Developments in Myst-Uru

This article is mostly for those of us that play the Myst games from Cyan Wolds. I’m into Myst games so my SL friends have to deal with these posts every so often.

If you are wondering, Myst was the 1993 all time best selling computer game until the Sims came along. Cyan created 5 Myst-Story games and then tried to create a MMOG sequel about the time Second Life was starting. Cyan’s MMOG never became popular. But, it garnered about 50,000 players and gained a core group of players that stuck with the game giving it a reputation as The Game that Wouldn’t Die. The latest issue in this saga follows after a bit of history and explanation.

Great Zero in Ages Beyond Myst and MO:UL

State of the Uru Game

You can find Myst as an App in the iStore. You can find the PC versions of the Myst series of games on Amazon and other game stores. These are all the stand alone single player games. But, there is an MMOG in the series.

These games are getting a bit grey-haired and the graphics while once top of the line are now definitely dated. Still they are great looking games and cheap. They are fun Adventure Puzzle games. They are great for parents and kids to play together and exclude violence.

The online version of the game Myst Online: Uru Live (MOUL) started open beta in 2003. Ubisoft was the money behind MOUL, or at the time, Ages Beyond Myst. Ages Beyond Myst is available as a standalone game.

Ubisoft did not see the user acceptance and growth they felt was required to support the game and closed the project in February 2004. Sometime after that users took the game underground and setup fan run servers. Cyan got in front of things and created a key system to keep control of the game. This period in the game’s history is the Until Uru period.

MOUL had friends in high places at GameTap. The result being by 2007 GameTap picked up the game and ran it until early 2008. Again the user acceptance was too low to sustain the game. GameTap had its own problems and closed the MOUL MMOG.

After the second closing Cyan looked at acquiring all rights to the game from the various licensing scenarios with Ubisoft and GameTap, so they could run the MMOG on their servers. This is about the time the economy began its collapse. It soon became obvious the economy was not going to recover any time soon and Cyan’s financial health was such they could not spend time on MOUL. The result is they decided to place the game engine MOUL is built on into the public domain in 2010 making it open source and they actually released parts of the code this year, 2011.

One big problem still plaguing the release to open source is licensing. The game uses third party libraries which are proprietary. Parts of the game engine and game server cannot be released into the public domain. So, for the practical purpose of being able to play the game, it isn’t moving forward. One can get the code and work is proceeding on writing open source code to replace the proprietary parts.

Fans have created a couple of MOUL game servers. So, it is possible for fans to host and play the game. But, it is not easy.

However, the content in the game is not going to be placed in the public domain. The plan is to allow people to license the content and use it with their server. That license has yet to be written. So, from the Second Life perspective it is like getting an OpenSim server and a third party viewer (client side) then going into a region and finding it is empty. The places that make up the Myst-Uru game world are not there.

In 2010 Cyan put up a game server running on their code, which uses the proprietary code Cyan licensed from third parties when initially developing the game. So, there is currently a free-to-play version of the game. Download Myst Online: Uru Live.

Fan created bug fixes donated to Cyan run into another road block. The licensing of the fixes tends to be in the open source tradition. Inclusion of a fix so licensed would place requirements on Cyan to reveal proprietary code they purchased from third parties and have no rights to reveal. It is a catch-22 that is avoided by not using the patches.

While paper work, coding, and age building are proceeding, slowly, there is very little new for a player to see.

The Politics of MOUL

As best I can tell all open source projects and virtual worlds have drama. MOUL is no exception. People see things differently and have disagreements. Unfortunately in this community a number of people engaged in working with the game code and age (region) building are part of a faction. In essence a small number of these people are pitted against Cyan and the users/players that support Cyan. In Second Life we have seen something similar in the Emerald Viewer, RedZone, and old and recent JLU scandals.

Programmers wanting to work on Uru Live recently had only one primary choice as a source of information and tools, the Guild of Writers (GoW). Now that has changed. Cyan elected to provide the initial release of their code via the OpenUru.org site.

