[MUD-Dev] Storytelling and Professionals (wasRE: )

Lee Sheldon linearno at gte.net
Wed Nov 28 11:17:57 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek Licciardi

> It is true that everyone loves to be told a story, but on the same
> token everyone does not like the stories that you want to tell.

As an individual I've told stories to tens of millions of people,
and they've come back for more.

> I have to agree with Dave here, in that it is easier and more
> economically feasible to let your players tell stories for you
> then it is for you to tell them stories.

Easier?  Obviously.  More economically feasible?  This argument has
come up before.  I don't think you'd find that the attempts we have
had to tell stories were so economically egregious that they were
out of line with the rest of the budget at least in terms of salary.
My salary certainly doesn't support that, lol.  It's true though
that if you just draw a line through the word writer on your budget
(if it was ever there) you'll save even that paltry amount.  I do
think the content generation to date seems to take an inordinately
long time.

Again using DAoC as an example.  They had/have (?) at least six
quest builders.  The game was in development for a remarkably short
period time (kudos to Mythic).  What was it?  18 months?  Two years?
Yet you can go for levels without a single quest.  I would estimate
there are less than 200 total quests in all the realms in DAoC.
These appear to all be linear FedEx-style solo game-style quests
that if just the text were typed out on paper would take up no more
than one or two pages at best.  There are some "epic" quests
(uncompleted as yet) that will probably run 4 or even 6 pages before
they're done.  This works out to at the outside 1200 pages of
writing for the total development period.  Two or three big binders
worth.  Seems like quite a lot, doesn't it?  Let's see...

That is 50 pages per month.  Divide it by 4 let's say, since I
believe half of the quest builders were only part time.  That's 12
1/2 pages per quest builder per month!  An average hour soap on TV
chews through 1000 times (that's not a typo) that much material in a
month, if you count only pages.  It is not a direct one-to-one
page-by-page correlation of course.  But ask Raph Koster how long it
takes him to write a short story.  My weekly breakdowns (outlines)
for a soap had to be at least as densely packed as a quest however.
Each ran 20 pages or so, and as the name implies, each took a week.
(As head writer I also wrote 2 to 3 scripts and worked on ongoing
story as well every week.) I can gladly go into more detail about
why these more closely resemble quest building docs, but I want to
move on. Simply because I'm probably the only person in our industry
to have done both should suggest that there is some basis for my
claim.  Maybe not.

As far as I'm concerned any quest builder that can't turn out
multiple quests per day in whatever script language a game requires
is either stealing his or her money, or not suited to games in the
first place.  Maybe they should try linear media.

I am going to have some nice things to say however about the quests
in DAoC below...  But the bottom line is that because our industry
often slips milestones, and because our industry really doesn't know
how long it takes to write something, these projections of how long
it takes to generate ongoing content get pulled like taffy, getting
longer, impossibly longer, yet never breaking.  And because our
industry has never seen it work any other way, we want to assume
that it can't.  If there's a third definition of economically
feasible (other than money or time), let me know.  I'll try to
address that too.

> When players make up their own stories while in your game, they by
> default are interested in the story.

But as Brian Green, and others, have pointed out elsewhere and
before, there's absolutely no guarantee that any single player's
story will be of interest to any other single player.  "They don't
need to be."  has been a response to this in the past.  But think of
what that is really saying.  In this supposedly wonderfully social
medium you want to rely on everybody entertaining themselves
individually.  That seems to be the very antithesis of what we're
all about.  That isn't to say that some player stories might
entertain many of their fellows.  The cream have always risen in
MUDs (the Skotos players now running the story in Castle Marrach are
a good example), but only the cream.  That is a small small
percentage of the player base.  Actually "Only cream and bastards
rise." wrote William Goldman.  Applying that in the context of games
with only player-driven stories, we might see only good storytellers
and griefers succeeding (and enjoying themselves)...

> You could throw them ten man years of authorship work and none of
> it be to their liking.

Maybe you could.  My experience has been somewhat different.

> If a game wants to make money in this industry, I am of the belief
> that any story they tell is at best a backdrop to the stories the
> players create.

