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Old 07-31-2008, 03:57 PM   #1
Throttle
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Huge development projects that never finish

The last three MUDs that I've played extensively have all run into a common problem, and I figured I'd bring it up for discussion. The issue in question is that the administration embarks on a major project that will drastically change the game, taking up most of their resources for long periods of time, but which inevitably ends up being postponed into eternity. Meanwhile the playerbase suffers from the lack of staff support due to the developers spending all their time working on this project that seemingly never finishes, from a lack of motivation to play the current game with the knowledge that everything will change in the "coming soon!" project that they've been promised for up to two years or more, and from the general dissatisfaction of having to wait an unreasonably long time. The MUDs tend to end up losing a lot of their appeal when this happens and the game could easily die out if enough players leave that the adminstration doesn't feel compelled to finish whatever project it is they've started.

I'm sure this must have happened on other MUDs as well. I found it uncanny that it happened on all three MUDs where I've been an established player in the past few years, and I wonder if it happens because MUD owners are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the growing number of MMORPGs and feel that they need to make huge changes to their game in order to keep their playerbase.

Has this happened to a MUD that you play on? How do you think the above situation can be prevented? Is it better to implement changes and new content gradually rather than tie up all the administrative resources in huge projects that take much longer to complete than anticipated? What's the best way to keep the playerbase from losing interest if things have grown stagnant due to developers biting off more than they can chew?
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Old 07-31-2008, 05:52 PM   #2
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

It happens all the time. The trick is to throw in the towel once you realize that a development cycle is too big to handle at once and split it up in smaller segments.

This also applies to area building, never let someone go past a hundred vnums for their first area.
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Old 08-01-2008, 12:13 AM   #3
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

Well there's also the factor that there are mud developers who don't just want to be mud developers, but do mud development. All of the content and features that a player is experiencing for the first time can in a sense be old news to the person who originally developed it, and something they're not as interested in as a new project that they can get excited about.

Learning the lesson that scandum points out sometimes only happens with hard-earned experience of doing it badly the first time.
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Old 08-01-2008, 04:10 AM   #4
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

This is not uncommon for MUDs in general, high end graphic games, or even operating systems. Think about Windows XP that was released early with 65,000 + known problems and errors. Programming and coding in general is an "over promise under deliver" business and many (self included) fall into the trap of thinking a project will take a shorter period than it ends up. Alot of this comes from unforseen mitigating issues (for NW it is storyline shifts, new enhancement mods, etc.).

Right now NW has been undergoing a major shift for a completely new starting area that will enhance and expand the style of roleplay in the game. At last look the creators think it will be one or two months away (my guess is that it will be more like 3). This is a huge addition and change players have been waiting for for over a year and will be announced here and elsewhere after the current players have a chance to see it.

Why did/does it take so long. Well, in the midst of this there have been over 30 new additions, including a vast shipping area, modifications to ships and sailing, a new town, and countless mods.

In short. It happens. If you do not like the game you are playing now, what makes you think some addition will change that?
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Old 08-01-2008, 02:55 PM   #5
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

I've ran into a few of them in my experience anything I build no matter how small takes over 2 years (50 vnums at that) and We've ran into that w/ building large areas as a team we still seem to burn out builders and they disappear. Some more extensive coding projects we've had also fell by the wayside (necormancers on AU have been in development since 2001 I think) and a huge area to replace a decent sized stock one that we've been working on for 4-5 years now I believe too, these projects burn out the staff that work on them, but sometimes are required.
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Old 08-01-2008, 07:51 PM   #6
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

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Originally Posted by Markov_AU View Post
(necormancers on AU have been in development since 2001 I think)
Will work for coffee beans!

Just wanted to state that if you want help in designing a necromancer class be more then happy to throw around ideas in PM's, private forums, etc. You are a modified MERC/DIKU base, no?

To stay on topic, yes, timetables can go the way of the dodo. Once you open an alpha/beta with players it can be tricky to take care of bugs, ideas, requests, problems, forums, chase player levels, staff, websites and still stick to your original plans and schedules.

