[MUD-Dev] History of a Game

Christopher Allen ChristopherA at skotos.net
Sun Dec 10 10:33:11 CET 2000

Shannon Appelcline has been writing a weekly column called "Trials, Triumphs
& Trivialities" at http://www.skotos.net/articles/ which discusses different
topics regarding what we have learned while building our games. I thought
that the Mud-Dev crowd would be interested in this specific one as it
discusses how we came up with an idea for a game and some of the things we
learned while implementing it.

-- Christopher Allen

.. Christopher Allen                                 Skotos Tech Inc. ..
..                           1512 Walnut St., Berkeley, CA 94709-1513 ..
.. <http://www.Skotos.net>               o510/647-2760  f510/647-2761 ..

#12: A Brief History of Game, Part Five: Castle Marrach
by Shannon Appelcline

December 7, 2000 - Last week I offered a quick overview of the history
of Skotos Tech <http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_Nov30.html> -- how
we got started and what our initial plans were. This week I'd like to
continue down that path, focusing on where we are now. Which is to
say, I'd like to talk about Castle Marrach.

The Castle of Romance 
>From the start we understood that Skotos Tech had a unique
opportunity. By truly creating a fun storytelling and roleplaying
environment we could appeal to a demographic traditionally untouched
by computer games.


Thus was the idea for the Castle of Romance born. It was really just a
theory at first, a sort of intellectual idea that showed the type of
thing we could produce at Skotos. We considered the idea for a bit,
then shelved it as something to think about someday.

The Castle Hightower
In May, June, and July, Mike and Lisa, our two game designers, began
work on the games they'd been hired to write: Alvatia and Golden Gate:
1849.  However, it quickly became obvious that the game server wasn't
ready for something of that complexity yet. So we decided to take a
step back...

We'd already been talking about Stages by this time. They'd be
preconstructed locales which could be used to run any type of game.
StoryTellers could check out a Stage and run a fun night's or
weekend's entertainment: murder mystery, political intrigue, scavenger
hunt...  whatever they wanted. The technical requirements for a Stage
were a lot simpler than the technical requirements for a full World,
so we decided to create a Stage as a demo, to go with our developer
kit, while Zell moved forward building the server.

We remembered the Castle of Romance and decided that a Castle would be
a great setting, applicable to many different types of games. A Ball
on Monday; a murder on Tuesday; and even a modern mystery on
Wednesday. It sounded perfect. Calling it the Castle of Romance
constrained it a bit much... so it became the Castle Hightower.

Our first documentation on Castle Hightower dates to July 23, 1999,
just a few days after we officially incorporated Skotos Tech.

Some of the first notes are fairly ironic. Mike wrote the following
about StoryTeller characters in the Castle: "Relatively few (servants,
the Chamberlain, musicians, the Ice Queen and her maids, a few guards,
birds, dogs, the Omphaloomp, the Talkative Gargoyle, etc.)" A few days
later Lisa added some notes on things that didn't happen in the
Castle: "Extended persistence [and] long, elaborate, continuously
running plots."

A first lesson for StoryBuilders today:

	Your game will mutate. Go with this.

Development on Castle Hightower continued through September 1999
without a lot of change from the initial concept. Maps were
drawn. Rooms were described. The castle was laid out via web pages,
then our developers started playing with the first version of our
developer interface. You'd recognize many of the rooms, but we still
presumed that the Castle Hightower was going to be a demo, despite the
fact that it had grown to a few hundred rooms in size. A second lesson
for StoryBuilders:

	Your game will grow uncontrollably. Be aware of this.

The Castle Forgotten
What follows is about nine months of blurred time, from September 1999
to June 2000. A gestation period, as it were, for Skotos Tech and for
the Castle that would be Marrach. (When I passed this article on to
Lisa, she agreed, saying, "I have no idea what happened between
September and December 1999 either. In fact, I remember being at a
planning meeting in September that included nothing at all for Michael
or I to do. I volunteered at the time to take those months off -- paid
of course.")

We backed off of Castle Hightower a little bit. The initial work had
already been done. We weren't yet planning to create a game that would
always been running, so we didn't need much in the way of plot or
characters. Besides that, the server and the developer interface were
in flux, and it became obvious that any work done on Hightower would
just have to be redone later.  So, we put our little demo aside, for
use later.

It was at the end of September 1999 that Christopher Allen gave the
financial go ahead for Skotos. After that we began to consolidate as a
real company. We moved into a new office. We wrote a business plan,
then another one, then a third. We began working on a
second-generation web site, to replace the animated graphic on our old
web site which boldly stated "It's always the darkest before the dawn"
and promised a release in "September 2000". As we moved through the
start of 2000 it became obvious that the five of us weren't going to
be able to do this on our own and we began to hire more engineers.

