Getting out of our own way

A couple of weeks ago, as 2013 wound down, a player dragged me out to the woodshed for a beating over everything I’ve done to screw up the MUSH in the past few years.

Crafting? Awful.

Space system? Why?

Game lore? So terribly convoluted!

Bringing my alts online to pad the who list? Horribly deceitful and pointless.

Running RP threads in the forums as an alternative to in-game RP? Not their cup of tea.

How do any of these measures – these apparently half-assed Band-Aids that I’ve been slapping on OtherSpace – do anything to foster RP?

I’ll address these issues one by one in a bit. And later I’ll cop to things I’ve done in recent years that actually were detrimental MUSH.

But first I’ll say this: None of the items griped about above are detrimental to RP in the game. Period.

Later, I’ll talk more about what is, in my opinion, hurting RP. 

Crafting

I’ve accepted the fact that long-chain crafting is a poor fit for the MUSH.

But the system’s existence didn’t hurt the MUSH. No one who wants to RP on the MUSH is absolutely forced to craft anything.

Sure, they need to get access to armor and weapons for refereed combat, but those could be acquired from other people who DO enjoy crafting.

For some players, the system actually generated ideas and opportunities for RP.

But it’s entirely possible to create a character that never has to use the crafting system. We can argue about the details of how the system works, how many steps are involved in making an item and how the math should play out, but the bottom line is that we could do nothing to change this system and it would continue to not hurt the MUSH.

It may need fixing, but it’s entirely an auxiliary system – a shiny thing off to the side that gives crafters a way to put their fingerprints on something in the game, but nothing that brings RP to a halt if no one uses it.

Space System

CSpace works for us. It’s fairly simple to use. It offers cinematic RP opportunities and chances for exploration for those who want it.

But, like crafting, it’s possible to play a character that never uses it, thanks to automated shuttles that can carry people to various sites on the grid.

People may argue that it gives people places to hide rather than interact with other people. I can’t say that they’re wrong on that point.

However, that’s not a flaw with the space system. That’s a people problem.

Anytime you’ve got more than one person in the game and more than one room on the grid, people have somewhere to go to avoid other people.

Don’t blame CSpace for that.

Game Lore

Things have changed a lot with the game lore since 1998.

The Wiki’s a mess.

But that doesn’t hinder anyone’s RP. It’s possible to come up with 250 words of biography for a character rifting in from ANYWHERE and ANYTIME. Frankly, for all my ego might cringe at it, no one ever has to touch the existing game lore to play a character on this MUSH.

They can, as another staffer succinctly put it, completely ignore the lore.

What matters more is the mythos that the players make in their day-to-day dealings with each other.

Padding the who list

I thought it was nice to have a crowd of my alts online. It’s not like I pulled some amazing fake-out by putting them all in-character on the grid so that it looked like RP was happening at all hours.

I argued that it helped generate more Saga Points for players hanging around online – our confetti toy gave out bonuses based on the number of people on the who list. The more, the merrier.

But it was, admittedly, a silly argument.

We disabled the confetti bonuses. And I quit bringing my alts online.

The who list is now “What you see is what you get,” for better or worse.

Forum RP threads

For the past four months, my real-world job – the one that pays my bills (including the costs of running OtherSpace) – has become unexpectedly complicated.

In 2012, I was an education reporter, and my schedule wasn’t too bad. Sometimes I had to cover night meetings, but more often than not I was home before rush hour and usually had some free weekends.

In early 2013, I became news editor, writing editorials and working the night shift and weekends.

In fall 2013, the company laid off some newsroom personnel. They managed to avoid laying me off by turning my position into a hybrid of news editor and crime reporter. As a result, about half my day is spent chasing down stories about crime and the other half is spent putting the paper to bed. And I still work some weekends.

Some folks may also know that I became a dad in May 2013. As a result, I have a lot of demands on my limited time.

That’s a long way to go to explain, basically, that it proved much easier for me to move forward with the War of the Weavers story arc through a forum thread than by trying to run scenes in-game.

The harsh truth right now is that if I’m going to be involved, I am hard-pressed to commit myself to anything that lasts longer than an hour and a half, maybe two. That’s an awfully narrow window for people to fit from a bunch of different time zones.

