(You'll probably want to start with part one and part two of this series)
Krice of Rogue Hut has pointed out that Thomas Biskup, author of Ancient Dungeons of Mystery is debating on the ADOM forums whether he should make the game open source. Krice summarises the advantages and disadvantages nicely, but I feel compelled to defend the "Angband effect" that Thomas criticises - the compulsion to create new variants of the existing game.
Angband has a host of variants (suggestions on a better collective noun to describe this are welcome). Everyone points to the source code clean up that Ben Harrison instigated in the late 90s as the primary reason for the large number; but in the Linux Gooey, I identified the process for creating an Angband variant as follows:
- Play the game, get frustrated with game design problems
- Realise you can edit the data files, cheat
- Edit the data files to include more monsters
- Ask or figure out how to compile code
- Release an Angband variant
Thomas should be more worried about source code access spoiling the game (step two). But in this day and age of Internet access, every game is effectively spoiled within weeks of its release. There are plenty of spoilers available for ADOM and I would argue you should design games to be enjoyable even if they are completely spoiled. The classic games (Chess, Go etc.) have a completely visible rule set and hundreds of books devoted to 'spoiling' the game by describing as many permutations of play as possible, but these games are still enjoyable.
I'm unsure whether ADOM is interesting enough to be playable even with complete spoilage. I don't believe ADOM will be forked 'significantly' in that the player base will be fragmented by multiple competing variants. What should happen, depending on how clean and supportable the code base is, is that the generosity of strangers will make ADOM stronger and more widely played: long standing obscure bugs fixed, more platforms supported, and a vibrant community maintained even without the day to day involvement of the designer. That has been my experience with Unangband and I don't expect ADOM to be any different.
But the "Angband Effect" is more than just a response to bad game design - Angband, in general is designed well, just with some rough edges. The most important reason Angband variants get released, as opposed to just being redesigned on the back of a napkin, is the ability of players to edit the game data, and especially, create new content without breaking the game.
The edit file structure is the key to allowing this. The "Attack of the Colon" design is a much lower bar than having to understand scripting, as you can just copy and paste, add and delete parts or whole and the game will continue to work (most of the time).
And data driven design has been key to the growth of Unangband.
(More to come in part four).