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Developer's Diary

"The dream of MaidMarian.com is to create an online escape into Sherwood Forest. Games like Sherwood, Marian's World and Moon Base are milestones in the journey towards that goal, bringing together an online community of like-minded players. I hope to push the envelope both through technology and visually so this 'experiment' continues to represent the state of the art and revolutionizes the way massively multiplayer games are delivered. The unique nature of this project allows a more open development process so you can watch and participate in it's growth. The Developer's Diary is where I can keep you up to date on the changes and the challenges I'm facing. Feel free to contact me with suggestions (and encouragement) by email."

Regards,
Gene Endrody (My Bio)

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March 20, 2011
Is Sherwood Dungeon a WOW Clone?

Our Sherwood Facebook fan page has largely taken the place of the developer diary in the last three years because the player feedback is much more immediate. My last DD entry here was back in 2008 and obviously a great deal has happened since then in terms of updates to the game and news of our success. Recently a player on our Facebook page made the assertion that all fantasy MMOs, including Sherwood Dungeon, are basically clones of World of Warcraft. "Themís fightiní words!" It seemed like great topic for a developer diary entry. 

Letís start with the obvious. Although weíve both had numerous updates, Sherwood was launched in August 2004, three months prior to World of Warcraft. Itís pretty hard to be a clone of a game that launches AFTER yours. Now I could be cheeky and say that makes them a clone of us, but thatís not really true either. Even at the most basic level we are very different. 

First a little game design history lesson. WOW is the most successful of an entire genre of traditional fantasy MMOs that can trace itís roots back to early text based MUDs and then arguably back further to pen and paper role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. When WOW was launched it was accused of being a clone of Everquest. One of the keys to their success was to follow the same basic formula as Everquest, but to improve on it by using quests more effectively to guide the player though the game and tune the experience so that solo players could still succeed. Everquest itself was largely based on the text based MUD (Multi-user Dungeon) Diku. It was so similar, in fact, that three of the Everquest programmers signed a sworn statement denying any source code was shared between the two games. Raph Koster, former Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment and makers of EQ said, ď...the line of inheritance from Diku to EQ and thence to WoW is completely undeniable. In the end, the central elements of phase-based combat, combat states, cool-down based special attacks, tank-healer-nuker triad, and basic aggro management are what you play today in WoW.Ē Long time players probably know already that Iím big fan of Raph and his musings. Most current MMOs follow this same basic formula. Sherwood Dungeon, however, does not. Really, we donít!

The vast majority of traditional fantasy MMO's use a psedo-turn based approach to combat. In those games, most attacks have cool-down periods that give players time to make a strategic choice for the next attack. As players level, their ďskillĒ tree expands and those choices become increasingly complex. They are rewarded largely based on the hours dedicated to the game and their ability to crunch numbers. This makes the traditional MMO more of a cerebral strategy based game than a truly action oriented one. 

ďSkillĒ in Sherwood means something entirely different. Itís not a reward your character earns in the game based on stats, itís what happens to YOU when you practice and develop your muscle memory and reflexes. We break from convention and focus more on an action RPG style of melee combat based on a set of moves that every player in the game has. My intention was to make PVP combat similar to Street Fighter, where timing and practice count but XP Level does not. In this way any player is a potential opponent for any other player and you're never running around looking for opponents of the same XP Level. We donít have character classes so there is no tank, DPS, healer trinity. This makes Sherwoodís combat easy to learn, but because timing is so important a player with skill always has the advantage. 

Rogue-type games like Net-Hack are a big influence on the procedurally generated dungeon and world building in Sherwood. Thus our DNA is really the shotgun marriage of Net-Hack and Street Fighter. In practice, however, the pace and flow of PVP combat in Sherwood feels more like a boxing match than Street Fighter. It is absolutely possible for a talented low level player to defeat a high level player. If youíre trying to play Sherwood as if itís based on World of Warcraft then youíre going to have your ass handed to you by the first player you meet who understands this is not a psudo-turn based or phase-based based game and that XP levels alone do not make you a hero. You have to time your blocks, look for openings based on what your opponent is doing and develop your own style. Talent, skill and timing counts here.

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October 13, 2008
Sherwood Dungeon on Facebook

I've create a Sherwood Dungeon game page on Facebook. If you become a fan, I will be posting updates from time to time. Honestly I haven't sorted out all the ways we might use the Events, Photo Album and Discussion Board, but have a look:

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October 6, 2008
Stone Circles and Knightly Virtues

It was with a great sense of relief that I was able to finally launch pets in Sherwood on September 19. This was the final feature planned in a whole series of changes to the game that started ten months ago. The finicky nature of the work, with major server and database changes and the implementation of a payment scheme meant much was happening behind the scenes, but little of that was visible to you. Now that the groundwork has been set, I'm optimistic about the year ahead.

On October 2nd, I launched Stone Circle Island. It contains a structure obviously inspired by Stonehenge. I was forced to take some creative liberties from the original design. After removing some standing stones to leave room for the arena, increasing the overall size and changing the relative scale of the five inner monuments I decided that calling it Stone Circle would be more appropriate. The Stone Circle Seer has a few challenges for you, including the Wolf Pack Leader, one of the most difficult creatures in Sherwood. I launched Stone Circle Island shortly after the launch of pets to send the message that I am committed to continue releasing free content.

Sherwood is born from an independent spirit and it's truly unique among online worlds. We are everything the big game companies are not. Viral and grassroots, we defy the odds and survive in an industry that eats small game developers for breakfast. Hopefully this means that as a Sherwood player, you feel you're a part of something special. We live or die on word of mouth so email, text or MSN your friends about Sherwood. Put a link on your Facebook, MySpace or personal website. I would like to extend my thanks to those webmasters who have created the amazing variety of Sherwood fan, guild and help sites that exist online today. 

My focus has been on creating the setting for your online adventures, however Sherwood is something beyond that. It's a place where we suspend disbelief and exist in a world that doesn't exist; a place where graphics and imagination meet. You are the truly important part of Sherwood because it's ultimately the citizens that define this place. What kind of a place do you want it to be? When I see the leadership of various groups like the Sherwood Amazons, who promote and support values like tolerance and inclusiveness, the idea of bringing together an online community of like-minded players becomes more than just some guy making an MMO in his basement. Sherwood needs guilds, clans and organizations that support knightly virtues of chivalry, honor, courage and nobility. In Medieval England, knights had to swear to the code which asked them to "protect the weak, defenseless, and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all." Sherwood should be a place where all players feel welcome. I need your help building this community because that part of Sherwood that isn't bits and bytes is very much in your hands.  

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September 19, 2008
Pet and Mounts Released Today

I'm finally ready to launch the pets and mounts feature. I'm doing a soft launch, under a new URL:

www.MaidMarian.com/SherwoodDungeon.htm

This provides me with the opportunity to catch any last minute bugs I may have missed without the entire population of Sherwood affected. In about a week, this version of Sherwood will replace the one at Sherwood.htm and become the default.

PayPal is the only method of payment accepted for pets right now. I'm working on adding new options. If you don't have access to a Visa or Mastercard, you can use a Coinstar machine at many grocery stores to get a prepaid Green Dot Master Card. These are at over 65,000 locations world wide. You can use the Green Dot card with PayPal. www.coinstar.com

Crossing my fingers, knocking on wood - We should be good to go. Once we get through this launch, I'll put up another diary entry and let you in on what I've got planned next. Remember, Pets expire one year from the date of purchase. 

