[MUD-Dev] Player characters as a prey species

J C Lawrence claw at kanga.nu
Mon Jul 9 10:17:07 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

On Sun, 8 Jul 2001 16:02:05 -0700 
Jon Leonard <jleonard at slimy.com> wrote:

> At a (board-)gaming event last night...


> JCL brought up the idea of a MUD where players are not the
> dominant species in the gameworld.  Instead they're prone to being
> eaten by city-size dragons or some such.

> One of the possible purposes of such a game is to provide a
> mechanism by which more powerful characters get removed from play
> (permadeath implied).

> It seems to me to be a niche concept, but one worth exploring.

I'm looking at my old tri-level model (account, character,
body/bodies) with physical stats bound to the body, intangible stats
to the character, and meta stats to the account.  Permadeath at the
character level (character and stat deletion) occurs in cases of
player stupidity or inattention.  Other death is reset-with-penalty.

The use of permadeath, like the predators, is intended as a
deflationary tool.  The specific intent of permadeath is to help
prevent the long-term advancement of a character via mere
persistence (cf Bartle's early comments).  The use of the predator
primacy is another deflationary tool intended to make "king of the
hill" players impossible (or at least short lived (and is thus its
own game)).


  The game always has the bigger hammer.  As such you are never top
  dog over the world, instead the better player is variously the
  bigger/juicier ant in the ant eater's cage.  

  The player hopefully has the advantage as he is more intelligent
  than the game, and can thus game the predator/game.

    The predators will always win, long term.  The question is what
    you can get away with and build in the mean time: thus building
    your character/account.

  Aside: The expectation is that players will devote significant
  attention to gaming the predators, as that is effectively the only
  way they can manipulate or have any semblance of control over the
  predators so that they may then progress on player-derived goals.

Basic game assumptions:

  Life is tough.  It only gets tougher.

  The longer you live the tougher it gets.

  The more you succeed the tougher it gets.

  The longer you are logged in the tougher it gets.

  The longer your account exists the tougher it gets.

  Careful/correct/intelligent play can variously mitigate, remove,
  or alter those difficulties into more manageable forms.  

The basic problem with these assumptions is that from a player
perspective they translate to:

  They don't want me playing the game and will keep making it harder
  and harder to play until I stop.

The challenge is then to present it as a "How far can you get?"

  It is implicit that you are going to eventually loose/die in an
  arcade game.  The question is how long that will take and what you
  can/will do ITMT.

This would seem to be the primary problem with the prime-predator
model as a game fundament.  Players like winning.  Setting them up
to always lose is rarely popular. (Note: This is partly cultural,
especially WRT north americans).

As per the discussion with Leonard and Green at the game night I
don't want to just sic the predators on the highest level character
in the game as that's implicitly gameable and easily abused.  It
might be interesting to model various distribution curves for
assorted statistics and then send the predators hunting until the
player base no longer exceeds that pattern (more game-able, harder
to abuse).

Its an interesting thought however as it defines a central
mechanical difference:

  In most GoP games success (eg level ascension) is matched
  with increased immunity from other game systems.  The predator
  model instead matches game success with greater effort/skill
  required to merely survive.  

I don't want to turn this into a runner/hunter game.  The interest
is in creating a game where the player goals are orthogonal to the
predator/prey relationship but the predator/prey setup dictates most
game approaches (cf early implementation of white dragon in SX MUD).


Once the bell curve of player distribution across your advancement
scale moves past the middle of the scale, you've irretrievably lost
the advancement inflation game.


A game is defined as a specific arrangement of goals, barriers (to
those goals), and freedoms (to do things possibly in pursuit of the
goal).  The goal must either be achievable, or must be considered as
possible to achieve.  For this to work the game must be able to be
beaten -- the goal accomplished.

  Right there we define a basic problem: We want a game which
  doesn't end but which can also be "finished" (goal accomplished).

There is a sub-class here where the goal is acknowledged as
impossible or tantamount to such, and the goal is thus defined as,
"best approximation to goal".  This seems implicit in the predator


For a GoP game to be long lived across a given player base it must
satisfy one of three criteria:

  1) Constantly evolve to provide new grist for old players

  2) Provide an elder character game which is outside of the base
  advancement scale.  (Mentor, wizard, meta game, etc)

  3) Provide a deflationary force such that there are no elder
  player characters.  

#1 is the standard approach.  More levels are added.  Bigger
weapons, tougher NPCs.  Nastier zones.  Expensive in dev effort and
balancing, encourages cheap mechanics ala level-limited EQ and
zone/level entrance requirements.

#2 is equally common and is often called the "grandfather game", but
is little examined and difficult to accomplish well.  In essence it
involves bolting a whole new game atop your base game, and then
providing a transition mechanism to attempt to convert sufficiently
advanced players from your old game to your new higher level game.
Its a fair approach (and one I like), but we're not talking about
the same game any more.  In this discussion I'm specifically
interested in techniques to use within a given game definition.

#3 has been extensively discussed and I think never really
examined.  We tend to get into one of a few simple courses:

  a) You have to let players "win" or they'll give up.

  b) If you kill/reset/penalise everybody who advances past the mid
  game (ie you cut off the top of the advancement scale) you've just
  redefined your game such that the end-game is now immediately
  after the mid-game.

There is a third course which pre-supposes that there is not s
single advancement scale, but multiple variously parallel and
(un)related in which the game mutates from a climb-the-ladder game
to a near pure resource management game where the resources being
managed are your personal abilities across the various advancement
scales and their application to the game.

  ie its all about power and politics once you're past the

A requirement is that the advancement scales and matching
capabilities are arranged such that it is impossible to dominate the
game (eg highest level, can do anything).  The idea is that instead
each advancement scale is inherently flawed and incompleat, as well
as variously incompatible or opposed to other scales such that the
game is 

> Comparisons to the paper RPGs Call of Cthluhu and Paranoia came to
> mind immediately...  They depend a lot on the flavor of the
> gameworld, which may or may not be an intrinsic propery of games
> with short character life expectancy.

Why is short life expectancy necessarily a function of predator
based games?  I'd like to still approximate a standard bell curve.
Using stat-distributed predation as a second-order hunting algorithm
(opportunism being the first) could allow this.

> Another idea I had this morning was something along the lines of a
> slow permadeath.  Suppose that each character has a healing
> multiplier stat, and that all health-recovery effects, (healing
> spells or natural recovery, etc.) get multiplied by it.  If
> certain monsters do damage that permanently reduces this stat, it
> could make it such that characters simply can't be played forever.

I could see such an effect sourcing from activities and presence.
Certain activities could weaken the state (spell casting, entering
certain zones, certain foods, etc), and the various time based
functions encluding simple age, time spent in presence of XXX
relics, etc.

> (I'd be more carefull attibuting ideas, but it was rather late and
> I wasn't taking written notes.)

You were concious?  Kat I suspect had the best approach, but stopped
just short of snoring.

J C Lawrence                                             claw at kanga.nu
---------(*)                                http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/
I never claimed to be human.
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