[MUD-Dev] MMORPG, buildings, is it bad to be just props?

Damion Schubert damion at zenofdesign.com
Tue Feb 18 08:09:21 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


From: John Buehler
> Dave Rickey writes:

>> I think this goes to the core of why these games have trouble
>> breaking into a wider audience: Our worlds are too obviously
>> fake.  Not just in the sense of being fake because they have
>> Dragons and magic (or cyborgs and nanotech), but fake in the
>> sense that they do not behave like real worlds.  Buildings are
>> indestructible lumps, NPC's stand around waiting for the players
>> to kill them, appearing from thin air, and so on.

I don't know.  Diablo sold pretty well having a 'town' with 5 houses
and 7 NPCs, none of which were either destructable, killable or
interactable beyond the most basic interactions.

> That's all well stated, and I can imagine that this line of
> thinking can carry into discussion of our favorite evils in
> current games.  The fakery employed by game developers most irks
> me because it contributes to the player mindset that the game is a
> very artificial construction.  It's so artificial, in fact, that
> players don't think of it as a world, but as a collection of rules
> to follow and hoops to jump through in order to achieve the game's
> end.  A kind of graphical version of the board game "Life".
> Suspension of disbelief is really right out the window.  Only the
> diehard roleplayer who really wants it to be an immersive
> environment is going to go through all the emotional and mental
> effort to say that Freeport in EverQuest really is a rough and
> tumble town.  To other players, it's a maze with quest NPCs.
> Rules and hoops.

This goes back to that realism vs. immersion thing.  In a real
world, the world is full of buildings you will never need to enter,
people who you will never need to interact with, and if you did,
they'd all have something interesting to say.

  (Also, in the real world, people are pretty much capable of
  walking across town to get their favorite necklace, and they sure
  wouldn't ask any stranger who stumbled in the front door to go get
  such a treasured heirloom for them!)

UO was a great object lesson in realism vs. immersion.  The
designers went out of their way to make a living, breathing town
full of plenty of shops and NPCs that were there just for
atmosphere.  When the project went live, though, with Britain being
the jewel of the system, a full, breathing city with numerous inns
and 'atmosphere' NPCs like beggars, astronomers and candlestick
makers.

When the game went live, though, you could have had a meteor wipe
the Eastern half of Britain off the map, and no one would have
batted an eye.  Much like watching an ant trail through bread
crumbs, you could see exactly where everyone was, and where they
needed to go: the bank, the moongate, and the reagent shop.
Everything else was a curiosity that, once explored once, was
generally forgotten.

Even more interesting was what UO's player shops did to the
experience.  NPC blacksmiths in eastern Britain were made fairly
useless by the fact that there were numerous wandering nomad
blacksmiths (players) who would try to pitch their wares around the
bank, the moongates and the reagent shop.  Once owning shops became
a reality in late beta, however, guess where the prime real estate
was?  Along the corridor between the bank and the moongate.

The other object lesson from UO was that one player's home and
hearth was to another player another 30 yards of non-interactable
space he had to run past to get to the action.

So I guess my take is: by all means, make a fully interactable town,
but keep player traffic patterns in mind when you lay out the thing,
with a real eye for what players truly value.

--d

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