The forum thread has proven a great alternative. It is time zone-agnostic. Players can post at their leisure. It doesn’t require logging in to the game.

I can understand if some people can’t get into it. Personally, I’d rather riff in real-time. However, when I have people from a scene in Australia, Europe, the Pacific West and on the East Coast, trying to find a time when we ALL align is just folly.

I might be able to work something out for one-on-one RP sessions in-game. But large group activities are, until further notice, difficult if not impossible for me to manage in real-time.

But that doesn’t have to hinder anyone else. My story arc takes place with a specific group of characters in a totally different universe. It doesn’t matter to anyone but them.

Bad things I’ve done

Over the past sixteen years, I’ve done a few things that have hurt the MUSH.

None of them are touched on above.

In 2001, to spite a paranoid idiot and prove a point that player actions always have consequences, I allowed the destruction of La Terre and the deaths of dozens of player characters.

Some years later, I decided to shut down the original OtherSpace, with the intent of moving on to OtherSpace: Millennium, and then changed my mind.

In the past few years, after a particularly vitriolic period of backstage drama among players in an ugly game of “he said-she said-we said-they said,” I announced that we’d log every keystroke players made going forward so we’d have a record if people came to me with complaints. That’s a practice we discontinued last year.

These are valid examples of actions that I’ve taken that have genuinely hurt the MUSH, by upsetting players and driving them away.

I own that.

What’s hurting us now

It’s not crafting. It’s not CSpace. It’s not convoluted game lore. It’s not me and my army of alts. It’s not forum RP action.

And it’s not what I did a decade ago or last year.

What hurts us, here and now, is the lack of player initiative. Few players seem willing to be on the grid, day-in and day-out, to help build their own mythos and make their mark on the universe.

I’ve been slammed for being like Lucy in the Peanuts comics by yanking the football away from unwitting players at the last moment, somehow stealing their thunder in my story arcs, but that’s just wrong.

I’m not the problem here. Stop trying to make me the problem. I don’t have time to BE the problem.

If you want to be a hero, get on the grid and be a hero.

If you want to be a villain, get on the grid and be a villain.

I’m not stopping anybody. You are the only barrier that stands between you and making a real difference on the MUSH.

Quit hiding OOC and go IC. Quit inventing excuses for why your character wouldn’t go to X or Y and start figuring out why they might.

I haven’t taken away any tools that you can use to generate activity. The +calendar still works. You can post +news articles. The in-game BB and the web-based forums, as well as our Facebook page, are at your disposal to promote opportunities. I’ve even given all characters the ability to build their own grids – their own universes, if they want – to run their own activities and just about avoid me altogether, if they want.

Over the years, I’ve learned important lessons about getting out of my own way.

Some of you need to do the same.

13 comments

  1. Oldbie says:

    If my name doesn’t give it away I’m a former player from long ago. I remember OS when it was jam-packed with veteran players, when new players were turning up–and sticking around–daily, and Ritter was the biggest news since people stuffing their heads into Nemoni cruisers.

    I’m going to share what drew me to Otherspace to begin with, what pulled me in and didn’t let go for two years (and dented my GPA more than I’d care to admit), and finally the reasons I personally can’t seem to get back into the game.

    Personally, what drew me to Otherspace was the original-but-not-too-original theme. Otherspace was a unique universe unto itself, but a universe that clearly drew inspiration from films and shows I could relate to and loved. It was new but not unfamiliar. Even in the late 90s/early 00s the theme was convoluted, but it was manageable largely because it had that hint of familiarity about it. That Star Wars/Trek/New Car smell.

    What kept me enthralled was the rigidity of the theme. Otherspace was a space opera with narrative rules, and it more or less stuck to them. Characters were fantastic and oftentimes outlandish, but there were boundaries. A zangali was a giant lizard creature, odarites were greedy oversized roaches plying the space lanes, humans were hairless primates of the future. I got it. I got them.. It made sense to me.

