Book Review: Designing Virtual Worlds

The quote by Richard Bartle from this article is great, and an example can be seen in the choices made by World of Warcraft’s designers (as well as those that chose to blindly copy WoW itself) when they decided to clone Everquest, but didn’t understand the decisions of Everquest’s designers, and why Verant created MUD-like combat in the first place. Verant’s goal, after all, was to create (one of) the first graphical MUDs, and they did that admirably.

Back then, most people would have scoffed if you told them that graphical MMOs for the next 15 years would simply copy-forward the MUD-style serial hotbar combat without any real though to the reasons why such combat existed.

The stagnation of combat in modern MMOs for the past decade can at least partially be attributed to this lack of insight, or lack of desire on the part of the designers to even attempt such introspection.

And for those that might exclaim, “But wait! Hotbar graphical MUD style combat has been copied so often only due to insurmountable technical limitations of bandwidth, latency and processing power.” To this, I point to Planetside, released in 2004, a mere one year after WoW, which features real time FPS style combat on an MMO scale. MUD-style hotbar combat hasn’t been necessary for at least that long.


It has been over a year since my last review of a vintage virtual reality book. I’ve recently come across a good one that I’d like to share.

In 1978, Richard Bartle co-authored MUD, the very first virtual world. In 2003, he shared his twenty-five years of virtual world and MMORPG experience in the book Designing Virtual Worlds. Here are some excerpts from the preface:

Too much virtual world design is derivative. Designers take one or more existing systems as foundations on which to build, sparing little thought as to why these earlier worlds were constructed the way they were.

Are designers even aware that there are decisions they can unmake? Although a good deal of design is evolutionary, that does not mean designers can’t be revolutionary, too.

The key is in recognizing the face that what seems eminently logical to you from your usual perspective might turn…

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