Book review: Designing Virtual Worlds

Submitted by javelin on Mon, 2003-09-15 14:09

It's very simple. If you're planning to start a mud, read this book.

Richard Bartle's recent book Designing Virtual Worlds (published by New Riders Group press) is the comprehensive guide to the issues involved in the development of muds (mmporgs, virtual worlds, whatever). In one well-written compendium, you'll find incredibly thought-provoking insights about players, world design (including geography, combat, economics, politics, religion, story, and much more), community management, and social scientific research on what makes muds and their players tick.

Bartle, who together with Trubshaw developed MUD1, the first mud-as-such, has thought about these things for a long time. Although this book is geared primarily at commercial developers of graphical virtual worlds (think Ultima Online, Everquest, etc.) and is illustrated with several examples of design decisions from such worlds, the insights are very applicable to the design of MUSHes, especially RP MUSHes. Bartle does often use examples from textual virtual worlds - in fact, he largely argues that textual worlds are currently much more advanced than graphical ones in several areas.

Most of the book fairly flies, although some of the social science review may drag on a bit for some readers. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that most experienced or would-be MUSH Gods will find many things that cause them to think hard about design decisions they have made, will make, or wish they had made! Bartle doesn't provide any formulas for success (though he provides several for failure), but instead seeks to attune the designer to the importance of careful thought in design, and the ramifications of design decisions.