He began his talk looking back at a conference, Adventure '89, where a small group of developers making MUD's, the first multiuser dungeons, got together to brainstorm about the making of MUD's. At Adventure '89, there were only about 10 games shown, but what made them so special was that each one was unique. Though they were all MUD's, all the first virtual worlds, no two of them were the same. Some of them were ones that I remembered at least hearing about, and that others in the room could recall playing, and some were best known for how well they flopped, but that wasn't Dr. Bartle's point. His point was that no two of them were the same. Even the “fantasy” worlds weren't exactly the same. The game “Gods” had player created content. “Mirrorworld” had what he referred to as rolling resets, and “Strata” had it's own internal currency. There were many others he mentioned, and it each really did have something different to it. You couldn't say that any one game was a clone of another because each was unique. But what makes all this innovation, and it truly was innovation, relevant to the game developer today? What does understanding what happened then tell us about what could happen today?
Dr. Bartle pointed out really why all these games were able to be created when they were. His first point was that people had seen what was possible. They had come to recognize that these virtual worlds, even if only in text, were something that others were interested in, and stretched their own imaginations to develop new worlds. Development costs had come down. The cost of a computer was dropping rapidly around 1990, and server technology to run their virtual world on was also becoming within the realm of possibility for many developers. And, of course, people realized that there was money to be made. The biggest hurdle at that time was that there were no decent engines available for developers to use to make their game. They had to do everything from the ground up, basically. But game development was fun, and, of course, relatively new. And graphical virtual worlds grew out of that. Just as there had been “the big three” MUD's when text based MUD's game out, there were “the big three” graphical virtual worlds, Ultima Online, Everquest and Asheron's Call. Then the big four with the addition of Anarchy Online, and the “big five” with the introduction of Dark Age of Camelot. These big worlds show the developers what is feasible just as the first text based MUD's showed the graphic developers what was possible. To quote Dr. Bartle “in the minds of the imaginative, they also show what's possible”.
The difference between players who want to be designers and true game designers is that players who want to be designers just want to play their own design. They think that infamous “well how hard can it be” line, and decide that if no one else is going to make the game they want to play, they'll make it themselves. If, on the other hand, you get people together with actual design talent, what he referred to as a “critical mass of talent”, you get that same “flowering” of game design that happened back in 1989. And the hopeful part for indie game developers is that it could be happening now! The same set of circumstances that came together in 1989 is happening again. Costs of development are coming down. Successful virtual worlds have proven that there is money to be made. And one of the hurdles facing developers in 1989 is quickly being overcome in 2007 with the opening up of already created game engines.
To wrap up his keynote, Dr. Bartle challenged the developers in the room to surprise him. To truly innovate the gaming industry in the same way that the developers who attended Adventure '89 innovated MUD's. Though he didn't phrase is like this, the challenge was basically to stop making “EQ clones” and break out of the mold to make something different. His keynote address lead quite well into the roundtable discussion he lead about slaughtering sacred cows, actually. Having had a chance to speak to many of the developers in the room, I think that if any group of people were going to break out of that mold, it will be the indie developers. I agree with Dr. Bartle in that potential for the independent game developer exists, and that though there are still hurdles to overcome, they can be. “New media only really get one window of exuberant creative expression because then tools come along, then the formats come along, then the ways of reading the new media come along. The paradigms are too established. But for you (the indie game developer), this is it. We are actually in it right now. And this makes you very privileged.” That quote, to me, sums up what Dr. Bartle was saying in his whole keynote address. As a gamer, I hope that the developers both in the room and reading about his keynote, will take that opportunity and challenge and run with it in directions that no one has yet to imagine.
The “glory days” of computer gaming for me were when games like Spectre Supreme, Pirate’s Gold, the Might and Magic series, the original Prince of Persia… those sorts of games were coming out on a regular basis. Back then I owned a Macintosh and was a die hard Mac fan. I was one of the first in my area to buy an iMac and on it learned the joy of playing games on the internet like daily crossword puzzle and “mind bender” type puzzles. My first online RPG was given to me for Christmas the year EQ was released, and I was hooked from day one. I played EQ for about a year. I started playing DaoC during late alpha testing, and was hooked on it.. well, to be honest I still am. I’ve tried pretty much every MMORPG I can get my hands on, from big names like EQ, to more obscure ones such as Underlight. I’ve been writing for IMGS since the first DaoC guide, and find I love the challenge of learning a game and presenting what I’ve learned (and sometimes my opinions), to other players.
I’m not a very strong player as far as learning PvE or quick reaction times, so I tend to stay away from games where I’m pitted against someone else in a way that requires physical (rather than mental) response. I still enjoy story and puzzle games, and in a way that’s how I still approach online games. I would much rather spend hours working through a quest than 5 minutes in combat against another player. I still get lost in simulation type games, obsessing over them until I’ve gotten them beaten. And I like being able to sit down at the computer when I’ve got less than half an hour and playing through a few levels of a puzzle game. I tend not to like first-person shooter type games, or anything with person to person violence, so I steer away from them unless they are fantasy based settings. All in all, I enjoy computer gaming so much that my life feels incomplete somehow when my computer is down.