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July 25, 2008
Pets and Mounts: Mid Term Status Report.

I've received numerous requests for a status report on the pets and mounts. As expected, it's been a daunting challenge but work is progressing very well. All of the models, animation and shockwave code is complete. However, pets and mounts require fairly substantial game server and database updates and this work is currently in progress. I'm not going to commit to a launch date for pets yet but I suspect it will be in September. Enough is complete now to provide more detailed information:

A pet menu button will be added to the equipment bar where you can shop for new pets or summon pets that you already own. There are four pet types: Horse, Wolf, Dragon and Spider. They cost $5 US dollars each or you can get all four at once for $15. Pets expire after one year of use. At launch, payment will be handled through PayPal and they accept most major credit cards. I recognize that a percentage of players do not have access to a credit cards and I will be working on adding additional payment methods after launch, including Premium SMS. Pets are only available to players with membership accounts. They are locked to a single account and cannot be transferred between accounts. 

Once purchased, the pet menu includes their expiry date, a summon button and an option to change the pet's name. With the exception of the horse, other players can see the name of your pet over it's head. The horse provides an extra 50% movement speed and can be used anywhere, including the dungeon. The horse does not participate in combat and you dismount automatically when you press the <Ctrl> key to swing your weapon. The horse disappears when you dismount, however you can summon it again at anytime from the pet menu. 

The pet dragon is the smallest dragon in the game, but it include a new set of flying animations. The dragon hovers beside you in flight as you walk around. The other pets walk beside you, doing their best to avoid obstacles. They fight any enemy that attacks you and aid in combat. Although pets will appear to attack during PVP, pets cannot damage other players. Similarly, other players cannot damage your pets. This maintains the integrity of the game, ensuring players cannot purchase an advantage over other players during PVP. Pets provide 15% extra damage during combat with AI monsters or MOBs(PVE). Their attack speed is fairly high and they continue to attack as you block or cast amulet attacks. As a result, pets are an effective ally during combat. Pets are soul-locked to their master and share the same health bar. They die when you are defeated in combat and respawn when you do. 

Guild or Rank Tags

In today's Sherwood update, I included an option to insert a guild, clan or rank tag under your name and visible to other players. This is available by pressing the "Change Guild / Rank" button in the Character Options Menu. Guilds and ranks are not technically features of the game, rather they emerged from the player community along with the many guild and clan websites. Putting the rank and guild name into your user name worked reasonably well before we had membership accounts but user names are locked for members and cannot be changed. With this new feature you no longer need to sign up for a new account every time your guild promotes you - just change your guild tag. Because pets are locked to user accounts and cannot be transferred, do not use account names or user names that include ranks or guild names because you may want to change them later. This new feature provides a better way to deal with rank or guild changes.

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May 15, 2008
The Future of Sherwood.

If you haven't noticed already, www.SherwoodDungeon.com was just launched. Youíre also likely aware of the account system that was introduced to the game a week ago. These are the latest pieces in a series of planned updates that included the new avatars, gladiator arena and rune crafting. I wanted a fantasy feel from the moment you got to SherwoodDungeon.com; like opening the cover of a fantasy novel. While MaidMarian.com needs to be a portal for all of the games, SherwoodDungeon.com is unapologetically medieval fantasy. The design and art came together in a way that matches the original vision for the game. 

The account system has been a success, with 50,000 players becoming members in the first week. I didnít want to loose the benefits of being able to login quickly without registration, however there are clear advantages to being able to access your character from other computers and being able to reserve a character name. The new system accommodates both quick entry without registration and accounts for players who sign up for membership. This also opens up new possibilities for the future of Sherwood. 

Sherwood Dungeon is one of the only medieval fantasy MMOs that is sustained solely on advertising revenue. Iíve made an effort to keep these ads as unobtrusive as possible and theyíve helped keep Sherwood free over the years. With changing market environments, ad revenue can be very volatile. It also leaves us in the ironic position that itís the advertisers, rather than the players, who are the real customers. Iíve known for quite while that for Sherwood to continue to grow, we will need to make some changes. I looked at some of the things other games are doing, like premium subscriptions and virtual items or currency. I didnít like the idea of making a new island or dungeon and having to decide whether everybody gets access to it, or just paid subscribers. There are also many free games where you are forced to purchase virtual items in order to accomplish anything of value in the game. I needed to come up with something that maintained the integrity of the game, but also ensured sustainability for the future. 

After weighing out all the options for many months, Iíve come to a decision. In the coming months you will have the option to purchase a mount or pet for your character. Iím planning on introducing a pet wolf and horse during the summer. These will be available for $5.00 US each and will remain with your character for one year. There is still work to do on these two features, but Iím taking the unusual step of announcing my plans today so you know what to expect. All other Sherwood features, current and future, will remain free for the foreseeable future.

 

The addition of mounts and pets will ensure that Sherwood has the resources for continued growth and vitality in the future. You can see from the home page that some of the new art for the website includes the horse and wolf. Iím also including a few images of the game models to give you an idea of how they might look in the game. I hope this is greeted by Sherwood players with enthusiasm, but I am also well aware of the community's feelings and I'm striving to meet your expectations to the best of my abilities.

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March 31, 2008
The Isle of Heroes.

Well, I'm still working through my New Year's list for Sherwood. I hope you're enjoying the updates, because I'm sure having fun making them. I added the new Viking and Female Ranger avatars in February to increase choice and variety of characters. You'll likely notice I am avoiding Dwarves, Elves and Orcs for now. I'm settling on a spot between extremes of fantasy and medieval historical fiction that feels right for Sherwood. Colleagues of mine indicated that traditional Lord of the Rings' races might be a bad fit. I've considered Dwarves however they are often portrayed as stout Vikings with Norse inspired lore. Although I ended up taking liberties with their appearance and armor, Vikings have the burly bearded look I wanted along with historical precedence. The female ranger was inspired by Maid Marian from the Robin Hood stories. In the years of working on these games I've drifted away from the Robin Hood legends with Sherwood Dungeon but Maid Marian's spirit and character continues to influence the game. 

The other major update is the addition of the Isle of Heroes. This new island, with it's palm trees and sandy beaches, contains an gladiator arena inspired by the Roman Colosseum. The Arena Master NPC can summon a dragon or a squad of fellow soldiers in your team color to engage in combat against a gang of enemy warriors. This way you can get involved in a larger battle scenario without having to organize a group of players. The portal to the Isle of Heroes is located at the top of the tower in Sherwood Castle. Since I had to add the portal anyway, I took the opportunity to improve and add details to the tower. 

The key to this update was improving combat and AI so that MOBs can find and fight each other. A mob (Mobile Object) is a type of non-player character (NPC) or monster that has the ability to move around. MOBs can now be members of the same team colors that players are members of. They can also be members of their own team, like the monsters in the dungeon. They are aware of who is an enemy and who is a friend so if you change team colors near a MOB teammate they will turn on you immediately. You can probably imagine some of the future scenarios and game play that become possible with this change and why I thought it was worth the work. 

