With an "eye" for development, the creators of Furcadia look to take a bite out of the MMO gaming space.
By Tricia "Kazi Wren" Harris | Jan. 15, 2003

Long before The Sims Online, there was Furcadia. Now this online social game will have its moment in the spotlight as one of this year's finalists for the "Fifth Annual Independent Games Festival" (IGF). Developed by Austin-based Dragon's Eye Productions, Furcadia was six years in the making.

"In 1995, when we were moving our DragonSpires game engine to Windows, one day 'Manda suddenly said to me "Let's make the furry game now." I said "OK." Both of us have always loved talking animal characters, and had already considered making an online game full of them someday. The decision to focus on user-created content rather than on things we would create just seemed a natural one, given the direction the Internet itself was starting to head in," explained Dr. Cat, cofounder of Dragon's Eye Productions.

"The web didn't have so many pages to browse through because a few big corporations and professional writers and artists were turning them out. It has that endless variety and sources of interest because millions of people put whatever they felt like out there."

Furcadia is one of ten independent games to be shown at the "Game Developers Conference" in San Jose on March 6-8. There it hopes to walk away with the $15,000 "Seumas McNally Grand Prize" and cash awards for technical excellence, game design, visual art, and audio.

The desire to create a game that draws in players has been with Dr. Cat and co-creator 'Manda for several years.

"I've been a professional game developer for my entire career, and have never done anything else. 'Manda has been making computer and video games with me for over ten years now. Before that she'd also done some board games, comic books, and role-playing games, including work for TSR and Steve Jackson games," he said.

'Manda learned how to make games through Dr. Cat, she said.

"Cat got me exposed to a lot of computer stuff, and taught me a lot of underlying math concepts. I studied algorithmics (generic programming independent of any one computer language) and HTML on my own. Then we went on to work at a number of game companies to learn how *not* to make a game," she said.

Her other experiences, including running events for the "Society for Creative Anachronism" (SCA) and paper-and-dice role-playing games, enhanced her move into electronic entertainment.

"It's what we love to do! Here was a chance to promote creativity, mathematical skills, literacy, and computer use amongst both sexes," 'Manda said. "The international goodwill as kids from all over the earth get to become friends, encouraging world peace, is icing on the cake."

Furcadia is a free massively multiplayer online social game (MMOSG) with a fantasy theme. Animals walk on two legs and have learned how to talk, and this is where the player jumps into the role-playing aspects of the game.

It's the kind of game that exemplifies the freedom and creativity enjoyed among independent developers. It's a role that will continue to grow in the industry, 'Manda said.

"Independent games are important as an arena for the many different business models. Apogee showed that shareware was viable for some products. Furcadia is freeware, but viewer-supported, a bit like public television," she said. "Perhaps the biggest opportunity for independent game developers is as an extension of advertising, like the Harry Potter website games that promote Coca Cola. Because of that, I think that independent games are going to be more independent of the gaming industry."

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