[MUD-Dev] Geometric content generation

Matt Mihaly the_logos at achaea.com
Tue Sep 18 08:11:15 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


It's been a bit quiet lately, so I thought I'd just write down some
thoughts I've been having tonight. They're probably not original
thoughts, but perhaps they're worthy of some discussion.

This list seems to accept the maxim that you can't generate content
fast enough to keep up with player consumption of it. Surely,
though, that can't be true. There doesn't seem to be any inherent
relationship between player consumption rates and developer
generation rates that would raise consumption rates as generation
rates are increased, so there doesn't seem to be any barrier, in
principle, to attaining this.

There are a couple ways to do it that I can think of, and I
differentiate between the creation of breadth and the creation of
depth, for reasons below.

1. Simply outspend the users. Put more and more developers on the
project.

   - This seems like a financially infeasible solution, so it's not
   really worth considering. It can, of course, be used to increase
   both depth and breadth.

2. Increase the power and capability of development tools.

   - A long-time, on-going process, but tools seem to be a lot more
   effective at breadth creation rather than depth
   creation. Algorithmic content has so far been shallow.

3. Increase the complexity of the game/world.

   - The example that made me think of this is chess. Chess is a
   simple game, but the rules interact in such a way as to create a
   game of sufficient complexity that it's never been solved. It's
   not possible to talk about an optimum strategy in chess (at least
   yet. It'll be solved eventually, presumably.)

It strikes me that #3 has to be the way to go, if you're interested
in honestly being able to out-produce the consumers of your content,
no matter what they throw at you. Again, think of chess. It's not a
broad game, but it's incredibly deep. Depth can be easily
created. Breadth is what takes the time (you have to have both, of
course).

An even better example is the game Go (for those unfamiliar, it's
played on a grided board with black and white stones that are placed
on the intersections of the grid lines in order to control
territory. It's an even 'thinner' game than chess is, but it is
arguably deeper, because of the geometric way that each additional
intersection expands the possibilities of play. A full game of Go
can take quite a long time, so often people play speed games using
only a quarter of the board. This also makes the game quite a bit
easier, as it's shallower.

Games that are fundamentally about monster-bashing are going to have
a hard time, in my opinion, with real longevity and equally long
success. Killing monsters is all about breadth. There's some depth
to it, but the monsters don't learn new tactics (quickly enough),
and so the players are never forced to explore new depths
(disclaimer: I've never been able to stay interested in any of the
graphical MUDs long enough to get to any potential depth, so these
particular observations are based on hearsay.) True, there's an
advantage to be found in efficiency, but like an assembly line, once
you've found the formula, you make only small improvements after,
barring some revolutionary discovery (which given the nature of MUDs
right now really only happens with the developer changes something
much after release.)

So then the best and surest way to stay ahead of the players seems
to be geometric content generation. If you think of the the elements
of a game as a network, then the analogy to the geometrically
increasing value of networks of people becomes clear.

A game system like that (that I use because I'm familiar with it) is
Achaea's PvP combat system, at least to some extent. It's got a huge
number of possibilities in it, though they do not, by any means, all
intersect with each other. As I regularly add more of them, it just
increases to get more complex, though these days I rarely add
elements that connect to a huge portion of the other elements. The
downside (if anyone that's a gamer can call it that without feeling
guilty) is that the disparity between the great fighters and the
newbies increases, which can make things discouraging for newbies.

So one of our game systems is deep though. A lot of players aren't
even interested in combat, so it does them no good at all. Compare
it to Go or Chess, where each element logically intersects with the
others. Clearly that's not going to be the case in MUDs, but I think
that an emphasis on more of that is the way to out-generate the
players. A small addition can result in a large increase in
complexity.

I've gone on long enough. Apologies if any of the above was
pedantic.

--matt

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