I plan to commit some interesting entries here soon. Telling you why the 'Why does God hate amputees?' atheist line fails miserably, a rough estimation of the current and past presidential candidates (short story - I like Ron Paul, but not in an insane way), along with some general ranting. This should be of interest to the roundabout 2 people who read this blog.
But onto the non-controversy.
I'm trying to design a couple games - I have horrible discipline, so that's going about as well as you'd think. But I wanted to share a valuable resource with people who are like minded. Yes, both of you.
Lost Souls MUD. Listen carefully, because I don't say this lightly: Behold, for when it comes to questions of intricate, unique gameplay and design among MUDs, you will not find a better example. Now, keep in mind that I say this as someone who, well over a decade ago, before PPPoE was common, was mudding. InfinityMUD. End of the Line (Another good one). Three Kingdoms. BatMUD. Scores of others that were immediately boring. I've even been back to some of these recently, like BatMUD. Mark my words, if you are interested in mu*, MMO, or general game design, ignore Lost Souls at your own peril.
It's hard to succinctly describe just what Lost Souls accomplished. 'Diversity' sums it up, but it doesn't do it justice. I'm sitting here, trying to think of how to communicate it best to you - so what I'm going to do is walk you through a character life.
First, choose your race. You have 32 options to start with. Now, not only do these races vary wildly in terms of statistics - and I don't just mean STR CON DEX INT WIS CHA. Aside from a generally standard stat spread, you also have 26 different kinds of damage types, and the races will each vary heavily in their relative weakness/strength. In addition, you have a wide, wide selection of innate traits and skills - drows, for example, have ambidexterity, night vision, and a penalty to assimilativity and access to Magick Resistance and Necromantic Affinity. A yeti, meanwhile, has an innate ice affinity, killer instinct, lesser night vision, and claws for natural weaponry.
All this before the limbcode. See, LS was one of the few MUDs to implement hp and stats for each particular body part - and the body parts can change depending on your race. Avians will have wings, lizards will have tails, an insect-creature will have a thorax, etc. There are some strange body types in the game too - three-legged three-armed creatures, ghostly types who only have limbs from the torso upward.
By the way, there are also 6 additional greater races (far more powerful in potential at the cost of greater exp required, only accessible by players who have a character who attained hero level), 4 additional elder races (even more power at the cost of more exp, only available to characters who have achieved legendary level), and at least 9 transition-in-game-only races available from surgery or use of a warpstone.
But let's keep this simple, and choose the yeti.
Straightforward. He's tough. He's got some constitution. He's big. A little weak to temporal damage, a bit handy with ice. But clearly we're dealing with a big fucker who's best at ripping things up with his bare hands/claws.
So you start him out at first. Do some quests, get some exp. Get used to the game. This is where you start learning things, like the variety of ways to die. If you're not good at swimming and walk into a river, guess what? You'll get pulled away by the current. And if you hit a waterfall with jagged rocks, you'll probably be dismembered. (Remember: Limbcode. You can lose limbs in this game. And enough damage to your head or torso (or thorax) means you're dead.) Pick up some equip, maybe start thinking about guilds and associations.
Now, at current, there's 25 guilds in the game (Think of guilds as 'classes'), possibly more that are hidden. Each dramatically different from each other for the most part, with the exception of the mages (Azure Magi are ice specialists, Red Magi are flame specialists, etc - very different, but you get the basic scheme.) 26 associations as well (think of associations as subclasses), which you can join multiples of, though certain guilds/associations conflict with other associations.
Again, let's be straightforward here and go with a pretty simple guild: The Brute Squad.
You couldn't get more straightforward than these guys: They drink beer and they fight, just like their help file says. They don't even have all that many abilities: They're better with hand to hand combat. They can pump up to temporarily increase their power. They can headbutt - an extraordinarily powerful attack in the right situation, as it's a very-likely-to-hit strike at the enemy's head. And most of the time, if the enemy's head takes enough damage, they die instantly. ... Most of the time. There are beings who can survive the loss of their head. Or beings that just plain have no head, such as slimes. Another attack these guys have: Dismember. They'll just grab a couple limbs and pull really, really hard. Maybe hard enough to just do a whole lot of damage. Maybe hard enough to tear the limbs off.
Okay, so you're in your guild now. Let's pick an association for you (Remember, you can join more than one). I happen to love the Servants of the Crystal Blades. But I'll save that for another time. For now, let's go with the followers of Apollo.
"From the site: Apollo grants his favor to his subjects in several different ways. First, they may 'dazzle' an opponent, by spreading a bit of his light within dark places. They can 'commune' with Apollo to find out where he is located, and thus know night from day at all times. Finally, in order to ensure continued favor with Apollo, his followers may 'offer' items to him for his amusement. In addition, he grants his followers protection from damage by other sources of light. His temple also serves as a fast way to move across the continent, as only members may use an exit from which they did not enter. Disciples also have a communication channel, accessed with the commands 'apollonian' and 'assoc'."
Now you have some ability to fast travel, you can blind foes, you gain greater immunity to light while losing some resistance to darkness (It's a more than fair trade by ratio). Keep in mind you can mix and match this with multiple other associations. But right now you have a hard-fightin', hard-fartin' yeti who can blind people before he smashes their skulls in. Useful, isn't it?
We're not done. See, the game also has 'psychic wild talents'. Roundabout 26 individual ones, and they can show up in game through a variety of ways - using drugs, psychic trauma, boosting your philosophy skill or wisdom attribute, natural development, etc. These can be impressive boons in their own right, and can show up when you least expect them.
Now, I've gone through all of this while choosing the most straightforward and simple guild, a very simple race, a single association. I haven't even touched on the variety of areas you can explore, the variety of equipment you can find, etc.
There's a lot that can be learned from LS, from a design perspective. This, from a game that (quite frankly) hasn't been tremendously updated over the years, as far as I can see. But if you had to ask me what the most important lesson to take away from this is, I would sum it up thusly: Sometimes, it's better to play very fast and loose with balance, even in a multiplayer game, if the tradeoff is a vastly more diverse, depthful game. With the number of guilds, associations, races, abilities, powers, etc in play, Lost Souls never had much of an equal playing field. Some races were out and out better in particular guilds (a faerie brute squad member will never have the potential a yeti or ogre does). Some weaknesses were almost impossible to cover up (I remember playing a high-level ringwraith. Incredibly powerful. So ethereal that he was basically a shadow, melee attacks hardly scratched him. You know what happens when you aim a wand of light at a shadow's head? It means that what would be a no-damage attack to anyone else, is instant death for you.) But if you create a game with a focus on incredible diversity, you can get away with a lack of balance - both because the fun will be in exploring and finding out what does and does not work, and because the diversity will generally mean that even an incredibly potent character combination will always have a weakness some other character is able to exploit.