I've always found game AI (artificial intelligence) to be one of the most amazing parts of the job. Sometimes MOBs exhibit behaviors that I didn't anticipate and personality quirks emerge. Although Sherwood's AI is similar to systems used in other games (A-star path-finding, basic attack, wander, run-away and grouping behaviors) it is fundamentally the same as what I used for Ratinator. You can fool around with path-finding and AI directly in Ratinator's design mode. You can pick game elements or enemies to add from the menu and use your yellow cursor on the grid to create in that location. Just go to <Level Design> from the main menu, add some enemy monsters under <Enemies>, a few walls under <Game Items> and use <Move Enemies> to move the monsters around with the cursor and see the path-finding. The Scarab Beetles are one of my favorite enemies in Ratinator because they attack for four seconds and then run away for two seconds and then repeat.                Press <Try Level> in design mode to try your creation out.

Raph Koster, an industry veteran and thought-leader in virtual worlds and MMOs, said some nice things about my work in a presentation at GDC Prime. He included this chart of MMOs with the highest estimated active users. He was making the point that of the top 13 most trafficked MMOs in Europe and North America, World of Warcraft was the only traditional boxed game available from a retail store on that list. All of the rest of the games on that list are either played in a browser or downloadable. I was ecstatic just to make the chart in 13th place. (Actually MaidMarian.com gets more traffic than ToonTown, so let's call it 12th place.) Considering how much I enjoyed and was influenced by retail boxed games like Everquest and Everquest II, Ultima Online, Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars Galaxies, to have passed them all in active users is mind blowing. And as usual, I have you to thank.

Gene

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February 5, 2008
A new beginning.

I've been reminded twice by players that it's time to post another diary entry. I'm off to San Francisco in a week for the Game Developers Conference, so now is the time. MaidMarian.com continues to reach more and more players. We experienced a bit of a drop in early January, however that's normal after Christmas and after another record high of 1.8 million unique monthly players, rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated. I added two more servers, bringing the total to 11. You can check the five year pattern at Alexa.com: Alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/maidmarian.com 

After releasing Club Marian in September, focus shifted back to Sherwood Dungeon. I came up with a preliminary list of features that were needed to bring the game to another level. The changes you are seeing are just beginning. I received some very vocal criticism from the women of Sherwood about the Female Warrior. I wanted strong characters that would resonate with players and apparently the female avatar was just not there yet. After generating a list of changes and getting the updates in, feedback on the new updated look with a choice of hair styles is overwhelmingly positive - so thanks for your help. One of my goals is to create an MMO adapted to the web but with the 3D graphics and visual impact of a boxed product. Just being the best looking 3D MMO in a web browser is not good enough. In particular I want the avatars to hold their own against well known, mainstream MMORPGs. Although naturally there is going to be some bias, for the first time with the characters I feel like we're reaching that goal. As far as I'm concerned, there's no technical reason why a browser based MMO can't look as good graphically as a boxed one and I'm going to keep pushing for this in all areas of the game. 

Crafting and blacksmithing is something I've wanted in Sherwood for a long time. Those ideas morphed into the Runes and Scrolls system you now see in the game. It's basically a collecting and combining game mechanic, where you use runes to envoke the magic of a Scroll of Summoning to craft magic weapons. Originally I was going to have players spell the Old English translations for words like "Sword" or "Axe", however the symbolic circular pattern of runes that I used created more of a feeling of alchemy, magic and mystery. Runes have a fascinating history in Viking, Germanic and Old English lore. Have a look:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runic_alphabet
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elder_Futhark
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_Futhorc


I increased the number of inventory slots from 16 to 25. This was planned for a while, however the Runes and Scrolls system forced the issue. A reduction in icon size was required to create the 5x5 slot grid on the inventory. This turned out to be more work than I anticipated as almost all other screens in the user interface were also affected.

So what else is planned? You'll have to wait and see, however this year will mark a turning point for both the game and the company. Some of the changes may take you by surprise and will, with luck, be more fundamental to Sherwood's future than just new features. It's time to put my game face on. 

Other random stuff:

I just started kick boxing. Wow am I ever terrible. My avatar can kick, what's wrong with me? I also play ice hockey twice a week. I'm not great at that either but I'm Canadian, so it's in the blood. My parents are Dutch (Mom) and Hungarian (Dad) so I enjoy the popularity of the games in both Western and Eastern Europe. And a big hello to the huge numbers of visitors MaidMarian.com gets from Poland! My wife's father was from Poland. She quit her job to join this crazy company as CFO about a year ago. If your curious about where players come from, check this out.....


Only the ten countries with the highest traffic levels are shown. If you country is not there, your in the 29.99% grey area that represents the rest of the world. Cool eh? I've always been blown away by how evenly balanced the traffic is around the world. The word on Sherwood is spreading because of you, so keep recruiting those friends! And thank you for continuing to support the games.

Gene

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November 17, 2007
The Fog is Lifting.

The texture updates for the avatars and monsters are out and I've been taking note of your feedback and opinions from the game, email and guild forums. Yes, I'm a forum lurker. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to register for a Sherwood forum when your name is Gene and nobody believes it's you. 

The Dark Knight was the most challenging and delayed the release of the update by a couple weeks. As the original Sherwood avatar, the Dark Knight was interpreted by players in many ways - Dark Knight, Paladin, Roman Soldier, Gladiator, Barbarian or Warrior. I hope the result meets your expectations. 

The success of Club Marian and the new visual update to Sherwood Dungeon have required a few more servers to keep up with the 15 terabytes of monthly bandwidth. For those keeping score, that's nine servers all together. We also attracted more than 1.5 million monthly unique visitors for the first time - that was a cool milestone to hit. Club Marian now attracts over 2000 simultaneous players at peak. 

October and November have been lighter months than normal as I recharge my batteries. 
When I worked in the console games industry, I always hated crunch time. That's the time at the end of game development when you're trying to hit a release date come hell or high water. It's ironic that I found myself in a self-imposed brutal crunch trying to get Club Marian out on a date that only I was aware of. The fog is lifting and the desire is coming back now, so stay tuned.  

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September 23, 2007
And the Winner is.........Sherwood Dungeon !!!!

You did it! 
You amazing bunch of passionate Sherwood players have done the impossible. Thank you! Sherwood Dungeon is the 2007 winner of the PopVox Best Game and Best of British Columbia awards at the Vidfest New Media awards. This was in a field that included games like Need For Speed Carbon, NHL 07, Company of Heroes, Scarface: The World is Yours and Mario Strikers. I felt a like the high school geek running for class president, so Iím a little light headed today. In a gala event, in front of new media and games professionals from around the world - we ruled! Just so you know, Best of BC was not only the games industry, it included Web 2.0, digital animation, music score, mobile games and visual effects that originate in BC. Best Game was open to entries from around the world. It's a big deal, it's all because of your votes and you're the ones who won this!

You must have also noticed that Club Marian was launched early this week, right on schedule and seems to be doing really well. I hope the new avatar creation, music interface, disco lights and driving were a nice surprise. I've got a few more things planned down the road for this, but Sherwood has been taking most of my time lately. Here's a few teaser screenshots of a visual upgrade I have planned for October (I hope). The new Dark Knight is still to come - harder than I thought, but we'll get there.

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August 10, 2007
Very busy, but very good time. 

I've been working like a mad man through June, July and August and honestly haven't had time to update this diary. I'm off to Aruba today for a holiday, but here's an update before I go. 

1. The new multi-user game server software is fully up and operational. The MMUS (MaidMarian Multi-user Server) has performed beyond my expectations and the performance and stability has been outstanding thanks to help from my friend. (He knows who he is.) This software provides the foundation for future growth and will impact game features in the coming months. I've also had to add a seventh server to keep up with traffic.

