Tuesday, September 27, 2011

History of the Interguild, Part 1: Five Years of Caving

For those of you who don't know, I run a gaming community called interguild.org, and today is the Interguild's 5th birthday! This community is a big part of my life, so I wanted to dedicate a blog post to them.

The Interguild is a very interesting example for how a strong community can form around a single game. In this post, I will be trying to figure out what the major factors were that contributed to the growth of this community, and I'll also be critiquing how the creators of the game both helped and hurt that community throughout the years.

It started with Hannah and the Pirate Caves (HATPC)

On November 25th, 2003, neopets.com released a new Shockwave game called Hannah and the Pirate Caves (HATPC, you can find a link to it at the end of this post). It was a puzzle-platformer, in which the player interacted with various crates to solve puzzles and avoid death. It was simple and fun to play, and its mechanics supported a nice mix of puzzle and action. The defining feature of the game was the downloadable CaveMaker program, which allowed players to make their own levels.

Hat + PC = HATPC
(my non-standard pronunciation)
HATPC fans quickly formed their own terminology around the game. Individual levels were called "caves". Caves were divided up into "traps", sometimes "rooms". People who made caves were called "cavers". Anything dedicated to HATPC was said to be dedicated to "caving." The creators of the game were often referred to as TNT, which was the abbreviation of the official neopets.com staff account: theneopetsteam. It is unknown who actually developed the game, whether it was made by an internal development team within neopets or if they hired an outside company to do it.

TNT did not offer any easy way for players to share their user levels. Players could only have one level uploaded to their account at a time, and so to play a specific level, all one needed to know was which username that level was uploaded to. Interestingly, these constraints had turned HATPC into a social game. If you wanted to play more user levels, you had to meet more people who played the game.

Much of the early HATPC community formed over neopets' forum boards. During the weeks after the release of HATPC, there were tons of caving topics, where players shared levels with each other and gave feedback. There would even be "caverating" topics where the author would give a rating to any level that was posted on the thread. These topics became very popular as they were a great way to find new levels to play.

Cave of the Week winner #94
Perhaps the best thing that TNT did to foster the growth of the HATPC community was to launch a Cave of the Week contest. This weekly competition created an incentive for players to make better levels, thus providing yet another reason for players to share their levels with each other and get feedback on how to improve. The contest also promoted some of the best levels made by the community, which could encourage new players to start looking for more user levels to play. The contest ensured that the game would get featured on neopets' news page every single week, thus advertising the game to countless new players throughout the years.

It wasn't long before the caving discussions spilled away from the forums and into the guilds. Neopets had this feature where you could create a club about anything, and aside from a nice homepage, guilds also got their own private forum thread. While the game now received less publicity from the public forum boards, the guilds did manage to bring players together in order to form a tighter community. Because players had to actively join a guild before they could join its private discussions, this created a clearer sense of whether or not you were a part of the community.

It's important to remember that most of these players were kids between the ages of 9 and 14. It didn't take long for the HATPC craze to die down, either because they lost interest or because of school. And yet, many players managed to stick with the game for years, having it be their main reason for visiting neopets.com. One could argue that it was instead the community, not the game, that kept bringing people back.

The Inter-Guild Alliance

Out of all the caving guilds that were formed, the HATPC Guild was by far the largest and oldest. By the time I discovered the game in 2006, however, I mistakenly thought the guild was dead. I noticed that the guild leader, gingerandwhiskers, hadn't logged on to the site in several months and the homepage had outdated announcements, but as I later found out, the guild's discussion thread was still pretty active.

The guild logo
(Sorry, I don't have
an image of the old
PCCA homepage)
Rather than joining the HATPC Guild, I created a new one called the Pirate Caves Cavemakers Association (PCCA). The most memorable aspect of the PCCA was its ridiculously huge and intricate homepage. It was basically just an enormous image superimposed on to where the homepage should've been. It would've made a web designer cringe, but most of us kids thought it was amazing and new. It really helped us stand out in a landscape of seemingly dead caving guilds. And so by the end of the summer we had a pretty decent number of members.

