[MUD-Dev] Player Manipulation of Environment

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Mon Nov 26 17:56:40 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Marian Griffith wrote:

>   2) The game world must be large enough to absorb the player's
>   ability to affect it.

>     The more freedom the players have to affect the world the big-
>     ger that world has to be, or the they will rip it apart sooner
>     or later.  Probably sooner.  This however requires some
>     serious change to the way games are organised, including the
>     fact that for games to be experienced as lively they need to
>     be extremely dense, which directly conflicts with their need
>     to be big.  Of course currently players have no ability to
>     affect the world in any meaningful way, which lead to the game
>     feeling stale and to repetitive gameplay.

In addition to localized affects or larger game worlds, I think it
may be a good idea to have changes become more difficult as they
move toward an extreme.  This is also a method for absorbing a
player's ability to affect the game world in entirely detrimental
ways (since typically, the extremes will be seen as detrimental).

For example, let us consider the recent discussion of extinction.

Before I offer some ideas for how to avoid extremes such as
extinction, I should probably outline my goals.  I am not interested
in realism, per se.  I am interested in a game world that seems more
alive, though.  I am also interested in a game world that provides
richer and more varied interaction.  As a player, I would like to be
able to reach out to touch the world around me and feel it change
ever so slightly.  This may help explain why I don't like something
like static respawn sites, and yet have no real heartburn about the
fact that the birth rate of rabbits may not be in keeping with what
one expects to find in the real world.

To further illustrate this (or to beat it to death, depending on
your perspective), I imagine I am pursuing realism in interactive
gameplay in a manner not unlike a 3D animator pursued realism in the
movie Dragonheart.  I can imagine the director of the movie taking a
look at the 3D animations and complaining that the dragon didn't
seem real enough.  What?!  Of course the dragon doesn't seem real.
It's a dragon.  They don't actually exist, you know.  Yet what the
director is really saying is that the dragon doesn't seem alive
enough for the movie's audience to really make a connection to it.
That's kinda how I feel about the online games I've played.

So what does the animator do to make the dragon seem more "alive?"
He looks back to real life.  What helps an audience connect to an
actor?  The actor's facial expressions certainly contribute.  So the
3D animator studies Sean Connery's facial expressions when
delivering lines and incorporates those into the dragon's facial
animations.  Voila!  The dragon now seems more real and more alive.
It is easier for the audience to connect to it.  But we all know
dragons are still just fantasy.

Hopefully, this helps explain why I'd like to so something like
A-life in a virtual world.  It doesn't have to be entirely
realistic, but I'd like to expand interaction, make the virtual
world seem more alive, and be able to connect to that world in a
deeper way.  In any case, on to my idea for using genes and natural
selection to help avoid extinction.  (Please forgive my obvious lack
of understanding as to how these things actually work in real life.
If you feel compelled to correct the more blatant mistakes for the
sake of real science, I'd welcome such intervention.)

Raph mentioned recently that increasing birth rates to respond to a
threat of extinction is one of the surest ways of moving a creature
toward extinction.  At least, that's what I took away from the post.
Since this seems rather counter-intuitive, I've been meaning to ask
him for details.  It is entirely possible that what I'm about to
present may also suffer from some holes, rather counter-intuitive or
otherwise.  I'd love to hear more about this, especially from those
who have experience in such areas.

When it comes to responding to extremes in animal populations,
however, I don't think we are limited to simply increasing spawn
rates.  While I haven't fully fleshed out the idea, I lean toward
having various "genes" that automatically respond to player actions
in a way that functions something like a crude sort of natural
selection.  This is off-the-cuff, but I'll give a simple example.

Suppose the wild rabbit has three "genes."
  
  (h) Higher hit point gene
  (b) Faster birth-rate gene
  (c) Better camouflage gene

Each rabbit has one of these genes that is dominant.  Provided a
rabbit recieves the proper nourishment, it will give "birth" after a
certain amount of time.  (This can be a simple spawn nearby, since
our desire for more interaction with our virtual world doesn't
necessarily require that we have rabbit sexes or preclude the idea
of having things spawn into our world.)  When it gives birth, there
is the greatest chance that the offspring will carry the same
dominant gene, but a smaller chance that another gene will become
dominant.  There is also a chance that the dominant gene will become
more pronounced.  We could test and tweak the numbers, but let's
assume a 60/20/20 per cent chance respectively.

For example, if a particular rabbit has the base c-gene dominant, it
has an increased ability to "blend in" with its environment.  This
might mean that a hunter with 100% skill only has a 20% chance of
even seeing the rabbit while out hunting for a 24 hour period.
Given enough food, this rabbit might give birth during that same 24
hours.  The offspring will have a 60% chance to have the same base
c-gene.  It will have a 20% chance to have the h-gene or b-gene. And
it will have a 20% chance to have the more pronounced c2-gene, which
could mean that a hunter with 100% skill now only has a 15% chance
to see the rabbit in a 24 hour period.

What would this mean?  As I think through the different scenarios, a
few thoughts come to my mind.

When a particular area of rabbits came under heavy hunting, it seems
to me that those with the b-gene would be the first to go according
to Raph's information.  But certainly those with the h-gene wouldn't
be far behind.  This will naturally select for those with the c-gene
to survive, especially those with higher levels of the c-gene, since
a rabbit with the c9-gene could be effectively invisible.
Eventually, hunters will not find very many rabbits in that area and
move on to other hunting grounds.

Since there is a chance that even those rabbits with a high level
c-gene will give birth to a rabbit with a different gene, when a
particular area is not hunted heavily, the area will be repopulated
with rabbits having the other genes dominant.  Soon, there may be
lots of rabbits with all sorts of genes in that area again.  If the
area has no other natural rabbit predators, the rabbits with higher
birth rates will tend to be most prevalent in an unhunted area.  On
the other hand, if predators are predisposed to eat rabbits with
lower hit points, then rabbits with the h-gene may predominate.

Or consider the case where someone decides to have a rabbit farm.
As they observe the birth rates of the rabbits, they might figure
out that those with the b-gene give birth more quickly.  When it
comes time to kill a rabbit for its pelt, which rabbit will be the
first to go?  I don't think it will be the rabbit with the highest
birth rate.  I imagine rabbit farmers will come to value rabbits
with higher birth rates and seek to protect them over others.

So under different circumstances, different genes will help rabbits
survive or flourish.  I've only mentioned three genes, but it would
be fun to make animals with lots of genes.  Some genes might cause
increasingly smaller amounts or poorer quality materials to be given
upon death.  Some might cause a creature to have a larger awareness
area.  Some may cause animals to be more inclined to flee.  Some
might cause increasingly higher amounts or qualities of materials to
be given while an animal is kept alive.  Some might allow animals to
give birth under harsher conditions by lowering food requirements.
This is just a quick list.

Also, what if the utility of an animal increased with age?  Suppose
you might run accross young bucks, adult bucks, mature bucks, large
bucks, and trophy bucks while hunting deer.  This might also provide
an incentive to be more selective.  Especially if your community has
noticed that the deer population is dwindling, and has decided to
implement deer permits and quotas.  The community might have an
incentive to do this if they need to meet (character) population
goals to level and are concerned that an ecosystem that is too out
of whack may drive some players to other communities.

In any case, that is the basic concept.  I'm not in any way
committed to the actual numbers.  I think it would take a lot of
experimentation to see what works best, but I don't see why the
concept cannot be made to work.  I may have missed much, though.

--Phinehas



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