[MUD-Dev] RE:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no> Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no>
Fri Nov 23 14:46:18 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

"Sellers, Mike" wrote:

> No, these games (The Sims in particular) succeed because of their
> story.  They rely on the "sandbox" approach, but without a doubt
> the most engaging aspect of these games is the player's ability to
> tell their own story as the game unfolds.

I'm not sure if Simcity really provides a story, in the sense that
there is no definite ending, unless the player reads the development
towards a modern city into it (i.e. the end is to arrive a the
complexity of the kind of city they live in). I haven't gotten
around to playing the sims yet (actually just received a copy
today), but I assume players there get ample opportunity to reflect
about their own life. Like a sitcom. Is that a story? Well, maybe it
is, but I am not sure if it is a story until the players have tried
to retell what has happened in the game.  Does a series of incidents
make a story? Clearly people are willing to read a story into a
series of events, even if no particularly story was intended,
especially if they expect or want to see a story.

So what do you need to have players read stories into events?

  - you need to make reading stories into the game world viable

  - you need to make a variety of events possible

  - the events need properties that makes it easy for player to
  deduce relationships, either causal, temporal or by involved
  entities (that they can relate to)

In sim city you seem to have the whole city and the different
suburbs to fill the function of the traditional character. And you
have various breakdowns, improvements, a series of events that are
related in temporal, spatial and causal ways. And we all have read
about the industrial evolution and so forth, so reading (hi)story
into the game play is valid, i.e. meaningful.

In MUDs I think you have some problems, due to the lack of playtime
continuity, the stretching of content and desire to reduce
complexity, network and server load. And often the game mechanics
are almost too apparent. A series of events is not necessarily
related to a persistent set of characters, but to the needs of the
game system. In my view simcity has managed to hide the game
mechanics in a way that makes the mechanics themselves go to the
background and the events go to the foreground. Of course, MUDs
sometimes succeed here as well, but I think they could do much more
to gain more depth.

So in essence, muds have to provide:

  - some persistent entities that can carry a humanly meaningful
  project (possibly guilds, neighbourhoods, spaceships..)

  - a variety of events that are not purely mechanics, events that
  can be perceived as related in causal and temporal manners and
  shaped by the "readers" into a humanly meaningful project

  - some context that make players feel like reading stories into
  the events. (a sense of mystery, a historical setting, synching
  the world with physical world news and topics...)

  - and possibly some aids that can play a structuring role. (the
  layout of the world like dungeons that provide events in a
  sequence etc, newspapers, narrators that recount what they
  perceive as this weeks major events...)

> They may not have a traditional, linear, pre-conceived story, but
> from the players' POV, they definitely have stories within them.

Not that I disagree, but I think we should hold onto the idea that a
story has a beginning and an end, and that the series of events form
a whole.

[on providing tools for players creating their own stories]

> "Tools not rules."  I heartily agree with the principle -- we just
> haven't done all that good of a job in presenting it in MMP games
> so far.

Although I am all for tools, I think there is a conflict between
having tools and entering a mysterious world.  A mysterious world
(depth) does involve a set of "rules" that you cannot pin-point. It
seems to me that the "sense of mystery" is not really successfully
exploited fully in MMORPGS. Except for level-requirements and other
types of barriers to entry...  Simcity does provide that "sense of
mystery" by "hiding" the rules in a complex web of interacting parts
and relating it to a context that is relevant and familiar (the

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