[MUD-Dev] Re: Room descriptions

Adam Wiggins adam at angel.com
Thu Oct 1 12:12:13 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998

On Wed, 30 Sep 1998, Koster, Raph wrote:
> > From: Adam Wiggins [mailto:adam at angel.com]
> > On Wed, 30 Sep 1998, Koster, Raph wrote:
> > > Hmm, I really wonder whether an awareness of the "old way" 
> > as a "way"
> > > was really present, if you know what I mean. Meaning, how 
> > many decided
> > > to view the split between simulationist and storytelling as 
> > an aesthetic
> > > choice, and how many actually just made the hodgepodge 
> > because it was
> > > all they knew?
> > 
> >   I doubt they weighed the different approaches they could
> > take: they started with a certain codebase, and tried to make the
> > best mud they could.  In time many of the originally very 
> > scripted elements
> > became more simulationist; many objects in rooms that were 
> > originally just
> > extra descs became real objects that could be manipulated in a more
> > consistent manner.
> That's kind of what I was trying to get at with this thread, Adam...
> that I don't think people have really tried to REALLY do a storytelling
> based environment well, and that maybe it's a valuable direction to
> explore. When you said that "this is how muds now do it" I was rather
> taken aback, because I can't really think of any muds that do it as
> their real purpose.

Ah, okay.  In that case let's say that my point was "Most muds tend
this way right now, since it's more technically viable and thus more
natural for the area writer, even if they don't openly condone it or
think of storytelling as their real 'goal'", where as your point was,
"That's true, so why *not* think of storytelling as the real goal, and
actually play it up in the area building?"

> Now, remember, I say this as a simulationist myself. :) But I have to
> admit that the one thing that really gave me chills when I read about
> Physmud was that if you drank a love potion, it made you see the world
> like a person in love.

It's funny, when you get wrapped up in building something new you start
to forget how alien it looks to the rest of the world...

Here's how my own line of thought on "controlling" character emotions
(note *character*, not *player*) went:

One of the first things I did when I got my hands on some working mud
code was code a better "berserk" mode.  Typically barbarian-type
people type "berserk" at the command prompt and enter a berserk
mode where they do double damage but are unable to flee the fight.
While this is mildly amusing, I felt it didn't capture the essence
of a berserker held in the raging grip of a blood-red fury.  (Again,
I must reference R.E. Howard as my inspiration...his descriptions of
the berserk rages his characters enter are truly bone-chilling.)

So, I made a few simple changes.  Got rid of your health display (it
always reads full).  Made it so that the long and short descriptions
of ALL characters was changed to "your foe".  Any given command
you typed may or may not go through; based on a skill roll against your
"berserk" skill, the command would either go through unchanged, or go
through but have the command changed to "kill" (so that "smile bob"
became "kill bob"), or most likely got changed into one of a few
berserk "socials", including snarling, growling and the like.
The only combat "bonus" was that you ignored wounds; normally characters
got a wait state after taking any kind of damage, but not berserking ones.
Also I made the berserking character attack at the fastest possible rate.
Any command targeted a character in the room would randomly choose
a different character (based on your berserk skill), and the word "foe"
simply chose a random target in the room.  Finally, after killing whomever
you were fighting, you would randomly choose a new target in the room and
attack them.

To activate this "mode", characters simply had an anger counter which got
incremented as they took damage, as people used "nasty" socials on them
(this only gets you so far, though), etc.  Time and "nice" socials would
bring it down.

Alpha testers had BLAST with it.  (Once again proving that things that
take the least effort are usually the ones players like the most...this
whole thing was a little more than a single day of coding for me.)
People would go berserk when they didn't want to ("agh! quick! calm
me down!"), or at other times would try to make themselves go berserk
("quick, slap me around a little and get me mad!")  Then they'd defeat
their opponent and end up attack their friends, so then their friends
had a whole new problem on their hands...

Playing a character who was prone to going berserk (anyone could, but
the anger threshold was high enough that most characters would never reach
it, because by the time they took enough damage to be "angry" enough they
would be dead) was a very interesting experience.  It was much *eaiser*
to get into the role, because the player got a chance to see the world
through the character's eyes, rather than just guessing what it must
feel like to be them.

This gets one thinking.  If this worked so well for anger, why not
other emotions?  And indeed, we did end up doing quite a few others,
with varying success.  Considering what I saw in these experiments,
the love potion (above) seems far from crazy to me.  Indeed, it seems
perfectly viable.