    I’m completely confused by today’s Otherspace. The familiarity is gone. The once convoluted theme is more soap opera than space opera. It’s understandable. The game’s been around for over a decade. A lot has happened. But it’s still damn confusing, even if you do insist it isn’t necessary to follow.

    And the characters today. There’s no cohesion. Walk into a dive bar wedged between the spaceport and a gambling den and you’ll encounter anything from a medieval knight, a shapeshifting thingamajig, a mystical warrior replete with seemingly magical powers, etc. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what genre this is.

    There’s no cohesion. There’s no ungstiri tough, no sivadian pride, no zangali throw-bar because characters can and are literally from anywhere and any time.

    It works for other MU*s out there, and perhaps it will work for OS, but the reason I stuck around for as long as I did back in the old days was exactly because Otherspace had a tight, unique theme.

    Just my .02, and I wish you all the best wherever the game goes.

  2. Brody says:

    It might challenge your RP flexibility to have all these options floating around, I agree. But it wouldn’t have to hinder your RP, if you chose to be involved.

    I am puzzled, though, how you can speak to how confusing or non-cohesive it is today if you were around in the old days *but not now*. If you’re an active player and, through experience, can say these things, that’s fine. But if you’re just a jaded old player shaking a cane and saying “Back in MY day…,” well, I’m not so sure.

    • Oldbie says:

      I have tried to return more than once, and I have spent some time on the grid since the early days.

      In my day Otherspace was a fairly regulated space opera. Now it’s more of an open book to do anything and everything you want. And that’s fine if that’s what the players want. I’m outlining the reasons I personally came to Otherspace, stuck around, and now can’t seem to get sucked back in. And one of the biggest draws for me was the unique space opera universe Otherspace provided.

      It may sound a bit paradoxical, but too many choices can be a bad thing.

      • Brody says:

        I think it’s important to remember that OtherSpace wasn’t THAT regulated. We had glorified blurbs for each race in the original theme. It was player investment in some of the races – the Ungstiri, Demarians, Zangali among them – that led to so much of the framework. Ungstiri Tough was a concept I created, but players made it real. And Throw Bar was fabricated entirely by Urf, if I recall correctly.

        The same could be done within the current framework, if people were invested enough to do so.

        That said: We could open a new “exactly like it used to be universe” and I’m still not sure it would recapture the lightning in a bottle of that era. I was much more active with characters and stories then, and we had players who could be around a lot more often and who generated activity just by showing up with their pals.

        I believe it’s much more about the people and their commitment than it is about the clear definition or rigidity of the theme.

  3. Silverdraco says:

    I’m a relative new player compared to those that where around a decade ago. I’ve been here since November 2011 and I must say I have no reasons to say things are bad. But then again i always try to see the good in things when I can.

    Sure otherspace nowadays is relatively quiet and since I live in a different time zone then most players, and have plenty of Real live stiff to focus time on. I can sadly not always be involved in rp.

    Over the two years I had to miss more then a dozen events that where Arc related. Just because it was either way to late for me or I was just to tired to try and stay up until far past midnight. When I Was able to stay up and join in on events I usually ended up going to bed somewhere between 2 and 7 in the morning. I didn’t mind thought because being part of something that could potentially change the universe felt great.

    I guess that’s why I like the fact that the war of the weavers has moved to the forums. If it didn’t, Changes where I had to miss most of it all over again, and with it making me feel like my character and her actions doesn’t matter to this world.

    Being a part of events doesn’t only make me feel like my character can make a difference, but they also allow me to have a fixed time to RP with others. Of course it doesn’t have to be a admin event it can also be a player driven event. Point is, when people take the time and effort to organise something I try to be there with one of my 3 characters. Especially if I know I can make it. Since Real live can be a pain in the rear when it comes to scheduling ones time.

    Most players probably have to focus there time on finding a job. and those that do have a job probably have to work twice as hard as they did a decade a go. We all know why that is so no need to go into it if you ask me.
    Point is scheduling an event ingame is difficult. and when you are in game with people. The more people you have the longer an event takes. Even if you do three pose, you still end up waiting for 3 poses until you can pose again. and since no one types at the same speed, it can take a while before you can go again. and a decent event can take up anywhere from 2 hours up to maybe even 4+ hours.

