There's a browser game I used to play at high school (discreetly, or at least so I thought) called Cybots, of which nearly all trace appears to have disappeared. All that remains is a lonely Facebook page, an adorable bitrotting PBWiki, and this ballin' GeoCities clan page. I miss it.

awww yeah i can feel the '90s
Uh, wait. While I was writing this article, I discovered that the fellow who created the game, Martin Wells, is a friend of a friend of mine. I sent him a connection request on LinkedIn and mentioned Cybots, and we chatted for a bit and he brought the game back up! You can try it out at if you're so inclined. Also, the tech world is so damn small. Also, definitely the best thing that LinkedIn has ever done for me.

So hat do I miss about it? What was Cybots? Sadly I can't find any screenshots to share, but it was a browser game in a similar vein to Kingdom of Loathing. You were the controller of a squad of violent robots patrolling the Vulcore Plains, hiring mercenaries, escorting tag droids, and generally causing (or running away from) mayhem. As you, er, liberated credits from your enemies, you could buy better stuff for your squad to increase the ratio of mayhem caused to mayhem fled from. I'll admit that Cybots was not a paragon of game design and probably 80% of what I miss about it is down to nostalgia. But I think it did some things pretty well.

My two Ranger bots, Kelly and Aragorn, face off against an enemy in the Vulcore Plains.

One mechanic I really liked in Cybots and still find myself drawn to is that each action you took cost "KCharge", and KCharge replenished in real time. That is, there was a limit to the amount you could play each day. A lot of other games do this now (e.g. Fallen London, and lots of f2p mobile games), usually with the option to buy more credits with real world money. But I think limiting the number of actions per day can be an interesting design choice even leaving aside its potential for extracting dollars from players.

Limiting actions guides players away from exploring the game by "spamming", and towards a careful consideration of how they spend their time with the game, drawing the player into the mechanics more than they might have been otherwise, or into the non-action-using bits of the game (e.g. lore or art). It respects the player's time by giving them a cue to stop playing (though it might counteract this somewhat by being a bit of a psychological trick to draw the player back to the game the next day).

Another nice consequence of limiting the number of actions each player can take per day is that it levels the playing field in terms of what every player has access to. There isn't really anything meaningful you can do in Cybots without KCharge—you can mess about with the equipment on your squad, but that's about it—and everyone gets the same amount of it. It's pretty easy to use up all your KC for the day in under an hour, which is a fairly low amount of time to spend on a game each day. So it stops the players who have the most time on their hands from being the winners every time.

The early 2000s was a different time in terms of Internet culture, and the chat frame that Cybots included at the bottom of the game was not the pit of vile adolescent swill we've come to expect from online multiplayer games. I really enjoyed chatting to other players who were online at the same time as me, though I'm not sure the same feature would work well for games being developed today. Look no further than Barrens chat for an example of why.

Azra's arena, in the lava fields, where you go to farm cash.

I have an itch to make a clone/homage to Cybots one day, perhaps changing up the theme and combat mechanics but keeping the same structure: a squad of characters whom you equip with various items, intermittent battles interspersed with exploring a semi-random set of areas described with text. Reading about storylets and narrative delivery systems in this paper by Max Kreminski (Sketching a Map of the Storylets Design Space) lead me to the realization that, combat aside, the structure of Cybots is very similar to the structure of Reigns: there's a "deck" of cards which you draw randomly from. What cards are available to you in the deck at any given time depends on the state of your character (and possibly other global state). But you only get to see one at a time. You can also "travel" to different areas—in Reigns, the dungeon would be an example, or in Cybots, the Vulcore Plateau—which changes the available set of cards.

I'll throw it on the pile of "one day" projects, I suppose. It would make a good jam game!

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