[MUD-Dev] RE: Realistic Ecological Models, Differentiating Areas by Difficulty, and Socialization

Sean Kelly sean at hoth.ffwd.cx
Wed Apr 24 17:07:49 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


On Wed, 24 Apr 2002, Ron Gabbard wrote:
> Sean Kelly wrote:

> I think most people will agree that one of the greatest factors in
> customer retention is socialization, i.e., in-game friends the
> player has made.  There are many players that will 'stick it out'
> in a game to which they have grown tired in order to play with
> their friends.  In this context, realistic ecological models are
> possible (but dangerous) and varying the mob difficulty throughout
> the game world is not feasible.

I agree.  However I'm speaking based on personal preference rather
than the general case.  Also, I hope that players aren't so stuck in
their rut of gameflow expectations that they would reject another
model simply because it was different.  Hopefully, if implemented
properly, a more realistic world could be created which also appeals
to the average gamer.

>>> In this case, simple spawns are a vastly more economic
>>> solution. In supplying us with something that looks alive,
>>> spawns are as terrible a solution as the UO model was for
>>> maintaining high and stable populations of prey. IMO :)
 
>> And ultimately, I don't think spawning is very entertaining.  The
>> feeling I always got in MMORPGs was that I was in a funhouse.
>> It's not any fun if I as a player don't have any lasting impact
>> on the environment.

> While I agree that it doesn't make much 'real-lfe' sense that
> players can repetitively kill a certain type of mob without
> affecting the ecosystem, it's almost a necessary evil.  Particular
> mobs are placed in specific locations for balance reasons as well
> as for supporting socialization dynamics.

I agree that monster location impacts game balance, but I don't
agree that this placement is immutable.  A properly done ecology
might cause monster groups to migrate into new areas and drive
weaker monsters (or players) out.  At the same time however,
stronger players would be keeping pretty close tabs on monster
movements so the conflict areas just migrate periodically.  And
monsters migrating of course assumes that they can.  If the ecology
were truely realistic, a monster could not invisibly migrate
through, say, a defended mountain pass to magically appear on the
other side.

> Every mob has a 'desireability factor' based on risk/reward.  Part
> of that factor is travel time to reach the mob.  Ideally, each mob
> of a specific difficulty level will have similar desireability
> factors.  Else, assuming players are rational and will act in
> their own best self-interest, mobs with a materially lower factor
> will go unhunted and those with a materially higher factor will be
> over-hunted/camped. (Thus incurring a tragedy of the commons).  If
> mob X actually learned that roaming around area A leads to certain
> death, they would either move to area B or go extinct in a
> realistic model.  In either case, balance for that mob (which
> impacts the relative desireability of every mob in that level
> range) has been changed or content has been removed from the game
> world.

Which might imply that the original mob balance was incorrect.

I grant that a large portion of the MMORPG community seems to enjoy
endless hours of whack-a-mole but I would hope that they might rise
to the occasion if a more complex alternative were presented to
them.  As a hobbyist, I'm quite free to avoid pragmatism :).

> A dynamic ecological system could be carefully used as a balancing
> tool where over-hunted mobs are moved to a less convenient
> location.  However, this brings up the topic of socialization.

This is an excellent point, and something I hadn't really
considered.

> Static mob spawns allow for the formation of 'staging areas' where
> players of a particular level range can meet to form groups and
> meet other people in their level range.  Over time, these staging
> areas become well-known and increase the efficiency with which
> players can form groups. Move/remove the static spawn to
> realistically reflect the changing ecosystem and you've
> effectively moved/removed the learned staging area.

Very true.  Though moving a staging area might make things more
interesting, as it would constantly challenge the player to learn
new strategies and explore new areas that they otherwise may never
see.  And with OOG tools like web-boards, I really don't see much of
a danger in players losing track of their favorite mobs.  Also,
there is the issue I stated above where mobs could only migrate to
undefended areas, through an open path.  And they may not migrate at
all if there is some sort of directive related to the story-arc.
Would the orcs have left the gates of Mordor just because the Elves
gave them a whuppin?  Unlikely.  By the same token, players may be
able to take over areas and establish bases there if they cleared it
of monsters, and not have to fear random spawns.  In time, weaker
players may migrate to the area, provided it remained defended by
stronger players (since any area with a tactical value would likely
continue to be assaulted by mobs).

> This topic then ties into the idea of varying the difficulty of
> mobs throughout the game world so there is no 'designated' area(s)
> for specific levels.  This has already been done to a certain
> extent (until the highest levels) in DAoC.. and is one of the
> game's greatest weaknesses in my opinion.  Content of varying
> levels has been spread throughout the realms with few logical
> staging areas.

This I don't agree with, and it doesn't make ecological sense.
Typically, the strength of mobs should be in direct proportion to
their distance from a populated area.  An ecology supports this
because this is also in direct proportion to how commonly traveled
the area is.  Towns would have guards, outposts, adventurers, etc.
All the strong monsters would have been either killed or migrated to
less dangerous areas.  The exception would be a large migratory
thrust of powerful monsters, which may overrun a town and kill the
players living there.  This is emergent behavior I'd love to see, as
it would create new game content without the intervention of the
designers.

> Combine the diffusion of mobs, extremely lucrative solo kill tasks
> through level 20, and the character's ability to solo throughout
> their lives and you have a game that intrinsically discourages
> socialization.  Honestly, the best thing Mythic has done for the
> game, so far as inducing socialization, was the creation of the
> level-restricted PvP areas.  These areas funnel large amounts of
> players of a specific level range into an area and give them an
> incentive to group.

I do like worlds where players are pitted againt players.  This
typically creates player grouping and active socialization both
in-group and across group.
 
> Players don't really want to change the world... they want to
> change their world.  They do want to combat the hoardes of evil
> and liberate an area for civilization... they don't want to
> venture forth to find the area already civilized and have nothing
> to battle.  They do want to form guilds to build grand castles and
> cities and defend those cities against the on-slaught of
> enemies... they don't want to log in and find that a Japanese or
> Aussie guild burned their city to the ground while they were
> asleep.  That's the challenge.

I agree.  Though I think all these things coud work in a
properly-modeled ecology.  The issue in my mind is how to implement
such an ecology with a reasonable amount of computing resources.  AI
is typically the first thing to get thrown out in the interest of
preserving game performance.

And as I said above, defending those cities against the onslaught of
enimies is one of the particular reasons I had for implementing a
realistic ecology.  Otherwise, all these attacks would have to be
planned and coded for by the designers.

I had a thought as I wrote my response, too...  A tactical model
would have to be a part of any complete game ecology.  Game worlds
aren't just a world that happens to be filled with scary monsters.
They are worlds that happen to be filled with scary monsters for a
reason.  Those monsters, or at least some subgroups, will have goals
outside the standard migratory rules.  These goals would need to be
taken into consideration along with any more general species needs.

Also, it would help to model things like mob grouping, group
identity, etc.  People's self-interest often corresponds to what is
the best for the group rather than the individual.  One proposed
reason being that it's easier to stay alive with other people around
than if you struck out on your own.  An ecology that did not
sufficiently model social constructs for mobs would fall apart
fairly quickly.

Sean

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