Use of planning/project tracking software and/or documentation is really handy. I mainly stick with "priority lists", and have gotten quite a bit done (But there's always more at the door!).
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Old 08-02-2008, 12:37 AM   #7
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

Seen it? Heck - lived inside it for the past decade. And, yes, sometimes it is extremely appropriate to throw in the towel on the big always-percolating projects, bite the bullet and admit that you've created something beautiful on paper that will probably never see the light of day. It can be a dastardly blow to the ego, but sometimes are grand plans stand firmly in the way of progress.

To paraphrase our now-departed lead coder, 'games-within-games that have been lurking in the darkness for that long are not going to get coded. Suck it up and turn it loose.' I hate to admit it but he was absolutely right. No amount of project management and tracking software helps when the stuff that's being tracked warrants being euthanized.

A dozen fun-on-paper long anticipated projects are over there in that trash bin, along with the huge overhead of supportive code that was waiting patiently. We gave them a fond farewell, with solemn ceremony and a moment of tearful silence - then cranked down the belts and made Legends of Karinth much smaller, leaner, meaner, faster, less complex, less confusing for newcomers, more stable and more focused on current fun instead of a fan-dance of future features 'coming soon to a game near you!'
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Old 08-02-2008, 06:45 AM   #8
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

It's happened in my Mud too, over the years - several times.

One problem that hasn't been touched so far is that players in general dislike changes. They may say - or even think - that they like them, but in most case they don't.

So the developers are left with the choice of two evils: Leave the Mud and it is, in which case the players might get bored and leave. Or implement the changes, in which case the players might leave because they dislike the changes. In both cases you are screwed.

Going is usually a bit rough after a large change. Some players may leave because of it, and you can only hope that they'll return later. Others will whine a lot, but gradually get adjusted. And there still are some players who will nostalgically speak about how much more fun the Mud was to play back in the old days, 'before all the changes'. (Probably this is due to the fact that they remember the time when the Mud was fresh and new to them. No matter how good a Mud is, players eventually will become a bit bored. The changes are supposed to make them less bored, but it doesn't always work as intended).

We usually discuss any larger changes with the players before deciding on them, and try to work at least some of the the input from the players into the change. Often these discussions can rage for weeks and months on the Discussion Forums. Sometimes the discussions lead to a better understanding for the change, and sometimes the input from the players is so good that the planned changed can be majorly improved. But you cannot please everybody, since obviously you must keep track of the goals that you want to achieve with the change in the first place. And there are always some players - usually the same ones - who are totally negative to the entire idea.

Another problem is that each change often leads to a number of initially unplanned additional changes, just like Newworlds mentioned. Even a reasonably limited code change often has extensive impact on the zones in the game, which the Coders didn't foresee. Adapting the zones usually takes a lot more time and grunt work than Code changes. And since building and coding in a Mud usually is done by different persons, the Builders might not be nearly as enthusiastic about the change as the Coders - especially not if they weren't asked about it initially. Meaning that they will work reluctantly, if at all.

Another major problem with a big change occurs, if the key person that originally initiated it would tire of the work in the middle of the change, or leave the Mud for some other reason before it is completed. Usually a big change needs someone dedicated to keep all the threads together and really drive it, and without this extra push and drive it's likely to fizzle out and die.

So yeah - swallowing an elephant in small pieces is usually easier on the stomach. And if the change is scheduled to take a long time - maybe more than a year - it's probably better not to inform the players at all, until it's advanced so far that you are reasonably sure that it will be implemented at all.
Why upset the players over something that might never even happen?
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Old 08-02-2008, 06:56 AM   #9
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

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Originally Posted by Fern View Post
then cranked down the belts and made Legends of Karinth much smaller, leaner, meaner, faster, less complex, less confusing for newcomers, more stable and more focused on current fun instead of a fan-dance of future features 'coming soon to a game near you!'
I can totally relate to this sort of thing and way of thinking. For those of us who have started our games from a point where a lot of development has already taken place, "AKA Stock Codebase" the initial charge of development usually proceeds with addition after addition of code on top of pre-existing code bloat. That initial focus of development seems to be driven by "people want more" scenario that players say they always want and what other developers sometimes say in forums like this.

