[MUD-Dev] Character Perceptions

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Mon Jan 19 17:56:20 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


Current graphical games seem to have the model that a player is
running a game client which shows the virtual world as the player's
character is driven around, doing its thing.  Players then generally
click on objects and characters to obtain information about them.
The information available about an object is limited and quite
uniform for all characters, regardless of skill or class.  (Which
isn't very surprising, given the narrow 56K pipe that is the least
common denominator for client internet communication.)

There seems to be a significant opportunity to greatly magnify the
entertainment value of MMORPGs by basing what the players see on the
skills and abilities of the characters that they run.

If a warrior character looks at a mage, that warrior character will
see a poor warrior.  The rendition of that might be to show a weak
'warrior halo' around the character.  Or display the character as
having toothpick-thin limbs.  It would be whatever rendition the
player might be able to coax out of the client.

If a warrior character looks at another skilled warrior, that
skilled warrior might be depicted with a strong 'warrior halo'
around the character, or be shown with Hulk-like bulging muscles.

The goal here is to make the game experience visually very different
for each player, according to the character that they are playing.
If decision-making is an important element of gamplay, then having
the right cross-section of information about the world would have a
significant role to play.

This simple perception mechanism can extend to active judgement
calls.  A mountain climber might see a clear path up a mountain face
that a character unskilled in mountain climbing would not see.  An
archer might be shown the probable flight path of a fired arrow,
permitting the player to see why a certain shot could or could not
be made.  A jump across a chasm could be actively and *graphically*
judged by a character before making the jump.  The graphical element
might be showing a ghosted version of the character making the jump.
And missing.  Note that I'm relegating 'jumping' to a character
skill here, not a player skill of timing a button press or mouse
click.

Now imagine being a horse trainer and a group of riders comes by.
As the player of the horse trainer, you can see the quality of the
horseflesh before you, while others will see the horses rather
uniformly.  A poor man on a high quality horse is something to pay
attention to.  Imagine being a thief and seeing golden sparkles
around characters that are richly dressed and adorned.  Imagine
being a cleric and seeing light and dark halos around characters
according to their alignment with the cleric's faith.

There are piles and piles of things that can be done with the whole
area of altering a player's experience according to the character's
abilities.  And that includes making a game out of perceptions.
Disguises, stealth, and so on.  The possibilities along these lines
have yet to be significantly tapped in any game that I've seen.

Imagine a variety of filters that could be summoned up by the
player.  Night vision that works just like modern infrared or
starlight goggles.  Magical vision that works the same, except that
the hot spots are sources of magical power.  Or sources of blue
magic versus red magic, etc.

Imagine characters that are able to 'notice' things.  Instead of
having to tap a key every time you want to see everything that is
magical around your mage, you just tell your mage to let you know if
it notices a really strong source of magical power.  Or to have your
cleric let you know if it notices a really strong source of evil.

This can operate in a more mundane way as well.  Your character is
walking down the street and you want to know if members of the guild
that is your sworn enemy show up.  They can be recognized by the
clasp that they wear to hold their cloaks.  But as a player, you
can't even see the clasps.  Your character *can* see them, however.
As soon as it notices them, it can show you by having flashing
arrows appear over their heads.

Looking for swords in a crowded marketplace?  Tell your character to
look for them, and then walk your character through the marketplace.
You don't have to click on every merchant and scan through pages of
items, or do player-level searches.  You tell your character to use
its perceptions, then go wandering.

Given that these games are predominantly graphical, it seems that
the greatest bang for the buck is going to come from fooling around
with the graphical elements of the game.  And to me, that suggests
playing with the way the characters perceive the world.  Once that's
done, a whole variety of subgames become viable according to the
combination of skills and abilities that a given character
possesses.

JB
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