Personal Halfquake
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PHQ Interview with Muddasheep
Interview by Mohn_Jarwin, July 29th 2010, 22:44:42
Personal Halfquake - A simple, yet sadistic game

(editors note: As I'm primarily writing this for other publications outside PHQ where people might recognize me, you might find that some of the information here is pretty *duh* in nature :D )

Hi everyone,

as everybody who's acquainted with me knows, I'm a huge fan of the whole Halfquake universe with all its weird little quirks and touches and moods.

However, what you might not know is that recently I've been playing lots and lots of this sort of half-MMO (let's call it an MMO for now) called "Personal Halfquake" which is absolutely free, but still oh so incredibly ridiculously addictive (which is more than I can say for most free MMO's out there).

The premise is simple: Instead of being a victim as you are in the original Halfquake games, you're now an owner of one of these installations yourself. That means that you get to take a peek at what the other side is seeing when you're traversing those ingenious traps in the games. But it's not without its costs in time, in this game you have to manage everything and I do really mean everything. There's more stats and small secrets than you can shake a dead victim at and you'll be hard pressed to find some of the harder secrets without the aid of your fellow sadists.

Now, after playing a few weeks, I stumbled on some old in-game news posts which then led me to some even older posts which showed me that this game actually has quite a history. So, over a game of Draversi (othello-clone with a twist) I asked Muddasheep, the main brainchild behind this world if he'd agree to an email interview about its history and creation, and of course, he was most certainly game for it.

So, without further text-sadism, here is the interview:

JM: To begin with, I'm sure that many of us are interested to know some basic facts about who you are, so let's start off with that. We all know your handle, but what is your full name?

MS: After birth they slapped a label on my face, I think it reads "Philipp" and something I can't decipher.

JM: How old are you?

MS: Close to 30. Too close.

JM: Have there been any major events in your life that have inspired you to create as you do?

MS: It all comes down to LEGO, really. As a child it sparked my interest to try and do something that's not on the blueprints. Ephraim Kishon also had a huge impact on me and the stuff I come up with. And of course, the moment I first saw Half-Life keeps haunting me for some reason.

JM: Is there any missus Muddasheep possibly? :D If so, how does she react to your art? Does your family react to it as well?

MS: Yes, there is, and honestly without her, "The Farm" would simply be a blank slate! She's incredibly supportive. The rest of my family isn't very aware of what I do - but at least my mother seems to enjoy the screenshots I show her.

JM: How much time do you spend on your artistic expression everyday in general?

MS: If I have a project going, I invest several hours into it; if not, my mind is always working on new ideas and forwards them to me whenever they're ready to be implemented.

JM: Do you have any favourite media you like? (movies, music, etc)

MS: Groundhog Day, and Beck's "Mutations" album.

JM: What is your view of the state of the world today?

MS: I'm not sure, I rarely take a look outside. I hear they're melting the polar glaciers. Must be quite a spectacle!

JM: How would you describe this game genre? Is it an MMO or something else entirely?

MS: A friend of mine recently called it "Murder Excel". Lots of tables with numbers, wrapped in a slightly insane and awesome community.

JM: As this system appears fairly developed, how old is it? As there are mentions (or alludes) to ladder resets, has there been any such done? Did it have any impact on the community? Have there been any particularly popular or unpopular additions to the game?

MS: Personal Halfquake has been around since March 2003. There have been three resets up until now, mainly because of balancing issues and such. I think most people agreed to it, but I remember that the negative responses seemed to increase whenever I brought up the topic again. Nowadays, I don't see any reason to reset, unless the majority of the active players would want it to happen. Bomb Victims and the Chosen Victim probably are the more popular additions. The player classes (Trap Crafters and Contract Sellers) were a welcome addition at first, but became a problem later on and had to be removed.

JM: While it's clear where the themes and general ideas for this game stem from, I'd like to shift gears a bit and ask how you designed the main "skinner box" portion of the game. Were there any challenges in constructing the artificial economy and levelling systems?

MS: Initially, the level system was kind of a challenge simply because PHQ was my first attempt at programming something that wasn't just a script that displayed text. The algorithm for gaining levels was insane back then, with these obscure untested values everywhere. It's still crazy stuff that's going on, but in a more confined, manageable environment. A bunch of spreadsheets are helping with that. As for the free economy of the Chosen Victim items, it was added in November 2008, so fairly late in the game's lifespan - it wasn't much of a hurdle.