2. New features have appeared in Sherwood over the last few months. This includes a new system for building interconnected buildings and bridges. The grass huts in Haunted Palm and tree houses in Frost Bite are examples of this and are in direct response to the many requests I've been getting around buildings and towns. 

3. A new Sherwood NPC type has been added. Right now the Castle Guard by the bridge in Sherwood Castle is the only example in the game, however more of this type will appear in the future for storytelling elements. The Castle Guard is there to answer frequently asked questions and help new players. 

4. Work is underway on new textures for all avatars and monsters in Sherwood. I don't have an exact timeline for release, but this should provide a nice visual upgrade to the characters and overall improvement to the look of the game. 

5. I'm about 85% through a new game or virtual hangout as a successor to Marian's World. Although Marian's World was the first multiplayer game I developed for the site, it still attracts over 600 simultaneous players during peak times. Not bad for an old game with limited feature set and backwards visuals by my current standards. I decided to take some of the ideas from the original game and bring it to a whole new level. The new games features much more sophisticated avatar customization (yes, there are male avatars), music features, emoticons, a shiny new roadster to drive around and a few other surprises. I've been working seven days a week on this game and it's almost done. Expect to see it in September. I'll keep the game's name a secret for now and not to worry, the original Marian's World will remain on the site after the release. I know how you get attached to my older stuff and then yell at me when I try to upgrade ;) 

6. It was a good time for press and publicity with blog entries from games industry insiders like The Escapist, The Forge, Wired Game Life, FreeToPlay.biz, Raph Koster, Lost Garden and a bunch of others. The article that started it all off was a Showcase and Case Study that Adobe did on Maid Marian Entertainment. Adobe is the company that makes Photoshop, Flash, Shockwave etc. Here's the link.

7. I also spoke at the Vancouver International Game Conference and nextMEDIA 2007 in Banff, Alberta. Here's a video webcast of my nextMedia panel presentation on Interactive Games and Social Networks. (OMG, you finally going to see what I look like I'm not the host, rather the balding red head with the beard- - don't be too harsh.)

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June 3, 2007
Digg, Tank Ball 2, Ignore, Shadows and other Random Ramblings. 

It's been a busy two months since my last post. Yesterday I integrated Digg into the site so each game has a "digg it" link under the start icon on the main page. You can show some support for the games and leave a comment if you wish. I will check these on a regular basis to see what players are saying. I see Digg as an important way to collect more feedback and drive new traffic to the site. I even put Digg on this Developer's Diary to see what comes up, particularly if there are developers out there who wish to leave some public feedback.

I created a new updated version of Tank Ball, now called Tank Ball 2. This new version cycles between three environment styles (Snow, Forest and Tropical) and includes weapon and speed power-ups. Thank you to those who sent me email to provide early feedback. I put in a number of changes based on these comments and made sure to retain the original Tank Ball for those of you who preferred the older version. 

For Sherwood Dungeon, I implemented a landing page with instructions and screenshots. This adds one more mouse click to get into the game, something I didn't take lightly, but I thought it was important to give new players information about game and what it looks like. I added a player list and ignore feature to Sherwood Dungeon. On the Character Panel, which you get to by clicking on the hit-point bar or by pressing <esc>, there is now a Player List button. When you click on a player's name, it brings up information about their health, team color and weapons currently equipped. The <Ignore> button on this page allows you to ignore future messages from this player. So if there is a particular person you'd rather not interact with, ignore them. I've also implemented a new shadowing system for the outdoor environments. The difference is subtle, however trees now cast shadows. For shockwave developers out there, this was done with Imaging Lingo. Thank you to those of you who caught bugs related to this upgrade (white ground on some video cards and black shadows in Ancient Sherwood). These issues are fixed now. Other visual upgrades related to the characters in Sherwood are in the works.

The support for the Microsoft Vista operating system has been getting much better for the games. Adobe released two new version of Shockwave last month to help with slow frame rates under Vista and to solve problems with certain keys in the game that were affecting both the game and the browser (like the Tab and arrow keys). There are still issues with certain video cards under Vista, but for most players it runs the same as with Windows XP. As graphics card drivers improve for Vista, I expect these issues to go away. Adobe is working towards an updated version of Director early in 2008, and this will likely result in improved frame rates, Intel Mac compatibility and allow me to explore some new visual updates to the games. 

Work is underway on a new version of Marian's World with many new features, avatars and an updated look. I'm not going to talk much about this as I'm in the middle of development and the feature list has not been locked down yet. The new version will not replace the old Marian's World, more like it's spiritual successor and I'm still trying to come up with a name for this new game / social hang-out.

Work on the new multi-user game server software has been going slower than anticipated, however this is progressing and I expect to begin the process of transitioning the games to the new servers in the coming weeks. This software is the first step towards implementing an opt-in account system down the road. I'm not committing to a timeline for the account system, but once the new servers are up and stable I'll be looking at this. 

I presented in a round table on design for massive multiplayer games at the Vancouver International Game Conference early last month and will be leaving to present at the nextMEDIA Conference in Banff, Alberta in a few days. I'm going to do more game conferences over time as I really enjoy interacting with other game developers, something I miss from my Radical Entertainment days. 

Well, you're up to date. Thanks for reading my ramblings. 

-Gene

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April 6, 2007
The Dragons are here! The Dragons are here!

1. Dragons
Yup, they're finally in. I had to rewrite a great deal of the monster code to get larger monsters to work properly. Dragons have eight times the hit points of regular monsters and can kill you in two hits at the same XP level. I also gave them two attack types of different duration to make them harder to block. There are three types: Snow Dragons in Frost Bite, Sea Dragons in Lost Lagoon and Jade Dragons in Ancient Sherwood. There are also "baby dragons" (Basilisks and Lizards) in levels 10 and up in the Dungeon and on three of the islands.

2. Frame Rate Optimization
I found an obscure optimization that improved the frame rate on Sherwood Dungeon quite substantially. For any Director developers reading this, when you remove an object from the world, the bonesplayer still updates and can slow the game down even if there's no animation currently playing. Use .removemodifier(#bonesplayer) on any bones objects not in the world. Just remember to .addModifier(#bonesPlayer) and restart the animation when you bring the object back into the world. 

3. Camera Mode
I've been taking notice of the increasing number of Sherwood Dungeon videos that keep appearing on YouTube. This is fantastic and I decided to add a feature to help those hardcore movie makers. /Camera is a new command that switches the Sherwood camera to one that you can fly around the world to get those shots that you can't get from the in-game camera. Here's how it works:

/help camera      Displays help on using camera mode
/camera            Switches to Camera mode


Once you are in Camera mode:

Orbit             Drag the Left Mouse Button rotate the camera around a point.
Pan              Drag the Right Mouse Button to move the camera left, right, up or down.
Zoom            Drag with Left and Right Mouse Button simultaneously to zoom in or out
<R>              Resets the Camera to default position.
<SpaceBar>   Ends Camera Mode


When you create Sherwood Dungeon videos, you are creating Machinima. Although the definition is a little more technical, Machinima is basically when you capture the screen of a computer game to video files and edit them it to tell stories or make music videos. Some of the examples on YouTube are great and I certainly encourage anyone who wants to use my games to create entertaining videos. 

