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Raph Koster on Metaplace part 2

Michael Zenke

Obviously what that product offers up is ease of use. From the sounds of things Metaplace is going to offer more powerful tools, though still you're striving for an easy experience. Can you give people who are interested in the project how heavily they're going to need to invest in learning languages or scripting in order to make Metaplace worlds?

Metaplace is designed to be both easy and powerful. The goal is to expose the power gradually as people are ready for it. At the low end using it is a lot like using The Sims. You have stuff you can put down, purchase from a marketplace – it's primarily map building. If you're someone that isn't really technically savvy, you can get going in a pretty straightforward way that's a lot of fun. And of course, it's a multiplayer world. Your friends can come visit you.

As you start exploring stuff you can obtain, these things come with functionality out of the box. Spawners are something you can buy and place. Even at that low level you can get interactivity right away. Some of the things you buy are systems. You can buy the 'shoot fireballs' system, and now every player can shoot fireballs. We actually had a user buy that, buy some zombies, and in about three hours had snapped together an undead version of the game Robotron.

"An advanced user can script everything and anything. We have people who have made puzzle games, RPGs, arcade games, by writing their own custom scripts."

As you get higher up you start contributing your own content. The place most people do that is via art. We support bringing in assets from anywhere on the web, pasting in pictures, uploading from your hard drive. You can quickly make the world look very different. A lot of people use Google SketchUp content, for example, and they turn it into sprites. We focus on 2D to make it easy. 3D is one of the biggest barriers for people – we wanted people to be able to contribute art.

Beyond that you can actually create your own behaviors. That's where the depths of Metaplace really comes in. The typical user never has to open a script editor, never has to know what a sprite or an object template is. An advanced user can script everything and anything. We have people who have made puzzle games, RPGs, arcade games, by writing their own custom scripts. Once you write the systems, the objects, the behaviors, and put them on the marketplace.

That goes all the way back to that newbie player who can't script or make their own art. They can use the building blocks that you made. It feeds into itself as a great circle.

For people who have programmed before, who want to get into scripting, what languages should they be familiar with before coming to Metaplace?

LUA. The same one that WoW uses for UI mods. That's it. You can cut and paste LUA code off of the net and it will work in Metaplace.

You mentioned you're focusing on 2D right now – there are eventually plans to move to 3D worlds?

Eventually? But one challenge at a time. Our goal is to allow anyone to build, and that's really important to us. We want to make sure we're succeeding at empowering ordinary people. The fact is that lots of plans are already in the works for making 3D easier. We already are working on some of them. But it's just harder. Harder for users, not harder for us. We've done it for many years.

What we're trying to do is make it so that having to understand about wrapping models is not something that ordinary people should have to worry about.

Understand that when we say ordinary people we mean librarians and teachers and housewives ... lots of non-techy people are already using the service. These are the people we want to empower.

With people uploading their own content, there's the potential for objectionable experiences. What controls are you putting in place to stop seeing things they don't want to see?

Pretty much the standard web array. One of the advantages of doing things the web way is that we have lots of models to go off of. Worlds have tags, ratings, reviews, maturity ratings ... there's a reporting system ... a whole bunch of the standard suite of stuff. One of the advantages of the Metaplace structure is that everyone has their own world sort of in the ether, you don't have a lot next to someplace else. The someone else might be porn, right? You only see neighbors if you want to, you can attach another world to yours if you choose so you can see them from 'next door.' That's one of the big differences – we are a web of worlds. Objectionable content can't find its way into your space.

The Metaplace marketplace is still probably a moving target for you guys, but can you talk about some of the broad strokes for folks who are interested? You're using an in-world currency? Will that be shown in real dollar values, and will it be easy to use?

We're not talking about business models just yet, that's more for next year. It's more important to try to get the product right than to make money off of it. You get it right, and the money will come. The marketplace is accessible in world, you can search and tag, it doesn't hold just items. You can also search for behaviors and scripts and systems, as we mentioned before. Health bars, inventory systems, that fireball mechanic ... one of the things we'll be doing with this round of funding is populating it with more stuff! That's one of the most time-intensive parts of what we're doing.

Everything on the marketplace right now is free, because we haven't turned on the currency. We'll have a virtual currency that will exist at the network level. It's an important distinction, it's not just a currency for one particular world. We maintain a badges system, a friends list, at the network level as well. Any world can use that system or not. The currency system is above all of that, and that's what you use to tie into your account and the marketplace if you so choose.

In-world, you can buy a gold coins system on the marketplace to use. That's separate, though.

To go back to LittleBigPlanet for a moment, one of the elements that seems to really appeal about that game is the ability to collaborate on a level. Does Metaplace share that ability to create something, or someplace, 'live' on the fly?

"When I went back I showed up next to a longboat on a beach. There was a treasure chest next to it, I clicked on it, and it said "go down the beach to meet your guide! Your name is Virak, which means 'Stranger' in ancient Swedish.""

Absolutely. It's one of the most fun things about the project.

As a last question, you mentioned that librarians and teachers are using the service already. Can you elaborate on some of the projects that are already ongoing? As examples of what people are really using Metaplace for?

Ohhh ... just weird stuff. Stuff you wouldn't expect. My favorite example ... this guy showed up and said "Hi, I'm half of a folk music duo in Sweden, and I don't know how to program. We do traditional music." I was like ... okay. When I first went to his world he bought the video TV and when you clicked on it you saw what was basically a tourism video of Sweden with acoustic music playing over it. I thought, "oh, he's playing his music over this video cool."

When I went back I showed up next to a longboat on a beach. There was a treasure chest next to it, I clicked on it, and it said "go down the beach to meet your guide! Your name is Virak, which means 'Stranger' in ancient Swedish." I go down the beach and I meet this wizard ... he has NPCs in there ... and it turned into something much weirder. But also richer and really kind of cool. Eventually there was a windmill, and a magic mirror inside that played the video. He'd hacked the TV to look like a mirror.

I ended up in a tavern, with NPCs of his band on stage. He'd hung a photo of the real-life band on the wall, and you could click on them to get their music. To me it was one of the eye-opening moments. He was very much not a game developer. He was on the forums every day asking for help, but the creativity is so different and refreshing. It's not just another RPG!

There are so many examples of that; there's the weird dollhouse worlds, there are desert next to snow worlds, other people are trying to make virtual classrooms. It's hard to pin it down once you get to those users. Even if they're not the most tech-savvy, in many ways they're the ones doing the most interesting work.

Thanks sir, so much, for your time.

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