Home > Anarchy Online > Community-extended interface in AO

Community-extended interface in AO

June 5, 2011

There are a few MMO games that expose an API (application programming interface) to allow for various add-ons to be built to the game client; the most recent to announce such an interface is Rift.  In a way Anarchy Online also have a way to include add-ons, but in a different manner and probably unintentional originally.

Not too far after the initial release of the game Funcom released something that was and has been fairly unique among MMOs – an external chat client to the in-game chat. Using a Java applet one would use it to chat with people in-game (or others using the same chat client), without the need to log in into the game.

That was a quite neat feature and it did not take long until other players had figured out how the chat interface worked and started to write their own chat clients. And after that came the idea to introduce “bots”, external software that logged in as a user and throught he chat interface provided various types of services to players – i.e. ask a question and get an answer back. One of the early bots of this kind was Helpbot. Helpbot is the name of the character that one sends tells to, which is run by a pice of software outside of the game.

This mechanic has been extended with many new features over the years; nowadays the bot software is modular, so they run with a common core functionality which can be extended by adding additional modules to it. Information about variout bot software can be found at AODevs wiki, which also have pages for some specific instances of bots on Atlantean and Rimor. Many organisations (a.k.a. guilds in some other MMOs) seem to have a bot of their own to provide various added functionality to its members. A partial list of modules available from one of the bots is shown below (that is maybe half of the whole list).

With many added features to the in-game functionality through the chat interface this is a different approach to the APIs exposed by some other MMOs, with different advantages and disadvantages:

  • This mechanic only extends things that can be operated through the chat interface; it has to work within the confines of the existing interface if things are shown in the game (but some modules open up external web pages). The API approach can be a bit more flexible here, depending on what the game developers choose to expose.
  • There is no requirement that each and every player install something extra – this is an advantage compared to add-ons that are installed locally; it is really nothing to mess around with for the user to install, update or remove.
  • The performance and utilization of these features may affect game chat servers and be more dependent on outside running software than the local computer. That is a trade-off to not have to install anything locally.
  • Setting up a bot requires more effort to set up, but on the other hand this is an effort that only a few people are doing.
It is nice to see that Funcom did allow this to grow; same as for other games that allow extensions they allow for the community to add what they consider useful.
As far as I understand the same chat servers also are used for Age of Conan and I believe at least one of the bot software is also build to be used with that game. Will this also extend to The Secret World?

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Categories: Anarchy Online
  1. June 7, 2011 at 17:48

    That is a really interesting system. It’s remarkable how many experimental systems in random older MMOs their are no modern analogues to. Some of them were not emulated for a good reason. I’d put Xp loss on that list personally. However, one of the replies in the previous thread also brought up a point in favor of it I’d never considered.

    Regardless, I think there were also a lot of good ideas we simply lost along the way. This chat system seems like one of those to me (although I guess theoretically a lot of it could be implemented in AoC). I also always liked the mission terminals in AO. No-one has really done such flexible procedural content since.

    • June 7, 2011 at 18:18

      There is at least one of those chat bots that work for Age of Conan as well, although I do not know what actual instances are available on different servers.

      I would imagine that once the game goes F2P they will probably be more common, since one can just use a free account for the chat bot login.

      The mission terminal system is really neat in Anarchy Online, although in the beginning that was pretty much all there was in terms of any kind of missions. That is certainly improved by now, but they are still a key part – especially when it comes get the items you want/need but do not have cash or buy them, or they may not be available in shops.

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