This interview was originally done over 3 years ago when I was the News Editor at MPOGD. Since then, it has been deleted from the News Archive there for what reason I have no idea. This interview was done with Mike Snyder aka Wyndo of Prowler Productions and has been saved for posterity through the
miracle of the Internet Wayback Machine .
And now the interview from the dark mists………..
Monday, July 30, 2001
Exclusive Interview With Mike Snyder aka Wyndo
Posted by – Charles Rector 6:59:38 PM Admin: Edit
Reply-to: “Mike Snyder” From: “Mike Snyder” | Block Address | Add to Address Book To: “Charles Rector” Subject: Re: Interview Questions Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001 10:51:01 -0500 Organization: Prowler Productions
How long have you been into online gaming?
As a developer, since February of 1995 when I figured out how to write BBS Door Games in QuickBASIC. At the time, the BBS market was at its peak. If you were online, you were probably using a Bulletin Board System. The internet was available, but just beginning to reach the masses. These games were text-based (with “ANSI” graphics – colorful and often stunning, but still text-based). I’ve been programming games (just not “online” ones) since 1987.
What was your inspiration/motivation for creating Lunatix Online?
In a way, it was inspired by itself. Prior to Lunatix Online, there had been Lunatix for MajorBBS/Worldgroup systems. And, prior to that was the original Lunatix BBS Door Game. Each of the three (which includes Lunatix Online) has been a complete re-write (QuickBASIC – then C — then Perl) to fit the platform. This has allowed us to expand on the idea, and improve game play with each incarnation.
The inspiration for the original Lunatix came from two other games. The setting is a tribute to one of the first Adventure (Interactive Fiction) games I ever played – “Bedlam” for the Radio Shack Color Computer. The rest of it (play style, options, and so forth) were heavily inspired by Legend of the Red Dragon (LORD), one of the best-known and most profitable BBS games of all time. In fact, Lunatix 1.0a was essentially LORD in an asylum. Through its updates and rewrites, the parody has long since evolved into a game with features and originality all its own.
What was your inspiration/motivation for creating Prowler Productions as a multi-game site?
Our original idea was that more games would mean more of a reason for people to stick around. We applied this to the idea of developing new games of our own (StarLock was planned as our second project, with a 3rd major game after). The idea was to allow 1 subscription ($5) to access all games (which might be revised when StarLock is actually released).
Development is taking longer than I would have hoped. Lunatix had two prior versions to use as a “model” – it’s much easier to write a game when you’re copying something you’ve already done. Not true of StarLock. We were approached by a couple people who had written browser games and needed hosting, and decided to increase the site content that way. The motivation was that other browser game developers could partner with an existing site and gain more players than they might otherwise, and we’d benefit by having more “bait” to the site.
It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Most people coming for the free games pay little attention to Lunatix Online. In fact, in all the time we’ve done this, I’m not sure anybody who has stayed on with a subscription actually “heard” about it from one of the other games we host. Still, the resources are there and it’s good to be able to host a site where so many free games are also available.
What is this StarLock project about & when will it come out?
This is the biggest, most complex project I’ve ever attempted. It’s a browser-based Sci-Fi RPG with thousands of panoramic-style graphic scenes, a mapped galaxy (not just random “linked” points in space), planets and stations to visit, and (probably best of all) a “story” that is told through the game – not just as a backdrop *for* the game. It’s a heavy blending of MUD-type elements and browser-based play. Unlike Lunatix Online, you’re actually “at” places in StarLock. When you’re at Chuckle’s Pub, you’re there WITH other players. When you buy from a merchant, his/her stock decreases (there is balance in the number of items versus the number of players). You can drop some things for other players to pick up, or share/sell/trade items in manner that I’ve never seen attempted in any other game. You can buy or rent rigs (think of truck drivers), or ride a StarBus. Space travel is in real time, which fits really well with limited-turn play. The faster engine you have, the sooner you’ll arrive. Set a course to a distant point and log off if you want — you keep travelling even if you’re not there to see it. Imagine space as the world map in an RPG – necessary to move you from place to place, where the planets and starbases and other “places” are where the quests, adventures, and combat take place.
