Because we haven't had a crazy, abstract, whacked-out design thread for a while...
One of the things that bugs me about virtual worlds (game-like ones in particular) is how the paradigm doesn't really change much. We still get designers discussing what classes and races their world will have, without having considered whether they need classes or races at all.
So here's a question: given the absolute minimum that you need to have a virtual world, how can you extend that in ways that don't take us back to Second Life or World of Warcraft?
I guess I'd better define what I mean by "absolute minimum" first, huh?
OK, well for a virtual world you need a world (obviously) and players. The players need to be able to do things to or with each other; they also need to be able to do things to the world, which in turn should be able to do things to them.
That's about it.
Yes, I know, there are a bunch of assumptions embedded in there. Here are the main ones I think I make:
i) To count as a world, its existence has to be independent of that of the players: it continues to run when you're not there. In other words, it has persistence.
ii) There are absolute limitations on the actions that can be undertaken in the world: it has a physics. Because the world is virtual, the physics is implemented via computers.
iii) Players operate within the physics: each represents an individual within the virtual world. They have a character (or avatar if you prefer).
iv) Because players exist in the real world but their characters exist in the virtual world, there must be synchronisation. Virtual worlds therefore have to operate at speeds close to real time.
That really is it.
So, given this starting point (or your own), where can we go that we haven't been to before?