Programmers now have two choices for information and work environments. There are significant differences between the two groups. The GoW is primarily interested in the game and being able to change it. That interest often ignores the intellectual property rights of Cyan Worlds and others. They also often attempt to demand Cyan do things their way and in their time frame.

OpenUru.org respects the intellectual property rights, usually at the expense of timely progress. They work to do things Cyan’s way and whatever they can to help will time lines.

I see this as Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare, but with some morality overtones.

Current Challenges

If the politics were just philosophical differences, it would not have much impact on Uru’s open source development.  We would have two groups going down different paths just doing their thing. Users and programmers could choose their preferred place to play and develop.

One group has a small number of the members that simply cannot tolerate the other group. The result has been continuing problems (flaming, elitism, abuse, insults, all the typical stuff) in the community forum. For most people some level of problems is acceptable. There is some point where people get tired of listening to the drama and it becomes too prevalent and intrusive to ignore. People stop visiting the site and participating at that point. It also places a workload on the moderators.

In the history of MOUL this has been an ongoing problem. The unusual part is that for years it has been a consistent group of people with a few drop outs and new people, but a consistent core. It has finally reached the point that we saw the forum admin at MOUL post:

By: Chogon

Thanks guys! You really know how to trash a place.

I don’t think you realize how close this forum is to being completely read only. But then maybe that is your objective.

And a later post:

Well, this thread was an interesting experiment. lol 

What is more interesting is GoW members reporting the posts of other GoW members. Maybe you guys should just tell your leader to his face rather than using the MOUL forum’s report post and moderators as a proxy. 😉

Chogon wrote:

I don’t think you realize how close this forum is to being completely read only. But then maybe that is your objective.

Ok, that didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted, I guess that is what happens when you are in a hurry. 😉

What I was trying to convey is that you guys are arguing about the placement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. And as I stated elsewhere, the downsizing of this forum was not directly related to any poster’s posting. The real issue is Cyan’s inability to be involved in this forum. And from my vantage point, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

If the only thing left in this forum is “drama” and a vendetta then what is the point. However, I am encouraged by the last couple posters – so maybe there is hope.

So, if you are only here to continue the vendetta then I invite you to leave and join the plethora of other forums.

Thanks,
Chogon

In most forums the management moderates forum posts to keep things inline. They ban and suspend people to maintain control. In the case of MOUL the management people involved are trying to survive in a RL down economy and have little time for the forum and open source projects. Nor do they have the money to hire managers. They have told us the game and forum will mostly not be moderated and participants are pretty much on their own, please behave or we’ll close things down.

While there are volunteer moderators in the forum, they too are busy people and have limited time. Plus serious offenses that result in suspensions and banning are a group decision and require a system Admin to implement a ban.

We have been advised to behave because problems requiring more than some minor amount of Cyan management’s time may result in the closing of the game and/or forum.

Unfortunately, it seems the closing of the forum and game would be considered a good thing by some of the intolerant problem people. Whether or not other members of the group will step up and take action to control the intolerance and bad behavior is a pending question. But, it seems unlikely.

Without engaged supervision there is little, if anything, that can be done to correct current problems. There is little to no chance Cyan will have the time to be engaged enough to police the forum and game as needed. That is the situation for now. One deals with it or stays away from the game and forum, which most fans are doing.

What To Do?

So, what can be done?

The only thing any of us can do is control how we personally behave. But, that while true is not a satisfying answer. So, we need to understand the situation.

Cyan has made their position clear, repeatedly. So, calling for change on their part is not going to help. The solution has to be something that requires the minimum effort, if any, on Cyan’s part.

Asking other people to change has been tried for years. How many times have you heard, Can’t we all just get along? Asking people to change is simply asking human nature to change. It hasn’t happened in 5,000 plus years of written history. There is no evidence to suggest human nature will ever change. The problem people in the community have been there, as they are, for years. There is no evidence they will ever conceive the idea, much less understand, they are the problem.