JM: Also, was this a solitary effort or a group effort as the other half-quake games?

MS: A lot of people have helped test the game and sent in suggestions, corrections and bug reports throughout the years, so I'm definitely not alone on this one.

JM: Is there any official resource for the Halfquake history anywhere? If not, are you planning to write something about it in the future in book form perhaps? Is there even possibly a resource somwewhere with the historically major highlights of this world?

MS: The story parts can be read directly in PHQ (visit the "Help" section and click "Story"). The Halfquake Amen Comics can be read at http://comic.halfquake.com - they're heavily referenced. There's no timeline or anything like that.

I'd also like to point out that a handful of people have even written short stories based on Halfquake. A few examples:

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JM: Have there been any noteworthy bugs or exploits in the game? Naturally we'd all understand if you'd choose not to share that information if they're still active!

MS: There was one bug that whenever it was the first day of a month, it would miscalculate the days you had missed. It took me months to fix that and it became somewhat of a running gag. As for exploits - some time ago in the first round you could buy victims from the black market and resell them again for a higher price. One guy used that exploit to boost himself to the top. A recent exploit involved being able to basically equip an infinite number of Chosen Victim items. You may have heard about that one.

JM: A bit for the technically minded as well: How did you shape this system technically? Were there any platform changes, or have you simply used the same tech and refined it over time? Were there any technical issues that plagued the game?

MS: The game has already survived two server migrations, but it's always been kept alive by Perl, MySQL and increased usage of Javascript. For the last major version update I rewrote a lot of old scripts from scratch to make everything run a bit smoother. Weeding through code that you've written over five years ago is kind of like skimming through photos of your teenager years and constantly thinking, "What the hell was wrong with me back then?"

JM: What hardware is this running off? Is it simply one machine, or a cluster? Would you need donations if you were to expand the game further in the future?

MS: It's just one lonely server standing around somewhere in Germany. I think it won't ever grow to such dimensions that I couldn't handle the financial stuff myself.

JM: How many players are playing this at the moment? Have there been historically more players before, or more players now? Have the Halfquake games releases made any new players reach PHQ?

MS: Currently around thirty people are actively playing PHQ. There have been a lot more in the first few years, though. The release of Halfquake Sunrise definitely brought in some new flesh; let's hope they'll stay around a bit longer.

JM: Have you had any griefers in the game? Trolls, etc? Any interesting stories there?

MS: Not really, we're all open minded enough to even accept all potential trolls, so they get confused and either leave or stay and at least liven up the place a bit. There's one story I'd like to share though: One time a member of our community had to go to a kind of hospital because of a mental breakdown, and I contacted a few regulars to send me a picture, sort of like a digital greeting card, and I assembled them all into one giant image, printed it out and mailed it to the patient. Needless to say, it was a lovely surprise!

JM: How do you see the future of PHQ developing? Is there any advertisement plans other than simple word of mouth and the HQ portal?

MS: I'll keep throwing out random updates as long as I got ideas floating around in my head. There have been a few advertisements for PHQ in the past - one even funded by folks of the community - but I'll probably refrain from doing that in the future. It seems word of mouth works best.

JM: And in closing... what's up with that dragon and his freaking DVD's? :O

MS: In the HQA Comics the dragon can be seen watching DVDs - he just loves movies!

Editors final note:

And that my dear friends and would-be sadists concludes the interview :)
MS certainly gave us some very interesting and well thought out answers and from what I can tell, I'll be playing this ME (Murder-Excel) game for a very long time and secretly hope that there'll ever be a HQSD (Halfquake SunDown) for Half-Life 2 someday. So, if you haven't already, I'd suggest you get an account, then reach out and *kill* something!

Editors after-the-final-edit-edit:

Naturally as you're all members (or you wouldn't be reading this specialized message just for you) you can't really join. But, I would like to point out that this game is based on us and our actions. So, if you know somebody that would enjoy a little M&E, do point them here!

Additionally, I'd very much welcome feedback as this is the first text type of thing I've ever published like this. Thanks very much for reading this :)

Edit: Added screenshots (which is a tad redudant here, but will be useful everywhere else I post this article later)

//Mohn Jarwin
This is the alternatives menu which you can see contains loads of options!

Here are some minigames: 1) Bomb Victims 2) Draversi 3) Create Traps

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How readers rate this Interview: 9.4/10 (25 votes)
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