TriadCity Reviewers' Guide
Notes and Suggestions
Thanks so much for your interest in reviewing TriadCity! We appreciate it greatly!
If you have questions, please contact Mark Phillips.
These are some themes which are interesting to us:
- Text. The mega-success of 3-D graphical MMOGs, especially World of Warcraft and Second Life, is certainly very impressive. Although we very much admire much of the user-generated content in SL, we find the cartoonishness of the graphical experience off-putting. For us, our own ability to form excellent pictures in imagination is so much more powerful and fulfilling. We don't think this makes TriadCity retro. We think it makes it better. Many people agree: TriadCity frequently attracts refugees from these cartoon worlds.
- Friendly to the blind and visually impaired. The "classic" TriadCity Java client incorporates text-to-speech, so that visually impaired players can interact with the game world by listening to it rather than reading it. The new HTML5 version uses WAI-ARIA Live Regions to allow some screen readers to do the same. Better, a new client is in progress written specifically for blind and visually impaired users, which eliminates all menus, buttons, scrolling text and other visual impediments: information presented by the new UI is 100% spoken. Text commands can substitute for all GUI menus and other controls, and a BlindMode command turns off pop-up dialog boxes. The game world is written to be blind-friendly, and an aptly-named BlindFriendly command explains if any particular region might be troublesome for screen readers. The SmartMonsters web site is marked up with HTML5 and WAI-ARIA Landmark Roles, and we test with Voice Over, NVDA and ChromeVox. There's an account setting which replaces images with text throughout the web site. Ensuring that blind and visually impaired players are first class citizens in our world is a top commitment for us.
- More women than men. From the beginning we've made gender parity a primary goal. We're happy to have achieved it and then some - in TriadCity, women players actually outnumber men by a small margin. Four of the top five players are women. Granted women are participating in online environments in increasing numbers nowadays. Nevertheless this is an achievement we're proud of.
- More adults than not. 30% of TriadCity players are in their 20s; 25% in their 30s; 10% are older. The 40-and-older group is very active, and provides many of our world's most beloved characters. 30% of all joins are teenagers - smart ones. Many of this last group have played TriadCity for years and are now adults with kids. We emphasize that TriadCity is for "smart grownups". We're very, very happy when younger people join! But, they're not our focus, and they don't dominate our online culture.
- Violence exists but is not privileged. In TriadCity there are many paths to character growth. Traditional MUD-inflected violence is possible: you can seek and kill monsters if this moves you. But, violence is not a privileged path to advancement, and can often be exactly the worst possible option. Note that in TriadCity death is permanent - killed characters don't respawn. We do intend there to be a rich and vibrant afterlife experience, but it's not there yet. This is a major disincentive to mindless hack and splatter.
- Very advanced "artificial intelligence". TriadCity's many thousands of automated characters are programmed using the most advanced AI concepts, borrowed in part from the field of robotics. For example, we make widespread use of a robotics concept called "subsumption architecture" to produce highly lifelike automata behaviors. Our automated characters have jobs to go to, hobbies to engage in, homes to sleep in at the end of the day, slaves to free and bounty hunters to outfox, and if you follow them around you'll find them behaving in widely varied ways in keeping with their characters. The nasty ones will coordinate with each other strategically to defeat player incursions onto their turf, and their tactics can adapt to fluidly changing situations. Our authoring tools make it easy to assign complex behaviors which appropriately individualize characters. We're not familiar with this level of AI sophistication in any previous game, including the most wildly popular ones.
- "Natural" language. TriadCity's command parser is very flexible. For the most part you can type intuitive commands in the imperative mood and our clever code will figure you out. So for example you can happily type "look into the bag", "show me inside the bag" "what's in the bag?" "look inside the bag", "look into the fourth bag" "what's in the little green bag?", "look back, on the track, for my little green bag", "papa's got a brand new bag", and many other variations. OK, kidding about the last two.
- Player-contributed content encouraged. Players are able to use simple online tools to contribute to the world. Advanced contributors take on the Builder Role authoring whole new neighborhoods and adventures. Unlike Second Life or other virtual worlds emphasizing player-contributed content, our world Builders work together as a group under the ultimate direction of our lead author. Builders have great latitude to contribute their ideas, while their contributions are tailored to fit the overall themes and geography of the city. The results are coherent and worthwhile — unlike the frequently offputting cacophony of SL. Additionally, casual contributors are able to build and customize their own player houses, design and share clothing and hair styles and tattoos, invent new recipes for food, own businesses and so on. Much of the most-beloved content is contributed by players.
