[MUD-Dev] Wilderness

Sean Kelly sean at ffwd.cx
Mon Jul 30 20:20:25 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

From: "Freeman, Jeff" <jfreeman at verant.com>

> I've been thinking recently about one of the primary appeals of
> the fantasy and sci-fi settings (as opposed to contemporary
> settings, say) in gaming, and come to the conclusion that one of
> the main appeals for me is the concept of "wilderness".

Me too :)

> I've been thinking about how to implement perpetual wilderness in
> a MUD without driving the explorers crazy (since I think it would
> annoy them to no end to map out some section of the MUD only to
> find out later that their map didn't take, and the next time they
> visit the wilderness it's still un-mapped territory).

I think so long as this fit with the backstory it could work.

For example an archipelago where none of the islands are actually
attached to the sea floor and float around with the tides.  Skilled
sailors and navigators would be very valuable in such a setting and,
as explorers, they would likely learn different cues for determining
where they were and where to go.  In such settings, I don't think
not being able to rely on a static map would be frustrating at all,
and it could lend itself to some interesting situations.

Or a gigantic city from an age of high-magic that people still live
in but nobody really understands any more.  It's continually
building itself and changing, potentially even physically moving
around.  Or a world that's photosensitive to the degree that the
presence of light determines what is where and what state it's in.
Villages keep fires burning continuously to keep from being
enveloped in the chaos of darkness.

There are a lot of backstory ideas that can make a continuously
changing world an appealing place to be :)

> First, obvious solution was to allow the players to convert
> wilderness to explored terrain, and then just dynamically create
> some more wilderness.  That also has a negative aspect to it, in
> that exploring randomly generated terrain is boring and pointless
> ("the more things change, the more they stay the same" - once
> you've explored one bit of randomly created terrain, you've
> explored them all.

Agreed.  Randomly generated wilderness is no fun.  Though fractal
terrain is quite realistic and discovering interesting areas might
lead to settlements and other community-forming opportunities.
Perhaps if the players were provided with sufficient ability to
permanently shape their environment it would work well.

> Then I thought about having some sort of anamorphic terrain - like
> the old middle ages map that always depicted the local territory
> as larger than it actually was, relative to the distant lands that
> were less well known.  That is, by exploring the wilderness, you'd
> actually increase that size of the world - adding to the
> wilderness an area of explored/known terrain.

This is an interesting idea, but I don't see how it could work
unless the game were somehow zone-based.  It would be easy to add
additional zones that were squished between formerly adjacent areas.
Still, this is straying into the realm of randomly generated
terrain.  If the world ends up being that big, why didn't it start
out that big?

> and some questions without answers.  I have seen some MUSH code to
> dynamically create space and ocean and even persist points of
> interest along the way, but that doesn't quite hit what I'm
> shooting for, exactly.

Right.  These schemes are just to extend the time of a voyage and
allow for encounters along the way.

In a "normal" world, I don't agree with the strict idea of
anamorphic terrain, but I do like the concept.  I wanted to see a
very similar feature implemented in Neverwinter Nights (which didn't
make it in for the sake of sheer complexity).  Say I'm a DM and I
generate a bunch of pre-fab adventures, or pieces of adventures.
Now the party is in town and some random NPC pickpockets one of the
players.  The player notices and persues.  I see this as an
opportunity so I take control of the NPC (rather than just letting
him try to follow his programming and run off the edge of the
screen) and head around a corner.  I hurriedly drop in a "secret
entrance to a thieve's guild" from a menu, and open the door and
enter, making sure the player sees me before I get the door shut.
Now provided they decide to investigate, I've just created an
adventure on the fly that I hadn't planned beforehand aside from
having had the presence of mind to create at least the rudiments of
a thieve's guild (or even so little as a secret door, provided I can
stall the players from entering immediately).  The world grows not
by adding more wilderness but by making what's there more
interesting.  So the game designer would flesh out the broad strokes
of the world, making it as big as possible, and then increase
resolution on areas as needed, even to the degree of doing it 2
seconds before the players arrive.  This could include putting
houses in a clearing as players approach, putting items in NPC
inventories, attaching dialogue to NPCs while players are talking to
them, etc.  Essentially the ability to apply items from "quest
libraries" in realtime.  (Yes I tend to DM "from the hip").  The key
here is making the original world big enough.  Or allowing for the
possibility of frontier lands to expand it, as you can only increase
resolution on an area so much before it starts to become cluttered.
At this point you've either got to add more blank space or find a
way to alter what you've got (or let the players alter it for you).

One thing I always did like were situations where the explorers had
to find out about an "unexplored" region by digging through the
histories and finding old maps and anecdotes.  Most worlds have a
tremendous amount of history and just because something is
wilderness now doesn't mean it was always that way.  Dungeons are
often long decayed fortresses and the like of kingdoms that had
fallen into ruin eons ago.  It's neat to try to piece together
information about a place based on the varying (often inaccurate)
reports of that area throughout history.  I wouldn't say the world
consists of a bunch of blank spaces labeled "here be dragons" so
much as a bunch of blank spaces with eons of history during which
they may not even have been blank spaces at all.  A fine
distinction, I admit.

The final idea would be to do something along the lines of
Planescape.  A world where everything could be a portal to somewhere
else.  It supplies an in-game reason for you manipulating the fabric
of reality as you please.


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