Kingdom of Loathing: An interview with Jick

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It began innocently enough. Somewhere in the vast communications jungle that is my interaction with the net, someone pointed me to this swords and sorcery-ish game that ran on a website. "Fine", sez I, "I'll take a look". I didn't think much of it, other than the odd name, 'Kingdom of Loathing'. To me, web-based gaming, in particular RPG games, never really seemed to be worth getting into. I'd rather play something local.

A month later, I'm still playing the game daily. I work through my daily alottment of moves usually before noon, and I'm learning all the little tricks to get more Adventures so I can advance my character faster.

These guys definitely have something.


Introduction
So what is this thing anyway? Kingdom of Loathing is a web-based RPG game based on the ages old concepts first laid down by Gary Gygax and his crew of merry men with Dungeons and Dragons. You start with a character of a certain class, build up experience and swag, and advance levels by beating the bejeezus out of hordes of bad guys (oh, okay, and solving some puzzles along the way). In that respect, there's not a lot new here. What is new is this isn't just your standard "warrior" "wizard" "thief" game. No, in KoL you get to choose from Accordian Thief, Seal Clubber, Pastamancer, Disco Bandit, or Sauceror, with each character having, as expected, their own particular skill set and powers. And none of this Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom silliness either. KoL has Muscle, Mysticality, and Moxie.

Adventures and Advancement
If you're already worried, this is just the beginning. From here on, things just gets weirder. Moving through adventures ranging from the Misspelled Cemetary (watch out for the skletons and ghuols!), and the Obligatory Pirates Cove (if you're lucky, you'll get a set of arrrrrgyle socks), your character collects 'meat', which can be used to buy things in markets, trade with other players, or purchase new skills for your character. As you adventure, you gain sort of sub-points for each attribute ("You've won! You gain 15 smarm and 10 wizardliness!" - this means you've gotten more points toward your next Moxie point and next Mysticality point.) Gain enough of the attribute required for your class, you go up a level!

It's impossible to go into all the nuances of the game here. There are clans for banding friends together to trade goodies, a whole slew of items to find, combine into other items, and trade. There is a "player vs player" mode where you can pit your character against other players in the game (but only if you want to!). The list goes on and on.

The Interview
KoL has roped me in like no other online game. I just had to track down Jick, the author, and see if he'd be up for an interview. He took some time from his busy schedule and agreed...

[dbs] - Kingdom of Loathing is a great game, and a lot of work and thought obviously went into the entire system. How'd it get started, and how long did it take to put together, both design and coding?

[Jick] - I've been working on it since late January of 2003 -- it started out as sort of a joke, just a few zones and a bunch of items that didn't really do anything. As people showed up, their enthusiasm sort of bolstered my own, and I kept adding things a little bit at a time, resulting in the beast you see today. There are some weird idiosyncrasies born of the organic nature of the game's growth, but I think that's part of the charm. If I had started out by trying to make a massive design document, the game would never have gotten off of the ground.

[dbs] - Are there other folks who have worked on the game? How are things maintained nowadays?

[Jick] - My friend Josh, (Mr. Skullhead) has done about half of the writing and design since he got on board with the project, about a year ago. I still do all of the coding, the drawings, and the random server maintenance stuff.

[dbs] - There's a comment on the home page about a 'beta' release ending and the game being reset. It seems like an old message, what's the status on this, are we all going to start over again soon?

[Jick] - It's still coming. There are a few more things (most notably the Sorceress quest, which will bring with it the ability to Ascend, and start over as a new character class) that need to be done before we can do it. The sudden surge in popularity has created a lot more work, so the time I've had to actually devote to design, and to content addition, has gotten a little scarce. I'm about to have a lot more time available to invest in the project, though, so I'm guessing the game will be "complete" and the reset will occur late this summer.

[dbs] - There's a ton of websites nowadays that give 'spoiler' sheets and recipes and other goodies on how to basically walk through the various adventures and storylines in the game. What's your feeling toward these sites?

[Jick] - It's pretty much unavoidable. I don't mind them too much, but it really damages our ability to do a lot of interesting things with easter eggs and hidden rewards. There are things (like the easter eggs in the Strange Leaflet quest) that we put into the game to reward people for knowing specific things (in that case a familiarity with old text adventures,) and the spoiler sites open those things up to everybody.

[dbs] - KoL appears to be running on a colocated box at The Planet (www.theplanet.com). Was this due to the increased popularity of the game? How many players are currently in the game?

[Jick] - It's still growing at a pretty good clip, but right now there are around 90,000 accounts. Of those, somewhere between 20 and 25 thousand get played each day. I had to move to a dedicated server quite a while ago, since the site is too scripting-heavy for shared hosting. Right now it's running on one web server and one database server, but it's getting really laggy, and I'm in the process of adding a couple more web servers to share some of the load.

[dbs] - What's next for KoL? You've said the game is still an open beta, and you want to keep it free, but as you say, hosting costs go up, and there's obviously a lot of work in the game. Where to next?

[Jick] - That's a good question. I want to keep KoL somewhat dynamic, with special events and minor content updates happening fairly regularly. We're planning on adding some premium content after the reset - a second continent available exclusively to those people who contribute, or have already done so. I'd also like to try my hand at some other styles of games, a little smaller in scale, and see what kind of reception they get.

[dbs] - Can you give a quick bio about yourself and any of the other KoL team members who would like to contribute?

[Jick] - Sure. Josh and I currently both live in the Phoenix, AZ area, though he's about to move to Flagstaff for graduate school. I grew up in the Midwest, and moved to Arizona in high school, which is where we met. I'm currently 28, and he's 26. I've got a B. S. in Psychology, he's got a B. A. in English and Spanish. I work as a programmer, and he does something for a health care company.


Kingdom of Loathing is available at http://www.kingdomofloathing.com.
This article and all its content is ©2004 Dave Belfer-Shevett - http://dbs.homeport.org/

3 Comments

Hey, look! People CAN do more than just flip burgers with a degree in liberal arts! Woohoo!

Excellent article, Dave. KOL is a phenomenon just waiting to happen - and you'll be able to say you were the first to document it (:

wooo and funly language that harkens to the days of drin spaek

awesome game thanks!

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This page contains a single entry by dbs published on July 9, 2004 1:34 PM.

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