- Subjectivity. Two characters may walk into a room together and perceive that space differently, either subtly or radically depending on the intent of the author. Subjectivity is a Modernist convention, but, we don't know of this ever being done in any other online environment.
- Extremely detailed. Room descriptions and contents vary by time of day, creating very different feels by day or night. Every object has complete sight, smell, taste, touch and sound descriptions. Tertiary descriptions, aka "nouns" are ubiquitous. There are tens of thousands of NPCs and hundreds of thousands of items to interact with.
- Universal city. Instead of deriving from the traditional MUD sources - DnD and Tolkien - we've based TriadCity on the "universal city" idea of Modernist literature, especially Eliot's The Waste Land. In TriadCity all cities of western culture and all historical epochs are present simultaneously, along with fantastic and surreal elements, blended together inside a framework which is essentially satirical. So the setting is urban, is not "medieval", and you'll find cowboys, Greek philosophers and astronauts together in the same mag-lev subway train. The fun of this is that we can ambitiously set out to take snotty satirical pokes at pretty much everything, and have a reasonably coherent structure for doing that.
- MUD & IF. TriadCity originates in the MUD / RPG genre, emphasizing social interaction over individual experience. World authors are free to create IF-like experiences, and many exist. But we stress that TriadCity's culture is sociable and gregarious; many of its game challenges are impossible without groups. Participants coming from a solitary IF background may need to adjust.
- Authored by real writers. TriadCity's lead author, Mark Phillips, is sorta kinda widely published in Europe and America, including some of the most respected online literary journals. He and Gary Smith, SmartMonsters' CEO, are invited to speak at literary events from time to time, for instance the Richard Hugo House 6th Annual Inquiry on literature and games. TriadCity is cited in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism as an example of new, emerging literary forms. There's a vividness and vibrance to TriadCity we experience nowhere else - and TriadCity has a sense of humor, emphatically not the typical MUD experience.
- Literary references. There are bazillions of literary references and in-jokes, including NPCs who are more understandable if you've read the book. This isn't strictly necessary - although borrowed characters are a common theme in Postmodernism - but it's part of the fun.
- Nondeterministic causality. Our experience with TriadCity has taught us that literary forms are dependent on their modes of distribution. Literary works distributed in bound form inevitably have a linear structure, indeed whole genre such as mystery fiction or picaresque novels exist to exploit the effects made possible by this inevitability. TriadCity is a very different experience, where players are more than mere readers, and fixed sequences of events can't be imposed. Traditional linear fiction is based on and explores deterministic causalities; in TriadCity determinism is pretty much impossible and the causalities explored are structural, probabilistic, stochastic. Yes, that's a mouthful. Players aren't required to worry about this. Authors, maybe a little.
- Interesting chatterbots. Chatterbots based on the personalities of Oscar Wilde, Douglas Adams' depressed robot Marvin, Eliza the classic robot psychotherapist, and others will intervene into in-game conversations. Oscar's hilarious.
- Big, but small. Although there are a lot of rooms online - 19,166, being exact - this is only a fraction of the c. 100,000 projected.
- All-original, stable code. The code's entirely original. The environment is extremely stable. Servers don't crash, bugs are small and subtle and nearly always limited to the newest features. TriadCity is written by software professionals with many decades experience at the forefront of their fields. It shows.
- Free! TriadCity can be played forever without ever spending a dime. There's no limit on character abilities or achievements. A class of "Premium Items" exists which can be purchased with Reward Points. Reward Points are given away as thanks for recruiting friends, helping with testing, solving puzzles, hanging around the TriadCity Facebook page, and generally being cool. They can also be purchased for U.S. Dollars should you choose to do so. This is our only shot at paying the rent, so we thank you kindly for choosing to do so.
- Feast and famine. Sometimes you'll find many dozens of reqular players frequently on; other times, only one or two. We're setting out to change this with proper marketing real soon now. Watch this space.
- Awesome players! There's a vibrant long-term core of wonderful players who understand this world and love being part of it. Become familiar with them and they'll make your experience great. The TC ethic is collaborative, and all the folks without exception are helpful. We hope you'll join them!