In the finest tradition of OtherSpace events of the past, the weekend “Even Stones Yield” activity didn’t come with much of a script attached.
What was set in stone for the asteroid-threatens-to-blow-up-world caper:
- A grid of several rooms to represent the asteroid for players to land on and explore. I built only what was needed to tell the fundamental story, but it could be expanded upon and changed should it become part of the permanent game grid.
- Players would discover that the rock wasn’t just a natural chunk of rock. Instead, it contained some architecture and machinery.
- Players would discover that a colony of Lotorians lived deep inside and this chunk of rock was believed to be the last piece of the lost ancient homeworld of their race.
Everything else just evolved organically, often on a whim or thanks to inspiration from the players involved in the adventure.
One such moment provided an opportunity for the event’s only point of random chaos involving dice rolls. After the adventurers reached the bottom of the damaged elevator shaft, Lucy included a phrase in her pose about how something was “way over her head.” In my mind, this led to a cinematic camera tracking shot up the shaft to a wobbly boulder about to break loose and fall. I used the MUSH random number generator command to pick a number from 0-49. I got 21. Blackjack! I informed the players that I would roll for each of them. Should anyone get exactly 21 for their roll, they would be hit by the boulder.
Everyone avoided the boulder’s impact except for Dean. Luckily, he’s a Phyrrian, so the boulder didn’t kill him – it just severely damaged him. As the guy who got hit by the rock, Dean had the chance to be the hero, using his pose to help shove his comrades out of harm’s way so that he could take the blow instead.
Aside from this, we didn’t use dice at all. Everything else was character and plot.
I knew going into the event that I’d need to play up the contentious and utterly irrational nature of the conflict between the Opodians and Llivori on Kamsho, but I couldn’t entirely predict how the players would deal with their brinksmanship. I certainly didn’t expect that it would lead to some dramatic in-character conflicts between captain and crew, but it did.
At one point, the Llivori and Opodian governments had both launched their entire nuclear arsenals at the oncoming asteroid while Garviel’s crew waited for the Lotorians repair the rift drive inside the big rock. Frustrated with the madness unfolding before her, Lucy broke regulations by communicating with the authorities on Kamsho, trying to convince them to disarm the nukes. Garviel silenced Lucy by blasting her in the back of the head with a stun pistol. No doubt, this’ll have some impact on crew morale!
The event revealed the following twists:
- The asteroid was occupied.
- The occupants were Lotorians.
- The asteroid was all that remained of the ancient world of Lotor.
- The Lotorian colonists had captured the deposed Zar, Hideg Fekretu, near Rigor Strand.
- The ex-Zar paid for his continued survival by equipping the asteroid with a rift drive.
- A Medlidikke pirate arrived to take Fekretu and collect on a bounty. The Lotorians thought maybe they should be the ones to profit from such a bounty, so they activated the rift drive without really knowing what they were doing. This led to the asteroid popping into existence again close to Kamsho. It also caused a structural collapse that killed both Fekretu and the pirate.
The players discovered the Zar’s body early on the second day of the event, as they cleared rubble from in front of the elevator shaft. This was another of those moments that just sort of snuck up on me. I had expected them to find dead bodies, and originally they were going to be Lotorians, but I decided on the spot that I didn’t want to reveal that part until later.
So what would I reveal instead? Well, the Zar’s always been a threat hanging out there, but I’d never really gotten attached to him as a character. He really has to be the most one-dimensional bad guy I’ve ever introduced. The only purpose he ever really served was to create a fleet that would become a force to be reckoned with in the universe, our answer to Emperor Palpatine, but he never really got traction as a workable character for me. So, he ended up in the rubble. When last we left him, Fekretu was being hunted by the Medlidikke, and thus I determined that he’d have a companion going with him to the afterlife.
We had a few points with pacing issues during the event, but not many. Sometimes people would lose track of pose order, but other times it was my fault for letting the action go too slack for a while. This was more of an issue on the second day. The first night went incredibly well, from my perspective.
The final hurdle we ran into was sharing the spotlight. Garviel, a character player by an admin, was in command of the action after Dean was struck by the boulder in the elevator shaft. We don’t really like to have admin-played characters “hogging” all the fun. So, I improvised an NPC who came up with a plan that would give Lucy and Newt something important to do – something that would save the day – while Garviel stuck to coordinating his troops.