    I know it has it’s charm and if an event sounds like something people are interested in they probably will try and make it. I know I would.

    I’m not sure if I am making sense any more. I typed most of this as it popped into my head.

    One last thing. Don’t try to blame people for what went or goes wrong. try to find a way to get RP flowing again.
    I know I got plenty of plans laying around to work with. But with my main character trapped in an other universe I can’t do most of that for now and it has been put in the freezer, waiting to be thawed out when the war of the weavers is over.

  4. Adaer says:

    I wasn’t here when it ended but every six months or so I begin to miss Chiaroscuro. Looking back I realize everything I did in that game was utterly uninspired. I wasn’t smart enough or creative enough to leave my mark on Fastheld like I wish I could have been. My best bet was to cling to Markus and build up his plots as a secondary supportive cast player. When he quit I could have done the same with Dianna. Hannah was a much better roleplayer than I was.

    Now I wish I had something like Chiaroscuro to play. Every once in awhile I look up mudstats and check around for a good MUSH or MUX to start playing. Sometimes I get pretty close. I wish Chiaroscuro was still open. I liked it best when it was just Fastheld and we could play nobles and attempt politics and build twinky sheets that we never used.

    Since my MUSH days I’ve picked up programming and sometimes I think I should learn MUSHcode. I doubt it’s very complicated. My idea for a coded system would be one that simulated economy and trade on a more macro level. For a fantasy world you could use it to keep track of holdings and profits from those holdings. It would be more abstract and used to facilitate RP. For example you would be Duke or whatever and you owned farm land and vassals and all that and that was all represented in the system as tokens in an inventory or stats on a sheet. You could trade those tokens to other political rivals. You could make contracts and deals. There’d be ways to betray or spy on your enemies too. It would be kept track of within the coded system but it wouldn’t be the game itself like a game of Civilization – you’d need to roleplay it all out. The problem with Chiaroscuro and probably a lot of other fantasy and medieval games that feature politics is there’s largely no real conflict beyond soap opera drama. ICly those characters all had power and wealth and some of them even defined that wealth and power nicely but we had no real conflict because of it because we couldn’t keep track of it.

    Anyway, that was my idea. Hope you’re doing well, Wes. Grats on the baby. Good luck with Otherspace moving forward.

    • Adaer says:

      I forgot to mention what reminded me of that coded politics system idea. It would be great for a game where you expected the players to spearhead plot development. If you don’t have time to run TinyPlots and arcs for the MUSH/MUX they would have an easy way to make their own fun. Yes, nearly every game provides the opportunity for the players to make their own plots and adventures but some people need more hand holding.

      • Brody says:

        Sounds similar to the basic intent of the Dominion empire-building system, which worked with the crafting system, but never really got completely fleshed out. That said: We’ve had occasional people showing interest in starting up the Chiaroscuro universe again – never quite takes hold.

  5. Falkenberg says:

    Rejoice, O Otherspace, for the Falking is upon you.

    So, most of you know who I am, or maybe you don’t, I don’t know.

    I was an original player on Otherspace and a regular, fairly central player from 1998 until 2004. After an extended time away from Otherspace, I returned in 2011, when Brody opened what was then known as Normalspace Variant 1, a restoration of the pre-Sanctuary OS universe, which had been my favorite era of the game and was enough to lure me out of retirement. But the truth is, my life now, with a job and three kids and a wife, is much busier than my life was in 1998-2004, so I found making time for the game to be tough. Still, I managed to become part of a smallish group of players RPing on the new (old) Tomin Kora, and for a while it was fun, when I found the time. The players I spent most of my time with, however, all became inactive or left for a variety of reasons (some had personal issues, some were involved in some unpleasantness that caused them to leave.) After that I found my interest lagging again. It takes work to build yourself a place to RP on the Mush… and I didn’t really have the time or energy to do it again. Still, I may return from time to time, and I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I could even see becoming active again for specific periods of time.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my time on OS over the years, and the fun that it was. And I could easily sit here and shake my cane and say, “In MY day…” But it wouldn’t matter. Because what dawned on me a long time ago is this: Otherspace is a mirror.

