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Nov 27, 2007


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» Castronovas Arden MMO Opens, Book Out from 3pointD.com
Edward Castronovas MMO, Arden, is being released today. Its available to play, download, and modify as you wish. His new book, Exodus to the Virtual World, is also now available. Ive been flipping through a copy, and it looks prett... [Read More]

» The Arden Project again from Primrose Road
Arden I: The World of William Shakespeare, a virtual-world Shakespeare game, is now available for download. According to Edward Castronova's Terra Nova blog, the game, which is set in a Richard II universe, includes "Shakespearean quest lines; his... [Read More]



Congrats on both points. I look forward to each of them!


Looking for the Mac OS version


So now I've spent about 30 minutes looking at the mod, and I see your point, Ted, about the "fun" factor. I was thinking it felt too wordy, too much text to read w/only one response choice. But that's also, IMHO, a "too linear" issue. No agency for the player, just click, read, click, read.

In working on the first proof-of-concept module for our New Nexus project, which uses Neverwinter Nights 2 as a platform, we faced (and still face) this issue. (I think Greg is going to be posting some info on the New Nexus project in TN soon...)

We felt like there were a couple basic routes we could go. It sounds like the Arden I approach was the "here's a ton of info via text" approach; sounds like the Arden II approach is the "make it extremely engaging and embed the learning in it" approach. That was the main route we took with our first module, which teaches some chemistry principles, primarily.

The issue of "where" the learning is in the sim/game/VW is a very meaty one. Not that it was totally original, but I keep going back to the way WoW teaches noobs to play a very complex game through simple stair steps of learning. ( James Gee, among others, has written really well about all the principles of education that game designers have learned.) I have the sense that just like it took game designers at least a decade to get those principles evolved to where they are, it'll take those of us working on designing games for learning a few iterations/generations of games to get this up to speed. But the potential is huge!



First off, congratulation on both releases. I just read about Arden being released and, what do you know, I had a fully patched copy of NWN platinum edition sitting around, gathering dust on my hdd. So I jumped right in.

A few observations and thoughts based on first impressions:

- For one, as Tripp already noticed, the dialogues do tend to get a bit linear, don't they? While coming up with alternatives and different results for every damn conversation sequence sounds indeed like too much trouble, there's always the option of providing answer alternatives that only present a different attitude the player can take about things. (something that was used in some places, as far as I noticed).

- Moving on; considering this was NWN, my first instinct was to poke my nose into some of the NWN specifics - like checking whether the NPCs had text descriptions in their 'examine' sheet. They didn't have any, although I suppose that'd be a tad redundant maybe? (Then, I started punching Falstaff. He didn't seem to mind, the old bugger.)In short, while I realize that this is only the skeleton for something much more elaborate, a little more attention to details can go a long way.

- Now then - having played MMOs for a while now, I pretty much take certain things for granted. I know I must gather rat tails and weeds and sell them to make my first coins, I understand crafting and player economies. So, having to read about how all these basics work was a tad odd for me. Still, the way it was explained was pretty good and I rather liked the self-irony that seemed to come through at times.

- On monsters and 'fun'. Sure, as much as everyone and their mothers complain about the 'grinding' in MMO X or Y, we all love hacking and slashing our way through a few hundred mobs every now and then. Still, taking away that opportunity or at least not making it readily available doesn't have to kill the fun. What does come off as pretty dull though is how lifeless it all seems. Sure, there's an NPC walking around here and there but for the most part, it's too static. Now you're going to say 'the players should give life into it'. I always thought, however, that a way to design a virtual world is to ask "what happens here even if there's nobody to see it?".

- And speaking of players: wrong timezone here probably and maybe wrong expectations from a Persistent World experiment but still, where the bloody hell is everyone else? More installing the game, less talking about it already! (huzzah for self-irony.)

- Another point: it would be interesting if Arden could break away from the old starting routine of 'play FedEx between 5 NPCs for a trivial reward'. In theory, this gives the player a decent idea of how the world functions but in practice, it gets old pretty fast.

