The Design Components of

Brian M. Slator
(vers. 1, Dec. 28, 1998)

The Blackwood Project is simulating a mythical 19th Century Western town. Participants who join the simulation will accept or be assigned a role in the simulation that will be primarily economic in nature. Every player will be in charge of running a business, much like the NDSU Dollar Bay retailing game. However, in Blackwood, gameplay will be influenced by historical events and players will be assigned roles designed to promote more collaboration and interaction than the Dollar Bay game.

Players will assume roles in the simulation, such as blacksmith, but will not be expected to learn blacksmithing. Employee software agents actually do the day-to-day chores. The players are "only" expected to manage the retailing and business elements of the game.

Time Frame

The simulation begins in the Spring of 1880 with the population of Blackwood at 2500. The game will last for six virtual years (312 virtual weeks), until the Great Flood destroys the town in the Spring of 1886.
Given these figures, the back-of-the-envelope calculation converting virtual time to human time is: each virtual week will last about 8 clock hours, there will be three virtual weeks played out per human day, and therefore the entire simulation (1880-1886) will take approximately three months.

The Impact of History

One major challenge for this project is to find ways to make American (and World) History meaningful to the players of the game. In the inherently hands-on world of retailing, a learn-by-doing approach is natural and plausible. Players will learn about Microeconomics and related topics by actually running a store.
However, there is no obvious way for players to "do" history, beyond whatever means can be achieved to have them "experience the effects" of history, first-hand. At this stage in the design of the Blackwood Project, the following are the mechanisms in mind:

Software Agents

The Blackwood environment will be populated by software agents of the following types:

Player Roles

Players will be able to choose among a limited set of roles, although all player roles will be from the Merchant Class. The system will arrange that plausible ratios are preserved so we don't get 100 blacksmiths and no tailors. This could be done by offering new players a controlled set of choices. In any case, there should be a small set of software agents operating in each of these roles so that the simulation can proceed in the absence of any human players. The preliminary list of player roles will be:

Players will be required to procure food and fuel in order to run their households and keep their employee warm and fed. This is expressly intended to promote player interaction. We are very interested to see whether collaborations arise from this.



Products will also be defined on the Dollar Bay model. The definition of products, in some sense, is what drives the economic simulation. Products are defined in terms of cluster groups, and the demand value they have for those cluster groups. The preliminary collection of products types are:


In the Dollar Bay model, wholesale suppliers are listed in a business index and players acquire new products to sell by simply filling out an order form. The products arrive instantly and the player simply sets a price when they magically materialize in the store.
In Blackwood, wholesale suppliers will be conceptually "back east", and players will order goods through a catalog interface. An important part of the ordering decision will be shipment method, which will be one of these three types:
Good will be delivered by Teamsters who either haul them in from "back east" or pick them up at the riverside landing (or the railroad depot after 1881), and distribute them around town.
The other source of supplies will be other players in the game who will sell goods to each other.


Advertising will be defined on the Dollar Bay model, but will take only two forms: newspapers and handbills. A town like Blackwood might support several newspapers, but each would tend to be small. Handbill advertising would be available, but also from the newspapers, who would likely have the only printing presses in town. Periodically, newspapers will publish "Special Editions" to broadcast important historical events.

System Administration

Every MOO has an arch-wizard and (usually) a small collection of assistant wizards to do system level administration. In Blackwood, the arch-wizard will go by the name "Marshall Matt Dillon", and the other wizards will be asked to choose their name from the list:
  • Chester, Festus (the "authentic" deputies), or Gabby, Rowdie, Bullfrog, Wishbone, Hoss, Little Joe, or Sundance

Last modified: 2Jan99
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