    It’s a mirror that reflects, partly, what’s going on in Brody’s life. You could chart a lot of the ups and downs of the game (and even some of those mistakes Brody talked about above) against the ups and downs of his life while he’s been running the game. He is, and always will be, the main animating force behind Otherspace. Oh, I think he wishes he wasn’t… I think he’s been looking for years to make the game more self-sustainable without regular infusions of energy from him, personally. But even when the game had a very active, large and committed playerbase, Brody was the driving force, whether he wanted to be or not. So when his life is busy and his energy is required elsewhere, that’s going to be felt on the game. It just is. It’s not his FAULT; it’s not anybody’s fault… it’s just part of the nature of the game. MU**s only survive as long as there is an animating force behind them. Brody has always been that animating force, and while he’s tried… and is still trying… to empower players to keep things going without him, Otherspace is always, in part, going to be a reflection of, and an extension of, its creator.

    It’s also, however, a mirror that reflects its current playerbase. There was an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said you can never step into the same river twice. He meant the only constant thing in life is change. Try as I might, I can’t return to the Otherspace that I loved most, from twelve or thirteen years ago. Brody can re-create the worlds and oldbies like me can reappear on the grid and still it’ll never be the same game because there’s a different core group of players with different interests and a different style and a different RP culture. At any moment, OS is what its players make it… the players who are there right now are so much more important than the legacies left behind by characters like mine, our contributions to the lore and the history and all that… none of what happened in the past is ever going to be as important as what the players who are there right now want the game to be. Not much else matters… not the systems, not the staff, not even Brody himself, because the game has always empowered you to just go out there and RP. It takes work… you need to build your own RP communities within the Mush, and then work so that those communities don’t become too isolated… you need to think in terms of why things SHOULD happen, not why they shouldn’t, and you need to think of how barriers to interacting with other characters can be overcome, rather than treating them as insurmountable. Brody can be as active as he’s ever been, but the MUSH will still take the shape the players lay out for it.

    • Brody says:

      I think there’s, as usual, a lot of truth to what Falk has to say.

      I’ve wanted the game to run on its own without so much involvement. And, for a while – for good or ill – it actually did, back when much of the action was provided by Mika, Fulton, Squadron and a few others. This was during my Fallen Earth development period, when I had almost no time at all to devote to the game, and yet it persevered in my absence.

      But I’m well aware that the game’s most energetic times seem to coincide with my ability to pour energy into it, whether it’s playing characters or simply getting out into the internet ether and spreading the gospel of OtherSpace.

      I used to pitch the game in dozens of places every month. I scarcely even try to advertise it anywhere now.

      But I may get back to doing that in the near future – assuming I get some energy and free time for it.

      Who knows!

  6. Alhambra says:

    Okay! Holy cannolis, that’s a lot of stuff, and a lot of folks I don’t know. But that’s okay. Pull up a chair. (Oh lords and ladies, stop her, she’s doing that ‘Way Back When I Was a MUD Admin’ thing again! Runnn!)

    Let me at first look at the list of things that have been ‘done wrong’. (Bonus points for acknowledgement, in this day and age.)

    1) The Ritter Incident: Yes, this is famous. So famous that I’ve heard about it, and I didn’t start here until 2010. Main Character Syndrome, when the player takes action with clear disregard for how it affects other players, is quite the disease, and it can and will decimate a population. I could write an entire informative article on the symptoms, spread, and treatment of Main Character Syndrome (maybe I will!), but the fact of the matter is, if staff can recognize it for what it is, a lot of trouble and drama will be saved in the long run.

    2) Shutting Down/Reconfiguring Games: Understandable. Sometimes ideas get thrown around as to how to ‘fix’ things, and sometimes a theme change, apocalypse, story change, player or map wipe, consolidation come up as possible solutions. Sometimes it works, sometimes it makes a mess.

