Building Your First Area (and your second, and third...)
I would like this opportunity to present you the reader with a few "tips and tricks" for building a successful area. Remember the art of building is more preference than science. If you are trying to build an area you hate it will never turn out.
-Target your Audience-
Let's be completely honest. Each and every one of us who builds an area on a mud would like to believe that it has universal appeal. That every single person who sets their little virtual feet in its confines will find themselves immersed in our little world. I'm here to tell those of you who did not know that it does not happen like that. "Oh, but my area has the most players going through it on a daily basis!" you say. I congratulate you, but take a closer look. Are players flocking through in droves for some reason aside from your area? For instance is your area a starting point? If so I can almost guarantee the usage comes from necessity and not enjoyment. There can be other reasons for an area to appear popular while in reality it is not. A major quest component, a well known power weapon, a huge treasue, etc, etc, etc. But, if you took them out would it be as popular?
Since we've diagnosed the problem how about a cure. I don't claim this to be a surefire cure all in this instance but for me it has helped. Figure out what type of player you want to attract and build your masterpiece for them. If you envision hackers and slashers enjoying your area do not design it with the puzzle solver foremost in your mind. That doesn't mean you simply add a few monsters in each room and let the players loose in there. No, you have to maintain some standards. Once you decide which audience to target do so, not exclusively but certainly make them feel at home. Remember you are building for them, the player so keep them in mind in all that you do.
-Build to your Strengths-
This is a fairly simple concept but often missed by we the builder. At this point I'm assuming you have targetted the audience you wish to capture. If you haven't go back and do so before you attempt to do this.
What do I mean by build to your strengths? Well for starters what kind of a writer are you? Can you spin macabre tales that give your area an atmosphere of dread, or are they more light-hearted and good spirited? What ever the case might be you should always focus in on that. Use your natural talent to hook your targetted audience. Sounds simple and it is. In fact it is nearly foolproof assuming you don't let your ego get in the way and start convincing you that your area has universal appeal. The most difficult thing about building to your strengths is having to be honest with oneself and admitting that we have weaknesses. Once you can do that it becomes a much easier task to accomplish. Of course this isn't to say that we can't from time to time extend our reach into other areas but if the majority of your effort is concentrated on what you are good at it will pay off in the end.
-Multi-layer the Area-
How many muds have you been on that seem to believe a one line room description and not a single item description is acceptable? If you are like me then I'm sure you have come across far to many. Part of the enjoyment for a player is finding varied things to do in each room. This is where multi-layering comes into play.
When a player first walks into a room and sees the room description, obvious items and monsters, exits, etc they have uncovered the first layer. Use this layer as "hook" to encourage them to explore further. Make a habit of giving each item in your long description it's own 2 or 3 line description. For each item you describe be prepared to give any unique features their own additional description. For example let's say we have a room description that mentions a vase. When the player examines the vase we make mention of a hairline fracture. Don't just stop there keep going! You've brought them this far along why not continue to immerse them? Explain the fracture.
Layering doesn't work only in item descriptions however. On a whole layering your area into different parts allows the players to have a sense of accomplishment. If you break your area into zones you can make the player solve a puzzle, kill a certain monster, locate a key or whatever you might come up with. For each new layer the player wants to get to they would have to earn it. The harder the layers are to come by the richer the prize you reward.
This tactic also tends to sooth the admin types dread of superweapons, or mega treasures in an area. After all if the player has to go through hell to have a chance at something big it is much more appealing to us all than if they can just log on and be handed the item.
There is much more to layering than can be covered in this simple little article, but if you experiment a little it will become second nature and soon you will be building with the best of them.
-Rewards and Punishments-
This concept is very simple. You reward the players who work and punish those who don't. Why? Because you did not spend months and months meticulously building this area to have a twink with a few triggers run through and dominate it. Did you?
Reward and punishment ties directly in with the concept of layering. The deeper a player is willing to dig the more rewarding the experience. Take the following example into consideration:
You have a magical cloak that allows instant teleportation to anywhere on the mud hidden in your area. This cloak also keeps the players hit points full and to top it all of it also multiplies their experience gain for each kill by one and a half. Yes I realize all this is a bit far fetched, but bear with me... Ok so we have this little cloak hidden somewhere. This is the reward. For the player who can go through our little bit of hell the cloak is what we give them. But wait, we then throw in a twist for good measure. We also bait the lazy players by letting them believe that hacking and slashing their way through will be the true reward. We accomplish this by putting obvious wealth and equipment on our monsters. So they get some money and some experience big deal. Because they are lazy and unwilling to take the time to read and explore beyond typing 'kill ' they miss out on the real reward; ie the magical cloak we have so deftly hidden.
You should never use rewards and punishment excessively. If you find yourself doing so then perhaps you should consider if 1) You are offering a bit to much, and/or 2) Are you setting up bogus rewards simply to get your area kill total up. If you are doing either of these things you should reconsider them carefully.
-Balance your work-
This is actually a very complex issue and is hugely dependent upon the mud in which the area resides. Basically it comes down to ensuring that your area is in line with the rest of your mud. Additionally it requires that you balance the area against itself. If you are targetting high level players with your complexity, puzzles, and monsters keep it consistent. The same holds true for a newbie area.
-Expectations, meeting and beating-
When a new area opens on a mud everyone has certain expectations in what it will produce. The builder expects it will be well received and highly enjoyed by all players. The players expect it will be fun, challenging, and fair. Last but not least the administration of the game will expect it to meet their standards and follow the rules they have set into motion. So how do we cover all these (and probably a great many more) expectations?
Simple, you have to be 100 percent honest and 100 percent critical regarding your own work. Addressing your own concerns will of course come naturally if you address the players and the administrations from the outset. Addressing these expectations will require you knowing exactly what they are. You find this out by asking. Ask people at random, take an informal survey, poll the populace. Whatever works best for you is fine just do it. There is nothing more painful to a builders ego than spending forever and a day creating that targetted masterpiece only to discover the administration do not, for whatever reason see fit to let it into play. Actually there is something more painful. Opening an area only to discover that players are not inclined to spend any time there because we did not bother to take them into consideration. After all who do we build for? The administration because they grant us the ability? Not I. The players because they are the reason for the muds existance? Bingo.
-Avoiding the grammar trap-
This is my personal pet peeve that I just can not help but address. Perfect grammar does NOT make a good area. Again I repeat, perfect grammar does not make a good area. This is to the grammar-nazis out there. An area is telling a story not competing for a literary prize. If the grammar is not perfect consider the fact that some people write more legibly than if they follow every grammar rule in existance. It might not please your eye but does the writing do its job? Does it set the tone and the atmosphere for the area? That should be the main concern.
While I'm at it I'll quickly address spelling. There is no excuse for not paying attention to your spelling. If like me you can't spell have others read your work over and point our your mistakes. Run it through spell checkers, whatever it takes just address your spelling before the players do. Why is spelling so much more important than grammar? Well in truth it is a matter of personal preference but more importantly players tend to forgive grammar errors, well most do... but they do not ever forgive spelling errors.
I could go on and on writing about building an area but I shall cease so that you can absorb, or reject what I've written so far. If you found even one thing in here helpful than great, but if you thought it was just a waste of time I would enjoy your feedback.
By: B. Durant
Mud: Dragon's Den
Name on mud: Chaos
Mud Address: dden.discordia.org:2222