"The dream of MaidMarian.com is to create an online escape into Sherwood
Forest bringing together an online community of like-minded players. I hope to
push the envelope both through technology and visually so this 'experiment'
continues to represent the state of the art and revolutionizes the way massively
multiplayer games are delivered. The unique independent
nature of this project allows a more
open development process so you can participate in it's growth through your feedback. The
Developer's Diary is where I keep you up to date on the changes and the
challenges I'm facing. Feel free to contact me with suggestions and
encouragement by email."
If you are play Sherwood Dungeon with preconceptions created by playing
traditional MMO's, you may find the combat system a little unusual at first.
Sherwood is a skill based action game, which means every attack and defense move
must be input in real-time by the player. While there are skills that players
learn as they gain levels, there is no skill bar and no auto-attack. There is,
however, much more to combat than tossing punches. There are three basic attack
types any player begins with: the attack, the block, and the amulet (which can
only be used once a player has equipped a talisman or amulet). Many new players
begin by taking blocking and defense for granted. This is, perhaps, a result of
a culture of traditional MMO games that have taught us that defensive maneuvers
are only necessary when we are losing badly. Sherwood, however, is not so gentle
and defense is very important.
Most traditional MMO's do not generally put much emphasis on blocking attacks,
however in Sherwood being able to defend is of critical importance. Always using
a full-out offensive is a strategy doomed to failure. The character and monster
animations in Sherwood are not just for show. Use them to time your blocks with
your opponent's attacks. If you successfully block an attack, you earn double
damage on your next attack. It's also important to note that you do not heal
while attacking, but you do heal while blocking. This allows for a player
loosing a fight to play defense to get back to even terms. Just like in boxing
or martial arts, Sherwood combat is designed to always leave open the
possibility of a last minute comeback. Combat alternates between attacking and
blocking, trying to time your attacks to when your opponent is open and blocking
your opponent's attacks to earn double damage on the next round.
Talisman / Amulet Attacks
You may run into some players who tend to block too much during PVP. For these
users, keep in mind that amulet attacks (or "tallys" as the players call them)
do double damage against blocks. With practice you can surprise your opponent
with a quick amulet attack when they least suspect it, hiding them in a series
of other attacks and blocks. These normally do about fifty percent more damage
than a regular attack, but be careful because your opponent's attack can do
double damage if it hits during an amulet attack. Your blue mana bar will need
to recharge between each amulet attack.
At XP level 3 you will begin to earn the first of six Power Moves. These can do
up to fifty percent more damage than regular attacks. Combine these with the
double damage from a successful block on the previous round and power moves can
be devastating. Your green energy bar will need to recharge between each power
The beauty of this combat system is one of Sherwood's most appealing features:
action combat requires skill, timing, patience, and forethought, even against
MOBs. Playing only offensively through attack spamming, or rushing through
battles, will result in defeat. Proper timing and reaction to a fight, on the
other hand, can leave a player ending a fight with full health, besting even
harder enemies without breaking a sweat. Skill is king!
Sherwood Facebook fan page has largely taken the place of
the developer diary in the last three years because the player feedback is much
more immediate. My last DD entry here was back in 2008 and obviously a great
deal has happened since then in terms of updates to the game and news of our
success. Recently a player on our Facebook page made the assertion that
all fantasy MMOs, including Sherwood Dungeon, are basically clones of World of
Warcraft. "Themís fightiní words!" It seemed like great topic for a developer
Letís start with the obvious. Although weíve both had numerous updates, Sherwood
was launched in August 2004, three months prior to World of Warcraft. Itís
pretty hard to be a clone of a game that launches AFTER yours. Now I could be
cheeky and say that makes them a clone of us, but thatís not really true either.
Even at the most basic level we are very different.
First a little game design history lesson. WOW is the most successful of an
entire genre of traditional fantasy MMOs that can trace itís roots back to early
text based MUDs and then arguably back further to pen and paper role playing
games like Dungeons & Dragons. When WOW was launched it was accused of being a
clone of Everquest. One of the keys to their success was to follow the same
basic formula as Everquest, but to improve on it by using quests more
effectively to guide the player though the game and tune the experience so that
solo players could still succeed. Everquest itself was largely based on the text
based MUD (Multi-user Dungeon) Diku. It was so similar, in fact, that three of
the Everquest programmers signed a sworn statement denying any source code was
shared between the two games. Raph Koster, former Chief Creative Officer for
Sony Online Entertainment and makers of EQ said, ď...the line of inheritance
from Diku to EQ and thence to WoW is completely undeniable. In the end, the
central elements of phase-based combat, combat states, cool-down based special
attacks, tank-healer-nuker triad, and basic aggro management are what you play
today in WoW.Ē Long time players probably know already that Iím big fan of Raph
and his musings. Most current MMOs follow this same basic formula. Sherwood
Dungeon, however, does not. Really, we donít!