Sherwood Dungeon on YouTube:
www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Sherwood+Dungeon

Here's a few links on Machinima:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machinima

www.machinima.com

If you want to get into making Machinima, you will first need a utility to capture the computer screen into a video file. It's usually not a good idea to try to capture the entire screen as you will get a poor frame rate for the video. Because Sherwood will scale to the size of the web browser window, I would suggest scaling it down to a smaller size before capture. Keep in mind that your video could get stretched to the aspect ratio that YouTube expects. The ideal capture size for Sherwood to match YouTube's aspect ratio would be approximately 728 by 545. Do some experimenting to see what gives the best results. 

For screen capture, the Windows Media Encoder is free. Here's a download link:
www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx

Here's a link to a tutorial for using the Media Encoder for screen capture:
www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/howto/articles/screencap.aspx

I've also noticed that many Sherwood videos were captured using HyperCam. Here's a link: www.hyperionics.com/hc

Although you can put up an unedited video, the best results will come when you edit smaller video files into a final result. Windows Movie Maker is free and comes with Windows XP. This will let you add music and audio files, titles, transitions and effects. Lots of short duration clips edited together with different camera angles will look better than long boring shots. For rock videos, try editing your cuts right on the beat of the music - difficult to do but the results can look great.

Here's a link to Windows Movie Maker if you don't already have it on your computer:
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/moviemaker2.mspx

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March 1, 2007
Scalability and Infrastructure

I've been getting a great deal of email reminding me that it's time to update my Developer's Diary. Next week I'm off to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco for the fourth year in a row. It's an opportunity to meet other like-minded people from the games industry, exchange ideas, get inspired and have some fun. I better get you up to date before I fly out. 

The last two months were a period when a great deal was happening, however much of that wasn't visible in the games as new features. I needed to look into the future and ensure we were ready and with MaidMarian.com at over 1.4 million unique visitors a month, we were at risk of being bogged down by our own success.  As I looked forward over the next few years, it became clear that in order to handle continuous growth in traffic and game features, I would need to make major improvements in our backend and server infrastructure. All the game servers currently run an "of-the-shelf" application that ships with Adobe Director called the Shockwave Multiuser Server to handle all multiplayer aspects of the games. Although the SMUS has served us surprisingly well, it's no longer in active development or supported by Adobe. As a result, the primary focus over the last two months has been the in-house development of new, custom written server software that offers the performance, flexibility, security and scalability we need for the future. The MMMUS (Maid Marian Multiuser Server) is currently in beta and we plan to switch all the games over in late March. By itself, the server doesn't add new features to the games but we're now in a much better position to realistically tackle database driven community features like user accounts, guilds or friends lists. I also sleep better at night knowing the site should be able to handle millions of additional monthly visitors. You can try a version of Sherwood Dungeon running under the new server at:

www.MaidMarian.com/Sherwood2.htm 

* Make sure to select "Test Server" under <select server> before logging in.

Other updates and changes:

1. Amulets


I introduced four new amulet types at the beginning of the year - the Talisman of Fire, Amulet of Poison, Stone of Darkness and Talisman of Ice. Just like the Enchantment of Speed, they are triggered with the <tab> key and take about 15 seconds to recharge. These amulets trigger various magical attacks for use in combat and all display unique visual effects on your opponent. During PVP the magical attacks can be especially deadly against players that like to block continuously.

2. Dragons

It looks like the appearance of the Dragon Statue in the courtyard of Sherwood Castle has created much rumor and speculation. Since I first indicated that dragons were in the future plans for Sherwood, there's been a great deal of anticipation as to when they would appear. I still can't give you an exact release date, other than to say we're working on it. As you can see from the statue, 3D modeling is complete. Animation for the dragon is still in the early stages and integration into the game will start once the animation is complete. With all the server changes, I'm not expecting to release dragons until late April. 

3. Interview and Press

I did a two part interview with Hanford Lemoore for his blog recently. If you're curious about my background, design approach or the technology behind the games, have a look:

Part 1: My Background, Building a user base, Using of-the-shelf tools
Part 2: Technical Aspects, Business and Marketing

MaidMarian.com also was mentioned in the Escapist, a popular online magazine covering gaming and gamer culture, in an article entitled "Boutique MMOGs, Under the Radar but bigger than EverQuest" by Allen Varney. Here's the link:

www.EscapistMagazine.com/issue/75/15

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December 7, 2006
Lots of updates.

I've been working very hard over the last two months getting a series of updates into Sherwood Dungeon that I hope you like. With over 100,000 unique visitors everyday, pleasing every player is an impossible task. I've read every email, visited Sherwood clan sites, chatted with players inside the game and tried to make sure that you know I'm listening. With close to 100 emails everyday, it's tough to respond to everyone and still have time to develop the game. I want you to understand that I care great deal about the players. Giving everyone the attention they deserve despite the information overload that I face everyday can be a brutally frustrating process. I am trying to be different from other developers and the last thing I want is to be perceived as being arrogant, aloof or detached from the player base. 

So what's new? Here's the list of new features in the game over the last two months.

1. New Player Avatars:  Finally! Two new human avatars and a skeleton avatar are in the game. You've seen the evolution of the character art here in the Developer's Diary and the new characters in the game are the result. There are still some changes to come, but they will be minor. The character selection screen is the first thing you'll see after login. You can rotate the characters from this screen by dragging the left mouse button. Helmet selection for the Dark Knight avatar is now accommodated in the character selection screen as well. 

2. Ancient Sherwood Island:  I've had repeated requests to revisit the original Sherwood land that started it all in 2001, with it's four temples dedicated to each of the teams. Only the eldest Sherwood warriors will remember this land, now rediscovered and reclaimed by the Kingdom. A few rocks have moved and the land is overgrown with trees in the years that have passed (got it as close as I could). Ancient Sherwood is a level 30 area you can teleport to by using the portal on one of the two smaller outpost towers or by typing /teleport 5 <return>. Just like in the original land, Blue Warriors and Red Spiders roam the land. 

3. Changes to Sherwood Castle Area:  I've heard your requests for the return of Tower battles. The portal on top of the highest tower was getting in the way of combat so I have enlarged the two outpost towers and placed the portals there. Let the Tower Battles resume!

4. Amulets:  Remember I said I was planning something special for Amulets? Amulets replace helmets on the equipment bar. Helmet selection for the Dark Knight is now done from the Character panel. Most Amulets provide an armor bonus, but I added a special level 5 magic item called a Talisman of Speed. A new energy bar has been placed under the health bar to go with this. When the Talisman of Speed is equipped, use the <TAB> key to activate it. The energy bar will turn yellow and begin to discharge when you attack. Your attack speed will almost double while the Talisman discharges. Once completely discharged, your attack speed will return to normal and the Talisman will recharge over time. This item is intended to make Player vs Player combat more interesting. The high speed attack should make it easier to get inside your opponents blocks. If your opponent also has the Talisman of Speed, you'll need to be strategic about when to activate it during combat. 

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October 1, 2006
Thank you

On a day when the MaidMarian.com game servers topped 4000 simultaneous players for the first time, it seems a developer's diary entry is in order. I would like to start out by just saying thank you. I recognize that making a living, doing what you love is a rare thing in this world. You made this possible.  MaidMarian.com is not a massive corporation. It's just a guy with a computer living his dream of making massive multiplayer games that people seem to want to play. I cannot express how grateful I am for the support that you have shown and for making my dreams come true.

The redesign of the player avatars is progressing well. Based on the concept image in my last diary entry, it can be hard to visualize how characters will translate into the game. Now that rough versions have been modeled in 3D, you can get a clearer idea of current progress based on the above image. These characters are not yet textured and the female avatar has shoulder armor still in the works. Let me know what you think.

