[MUD-Dev] D&D vs. MMORPG "complexity"

Ryan S. Dancey ryand at organizedplay.com
Thu May 15 13:48:33 New Zealand Standard Time 2003


<EdNote: Minor phrasing edits made.>

From: Threshold RPG [mailto:business at threshold-rpg.com] 

> However, that is not the issue here. Ryan Dancey made the
> assertion that D&D is too compex for an MMORPG with the current
> state of computer technology. That is a statement that, in my
> opinion, demonstrates an extreme lack of experience with MUDs and
> MMORPGs. It sounds like the opinion of someone whose experience
> with online RPGs is the extremely stripped down Neverwinter Nights
> game created by Bioware. The reality of *QUALITY* MUDs and MMORPGs
> is a far different thing than what he seems to be familiar with.

You've ignored most of my original post, and focused exclusively on
the sub-part of a response in thread to that post dealing with
weapons, and when doing so, ignored the portions of that response
dealting with weapons in particular that didn't jibe with your
notions of "complexity".  In so doing, by disagreeing with a part of
my response and not responding to the whole, then responding to a
response "in thread", while continuing to ignore the part of my
statements that refuted your disagreement prima facie, then
summarizing my position incorrectly, you've done a fine job of
setting up, then overcoming, a straw man argument.

My contention, with enumerated examples, is that the current state
of the art MUD/MOO/MMORPG software is simply too simplistic to
effectively replicate the gaming experience of D&D (and by
extension, most modern tabletop RPG systems).

I will resumarize my argument:

  1.  Small number of distinct opponents

    Typical MMORPGs have a small selection of base creatures, which
    are altered by adding size, coloration, weapons, and special
    effects to generate the opponents faced by the PCs during play.
    These alterations, in virtually all cases, serve only to make
    the opponents "tougher" rather than substantially alter the
    nature of the challenge faced by the players.  This compares to
    even core-book only D&D which has something like 300 different
    creatures; all of which can be used in the same way the "base
    creatures" are in typical MMORPG environments, and most of which
    were designed to present unique and different challenges to the
    PCs.

    MMORPGs suffer in this regard because each new type of opponent
    requires extensive software development, plus the creation of
    new models and other graphic design; the incremental cost to add
    a whole new creature type to an MMORPG is vastly higher, when
    compared to overall budget, to the cost to add an all-new
    creature type to a TRPG.

  2.  Small number of distinct weapons

    Typical MMORPGs have a small selection of base weapons, which
    are altered primarily by adding spell effects or by altering the
    weilding creature's stats.  The net effect of these alterations
    is that most MMORPG weapons do essentially the same thing (cut,
    bludgeon, stab, or penetrate from a distance) regardless of the
    alterations added to produce secondary effects or enhance
    weilder abilities.  This contrasts with D&D which presents
    dozens of weapons with wildly varient abilities, within a
    framework replicating virtually everything that the MMORPG
    weapon enhancements do as well.

    MMORPGs suffer in this case from essentially the same problem
    they face when considering diversity of monsterous opponents:
    Making nonstandard weapons requires writing a large amount of
    code, plus devoting resources to graphics and rendering support
    for those nonstandard effects.  It is a lot harder to encode the
    effects and visual display of a whip type weapon than it is to
    make a pre-existing sword model glow blue.

  3.  Lack of diversity in spell effects

    Typical MMORPGs have spell effects that are limited in scope,
    range, duration and effect when compared to the spells available
    in D&D.  Spell levels in most MMORPGs just scale up the effects
    of a previously existing spell, while spell levels in D&D
    usually present whole new kinds of spell effect.

    MMORPGs suffer in this case from the dual problem of coding
    costs and design resources, and from the innately limited nature
    of their format - that is, the inability of the code to interact
    with a whole world (or universe), but instead being restricted
    to a tiny sliver of the world and a time-state of "now", and
    without the ability to interject ad hoc creativity and/or
    judgement into the application of the spell effects due to the
    current non-availability of computerized AI to direct such
    operations and the prohibitive costs of having a live operator
    available to supply it in meatspace.

  4.  Lack of diversity in combat action options

    Typical MMORPGs have combat systems that limit participants into
    a very few choices of action (in the case of some games in
    cluding the most popular, EQ, non-spellcasing player combat
    options are essentially constrained to "fight or flee").  The
    typical MMORPG system cannot provide much more in terms of
    player options because each potential branching subtree of
    player (or opponent) activity creates a substantial cost and
    design resource commitment.  In addition, most current MMORPG
    technology assumes a rather limited universe of environmental
    factors (relative combatant height, relative combatant speed,
    and weather pretty much round out the list); D&D on the other
    hand (while also factoring in those aspects used by MMORPGs),
    also takes into account factors such as multiplanar
    intersection, cover & concealment, and zones of control (attacks
    of opportunity).

    With regard to combat complexity, MMORPGs suffer from cost
    issues for coding and design, the limited nature of the
    simulation they present to the player, and from issues related
    to the need to ship data between clients & servers.  The more
    options a game offers its players, the more sophisticated the
    control system must be to back up those options, and as the
    control system gets more sophisticated, more data needs to
    transit the network.  As the amount of data being transmitted
    goes up, so too does the inherent requirements of the system's
    infrastructure - creating another cost/benefit feedback loop.

I assure you that my understanding of the MUD/MOO/MMORPG environment
is considerably more extensive than that held by someone who has
experience with NWN and not much else.  I have played, analyzed, and
participated in the design of, computer adventure games since the
mid 1980s.  I write software for a living, in addition to owning and
operating an ISP, and, not coincidentally, also own and operate
PlayerAuctions.com, the world's largest market for EQ items,
characters and platinum.

I am curious now, having stated some of my credentials, to find out
what yours are.  Have you played/do you play a modern tabletop RPG?
Have you designed one?

<EdNote: Please exercise care in reply to this section of this
message.  Personal comparison or lording is not welcome on the list.
Ideas are debated, not people.  If you have doubts on what this
means, or what is being prevented, please read the "Note from the
list owner" on the list page with attention paid to the paragraphs
concerning chest puffing and guest status.  Accomplishment and
experience are worthy of respect, but are not weapons.>

Ryan

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