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Massively Interview: How Eleven is fighting to bring Glitch back

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The Massively staffers were delighted to hear that one of our favorite quirky browser MMOs might be coming back from the dead. Fan projects such as Eleven and Children of Ur, the latter of which is in a playable pre-alpha, are often at an extreme disadvantage with such resurrection projects, as they can lack legality, resources, and access to the original code. However, in this particular case, it looks as though Glitch might be a go for a return, as Tiny Speck has blessed player efforts and released the source code and art assets to help out.

Of course, this doesn't mean that there isn't a huge mountain of obstacles to surmount, but if anyone's to do it it, it might very well be the Eleven team. We reached out to Project Lead Jim Condren and several members of his team to get a better feel for where the project is at and when we might be playing Glitch once more.


Massively: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your team.

Jim Condren: I'm Jim, the "Chief Chicken Tamer" of this project (Project Lead in non Glitchy terms). I'm a software developer and software architect at my day job. Our team is compromised of a varying size number of volunteers, with typically between 15 and 20 active on the project at any give time. Some are students and some are professional, all with a bunch of different backgrounds. We've got coders, systems administrators, non-technical people with the helpful gift of OCD in order to work on QA, and a variety of others.

How long did you play Glitch back when it was running? What did you like best about it?

Condren: I started playing around September 2011 and pulled my wife in to play with me shortly thereafter. While I'm sure many people would note the social aspect of the game as one of their biggest highlights, I really kept to myself and just enjoyed exploring the beautiful world, gathering everything I needed for different projects (such as upgrading my house and tower). One of my favorite things was gathering and selling cubimals (little collectible toys) in my tower.

What was your reaction to Glitch's closure?

Condren: Disbelief at first and then anger. The game was one-of-a-kind, and I'd never found myself enjoying a game anywhere near as much as Glitch. Like a lot of people, I was so disheartened by the shutdown announcement that I could hardly log in for more than a few minutes without thinking to myself how horrible it was that it was going to shut down and having to log off.

How did the Eleven project get started? How did you assemble the team?

Condren: Our team was formed back in November of 2013 after Tiny Speck released the assets open sourced. There was a discussion going on in the private Facebook group "Ur - What Remains" trying to figure out what exactly they released and what we could all do with it when Tiny Speck's Ali dropped in and offered up the use of their new tool, Slack, to help organize our efforts and get something going. After picking a few volunteers to act as administrators (myself included), we were able to jump in and start our planning.

In the beginning, we reached out to many places to try and find fans of Glitch who'd be of benefit to the project. Our team steadily grew, although as is typical with a volunteer project only a handful of people usually stuck around from every new batch of people. These days when we have a need for a specific skill, we'll post details on the blog and social media sites. We still have people finding us for the first time that want to help out contacting us every so often as well.

This project wouldn't be anywhere near as far along without Slack. If I had to point at the one thing that we use that has helped us the most, it would have to be that. It's facilitated easy communication and cooperation with our team members from around the globe and help keep this project moving forward.

Can you explain to the larger community what Tiny Speck has made available of the original Glitch for your project to work with? Why can't you just put the code on your server and start it back up? What's missing and why is it missing?

Turnip: We were given almost a million lines of javascript code to handle the core game and 16,000 files with artwork and animations.

JustinD and Aroha: Tiny Speck provided all the original art assets, the complete game client, and the game logic that defines the behavior of every player, item, and NPC in the game. What we weren't given is the backend server layer, their custom persistence layer and the webapp. Tiny Speck did not provide us with the code for the back end server layer (originally written in Java; our replacement is written in JavaScript running on Node) due to a lack of time and the scale of the effort to pull out several third-party tools that they didn't have rights to distribute. Large parts of the webapp (including the god system, an administrative tool) were also heavily reliant on third-party tools they couldn't distribute, so they were unable to provide that to us either.

Jim Condren: Outside of Tiny Speck itself, we've also been given the rights to use the original music and sound effects as well by the artists who created them (thanks to Danny Simmons for giving us permission and getting permission from the other artists for us) that were not part of the public domain release.

How much work as been done on Eleven? How long have you all been working on it?