Most of you have already experienced the updates that have gone into Sherwood Dungeon in recent weeks. I mentioned in the last diary entry that I design in a very organic way. The last update really makes this obvious. I was experimenting with a few ideas and realized that I'd stumbled on an approach that could vastly increase the number of islands and variety of terrain types in the game without impacting the download time. Three new islands - Haunted Palm, Frost Bite and Lost Lagoon are the result. Three portals were added to Sherwood Castle for transport to these new lands once you advance to the required XP Level. This also allowed me to update the art direction of the game, making all the lands, including Sherwood, more vibrant and colorful and allowing each to have a distinctive palette. 

Yesterday I added monster drops to the three new islands. After defeating a monster, they drop items that you can use or sell at the merchants by the portals. Skeletal bosses drop higher level items and if you character is a higher XP Level than the monsters, they will drop less frequently. As you can see from past diary entries, neither of these updates were planned or scheduled but once the impact they would have was clear, I made them top priority. 

Oh, and if you haven't noticed already, holding down <Up Arrow> and <Down Arrow> at the same time makes your character dance. Taunt your friends or have a party! Good silly fun. :)

Once again, thank you,

-Gene

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June 25, 2006
New Vision for Sherwood Dungeon


It's time to give you an update on my plans for Sherwood Dungeon and MaidMarian.com. All my games, including Sherwood Dungeon, go through many phases of development from the original vision through to it's launch on the site. After launch there's often numerous updates to get the final features in place. I design in a very organic way, so providing a list of new features and a timeline for implementation of those features can give players false expectations. If you were a player of the original Sherwood, you probably noticed that Sherwood Dungeon was a much more substantial update than just throwing a few new features into Sherwood. It was based on a new vision for the game, both from a technical and design standpoint. Major technical hurdles needed to be overcome to allow Sherwood Dungeon to have an infinitely deep dungeon and still keep the game small enough to fit on a floppy disk. When you are creating a web based MMORPG, keeping it small is incredibly important because the longer that loading bar takes, the more players your going to loose during the download. 

In the past month, there hasn't been many visible updates to the current game because I've been developing a vision for the next major update for Sherwood Dungeon. One of the goals for the next update is to launch a new dedicated Sherwood Dungeon website with a full set of community features including an account system, player profiles, connections between friends, forums and guild support. This will be tied into the save game features of the game, however most of these community features will be available exclusively through the Sherwood Dungeon website. Development on this is currently very active.

The second major goal is to completely redesign the player avatars in the game. I believe this is the best way to make a major visual impact on how the game looks. Don't get me wrong, I think Sherwood Dungeon is already the best looking browser based 3D MMORPGs, but it became clear to me when I started work on the female avatar that it would be better to redo the male avatar at the same time. Concept art for the new characters is going very well and I've got some of my best game industry art contacts helping me on this. It's more important for me to get this feature right than get it fast, so be patient and I hope you'll like the results. 

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May 29, 2006
Quick Update

Just a quick update. Here's a list of features that went into Sherwood Dungeon this month:

Helmets
Helmets are now in the game, with five different types of helmets available in the dungeon chests. A new slot for helmets is now on the equipment bar.

Quests
Missions, now called Quests, have been added. More quest types are planned in the future including boss and delivery quests. Quests are available from Captain Morgan by the dungeon entrance. Just walk close to the Captain and click on him to be offered a quest. The quest log is on the equipment bar. This shows you how close you are to completing the quest. Once you've completed the quest, return to Captain Morgan for your reward.

Merchants
The merchant store is above the dungeon entrance of the Castle Keep. Click on the merchant to see the store. A number of updates occured to the store this month and you now have the ability to sell your inventory items to the merchant.

Multiple Servers
Support for multiple servers has been added to the game and a new server is online. You can choose between Emerald Server and Ruby server on the log-in screen. If you don't choose a server, one is selected randomly for you.

Undead Skeleton Warriors and Bosses
Undead monsters are in Dungeon Level 5 on down. There are also Undead Boss Skeletons with three times the health of regular monsters. You may want to bring a friend to defeat one of these. The map indicates the last known location of boss skeletons in purple on the map.

Female avatars are a new feature I'm hoping to add in the next while, as requested by many players. The dragons and amulets are on hold until this is complete. I'm also planning on adding a help screen to Sherwood Dungeon with more instruction for new players.

I've made some changes to PVP in the Castle level. Blocking an attack successfully does double damage on the next attack and health potions no longer work in the Castle level. This is in response to players that just gather up health potions for PVP and make combat less fun for the other players.

Bug Report

You probably noticed a bug where numerous monsters spawned after a player defeated a monster. This was related to a bug in the boss update and has been fixed now. Thanks for the emails from players that described the symptoms of this to me....very helpful.

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April 26, 2006
What's Next for Sherwood Dungeon?

Rumors abound regarding my plans for Sherwood Dungeon in the coming months so I'm taking this opportunity to set the record straight and provide some detail on the launch. Sherwood Dungeon is up and running and so far the servers have handled the load and the feedback has been very positive.

Bug Report

  • It didn't take long for players to discover a way of holding a shield in their sword hand. This resulted in a crash for everyone else logged into that room. It was the only major crash bug of the last two weeks and it's fixed now. (Players have gotten into the habit of calling these crash bugs "Shockwaves".)
  • Rings in your inventory were magically transformed into shields when you quit the game and logged back in. Great, I suppose, if you want a shield, but obviously a problem if you had magic rings in your inventory. This is fixed now and thanks for the email from the player that first discovered the problem.
  • Players were suppose to be able have more than one health potion as this is a stackable item. This is fixed now, so collect away. I'm assuming players thought this was by design because I received no complaints.
  • You may have noticed that players and monsters were getting many extra attacks during combat in busy areas. This is fixed now.
  • Sapphire: Yes, I spelled it wrong. It's fixed now so please no more email on this one. Just for reference, although though I'm Canadian, I decided to use the American spelling for words like Armor. (Armour for those of us using the Queen's English.) 
  • Not really a bug, but blocking an attack gives you double damage on the next round. Block two attacks in a row and you get triple damage. This works both in PvP and against monsters. It's intended to replace the "combos" that existed in the original Sherwood. Those combos in Sherwood were actually a bug, but when I tried to take them out originally, players complained bitterly.

There are a number of features that didn't make it into the beta release of Sherwood Dungeon. For example, I've been getting tons of email regarding what to do with the gold that you collect. In the coming months I will be adding many of the features that didn't make the Beta. These are not set in stone and I'm reserving the right to make changes to the list. Here's what I'm intending to add in priority order.

New Features in the Coming Months

1. Helmets
I consider this one of the most important new features. Helmets allows players to personalize their characters, manage their armor and demonstrate achievement in the game.

2. Stores and Merchants
Yes, I got the message and I'm working on it! Give me a little time.

3. Missions
I'm intending to have a mission system in the game. Players will be able to get missions from NPC characters to fight boss type monsters in the dungeon, collect special items and return for a reward.

4. Dragons
Yes, I said Dragons. Easier said that done, but Dragons will be tied to the mission system in the game. It will take more than one player to take a dragon down, so bring a friend.

5. Undead Monsters
These skeletal warriors are intended to increase the variety of monsters in the dungeon.

6. Amulets
I haven't figured out a great system for differentiating the amulets from magic rings, but I'll come up with something ;)

Anything that you hear from other players
beyond this list is just a rumor.

