Sunday, May 5, 2013

Numbakulla contest

Moopf Murray owned Numbakulla, and ran a contest for a team of people to develop the sim.  I gathered together a team of ten people and entered the competition.  We won the right to develop the sim.
The building site for Numbakulla's Pot Healer adventure
Over the course of the next few months, we met, worked out our game and built it.  I was still rather inexperienced in Second Life, and so I didn't know how many of the things I wanted to do were feasible.  Ratt Foo, who had helped so much with Mysterious Journey, was the scripter for the Pot Healers' Quest on Numbakulla.
Ratt Foo, scripter extraordinaire

People have asked if it has any relation to the Philip K. Dick novel, Galactic Pot Healers.  As far as I know, it doesn't, except that the person who suggested the name may have read it.  I haven't.  The idea for the game came from a children's novel I have not been writing for twenty years.  Someone on the team suggested Pot Healers because that was the idea of the Quest, to rebuild the pot.  In the children's story I was writing, it was somewhat more complicated.  I've kept away from the Dick novel in case I'm ever challenged on the origins of the game... I want to be able to say I have never read it, and it be true!

Flying fish trasnporter above the town

Ceirrah Blair and I were the initial builders and the people who did anything no one else was going to do.  On the first day we had a couple of odd experiences.  We started free building, intending to strive for a style.  I built a tower, which I sometime later recognized as very like a Dogon tower of the Dogon people.  But the most astonishing was when Cie and I went to opposite ends of the island, built what we thought, and built the same thing... which later became the flower houses in the village.

Flower houses in the village
It took us around four months to build the game, which included work from Baron Grayson (epic builds and texturing), Sky Everett (objects and props), Slade Onizuka (the fountain build), Anubis Ambyance (clothing), Lost Therian (clothing), 
Slade Onizuka's fountain under construction and testing
Zapoteth Zaius (plot, testing and events), Moopf Murray (music and location).
Some of Baron Grayson's epic builds... temple and treehouse

Originally, we had agreed to open the game in July 2005 and keep it open for a month.  We had coverage in the SL blogs and New World Notes, and people kept on coming.  In the end there were 25,000 players to Numbakulla.
First players on Numbakulla
The end... initially we were able to buy the island from Moopf Murray due to donations from the players, and latterly the generosity of players who were willing to pay the tier.  But eventually even my beloved Oclee said enough was enough, and with that, Numbakulla had to close for the last time.

I offered the game to Linden Lab, in case they might want to keep the content for posterity, and the fact that it had been available for so long, but they didn't want it.  So it was closed.

But I have a plan....
Full sim picture of Numbakulla

My Mysterious Journey

I arrived in Second Life in February 2004, and was smitten immediately.  I'd loved the fact that I was playing myself in Uru and that I had found a community there, and Second Life seemed to be all that I had found in Uru plus the possibility of being able to create things too.

I read about the Game Developers' Contest on the Second Life website, and applied to enter a team within my first week in Second Life.  I checked that I would be able to use builders and scripters who weren't in the team of four people who formed the official entry - I knew that I might have to find people with skills that we didn't have.

I called my entry Mysterious Journey, unaware that there was a commercial game of that name.  Nowadays I like to think I could have googled it first - then I don't think it was the second nature that it has become for me now.

The tunnel entrance to the game

I entreated people I knew from Uru - Strife Onizuka for one - to join me in Second Life and help with the game.  Many people helped.  We got the game built.  I had loads of help:  Namssor Daguerre for the textures, Cierrah Blair for building, Ratt Foo for scripting, Kami Kim and Catja LaFollette for testing and many others.

Mushrooms were an homage to Cyan

Unfortunately, the criteria for the winning of the contest was the dwell on the land.  In those days, people could benefit from people spending time on their land, and this was calculated through an arcane formula to give a total amount of dwell for a place.  The way it was explained to me was that everyone had a notional amount of dwell, every day.  If they came into SL and spent an hour on a parcel of land, and went nowhere else, all of their dwell was assigned to that parcel.

If they came in and spent two hours in world and spent an hour on a parcel of land, then 50% of their dwell would be assigned to that parcel.  If they came in and spent three house and spent an hour on a parcel of land, then 33% of their dwell... well you get the picture.

Unfortunately we were up against a very addictive form of MahJong patience made by Xylor Baysclef, who later became a Linden.  He won.  However, unlike some of the other entrants, we *did* get ours finished, and people played and enjoyed it.  We were pretty impressed with ourselves, given that we had only been in Second Life a few weeks.  Unfortunately a lot of my pictures were lost in the great hard disk disaster of 2006, but I have a few left.

Once one of the biggest objects in SL was our mountain

URU: the beginning

Having played Riven, and then Exile and Myst, I signed up to beta test Mudpie, the new online game which was being developed by Cyan. In June 2003 I was accepted into the closed beta test for the game.

I remember the excitement I felt when I logged on for the first time and went through the initial stage of the game which have to be completed before you can join other people in the city. I teleported to the Nexus and then into the city - and was petrified the first time I met a real player and ran away! I played as Taliametris in URU.

Talia and friends... someone once got over the barrier... so we kept on trying

I soon met other people I didn't run away from, and began my online journey. I think it helped that we had a shared past history of Cyan games. The forums and the people I met in game were all friendly. I loved the fact that although you could choose your appearance in the game, you were actually playing yourself and not a character. We explored together. I made friends with a Swedish player called Creamdog, and he helped me with one of the games. From time to time we had to start over, as the changes to the games meant that the players had to restart over and over again.

 I lost track of Creamdog, but found friends in the Netherlands, the USA, Hungary, Ireland, UK. By the end of 2003, the open beta had begun, and URU was overrun with newbies. I spent most of that Christmas beta testing new things for the game, and probably neglected my family because of that over that holiday. Then came the news, in early February 2004, that the game had folded. I was very upset - I'd made friends and found a real community online which I hadn't realised was possible, and that community was important to me.

Finding the bugs in the garden in Uru with Norfren
One of my friends suggested There and Second Life as places that might make a refuge for Uru players. I tried There, but within a few minutes of getting into the world I had some players asking me my age/sex/location and then demanding to know what colour I was in real life. I was horrified and left. What difference did my RL colour make - to anything?

I tried Second Life... and more or less the moment I got in world, I realised how much more this was than a game. How amazing it would be to be able to recreate the places I knew and loved from Uru.


In 1998 I was lent a game by my friend Jane. I'd told her that computer games weren't really my thing, but she assured me that this wasn't like any computer game I'd ever seen. There was no shooting... in fact there were hardly any people in it. There were puzzles... such challenging puzzles that she had hardly progressed beyond the beginning of the game. I don't know what I was supposed to be doing at that moment, but I do know that what I did do was start the game and then go out and buy my own copy, and I spent the next three weeks solving it. Riven is a photorealistic exploration and puzzle solving game, and I adored it. However, what I wanted wasn't to play more games by Cyan (although I *did* do that)... what I wanted was to make my own games. Riven used hypercard technology - you could move by point and clicking and then seeing a different aspect of a scene. There were occasional videos incorporated into the game. Strangely, I'd been given a free copy of hypercard when I got an Apple computer at work in the 1980s... and I really couldn't imagine what it was good for. Now I knew. Although I longed to make my own games, I didn't have the expertise required, and indeed, never thought there would come a time when it would be possible.