[MUD-Dev] Sustainable Ecosystem

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Thu Jul 20 15:40:33 New Zealand Standard Time 2000

On Thu, 20 Jul 2000 jolson at micron.net wrote:
> If a simulated ecosystem is what you're after, I don't think that will 
> work very well as long as players are around.  

There's no "think" about it: it's been tried in the past, and met with

I think most would agree that the "obvious" way of creating a basic
ecosystem in a mud (like the pigs-wolves-dragons system described here)
won't work.  Personally, however, I think that there are a great number
of possibilities for ecosystems that CAN work, but they require one to
step outside of "realism" a little bit - or a lot.

> Natural ecosystems operate on a sort of supply and demand system.  
> Animals only consume food as long as they're hungry (or in some cases 
> storing it for later).  When food demand exceeds supply, they die or 
> relocate.  This causes natural local population fluctuation, but I 
> can't think of a instance in nature where a population is completely 
> annihilated on a routine basis.  But that's precisely what players do; 
> they kill and kill until there's nothing left to kill.  Players observe 
> no limits; theirs is a hunger that cannot be sated.  Artificially 
> repopulating the "pigs" (aka respawn, from a player POV) doesn't re-
> establish the ecosystem; it just starts the slaughter again.
> It might be necessary to remove or diminish players' incentives for 
> killing members of a virtual ecosystem in order for that ecosystem to 
> be viable.  If there was nothing to gain but a carcass from killing an 
> animal, maybe players would stop once they had what they needed.

In the "real" world, hunting down a signle animal and then turning
it into a useful resource is a huge expenditure of time and energy, even
for an accomplished predator.  And the reward for this task is almost
non-existent if you're not hungry or in need of a fur coat.

On the other hand, a mud continuously rewards players for killing more
creatures, usually by making it that much easier to kill yet more creatures.
The task requires few resource (a weapon and a little bit of time) and
gives a large reward (experience, gold, food, and the animal's skin).

If you wanted a real ecology that the players could not throw out of
whack any more than a small band of medival knights could have thrown
the ecosystem of the entire earth out of whack, you need a very large
world, populated with litterally billions of tiny, annoying creatures
which are difficult to kill and you get nothing in reward for doing so.
Then there should be millions of mid-sized creatures which take hours
and lots of resources (arrows, spears, traps, your character's energy)
to hunt down and kill.  You don't even get the reward for killing them:
you then need to process them into something useful, by skinning them
and tanning the hide (a multi-day process), cutting off the useful bits
and cooking them to eat (a multi-hour process), extracting the bones and
turning them into weapons or tools (at least a day), and so on.

Furthermore, most of these things do not continue to "add up".  Once your
character's stomach is full, getting more food is pointless.  Once they
have fifty bone-tipped arrows in their quiver, they can't carry any more
effectively.  Once they have a bone knife or two, they don't need any

Would this be fun?  Perhaps, if it were done right, and even then the
appeal would be limited to a certain small audience.  I would certainly
be interested in someone creating a mud like this, but I would hardly
call it a solution for most online worlds.

No, to make a *playable* ecosystem, you'll probably have to ditch most of
the trappings of our world, and instead come up with something both simpler
and more fun.  Imagine a game where the environment is toxic and everyone
moves about in mecha-type armored suits.  These suits require power supplies
of some sort, perhaps several different minerals which can be found in the
game.  One element is used to power the life support systems, another is
used to power the movement of the suits, a third is highly explosive and
used as a weapon, and a fourth can be used to convert the other elements
back and forth between each other.  Create a simple system of rules for
where these elements appear and ways for players to extract them (mining
out of veins and them some sort of purification process).  Make containment of
the final elements difficult; perhaps the first is radioactive and begins
to decay more rapidly the more you have of the element in the same place; the
second is incredibly heavy and requires huge amounts of power to move; the
third is explosive and can easily be set off if not handled carefully;
and the fourth immediately turns into a useless lump of lead whenever
exposed to certain gasses common to the planet's atmosphere.

Of course, any system like this would be incredibly difficult to balance,
and make even mildly playable for your early-comers, but I think it would
be worth it if that's the kind of world you're after.

Trying to take an existing mud and say, "Hey, we'll get rid of respawns
by making our weak little mobs breed!" will rarely get you far, given
the mechanics of your average GoP mud.


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