Welcome back to the 71st edition of Reloading...! 

“The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” – Robert Frost


Everyone can use a feel good moment to start the day.   Let’s go with this…

Stefan Sagmeister shares happy design (click to play):

Thanks for taking some time out of your day to read this column.  I truly appreciate it.    If you happen to use Twitter, you can follow me @BoomjackTTH.   I rarely use Facebook, but I do occasionally post gaming related tidbits on Google+ where you can find me under my real moniker John Hoskin. 


My first taste of the MMOG market was EverQuest.   I suppose you could actually say that the appetizer that got me into this industry was a MUD, or text based MMOG, but regardless of the starting point, there were not a lot of choices when it came to graphical MMOGs.   At the time Ultima Online was the king of the hill and though I didn’t personally enjoy playing it, there were thousands who did.   

I was fortunate enough to chat with Richard Garriott, (Lord British) at a gaming event in the late 90s.  He told me a great story about the title that very few people know, so read on and let me bring you into the group in the know about Richard Garriott’s happy design for Ultima Online.

The Ultima Online development spent an enormous amount of time and an enormous amount of effort on a feature that Lord British referred to as virtual ecology.   Essentially the ‘living’ creatures in the game all had a purpose or artificial intelligence that drove them to not only carry out the plans devised for them by the developers, but when those plans could not be accomplished, find another path to success. 

Choices of the playerbase with regards to these entities could and would affect how the game played out.    The butterfly effect was in play, with any action having the possibility of creating a domino effect that resulted in monumental changes.   It was a brilliant idea and it was implemented in such a way that it would seem a natural and reasonable part of the game; until players came in and killed everything, indiscriminately.

The playerbase were like mindless locusts consuming everything in their path including each other.   If it moved it died.  If it didn’t move then it would die as soon as it did.   The design team had not expected such whole-hearted slaughter and had not considered what would happen if the players simply killed every single entity that spawned faster than the AI could start the virtual ecology simulation.    All that time and all that effort to make the game have consequences was eventually just pulled from the game because the players acted in a way that was completely unexpected.  

Happy design became obsolete in this case, but the thought was there.   How that affected Richard Garriott’s designs in the future is unclear.  It would be a great question to have answered though.

Many games have humour built in.  I consider that happy design.   Having a NPC named Harrison Jones dressed like Indiana Jones, leading me through pyramids and the desert is fun.  When he yells out, “Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes!” it just adds to the enjoyment. 

Examples of happy design can be found in just about every game 

What are some of your favourite happy design moments?

That’s it for today.  Thanks again for reading and as always, may your dreams be big and your worries be small.


As always, you can contact me a number of ways:
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Website
  • Telepathy (Just make sure it’s during business hours.  I hate to be woken by this stuff)

Until we meet again,

John “Boomjack” Hoskin

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Hoskin 0
Dissecting and distilling the game industry since 1994. Lover of family time, youth hockey, eSports, and the game industry in general.