Game Background

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More than a year ago (written October 23, 2003), I decided to write a 2.0 version of Cantr. This never finished, but here's a background of the game I wrote for that purpose - it might give you some more insights in the game. For further background, definitely check out the Cantr Webzine!

The development of Cantr has now gone through a number of distinct phases. A brief overview of this background is useful when participating in the development of Cantr II 2.0 - you will have an idea of what I (Jos) am coming from.

The crucial predecessor of Cantr was a game that had nothing to do with online roleplaying. From as long as I can remember, I have been playing a lot with lego. We used to build cities or ships or whatever we could come up with, and both I and a friend had quite a lot of it and always received new lego for our birthdays. Whereas I would always break everything down again - especially because I simply had to clean up my room again - my friend had a special room for the lego and the city we built there, we did not break down and we just kept playing with it. Then, at some point - and this was the crucial turn - either one of us came up with the idea to use Monopoly money in our game. From now on, we had to pay if we wanted to use new bricks. Perhaps not the money itself was so crucial, as well the way we used it - we did not give the players any money, but each individual character. We gave names to each little character (puppet, or whatever you would call it - we used the term 'poppetje', which is Dutch for little puppet) and made piles on a shelf with the Monopoly banknotes and a label on it to identify the owner.

With this start - individualised money and a permanent city - we had the start of what became one continuous story, to continue over something like ten years. Once we restarted when that friend moved to another house, but from then on, we kept playing and playing the same story. Almost every Saturday, and several days a week during our holidays, we would spent playing with the lego, even when we went through highschool and university. And because we had this continuous timeline, and we learned more and more about how the real world worked, our game developed in a complex society, with different cities and governments, as well as a wide variety of companies, newspapers, libraries, etc. etc. Our administration took as much space as the lego itself. The piles of notes were replaced by banking programs developed ourselves in Pascal, used by a number of different banks. International relations - between the cities -, business development, espionage affairs, revolutions, social security policies, police investigations, crime, ... it all became part of our little game.

The game also had problems, however. We were playing around 150 or 200 characters with just three or four players, making it difficult to play them really as individual characters with individual goals - which was a strong rule we always applied. Never were you allowed to play your characters as just a group, as revolt etc. would become way too easy that way. This is what has been called the 'capital rule' in the last version of Cantr II. Because we had so few players, it became difficult to play the characters actively enough. Hence, we wanted more players - but how do you find anyone else at highschool age who is going to share his Saturday with you playing with the lego? Another problem was that the lego bricks were finite in number. Hence, once all bricks were used in buildings and vehicles, etc., it became very difficult to make any further progress and the whole manufacturing part of the economy did not exist. All economy was service-sector, basically. Thirdly, with us going further in our real lives, it became more and more difficult to meet regularly at this one location to play, so we ended up playing once every couple of months, which made progress in the game extremely slow, and we almost started to forget who our own characters were, or what their names were.

Because of those problems, I started to search for a replacement of the lego game. Our game was unique in the sense that we could play all parts of a complete society - government, bankers, businessmen, criminals, army generals, etc. - and that we were experimenting with different types of governmental organisations - democracy, dictatorship, anarchy, monarchy. Everything was built up by us and we could participate in it all, which made it a very exciting game. We could play all these roles that one cannot - at least not simultanuously - play in real life. The solution for the limited number of bricks seemed to be to program the world in the computer; the solution for the lack of players and the problem of a fixed location seemed to be the internet. Hence, I started thinking about an internet version of the game.

In the meantime I had started playing an online Startrek-based roleplaying game, whereby players play by writing little parts of the plot, those parts that involve their own character. Although this was really nice, it missed a lot of the unique features of the lego, but it did help me work out an alternative system. I wanted players to be more restricted by their environment (if you wanted to play a Startrek hero, you just had to write you were a hero ... if you wanted to be a lego hero, you had to be pretty smart), and a game in which the players develop their environment. So what I did was as follows: I made a map on paper that I would use to define the world; I asked players to just write the actions of their characters, but they could not write the results - I would tell them; they would send in their texts to me, and I would reply by writing the result. E.g. if character A talks to character B, I'd write to character B: "Character A says ...". In other words, every single action had to go through my hands. I started with just about three players and kept going for a couple of weeks, and then decided that it did not work at all and stopped. It was too demanding on the gamemaster's side. So that was the short life of Cantr I (called just Cantr, of course).

Then, I discovered PHP and mySQL, and I just had a new internet connection at home, making it possible to set up my own server and run a game from there. In about two weeks I wrote the basic game and started opening it up. First just myself, then one or two new players that I already knew, and then gradually new players started to find it on the web and dropped in. Now, this game - about which you can find more details on its website - has been running for over two years. The code has been added to all this time, and the game administration has grown from being just me to a full staff of about 20 people, divided in a number of departments, that work hard to keep the game, with now about 500 players and 2400 characters, running. This game, named Cantr II, has a continuous timeline from the start, which has to be continued into the new version. Cantr II 2.0 will be a complete replacement of the code behind the game, and the interface, but not of the game itself. Players, characters, and staff will be transferred to the new game, once it's opened. I will now leave out details of this game, as it will come up in numerous texts and discussions on this page, and because one can read about it on their site, Cantr, or one can simply play the game.

Jos Elkink, Dublin, October 23, 2003