- More rambling: even scaled down as it is, this actually feels eerily much like a big MMO.

I have a slight feeling that I could go on like this for pages so I'll wrap it here and save everyone some time. I realize that I might've sounded rather critical about it all but I really do like the idea and am curious to see how it develops. Will log in again to explore it further. Also looking forward to poking around the module files, whenever I have a few hours for that.


PS: because it's not a MMO if you don't try to do stupid stuff with the NPCs and because someone might be wondering why mistress Quickly is in the center of the tavern and the rest of the NPCs are huddled up in a corner (including Sir John Falstaff and his crew), know that, after exploring the town and inviting various people to an events that required their presence and purse, I decided to return to the tavern for an ale or ten. And well, let's just say that one of the patrons gave me some dirty looks. So I punched him. Then he punched me back. Then the brawl started. And then, two seconds later, the brawl ended as everyone in the tavern huddled up on me (or, you know, ganked me) and presented me with a good, clean Shakespearian assassination. Then, once I retrieved my liver and spine, mistress Quickly decided to chase me around the tavern a bit more, for good measure, stabbing at me viciously. So..uh..sorry about that?



I don't think the take away for Arden should be "It isn't fun because there are no monsters!"

How many monsters does A Tale In The Desert have? None. How much of a GAME does ATITD have though? Lots.

You did hit the nail on the head about compelling gameplay though. You can have the most informative experience in the world, but if there is no reason for the players to feel emotionally invested, or at least mildly interested in what they're doing in the world, they are going to leave.

So now that I've got some experience in the Serious Games market, experience I wish I'd had back when Arden was getting underway, I have some suggestions for Arden 2.

You start by asking yourself the following two questions. You might only focus on one of them, but it's good to know the answers.

1) What's the High Level thing that I want players to know when they leave my world? "To know Shakespere" is too large and too vague. "To know Shakespere's take on Richard the 3rd" is also too big. This should be something more like a theme. For sake of argument: "This is what Shakespere has to say about betrayal." This fictional game has to be about betrayal in Shakespere. Ok.

2) I've got a theme. (Shakespere's betrayal.) Now, what are specific choices I want players to have to make, to illustrate this view of betrayal. For instance, I can give players the ability through gameplay to betray each other. (bad idea, probably) I can allow players to join and betral political factions. I could let players choose to be the strong arm of the law, going out on quests to avenge those being betrayed.

Very vague stuff, but these are our guidelines. The problem with most Serious Game stuff is that they start and end with Facts. We have to show players this, and this, and this, and oh is that graphic historically correct?

That attention to detail can be good, but most of it is going to fly over the average player's head. You can hope, at best, to get them interested in a topic and explore it further on their own (hello, explorers!) but for the rest, you can't really hope for much more than one substantial takeaway.

So anyway, the third step is to start to make a game. Make it a game that is fun, and try to work in mechanics (choices!) that help players have fun and learn your theme. Want it to be about killing monsters? Make the monster killing fun and stick in some cool mechanics about betrayal. Maybe most characters have some sort of "crowd control" abilities that allow them to get monsters to turn on each other.

Want the game to be more about trading? Well, just look at Eve online.

Serious Games can be quite interesting and effective as long as you zero in on your objective and allow players to experience and play with it. No one likes to be burried under facts.


In response to Nathan's points and in general...
Nathan targeted a good big question: what is the learning goal of the "serious game" or VW or simulation?

A few other big questions ought to be mentioned. Where wil it be used? By whom? When? How will it be connected to a class, if at all? What will the teacher's role be, if any?

I'm curious what the answers to those questions are for Arden I and II. (I'm also curious if Arden II will continue to use the same platform!)



Thanks for the observations. You bring up some good points. The dialogue was something I think we were all concerned about at one point or another. As for the game feeling static, we were trying to keep things like heartbeat scripts at a minimum as to not bog down the server. We might've been able to get away with more dynamic activity, but we were playing it safe. It feels eerily like a big MMO? I can't speak for the other Arden folks, but I'll take that as a compliment! Thanks again for the feedback and for trying it out!

