[MUD-Dev] Constraint as a Design Problem

Christopher Allen ChristopherA at skotos.net
Mon Aug 14 18:58:33 New Zealand Standard Time 2000

We had a great turn out at our booth at GenCon, with close to a thousand signups
for our Castle Marrach beta test. We are also soliciting game proposals (see
http://www.skotos.net/storybuilders/index.html) at our new website and received
over 50 proposals so far, some from some very experienced authors and game

One topic that has come up many times during the convention and with the initial
proposals is a design issue that we at Skotos call "constraint", or sometimes
"confinement", for which there are some discussions going on at

There are two reasons why constraint is important in an online game.

First, except for the smallest Stages (what we call a small game with beginning,
middle & end -- like a LARP) a game designer is not going to be able to riff off
the top of her head new material on the fly as you would in a tabletop or live
event game. Thus constraint in the game designed is required so that at least
the world that is defined appears complete, and that growth of the game is

Second, these are very social games, and constraint helps in the social dynamics
as a game begins and as it grows. As a new player you don't want to arrive in a
new place and find that is so large and so spread out that it seems empty. Yet
also as an experienced player you don't want to be crowded either. Thus the game
designer needs to create game that allows for sufficient critical mass of people
at the beginning of a game so that people can socialize, yet allow them to
spread out once things get too crowded.

In our first game, Castle Marrach, we have a castle high on a mountaintop, with
the drawbridge up, controlled by the Ice Queen and her court. As new players
arrive, they will find the castle large enough to find others and to participate
in the play, but not so large that it will seem like empty halls. As a player
grows in influence and knowledge, additional areas open up as the Queen allows
them more privileges.

Constraint in our other initial games is done in different ways. Easiest is
Paranoia, with it's underground world with a mad computer. Red security
clearance drones are not allowed to travel through orange corridors. Doors can
open and close at the whim of The Computer. The builders of the Paranoia game
have many ways to control the critical mass and growth of the game.

In Og, the action takes place in a valley of dinosaurs, and everyone has access
to only primitive tools and primitive communication. In Lovecraft Country the
action takes place in the city of Arkham and it's Miskatonic University. Golden
Gate: 1849 takes place in the new town of San Francisco, Alvatia takes place on
an island.

A background that is very large in scope, such as paper-RPG EarthDawn (a game of
multiple universes and worlds) would be difficult to turn into an online game
because it is so unconstrained. The whole "flavor" of the game is the
interaction between the worlds and realities, making very difficult to

However, if you have a game with huge background and scope, it is still possible
to find ways to manage constraint. A space-opera galaxy of a hundred worlds and
thousands of cities may not be implementable, however, if you look closer at the
essential times and conflicts of a game's history you may be able to find an
event that allows you constraint. Or even better, an event that is constrained
but also takes advantage of the large background that has been developed.

For instance, in the above space operat, the Galactic Emperor is dead and the
imperial troops have gathered all the senators of the known worlds and have put
them in a Babylon-5'ish space station. They have said "you can't leave until you
have selected a new Emperor." In this game, the setting is small in scope, the
StoryPlayers are also constrained by the imperial troops, but the StoryBuilder
can allow information from the 100 known worlds to leak in and influence the
game in a manageable fashion. This in fact is the setting of our first Stage
"The Galactic Emperor is Dead" that we will be holding in November.

Obviously one of the easiest methods of constraint is restricting territory,
whether in a castle, an island, a space station, etc. However, there must be a
number of other ways to do it. Even with territory, what techniques have
existing online games used to make the game seem larger and not seem arbitrarily

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

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