[MUD-Dev] RE:

Joe Andrieu jandrieu at caltech.edu
Tue Nov 6 16:04:19 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


From: Jeff Cole
> On Wednesday, October 31, Marian Griffith wrote:
>> Raph Koster:

> The same is not true of violence.  In nature, violence is rarely a
> prime mover and almost always a response to some other urge or
> appetite.  Even for humans, what appears on the surface to be
> violence for violence's sake is arguably violence motivated by
> more complex appetites.

> The distinction is important because it speaks directly to design.

> A simple /tell or /send implementation provides all the
> infrastructure necessary for Sex to emerge in the game.  These
> mechanisms are not implemented specifically for Sex, but rather,
> to facilitate player communication within the game.  Sex (and, too
> a much greater extent Friendship) directly motivates a player's
> actions in-game.

This is an intriguing distinction. Makes me think about things in a
way I hadn't before. I think Bobby Martin makes a good comment on
the inherent motivation to "play" at violence.

What's perhaps more true is that violence is natural. Not
enlightened perhaps, but natural. People understand it at a deep,
primal level. It is so deeply connected with our reflexes that it
takes years of socialization to turn humans into civilized people.

All of which is to say that it is an easy target for designers.

>> In general it is the contextualisation that -makes- the story,
>> because it gives the underly- ing forces meaning and direction
>> ...

> That is a tasty nugget, that one.

> To compare, vis-a-vis entertainment, such games to a book or a
> movie yields no useful insight.  Such games need to be compared to
> a range of books and/or range of movies.  It seems that the
> argument here (and industry-wide belief in general) is that
> designers should provide more context and therefore more story.

> I disagree.  Or, more accurately, I disagree that it is the
> designer's responsibility to directly supply context.  To directly
> supply context limits the depth of the context and story.  It is
> the designer's responsibility to provide the tools by which
> players can create context and story.

Ah hah!  It seems we have a fundamental disagreement here. IMO,
there is much to be said for the paradigmatic view that "Context is
the content", to revise McLuhan.

Sure, you can make toys which are fun without context (Lincoln Logs,
Erector sets, etc.) Even games (Chess, Go, etc.)  But we have seen
time and again that generally, the richer the context, the better
the game.  See Myst--Zork on contextual amphetamines or the classic
Civilization which just keeps adding more and more context.  Look at
the Sims. Simple game engine, really rich context.

Even in those games which espouse the design paradigm you advocate
here, there is incredibly rich context.  In fact, maybe you really
mean content here...

Whichever you mean, as long as you are restraining your design to a
Game, then feel free to focus on tools and allow users to build
their own content/context. That's a fine paradigm. Makes good
games. Makes for entertaining products.

But don't think that the limits of this paradigm make sense when
considering the entirety of interactive entertainment.  IMNSHO,
there is a phenomenal opportunity in interactive entertainment which
has never been possible in any other medium. For the first time, the
media format is capable of dynamically generating first-person story
experiences for members of the audience, where players get to be the
hero in their own adventure, unfolding through the nature
exploration of the environment and driven by their own motivations,
curiosity, and emotional needs.  In other words, we have the
opportunity to transform a free-form interaction into a well-formed
story arc with all the emotional engagement of classic drama.

It is true that no one has done this successfully yet.  But it is,
IMO, a worthy goal...  Simply asserting that it is not the designers
responsibility to do so limits the perspective on what we create.

>> It is, in fact, worse than the worst horror B-movie, which does
>> at least justify showing nudity and violence with a very thin
>> veneer of reactionary morals.  In short, games have no story.

> To the extent that such games are multiplayer, the question is
> should they have inherent story?  Again, I argue it is the
> designer's responsibility to provide the players the tools to
> create their own rich stories with depth; it is the designer's
> responsibility not to limit unreasonably limit players' ability to
> develop such stories.

Players don't really want to create their own stories. They want to
live them.  When was the last time your average player sat down and
crafted their own story from start to finish. As a short prose
story? As a play? A home video movie?  Shockwave? Anything?

People prefer buying the works of professional storytellers for the
same reason they like to buy clothes designed and manufactured by
professionals.  Generally, the quality is much higher than what we
would produce ourselves.

Yes, there are players who are motivated enough to dive into a MUD
and create their whole life story just so they can have rich
interactions with their friends.  But that population is small
compared to the mainstream market for consumer entertainment.

>>> If we want to go on a crusade to fix something, how about we fix
>>> the fact that your average cartoon does a better job at
>>> portraying the human condition than our games do?

>> The problem, as I see it, is that online games have no story to
>> tell. Therefor they can not offer context or meaning, only
>> facades They look impressive at first, but soon you start to
>> notice there is no substance behind it.  Perhaps Skotos is taking
>> a small step in the right direction by offering an elaborate
>> stage, but no content, other than that the storytellers are
>> producing.

> Bingo!  Why is that a small step?  I think this is a rather
> important realization.  That Marian would consider it a small step
> speaks to the extent that the traditional groupthink is ingrained
> in the approach to development.

Skotos is doing great things to bring story as role-playing into
MUDs at the level of quality we expect of a commercial product.  But
don't limit yourself to worlds where the players are forced to write
the script. You'll find you have very few players. (By the way, I
believe Skotos has a more active hand in the story than the post
here suggests.)

>> Of course this relies on story tellers (or in the absence
>> thereof, on the players entertaining themselves by dreaming up
>> conflicts and romances).

> The players are the best-suited to develop stories.  The dogged
> determination to apply single player game development approaches
> to multiplayer games continues to hinder the development of truly
> immersive gaming experiences.

I could not disagree more. Respectfully, so, but strongly. Players
rarely have the first clue about how to develop stories. Current
hobbyist players are willing to go to great lengths, but the average
Joe will not.  Are you aware of the % of buyers of the Sims ever
actually uploaded a full story?  (hint: it's not a lot).

Can you really afford to limit your product to 5% maybe even 2% of
the total potential market?  You could, but I wouldn't if I were
you.

That said, I don't think "single-player game development approaches"
are the right way to go either. There are a number of alternative
approaches to creating story in multi-player environments.  And I'm
certain that one of these days, someone will figure out a way to do
it.

-j

--
Joe Andrieu
Realtime Drama

joe at andrieu.net
+1 (626) 395-8045

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