[MUD-Dev] Problems with current RPGs

Björn Morén <bjoernen@hotmail.com> Björn Morén <bjoernen@hotmail.com>
Wed Jan 28 10:53:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>

> They aren't yet, and there isn't any evidence right now that they
> ever will be. I say that even though I am on *your* side on this
> issue. :)

Great. :-)

>>  Today we of course have limitied ways of providing such an
>>  experience (just as you point out), but I feel that designers
>>  aren't even trying to accomplish something in that direction.

> Hmm, I'd certainly disagree there. At least, I am. :) I see many
> gestures towards it all over the place--sometimes less directly
> useful than might be desired (to pick on UO2--before they were
> cancelled, they spent time on a sky system whereby the position of
> the stars based on season, so that you could actually stargaze a
> simulated sky).

> The commoner complaint is that we haven't made sort of
> simulationist leap yet.

My apologies if I sounded ignorant. I just felt the frustration from
most MMROPG games being so similar to eachother.

I have to point out a thing though. When I picture a great
simulation game I don't picture real life physics like that coming
up in Half-Life 2. Accomplishing something like that is extremely
hard, and (more important) make no real sense to a MMORPG (well it
may, but thats a different kind of game).  We can only have so much
detail in a game due to technology limitations. Good design makes
every detail count and be of interest to the players. Detail for
sake of detail is pointless. A detail is really a mimic of a real
world aspect. Take Sim City as an example, a simulation that works
very well, although actual level of detail at the citizen level is
not very high. In that game the designers figured out what details
will add to a greater whole. The parallell with a fantasy MMORPG
would be that you cant decide where every single brick of a house
will go while building it, because that would mean nothing to
players. Expanding the number of item/material attributes to get
more realistic crafting would.

Sometimes I wonder if "simulation" is the proper word for what I'm
picturing.

> BTW, I found echoes of this discussion in the whole Looking
> Glass/Ion Storm/Doug Church crowd, under the terms "Simulation vs
> Emulation."

Thanks, will look that up. :-)

>>  MMORPGs are very complex games. Players will reject complex
>>  games if they do not operate in a way that feels naturally
>>  intuitive

> I think it's debatable whether certain aspects of simulation are
> more intuitive than certain game conventions. Consider a game
> system whereby everyone is born with stats that are assigned
> basically randomly, and where there is no cap on advancement
> except the randomly assigned stats and a lot of luck, vs a system
> where there's classes and levels. Most players would grasp the
> classes and levels more intuitively, even though the other is the
> real world.

How much of this intuition comes from the way RPGs always have
worked? Imagine that you have never played a single RPG. Would level
be more intuitive than stats? Would assigning the avatar to a
specific class be more intuitive than informing the player about
different classes/roles his avatar eventually can become if he
chooses to go in those directions?

When I think about simulation I picture everything to be much more
open ended. Sure, much more fragile since it is in the hands of the
players. "Class" and "level" are just two ideas that are counter
simulation to me. Other ideas found in common RPG may have to stay
in simulation RPGs, if they don't limit the player's ability severly
(or demand technology that we dont have yet).

> You mistake me; I am quite the simulationist at heart. I've just
> been tilting at the windmills long enough to want to sound a few
> notes of caution. Anyone pursuing a simulationist approach would
> do well to heed the warnings, and to recognize the many dangers in
> the approach. When it works, it works beautifully, but the
> carcasses of failed attempts are many and litter the road.

Thanks for pointing out weaknesses. It will help me learn. I'm happy
that you care enough to take time and critisizing my ideas. :-)

>>  The real problem is actually that no game lets players create
>>  anything else than noise clouds. No game has reached the level
>>  of real world resemblence that will make player creativity work
>>  to an advantage to the whole game system.

> I would disagree pretty strongly, and I would also assert that we
> have seen wonderful things arise from user-created content in the
> text muds.  User-scriptable environments have given users pretty
> much all the tools they'd need to make all sorts of stuff. Even
> with extremely high degrees of freedom afforded by MOOs, however,
> we haven't seen the paradise you depict arising. With new freedoms
> come new issues.

Yes this will potentially break simulations. Very likely. But we
have to try right? I have no illusions that I will create a perfect
simulation, but I at least want to contribute in some way, and go in
the direction I intuitively feel is right.

>>  Put in a simplified way (for sake of illustration) the world
>>  should only consist of physical rules (physics) enforced as game
>>  mechanics, acting on a rich and engaging world. Designers shall
>>  not interfere with players' motivations, morale, justice,
>>  interaction, lifestyles, roles, quests, etc, they should only
>>  provide tools to help players automate tideous tasks and
>>  enforcing player created "concepts".

> This way lies anarchy, and I say that because I've been there
> personally.  There are enough differences between the real world
> and the virtual that the world you get is not what you'd really
> want--and certainly not what retains players.

> My belief is that even in a fully simulationist environment (if
> such a thing is attainable) you will still need to compensate for
> the nature of the virtual and for the fact that the environment is
> constructed with entertainment as a core premise or goal.

Yes, if this is only a social experiment we are on the wrong
track. It definately must have some entertainment value. However, I
predict that we cant force habits on the players forever. Once we
are able to create a successfull simulation, player will want
nothing else. Other games will look bleak.

Of course this is a huge challenge. I firmly believe that the social
mechanisms that makes our real world tick, will have their
equivalents in a virtual world, and a big part lies in understanding
them in able to implement support for them. What we will get is the
same kind of psychology as the real world, but in a bizarre
setting. As I see it, we can get nothing else in the long run. This
type of game is so complex it has have great real world resemblance
in order for people to play it. The bizarre setting is there in
order to attract people, and it will supply the entertainment
value. Look at The Sims. Up to thins point the game is interesting
just because nothing else like this exists. My daughter use it as a
doll world. She recently bought the "Making magic" expansion. Now
she's got a real world simulation in a bizarre setting, and it has
entertainment value.

Given a good design I predict anarchy to be the most uncommon way of
living. I predict the exact same social interaction as the real
world. With no evidence at hand I still predict beautiful things to
happen. Am I a hopeless romantic?

/Björn
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