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5322: An E-mail Based MMO

March 12, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 10.12.03 PM

An e-mail list that I’m on has been discussing text adventures lately (and I’ve been playing around a bit myself with Twine). In the usual behind-the-times way of mine, it was revealed to me today that play-by-e-mail RPGs are — in fact — a thing and have been going on for decades at this point (this is just how long they have been going on: “Playing in a PBeM isn’t easy either. The player must be prepared to read his mail at least once a day in a typical game).

I really like this idea. Modern e-mail has a bunch of affordances that seem perfect for a whole slew of fun text-based game/storytelling mechanics. Threading and archiving gives the ability to produce plotlines that can be dropped or recovered at the will of the GM. You can imagine structuring each e-mail thread as a “room”, separate imaginary location, or adventure where activity can be happening.

The possibilities get more interesting as the PBeM RPG supports increasing numbers of players. You can imagine using BCCs and CCs to bring players in and out of situations, or to allow for them to spy on one another without the knowledge of the other. Interestingly, as long as the e-mail address of the other players are hidden and the full number of users are undisclosed, the GM can relay moves of other players to a single recipient in the story, leaving them unsure whether they are dealing with an NPC or a real player in any given situation.

Ultimately, I’d love to see federated groups of GMs support an even larger number of players, en route to implementing a completely human-driven MMO.

So, I’m officially opening up player registration for a first experiment in this: “5322″ — a light two-week, text-based adventure based around time warping, parallel universe agents attempting to manipulate a series of events to their nefarious and/or heroic advantage with a family of time machines based on a single, core technology: CTSS — a “Compatible Time-Sharing System.” Let me know by March 17th if you’re interested in taking part by sending an e-mail over to tim@timhwang.org. We’ll start the game on Monday, March 18th.

5322 will just sandbox a few things I’ve been reading lately, and play fast and loose with a quickly designed module that I’m putting together over this weekend. I’m also kludging in lil’ 20-sided die based mechanic to resolve actions that I’ll physically roll over here. And, thanks to a recent reading of the old Paranoia R&D Catalog - it’ll probably also feature all sorts of wacked out gizmos to be used by  (and used on, in fine PvP style) the various players. Should be a good time.

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