The initial feedback from the event was good, and we struck the notes that I wanted to strike. Players who didn’t hate the denizens of Kamsho before sure hate them now, and anyone who hated them before will absolutely loathe them now. The Lotorians now have an Ungstir-like homeworld floating around out there in the galaxy somewhere. The ex-Zar is dead. And the epic storyline has returned to OtherSpace.
I want to thank everyone who participated. It’s always important for an event coordinator to remember that without the players, your big idea for a grand adventure won’t be anything more than that. It requires collaboration, creativity, trust, and a good sense of humor and fair play to make it work. Garviel, Dean, Lucy, Newt, Umishi, Hess, Amanda, and Franceza definitely made this a worthwhile experience for me.
Can’t wait for next month!
I think there’s just no room in even the above average attention span for a roleplaying MUSH to thrive anymore.
Next week, we celebrate the 12th anniversary of OtherSpace – an evolving collaborative space opera epic that’s been the shared creation of hundreds of participants from all over the world. We still manage to draw 50-60 people on our busiest nights, but the new blood is rare and the veterans just can’t do enough to gain and retain new prospects.
It’s no one’s fault. The world’s just so different these days. Back in the peak of our popularity, the worst distractions that threatened MUSH activity were:
* TV shows
* Other text-based games
Now, we’re faced with those distractions, plus:
* Graphical MMORPGs
* Console games
* Smart phone apps
* Streaming Netflix
* Hundreds of cable channels
* Facebook – with Farmville, Castle Age, and Mafia Wars (among other attention funnels)
It’s not that hard to find a few minutes here or there to tend crops or help our friends fight boss monsters in a Facebook game. But who really has the time, energy, attention, and creative drive required to tell a collaborative evolving story?
It takes a special person to invest themselves in the effort of building a living novel, but such people, I think, are just becoming too rare a commodity anymore.
Sad but true: I envision a bigger draw for players to a web-based OtherSpace: Dominion game than we’ll ever see on the story-driven MUSH. It’s unfortunate, but it’s what people have time for. It’s as deep as most people are willing to go.
The age of the MUSH may really be over.
So, let’s assume it’s true. What’s next? Can the form evolve?
We’ve tried to experiment with other options – play-by-post in the forums and the Facebook fan page – but that’s never quite taken off. We’ve seen players start blogs to enhance the storytelling experience beyond the game. Again, they start, but they never really take off. Google Wave? Maybe, but that’s still less than elegant and not wildly popular.
I’ve heard some initial murmurings of a MUSH client for the iPad, but I remain skeptical that it would improve the likelihood of people committing themselves to the effort that’s necessary to create a quality storytelling environment on OtherSpace. It’s far more likely that iPad users would be drawn to apps like Plants vs. Zombies – quick fix, easy to drop, low intensity entertainment.
I’m not yet at the place where I want to call it quits with OtherSpace. However, I do think we might be reaching a point where we have to accept and embrace that the game’s never going to grow significantly and that the generation of players that we’ve got now may be the last of a dying breed.
Here’s a situation where we didn’t have a lot of necessary behind-the-scenes communication but, in my opinion, it ultimately worked out just fine and over time may serve the bigger story arc even better than my original plan.
Loki and I had talked earlier this year about allowing Necromundus characters to make the transition to OtherSpace – just like we did with Chiaroscuro – at the conclusion of an open-a-portal plot over on Necro. When we first talked about it, I had taken from it the understanding that the event would take place well into the Shattered Mirror arc and possibly as part of the finale. I wanted to take time to figure out how we would migrate various skills, what items might be transferable, how to deal with RPP – all the housekeeping stuff, which is already behind because I also need to do the same sort of thing for some former Chiaroscuro and OS:M players.
The night before Sunday’s crossover event, I got clued in that we were bringing people over NOW.
This was frustrating, of course, because it tossed a wrench in my long-term “plan.” I know Loki felt bad about it. She had meant to discuss the event concept with me, but RL had kept that from happening. So, here I was, with no real warning to speak of, expected to come up with an event on the OtherSpace side to help introduce the Necro folks.