Well, here we almost agree. :) The story we tell to players can
guide them and support them and encourage them to tell their own
without leaving them floundering, and making up stories caged from
other media, and bearing no direct relationship to our game.  But if
you think of story only as backdrop, you're already crippling the

> You'll lose the battle of outdeveloping content fast if you try to
> tell 50,000+ players a story that each of them finds entertaining.

See above for what I think of this self-perpetuating myth.  I will
add though that as I agreed above, ignoring developer-created
content, and leaving it up to the players, will always be "easier."

> Obviously you're jaded about the current crop of offerings.  You
> don't have to play them.

Jaded?  No.  Frustrated and embarrassed?  Yes.  And yes I do have to
play them.  I work on them.  And if you don't consume what you
create, you can easily lose touch with its audience.  Believe it or
not, I think I have a pretty clear idea of what the current players
want, even though I see signs of that changing, as well as the
potential players for whom we're not even a blip on the
entertainment radar yet.

> If you think Star Wars is going to save the MMOW world, then you
> need to take a look at the game again.  While it will be vastly
> popular and a significant upgrade from today's offerings, Verant
> is going to be hard pressed to not make it an EQ sequel set in
> George Lucas' world.

<shrug> I'm just looking at a couple of the people working on it.
That's where my suggestion of its potential comes from.  I've
already been privately taken to task for bringing up SW:G by someone
else who appears to consider making a "storied" game a economically
feasible undertaking.

> EQ has proven what makes money.

So did Survivor.  How well did all the Survivor clones do?  So did
Command & Conquer.  How well did all the Command & Conquer clones
do?  Anyone here remember the explosion of RTS a few short years
ago?  Anyone here still playing any of them?  I remember several
people noticing how many had the word "dark" in the title. <shrug>
I'm guilty of that, too, so I guess I shouldn't call the
kettle... black...

<SNIPPED SW:G speculations and hopes>

> Elysian Productions is going to attempt to answer this thread.  We
> are attempting to design a game that will allow players to have a
> significant impact on the world they live in.

I think most would agree this is a good thing.

> We believe that our design will have players telling their own
> stories and creating their own virtual lives in the manner that
> this thread speaks of.

A noble goal.

> In the future, you will be able to see more about our project, but
> since we are in the process of obtaining funding, our ideas and
> designs are not quite public information yet.  Rest assured, I and
> my colleagues have been following threads like these and have been
> imaginative enough to design a completely new playing paradigm
> that attempts to address these weaknesses in the MMOW market.

I wish I could rest assured, Derek, but I'm not.

> Here's to the future of MMOWs and plentitude of the milk that you
> speak of.  I have to think that the milk will not run dry any time
> soon and the introduction of Star Wars and World of Warcraft will
> only make the genre that much bigger.  Truly exciting times if you
> ask me.

I hope you're right.  All I see are vast fields of tulip bulbs
unpicked and dying.

I said above I was going to say some nice things about the quest
builders in DAoC.  And I think it really gives the lie to Dave's
thesis.  Because DAoC is obviously attempting to do story.  Since
they will be adding content I'm told (including finishing some of
the quests), there's an opportunity for (shudder) ongoing story
instead of just back story.  The actual writing in many quests is
quite good.  I forgive the anachronisms, typos, mispellings, lack of
characterization and laughable attempts at dialect (Migard NPCs all
sound like they're from Trenton, New Jersey) because there seems to
be no single voice guiding the writing.  This is of course a problem
in games that doesn't exist in my former profession.  I put it down
to ignorance of management.

Nevertheless there is often a sense of fun and adventure and
sweetness in the writing that is otherwise absent from the rest of
the game.  I'd guess more than one of the writers are women.  It is
a welcome leavening that the power-gamers and Tribes fans will
probably just ignore.  I have no problem with that at all.  It's
there for me.  And believe it or not I'm not the only one who
responds.  I feel for the writers who obviously are trying, and
succeeding in touching even this jaded soul.  This is why I mourn
the insensitivity to the written word, to stories and character, we
find in games like DAoC.  If you're going to leave story to the
players, then have the courage of your convictions and do it.  Just
as there are no "storied" games yet in MMOs, there are no
"non-storied" games either.


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