> Doing this with simulation is mot only somewhat difficult, but also
> raises the question of where the burden of the fiction falls: on the
> player, or on the world? The love potion, by actually starting to
> simulate the state of mind of the character you are playing, probably
> crosses the line for many players.

Yes, and thus this has been the topic of many a discussion here.  Many
folks feel *very* strongly that this whole line of thought is fruitless.
Some simply dislike the idea that their character could display any
emotion not directly commanded by the player.  Others claim that it
hampers "true" role-playing, since now there's a line drawn between
emotions that the game happens to simulate "for you", and emotions that
the players come up with to fit their role.

So, like anything, it's not for everyone.  I do think that people would
accept it a little more readily if they had seen it in action, like I
have.  Unfortunately I'm not sure that will happen any time soon.

> Yet it fascinates me--the idea of entering a world where my actions were
> constrained or encouraged in different ways from the way I myself might
> behave (echoes of JCL's functional roleplaying?) seems like a worthwhile
> one from a design perspective.

Indeed, JC invented the term to fit this exact phenomenon, after Nathan
and I had been pitching it for some time to the list.

There's lots of good posts on the subject.  Nathan better illustrated the
berserker effect with his Kzin-in-the-bar example (actually I'm
not sure it was a Kzin, but certainly a similar creature).  I did the
arrow-in-the-leg scenario.  Nathan did the love potion example, and
I believe Miro posted a "counterexample" of a "true" role-player's

Tons of good stuff to be found in the archives, too bad none of it
is under any consistent heading.  If people are interested enough,
I'll do a little digging myself and posted the relevant thread headers.
Needless to say, this is one of my favorite topics.

> [snip regarding UO's success compared to Gemstone's]
> > True.  In this case I'm not referring to monetary success, but rather
> > impact on the gaming population as a whole.  Perhaps it's not fair to
> > Gemstone that the (potential) online gaming population is now 
> > much larger to due availibility of both computers and cheap internet 
> > connections, but there you go.
> Very true--the way I'd describe it is that UO is the first online game
> to really penetrate the typical gaming market (and to some extent, the
> mass market). It is in fact a bit of a shock when you as an admin or
> designer find yourself having to cater to people who don't know what
> Unix IS, btw. The administrative problems we had increased dramatically
> as we reached the broader audience--much less empathy for fellow players
> was present, a lot less understanding of persistence, very little
> instinctive grasp of the need for cooperative play in defending what was
> valuable...

Indeed.  A naysayer could easily argue that the "mass market" is the *worst*
possible place to test out a simulationist engine.  But obviously, it
worked. :)

> In fact, the proportion of people who "don't get it" is one of the
> reasons why UO has repeatedly had to flirt with external control of the
> playerbase, rather than allowing players to self-determine on matters
> like policing, etc. The playerbase was simply not ready for doing so,
> and in fact may never be because of issues of scale and the amount of
> time more casual players are willing to devote to a game.

No argument here.

> > [How much did the simulationist engine affect UO's success?]
> I'd credit a lot of its success to it. The cities, houses, vendor-based
> economy (btw, UO now has something I've never seen before though I
> imagine it must have existed before--there's now an EXCHANGE RATE
> between UO gold and real world money...) and the numerous businesses and
> such that have cropped up are all due to the simulationist approach.

Egad, I hope that the exchange rate is just for reference.  Otherwise
I think we just learned how Origin is making a lot of under-the-table
income *smirk*

> > [graphics]
> I prefer UO's to U8's, but U8's perspective is nicer. As far as
> resolution and color depth, UO is all over U8... (For those of you
> making tile-based engines: square tiles are easier to make in large
> quantities than diamond-shaped ones; and rotated 45 degree square ones
> are easier to make than true isometric "squashed diamond" ones).

Indeed.  We did "true isometric" view for Revenant, which is a *very*
nice angle to see things from but does pose a lot of problems, both
technical and design-wise.

> > Bah, I remember your post to the Legend message board asking 
> > for beta testers, you think that didn't get people excited? :)
> All 80 of them, sure. :) We had 50,000 applicants for beta testing,
> though.

Okay, so let me ask you this: where did those 50,000 come from?  Word
of mouth?  Good websites?  49,920 of your close, personal friends?