Meanwhile, members from the HATPC Guild were discussing how to revive the caving community. One member, Jebby, decided that all the HATPC players should be brought together into one group, rather than dividing themselves among the guilds. When forming this HATPC super-community, there was the risk that some guilds would refuse to join for fear that they would be taken over or merged. And so one of the mottos of this new inter-guild alliance was that, "The Interguild is not a merge!"

On September 27th, 2006, Jebby contacted me about the alliance idea, and the Interguild was born! After a couple of months, two more guilds had joined: the Cavers Guild, and the HatPC Raters and Idea Givers. The Cavers Guild was started by Flame and was pretty average overall, while the HATPC Raters guild, headed by jellsprout, was pretty much just a dead guild. There was also a fifth group that joined about six months later, which called itself the AAH (All About Hannah) Chatgroup. Founded by egruntz, this wasn't really a guild, but instead a campaign to recreate the HATPC craze on the neopets.com forum boards. It was not very successful, but it was a lot of fun at first and it helped us advertise for more members.

The Caving Renaissance

The first two months of the Interguild were cumbersome as we had to go back and forth across the guilds in order to keep track of all of the discussions that were going on. And so on November 21, 2006, I set up the HATPC Interguild Forums, which allowed us to have all of our conversations in one place, away from Neopets. Rather than getting a new domain name, I used an old domain that my dad once used, which is why our URL was interguild.domingo.org. We would keep these forums for another two years before moving on to interguild.org.

Oh, the nostalgia.
What happened on these forums was truly remarkable. We discovered several new ways to play the game that we never thought was possible. It turned out that HATPC was riddled with interesting glitches which we began to exploit in our levels. Some of these glitches include: duck-jumping, fake crates, bottomless pits, the zero-gravity glitchthe water drain glitch, "Error; you are stupid", and the second door. We even discovered two new tiles that were originally programmed into the game but were not included in any of the campaign levels or the CaveMaker program.

Many of these discoveries added new dimensions to the kinds of levels that we could make. It was just a ton of fun to stretch the game past its limits and then get rewarded for it with new glitches and mechanics.

After managing to redefine the game in so many ways, we felt as if we truly owned HATPC. It was our game, and unfortunately, we were the only people in the world who played HATPC this way. The death of the community would've meant the death of the game as we knew it, and so we really valued every one of our few members. We were always excited when a new member joined, we missed people when we realized they hadn't logged in for quite while, and we rejoiced when they came back after months of inactivity.

I have never seen any other online community that was as close-knit as the Interguild. While some members do have special privileges in order to moderate posts, the Interguild had always been run by the community. We often hold open discussions about the problems that we face, such as how to find new members and what direction our website should take. There was never any one person who was the "owner" of the Interguild, except for maybe Jebby, but he never claimed to have authority over anyone. And I was just the guy who kept the forums running.

To be continued...

Wow, this post is turning out to be a lot longer than I thought. So I'm gonna split this into another two-part series, just like what I did with the History of Extra Credits. I'll try to get Part 2 done as soon as possible.

EDIT: Click here for Part Two!

Where to play HATPC

If you want to play HATPC, I recommend loading the game from our site (there's a link there labeled, "Click to Open the HATPC Window"). The neopet's game window includes annoying ads. You'll also want to read this guide on how to get the game to work properly on your computer.


  1. This was very nice livio. In fact, after reading it all I watched the guess the cave video, and i enjoyed it greatly. I actually knew most caves now! I remember how at the start I could recognize, MAYBE one. and where you wrote, 'oh the nostalgia', I smiled widely, and said, damn right. we deserve a round of applause for holding so much time together lol.

  2. "1 comments". Really, blogspot? If Thomas was here...

    Yeah I had the same experience with the video too. You'd think that it'd be the other way around.