P.S. "what happens here even if there's nobody to see it?" -- There are some virtual bears taking virtual shits in the woods, but only when no players are on the server.


When I think about educational software, the example that sticks out most in my mind is the MECC classic, The Oregon Trail.

What if The Oregon Trail were a MMORPG?

The trek from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley could be the equivalent of the "grind," as players learn how to manage their finances, their environment, and their families on the way. Once they succeed and they reach the Willamette Valley, the game turns to establishing themselves in the valley and carving out a new life.

As a youngster, The Oregon Trail made a very strong impression on me, and a wide-ranging, interactive form seems like an interesting thought to consider.


There is a Slashdot post today that covers Arden. It's worth reading for the comments people make!




You have done more than anyone to build up our community of virtual world scholars, and I have the deepest respect for your work. However, I found your recent comments about Arden to be very frustrating.

You write that "Arden I splashes lovingly cold water on the face of anyone who dreams about... [building a virtual world at a university for the purpose of research and education]."

This comment is troubling, because it implies that Arden's failure stemmed from the difficulty of creating a fun virtual world that could be applied to research and education. With all due respect, isn't it possible that other operational factors might explain the outcome of the Arden project?

Any number of things might have contributed to the outcome. For example: the project could have been mismanaged, the design document might have been poorly thought out, the designers might have selected the wrong gaming platform, project funds might have been spent unwisely, project managers might have missed crucial milestones, and the principal investigator might have hired the wrong developers and designers.

I'm not saying that any of these things are necessarily true, but they *could* be. The frustrating thing about your "cold water" statement is the way that it dodges such issues altogether.

Those of us who share your interest in virtual worlds and education were thrilled to see that you received this sizable grant for your work. And, to be honest, we were very concerned when we heard that you were ending the program. Many fear that the fate of Arden might jeopardize funding for similar projects in the future.

Have you considered writing and posting a comprehensive, fully transparent postmortem of the Arden project? What went wrong? What went right? How much of the outcome stems from issues specific to the project's personalities and organizational structure, and how much of the outcome resulted from more universal game development hurdles? There are many great examples of the postmortem process in the archives of IGDA and Gama Sutra, and it would be very interesting to see this framework applied to Arden.

I realize that it might be scary to engage in this sort of public self-scrutiny, but it might also be liberating. It would provide valuable data to other scholars and game developers, and the postmortem would demonstrate that the Macarthur Foundation actually *did* get something valuable for its money.

Thanks again for all the work you have done, and that you continue to do.


Thanks for that post WW.


Chronicle covers the story of Arden:


I'm really disappointed in some ways on the press this is getting - primarily because of this comment...

“You need puzzles and monsters,” he says, “or people won’t want to play. ... Since what I really need is a world with lots of players in it for me to run experiments on, I decided I needed a completely different approach.”

It is getting quoted frequently, and it's either a poorly chosen soundbite that got picked up on, or it's a poor understanding of what can make a good game. It's great that the subject is being discussed, but now we have a flurry of articles basically pushing an "It can't be done!" pessimism.

Ted assuming you're reading, I would be interested in seeing a discussion in here on that comment. How are you imagining this to be implemented in Arden 2?


I logged into Arden yesterday, and must have missed the rush, since I was the only one there. Drat! Yes, fun is critical, for whatever reason it's missing.

I have a question about development. I don't have an interest in developing this game further for myself. I might be interested in making modifications if they might become part of a future iteration. Is this Arden to be left behind as Arden II starts, or will there be building on this game?

Some time ago, I made a double auction system for NWN. I'm not sure if it would suit your purposes, and used a third-party hacked database link to work, but if you're going to continue with NWN, I could work on some systems like that (in between the things I really should be working on, damn minimax).


Timothy - thanks for trying out Arden! I'm not sure if Arden will be left behind once Arden II starts, so I'll have to ask somebody about that. As for the auction system, I believe we used a similar setup (NWNX2 or something like that). The crafting system was also intended to use the database, but I am not certain whether or not this made it into the version that is currently available. My main focus was the quest/journal system, which was all handled internally.

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