Some think new moderators or more moderators would help. I doubt that would do anything. It is like having more or different police but no fines, jail, arrests, or executions. The problem people quickly return to the street.

What Can We Do?

Do we abandon MOUL the Forum? May be.

We certainly need to change what we are doing. Cyan certainly needs to change what they are doing. There is no reason for them to allow people to abuse them and other Myst fans. That means a new strategy is needed.

For any strategy to be successful we need to know the problem to be solved.

What Is the Problem?

The root problem in this case is obvious but the cause is one of those things that just cannot be known. I personally think it is human nature, meaning some people are jerks and some have personality issues or both. The manifestation of ‘jerkness’ and those issues is; trolling, abusive posting, stalking, bullying, and hacking. Why the consistent problem people engage in these activities can only be speculated. Whether they have a goal or it is just a matter of maladjustment to society driving unthinking compulsive behavior, is also speculation. I’m convinced they are so shallow they don’t know. From outside their brain we have no way to ever know.

We can each make our own speculation as to cause and decide. Then we have to decide on what action has the best chance of working for us and the community.

Possible/Probable Solution

Closing the forum is a drastic measure. But, that seems more and more likely. It seems some are deliberately pushing Cyan and that may eventually lead to the forum closing. So, I think the community needs to get ahead of it.

This may mean just not responding to abusive people. However, that goes against the nature of most people. But, you may choose to do that. It may prolong the life of the forum. I think it is just a matter of time until we are back doing this same dance at some future date.

If that is not effective, and it hasn’t been, maybe it is time to consider how the MOUL Forum is used, its purpose, and consider changes. It certainly seems to be in the best interest of Cyan to close the forum. I am coming to the conclusion that may be the only and best solution to the community poisoning problem. Consider the following in that light.

First, the MOUL Forum is the property of Cyan and its purpose is to be a destination for MOUL fans to help promote a fan community to promote and enjoy Cyan products. Supposedly the intention was for it to be fun for fans and to help Cyan sales.

Next, Cyan does not and does not see a near time when they will have the time or money to police the forum and game. The rumor is they may have less time in the near future. The US economy is slowing even more.

The result of the inattention is a small group is poisoning the community and driving people away from the community and game. They are damaging Cyan’s reputation. From the PM’s and emails I’ve gotten that behavior extends to other community forums. That cannot be allowed to continue on the MOUL forum as it is harming Cyan.

Another function of the MOUL Forum is connecting the community. Some part of the fight seems to be about control of information flowing to new users of MOUL. MOUL Forum is a entry point for new players and a way to channel them to other community forums.

We need a way to connect people to the community. But, we need to reduce the work load on Cyan. Closing the forum accomplishes the latter.

Probable

To connect with and inform the community Cyan could put up a blog and give MOUL Moderators Editor privileges. Make it a no comments blog. but, even that effort may be too much to ask.

The forum has an announcements section. That can be restricted to Cyan employees, if it isn’t already, I forget.

Change the MOUL web site to convert the FORUM button to a SUPPORT button. On the support page list fan forums and web sites where people can get help. One link can go to the MOUL Forum’s Tech Discussion. This too may simply be too much to ask.

It is probably easiest to lock down the entire forum except the technical discussion section. Moderators can delete any off topic threads not about technical stuff. Not much room for abusive behavior there.

This will push fans out to fan run forums. Fans can run those however they choose. We can participate on the forums we like. This plan allows the community a vote on which forums they support by where they participate and the links they post or give out.

Discussion at the fan forums may still poison the community but it will leave Cyan mostly immune. If a forum is consistently disparaging Cyan or their games or abusing fans, any links to that forum can be removed from the Cyan Support page if they choose to make one. That gives Cyan a simple means of control they do not have now.

The likely alternative is to rename the Resources section and create one that only links to the sites Cyan feels supports them and the community.

