Series Info...#27: Fool Me Once

by Shannon Appelcline

April 1, 2001 - There are only two holidays that I feel any allegiance to. The first is All Hallows' Eve and the second you may have guessed based on the date on this article. The second is All Fool's Day. It's something primitive that draws me to All Hallow's Eve, something about putting aside the masks that we wear in our society; it's hard to define exactly. But, I have no problem defining why I like All Fool's Day. I enjoy humor and I enjoy pulling one over on someone.

Back when I was still at UC Berkeley I used to revel in All Fool's Day. On the night before I would prepare fraudulent postings for some of my favorite "newsgroups" and then, just after the stroke of midnight I would begin to post them – the most atrocious lies, getting more and more unrealistic and unlikely the further one read, all clearly stamped with the date. April 1.

And people fell for them. God they fell for them! Year after year. It was great.

I still have a copy of a posting I made on April 1, 1993 concerning the Computer Science Undergraduate Associate at Berkeley. The following is a fragment:

Approximately two hours after midnight today, a squad of five FBI agents descended upon the CSUA office. They were responding to anonymous information which fingered 238 Evans as the heart of a software piracy ring. Matt Seidl had the misfortune of being in the CSUA at the time, working on 184 homework. When he identified himself as the Vice-President of the CSUA, responsible for the running of soda, he was taken into custody at once.
I'm sure most Castle Marrach players will have caught the name of a prominent Castle member embedded in that 8-year old writeup. It's a small world.

Anyway, All Fool's Day. It would be cruel of me to spread disinformation from my position of respect here, but I do want to enjoy the Holiday. So, this week I'd like to share with you some funny quotes that I've been collecting from within the Skotos office for the last six months. I'd also to offer you some explanations of these quotes, which will tell you a little bit more about how our games really work.


"Where's our dead cat, L.?"
"I don't know, I think R. was using it."

For six months you've been hearing rumors that the cats in Castle Marrach might be spies. It's true. An object is an object is an object in Castle Marrach. You can actually play a cat (or a rat or a candelabra) as easily as you can play a Newly Awakened human being.

We don't play most of the objects in the game, because we don't want to accidently invade players' privacy. But, when we want to get from one location to another, or just be inconspicuous in a public forum, we sometimes take a cat out for a spin. (In fact, we very carefully planted the cat-spy rumors because we wanted to make sure that players knew that secrets might not be safe around our feline friends.)

There's just one problem with playing cats. They're NPCs and that means that they have specific actions built into them. Cats automatically wander around, purr, meow, and do all manner of other thing ... whether there's someone inside their furry little bods or not.

Sitting in the Refectory listening to the poets can be extremely annoying when your cat brain decides you should wander out and check out the Hallway every few minutes. We needed a solution.

And, it was pretty easy to come up with one. We duplicated our typical cat body and did not connect that duplicate up to the cat brain. We had a cat bod with no cat brain, in other words a comatose cat corpse. We stored our little cat corpse on a garbage pile, so that we could easily find it whenever we wanted to take it out.

A real case of "Dead Cat Walking".

"R., did you make keys for those doors?"
"Nah I used a cat"

I suspect this quote is related to the above but I can't really say because I wasn't around. Theoretically, a cat could be a key in Castle Marrach if you set a "keycode" in the object, so that it could open doors. The image of trying to shove that poor kitty into a lock isn't a pleasant one though. I suspect there would be claws involved.

(After reading through my rough draft of this article, Christopher told me that in actuality R. snuck up to the locked room as a cat and used an administrative command to unlock the door. Although probably true, this version of reality isn't nearly as interesting, so I've discounted it.)

"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on Castle Marrach."

Sometimes I just have a smart mouth. I played Severin a few times in Castle Marrach before duties called me back to other things. This was in the first few months when we were really cranking up our StoryHosting presence in order to initially get the game rolling.

"How many ands do we allow? Can they rub their belly, pat their head, play an instrument, and invade Europe?"

We're constantly thinking about how to introduce new systems into our games. Sometimes we haven't implemented a system because it's very hard to program, but other times we haven't because we can't even get past the stage where we figure out how the system should work.

Such is the case with conjunctions. How do you build a system that lets you use conjunctions when actions can take widely variable amounts of time? Tricky.

