I have a gaming confession, and an insight on game design. The confession is this:
I played one game for over 4000 hours.
You read that right. 4000+ hours. It’s true. Off and on—for over 20 years—I kept coming back to the same game and playing it. A lot. Looking back, it is a little embarrassing to admit this. There is a part of me that wonders what I could have accomplished had I been more productive during those hours. Mastered a second language? Launched a second career? Cured cancer? I kid… sort of.
The way I justify it is like this: Instead of TV or novels, this game was my source of entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed the game. My last post was about depth in games (strategy, tactics, and imagination), and this comes closest to hitting that trifecta of any game I’ve played.
You might think it is a game like World of Warcraft, with millions spent in finely tuned development. No, it was developed and maintained by a bunch of college kids in their spare time and transitioned into being run by volunteers.
You might think it is a widespread game that is played lots of places, like a sport, or poker, or chess. No, it is fairly niche and I would imagine at most several thousand people have ever played it.
I’m sure you’ve never heard of it, but the game is called Carrion Fields. It belongs to a genre of games called Multi-User Dungeons or MUDs. To its credit, these were one of the first online multiplayer fantasy games and later inspired the development of MMORPGs.
Carrion Fields (CF) was released in 1994. Many games from the old days suffer from poor design by today’s standards. Have you played Golden Axe lately? As newer and better designed games came out, players migrated. Carrion Fields suffers from many of these design issues as well, but it presents depth in those three areas better than almost any game I’ve ever played.
There are better strategy games, and better tactical games, and games that do both strategy and tactics better. There are better roleplaying games too. But I can’t name any game that does all three better than CF.
I should mention that CF is a text game. When navigating the world, you are given a paragraph describing the area you are in, much like a traditional Game Master (GM) might. You type your commands: north, eat bread, wield sword, attack rat. That type of thing. While this does make the game intimidating for gamers not used to it, text allows for almost infinite customization.
In most video games, the amount of customization is small and limited. In CF, while you pick a race and class like many other RPGs, you are able to create the paragraph describing your character. Your character could be missing an eye, smell like damp earth, and have old leaves in their tangled hair. Anyone that looked at your character would see it. You write your own character’s role. You pick your motivations and goals and dreams. You could become leader of the city guards, or a thief guild’s kingpin, or a myriad of other things. Only the gods/maintainers could see your role.
Aside from a newbie chat channel that allows people to ask rules questions, everything happening in the game is considered “in character”. In other words, there is no talk of homework, or Star Wars, or politics, or anything happening in the outside world. The main characters and gods were all run by players and players who volunteered to maintain the game. I vividly remember exploring the philosophy of chaos when my anti-order anti-paladin was attempting to impress Pico, the God of Chaos. He stated that to be truly chaotic, you couldn’t be anti-order. That would limit chaos by chaining it to another idea even in its opposition. I remember looking up the word “empathy” in high school, as the lich god Scarabeus stated this blinded people from their discovering their true nature.
Although CF is a roleplaying game, it is also a player versus player (PvP) game. In the old days we called it a “PK” game, short for Player Kill. Your character can be killed and looted by other players. There are some exceptions, such as you can only attack people with a similar amount of experience, but most is fair game once you reach a minimum level. A lot of people roleplay the equivalent of merciless bandits, or fanatic opposers of magic, or zealous destroyers of evil. There is a lot of conflict. Player characters can die several dozen times before their character is permanently dead.
With conflict comes the strategy. Strategy in terms of race, and class customizations, and a wide variety of equipment. With conflict comes tactics. One of the most common commands typed by players is “where pk”. This shows you other player characters nearby that are close enough in experience to fight. You had to always be ready; always watching out in case you got jumped so you wouldn’t be caught unaware.
It wasn’t a perfect game. And as I and the game get older, the design flaws became more glaring. It has a steep learning curve, and that curve got worse as the world expanded introducing more and more areas, equipment, monsters, and quests. The time commitment is significant. The curve also got worse as the veteran playerbase became increasingly adept at the game. Even though CF still has great competition, there are games that have better strategy and tactics. However, there are not many games that have as much depth of strategy, tactics, and imagination as CF.
Now on to the insight:
There is a hole in the RPG market for games that combine actual depth of roleplaying—pretending to be a unique character—and depth of competition.
Do you know of any games on the computer, console, or tabletop like this?