OtherSpace – Story arcs in a MUSH
I received an email the other week letting me know that the space-opera MUSH OtherSpace is starting a new story arc, and they’re asking for money contributions to help out with funding their hosting, marketing expenses and production costs. You might have heard of OtherSpace, we hosted an article about them earlier this year interviewing Wes, the creator (you can see it here).
Whilst OtherSpace is a bit different to the types of roleplaying games ran on OngoingWorlds, they’re remarkably close and still have members who contribute to an ongoing story, just like our play-by-post games. I interviewed Wes again, asking some questions about his new story arc called “Broken Web”.
How long will the story arc last?
The new “Broken Web” story arc, which kicks off on Dec. 1, probably will last until just after spring break 2012. That will lead the MUSH to an intersession period before summer vacation. During that time, I’ll develop ideas for the summer arc.
Do you come up with the entire story arc yourself? And do you plan it all before starting?
I come up with a basic framework for the story arc. I haven’t done a fully detailed, step-by-step architectural plan for a story arc since the first three or four arcs in the early days of 1998 and 1999. It was important to have a plan then because I was still developing the universe, players were still familiarizing themselves with OtherSpace, and I wanted to make sure we had some sense of direction for the story. Over the years, I’ve shed a lot of that formalized structure to leave much more flexibility for players and their actions. This approach has its pros and cons.
Is there much scope for the story not going in the direction you’d planned?
Ultimately, players have as much power to affect the story as they want to take. Because I’ve loosened the reins so much on the details of the plot in the past 14+ years, it has become much more of a collaborative effort. For example, when I plan an event, it may be as simple as: A diplomatic envoy shows up and explains his/her agenda. This allows players to establish their own agendas, either siding with the envoy, opposing, or adopting a strictly neutral stance. After I see how they react, I consider various next steps – activities that allies might do with the envoy, methods by which opponents might thwart the envoy, and ideas for nudging the neutral players to pick one side or the other.
Where do you take your inspiration from when creating a story arc?
After fourteen years, I think it’s safe to say that most of my inspiration comes from nostalgia about the original OtherSpace story arcs. The game has grown and changed so much over the years, but we always keep coming back – through good times and bad, through huge player populations to small crowds of diehard loyalists – to the idea of stories that provide opportunities for players to see their characters through adrenalin-charging experiences in real-time. When I’m developing a premise for an arc, it’s with the mindset of creating conditions that are optimal for players to leap into memorable adventures that they’ll talk about for years to come.
Can players experience this story or any of your old stories for a second time, or is it a one-shot deal?
The real-time experience, actively participating in a story arc, only happens to the people who are online and participating while the arc is in effect. In my mind, an OtherSpace story arc is like the season of a sci-fi show in text format, in which the actors are also the audience, the collaborative writing team, and sometimes even directors of their own episodes. However, we also provide logs of events in the Wiki and the blog on the main site, as well as compendiums called “chronicles” that gather together highlights from our major story arcs. These provide handy research for new players and digital keepsakes for the participants.
What happened in the previous story in the run up to the “Broken web” story arc?
The most recent story arc, “Cold-Blooded Conquest,” was actually rather self-contained. It won’t have an direct impact on “Broken Web,” per se, because “Conquest” involved a time-and-space meddling outfit called The Corps, operating from a base in a pocket universe called Time Neutral Zero, using players to tamper with history. “Conquest” was mostly just a fun experiment in time travel mischief, allowing new and old players alike to revisit past events, such as the plasma bombing of Earth and the Kretonian Invasion, and see them from new perspectives. The upcoming story arc, “Broken Web,” is intended to be much less self-contained. Instead, its goal is to blow open a wide range of possibilities and create a more dynamic multiverse.
What’s interesting about Wes’ game is that he asks for help from their community to pay for the aggravating costs of things like hosting, resources and marketing. I’ve only occasionally seen other roleplaying groups pass this charge onto their members, to spread the cost around. So I leave you with a question reader, is this something you do in your game? Have you seen any other roleplayers do this at all? Reply in the comments!
In the second article in this series (to be posted soon) I’ll ask Wes about how he collects funds from members to support their hobby.