It wasn’t frustrating for long. Ultimately, it was energizing. Loki ran a scene using a “medium” on Comorro Station while I prepared for the newcomers to materialize deep below the surface of Hekayt Prime. The dark matter-gathering facility, which I expect to play a significant role in the Shattered Mirror arc, so far had only existed as mentioned in a couple of news articles. This situation created an opportunity to introduce the place and some of the people who work there. So, now, the facility isn’t just some vague place in a news article – it’s starting to take on shape, color, sound, smell. It’s also a good spot for the newly transferred Necro characters to get familiar with the universe before they’re tossed out to fend for themselves.
So, it was a curve ball, but a good one.
For the past couple of years, between working on Fallen Earth and entering a domestic situation that didn’t leave a lot of time for intensely focused or long-stretching story arcs, I’ve had to content myself with the assumption that other staffers and players on OtherSpace and Necromundus would provide enough action to entertain each other in my absence.
Sometimes, that assumption was accurate. The games don’t always need me kicking down sand castles and blowing up planets. But when the games hit doldrums, they REALLY hit doldrums. We can go entire months without a new log showing up on the website. No news articles in the game. No sense that the universe is alive and kicking.
That used to be our bread and butter on OtherSpace. When I look back at the brightest periods in the game’s early history, the highlights always seem to include the occasional player complaint that they went away for a few days only to return and find some burst of news that they missed (such as the political saber rattling between Sivad and Mars, or proclamations from Tomin Kora that their lack of laws meant the planet was crime-free) or situations where people expected my characters to be around, causing trouble and providing amusing interactions (like Vampire’s incessant flirtations, Neidermeyer’s bellicose venting, or Eye Balthazar’s cryptic proclamations).
Back in the good old days, the days that people talked about and kept coming back for, I had an eye toward the horizon with an overall story goal and a hand on the rudder to keep things moving along during those doldrums when the players and other staffers fell silent.
Well, I’m watching the horizon again. I’ve got a goal. I may talk more about that over time, but right now I’ll settle for saying this: I’ve changed my domestic situation so that I can focus more on what made OtherSpace great in the past. Rather than step back and let things go with occasional bursts of player activity, I’m throwing myself back in – full throttle. News articles, colorful characters, and a long-term story arc – like me or not, I’m back and I mean business.
During our discussion about “word of mouth” issues for OtherSpace, one of the players hit on the point that they really didn’t pay much attention to Top MUD Sites or The MUD Connector anymore because, for them, the sites no longer had anything to offer or were too difficult to navigate.
I’m stubbornly supportive of both because, without them, OtherSpace never would have survived for more than a decade as it has. However, it’s true that both are fairly stagnant. The same people post when anything gets posted, with very rare exceptions. It’s almost unheard of to see someone new popping in and making themselves known to the community. So, it’s no wonder people might start dismissing the sites as past their usefulness.
I’m not so cynical. I certainly don’t want to compete or try to replace them, because I don’t think they’re the problem. They’re just suffering from the same out-of-sight/out-of-mind problem that faces people who enjoy play-by-post, play-by-email, and interactive fiction adventures but want to see new blood coming in: Unless someone KNOWS to look for them, it’s just not easy to happen upon them accidentally.
Rather than try to make a new site that only caters to MUDs, I’ve instead started a site that serves the broader interest of text-based gaming in general. Text Adventures Online (or TAO) is designed to provide a rising tide to lift several different boats. I can’t do it alone, though. If you’re interested in MUDs, PBP, PBEM, roleplaying blogs, or interactive fiction design and might want to become a contributor about your favorite pastime, I invite you to send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking for GM profiles, player profiles, game/site reviews, contest announcements, special event notices, promotional posts – pretty much anything we can get out there to raise awareness about these types of games.
Thanks for your support!
We’ve got another limited-time Action Card available for players who come to OtherSpace during Christmas Week.
Just post a +str to request your Ho-Ho-Hiverspace 2009 card before Dec. 29, 2009. These cards do not cost RP Points to acquire – they’re our gift to you!
For a full list of currently available action cards, visit this link.
To connect to OtherSpace, visit this link.
Have a great holiday!
What I’m Reading
Blackout by Connie Willis
What I’m Playing
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II
You Don't Know Jack
World of Warcraft
Left 4 Dead 2
What I’m Writing
No Son of Hekayt - Book I: Artifacts
Free to download in PDF format!
Coming soon: 31 Days of OtherSpace - 1 work of fiction a day during March 2011.