The Castle Remembered
Sometime in here there was a decision. I can no longer recall the
exact time, but it was probably early in 2000, after the annoyances of
our office move and the y2k holocaust were done. We decided that
Golden Gate: 1849 and, especially, Alvatia were still far out of our
grasp and we really needed to start building a customer base and
making some money. We really needed to do something for that date we'd
been promising on our web page. September 2000.

Deadlines? Customers? Income? It was an odd attitude for a dot com
company, especially before the dot com crash of April
2000. Nonetheless, it seemed like a good idea.

At the same time we were turning some new ideas around in our
minds. We'd been looking at MUSHes and had seen that they could
produce quite successful games, solely based on socialization. People
interacted and told stories and had fun. Though we couldn't produce
Worlds yet we could definitely create a terrific social environment
and keep it running all the time. This idea became our "Grand
Theatres". We remembered that Castle we had put aside in late 1999 and
began to consider it anew, as our first Grand Theatre.

A game was born.

The Castle Marrach
The name Marrach first appeared on September 8, 1999, just when the first
round of Hightower building was dying down. Castle Hightower hadn't sounded
exotic enough, so we'd worked up a bunch of alternatives including: Kear
Euhallys, Caistel Mortorran, Caer Bannog Twr, and Casteldyn. And Caistel

By March 23, 2000, we'd definitely chosen Marrach as our name of
choice. No doubt, it was ruled the name least likely to hurt a player
trying to say the word.

That's MARE-ick, by the way, or mar-ICK or MARE-ack, depending on
who's pronouncing it here at the office. It does not rhyme with squash
or wash.  Castle Marrach comes from the Gaelic. It means a castle
which bewitches and keeps you. We hope.

Early in 2000 we began plotting out all the systems we needed in
Marrach, some of which you're familiar with (proximity, consent), some
of which have not yet appeared (favor, accent). We worked out a story
for Castle Marrach and began to see how the game might run.

When June rolled around, we decided we needed some help, and so we
hired one of the former administrators of Camelot MUSH. She worked
with our initial notes and began to construct the sub-plots and the
people of Castle Marrach.  She gave it a feel of high fantasy and
romance, which you'll particularly see reflected when the Inner Bailey
is opened up.

As we approached the September 21 deadline which we'd set for
ourselves, we realized that we were running behind. We'd never done
this before, after all, and we really didn't know everything that was
involved. Another freelancer started putting the rooms into the
developer interface and another couple started developing the Outer
Bailey, full of intrigues all its own. The Outer Bailey had a darker,
grittier feel than the Inner Bailey... and we loved it.

A third lesson for StoryBuilders today:

  Different StoryBuilders will have different styles. Take advantage
  of this.

I should take a moment here to say that we hadn't forgotten our
original conception of a demo to package with our developer
interface. We came up with a new one, called SkootOnInn. It was a
small Medieval inn, only a dozen or so rooms large. Much more
manageable. We ran alpha tests on it beginning in July 2000.

Those last months before September 21, 2000 were a blur, again. We
attended our first major convention, GenCon, in August 2000 and came
back with approximately 700 names in hand: players who wanted to beta
test Castle Marrach. We launched a new, third-generation web site too,
all in the month before our first release.

A major convention, a major web revision, and a major release, all in
just over a month. In the last column, I said we were crazy. Let me
reiterate that.

We did it though. I talked about the release back in my first
column. It was the end of several months of exhausting work. It was
the beginning of several months of exhausting work.

Looking back at that first column
<http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_Sept21.html>, I realize we'd come
full circle. On January 6, 1999 seven of us had sat in a hotel room in
San Francisco, the westward facing window looking out at The City and
the Pacific Ocean beyond, and we'd dreamed. On September 21, 2000 a
dozen of us or so stood on a patio in Berkeley, facing west, looking
out at The Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond, and we saw a dream made

A nice symmetry.

The Castle of Romance, the Castle Hightower, the Castle Forgotten, the
Castle Remembered, the Castle Marrach had launched.

The Castle Future

Today, the future is still unknown to us. Next year we'll start
collecting credit card numbers, and we hope we'll discover that people
enjoy our games and trust in our future enough to pay a monthly
fee. In the meantime, we can only look at what we've accomplished,
what we've created thus far: a fun game, a terrific community, an
exciting vision.

Over 2000 players have at least tried out our game. We're still seeing
how many are willing to stick around and enjoy the game. We're still
waiting to see what Castles the future may bring.

(comments on this article are at
<http://www.skotos.net/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000019.html> )

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