Goodbye Babbage Linden, Hello Doc Boffin

Sat 23 October 2010 by Jim Purbrick

In June 2004, not long after Cory had introduced me to Second Life, version 1.4 was released which added Custom Character Animations. In the accompanying press release Philip said “My fantasy is to be Uma Thurman in Kill Bill”, “I’d pay \$10 for her yellow jumpsuit and sword moves and I’m sure other people would too.” I’d been looking for something to build in SL and also been thinking about melee combat systems in RPGs which traditionally just leave the tanks hacking away while the others get loads of different fun and interesting abilities to use. At the other end of the spectrum arcade fighting games give players lots interesting choices to make, but require twitch reflexes that require low latencies that are difficult to achieve over networks let alone in SL. Building a tactical melee combat game in Second Life sounded like the kind of interesting challenge I was looking for, so at the end of 2004 Doc Boffin and Jaladan Codesmith set out to build what would become Combat Cards.

The early versions of the game were built in to weapons and employed a simple llDialog interface for selecting moves, but the core mechanics were very much as they are now. HUDs were introduced In October 2005 with Second Life 1.7 and I immediately started thinking about converting the game in to a trading card game — a business model that seemed to fit perfectly with Second Life’s micro currency based economy.

A trading card game needed an artist and after looking for one on the SL forums I was very lucky to find the wonderful Osprey Therian who preceded to blow my mind producing amazing artwork and taking incredible pictures of the fantastic avatars of Second Life for what became Combat Cards.

Working on the game while working at Linden Lab gave me insights in to how Second Life felt from a residents perspective. Despite Second Life’s flexibility, it’s a lot harder to build complex systems than it should be. Building systems that can send out product updates is fiddly, error prone and something that should be in the platform, LSL’s memory limitations mean that I often spent more time cutting scripts up or trying to save memory than building features. When the number of cards and so data increased, Combat Cards ended up having to incorporate a paging system to load lines of notecard data in to memory asynchronously in order to continue to work. This hugely frustrating and time consuming experience led directly in to the discussions and design around Script Limits which will allow Mono scripts to request as much memory as they needed.

Learning about building businesses in Second Life was also incredibly valuable. As a multi-player only game, Combat Card’s biggest challenge has always been getting enough people together at the same time to play, something that has resulted in a series of wonderful parties and regular events often hosted by the amazing Kat Burger. It also resulted in the exploration of linking Second Life with social media that led to Combat Cards arenas tweeting game results and then the LSL Twitter OAuth Library that allowed players to tweet results from their own accounts without disclosing their Twitter passwords. When we finally found a print on demand service that allowed Combat Cards to make the jump to RL it also allowed us to explore the possibilities for linking RL and SL businesses that resulted in the system for buying gift certificates for L\$ in SL that can be redeemed for physical Combat Cards in the online web shops.

Keeping my Babbage Linden and Doc Boffin identities separate for over 6 years has given me incredible insight in to what it’s really like to be a Second Life resident, but it has been exhausting. There was an awkward moment in 2006 when I had to tell Philip that I worked for him when he came to check out Combat Cards, Osprey only found out that I was a Linden in 2008 when I emailed her a version of the RL rules sheet that Word had helpfully annotated with my name and I had to come up with a dweeby Doc Boffin voice to disguise my identity when commentating on Combat Cards matches on YouTube. It’s a huge relief to finally be able to come out of the closet and talk about Combat Cards openly. I’m incredibly proud of what Osprey, Jaladan and I have achieved with the help of Kat, Comragh, Spin and our amazing player base, to whom I apologize to for sometimes not being able to devote as much time as I’d like to Combat Cards. My other Second Life as Babbage Linden often kept me pretty busy.

Now that I’ve left Linden Lab I hope to still find some time to work on Combat Cards and hope that it will now be easier to pursue the full publication of Combat Cards in real life that Osprey’s amazing artwork deserves. I’m very happy to announce that Combat Cards 3.0 and the long awaited Robot Series of cards will be launching on 31 October and hope to see you all at the launch party at 2PM Pacific (Second Life time) at the Combat Cards Arenas in Europa. I’ll leave you with Osprey’s latest amazing promo for the event.


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