Saturday, May 16, 2009

Trackside Interview: Aristotle@Threshold

We recently had the opportunity to ask a bunch of questions of Aristotle, lead developer over at Threshold, about his text-based online roleplaying game.

MH: How did you get involved in MUDs?

Aristotle: I played MUD-like BBS games in college, and a friend on my favorite BBS said to me one day "hey, you should try these games on the internet called MUDs." I took him up on the offer, and my life was irrevocably altered (for the better!).

MH: What's the origin story behind Threshold? What led to it opening in 1996?

Aristotle: The OOC origin story? Well, I had given up on MUDs due to having a bunch of my code stolen a few years earlier. But one summer I was clerking for a law firm, not really liking it, and needed something "fun" to do. So I decided I'd take another crack at making a MUD, but this time I would do it solo so my code couldn't be stolen. That was how Threshold came to be.

The IC origin story is something you need to play Threshold to discover.

MH: How has the playerbase changed since the advent of graphical MMORPGs?

Aristotle: I think Threshold's playerbase has become a little older and more mature since the advent of graphical MMORPGs. While we definitely suffered an overall usage hit for a few years, the long term net effect has been very positive on our community. We lose a lot of the "l2play n00b" types to the graphical MMOs, and frankly they can keep them.

MH: Have you added features to Threshold that were meant to directly compete with MMORPGs?

Aristotle: Not really, no. We get a lot of good ideas from playing graphical MMOs, but I do not think we have ever added a feature specifically to compete with MMORPGs. The closest thing to that would be the simple fact that we always try to be mindful of the accessibility factor that MUDs have going for them. The main reason we do not have a custom client that we REQUIRE is because we want to keep Threshold (and MUDs in general) as widely accessible as possible.

MH: What makes Threshold stand out from the many other MUDs available for people to play?

Aristotle: There are three main things that make Threshold standout: 1) Is is the only RP required (and enforced) commercial game on the internet. 2) It has an absolutely wonderful community. I think the fact that our playerbase is about 50% female is a huge factor there. It helps our community stay balanced and diverse. 3) A fanatical devotion to quality. We could churn out content a lot faster if we really wanted to, but we want everything we add to the game to be top notch in quality. A corollary to this is the fact that we care very deeply about our players. We talk to them on an almost daily basis and are always open to player feedback.

MH: How do you classify Threshold: Hobbyist or commercial? Is it what you do for a living?

Aristotle: Threshold is definitely a commercial game. It is part of our company, Frogdice, and it is my full time job (as well as my wife's full time job).

MH: What do players get in exchange for making real money contributions to Threshold?

Aristotle: I should mention first that almost everything you can receive with real money can also be obtained through regular gameplay. With that said, the main things players receive are convenience options (like quick transport back to their house), in game coin, extra gear storage, and a wide variety of customization options (for their character, their house, etc.).

MH: The game is touted as the oldest RP-enforced MUDs around. How is RP enforced? Where can we check out logs of RP activities from Threshold?

Aristotle: RP is enforced largely by the community itself. New players are immediately offered help by in game advisors, and the RP requirement is made very clear. If players run afoul of it, other players try to take them aside and explain the RP requirement. If they continue to be a problem, they are reported to the admins who take over from there. It is extremely rare that admins have to get involved. It is even rarer that someone refuses to stay IC and roleplay. By making this rule very clear during creation we avoid problems before they start.

MH: What has been the brightest moment for you and your playerbase on Threshold?

Aristotle: This is an easy one. I met my wife through Threshold. For the playerbase, I think the brightest moment was when we switched to free to play. Doing that meant people never had to worry about losing a friend because they wanted to play less and could not justify a recurring fee.

MH: What has been the darkest moment for you and your playerbase?

Aristotle: I think the darkest moment for me was riding out the initial effects of the big graphical MMOs on the MUD genre. That was probably the darkest moment for our players as well. Fortunately, we played to our strengths and have been able to recover and grow quite nicely in the last 3-4 years.

MH: Threshold is an original theme, but are there any fantasy books that you'd recommend for familiarizing oneself with the tone of the game?

Aristotle: Dragonlance is an excellent series for experiencing a classic fantasy world. Threshold is a little more high fantasy than Dragonlance. David Eddings' various series would be good as well (for the traditional good vs. evil conflict), but again Threshold is more high-fantasy, high-magic.

MH: Where do most of Threshold's players hail from?

Aristotle: Threshold has players from over 50 countries. The USA, Canada, Britain, and Australia are certainly the most common due to the language issue. But it amazes me where some of our players come from. I find it particularly interesting that we have players from Israel and Iran, and have benefited from their perspective on our OOC game forums.

MH: What's the most beneficial advertising for Threshold? Paid ads or word-of-mouth?

Aristotle: Word of mouth is without a doubt the most beneficial and effective form of advertising for Threshold.

MH: What does the future hold for text-based online gaming? How will Threshold and other games like it continue to sustain themselves? Where are the new audiences to be found?

Aristotle: I hosted a roundtable discussion on this topic at the most recent IMGDC (Independent MMO Game Developers Conference). I think text games will continue to be viable and even grow as they provide a unique type of gameplay. Text games still do communication and interaction better than graphical games, largely because you are always at the chat interface. You do not have to click in a box and hit enter just to BEGIN speaking with people.

New audiences are to be found from graphical MMOs in my opinion. As graphical MMOs continue to deliver the same pure hack-n-slash gameplay, text games will be able to attract people to their deeper gameplay. Text games really should work together to get the word out on graphical MMO fan sites and forums.

MH: What are you reading lately? Favorite TV shows? Music? Movies? Computer games?

Aristotle: About half of what I read is sci-fi/fantasy, a quarter is non-fiction, and another quarter is modern thriller/drama/mystery type stuff. My absolute favorite TV show right now is Bones, but House is a close second. I rarely get to see movies (since we have two young kids), but I really want to see the new Star Trek movie, the Wolverine movie, the new Terminator movie, and Angels & Demons.

I play a lot of computer games, but right now I am pretty desperate for a good one. The last computer game I played that I really liked was The Witcher. I try to play just about every MMO out there for at least a month or two. I feel game developers really need to make an effort to play other games so they know what else is being done in the market.

MH: What can people expect from Threshold in the next year? Five years?

Aristotle: People can expect lots of interesting story and plot lines (as we continue to tell the story of Threshold's world, and let players shape it), new lands to explore, and some pretty advanced new systems that will add even more variety to Threshold's gameplay. We have a few systems currently in development that are things people have wanted for years. We added a new developer a little over a year ago and he has been a huge boon to Threshold. We have really hit our stride working together and it is paying awesome dividends for Threshold and its players.


  1. Just wanted to make a quick addition that roleplay logs can be found on Threshold's website as well as the player links also found on the site.