    3) Logging: Okay, personally, I don’t see a problem with this, as any MUD I’d ever played on has always logged character input. It would be lovely if people could be honest, but let’s face it; people are people, and people cheat. With our current player base, I am less concerned, but I feel that in the storm of he-said-she-said-they’ll-say-anything-to-get-away-with-things, it was a necessary step. Perhaps my years of running the disciplinary squad in an online RP environment have jaded me, but logs are the only defense against lies. I realize that opinions may vary, and it must have upset -someone- enough to give Brody a holler about it, but, really… have we not learned: NOTHING YOU SAY/DO ON THE INTERNET IS PRIVATE.

    Okay. Where was I? Looking over the comments, I see some talk about the rigidity of theme. As with things that people -want- and not -need-, like sugary snacks, ice cream, and great big giant steaks, moderation is key. Not enough leeway will potentially dampen the interest of new players; TOO MUCH leeway will drop things onto the grid that may be problematic for -existing- players. Risk versus reward… will saying ‘no’ to this overpowered character concept lose me one player’s interest? Will saying ‘yes’ to it produce a grid-clearing ‘IT IS IN MY BIO therefore Brody has given me permission to have unblockable attacks/cold fusion beams/undefeatable defenses'(see also Main Character Syndrome: it’s contagious!) If someone is interested enough in -this game world-, they should be at least somewhat willing to create something that fits reasonably into it. (There are so many choices to begin with!!) Anyone who’s going to rip staff a new one in defense of instant approval of their character concept is probably going to be just as pleasant and cooperative as an ongoing player.

    All right, I’m seeing some people I don’t know in the comments, so, hello, previous players. I feel like I understand what folks are expressing, and I can tell you that as one of the ‘bridge’ people who remained in the time when many ‘veterans’ left, there was a definite disconnect between the people who stayed and the people who were here in ye olde days and came back later. To the ‘old’ folks, the ‘new’ folks were ‘newbies,’ but really they -weren’t-; the ‘newbies’ had been here for quite a while, had remained/helped through the times of adversity, and were helping rebuild. I watched the ‘old’ folks talk at great length about the ‘great old days’, and tried to get them playing with the people they viewed as ‘new,’ to make some -new- awesome stories, but it rarely happened. Torn between two populations, I chose to stick with the players who stuck with Otherspace.

    I am here because I feel that this is a pretty damned decent community with a wide-open world and infinite potential for story. Let’s get together, and remember, it’s not my story, it’s not your story, it’s not his story, it’s not her story…

    It’s OUR story.

    • Brody says:

      I’m glad to see someone taking the right approach to the theme, as far as it being wide open, with infinite potential. That’s a much more optimistic vision than calling it a confusing mess (which, if taken as a whole, isn’t inaccurate, but it’s absolutely unfair).

      The game has the advantage of being a space opera literary sandbox with plenty of room to explore and grow.

  7. Razorback says:

    Been a while since I’ve shown my face, or text, around here. Just happened to wander through and this post caught my eye. I myself, though a tremendous fan of Otherspace and all of the creative minds that contribute to it, have, at various times in the past, and now in the present, found myself unable to participate.

    It is impossible for me to participate on a minimal level. If I am present at all, the temptation to be active will be too great. Currently, I am working seven days a week, twelve to fourteen hours a day. I have a wife, who I have little enough time to interact with, and a family with whom I am trying to repair my relationships.

    The point of this soliloquy on my personal life is this: We’ve all grown up. Some of us can still manage to get our RPs in, but as someone above mentioned, many are either concentrating on finding a job, or keeping the one they have. We’re getting married, having kids, our lives are a far cry from those of the teenagers we (some of us, Brody, Falk)were in the late 90’s when Otherspace was born.

    Now, your average person who would have been interested in MUSHing in 1998 has grown up in a completely different world. When Otherspace began, I had never heard of an MMO, if they indeed existed at that time. There were no smartphones. Most people still were satisfied with only one form of electronic entertainment at a time.

    MUSHing was a niche activity sixteen years ago, and far more so today.

    This DOES NOT mean that I believe that they should all shut their doors and roll over. That, I think, would be a tragedy. But I believe that blaming the staff of said games for a reduced active player base is ridiculous. We’re in a different era, and it’s tougher than ever before. I truly hope that Otherspace is still around when my children are old enough to enjoy it, if the literary bent of their parents passes down to them.

Leave a Reply