We’re aiming for a complex game that’s easy to start. In fact, new players almost have their hands held by NPC’s who teach them the basics. You can learn how to play WHILE you play, and I think that’s something that will be very important in attracting and keeping players. It even prevents you from messing up when you first start. For instance, to learn about the StarBus, you have to go to the ticket booth and purchase tickets. The game won’t allow a new player to DROP the tickets until they’ve completed the task and arrived at their destination.
I’m still wrestling with the idea of having a game with a finite ending still provide replay value. When you’re telling a story, there has to be a beginning and an end. The same is true in StarLock. I don’t intend to write something with the sole purpose of being a time-drain for people who could otherwise play other games and have real lives. The point is to experience the story. I have a few ideas on how to bring the game to a close in a way that doesn’t automatically ruin any further enjoyment for players. I’ve already worked out how to move the story along at different paces for different people — quite a feat for a persistent-universe multiplayer game.
I don’t want to give away much more than that, yet, although I would like to provide an MPOGD “exclusive” to the game when it gets closer to release if you’re interested. I think this game will have something for everybody – graphics, story/text, community, and more. It’s scalable – the more subscribers we get, the easier it will be to fight “lag” by simply opening additional servers. We’re also considering hiring in-game help if it becomes necessary (not just asking for volunteers), and we’ve been thinking about releasing some of the game (music, graphics, etc) on CD to make things faster (a “box set” with maps, starbus schedules, merchant info, planet day-length explanations, a printed manual, and more feelies). That’s just in the “wouldn’t it be nice” phase right now, though.
It’s difficult to guess at when it will be ready for public beta testing, let alone open play. I’ve been working on this game for almost 2 and a half years (started in March of 1999). The engine has been coded from scratch. Even the small bits of code for various tasks I initially “borrowed” from Lunatix Online has evolved. The engine still needs more work; there are features I haven’t even added yet. The biggest roadblock right now is in quest development and the fleshing out of the main story. In a way, it’s like having the skeleton of a game without the exterior. Fortunately, working on those aspects is much more fun. The chief goal I have set is that the game will be launched live (with beta testing done and out of the way) this year. I’d like to start testing this fall, which is just around the corner.
Are either Lunatix Online or StarLock based/inspired on any BBS games?
Only Lunatix. It was inspired by itself, although to be fair, the original Lunatix was inspired by LORD (mentioned earlier). StarLock draws nothing from any previous BBS games, although there are bound to be similarities that I haven’t intended (it’s a space game – there are going to be space-game-type things in it). It’s more inspired by movies; Space Truckers, for instance. Although you haul shipments from place to place, that’s just an initial premise. You *aren’t* a planet-hopping trader, buying and selling goods to make a profit. I almost stayed away from the Space Truckers angle entirely, simply to avoid any mistaken thoughts that it’s like “Trade Wars” or other similar games. Some of the inspiration comes from something I read in a Star Trek novel (I can’t say what, exactly, without giving it away). More inspiration comes from a novel I started writing several years ago (back when I mistakenly thought I could be a novelist) involving one con-man in his attempts to profit from a “Galactic Presidential Election” among a group of 5 eccentric candidates.
What differentiates Lunatix Online or StarLock from any other games currently available online?
Most of my experience comes from browser-based games. I’ve seen, but never played, games like Ultima Online, Everquest, and others. I actually wanted to try Ultima Online (as a big fan of the Ultima series) but was too afraid of becoming addicted and forgetting that I had projects of my own to work on. I do know that browser-based games aren’t going to provide the same kind of experience some expect from other kinds of games; they often appeal to different people.
As for comparisons to other browser-based games, that’s a little easier. There are far more strategy games it seems, than RPG games (and even Lunatix has so few “RPG” elements that it’s really an RPG-lite). The biggest “unique” feature of Lunatix Online is that we allow players to create and submit their own add-ons for the game. These are modules that plug right in and become part of Lunatix (a free kit is available), by providing more options (floors to visit) in the elevator (In-Game Modules). This is one of the LORD-inspired features that, to my knowledge, no other browser-based game has yet done. There are a number of other features that seem to be unique in our game, including “color codes” that work from anywhere, player profiles, in-game email (although I’m starting to see some others do this as well), daily news, player marriages, and a pretty unique setting (an insane asylum). Even after almost 3 years, I can still look at Lunatix and feel that as browser games go, it isn’t outdated.
