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Interview with Dentin, Creator of Alter Aeon

This interview was done on Oct 17, 2008 by the Alter Aeon player Ouch. It was originally published in Issue 2 of 'The Ralnoth Times', and is reprinted here with permission.

This version of the interview has been edited, to fix minor typos and reorder answers so that question and answer are in well-defined blocks. For the original, unedited version of the interview, please see this link.

Ouch: i have about 16 questions - ill spin off 4 more (or more) from those and how you answer them

Dentin: heh ok

Dentin: no problem

Ouch: the time is 1:37 pm MUD system time on Friday October 17th 2008

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

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

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

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

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 noone likes

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'

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: 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?

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

Ouch: no one favorite mission in particular?

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

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: so now im inside this pocket that I'm carrying

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 h ah aha

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: its 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 hasnt 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

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 cant 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 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 that] 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. Its 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 aa the perpetrator can be punished but the victim does not get exp back - is this because the problem does not happen much ??

Dentin: just a minute, sorry for the delay

Ouch: take your time ... my bad

Dentin: sorry about that, work still pays me so I still have to pay attention to them

[Dentin's note - I was off the clock, they called me]

Ouch: heh :) I really appreciate this exclusive interview

Dentin: yes, I would say its because the problem doesnt 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 dont last real long

Ouch: Well im 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 AA 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 AA client, which is part of a broader plan to get AA 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 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 ! thats 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: on to the next question....

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

Dentin: most of the time, its 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: for the record, I still thing equipment affinity is freaking awesome. I totally want to do that some day

Ouch: its on the record :)

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

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

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

Dentin: well clearly its an interesting game, or they wouldnt 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 isnt a bunch of oppressive jerks here

Ouch: if may make a comment - many muds make gods the high level players - here its only people who have shown integrity and have helped develop the game to a high extent - so i have to commend you for chosing 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 aa 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 fell 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 beenvery 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 advertize 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 dont know how much of an impact that has 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 cant find things easily, and cant see what it looks like in their head

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

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

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
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 dont 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 AA really a masters project in college? Please elaborate.

Dentin: nope. AA 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 AA

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 here all players would benefit from and its 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 apreciated

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 appreciate 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 2:37 pm and this concludes an exclusive interview

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