"I don't think there's ever been a text-dominant game before where you could do the Macharena."

We've tried to do some cool things in Castle Marrach and our system of gestures is one of the ones that I think has worked the best. However, as this quote demonstrates, the power of gestures can be used for evil.

"On the bright side, you can now nod to all armpits."
"I am ceaselessly amazed by the technology of this place."

And the Macharena isn't the only example of technology gone horribly wrong. There were good reasons for changing the way "all" worked. Previously it had always related to everything in an environment (everything in a room or everything you were holding), ignoring any noun you put following it. That confused people, so we fixed the word "all", with the result being that players can now interact with all armpits in a room.

"So now you can have a violet, furry codpiece."
"That's a great advance for gaming, Sir."

Did I mention that sometimes the new technology we implement can go too far? We're just finishing up creating a complex system for tailoring that allows the creation of a wide variety of clothing, based on singular attributes (color, material, etc). However, evildoers can put these attributes together in ways that are just wrong.

"We decided yesterday that we should market to Dadaists because you can flex your eyeballs and wiggle your ears."

Really, all of these misuses of our technology fit into the same category. We create expansive systems that can do lots of different things and inevitably that means players can do some things that are silly. Restricting those silly actions would cause a much larger restriction in serious actions, which we don't want to do.

"I'm to pick C. up early at the office, to come over here to be murdered."

If the police heard some of our conversations, we'd probably end up in jail. That's the funny thing about working at a roleplaying company.

Jail. Very funny.

"Where are the bodies at?"

No officer, really, I was talking about a game.

I've already talked about our ability to "possess" stuff ... namely cats. We actually use similar mechanisms whenever we want to play an NPC. We just summon them up and then hop into their bodies. When you hop into a new body that means you leave your old body behind. In actuality we have a staging area called The Green Room and it's full of brainless bodies, just standing there, looking into the distance.

Kind of eerie.

"That's a neat thing, that you can whisper to the rodent statue."

Very neat. Just don't try and do it in public and definitely don't act like you hear the rodent statue whispering back. A final entry for the why-roleplayers-shouldn't-be-allowed-out-of-the-house thread.

"They don't need clothes to get scrolls."

Making NPCs, especially when you have to go to all the trouble to clothe them, can be a lot of work. One day, when discussing creating a new Inner Bailey NPC so that players could send scrolls to him, we had a brainstorm. We realized that we didn't need to clothe our NPC if he was just going to receive scrolls.

Uh huh. That'll work until our nekkid NPC wanders out of his room one day to pick up the morning scrolls, and hears the sickening sound of his door locking behind him. How do you explain that one to Boreas?

"You deleted the UrFemale!?"

All objects in the game tend to be built off of "Ur" objects - master objects that carry all of the common characteristics for a class of items. That all works fine until some damned fool deletes the Ur object which everything depends on, and suddenly ladies find themselves without hands or legs or noses.

The damned fool in this case? That would be me. Our engineers came to the very rapid rescue.

"You didn't drink the UrBeer, did you?"

And then there was the day one of our game developers saw a beer hopping around the Castle. He decided to teach it a lesson. He picked it up and downed it in one swig.

Consuming a food item deletes it, you see.

"My body just disintegrated. This is not good."

And speaking of deletion, one day Hetchel accidently wiped herself out. You'll recall that I mentioned that "all" used to refer to everything in the room, ignoring any noun put after it? One day Hetchel, up at the seamstress' room, used a StoryHost command to "slay all clothing". The result wiped out all the clothing, Hetchel, and the room itself.

I think this was about when we decided to fix the long-standing "all" bug.

"There's some type of a grunting NIL out there."

There are some things that just lose all their humor if you try to explain them. Suffice to say: our NPC system has had the occasional problem.

"Now players can run around exchanging fluids ..."

Finally, while you pull your minds out of the gutters, let me say that our crafting system is coming soon, and there indeed will be exchanging of fluids (and powders).

That's it folks. I'm going to start collecting quotes for next year. In the meantime, if you'd like to see some quotes from other players, go read the Notable Quotes forum thread.

I'll see you back here in 7 days for the conclusion of that discussion of dynamic games.

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