StarLock really has no comparison. There aren’t *any* browser-based games like it – Sci-Fi or otherwise. The closest comparison would be text-based MUD’s, but I think the interface and addition of images (many people like to “see” what’s going on) really gives it an edge. It raises the ceiling on BBG’s, which as a rule don’t even *have* a story, let alone tell one.
What has the response to your efforts been like?
Rather mixed. The people who support us REALLY support us. Charging for Lunatix after 2 weeks, on the other hand, has kept our overall popularity fairly low. For positive comments, it’s much more likely to hear good things early on. When Lunatix Online was new, we heard nothing but praise. “Great game. Great idea. Best on the web.” As time passes, despite the game becoming more solid and more fun, we rarely hear comments at all from new players unless it’s to rake us over the coals for charging a fee.
Public response is fairly minimal. Posts about Lunatix *outside* the site are pretty rare, and are usually comments to/about me as opposed to comments to/about the game. Some of it can be discouraging, but I enjoy game development too much to quit.
How many play the Prowler Productions games? How many of these pay to play?
There are around 700 people who play Lunatix Online, PipeLine, and Solitary Confinement combined (the games we wrote). That’s only a fraction of the total site though (which includes games we host but are created, owned, and adminned by others). There are over 700 players signed up for World at War, over a hundred accounts in BlackNova Traders (soon to be “Steller Entrepreneurs” I believe), a mere 63 in Froggy Racing, hundreds in a new one we host call “The Colonies”, and several in a few of the games that don’t display that information. I’m not sure how many people are involved in multiple games. My guess is that the site has around 2,000 unique players.
153 (at present) are paid subscribers in Lunatix (the only game that isn’t “totally” free, at present). The number has been growing these past few months (we had floated around 120 for quite a while) and I’m expecting to reach 200+ paying subscribers by December. It seems small, but when you’re thinking about “paying” for a browser-based game, it blows away what many people expected. More importantly, it pays dedicated hosting for the entire site, for the tools we buy toward new projects, for prizes to those who win the game, for a recent decision to try paid advertising, and keeps us from worrying that our site will struggle from the shrinking “banner ad” market. We’re a site that until recently hadn’t even done ANY organized paid advertising. We relied on word of mouth, game-site listings (mpogd.com has always been great for referrals), and insanely-low CTR’s on “free” banner exchange sites. My gut feeling is that we’re set to grow in the months to come.
Why were Lunatix Online & StarLock created as RPG’s as opposed to say, strategy games?
I get so frustrated with strategy games. I like them — I used to really enjoy the BBS game BRE (Barren Realms Elite – created by the same person who did Earth 2025 if I’m not mistaken) — I just hate how things can become so unbalance when Multi’s take over. As a rule, I’ve just never gotten “into” them – plus there are SO many of them out there already. RPG and Adventure games are what I enjoy most. I also think the potential for BB-RPG’s hasn’t yet been fully tapped, whereas strategy games have already been pushing the limits. In a way, it also goes back to my BBS days. This is what I’ve been doing for so long, coming up with a *unique* and worthwhile “strategy” game would be quite a task.
Are there any fan sites for any of the games at Prowler Productions?
A few have come and gone for Lunatix Online. The main one is a hint site: http://www.prowler-pro.com/bluesparks/lunatixhints/igms.html
It’s actually hosted ON our server (originally at bluesparks.com) because the site admin now hosts a couple of his own games at Prowler Productions. Most of the other fan sites are just brief mentions in players’ personal pages. We haven’t had many straight-out “fan” sites that lasted.
As for the other games we host, I’m not too sure. It’s possible.
Why did you focus on browser-based games instead of say, downloadable program games?
These are what I call “client/server” games, even if BBG’s are technically client/browser server/web games. Actually, it’s something I’m considering. I actually have a wonderful idea for such a game – and something I think a small team like mine could do (and do well).
