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Baron: A.D.1000 ©

Imagine a map of Europe here

This is the top level map from a game I have been tinkering with since 1987.

A friend of mine named Fred Sorrells and I worked out the beginnings of the design. I was living in the mountains of Western North Carolina at the time trying to raise a family on some really low wages, and, since my Ex couldn't bear to be away from her home for very long (we tried), I figured that there had to be a way to produce a good income.

I had been trying to get a group of people to play role-playing games without much luck for quite awhile, and subscribed to a national RPG magazine (Dragon ©, a publication of TSR, Inc.) where I found an advertisement for something called Play-by-Mail. What an intriguing thought that was to me, to provide a service moderating games for people and being paid for it.

At the same time, I was teaching myself programming. Fred Sorrells had had a Commodore 128, and I had discovered the magic of computer games. Oh, I had spent time with PONG © and Asteroids ©, but when Fred showed me Electronic Arts' Bard's Tale II © I was hooked. I decided I had to learn how the dang machine could do all that, took some money from out account (the beginning of the end of my marriage, apparently) and bought a Tandy Color Computer II. Okay, okay, I should have gone with the Commodore, but, hey, live and learn, okay?

Using BASIC I wrote a little shooter game with sound and a plot, and it seemed to impress Fred, who had done some programming in an XT class IBM in assembler, and with that encouragement I was launched.

Fred and I were into a board game produced by the Avalon Hill Game Company (Third Reich © ) which did a darn good job of representing WW2 in the European Theatre, and, given the size and complexity of the rules and the time it took to play, we thought it might be adaptable to computerization. So we speculated as to the program design, features we might include, and fantasized about the project.

Meanwhile I had gotten into Play-by-Mail gaming, and had drawn Fred into it as well. I was thinking that if I could research, design, and program a PBM game for a period in military history which was and is under-represented in PBM, then I could make some good money, buy that land I was wanting for my family, and have my own business doing something I truly enjoyed.

I chose Europe, in the year A.D. 1000, and began researching that period, generating maps I could print out on my dot-matrix printer and a database design which could handle the dynamic geographic and 200+ player generated data. and essentially devoted myself to making that dream become reality.

My first step in bringing the game to reality was to describe in writing how the game would be played from the player's perspective, and then consider the systematic procedures which would be required to accomplish the project. What this activity did was to begin the analysis of the overall game design and make it more concrete, to get it from and interior dream out into a form where it could be manipulated. There is a tendancy, I found, to wax eloquent during the conceptualizing stage, freely flying from topic to topic as thoughts occur, yet when the time comes to get to work the whole cloud castle resolves back into formless mist unless you at least write down something, like a sketch to make it tangible, to begin coalescing it into the concrete. Once you have described the rough features, established the procedural links which necessarily will connect the whole together, then each element can be considered for algorythmic viability and checked against the whole.

An algorythm, if you didn't realize it, is a sequence of events represented abstractly. A recipe in cooking is one kind of algorythm. The instructions for assembling a bicycle is an algorythm.

The thing we do when we analyze a complex matter, especially such a mixed intellectual lump as the initial concept of a game of the magnitude I am beginning to describe, is to attempt to understand in detail what is too great and/or complex as it is to readily grasp. We first seek to understand the whole generally, deciding what it is and what it is not, and then determine what there is about it different from what else there is about it. For example, how players input orders is different from how those orders are processed internally in the game, and the database those processing orders manipulate is different from the way changes in the database are reported to the players. While the players themselves are generally different from the game mechanism itself, nevertheless the facility with which those players can enjoy playing is very much a part of the game's design.

So we analyze the elements of the game, and then analyze those elements, and so on, until every part of every part is as simple as can be.



Pong, Bard's Tale 2, Electronic Arts, Commodore, Tandy, Color Computer 2, IBM, GW-Basic, Third Reich, Avalon Hill, and Microsoft are all registered trademarks copyrighted and owned by their respective corporations.

© copyrights claimed by Richard Romero, 1997


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