[MUD-Dev] A new game paradigm (was: Star Wars Galaxies)

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Sun Feb 16 15:13:57 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

On Wed 12 Feb, Caliban Tiresias Darklock wrote:
> From: "Marian Griffith" <gryphon at iaehv.nl>
>> On Tue 04 Feb, Caliban Tiresias Darklock wrote:

>>> However, the standard answer misses the point. The issue isn't
>>> that the current area has problems, it's that the player doesn't
>>> want to be here. The player wants to be *there*.

>> You make the average player sound like a 4 year old child, which
>> I think is distinctly unfair.

> Why is it unfair? I mean, at its most basic level, we're talking
> about the player not getting what he wants.

It is unfair to say (let alone belief) that because not all players
are like that.  I would think not even the majority of players is.
Just a very vocal group because they learned, like the 4 year olds,
that throwing a temper tantrum and screaming loud and long, is the
best way to get what you want without having to work for it.

>> Players understand the idea of building up their character's
>> ability to be able to explore more quite well I suspect.

> Oh, I'm not saying they don't understand the idea. I'm saying they
> don't *like* having to do it. There are all kinds of things we
> understand, but don't like. I understand, for example, that in
> order to buy a certain sword I must get a certain amount of money
> and give it to a certain shopkeeper. I can even accept that this
> is a fair request. But when the amount of money is readily
> available *provided* I spend a certain amount of time standing
> aroun d clicking a button, and no other method will get me the
> money any faster, I tend to wonder: what is the point? Since the
> money is acquired without any real effort, but only in small
> amounts, why doesn't the game simply assume that I want the money
> and just give it to me?

Actually I always considered that the best possible punishment a mud
staff could give to a whining player. Just give him the ulti- mately
powerful armour and weapons so that he could kill each and every
monster in the game with a single stroke.

And of course the money is not acquired without effort.  You have to
show the perseverance and determination to collect sufficient of
those small amounts of money to proof that you *really* want that
sword and are willing to spend time and work to get it. That it
takes no -physical- effort is irrelevant.  You could equally
justified ask yourself 'If I am willing to spend the weeks of te-
dious work to kill all those little pointless monsters until I am
powerful enough to challenge everything the game has to offer why
not give it to me right away so I can do something fun instead?'
Whether you like it or not, the threadmill *is* the game and the
'fun' things are just the carrot to lure you along.  At this list we
can at least speculate on more inherintly interesting designs.

> That way, I could do something fun instead of something
> tedious. Why does the game want me to do tedious things? Surely
> there are more interesting things I could do in this game, aren't
> there?

That is, in part, a design decision, or more precisely, a lack of
design decision. Nobody that I know of has yet tried to make a ga-
me where the "fun" part is not to go out and chop things to little
bits, but rather the creating of new things.  Well, I can think of a
game or two that gave a small try in that direction, but for the
most part all new games are basically more elaborate and visually
more impressive rehashes of the same first mud you could play how
many years ago.

>> The game itself gets lost in the process somewhere, and the fact
>> that the mountains are the place to be becomes largely
>> irrelevant, just as all the other landmarks on the way.

> Yes! Exactly! When you put an obstacle in front of the player that
> represents neither a problem to be solved nor a fun activity in
> which to partake, it's just a pain in the ass. It's not a game
> anymore. You don't play for the challenge or for the recreation,
> you play simply because you have to play to get to the fun
> part. When you finally do get to the fun part, it's almost never
> worth the pain in the ass you suffered to get there.  That just
> frustrates and annoys the player, who has now spent a lot of time
> and money working to earn something that sucks.

While we both agree, I think it is more productive if we are try-
ing to find a way out of this trap. The current games are shallow,
and the pressure of conformity and marketing are likely to keep them
that way for the foreseeable future, and he only way I see to get
something better is to think of something for ourselves.  That
requires rethinking all the unchallenged assumptions of what a mud
is, and must be.

>>> This is, at its root, a roleplaying aspect of the game; we want
>>> the character to seem as though it evolves from a beginner to an
>>> expert. And that's a reasonable thing to do, in a roleplaying
>>> context, but most of our games aren't really designed to *be* a
>>> roleplaying context.

>> I would suggest it is a bit more complicated than
>> that. Roleplaying factors in there somewhere, but for the most
>> part the mechanism is about *rewarding* the player.

> No, it isn't. Remember, we're not talking about "why do we have
> levels", we're talking about "why do characters start at such an
> inadequate level".  Obviously, you start somewhere, and that
> somewhere is suited to some particular sort of
> play. Unfortunately, we are all too often starting people at a
> level of ability that isn't suited to much of anything, because
> that's where we've always started them. I cannot think of any
> legitimate reason to keep doing it. Is there such a reason?

