Story in MM*s [was RE: [MUD-Dev] RE: ]

Joe Andrieu jandrieu at caltech.edu
Fri Nov 9 02:35:17 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


>From Jeff Cole:
> From: "Joe Andrieu" <jandrieu at caltech.edu>
>> From: Jeff Cole <jeff.cole at mindspring.com>

>>> 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.

> Though I might not have been clear, you misunderstand me.  I do
> not consider content equivalent to context.  Indeed, I argue it is
> a mistake to equate them.

It isn't a mistake, it's a particular perspective on the
situation. In fact, I'm a little puzzled by your use of the terms,
as it is directly contrary to common usage.  Content is generally
regarded as the story, the direct thread presented for the player to
do/follow/be/consume. Context is the backstory, theme, setting,
milieu, background, etc. This is the common usage for content-driven
web sites (Wall Street Journal, CNN, etc.), in contrast to
context-driven web sites or services where the users provide the
content (EBay, USENET, etc.)

MM*s at this point are dominated by context, predominantly relying
on the sandbox metaphor, with delightful exceptions at the Eternal
City and Skotos where GM-crafter stories play a more active role in
the experience.  In fact, it would seem that your argument is that
developers should be loathe to provide content, rather than
context... so, I'm not sure what your real point is.

> For MM*'s, developers should be loathe to provide context beyond
> the milieu and underlying game physics.  Ongoing context should be
> limited to subtle pressures exerted on gameplay (i.e. economic
> pressures, MOB migrations, spawn/drop rates, experience
> distributions, etc.).  At the same time, developers should supply
> quite a bit of content (i.e. MOB types, items, and most
> importantly, options).

> To the extent that a developer allows the players the freedom to
> create context through the disposition of the content, the gaming
> experience will be likewise more immersive.  Similarly, given
> persistence and MM* (PerMM*?), the more context or "story"
> developers impose on the population, the less immersive the gaming
> experience.  [Note: the second statement is oversimplified for the
> sake of argument, but the sentiment is sound.]

If you are saying that freedom to impact the world is a good
thing. I agree.  As for "Story" diminishing immersion, I could not
disagree more.  Why should it diminish immersion? People get sucked
into a good story all the time in other, more mature media.  I
expect you have assumptions behind your definition of story that are
limiting your approach to this design issue.  Or perhaps as you say,
the paradigm of single-player games are dominating your approach to
applying story in MM*s.

[snip]

> That none of those games qualify as PerMM*, demonstrates the
> degree to which the single-player design paradigm permeates your
> analysis.  Conceding for the moment that I have espoused a
> paradigm sufficient to analyze, it should be obvious that such
> paradigm applies to PerMM* design.

Actually, my analysis has nothing to do with single player design
paradigm.  My entire focus is on building a company around
interactive stories in multi-player environments.  It is a hard
problem. And while your tool-centric paradigm is certainly valid, I
suggest it is unnecessarily limiting and therefore should not be
presented as a design truth for MM*s.

>> 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.

> I am not addressing the entirety of interactive entertainment.  I
> am addressing games that are PerMM*.  It seems from your post that
> you are far more interested in interactivity with the game itself
> rather than interactivity among concurrent players.  While
> selfish, it is in no way unreasonable.  However, it is also does
> not apply to my argument.

Again, if all you aspire to is games, then feel free to implement
games.  That's a worthy goal. If you are asserting that MM*s are
games and no more than games, I suggest that you are missing the
greater opportunity in this media format.

MM*s are a new medium for interaction, expression, and experience.
Currently, MM*s are dominated by D&D style game mechanics
implemented almost directly into virtual reality simulations.
That's a fine model.  But it is also only the first successful
model. It will not be the last.  Limiting the discussion of MM*s to
games is a bit short sighted.

>> 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.

> Everything you just described can be better implemented in a
> single-player game.  In a PerMM*, developers cannot provide for
> every player playing the hero because context is necessarily
> dependent upon the actions of others.

Again, you seem to have assumptions about story that I do not.  The
holy grail for interactive stories must include the ability to
simultaneously share that experience with your friends.  Simply
indulging in a single-player fantasy ride is not the end-all-be-all
of interactive stories.  My goal as a designer is to dynamically
craft interactive stories for thousands of players in a consistent
shared environment, where each player's story is woven in with other
players in a game-wide tapestry.

>> 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.

> This is impossible given a PerMM* of any size and population.  It
> cannot be well-formed if only you consider the differences in
> time-played for players.  It cannot be a single story for many of
> the same reasons.

Perhaps it is impossible given your approach to the problem.  I know
of at least two approaches that scale on a linear basis, so size is
not the concrete wall you suggest.

>> 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.

> Not so.  I argue that developers should provide players the tools
> (i.e.  "content") to develop their stories ingame.

Umm... it does limit the perspective on what we create. You are
saying "don't do that" and "you can't do that".  I'm saying "go for
it" and "find a way".  Any rational observer must conclude that you
are limiting the approach to the future of MM*s.

>> 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.

[snip]

>> 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).

> Again, you misunderstand.  I argue that developers should provide
> players the freedom to let the stories develop through playing the
> game.  Players always have a much better intuitive grasp on
> gameplay (economics, physics, etc.) than the developers.  By
> providing players with strong contextual foundation (game physics)
> and freedom to explore the gamespace (not just the environmental
> "space," but also the feature "space"), players will necessarily
> have the opportunity to enjoy and participate in a much more
> immersive gaming experience.

I never said stories should develop any other way. Again, you seem
to have assumptions which limit your thinking on this topic.

As for players having a better grasp on gameplay than developers, I
can only shake my head and ask "What planet are you living on?"

Perhaps you believe that as a player *you* have a better grasp of
gameplay than the designers who clearly offend you with their
misguided inability to design good games.  However, in nearly all
professions, the professionals are better at it than the lay person.
Give me one other field, excepting sex, where the non-professional
can produce better results than the professional.  Your claim is
pretty outrageous.

Perhaps you mean that the player is the ultimate judge of the
quality of the design. That I agree with. No matter what a designer
thinks, if players hate it, then it sucks. No matter how cool or
elegant.  But that doesn't mean the player is better at designing
games.

Do you only watch movies or television or read books created by
non-professionals, by people who just love to watch or read movies
who thereby somehow acquire the ability to create phenomenal
creative product?

I'm not buying it.  Give me the good stuff.

> The condescending attitude that somehow (beyond providing the
> gamespace) the PerMM* developers, rather than other players, are
> better suited to entertain is rather shocking.  Were I given to
> hyperbole, I would invoke Hybris, Ate and Nemesis.

It's not condescending because it isn't elitist.  Can you write like
Tolstoy or Poe?  Can you act like Yul Brynner or Jack Nicholson?
Can you direct like Spielberg or Tarantino?

Probably not. It doesn't mean those who can are better than you. It
just means their better writers/actors/directors than you.  It is
obvious that some people are better at certain things than
others. When we care enough about it, we pay those people to do what
they do best.

Asserting that "average" game player is always going to be better
than an experienced and skilled professional is simply ludicrous.
If you disagree, I suggest you develop a MM*s where the rules and
gameplay are determined by democratic vote or a market-style auction
for features and rules. If you are right, the game will quickly
become the hottest product on the market as it maximizes the input
and contribution from all those players who are better suited to
design than someone who has dedicated their professional life to it.

The best designers will almost always be better at designing games
than your average player.  It's simple statistics applied to the
realm of talent.

-j

--
Joe Andrieu
Realtime Drama

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

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