There were several reasons for focusing on BBG’s. One, we wanted to think forward as we brought a new incarnation of Lunatix to life. This kind of game didn’t need to be C/S (downloadable program) because it was the kind of game perfectly suited for browser-based play. Plus, we’re all busy people and BBG’s fill a niche market (that of other busy people who still want to compete in an environement that doesn’t reward 10-hour daily sessions, and those who want to waste away the boring hours at work or even at school). We also wanted to develop it in a way that would yield the fastest results, with the ability to reach the widest group of people (you have to admit, the web is far-reaching). As people who aren’t making a living from online games (and may never), our day jobs and other interests make getting “up to speed” on today’s latest 3D techniques and technology a not-so-enthusiastic task. Two or three people *can* make a cutting-edge BBG in a few months. It’s less likely to compete in the C/S market unless your team is much bigger and more experienced.
We may head there, though (as I mentioned, I have a great idea). StarLock is kind of the do-or-die project for us. If this game – as much effort and time invested – doesn’t boost us to the next level, it says a lot about BBG’s in general. Even in such an event, the Prowler Portal isn’t going anywhere. Our *future* efforts may simply be directed in other ways.
What do you think that the future holds for browser-based games?
I’m still very optimistic. Many of the people who have subscribed to Lunatix Online have indicated that they enjoy this BETTER than games like Everquest or Ultima Online. Go figure. It comes down to *wanting* to play a game, yet not having the time most others can invest in playing. It comes down to enjoying something that’s slower-paced and doesn’t tax your reflexes the way action games will. It comes down to killing time at work, where it would be pretty hard to install a C/S game and get away with it (I have a hard enough time just minimizing Shockwave sites; and they don’t even take up my whole screen).
I have given this some thought – not just in response to your question, but as I have considered the future direction of Prowler Productions. BBG players have been spoiled by years of free play at sites which enjoyed the income brought from “ad” revenue. It’s no secret that times are changing. Many sites made money – more than I have at my site by “charging” players – and it has created a market that is typically very hostile toward pay sites. Now, we see a catch 22. Few people are willing to pay to play BBG’s, yet most people expect the best in quality. The good free sites, from what I’ve seen, become overcrowded which creates that much more of a resource drain for them, and that much more *need* for income. Some are finding that the alternative is to charge, or to ask for donations. Few *popular* free multiplayer BBG’s are going to stay afloat unless somebody pays for it – that’s how I feel.
I don’t think the results are in yet though. Many free sites *will* stay around simply because they don’t have enough players to warrant expensive hosting (the traffic is small). It’s possible that the banner market could rebound, as “targeted” advertising (which is what mpogd.com does) becomes attractive. (Really — how many people who refuse to play “pay” games for fear of using credit cards would actually care much about a Visa or MasterCard offer advertised inside some game they play?) Some sites may shut down (it’s already happening). Some may partner up with sites like mine, who will host games simply because we have the resources (so far) to do so. Some may continue to operate on servers incapable of handling the traffic, encouraging the opinion that BBG’s aren’t “real” games and aren’t taken seriously by most gamers because they’re so slow.
It’s really hard to say what the future holds. I think C/S games are finally filling some of the gaps that text-based games previously did, by providing more in the way of story, gameplay, and realism. As this continues, there may be fewer people even interested in BBG’s – I hope not, but it’s a possibility. At the same time, I think BBG’s might begin to fill some of the gaps that C/S games previously have, primarily in the areas of graphics, sound, and size — provided serious developers are still willing to take the risks to try.
I haven’t seen any indication that BBG players are adapting as quickly as the BBG sites themselves must. Sure, banner ad income is harder to come by and many sites are beginning to see the merit of charging a subscription, but are players accepting this? I don’t think so. Lunatix Online hasn’t been hurt *or* helped by the booming-then-declining ad market. People opposed to paying a year ago are no more eager to shell out $5 now. I believe that many free sites may not be *able* to charge, simply because they haven’t hit on the kind of game that people are willing to pay for. You may get thousands of people to play a free tic-tac-toe game, but few (if any) will pay for that. To succeed, quality and innovation is going to be more important.
I honestly don’t know if BBG fans are going to become more receptive to pay sites. I also don’t know what this will really do to the quality of BBG’s. Will they get better because you have to charge to keep your game up (and you have to have a great game to justify charging)? Will they get worse because the “paying” market is so small and nobody with a “great” game can afford to run it, and because leading developers give up and move on?
As I said, I don’t think the results are in yet.