The vast majority of traditional fantasy MMO's use a psedo-turn based approach
to combat. In those games, most attacks have cool-down periods that give players
time to make a strategic choice for the next attack. As players level, their
ďskillĒ tree expands and those choices become increasingly complex. They are
rewarded largely based on the hours dedicated to the game and their ability to
crunch numbers. This makes the traditional MMO more of a cerebral strategy based
game than a truly action oriented one.
ďSkillĒ in Sherwood means something entirely different. Itís not a reward your
character earns in the game based on stats, itís what happens to YOU when you
practice and develop your muscle memory and reflexes. We break from convention
and focus more on an action RPG style of melee combat based on a set of moves
that every player in the game has. My intention was to make PVP combat
similar to Street Fighter, where timing and practice count but XP Level does
not. In this way any player is a potential opponent for any other player and
you're never running around looking for opponents of the same XP Level. We donít
have character classes so there is no tank, DPS, healer trinity. This makes
Sherwoodís combat easy to learn, but because timing is so important a player
with skill always has the
Rogue-type games like Net-Hack
are a big influence on
generated dungeon and world building in Sherwood. Thus our DNA is really the shotgun marriage of
Net-Hack and Street Fighter. In practice, however, the pace and flow of PVP
combat in Sherwood feels more like a boxing match than Street Fighter. It is
absolutely possible for a talented low level player to defeat a high level
player. If youíre trying to play Sherwood as if itís based on World of Warcraft
then youíre going to have your ass handed to you by the first player you meet
who understands this is not a psudo-turn based or phase-based based game
and that XP levels alone do not make you a hero. You have to time your blocks,
look for openings based on what your opponent is doing and develop your own
style. Talent, skill and timing counts here.
I've create a Sherwood Dungeon game page on Facebook. If you
become a fan, I will be posting updates from time to time. Honestly I haven't
sorted out all the ways we might use the Events, Photo Album and Discussion
Board, but have a look.
It was with a great sense of relief that I was able to
finally launch pets in Sherwood on September 19. This was the final feature
planned in a whole series of changes that started ten months ago. The finicky
nature of the work, with major server and database changes and the
implementation of a payment scheme meant while much was happening behind the
scenes, little of that was visible to you. Now that the groundwork has been set,
I'm optimistic about the year ahead.
On October 2nd, I launched Stone Circle Island. It contains a
structure obviously inspired by Stonehenge. I was forced to take some creative
liberties from the original Stonhenge design. After removing some standing
stones to leave room for the arena, increasing the overall size and changing the
relative scale of the five inner monuments I decided that calling it Stone
Circle would be more appropriate. The Stone Circle Seer has a few challenges for
you, including the Wolf Pack Leader, one of the most difficult creatures in
Sherwood. I wanted to put this new content up shortly after the launch of pets
to send the message that I am committed to continue releasing free content.
Sherwood is born from an independent spirit and it's truly
unique among online worlds. We are everything the big game companies are not.
Viral and grassroots, we defy the odds and survive in an industry that eats
small game developers for breakfast. Hopefully this means that as a Sherwood
player, you feel you're a part of something special. We live or die on
word of mouth so email, text or MSN your friends about Sherwood. Put a
link on your Facebook, MySpace or personal website. I would like to extend
my thanks to those webmasters who have created the amazing variety of Sherwood
fan, guild and help sites that exist online today.
My focus has been on creating the setting for your online
adventures, however Sherwood is something beyond that. It's a place where we
suspend disbelief and exist in a world that doesn't exist; a place where
graphics and imagination meet. You are the most important part of Sherwood
because it's ultimately the citizens that define this place. What kind of
a place do you want it to be? When I see the leadership of various groups
like the Sherwood Amazons, who promote and support values like tolerance and
inclusiveness, the idea of bringing together an online community of like-minded
players becomes more than just some guy making an MMO in his basement. Sherwood
needs guilds, clans and organizations that support knightly virtues of chivalry,
honor, courage and nobility. In Medieval England, knights had to swear to
the code which asked them to "protect the weak, defenseless, and helpless, and
fight for the general welfare of all." Sherwood should be a place where
all players feel welcome. I need your help building this community because
that part of Sherwood that isn't bits and bytes is very much in your hands.
