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Skotos Bets on Next-Generation MUDs, Page 2

by Stephen Granade

Skotos's Games

There are three types of Skotos games: Stages, Grand Theatres, and Worlds. Stages are the smallest, and the most like a traditional table-top role-playing game. Stages run for a limited amount of time, such as a weekend or four successive Saturday nights, and are open to a limited number of players. There is a set plot and definite goals.

Worlds are the largest and most epic type of planned games. They are similar in spirit to massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), in that most of the world's mechanics are computer moderated. Skotos hopes to simulate economies, ecologies, and more within their worlds.

In the middle of these two are the Grand Theatres, moderate-sized games which involve more character interaction and role-playing than competition among players. Players are free to create their own character and their own role in an ever-mutating story. The games are guided by StoryTellers rather than being mostly under control of a computer.

These are ambitious plans. No world is scheduled for release until 2002, and the first Stage, The Galactic Emperor is Dead, was delayed from November of 2000 to March of 2001. Skotos does have a working Grand Theatre, however: Castle Marrach.

Castle Marrach, as you might well imagine, takes place in a castle. Players begin the game with no memory of who they are or how they arrived in the Castle. The Castle itself is a maze of rooms, with secret passages honeycombing the foundation. Vivienne, the Winter Queen, rules the Castle, refusing to explain why the players -- the Guests of the Castle -- are there, or where the Castle came from, or even what her purpose in the Castle is.

Castle Marrach is a social game, focusing on intrigue and gossip rather than fighting. Players can duel, but only if both agree to the duel. Secret societies, plots among courtiers, and exploration of the Castle are the order of the day.

The mechanics of the game are very much like a traditional text adventure or MUD. Players interact with the world by typing imperative commands such as "examine the golden key" or "whistle sharply." There are rooms, objects, and other players in the world, as well as non-player characters (NPCs) and StoryTellers.

There are notable differences, many of which boil down to a finer level of granularity than is available in most text adventures or MUDs. You can "glance at," "look at," or "examine" things; the three commands offer different levels of detail in some cases and take differing amounts of time. Castle Marrach allows for distinct locations within a room. You can stand near objects, or approach people in order to hear them better. Should you whisper, only those who are near you will hear. You can also choose how you are standing (or kneeling, as the case may be) and how you walk into our out of a room.

The most obvious change is the addition of adverbs to communication. You can "brusquely question" someone, or "bow deeply." While overuse of adverbs can leech the life out of static fiction (or even static versions of an online game, as witness a transcript from the game), in online games they can convey shades of emotion which would otherwise be lost.

Most of these changes add color to interactions with other players rather than directly affecting events in the game world, as is appropriate for a game focused on social interactions. Skills such as swimming, dancing, or stealth do affect what you can and cannot do in the game world.

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