Worlds In Motion's Online World Atlas: Sherwood Dungeon

Press: July 27, 2007
Leigh Alexander

Original Article

Each day, Worlds in Motion will be taking a closer look at individual virtual worlds. We'll start with a nuts-and-bolts overview, then move on to an in-depth tour, to be followed up with a conclusion-- all with the aim of bringing you all the essential info and details on each world in the rapidly-developing virtual landscape. Today we'll take an overview of Sherwood Dungeon, one of the completely free multiplayer games on Gene Endrody's Maid Marian portal.

Name: Sherwood Dungeon

Company: Maid Marian, Inc. Established: April 2006 (in current incarnation, first version launched October 2004)

Overview: A deceptively simple but surprisingly involved MMO game, Sherwood Dungeon offers fantasy-style monster and treasure hunting play in a variety of medieval-style areas and dungeons. How it Works: It runs on Shockwave in the browser, users provide no personal information, and all the controls are handled using only a few keys and some drag-and-drop for menu items.

Payment Model: Sherwood Dungeon is completely free; there's no subscription mode, and the ads that support the site are unobtrusive.

Key Features: Key Features:

  • XP-based character advancement with no level cap
  • Team-based player vs. player combat in designated areas
  • Motion captured animation
  • Dynamic time of day lighting

Signing up to Sherwood Dungeon really couldn't be quicker or easier. Choose a handle in the welcome screen and that's it-- no personal info, no downloads, no validation emails or anything of the sort. The avatar sets are really simple-- there are only four basics. There's human man, a human female, an imposing-looking armored knight and a skeleton warrior-- though there is some customizability in the color of the tunics, or the type of armor the knight wears. You can re-make your avatar's appearance on every entry into Sherwood Dungeon, though the handle you choose remains your key to the experience and goods you've accumulated in the game.

New arrivals appear in a wooded area outside a castle. Though the 3d models are not particularly fancy, they're still vividly rendered, with the animations done particularly well considering it's a completely free Shockwave game. A brief intro screen acclimates you to the bare-bones control scheme-- arrow keys move around, the Ctrl key attacks, and Ctrl+Shift blocks, and that's really about it, aside from clicking to interact with NPCs or to view and equip inventory and status items via a simple icon-based menu in the screen bottom. ted. The area's swarming with huge red and green spiders, for one thing, and knee-high ruby swordsmen will also antagonize you. Don't be surprised if a fellow adventurer sets on you immediately, too-- there are no PvP (player-versus-player) rules in Sherwood, and anything that moves is fair game. Approaching someone for public chat is as likely to get you gutted as greeted!

Fighting the spiders forms the basic meat-and-milk of a new adventurer's initial experience; defeating them results in experience gains, stat boosts and, occasionally, dropped items. Your enemies will be taking a chunk out of your hit points, measured via a red gauge displayed prominently in the screen's upper-left hand corner. When things are looking grim, though, you can easily escape by running away-- your hit points will gradually regenerate. And even if you're killed, you simply reappear in the main area, without apparent penalty.

Investigating the main field further, a castle appears; inside is a very impressively modeled silver dragon statue, a merchant and an informative guard. You'll also find Lady Marian herself, who will give you your first quest. There are also shimmering teleport windows in the area which will take you to more challenging battle areas, even advising you of the appropriate level you should be to take the fiends on.

You can earn gold through selling your battle spoils to one of the merchants, and upgrade your equipment by buying it or earning it from monsters. The leveling curve is not so steep that it loses its entertainment value, and the promise of new worlds to explore keeps the experience lively. It doesn't seem that Sherwood Dungeon has an auto logout-- simply close the window and re-enter your handle on your next visit to reappear where you left off.

One of the most impressive things about Sherwood Dungeon is its simplicity. Entering the world-- and returning once you've left-- is virtually instantaneous, there are no frills, and simplified textures keep loading times, if any, to a bare minimum. Especially bearing in mind that there's no money required, or even optional, ever, the solid modeling and the fluid interface feel like genius.

Notable is that the only ads that run with the game are small, unintrusive Google ads-- for other MMOs. In an interview with's Adrian Crook, creator Gene Endrody said that these ad revenues are the source of all his income on Sherwood, with 50% of that going right back into game development.

Some interesting things about Sherwood Dungeon I noticed (that Crook's factsheet also mentions): players can't see one another's levels. Endrody told Crook that this is to encourage a more supportive environment. The random, purpose-driven fashion in which other characters readily assaulted my green (in the tunic) lady makes me wonder, momentarily-- but then, other characters' levels and mine don't come to bear on PvP battles, so there's no chance of experienced players easily snuffing newbies. Admittedly, it's more fun to battle other warriors than it is to hack the spider legions.

One of the things I notice in general while composing this atlas is that despite prominent chat features, conversation tends to be sparse and uncommon, even in worlds touted as major social networking hubs. Compared to my previous experiences, the residents of Sherwood Dungeon are positively loquacious-- it's a veritable Tower of Babel, with most of the chat happening in languages I can't understand. Wonder if Endrody will ever include a translator?

One minor issue-- there's no way to preserve one's own handle. While you can't impersonate other characters merely by using theirs (your info is always consistent with each login) your name is a much more fluid thing, and you needn't have an original one. Since characters can't see one another's levels, there's no way, really, to prevent someone from emulating you by assuming your name and selecting the same avatar set. It isn't really the sort of environment where a player acting up while copying you will really make a tremendous difference-- but as I visited Sherwood a few times, even on different servers, I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to see players I'd seen before, so reputation's possible. On the other side of the coin, though, this transience makes it possible for a user to change their name and avatar set-- from pretty lass Celestine to skeleton knight Caesar, for example-- without losing any of their accumulated gains the way they would if they had to make a new character.

There aren't a lot of bells and whistles in Sherwood Dungeon-- which makes its efficacy, depth and enjoyment factor all the more special. It's a homegrown MMO There aren't a lot of bells and whistles in Sherwood Dungeon-- which makes its efficacy, depth and enjoyment factor all the more special. It's a homegrown MMO whose creator has treated his game with such dignity and attention to detail that it'd definitely make a strong example for others. If Endrody can create something so stable and fluid from the ground up, we should expect quite a lot from more elaborate projects with millions of funding dollars!