Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Age of Avarice

So I've mentioned Anathema Online and Legend in the past, but I'll step back and re-explain what they were, in the spirit of starting afresh.

Anathema Online was my attempt at taking freeform roleplay to the next level - basically an MMORPG for writers, with the structure of a proper game, and the freedom of roleplaying. Players could create characters (represented with avatars) and move around the game world (between rooms, buildings, towns). They could open businesses like restaurants or shops, sell custom clothing for avatars, and also craft weapons and armour. Of course there was a combat system as well, but eventually siege warfare entered the game as whole towns and kingdoms started going to war against one another. It ran between November 2006 and October 2008, just short of a full two years. Our largest user base at any given time was at best a measly 30 players, but people seemed to enjoy it well enough.

Of course, it cannot be ignored that AO quickly fell victim to feature creep, as we expanded the game in order to cater to growing needs and concerns. When I finally decided to close the game, it was not only because the player count waned, but also because I felt that development was becoming far too messy. The HTML/CSS was nowhere near standards compliant, the code was inefficient and the database was poorly structured. It was all a learning experience, after all - my first major PHP/MySQL based project, and for having developed it while in high school, I'm still rather impressed with myself.

Legend was intended to be its successor. While it followed a similar structure, the design was significantly more geared towards a structure game, on occasion sacrificing player freedom in certain areas. This was intended to be my attempt at building a cleaner, more functional version of AO - however, development was shaky, and I often had to put it down for months at a time in order to focus on school work. My goals were far too lofty, and the world I was attempting to create was too vast. Recently, I decided to abandon this project. Once school ended and I got a chance to sit down and look at the code, I realized that there was just too much. Continuing would only result in more complication.

So now, I've stepped back. I'm not bothered by having to abandon Legend - rather I see it as a learning experience, that will fuel my last attempt at a game of this nature. It's a fact - developing a text-based game does not easily contribute in a positive manner to one's portfolio. It may have when I was in high school, but these days employers just give you funny looks. But that said, I genuinely enjoyed playing AO, and I'd like to be able to do it again. This is no longer a matter of building something to impress people, but rather to build something that will make me happy.

Age of Avarice, as it will likely be named, will for the most part be Legend simplified. Rather than building a new world with fresh lore, we will go back to explore the events following a major war in Anathema Online. The city of Avaricia will be fresh out of a war that left it in a state of disarray. With faith in the King shaken, the military has risen up against the monarchy, and besieged the palace. In order to focus their efforts on capturing the throne, the lower town has been abandoned to all but anarchy, with gangs rising to overshadow the paltry local watch. The whole city is up for grabs, and any player is free to make an attempt at claiming it.

On top of the game, we are looking to include a bit of metagame that allows players to contribute to the depth and breadth of the world itself. Just as they could in AO, they will be able to create clothing, although this time around it will be clothing designs that will be sold in-world through official guilds or some other such entity. This way characters will be able to purchase designs, and given that they have the appropriate skill level and ingredients (set by staff when approving the design), they will be able to create the item and stock it in a shop. A similar system will be used for anything between cooking recipes, stories and songs for bards, and even spell concepts. By contributing to the world itself, players will earn points/gold/what-have-you at the account level (out of character), which they will then be able to spend in a metagame shop. Here they will be able to purchase particularly special items, such as one-off potions to temporarily increase certain stats, treasure maps and magical artifacts.

Thanks to a potential large-scale project contract I may or may not be working on, I was taking a look at CodeIgniter (light-weight PHP framework) yesterday. I've never worked with PHP frameworks before, and looking over the documentation shows how different the workflow would be (it relies on a strict MVC architecture). Still, CodeIgniter looks very promising, and I'm interested in using it with Age of Avarice. But first, I need to settle on a website design!

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