I know at least 2 iterations of my own code that has suffered from this very problem. Grand ideas that never see the light of day due to being to complex, time consuming or there is just not the man power or drive to see them to completion. I think this very problem is also why so many projects die so early in the development cycle, just the overhead of building a 3000 room feature rich world without even thinking of code changes, to go with it, is enough to kill most. Building is hard and very time consuming, and code changes that also mean building changes and additions can mean that things just are never fully implemented.

So over the last few years i have come to realize that size is not as important as cohesion and that this goes for code as well as content. The motto i have since developed with my smaug derived codebase is, If i will not use it, gank it. I still come across stray bits of code that i have no idea why it was ever there, partly implemented smaug features and other unknown entities. After working out what its for, if i do not see any use of it for my game, it gets removed. At a guess i may have removed around 40,000 lines of code. The game compiles faster, takes up next to no space in memory and runs just fine with out it.

That old saying comes to mind, "You cannot be all things to all men" and neither should our games and our code try to be either.

Last edited by The_Fury : 08-02-2008 at 07:01 AM.
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Old 08-02-2008, 07:35 AM   #10
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

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That old saying comes to mind, "You cannot be all things to all men" and neither should our games and our code try to be either.
Aptly put.

Somewhere there is a balance between the player consensus approach and the totalitarian my-way-because-I'm-the-owner one. I'm not a fan of either, as a player or as an imp. I've seen both 'design by committee' and 'design in a vacuum' fail dismally, and agree with Molly. Elephant stew, anyone?

Right now, I need one tiny module coded. I know about as much about code as I do about particle physics (nada). Which way to the Help Wanted columns?
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Old 08-03-2008, 11:07 PM   #11
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

The biggest problem I ran into was a 4000x4000 wilderness and 16000+ rooms worth of areas that needed to be merged into it.

So I created a routine that grabbed an area, glued it on top of the wilderness and fixed up the exits, but having every unused exit of an area lead into the wilderness and back just didn't feel right. I tried the wall approach, but putting some sort of city wall around every area is just plain ugly. So I placed the code in the freezer till I know what to do with it, I guess it helps to think things through before you start implementation.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:40 AM   #12
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

One of the things I've noticed that helps with my larger projects, is to break 'em into small chunks and release them to my players, telling them what could be in the future. Since we're in (open) beta yet, this is where players often talk about what they want from a system, as well as what they think could be improved (could be simple as formatting). This serves two purposes for me:

1) It merges 'design by committee' and 'fiat' methods quite well.
2) The opinions of my players help keep me enthused to sit down and work on things.

Another thing I do is sometimes I have an off day, where I'll code a ton of minor, but still quite useful command sets.
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Old 08-04-2008, 06:53 AM   #13
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

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The biggest problem I ran into was a 4000x4000 wilderness and 16000+ rooms worth of areas that needed to be merged into it.
I use the Wilderness grid a bit myself, and my method is pretty simple. Each separate area that I attach to the grid, always gets connected either up or down, with the connection room flagged as Entrance. That way the main grid is always untouched and the maps work fine.
Since my grids usually are either space or ocean, the approach is natural; the 'special' areas being either planets or islands. In the few cases where I use the grids for other types of terrain, I use tricks like a walled in city on a cliff, to keep the special areas enclosed. You can of course also use portals that you enter, or climb/descend objects like trees and ladders.

Code is of course fascinating, but why make things any more complicated than they need to be?
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Old 08-04-2008, 11:24 AM   #14
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

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Code is of course fascinating, but why make things any more complicated than they need to be?
The way I created my wilderness you can build areas into the wilderness itself since each tile in the grid is either a real or pseudo room.

I don't see the point of a wilderness if you're going to insert areas in a completely unrealistic fashion. Inserting an area properly (if the code allows for it) takes a lot of time, probably somewhere from 8 to 24 hours, and with 150 areas that's too much work for a single person.
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Old 08-04-2008, 01:36 PM   #15
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Re: Huge development projects that never finish

I don't see it as unrealistic, rather like using different scales for the different type of areas. If the size of a room in the grid is 100x100 m, the roomsize in the city/island would be perhaps 10X10 m and inside a house maybe 3x3. The detail level of the rooms would also vary in the different types.

To me it is more about playability than realism. A grid is per definition repetitive and pretty boring, by changing the scale you make the world more interesting for the player.

But we are straying way off the topic now, perhaps we should carry out this discussion somewhere else.
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