It’s about time that I dust this blog off and bring it back to life, but with a slightly different focus. Previously, I was working on a 3D graphical roleplaying world. I’d gotten my start in virtual worlds in the Neverwinter Nights persistent world community and had set out six years ago on the journey of creating my antidote to the restrictions and magic-circle killing aspects that platform.
The result has been two open source projects. The first was a domain specific language for defining rulesets that could handle a deep physics model with everything from object assemblies to multiple identities. The second project was an processing engine for this language. It was built to scale across multiple cores on multiple machines in clusters and in cloud deployments and I’m certain, that like any professional MMO architect’s first stab at such an architecture, it would cause bemusement among specialists in that field. Lastly I was going to mate Angela to the game engine Torque 3D.
After 20,000 lines of code sunk into in Angela, I had a functional core of a ruleset processing engine, but had yet to start on the “mating it to an engine” leg of the journey. I’d estimated that it would take only a couple of months of evenings; which probably means a couple of years. Only then could I could start world building in earnest. Yes, I had learned a lot, I mastered new kinds of programming (e.g. functional programming) and produced an interesting, albeit wonky, tool. I could look forward to administering the ultimate roleplay experience as my retirement hobby.
Then something happened… I joined the rest of the world in becoming the owner of a smartphone. After owning it for a little while, my thoughts turned to the kinds of worlds that could be built with it; “worlds” that combined aspects of augmented reality, or alternate reality gaming and LARP. The older posts on this blog are about the old project. The revival is about that new journey.
Do a google search for “augmented reality” (AR) and the top results are all of the “gee-whiz, this will be big, sometime real soon now” variety. Wikitude, the flagship AR app is mostly a gimmick, despite being useful on occasion. Add “MMO” to your search string and you get multiple references to “Parallel Kingdom”; which is basically level grinding meets map app. I’ve got a game on my phone; a tie in the one of the Paranormal Activity films. It is no better than one would expect from such an origin; being a Skinner box in a map app, with occasional 3D models superimposed on the camera feed. Changing the search from MMO to games gives us some links to collections of reviews of gimmicky games. AR is a medium that has not yet had its conventions defined. It is wide open and everything lies in front of us; like the web circa 1993 or virtual words themselves around the same time. AR is still in its cheerleader phase, with people like Robert Rice making the case. I remember him from Meta Café a few years ago, when he we still working on immobile MMOs, before making the jump to AR. I don’t know what his ideas for the medium are, but I’m sure he has them.
I have my own ideas for the medium.
I used the imprecise “the medium” for a reason. If you accept that the term “augmented reality” is only relevant if you are superimposing graphics onto a mobile screen then that has a very specific, niche meaning. I prefer the term Pervasive Alternate Reality. It is mobile, inherently multiplayer and may or may not use graphics; but it is always on. The player never logs in and never logs out. Physical space matters. Location matters. Some of the long established norms of online play get turned on their head when the players come into physical contact.
So now, taking the experiences that I learned building Angela and working on that old school, immobile, world; I’m going to set out to create something entirely new in a new medium. This could get interesting.