Many MMORPG players are familiar with sites such as Allakhazam, Caster's Realm, Thottbot, and Stratics. These sites offer a myriad of information on various games, giving insight and offering a vast array of resources. Such gaming sites have long held a place in people's hearts, for much of the information is invaluable to those who utilize it.
Enter VGDB, short for Vanguard Database. This program allows players themselves to contribute to a large lexicon of knowledge and information that is all available to one's fingertips via the site www.curse-gaming.com
, known by many as a popular site for acquiring UI modifications.
Recently, we at Silky Venom had a chance to sit down and talk with Asp, creator of VGDB.
1. Not many people know too much about the man behind the program. Tell our readers a little about yourself as well as your relation to VGDB.
My name is Peter Andersson and I'm a 25 year old Swedish university student, currently doing my masters thesis in computer engineering. I've written utility software for games and other applications before. The best known is probably Oldblivion (http://www.oldblivion.com
). It’s a piece of software which allows people with older video cards to play Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Most people active in the Oblivion community will probably recognize my name.
I wrote about 85% of all the software used by the client and server. The other 15% where written by a friend of mine, Shane Bryldt.
2. In your own words, please describe what exactly your program does.
This can become very technical but I’ll avoid that going into any inner details. The software basically interfaces with Vanguard via the dynamic link libraries provided by the game. While these DLL’s do not provide a proper interface one can use it if you reverse engineer the client. All reverse engineering done was for pure interoperability purposes. The game exposes a lot of functionality that can be used for this type of application and many other types of applications. The application then uses these DLL functions to query for game state information. It was really important that the software didn’t have a negative impact on performance. So far none of our users have complained about performance being affected negatively and as far as we can tell there’s no real measurable performance difference.
Currently the client fetches information about all the items you have in your inventory, all quests you have active, quest sources and quest targets, everything you see, loot information, when you click item links and character profile information. This may be extended in the future to include spell, skill information and more.
All this information is the sent to a central server for processing.
3. Now that we know a little more about you and your program, can you tell us how you came up with the idea for VGDB?
To be honest the idea isn’t completely new. You have sites like you mentioned already providing this type of service. We simply decided that we had the competence to do it even if the game developers didn’t provide an interface for the software to use. There were some sites doing manual data entry but looking at the total number of items alone you quickly realize there will never be a complete database in that way. We can also provide a searchable database with location data of everything our users see. That’s almost impossible to do with manual data entry. Not to mention drop rates on items.
4. Many people wonder about the time and effort put into programs such as this. How long exactly was VGDB in the making, and what sort of work did it entail?
It took a long time to create. I think the total time was something like four and a half months. The various parts were all written in C++ and assembler. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the Vanguard client in order to interface with it correctly.
5. Is this something you had always intended to work on, or was it a spur-of-the-moment type idea that you just ran with?
Definitely spur of the moment. Both of us had just completed our previous projects and knew we had some spare time. Shane was playing the game and said it was great and that we should do something for it. I never figured there would be such controversy regarding the stuff since there already were similar services for other games. I understand the resistance from some of the affiliate sites that are providing the same or similar services. We have a technical solution that is very hard to beat by having users doing manual data entry. To be honest a game this size will never be indexed well unless you do it automatically.
I doubt anyone really wants the players to spend time writing down what critter dropped what sword.
6. If you had the ability to dictate how big VGDB could grow, how large would you allow it to become?
I never really had an upper bound in mind. I don’t know how you would impose some sort of restriction. We want to provide the service to anyone who wants to use it. It’s also not like using it is a requirement to playing the game. If you’re lost it can be a great help but also if you want to know what items are available and how to find them. As with all these sites user comments is as important as the data received, so the more users the better the database. Curse provides the infrastructure we need to scale for any amount of users.
7. Curse Gaming is quite a popular site for UI addons for both Vanguard and World of Warcraft. Tell us, what is the story behind your recent partnership with them?
Something that people told me a lot from the start was that they really liked Allakhazam for their community and not just their databases. I simply didn’t have the time to develop the functionality required to create a good community site as well. The site was always intended as a pure database site where people come to look stuff up. I think with this type of move we can provide a better service to our users. Eventually vgdb.org will be redirected to the Curse site. This partnership allows me to focus on developing the client and server instead of being tied up in web-development work. Partnering with Curse allows me to do a lot of the stuff I couldn’t do previously and in the end I’m sure it will benefit the users.
I’m sure many of you have noticed Curse is expanding a lot to various games.
8. Turning the conversation a bit, many people are a bit confused as to the difference between what your program does and what data mining actually is. Could you explain the difference?
This is a hard distinction to make as data mining is such an incredibly broad term. What the EULA specifically forbids is listening in on the data traffic between the client and the server. That isn’t what we do. It’s fairly apparent that we’re in a grey area which can be seen from all the confusion. We of course believe we are acting in accordance to the EULA. Sigil are completely free to change the EULA at any time and our status may change. I think they know they have an open line of communication with me and can express any concerns directly to the developer. Looking at the dictionary definition of data mining it’s certainly not what the software is doing but I get what people mean when they wonder if we are data mining.
9. Keeping in mind the difference between your application and data mining, what is your relationship with Sigil and their stance on your program?
Quite frankly I don’t think Sigil know what their stance is, or will be. Right now they are staying neutral. We did get the go ahead as far as EULA violations go. I think we might have surprised them by not being a secondary market front. It seems to me that they want to wait a while and see what our effect on the community will be. I know several affiliate sites are trying to get Sigil to take a firm stance against us so that they may continue their manual databases. I don’t think we are threatening the sites with extensive wiki data collections that are built on user contributions but I can certainly see why the sites doing pure manual data crunching are worried. The intent from the start was to make sure that manual data entry of large data sets would be made obsolete. I’ve talked to Curse about allowing other sites to link to our items and display information about the items and this might be a coming feature. We have a lot cooking as we’re only starting out. With a large raw data set we can provide a lot of services people will value.
10. We'd like to thank you for taking the time to grant us this interview Asp, it's been a real pleasure. Is there anything you would like to add?
Of course I need to add the obligatory plug. We still need more users to help us collect data from the game. You can either visit http://www.vgdb.org
and download the software from there or visit Curse at http://www.curse-gaming.com
and grab it from there.
Thanks for the interview. If anyone has any questions you might be able to see me in game on one of the rare occasions I get to play as Aasp on Tharridon. I currently have 13 – 15 hour work days so the sucker is only level 10.
VGDB will no doubt play a large role in the Vanguard community and it will be interesting to watch how it will grow in the coming months. Once again we would like to thank Asp for his awesome support during this interview, and wish him the best of luck with his program.
In regard's to Sigil's stance on the matter and for those that say this program is breaking the EULA, here is what Ryan Elam has to say:
"Anything that is displayed to the client or logged to the log is considered fair game. Intercepting our network packets, using “packet sniffers”, or using “raw packet data” is considered a violation. If a user has no way to see the data, it is not intended that you should mine it."