> > Only 5 ads, really?  I could have sworn I saw both that one with the
> > picture of the back of some woman's neck and the one with the 
> > Tim Hildebrant
> > painting on the back of at least a couple game magazines for 
> > many months
> > running.
> 5 months, yeah. :) I think it was only 2 magazines.
> Compare, though, to say, Unreal, which had a two-page foldout in the
> inside front cover of ALL the game mags for a solid year.

Hmmm true, I brush over all the Quakealike ads now without a second
thought.  Whereas the UO ads caught my eye, largely I'm sure because
I knew you had a hand in it.

> >   I call that a fair amount of marketing, especially  since the ads
> > were well done (in contrast to the ads for games like Kesmai and MPath,
> > which have usually looked pretty amatuerish).
> Well, that's a different issue. :)

Not really.  A good budget means a good marketing department, which means
eye-catching, professional-looking ads.  Which in turn makes people take
you more seriously.

> > In other words, you DO think the simulation element had a big  effect on
> > the size of the playerbase and the game press' interest in it.
> Absolutely. I think the degree of freedom promised was a lot of what
> attracted people. It's interesting that UO was never really called a mud
> by people, whereas M59 was actualy marketed as a mud. This may be
> because of the emphasis on the simulationist side.
> > True, but you know what I mean - KosterSoft, Inc releasing their
> > simulationist, multiplayer game The Legend of Legend!  With 16-bit,
> > scrolling graphics!  Be a fisherman, a tailor, or an alchemist! etc.
> It would sink without a trace, IMHO.

So you seem to be saying that either one of these elements (your game design,
Origin's Ultima property) wouldn't have done nearly as well seperately, but
together worked great?  This makes sense, and answers my question I should say.

> > UO is only gaining popularity, it seems; and better yet, Origin gets
> > to real in $10 a month per player, every month.  Diablo only gets sold
> > once.
> However, UO is in a graphical market, and we'll have to worry about
> client getting dated, etc. So there's a real question of how long the
> game will be sustainable... we can't really go by the track record of
> past games of this type.

Nods.  Well, I'm of the oppinion that emphasis on graphics has dragged down
the game industry in recent years.  It takes *so* *much* work just to get
what people consider "acceptable" graphics nowadays, and it's easy to forget
that what really counts is whether the game is fun or not.  Honestly I imagine
that UO will hang on regardless of the look of the client, as long as there
isn't anything else comparable availible.  So far, there isn't.

Secondly, I see no reason Origin couldn't start a side project to update the
graphics, making them more lush and colorful, etc, while still working from
the same basic tileset (thus requiring minimal code changes).  Nice weather
effects (like those clouds in U7...) could be worked in without disrupting the
rest of the game, I imagine.

> > I know in my own case, I spent ~$30 on the
> > game itself and then was a paying customer for nearly a year, amounting
> > to $120.  (Of course, I wasn't playing most of that time, I just
> > kept forgetting to cancel it...)
> I had no idea you played it at all, actually. :)

Sure!  You don't think I'd talk about something without having played it,
did you?  Actually, I was only able to play it at work at first since that's
the only place I had access to a Windows-based system.  Since then I've changed
jobs and now don't have access to any Windows-based systems; I grabbed the
Linux client, but unfortunately it only works with glibc2 (grumble, grumble).
So who knows when I'll get to play it again.

> I'm scared to ask what you thought of it given how, er, rough it was for
> the first year (and still is in many ways).

I actually learned most of what I know watching others.  In particular
I've got a couple of friends who I played Legend with that later became
heavy UO players; in addition, the game designer for my current project
is a heavy player (he's the one that does the water-elemenetals-trapped-by
-crates trick I described here)...he describes it as "the crappiest game
I can't stop playing".

Perhaps the most telling was watching a non-mudder play the game for
the first time.  Despite me standing over his shoulder coaching, he
just couldn't bring himself to consider the other players anything
but mindless NPCs.  When he couldn't find something, I suggested he
ask someone - he said he never would have thought of that if I hadn't
mentioned it.  Then when he did ask them, he asked in the curtest possible
form, and didn't bother to thank them when several helpful people chimed in
with precise directions.

I guess considering characters in a virtual world to be other people worthy
of the same respect you give them in real life is a learned skill.  I never
recalled having this problem; does text somehow make it easier to learn?

Adam W.

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