Another important piece of news is that I've decided to quit my day job to concentrate on MaidMarian.com full time. This website was my hobby, evenings and weekends, for a number of years. Not any more. As some of you may know, I've been a Technical Art Director for Radical Entertainment for the past five years, working on console and PC games like Crash Tag Team Racing, The Hulk, CSI and many others. (Look for my name in the credits in Crash Tag Team Racing and select it..pretty funny eh?) Radical Entertainment is a great company, but MaidMarian.com has grown to the point were it deserves 100% of my attention. MaidMarian.com games are played over six million times per month and during peak times over 2000 simultaneous players are participating in the multiplayer games. This move should result in faster updates and more polished games. Wish me luck!

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April 9, 2006
Sherwood Dungeon is in Open Beta.

I'm exhausted but very happy. It's taken seven months, but I hope Sherwood Dungeon lives up to expectations. This game features an infinitely deep dungeon filled with monsters and treasure. It includes character advancement, new weapons, magic rings and more. The new code base is faster and should provide a stable foundation for future enhancements. Sherwood Dungeon is in Open Beta, which means I'm still finding and fixing bugs. 

Important Game Notes: 

-Games are saved on exit and when you leave dungeon levels, but if you remove Shockwave from your computer, you will lose the saved game. 

-The Dungeon entrance is in the Keep of Sherwood Castle. Player vs Player combat is valid only outside the Keep and away from the two smaller towers near the spawn point. 

-The monsters get tougher the deeper you go, but you'll get more XP points. If you team up on a monster with a friend, the XP earned is based on the damage you do. The monsters in the Castle Level scale to level of the player, however you'll get only a small amount of experience from these. There's no level cap and the dungeon is infinitely deep. 

-Make sure you keep re-equipping with higher level weapons as you go; you'll need them. The level of the weapon is listed along with the damage and magic bonus when you mouse over them in the equipment bar or inventory. 

I hope you enjoy the game.

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November 16, 2005
Growth, News and Design Philosophy.

Development efforts on Sherwood and TankBall ramped up in July and August. Sherwood received a major update to the 3d environment and now includes a castle to explore. This is a significant step forward in the visual 3D quality and immersiveness of the world. TankBall's updates include improvements to physics and frame rate, timed five minute multiplayer games with team and individual top scores and a health bar. Judging by the response, these changes have been well received by the players. Traffic has grown to over four million page impressions per month with some days exceeding 200,000. Since November of last year MaidMarian.com has grown by over 600 percent in traffic and revenue. During peak times the multiplayer servers host over 1,200 simultaneous players. I've added a third server to keep up with traffic demands and all of the games have received numerous security and stability updates in the last few weeks.

Since September I have been working on what I originally thought was a major update to Sherwood. It looks more like these features will now be rolled into a new game to be launched in a few months. For now I'm calling this game The Dungeon's of Nottingham and it will include a more sophisticated inventory, character and combat system, new items and weapons and a large dungeon environment to explore. Although it will initially launch with a relatively modest feature set, this game should establish a stable foundation that will support many future enhancements. This is easily the most ambitious project I've done to date, so wish me luck. 

The process of creating Sherwood and the other games has been very organic. I love the idea of someone finding Maidmarian.com by accident, clicking on a link and finding themselves in a fantasy world way beyond their expectations. In console games, they use the term "out of the box experience" to describe that first twenty minutes of playing a game. To maximize the impact of the first impression, I've placed a priority on trying to create immersive 3D environments with high frame rates, real-time physics, motion captured animation and dynamic time of day lighting. These are features players expect from games purchased in a store, not from something you play on a web-page. It's my goal to have the best 3D visual impact and "out of the box experience" of any web based game. 

So what was I thinking when I designed these games? It becomes critically important as an independent game designer to be efficient with development time. Game content that takes me months to create can often be ripped through in an evening by the average player and I don't have the resources to stay ahead of them with fresh material using a traditional approach. Linear story lines that rely on large amounts of content will lead to an unsustainable game design. This is one reason why the web is littered with the dead bodies of old failed independent MMORPGs. 

I believe that leveraging emergent gameplay is critically important. I try to provide the setting to allow players to play their game, not mine. The fantasies that players bring with them are far more vivid and compelling than any a developer might impose on them. Ideally the game features or objects should interact in fun ways the developer never anticipated. The trick is to create a game that can hold together when you haven't accounted for every possibility. This is challenging to design but very efficient because it maximizes the amount of gameplay created by new content. There's always the possibility that the new feature you're working on could exponentially increase the amount of gameplay.

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June 24, 2005
Things are great!

Obviously I need to update this Developers Diary more often. MaidMarian.com has seen huge growth in the last while. When I look at the early entries in the diary, I have to laugh. In 2001, I was trying to get the site above 400 visits a day.....now I'm getting over a million unique visitors a month with the games being played over 2.5 million times. It's been a wild ride. (In 2010 I hope I'll be looking back at this diary entry and find it just as funny as the ones in 2001.)

In October 2004, I issued a press release that resulted in a major increase in traffic. During peek times there are over 350 players in the multiplayer games and I've added another dedicated server this week to ensure there's plenty of room to grow. 

I added Tank Ball this year and it rapidly became one of the most played games on the site. Finding a creative solution for internet latency in a shooting game was not easy but I hope you enjoyed the result. I've had numerous requests for improvements and there's more to come for Tank Ball.  I'm working on an update that includes timed game starts every five minutes with stats gathering and a health bar. Tank Ball should get much more competitive very soon.

I hate having to play 3D web games in a little window just because the developer had to take into account users with 800x600 displays. I've completed an update to make all of the multiplayer games re-scaleable. If you scale the browser window, the games will expand to fill the available space. Users with higher resolution video card and monitor settings can enjoy a more immersive experience. If you use View/Full Screen (F11) in Internet Explorer, the multiplayer games will fill most of the screen. 

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October 16, 2004
New Web Site, New Server, New Game!

There have been numerous updates in the last few months...and your looking at one of them. The MaidMarian.com website was long overdue for a redesign, and I hope you like how it turned out. A new dedicated server has been added to host Sherwood, Moon Base and Marian's World. This will allow up to 2000 simultaneous players in the 3D worlds.  Moon Base is very close to it's 1,000,000 visitor. I'll give another update once the magic number has been reached. The community forum has been updated with a few new features and a new look an feel. The new online world, Sherwood, is the biggest news of the last few months. 

"Sherwood is a free online 3D world where hundreds of players come together to defend their honor in combat and join a community of like-minded participants. Players enter this world by choosing one four guilds and game play features team-based player vs. player and player vs. monster combat. "

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July 5, 2004
Moon Base just got it's 600,000 visitor!

 Moon Base has been averaging about 5000 visitors per day since it was launched in March 2004. Marian's World is at 250,000 visitors lifetime, with an average of about 2000 per day. Thank you everyone for being so supportive during this period of growth for the site. There has been numerous feature updates since March.

 
My favorite moment was when some of you noticed that with the gravity turned down on the Moon, you can use the rocket pack to get to the Earth. There is nothing funnier than seeing two player avatars standing on the Earth like little specks in the distance, taunting everybody on the Moon who hasn't figured out the trick yet.
 
I'm working on a new project that you should see soon. This will have more of the medieval fantasy theme you'd expect from a site named after a character from Robin Hood. I hope to have a dedicated server very soon, and this should allow the 3D chat rooms to have user accounts, passwords and profiles....assuming I can get up to speed on my database coding quickly enough.
 
