Issue 2

October 17th, 2008

Exclusive Interview With Dentin


Ouch: I have about 16 questions - I'll spin off 4 more (or more) from those and how you answer them.

Dentin: Heh ok.

Dentin: No problem.

Ouch: The time is 137 pm MUD system time on Friday October 17th, 2008.

Ouch: We have here DENTIN the god creator of Alter Aeon... who has agreed to an exclusive interview for the Ralnoth Times.

Ouch: (And possibly the aa website at his discretion)

Ouch: Do you have any opening comments before we proceed with the questions?

Dentin: Heh, it seems like it would be inappropriate to put it there actually, so I think its all yours.

Dentin: Nope, fire away.


Ouch: What was your hardest moment related to AA?

Dentin: Hrm, a specific point in time, or what's been the hardest aspect of working on it?

Ouch: Well if youre up to it - both :)

Dentin: I really dont think I can answer the specific point in time part of the question, because as I look back there have really been no catastrophic hard times I've had to overcome.

Dentin: But regarding the hardest aspect of working on it in general, I think it's always been and continues to be incentive.

Ouch: Meaning?

Dentin: It's incredibly hard to stay motivated and positive all the time, especially when I just did something stupid or pissed off a bunch of people with a change that no one likes.

Ouch: And that happens a lot to you?

Dentin: I'd say I get my equivalent of 'hate mail' probably once a month. Sometimes a player can say one sentence and basically blow my whole day. I hate it when that happens, but sometimes it does.

Dentin: Even beyond that, after 14 years, sometimes I just look at the code base and the list of 3000 things (seriously) that need to be done, and I just say 'what the hell, im going to go play starcraft'.

Dentin: My state of mind is a pretty delicate thing. Little stuff affects me greatly, but I try really hard to just power through it and get something done anyway.

Ouch: What race do you like to play in starcraft?

Dentin: Heh, I think I like zerg the most, but only because terran and protoss are clunkier to build and harder to swarm.

Ouch: Whats your favorite starcraft single player mission?

Ouch: And also has starcraft ever inspired anything in AA ? Apart form helping the state of mind?

Dentin: I dislike the missions where you cant build anything and you have a group of marines or whatever that you have to keep alive. Beyond that, I like nearly all of the missions.

Dentin: Starcraft actually has made me think a lot about AA, and has driven some of the newbie related changes we've seen recently.

Dentin: When you start playing starcraft, it's incredibly intuitive, with a very easy, simple way of getting you to learn things.

Dentin: The mud on the other hand, is not easy. Trying to make it more user friendly is one of the big things that I've tried to take away from starcraft.

Ouch: Do you use cheat codes when you play starcraft?

Dentin: I use them from time to time, but in general its not my thing. I'll turn on power overwhelming when I get bored or pissed off. One thing I do wish I had though is a slower speed setting than 'very slow'. There are boards where if I could run it slower, I could do a better job. There's just too much stuff going on at once.

Ouch: On to the next aa question....


Ouch: What was your best moment?

Dentin: The best moments are usually when people tell me that AA has changed their life in a positive way. Second best moments are when something really crazy happens and the code just stands up and handles it in an awesome way I never expected. I love emergent behaviour.

Dentin: I guess just knowing that I've succeeded at doing either something interesting, or something useful to other people.

Ouch: Would you please illustrate one or more times when the code handled a problem by itself?

Dentin: Ok, so one day a long time ago, I did something weird.

Dentin: I loaded a pocket, dropped it in room 1970, then used the 'at' command to pick it up.

Dentin: I look in the pocket, and there I am, inside it.

Dentin: So anyway, I auction the pocket I'm carrying that has me inside it.

Dentin: No problem, right? dentin is sitting inside a pocket that is being auctioned.

Dentin: So naturally, I feel the urge to go 'out'.

Dentin: Next thing I know, im seamlessly being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Ouch: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Dentin: I dont think that was ever supposed to happen - yet the mud took care of it as though it wasn't even out of the ordinary.

Ouch: It's stuff like that I love about aa :)

Dentin: That's what I mean.

Dentin: Or the time I found five thousand pieces of wood falling in a circle of endless falling rooms.


Ouch: How have you seen the game improve?

Dentin: Heh, when hasn't it improved? Remember, I started from "int main() {}", so I've seen it at all stages.

Dentin: Busting it up into stages, you probably get something like this:

Dentin: 1) Making something, anything work. If you don't have commands, you can't do anything.

Dentin: 2) Making it work without crashing or corrupting all the data it touches.

Dentin: 3) Making it work well enough that other people can use it.

Dentin: 4) Making it work well enough that other people using it can't do stupid things. This is aimed primarily at builders, who used to build completely retarded things back in the olden days.

Dentin: And 5) Polishing and updating minor pieces, because all of the infrastructure is done.

