Raph Koster, the creator of Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, has recently been making headlines with his controversial opinions on the future of virtual worlds.
MMO creator Raph Koster has been delving into the technical difficulties of how to create it in his continuing blog series on the metaverse (and he is very much creating one that will underlie Playable Worlds’ forthcoming sandbox MMO). The topic of this week’s post on the subject points out that what people believe they desire from a metaverse is not only impossible, but also unpleasant, such as hopping between radically diverse settings like a hapless companion in Doctor Who.
“Are you sure you want to switch your avatar between a fantastical world and a harsh noir one set around Prohibition?” he asks. Do you want “Fairyland” to clash with World War II? He claims that “aesthetics isn’t the primary reason something is bad.” “The fundamental problem is that if gamers were anticipating a lovely calm tea party with talking flowers and instead were knocked over by a Sherman tank, they won’t be happy.”
Naturally, this question leads to a discussion of the technical foundations of maps over the years, from MUDs to MMOs, and the fact that there are few technical standards for them, oh yeah, and the fact that they are constantly changing, both in games and in real life, but game and app developers still treat them as static rather than dynamic.
“Today’s virtual world maps are largely baked into a static form and then pre-installed on your hard disk with the client, similar to the art I mentioned last time. This makes altering them difficult, which is precisely backwards for the one most frequent use of any location that mankind has ever had: to build on it. It’s really worse than you think: the map is often delivered as art. It is, in fact, a beautifully crafted sculpture by an artist. It isn’t even referred to as “map data.” It’s a map data sculpture, a painting of map data. Many developers have a faulty notion regarding virtual worlds, in which they believe the content on the client is what counts. However, this is not the case. It’s known as the “goggles fallacy.” We get engrossed in the presentation of it all, the way everything seems. This is why, even though we have the cloud, maps are still delivered as art. Look, my vehicle is old enough to have a navigation system with a DVD of maps built in. It’s hilariously antiquated! Why do we believe it is OK for our metaverse future to function in this manner?”
Finally, he claims, the metaverse must reject the notion of maps as art since maps are data, not art. He adds, “They have to be able to adapt.” “To progress.”