I'll try to make the next update quicker....(I've said that before.)
 

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March 3, 2004
Marian's World and Moon Base

I'm back! It's been a very long time since my last update, any many of you have given up hope. I'm going to blame it all on Ratinator. 

"There's only room for one mouse in this house! Ratinator is the ultimate light-hearted shooter with a quick-footed mouse leading the charge against a host of evil vermin, insects and other pests."

Ratinator started out as an experiment to see if I could find an effective way to handle AI and pathfinding. (Special thanks to the guys at Tildruin Fantasy RPG Online.) I was thinking about using the results for RPG applications....and got sidetracked.....for a year. People seem to either love Ratinator...or they hate it with a passion! Ratinator was launched on Shockwave.com in September of 2003, and made the Adrenaline Vault's list of Top Shareware Games of 2004. This project helped grow my coding skills considerably and finally I got back to Maidmarian.com in October 2003. 

I've always found the raycasting performance in Shockwave 3D to be way too slow and this made it impossible to implement many of the feature I wanted for the 3D chat worlds. I developed a height field terrain generator that uses a bitmap image to displace procedurally generated geometry. This gave me a unique way to approach raycasting, and a huge performance boost. Marian's World and Moon Base are fundamentally the Maid Marian 3D chat code, with the new terrain generator and Havok physics integrated together.  I'm also much happier with the 3D characters and world geometry in these movies. I came up with a good hack to resolve physics problems due to latency in the 3D chat worlds....it's not perfect...but you can play bumper cars with your friends in these new worlds. 

The result? I launched it two weeks ago and the site has gone from 300 visitors a day to 2500.  For me, that's a lot of traffic. It's not a big deal for my ISP (VFX Digital Solutions), but I was borrowing Multi-User Server bandwidth on the good will of an industry colleague. I didn't expect a 1000% increase in traffic....neither did they. So the chat functionality of Marian's World and Moon Base is down for a few day while I get it sorted out. 

I'm still working on the MMORPG concept with good success. Expect some more samples in the coming months. I had a desire to try an create something non-violent in the MMORPG space a few years ago. A Tale in the Desert came out in the meantime, and I'm impressed with what they've done with a similar concept. I hope you don't think I'm selling out, but there will be monsters, swords, magic and combat.  The pathfinding and AI work from Ratinator is coming in very handy for the Maid Marian MMORPG, and I should have a swordplay / combat sample up soon. 

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January 1st, 2002 
New Version 2.0 of Maid Marian, The Secret of Sherwood
So if you've been wondering if I've abandoned this project in the last six months, the new version is finally up. This version includes a major redesign of the interface. I felt it was important to design an interface that looked less like a multi-media application and more like a computer game. The chat console is integrated into the 3d environment. Maid Marian has been remodeled and textured. She has a lower poly-count than the old version (faster frame rate) and the texture mapping has improved the overall visual quality. Terrain following has been fully implemented and multi-layered texturing was used to ensure that the mountain textures don't look pixelated when viewed close up. The entire interface can be rescaled to any screen resolutions by just resizing the browser interface. Sorry the rewrite took so long. I hope you like it.  

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June 5th to 10th, 2001 
Generating Traffic for the Web Site
Since the site was opened in April, there's been very little done to generate traffic. MaidMarian.com currently gets about 125 visits a day, primarily because Macromedia is using the Maid Marian Tech Demo as one of the Shockwave 3D samples on their website and links to us. My goal is 1500 visits a day. With this level of traffic, there should always be about five to ten people in the 3D Chatroom. These are some of the things I'm doing to increase traffic:

  • I'm optimizing the site to generate more traffic through search engines.

  • I'm participating in a banner exchange program with RPGDot.com. RPGDot and RPGsites are a network of role playing and gaming sites. So far I've had a banner click-through rate of 2.5%. Considering an industry average of less than 1%, this is encouraging.

These steps should boost the site traffic to 350 or 400 visits a day in about four weeks. The rest will hopefully come from participating in networks of similar websites, the quality of the 3D experience and word of mouth.    

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June 4th to 6th, 2001 
New Collision Detection and Terrain Following System.
Major breakthrough. I found a creative way of approaching the collision detection issue without using the Havok Xtra. This involves a major change in the way the 3D environment is designed but I have the benefit of being able to follow uneven terrain. There also seems to be no loss in frame rate with a virtually unlimited number of collision objects. The Terrain Following Example uses a similar approach. The current version of the Maid Marian chatroom has these changes implemented, but I still need to redesign the 3D environment to take full advantage of these changes. (Hopefully soon.)

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June 1st to 3rd, 2001 
Havok Physics Xtra Experimentation.
The next major challenge in the development of Maid Marian's virtual environment is cleaning up the collision detection and handling. I thought I had this sorted out earlier, but when I ran a test using Director's collision modifier on 100 test objects (cubes), the frame rate dropped from 77 frames per seconds down to 45 fps. As you can imagine, this really limits the size and complexity of the world.

So, back to the drawing board. I decided to try the Havok Physics Xtra. Havok produces a great physics plug-in for Director that implements collisions, forces and rigid bodies. I ran the same test with the Havok collision modifier on 100 test objects with a loss in frame rate of only three frames per second. I had to rewrite the entire character navigation system to use Havok's impulse forces to move Marian around and collisions are more difficult to control because Marian tends to "bounce" off of obstacles in the environment, but the approach has promise. 

Here's a test version of the single player Maid Marian that uses the Havok Xtra. Use the "Add Collisions" button to add the test collision objects. (There will be a drop in frame rate, but that has more to do with the added polygons than the collision detection.)

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May 1st to 30th, 2001 
World Creation and Optimization
Most of May was focused on the process of creating the 3D virtual world and streaming it in once your online. I teach Alias/Wavefront Maya 3.0 in the Digital Animation Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver, Canada (my day job) so the initial environment was created using Maya. No final decision has been made on which 3D package is going to be used for building Sherwood Forest. The final test environment ended up less than 350k. Camera clipping and fog is used in the world to keep the polygon count down and still allows for a large environment. A lower polygon version of Maid Marian was created for better performance on systems without advanced 3D graphics cards. This optimized version runs at over 100fps on my PC. (850mhz, GeForce II GTS)  

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April 20 to 22, 2001 
UCON2001 at the New York Hilton
Macromedia nominated the Maid Marian Technology Demonstration for a People's Choice Award at UCON2001. This is Macromedia's yearly User's Conference at the New York Hilton. I used the opportunity to take my wife and kids to New York for a week. I was up against two very large competitors, Sapient and Intel. Just like David and Goliath, except I lost. Oh well, it was an honor just to be nominated. 

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November 2000 to April 2001 
Shockwave 3D Beta Program
I was fortunate to participate in the beta program for Macromedia Director 8.5 with it's new 3D capabilities. The support and encouragement from the employees at Macromedia and other developers in the beta program was amazing. Macromedia and Intel used the Maid Marian Technology Demonstration to help promote Shockwave 3D to the press. Many of the beta testers participated in server tests to help troubleshoot early versions of the 3D avatar chat. As the beta came to a close I finally had permission from Macromedia to open up the web site in late April. Macromedia continues to use the Maid Marian Tech Demo to promote Shockwave 3D on their site.

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Contact Information
Maid Marian Entertainment Inc.
1151 Croft Road
North Vancouver
BC, Canada, V7K 1K2
Gene Endrody -
GeneEndrody@gmail.com

 

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