Dentin: Sometimes I feel like we're still on 4 and 5 though, maybe that's an endless process.

Dentin: One of the more significant ways I've seen the game improve though is in how it takes care of itself.

Dentin: We only have a couple of admins - but we only have a couple of admins because we only -need- a couple of admins. That's the amazing part.

Ouch: Speaking of those builders in the old days - I heard you fired a huge amount of them for trying to build crazy areas when you were interested in protecting players - Is this true? What happenned?

Dentin: A lot of it was attrition, because I had different views of where the game should go than they did.

Dentin: There were a handful of cases where gods simply did something so crazy so often that I just couldn't justify keeping them around.

Dentin: But I think most of them simply stopped playing because the game was no longer what they expected it to be.

Dentin: Of all of them, I think I'm the only one who really had an idea of what it would be like and how it needed to be done to make the game stay viable for more than a couple of years.

Ouch: regarding admins - many players feel there should be a lot more and the rules should be harsher towards those who annoy other players - however, your goal is to have a game where players can handle their own problems and less supervision. I am correct in this?

Dentin: That's the ideal. It's better to give people the tools they need to handle problems than to handle problems for them, I think.

Dentin: A good example of that is the site livejournal.

Dentin: If you have a problem with someone, you don't call an admin and complain - you simply ban them and remove them from your access lists.

Ouch: In other muds if a non pk gets killed he gets his exp back and then the perpetrator is punished - In A.A. the perpetrator can be punished but the victim does not get exp back - Is this because the problem does not happen much ??

Dentin: Yes, I would say it's because the problem doesn't happen that much, and most of the time when it does it's really questionable anyway.

Dentin: And for the record, most of the time we do reimburse people. We also peg the killer, depending on circumstances and the like.

Dentin: Repeat offenders generally don't last real long.

Ouch: Well I'm glad I asked the question and cleared that up for the readers.


Ouch: What do you expect in the next 2 to 5 years to happen?

Dentin: Well, I have plans, but I dont know if I can expect them to happen.

Ouch: Are they plans you wish to share or not at this time?

Dentin: The plan is for me to be working on the mud exclusively for the next couple of years. My goal is to be able to get it (and/or its supporting presence) up to the point where I can afford to work on it full time.

Dentin: What I'd ideally like to do is get a couple of thousand people playing and bring A.A. into being a true MMORPG.

Dentin: In the shorter term, I've been working on some projects to try to add mapping and other things to the official A.A. client, which is part of a broader plan to get A.A. at least somewhat into the world of graphics.

Dentin: I realize that some things are going to be impossible without fundamentally breaking the game, but I hope that we can add enough to make people really appreciate it without compromising game play.

Ouch: In other words - making it easier to understand will bring in more players?

Dentin: That, and giving them a common reference they already understand. I think we should be able to clean it up so that when people log in, they'll be able to say "hey, I know how this works" and at be able to do something right off the bat.


Ouch: What advice - in general - do you have for people who undertake a decade enterprise like you did ?

Dentin: Know what you're getting yourself into.

Dentin: I dont know why, but when I started AA, I just -knew- it was going to be a multi-year sort of committment. For some reason, people just dont seem to understand what that entails.

Dentin: If you can't be bothered to spend 1500+ hours per year on it for several years, you're wasting your time. Do it right or don't bother.


Ouch: What rule of the game do you believe is most important? Why?

Dentin: Rule as in something on the rules page? Or a general rule of design/gameplay mechanics?

Ouch: Well once again now that you bring it up - would you please answer both? :)

Dentin: For the rules on the rules page, probably "Thou shalt not phish or grossly defraud other players".

Dentin: I think that sums up basically "don't be a jerk". If you're not a jerk, things will go a lot smoother for you, and everyone around you.

Dentin: As far as rules of thumb for myself as creator, I think the most important one is basically that everyone has to abide by the rules at all levels, and that all rules may be bent slightly if required for the situation.

Dentin: People may not believe this, but I -really- don't favor my mortals, or the mortals of other gods. They might have more pull when they talk to me, but no more so than the really old and established players such as Druid and Arislan did.

Dentin: Hell, my highest level mortal is only 100 total :)

Ouch: Hey ! That's my total levels ! Maybe we can team one day :P


Ouch: Do people find ways around rules a lot? or use the rules to do bad things?

Dentin: No, in general not.

Dentin: In general, I've found that players dont want to be jerks. Some have an abusive mentality, but not that many. I also try to encourage reporting of things that are broken, so people don't feel like they'll get hammered just for discovering bugs and problems.


Ouch: What is the most common complaint that you get from players?

Dentin: Usually that I've done something that will break the game forever.

Ouch: Ha ha

Ouch: Sorry for smiling - how often does this complaint re-occur?

Dentin: Most of the time, it's because I have a longer term view than they do - After all, few people can say they've been here as long as I have and have seen the things I have.

