Growth, News and Design Philosophy.

November 16, 2005

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 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 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.

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.

Things are great!

June 24th, 2005

Obviously I need to update this Developers Diary more often. 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 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.

New Web Site, New Server, New Game!

October 16, 2004

There have been numerous updates in the last few months...and your looking at one of them. The 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. "

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

July 5, 2004

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.)

Marian's World and Moon Base

March 3, 2004

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 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 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'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.