People find MOUL by using Google. Google leads people to the MOUL and fan sites that the most people link to for any given search term. For years I have been making Myst-Uru links to the MOUL site. Recently I have started making my Myst-Uru links lead to OpenUru.org. The nature of links fans post allows fans to influence where new fans land whenever they search for Myst or Uru related terms.

Summary

For me the blog and Tech Discussion only forum is not an ideal solution. I can see how it might be desirable and undesirable, that aspect is debatable. For now I don’t see a better solution that reduces Cyan’s participation/workload.

I consider any available minute a Cyan person spends on the MOUL Forum a minute they are not working on completing the open source release.

The blog and restricted forum does mean Cyan would have to do something. They would have to make changes to the MOUL site. I think this work would result in a reduction in overall time needed from Cyan to manage the community going forward. Plus it would reduce the abuse they suffer on their own site, which is bad PR.

But, that may simply require more time than they have. So, we will probably see more of the forum locked down in the coming weeks. Since that is the route likely to be taken, I hope the resources section is redone. I would like to see Cyan control where their site links to. I think that would give them some control over the community.

Either change does move the community out to fan sites where fans running forums have a say in how their forum is run. They can do things their way. We can participate in the forums we like.

Any better ideas?

Any big holes in my thinking?

8 thoughts on “Developments in Myst-Uru

  1. I came to Second Life in Feb of ’04 when Myst Online died and joined with other Myst exiles to build Telador Isle where we recreated some of Myst. This post really took me back in time. I don’t play Myst or log in to any of the forums so the rest of what you relate doesn’t affect me, but it was very interesting to read your take on what is going on. Thanks!

  2. The people and the behavior is nothing new, but with nothing else happening, it dominates the environment. They thrive on the conflict and the nastyness, anything you say just adds fuel. The best thing that could happen would be for them to be ignored, and eventually they will run out of steam.

    • If the problem people were acting from a need for; esteem, recognition, or validation then I agree ignoring them would eventually resolve the problem. Unfortunately those issues do not seem to be the dominate compulsions.

      We see ignoring/muting/blocking griefers doesn’t work well in SL. There are always new people for them to pester.

  3. Thanks, Nalates, for covering the licensing issue so well and succinctly in your post. You have reminded me just how important it is to solve and I actually appreciate the little kick. I hope to do something about it this weekend, but I’ve said that for several weekends now! Mac_Fife (OpenUru.org General Domain Development and Operations) completed his own analysis and recommendations about licensing weeks ago and sent it to me. I have been meaning to assemble it into something as a suggestion to pass on to Cyan since then, but there have been higher priorities – for all of us.

    I equally appreciate how tuned in you are to why Cyan doing anything to mitigate these challenges means they have to give up doing something else that could be more important to their survival. You get it. There are other critical priorities with finding work, supporting families and making it through general economic hardships and surprises that make finding time for volunteer projects like open source and the CyanWorlds.com Engine a great challenge. It is fun, but it’s not easy, and fun doesn’t always come first. Any adult responsible to their community, family, business or employer understands this.

    JWPlatt
    OpenUru.org Advancement, General Domain Development, and Operations

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I always have my “License Now” sign with me. I have patiently, and somethings impatiently, waited for Cyan to sort through the licensing issues. For me the content licensing is the important issue. I would like to see a license permissive enough that Cyan’s Uru content could appear in any format/platform. We are building more content for SL and OpenSim and now CryEngine3.It would be nice to have some of the original Uru content to connect people back to MOUL. Even if it were just the Nexus or the Library with the doors welded shut.

      I can’t say I know a way for that to happen and Cyan to retain ownership. But, some type of FCAL as used with Crux Isle in SL might work. I continue to hope.

      • Licensing is a separate issue from content released under that license. The license does not imply the release of further content; it just licenses the content already released. I don’t know what Cyan might further release – when they have the time.

        I mean to include a link to my recent post which touches lightly on development and licensing:
        http://forums.openuru.org/viewtopic.php?p=4801#p4801

        • Yes, the code and content licenses are separate. I’m just more interested in the content license. 🙂

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