[MUD-Dev] Re: MUD-Dev digest, Vol 1 #142 - 4 msgs

Dr. Cat cat at bga.com
Mon Aug 16 18:43:58 New Zealand Standard Time 1999

> From: Par Winzell <zell at alyx.com>
> I'd love to see a resurrection of a thread dealing with these old dreams.
> It seems to me the gaming world is well aware of the allure of background
> simulation in presented virtual worlds -- the idea of a world larger than
> the player, cookin' away oblivious to whatever the player's fiddling with
> at any given moment... this is alluded to in advertisements constantly.
> It's strange to me that more isn't happening in this direction. Could it
> be that it's a somewhat adult theme? Perhaps the Average Teenager is less
> interested in a real world -- unless they can shoot it up?

Sorry to sound cynical, but I try to be a realist about these things...
My personal take on this sort of work is that it's actually primarily 
for the enterainment of the programmers making and/or administrating it,
not for the fun of the players.  But they convince themselves it will be
great fun for the players, which would certainly justify doing the stuff 
they're so looking forward to the pleasure of tinkering with.

I'm quite willing to be proven wrong.  If I ever see a world with a large 
amount of simulation of ecology and/or economy "behind the players' backs" 
that makes the game a lot more fun and was well worth the effort, I'll 
change my opinion.  But to date, such efforts generally fail to produce 
the large amounts of fun the programmers expected.  Either they generate
a tiny quantity of fun, or none, or sometimes their simulation breaks 
down entirely.

The one series I know of where people seem to derive pleasure from 
complex ecology/economy simulations are the Sim series of games from 
Maxis (SimCity, SimEarth, SimLinearAccelerator, etc.)  But in those
games, the player is given access to all of the details about all of the 
stuff that's being simulated, and can watch and/or meddle with it.  
Putting him/her in a role more like that of the MUD programmer who enjoys 
building and watching the simulation in their game, while all the player 
knows is whether or not there were any deer or wolves in such-and-such 
place when they went by again today.

It's really hard to simulate when and why there are wolves there, or how 
much it costs to buy a new shirt, in such a way that the patterns of it 
seem significantly more interesting or fun to someone experiencing it.
Indeed, we have such forces influencing the prices of things we buy in 
the real world, but few people find the fluctuations in the prices of 
things like clothes and food to be "fun".  (Maybe when something's on 
sale cheap.)  More likely you find it in more extreme and exaggerated 
situations, like the stock market.  A good example of a game that was 
engineered to have more dramatic and interesting supply and demand price 
fluctuations involving multiple players was M.U.L.E.  That game only 
works with 4 players though, coming up with a model that fun and clean 
and well balanced that would support 400 or 40,000 is something that I 
don't know if anyone's ready to accomplish yet.

I'm perfectly content to "work backwards", starting at the outrageous and 
socially unacceptable point of "what type of end results in 'gameworld 
behavior' do I think would generate fun for the players?"  And once I 
think I have an answer to that question, I'll just design and program the 
absolutely most simple and bulletproof algorithms to generate those types 
of behavior.  If I think two population booms/busts per month, or five 
dramatic price fluctuations per month would be the right frequency to 
make them frequent enough to provide interest, but not so frequent that 
players get bored of them and don't care...  Well I could try to program 
some complex simulation and balance it that way - or I could say "Look, 
this operating system has date and time functions my server program is 
allowed to call.  Let's pick a random number from 3 to 7 for how many big 
price fluctuations I'll do this month.  Ok, 4.  Let me pick 4 random 
days...  Got it.  Every other day I'll vary the price of this item up and 
down with statistical white noise, and on those days I'll make some big 
dramatic changes."

Another advantage to this type of method, aside from the fact that it 
takes orders of magnitude less implementation time, is that it's much 
easier to predict in advance how much fun you will add to the game if you 
do this work.  Whereas with a simulation all you can do is take a wild
guess, then do the huge amount of work and find out how much fun you 
actually REALLY added.  I'd rather spend time on things that I'm highly 
confident will produce fun, rather than take a stab in the dark and maybe 
find out that I was just fooling myself.

And besides, all MUDs already have a large number of interacting forces 
combining to produce interesting and unexpected results.  They're called 
human beings, or to you and me, "players".  Now that I think of it, this 
really closely matches the mania often present in the single-player game 
development world (and which some of them bring to the online world) 
about simulating NPCs with more and more depth and personality and realism.
We already have the experience of talking to real people, which is a 
thousand times better or more.  Trying to make NPCs do that job anywhere 
near as well is the LAST place you should spend any effort.  Make them do 
useful things that players can't or won't do, but don't try to make them do 
things like rich conversation.  You'll fail, and there's already a source 
of that available anyway.  Simulating a background economy/ecology seems 
like the same sort of thing.  Build the world in such a way that the 
collective actions of the players themselves becomes rich and 
interesting.  Don't try to make a bunch of deer and wolves and 
shopkeepers do it all on their own even when nobody is logged in!
That'll always be far less interesting to the players.

   Dr. Cat / Dragon's Eye Productions       ||       Free alpha test:
*-------------------------------------------**  http://www.bga.com/furcadia
  Furcadia - a new graphic mud for PCs!     ||  Let your imagination soar!

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