Condren: The first part of this one is a little hard to quantify. We've written a lot of code and gone over the entire game world to make sure different bits and baubles are in their proper location, but there's so much left to do. For one thing, 99% of our coding efforts up to this point have been on what we're calling the "throwaway server," which was basically our playground that got hacked together so we could test things out and work out how things do and should work before moving on to a final version. This final version has just recently started to take shape as well, building off of everything we learned from the throwaway server. I guess the best way to describe it is, "a lot of work has been done."

Regarding how long, it's been approximately 10 months since we started the project, with most of the main contributors having been around for most of that time. The deceiving thing about that is been 10 months of people working on this as a side project. Aside from one person, who is fortunate enough to be in a situation where he can devote a lot more, we are all working on it in our spare time.

How long do you think it will be until there's a playable version of Eleven for the public?

Condren: To paraphrase Tiny Speck: Soon(tm)! More seriously though, we don't have a great time frame at this point. Once we have a good idea of when we might be able to start letting people in the game, we'll be sure to announce it. That said, we're steadily working and continually planning, so rest assured it will be as soon as we possibly can release something... as long as it's stable enough.

What systems are you working on right now?

Condren: Depends on what you mean by systems. If you mean software/hardware, we're actually working across a variety of platforms and editors. Since we're running in Node.JS, we're actually able to work on the game on Linux, OSX or even Windows, although most of us are working on a Vagrant box (a kind of preconfigured virtual machine) that's running Linux.

If you mean by game systems, if it's in the game, we're working on it. I personally have spent a good amount of time getting the housing system up and running, but other members of the team spread their efforts around across anything and everything that appears to need work.

How similar will Eleven feel to the original Glitch? Will it contain new or different elements?

QA Lead LadyCeres: Since the code Eleven is writing is an invisible layer, the game's interface is exactly like the original Glitch. The coders have made many back-end improvements already; in fact we were advised NOT to do things the way Tiny Speck did by the former developers themselves! As far as gameplay, we've discovered plenty of unreleased goodies in the repositories that we'll be able to clean up and release ourselves to maintain the legacy that was left to us. We're also discussing some ideas for original development alongside our current work. Our goal is to keep new ideas in the spirit of Glitch, perhaps with some input from the community.

When we originally addressed adding world items, we went through many decisions over how we wanted the world to look when we were done. Ultimately, since we wanted to re-create Glitch as faithfully as possible, the QA team that evolved has been committed to scouring snaps and taking copious notes to ensure the world looks as close as possible to the way it did at the shutdown. We're gearing up to walk every street in Ur to clean up the alignment and appearance of all the quoins, rocks, trees, shrines and street spirits!

What can the community do to support Eleven?

Jim Condren: For the moment, we're glad to welcome any software developer with some relevant experience/skills (email us at slack@elevengiants.com telling us of said experience/skills). For everyone else, just keep your eyes glued to the Eleven website along with our social media sites for other opportunities to help.

I know something that a lot of people are asking is, "Can I donate some money to help?" My answer to that is, "Not yet." The only real expenses we have right now are supporting our servers, and we've gotten that covered internally. Once we get further along, that answer may, and likely will, change, but for the moment everyone should hold on to his or her money.

What's your favorite story or experience from this project so far?

Condren: Honestly, I've got so many favorite experiences from this project. From the generosity of Tiny Speck and its current and former employees who've contributed in both big and small manners to the rabid excitement of the fans. It's been great to get some insight into the code from the original people who developed it. It's amazing that the original musicians have allowed us to use their work. It's amazing how people from across the globe can work cooperatively on a project of this scale.

The most profound experience for me so far was seeing the game load up for the first time with our own custom-made logo (crafted by none other than the art director for Glitch, Kukubee) over top of the loading screen. That's the point when a lot of the uncertainty fell away for me. I've always felt confident that we'd reach our goals, but it didn't feel completely real until that moment.

I'm continually looking forward to the next stages on this project, and can't wait until we're able to share it with everyone. As much as Glitch meant to me, I know it meant a whole lot more to a lot more people, and it'll be a great feeling to bring them all back to Ur.

Thank you for your time and good luck with the ongoing effort!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!

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