Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Collaborative games

One of my early pet projects for my previous employer was a simple network 3D viewer.

The idea was to try to make a collaborative tool for artists or level designers.
What the project could do was very simple: spawn 3D objects somewhere and see each other moving around.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to continue on that and it never evolved beyond that level.

Nowadays, the success of Minecraft is obvious and it reminds me again that collaborative editing effort is somewhere into the future of developing games.

Of course, some ideas should never be stretched too far. For example, programmers tend to believe that procedural solutions can make artists less useful, or possibly even irrelevant (!), while some may see Minecraft and the Phun physiscs sandbox as a recipe to make any kind of game.

Of course most actual games will always need skilled artists as well as programmers.
But it's still important to push forward this sandbox kind of idea.. which personally has always fascinated me, and that is becoming so much more relevant now.

I wish I put more effort into this before, but on the other hand, I admit that I could never predict what people would be able to do by simply stacking blocks together.
I see editing tools as very sophisticated instruments able to give all sorts of features and user-interface goodness, levels of undo, etc. Instead, with Minecraft, people seem to be able to build incredible structures without even using copy & paste !
This is a bit like writing a novel using something with less sophistication than Windows Notepad..

I honestly still don't quite understand this myself.. is and how much planning and trial and error goes into building such structures (there are some tools to import and export data.. but in most cases it's just people stacking blocks one by one).

All this also confirms my theory that "big pixels" are here to stay.
As much as screen resolution improves and, more generally, computers allow to blur digital with analog, easily distinguishable discrete elements, be that pixels, Lego blocks or virtual 3D blocks, are still useful and attractive.

When I see Minecraft, I also think about Second Life.. which in a sense had better graphics, but the bar for editing the world was still too high, and so it left its users busy buying and selling and simulating sex (which is apparently the main driving factor of the game).

So, Second Life's inability to grow was due to the hedonistic tendency of the game. Which ultimately is less rewarding than the ability to express creativity and develop things.. even if they are made of big blocks.

mumble mumble


  1. You might want to take a look at Verse since it seems to have similar notions and concepts; I've never personally used it though.

    I think Minecraft is just one of those Internet phenomena that many people use and play with, but after a long while, interests move elsewhere. This seems to have happened to Second Life ... one barely hears any news about it any more (though I believe it's still active somewhat).

  2. Create any kind of open world where you can just wander around and build stuff and people will show you the unthinkable.

    Especially if they can team up online.

  3. Ragin,

    The Verse thing seems interesting.. but I wonder how well it works in practice.

    I agree that these things come and go, but the difference with Minecraft is that, while being a lot simpler and more crude, it gives a lot of flexibility on building things.
    It's a bit like the difference between Lego and Playmobil.
    Playmobil is quite popular and it looks more refined than Lego.. but it just doesn't give the same flexibility. Lego is blocky, but it's also so much more popular.


    Yeah.. not that I realize ho far people can really go, I think that I'll need to try something that will put that good collective energy at work.. of course the hard part is to make something that really works and that will somehow build momentum.

  4. Interesting. I think that the success of Minecraft or Phun depends on their ease of use, more then on collaboration, so almost everyone can create something. They unleash creativity. In Second Life maybe one could create more sophisticated things, but more skill is required.

  5. I think that ease of use (or ease of edit) and a multiplayer environment are equally important.

    mumble mumble

  6. Lego is blocky, but it's also so much more popular.

    Hmm ... maybe low-rez everything (with ease of creation) is the future. 8P

    In all seriousness though as the other comments mentioned, it does seem that it's more about the ease of use than anything else.

    I suppose making a simple "sandbox" type universe and letting people do whatever they want will keep many occupied. :)

  7. ...havign not played MC, I can't say for sure. But my impression is that beyond the initial simplicity there is some meaningful complexity.
    The fact that some people built actual computation machines shows how the sandbox is more about placing blocks.

    I'll have to try something... but only after the new iPhone games are out 8P