opening your game to the public.
Now the big drawbacks - You'll need a dedicated computer to run the server. This doesn't have to be state of the art - an old 486 or Pentium with a 500 MB hard drive and 32 megs ram (probably $300-$500) would be just fine for starters. Chances are you will need to install a variety of UNIX (such as Linux, which runs on PC's) in order to run the server. UNIX is a text based operating system, kind of like DOS except much more powerful and complicated. There are some servers which run on Windows, but servers that run on UNIX tend to be more stable, more secure against attacks, and are able to handle more users with less ram. UNIX isn't easy to install and takes a while to learn. If you don't know UNIX, and have a friend who does, you might want to ask them to run the computer for you.
If not, get a beginner's book on UNIX (such as UNIX for Dummies) and a shell account (an account on a UNIX machine on the Internet). Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) shell accounts for free or for a small extra cost. If not there are places on the Internet which provide shells free or for a fee (usually $10-$20 a month).
Unless you're just running the server for a few friends, you'll want to have a dedicated connection to the Internet. This will probably mean co-locating the computer (storing it at an ISP), which is usually expensive. Again - having friends help. We were lucky enough to know someone who is an admin at an ISP and was willing to co-locate our computer for free. You might also be able to talk an ISP into co-locating your computer in exchange for volunteer work or advertising.
If you're basing your game on something created by someone else (like a book, movie, or TV series), you'll want to get permission from its creator before you start building it, as it may interfere with their copyright (also, it's a polite thing to do). The worst thing that can happen is that they'll say no, and you'll have to think up a new idea. However, this is much better than if you don't get permission, get everything all set up, and are suddenly told that you must take it down or face legal consequences! Also, this may give you the chance to talk (or email, write, whatever) with someone whose work you admire!
Once you've done all this, you're ready to start building the game! I'm not going to go into detail on how to do this, as it varies depending on the server you use. This is where you get to be creative - writing descriptions for rooms and creating objects for the players to use and interact with. You might also want to make a web page with information about your game.
The person who runs the game is called the Wizard on most servers (on some it may be called admin or something similar). This is a special character that has absolute power over the server. You may want to make some trusted friends Wizards also in able to share the load (otherwise you'll be stuck handling everything yourself). However, be careful about who you make a Wizard, as they have complete power to do anything they want to the server. You probably only want as many as you need to keep things running smoothly.
Before you open, you probably want to decide on some ground rules and policies for your game. For example, in the MOO server there is a type of player called a programmer (They have the ability to write programs on the MOO, imagine that!). Before we opened, we decided how we would determine who would become programmers. We also decided rules about what was acceptable use of the MOO - such as rules about profanity, staying in character, and abusing server resources. It's good to have this type of thing figured out ahead of time so you can be prepared when the situation occurs.
When you feel your game is presentable, you're ready to open to the public. This has actually been the hardest part for us. No one shows up! Or if they do, they don't hang around much because there aren't very many others there! Its kind of a catch-22 you need to have users in order to get more users. Probably the best way to do this is to advertise - get your game listed in search engines (especially those designed to look for online games, such as http://www.mudconnector.com), post to discussion groups about online games or related to the subject of the game, and tell your friends. Make sure that you advertise in places where advertising is welcome you won't get users if you make people angry with spam!
Hopefully this has provided you
with an idea of what is required to start an online game. It may seem
like a lot, but with practice, and the help of more experienced
people, it should become
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