A Game Over Three Decades in Design

Once upon a time an impressionable young boy, around the age of 9 or 10, was introduced to the TI 99/4A home computer by his older brother. Aside from the cool computer games, such as Tunnels of Doom, that this brought into both their lives, it also introduced computer programming in TI BASIC to both brothers. Before long the two began writing their very own games, mostly MUDs but also a few experiments into sprite based games.

Flash forward a few years to when the TI had been replaced by an Atari 800 complete with 300baud modem and enter the world of the BBS. The Internet was still Arpanet, there was no WWW anything, and MUDs and RPGs had evolved to allow two or three players to coexist in a game through dialing into a bulletin board. It was also at this time, in May of 1985, that Dragon Magazine published the story Catacomb by Henry Melton.

Catacomb blew my mind (I was the impressionable young boy mentioned above in case you missed that). Here was a story about the game that I, and many like me, had gnawing at the back of our minds to create. A game with massive amounts of players, all playing simultaneously with and against one another. And a game that could earn you money – if you were good enough. I had been writing MUDs and RPGs for around 4 years at this point, all shared freely across the various BBS I belonged to, and I was quite proud of these games; only they paled in comparison to what was now in my dreams. I knew the moment I finished that story that someday I would write such a game.

A short while later the Atari 800 had been replaced by the 130XE, I had been learning Pascal and later C on the IBM XT and AT computers at school, and I spent much of my free time on the weekends playing various RPGs (gaming as we called it). On one such gaming night our group took a walk from my house to the local gas station to grab some junk food and beverages in preparation of a night of Dungeons and Dragons. Safely returned and fully stocked with all the sugar and preservatives any growing boy could need, our Dungeon Master, Tom Truman, turned to us and said “Write down everything you had on you when we left for the store.” With all of us having done so he continued by saying, “As we were walking up the street, a mist grew around us and enveloped everyone until there was no light or sound. We all awake some time later in what appears to be a forest at night. This game is called Omega Connection.”

Thus, Omega Connection was born. A role playing game where you play yourself in a different time, place or dimension. You know what you know and are hoping to find your way home, or at the very least to survive. This was the game that started the evolution, turning my vague dream of one day creating a massive multiplayer game into something with focus. If Catacomb was the seed, Omega Connection was the radioactive soil that started its growth into a colorful myriad of vines and flowers. It is for that reason which I stole the name from Tom’s RPG.

Years passed and I programmed, until sometime in late 1997 I was introduced to Ultima Online by Origin Systems. I had played several of the Richard Garriot’s Ultima series games so was quite familiar with the world of Britannia and found myself addicted in no time. Having been an avid role player growing up I eventually made my way into the ranks of the Interest group (later called Event Coordinators) as Ancient Seer Grathus, and even coded a few tools for making the Interest group’s life easier. It also awoke that gnawing dream in the back of my head, which promptly scraped and clawed itself to claim the forefront of my mind.

UO was great, but it lacked what I was dreaming of, the realism and versatility that I imagined in my mind’s eye. I set about learning 3D modelling and began creating the creatures and characters in 3D Studio Max that I would want in my game. This is where I ran smack dab into a brick wall. Many of the realistic models I created consisted of over 30000 polygons and took hours upon hours to render a single frame. Even distorting those beautiful creations down to 20000 polygons still took nearly half a day render time. My nose was a bloody pulp smashed flat against my face. I could not accept compromise of my vision even if that vision was not yet fully complete; and once again the dream sloughed its way toward the back of my mind.

In 2001 I revisited the dream and formed the software company Proverbs, LLC with the hopes of progressing Omega Connection into a reality. At this time the majority of 3D games were using models at around 1000 polygons, however the models which once took many hours to render now did so in minutes. Progress. And while Internet connection speeds and the computer processor market were continuing to improve at a linear rate, the video card market was improving nearly exponentially. There was hope and I promised myself that when my 30000 polygon figures became viable I would build my dream. In the meantime, Proverbs wrote business software and provided IT services while I worked on the occasional algorithm and game design idea.

It was at some point between then and now which I read the entirety of the Elric series by Michael Moorcock. I had read several of the stories in years past, but I had this insatiable bug to read everything in story chronological order. I had always loved the Law vs Chaos of the Elric stories, but it was The Dream of Earl Aubec which finally completed the vision of what Omega Connection should be. The idea of the world, any world, being created dynamically based upon the desires of those who entered the conflict between Law and Chaos grabbed hold of that long forged dream and gave it final shape. A world where the players can unlock each section and have it created based on how their character has acted previously.

Which brings us to now: three decades of shaping the design of a dream into what will become a game, years of sharing the dream with artists, designers and developers eager to help see that game be born, and a world where technology has finally caught up to an impressionable boy’s dream. The story starts here…