Dentin: Sometimes they're right though, and for things like that, we usually back it out pretty quick or make changes to counter it.

Dentin: When I'm actively coding, probably every two months.

Dentin: For the record, I still think equipment affinity is freaking awesome. I totally want to do that some day.

Ouch: It's on the record :)


Ouch: What do you feel players like the most about the game?

Dentin: Well clearly it's an interesting game, or they wouldn't be here. But I think one of the reasons they stay is because the gods stay out of their face. Hell, players can ignore all but the highest level gods.

Dentin: I've got a lot of good comments about how the admin isn't a bunch of oppressive jerks here.

Ouch: If I may make a comment - Many muds make gods the high level players - Here it's only people who have shown integrity and have helped develop the game to a high extent - So I have to commend you for choosing gods in this fashion - The choice process itself helps eliminate jerks.

Dentin: That was a hard lesson to learn. The best players are often ill suited to be admin staff.

Dentin: In a lot of ways, that was the fundamental problem with a number of the original Alaska gods.

Ouch: And these gods left?

Dentin: Or were fired...

Ouch: Where is A.A. based out of now? Certainly no longer Alaska?

Dentin: The machine is located in Texas, and is still being managed and monitored by Talos. I do the code and other stuff from where I currently live, in Kentucky.


Ouch: If you had to give a team player award to the player or god you feel has been the most team player - Who would it be?

Dentin: Honestly, I have to give that one to myself, because that's basically all I think of here.

Dentin: Excluding me, I think it would be a tossup between Void and Draak. They have both been very good in terms of working with other builders, especially on big projects.


Ouch: What steps are being taken to encourage people to explore the game more?

Dentin: Right now, most of my emphasis is going to be on maps and information. In the past, bonuses for unused areas, and trying to advertise unused areas was tried.

Dentin: I've recently cranked up some of the bonuses and created the 'area exp' list, which is a list of double exp (and double gold) areas. I don't know how much of an impact that has had though.

Ouch: The fame system was established to force players to explore a bit - Yes? Yet it has become one of the fun aspects of the game.

Dentin: Yeah, fame has been useful in that regard. We need to spread out the fame levels more though, and/or give people more to spend fame on.

Dentin: I really think the crux of the problem is that people can't find things easily, and can't see what it looks like in their head.

Dentin: Getting maps integrated into the client will I think improve that greatly.


Ouch: My last series of questions will be a bit more personal...

Dentin: Heh ok, shoot.

Ouch: Who was your favorite super hero growing up and why?

Dentin: I dont think I can answer that. I never had idols in that regard when I was young.

Dentin: Recently though, its definitely gotta be Goku from DBZ though.

Dentin: Goku wields power in the way I always thought Superman should. Superman always seemed like a wimp to me, and when I first saw DBZ, I thought 'Damn, this is what Superman should have been'


Ouch: Is AA actually a dream come true for you?

Dentin: Nope, AA is just something that happened in my life. I don't really have dreams in that fashion, they're always transient things, and are replaced by others as they become outdated or accomplished.

Ouch: Wow - On the accomplished part.


Ouch: Have you made unforgettable friends thanks to this game?

Dentin: Oh yeah... I'd say Squeak/Talos/Void are probably highest on the list there, at least of the ones I met exclusively through the mud.

Ouch: Have you made unforgettable enemies because of AA?

Dentin: Nope.


Ouch: Was A.A. really a masters project in college? Please elaborate.

Dentin: Nope. A.A. was something I was working on that happened to satisfy my 'senior/graduation project' requirement as an electrical engineer. Go figure.

Dentin: I dont have a masters.

Ouch: So did you get an A on it?

Dentin: Yeah.

Dentin: I had to do more in terms of writing up everything than actual work on A.A.


Ouch: For one, thank you for this interview.

Dentin: We're done?

Ouch: Two, I have something on my chest I want to say.

Ouch: I believe that you said some things on here today that all players would benefit from and it's not my place to do so but I encourage you to post this on the website for that reason.

Ouch: Last but not least, we are not done until you express all that you want to say.... And any comments towards the end here would be greatly appreciated.

Dentin: I think we've covered enough topics that I'd have a hard time coming up with anything else.

Dentin: I'm good :)

Ouch: Well I apreciate you giving me an hour of your time !

Dentin: No problem. Signing off :)

Ouch: Once again, this was the god DENTIN of the MUD Alter Aeon - system time is 237 pm and this concludes an exclusive interview.

TRT Comments

One planned question was going to be "When does Dentin plan on going at AA as a full time job (quit his current job)?" However, this question was answered before it was asked. Hence 15 series of questions instead of 16.

Also, special thanks to Alchemy, Ginger, Darken, and Ralithune for their comments prior to the posting of this article.
Copyright © 2008-2010 -- Ryan Kazemi (OUCH in-game)