I'm finally ready to launch the pets and mounts feature. I'm
doing a soft launch, under a new URL:
This provides me with the opportunity to catch any last
minute bugs I may have missed without the entire population of Sherwood
affected. In about a week, this version of Sherwood will replace the one at
play.html and become the default.
PayPal is the only method of payment accepted for pets right
now. I'm working on adding new options. If you don't have access to a Visa or
Mastercard, you can use a Coinstar machine at many grocery stores to get a
prepaid Green Dot Master Card. These are at over 65,000 locations world wide.
You can use the Green Dot card with PayPal -
Crossing my fingers, knocking on wood - We should be good to
go. Once we get through this launch, I'll put up another diary entry and let you
in on what I've got planned next. Remember, Pets expire one year from the
date of purchase.
I've received numerous requests for a status report on the pets
and mounts. As expected, it's been a daunting challenge but work is progressing
very well. All of the models, animation and Shockwave
code is complete. However, pets and mounts require fairly substantial game
server and database updates and this work is currently in progress. I'm not
going to commit to a launch date for pets yet but I suspect it will be in
September. Enough is complete now to provide more detailed information:
A pet menu button will be added to the equipment bar where you can shop for new
pets or summon pets that you already own. There are four pet types: Horse, Wolf,
Dragon and Spider. They cost $5 US dollars each or you can get all four at once
for $15. Pets expire after one year of use. At launch, payment will be handled
through PayPal and they accept most major credit cards. I recognize that a
percentage of players do not have access to a credit cards and I will be working
on adding additional payment methods after launch, including Premium SMS. Pets
are only available to players with membership accounts. They are locked to a
single account and cannot be transferred between accounts.
Once purchased, the pet menu includes their expiry date, a summon button and an
option to change the pet's name. With the exception of the horse, other players
can see the name of your pet over it's head. The horse provides an extra 50%
movement speed and can be used anywhere, including the dungeon. The horse does
not participate in combat and you dismount automatically when you press the <Ctrl>
key to swing your weapon. The horse disappears when you dismount, however you
can summon it again at anytime from the pet menu.
The pet dragon is the smallest dragon in the game, but it include a new set of
flying animations. The dragon hovers beside you in flight as you walk around.
The other pets walk beside you, doing their best to avoid obstacles. They
will fight any enemy that attacks you and aid in
combat. Although pets will appear to attack during PVP, they cannot damage other
players. Similarly, other players cannot damage your pets. This maintains the
integrity of the game, ensuring players cannot purchase an advantage over other
players during PVP. Pets provide 15% extra damage during combat with AI monsters
or MOBs(PVE). Their attack speed is fairly high and they continue to attack as
you block or cast amulet attacks. As a result, pets are an effective ally during
combat. Pets are soul-locked to their master and share the same health bar. They
die when you are defeated in combat and respawn when you do.
Guild or Rank Tags
In today's Sherwood update, I included an option to insert a guild, clan or rank
tag under your name and visible to other players. This is available by pressing
the "Change Guild / Rank" button in the Character Options Menu. Guilds and ranks
are not technically features of the game, rather they emerged from the player
community along with the many guild and clan websites. Putting the rank and
guild name into your user name worked reasonably well before we had membership
accounts but user names are locked for members and cannot be changed. With this
new feature you no longer need to sign up for a new account every time your
guild promotes you - just change your guild tag. Because pets are locked to user
accounts and cannot be transferred, do not use account names or user names that
include ranks or guild names because you may want to change them later. This new
feature provides a better way to deal with rank or guild changes.
If your reading this, youíve discovered the new website for
Sherwood Dungeon. Youíre also likely aware of the account system that was introduced to
the game a week ago. These are the latest pieces in a series of planned updates
that included the new avatars, gladiator arena and
rune crafting. I wanted a fantasy feel from the moment you got to this site; like
opening the cover of a fantasy novel. While MaidMarian.com needs to be a portal
for all of the games, SherwoodDungeon.com is unapologetically medieval fantasy.
