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Update: Grand Arc
July 27, 2019


We got off to a rocky start with this week's update. It was hard to predict exactly what would happen when going from an infinite map with infinite resources to a limited area with limited resources, but in the first few runs, all hell broke loose.

But before I get into that, I should explain the goal of this update: To give the world in the game an arc beyond the arc of individual villages. When you join the game tomorrow, it should be fundamentally different than when you played today. I want things that you do in the game to matter on a grander scale than just your individual life or even just the life of your village. Finally, I want players to be engaging in a real collective challenge over the course of several real-world days in the game. With this update, that challenge becomes surviving as long as possible, collectively, with limited resources. Before this update, the game just went on and on, endlessly and always the same, with an endless supply of natural resources and and endless supply of very similar village rise-and-fall arcs.

Now on to the details of the rocky start:

Most of this actually had to do with the failure detection code being thwarted, but how quickly we got to what should have been a failure state was also troubling. The first time, it happened in about three hours.

During the first run, people exploited a low-tech glitch to escape from the limited area, which allowed them to exploit unlimited resources outside while the remaining people faced a resource-stripped wasteland inside. The failure condition at that point had to do with baby survival, and babies were certainly surviving just fine on the outside, so on we went. However, things got pretty bad inside in about three hours, because a few people realized they could ruin all the wild berry bushes.

The next run was much better. The escape glitch was patched, and the area made 2x larger, and the berry-ruining method was blocked. Eves could only spawn in the first two hours, so there was no longer an endless flow of nomadic families. This time, they went after all the maple trees, systematically chopping down every one. Even so, people managed to bootstrap and survive for more than 16 hours.

The failure condition in the second run was an absence of fertile mothers inside the limited area (so even if people escaped by plane, they wouldn't thwart failure detection). At the end of 16 hours, we got down to just one family surviving, and eventually just two fertile mothers, each with a trail of about 20 babies chasing them. Still, there were fertile mothers around, so no failure was triggered. I eventually had to kill it manually.

Now we're on Arc Run 3. Chopping down most of the more useful trees has become hungry work, so you can't just go berserk with the chopping. The failure condition is now the ratio between helpless babies and fertile mothers. When that ratio gets too high, the world resets. Finally, the map seed is chosen randomly for each run, so you can't just memorize the best spots without actually exploring each time. Also, Donkeytown has been fixed so that it is located outside of the limited area, correctly. There was a glitch before that caused the donkeys to mingle inside.

Things are going much more smoothly in Run 3.

But in general, I've now realized how much of a design (and player) band-aide the infinite map really was. So many problems can be solved in a hand-wavy way by saying, "Just walk further out and _______", where the blank is "find more resources," or "evade griefers," or "hide from your neighbors."

Why did no one ever chop down all the maple trees or ruin all the berry bushes before? Because there were an effectively infinite number of them, of course. But an infinite quantity of any resource is simply not that interesting. Actually there are around 36,910,000,000,000,000 maple trees on the map. That's 36 quadrillion.

There have always been (and will always be) huge opportunities for griefing in this game. I can add work-arounds for some of the big ones, but at the end of the day, people are always going to be able to do stuff that you don't want them to do. That is the fundamental challenge of building a civil society from scratch with a group of strangers. That is this game, full stop.

Now, with limited resources in place, we can see these fundamental challenges very plainly. There's no way to escape from them or paper over them. The only way to succeed is to actually trust and interact and cooperate and optimize and protect and conserve and balance and lead. You can't just head into the hills to escape from this challenge.
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