Yes, but not a very valid one. Tradition never is. The other being
that the ability curve is so skewed and out of balance that each
character really starts out with the relative power of an amoeba,
yet ends up with god-like abilities. No matter where you start you
always keep this problem that the low end is meaningless compared to
the high end.  There are several solutions but the weight of
tradition is working against those. Linear increase of power would
go a long way and so would realistic abilities of characters (i.e. a
player attacked by two opponents is almost certain to lose).  Others
would be automa- tic scaling of opponent's abilities to that of the
player or group opposing them. I.e. powerful players would face
groups of less po- werful monsters, and so would groups of players.
Moving the focus away from combat would also work, but all these
potential solutions would radically alter the game and alienate a
significant portion of the players.  The same reason why it is al-
most impossible to get rid of humans/elf/dwarfs and warrior/cleric
mage/thief from muds.  Players already know about them and do not
want to have to figure out how the game differs from the ones they
are already familiar with.

>> you are most likely looking at a mush, not a mud and let alone a
>> graphical game.

> I usually get in trouble if I say "MUSH" when I mean "RP-based
> MUD", so I try not to... even though it is, IMO, both more concise
> and reasonably apt.

*shrug* I see not why.  The vast majority of mushes out there is
roleplaying oriented, and most muds are not.  While there is not a
strict requirement either way, it is the way things evolved and I
fail to see why pointing out the obvious (as well as convenient)
would upset anybody, as long as we do not suggest that it *has* to
be that way.

> Most of the time, when I play a MUSH, advancement is sort of an
> afterthought. I am much more concerned with the social roleplaying
> aspects of the game; whether I have a high swordfighting skill
> isn't anywhere near as important as whether I have the respect and
> admiration of powerful people. I'm perfectly happy to leave my
> character at low levels for extremely long periods of time, in
> this case, because that level is not really relevant to my
> gameplay.

Indeed, which proves that there is room for other games beyond the
more traditional (what has become called RPG) games. Furcadia also
shows the same point.

>>> MUDs are not PNP games, and pretending they'll work the same way
>>> is probably going to end badly.  >> Actually, what it means is
>>> that roleplaying does not mesh well >> with achievement oriented
>>> playing styles.

> Erm, not really. This seems to be getting very far off the
> track. We start characters off as weaklings because it's fun to
> *roleplay* a weakling, but MUD players usually aren't
> roleplaying. The weakling isn't a fun place for them to start,
> because they just don't play that way -- but we continue to start
> them off as weaklings.

Not very far off track, the way I see it, just pointing out an un-
welcome reality of the current muds and perhaps this list gives us
the freedom to speculate for alternatives without having to worry
about investors, money and other cumbersome details that might ma-
ke us conform to habits and tradition.

> I think we really do agree on this matter, but we're still
> shuffling around to figure out what the other person is "really"
> saying/thinking. Basically, I could sum up with: first level
> characters are fun to roleplay, but a pain to advance.

True, but that is as much sloppy design as anything else. There is
no *need* for it to be like that.  Just the way things turned out to
be with the earliest (pen and paper) games that got copied into the
computer versions of that game. And it is not really fun to be a
weak character killed by the least inattention. Unless the game-
master is careful it is too easy to kill low level characters over
and over again and totally destroy anything fun in the roleplaying
in the process.

> If you're developing for advancement and not roleplay, the
> mostly-powerless first level character is rather a Bad Idea.

Not necessarily, just in the way games are set up currently. It is
conceivable to have a mostly powerless character even in a current
mud that is both interesting and fun to play.  I once proposed the
idea to give characters an automatic sneak ability inversely that
was inversely proportional to their level and their armour quality
so that the lowest level characters were the best suited for ex-
ploring and scouting.  If you add to that big roaming monsters you
would have a good reason to include low level characters in any
group to keep an eye out for dangers while the higher level char-
acters engaged in combat. That way the entire game would be open to
new players, though they would be unable to participate much at
first, but their contribution would be meaningful (and also dange-
rous) and they would both be involved with other players and they
would get the chance to 'see' the game while they learned it.  Not
by plodding through low levels, but by trading ability for securi-

> First level is, incidentally, whatever we say it is. If your first
> level is more like AD&D's tenth, and advancement from then on is
> less power-gathering and more skill-building, these problems are
> much less prevalent; the player is in a position not of
> *acquiring* a desired role, but of defining one.

I always considered the roleplaying as in muds more like a job and
not as a role. That is, roleplaying is to me more about acting out a
character, while on muds it is a profession you grow into, which is
not nearly as interesting to me.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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