The design and art came together in a way that matches the original vision for
The account system has been a success, with 50,000 players becoming
members in the first week. I didnít want to loose the benefits of being able to
login quickly without registration, however there are clear advantages to being
able to access your character from other computers and being able to reserve a
character name. The new system accommodates both quick entry
without registration and accounts for players who sign up for membership. This also opens up new possibilities for the future of Sherwood.
Sherwood Dungeon is one of the only medieval fantasy MMOs that is
sustained solely on advertising revenue. Iíve made an effort to keep these ads
as unobtrusive as possible and theyíve helped keep Sherwood free over the years.
With changing market environments, ad revenue can be very volatile. It also
leaves us in the ironic position that itís the advertisers, rather than the
players, who are the real customers. Iíve known for quite while that for
Sherwood to continue to grow, we will need to make some changes. I looked at
some of the things other games are doing, like premium subscriptions and virtual
items or currency. I didnít like the idea of making a new island or dungeon and
having to decide whether everybody gets access to it, or just paid subscribers.
There are also many free games where you are forced to purchase virtual items in
order to accomplish anything of value in the game. I needed to come up with
something that maintained the integrity of the game, but also ensured
sustainability for the future.
After weighing out all the options for many months, Iíve come to a
decision. In the coming months you will have the option to purchase a mount or
pet for your character. Iím planning on introducing a pet wolf and horse during
the summer. These will be available for $5.00 US each and will
remain with your
character for one year. There is still work to do on these two features, but
Iím taking the unusual step of announcing my plans today so
you know what to expect. All other Sherwood features, current and future,
will remain free for the foreseeable future.
The addition of mounts and pets will ensure that Sherwood has the
resources for continued growth and vitality in the future. You can see from the
home page that some of the new art for the website
includes the horse and wolf. Iím also including a few images of the game models
to give you an idea of how they might look in the game. I
hope this is greeted by Sherwood players with enthusiasm, but I am also well
aware of the community's feelings and I'm striving to meet your expectations to
the best of my abilities.
I'm still working through my New Year's list for Sherwood. I hope you're
enjoying the updates, because I'm sure having fun making them. I added the new
Viking and Female Ranger avatars in February to increase choice and variety of
characters. You'll likely notice I am avoiding Dwarves, Elves and Orcs for now.
I'm settling on a spot between extremes of fantasy and medieval historical
fiction that feels right for Sherwood. Colleagues of mine indicated that
traditional Lord of the Rings' races might be a bad fit. I've considered Dwarves
however they are often portrayed as stout Vikings with Norse inspired lore.
Although I ended up taking liberties with their appearance and armor, Vikings
have the burly bearded look I wanted along with historical precedence. The
female ranger was inspired by Maid Marian from the Robin Hood stories. In the
years of working on these games I've drifted away from the Robin Hood legends
with Sherwood Dungeon but Maid Marian's spirit and character continues to
influence the game.
The other major update is the addition of the Isle of Heroes. This new island,
with it's palm trees and sandy beaches, contains an gladiator arena inspired by
the Roman Colosseum. The Arena Master NPC can summon a dragon or a squad of
fellow soldiers in your team color to engage in combat against a gang of enemy
warriors. This way you can get involved in a larger battle scenario without
having to organize a group of players. The portal to the Isle of Heroes is
located at the top of the tower in Sherwood Castle. Since I had to add the
portal anyway, I took the opportunity to improve and add details to the tower.
The key to this update was improving combat and AI so that MOBs can find and
fight each other. A mob (Mobile Object) is a type of non-player character (NPC)
or monster that has the ability to move around. MOBs can now be members of the
same team colors that players are members of. They can also be members of their
own team, like the monsters in the dungeon. They are aware of who is an enemy
and who is a friend so if you change team colors near a MOB teammate they will
turn on you immediately. You can probably imagine some of the future scenarios
and game play that become possible with this change and why I thought it was
worth the work.
I've always found game AI (artificial intelligence) to be one of the most
amazing parts of the job. Sometimes MOBs exhibit behaviors that I didn't
anticipate and personality quirks emerge. Although Sherwood's AI is similar to
systems used in other games (A-star path-finding, basic attack, wander, run-away
and grouping behaviors) it is fundamentally the same as what I used for
Ratinator. You can fool around with path-finding and AI directly in Ratinator's
design mode. You can pick game elements or enemies to add from the menu and use
your yellow cursor on the grid to create in that location. Just go to Level Design
from the main menu, add some enemy monsters under Enemies, a few walls under Game Items
and use Move Enemies to move the monsters around with the cursor and see the
path-finding. The Scarab Beetles are one of my favorite enemies in Ratinator
because they attack for four seconds and then run away for two seconds and then
repeat. Press Try Level in design mode to try your creation out.
Raph Koster, an industry veteran and thought-leader in virtual worlds and MMOs,
said some nice things about my work in a presentation at GDC Prime. He included
this chart of MMOs with the highest estimated active users. He was making the
point that of the top 13 most trafficked MMOs in Europe and North America, World
of Warcraft was the only traditional boxed game available from a retail store on
that list. All of the rest of the games on that list are either played in a
browser or downloadable. I was ecstatic just to make the chart in 13th place.
(Actually MaidMarian.com gets more traffic than ToonTown, so let's call it 12th
place.) Considering how much I enjoyed and was influenced by retail boxed games
like Everquest and Everquest II, Ultima Online, Lord of the Rings Online and
Star Wars Galaxies, to have passed them all in active users is mind blowing. And
as usual, I have you to thank.
I've been reminded twice by players that it's time to post another diary entry.
I'm off to San Francisco in a week for the Game Developers Conference, so now is
the time. MaidMarian.com continues to reach more and more players. We
experienced a bit of a drop in early January, however that's normal after
Christmas and after another record high of 1.8 million unique monthly players,
rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated. I added two more servers,
bringing the total to 11. You can check the five year pattern at Alexa.com:
After releasing Club Marian in September, focus shifted back to Sherwood
Dungeon. I came up with a preliminary list of features that were needed to bring
the game to another level. The changes you are seeing are just beginning. I
received some very vocal criticism from the women of Sherwood about the Female
Warrior. I wanted strong characters that would resonate with players and
apparently the female avatar was just not there yet. After generating a list of
changes and getting the updates in, feedback on the new updated look with a
choice of hair styles is overwhelmingly positive - so thanks for your help. One
of my goals is to create an MMO adapted to the web but with the 3D graphics and
visual impact of a boxed product. Just being the best looking 3D MMO in a web
browser is not good enough. In particular I want the avatars to hold their own
against well known, mainstream MMORPGs. Although naturally there is going to be
some bias, for the first time with the characters I feel like we're reaching
that goal. As far as I'm concerned, there's no technical reason why a browser
based MMO can't look as good graphically as a boxed one and I'm going to keep
pushing for this in all areas of the game.
Crafting and blacksmithing is something I've wanted in Sherwood for a long time.
Those ideas morphed into the Runes and Scrolls system you now see in the game.
It's basically a collecting and combining game mechanic, where you use runes to
envoke the magic of a Scroll of Summoning to craft magic weapons. Originally I
was going to have players spell the Old English translations for words like
"Sword" or "Axe", however the symbolic circular pattern of runes that I used
created more of a feeling of alchemy, magic and mystery. Runes have a
fascinating history in Viking, Germanic and Old English lore. Have a look:
I increased the number of inventory slots from 16 to 25. This was planned for a
while, however the Runes and Scrolls system forced the issue. A reduction in
icon size was required to create the 5x5 slot grid on the inventory. This turned
out to be more work than I anticipated as almost all other screens in the user
interface were also affected.
So what else is planned? You'll have to wait and see, however this year will
mark a turning point for both the game and the company. Some of the changes may
take you by surprise and will, with luck, be more fundamental to Sherwood's
future than just new features. It's time to put my game face on.
Other random stuff:
I just started kick boxing. Wow am I ever terrible. My avatar can kick, what's
wrong with me? I also play ice hockey twice a week. I'm not great at that either
but I'm Canadian, so it's in the blood. My parents are Dutch (Mom) and Hungarian
(Dad) so I enjoy the popularity of the games in both Western and Eastern Europe.
And a big hello to the huge numbers of visitors MaidMarian.com gets from Poland!
My wife's father was from Poland. She quit her job to join this crazy company as
CFO about a year ago. If your curious about where players come from, check this
Only the ten countries with the highest traffic levels are shown. If you country
is not there, your in the 29.99% grey area that represents the rest of the
world. Cool eh? I've always been blown away by how evenly balanced the traffic
is around the world. The word on Sherwood is spreading because of you, so keep
recruiting those friends! And thank you for continuing to support the games.
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