[MUD-Dev] Problems with current RPGs

Yaka St.Aise yaka at st-aise.com
Wed Feb 25 11:50:16 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


Better late than never (as goes the french saying)

At 11|47 -0800 04/01/22, Raph wrote:

> Basically, a simulationist manifesto. Simulationist refers to
> attempting to model basic behaviors in order to permit
> higher-order behaviors to emerge.  The opposite approach is
> essentially stagecraft; you make something that looks like a
> piano, and behaves like a piano, but is not actually a simulation
> of how a piano works.

[snip]

> But problems inhere--and yes, some of these are
> self-contradictory, yet they always come up.

>    - the content generated, because it is systemic, lacks unique
>    touches. One noise-generated cloud is much like another; silver
>    linings need to be hand-implemented. :)

>    - the ever-changing landscape can actually irritate people,
>    many of whom prefer a predictable environment. If Fred slew the
>    Dragon in the Hoary Mntns, everyone wants to accomplish the
>    same thing. The idea that the Dragon is gone forever is deeply
>    disturbing because it feels like a lost chance for fun.

>    - you get consistency, which also means predictability, and
>    predictable content may as well not be there.

>    - appproaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net
>    game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you
>    recognize the underlying rules of the sim, you essentially have
>    cognitively consumed the entire system.  Individual instances
>    of the sim appearing are no longer interesting.

> You can see echoes here, of course, of the complaints against
> FedEx quests, against fractally generated landscapes, against all
> forms of generated content, etc.

I'm tempted to advocate some middle-of-the road (albeit biased)
approach to the "stagecraft vs simulation" question.  All of the
above objections are valid, and mostly these limitations stem from a
common corollary of simulationist design: so-called "realism" in
simulation.

The main advantage of stagecraft is to provide hand-made content,
supposedly more entertaining and "cool" because its prop-like nature
sets fun-factor as its core defining element, whereas
systemic-generated content as at its root, well... system.

Yet the system (the simulation) doesn't have to be a bore.  We are
speaking of recreative worlds, where recreative is to be understood
more as "recreational time" and less as "time to create again".
...unless we create anew.

Heavily system-oriented (ruleset dependant) games, like boardgames
and some wargames have a very systemic feeling, with hard-set (if
sometimes simple) rules that still allow for a lot of "dynamically
generated content", using P2P interaction over the ruleset as
content generator.

This is not an achiever manifesto, for those who might start to
frown at the expose...  rather a suggestion that the power and
scalability of simulation can be harnessed to generate interesting
dynamic content, providing the designers are not trying to re-create
RealWorld , and instead design words with internal systemic rules
meant to support a different kind of realism.

What we love about "realism" is that it provides some level of
consistency, which is a likable asset in worlds of fiction where the
creators don't have total control over the user perspective and
circumstances of experience.  Skilled stagecraft can turn totally
nonsensical into believable, and sensible, in the context of a book
or a movie (linear, controlled experience), and to some extend in
the context of an adventure or "rail" game, granted, but some amount
of consistency comes handy when the users are to experience the
fiction world in a more freeform way.

Systemic design, if designed with the intent of generating
interesting content can do a great part of the job and is not
necessarily exclusive from stagecraft either.

Cyclicity, decay over time, "emergence recipes", when combined, can
provide both consistent and entertaining content.  Migrating
patterns of animals, say, makes for predictable hunting grounds,
once figured out.  Now, what if heavy hunting led some herds to
change their routes over time ?

>From a pure simulationist standpoint, we may be talking about
"adaptative content" here.  But we can also consider it from a
stagecraft perspective, and simply handcraft content at a macro/meta
level.

Maybe a gamemaster just smartly dropped in after peering at the
server logs and decided to cut by half this herd base population,
while spawning a new group of the same species with a different
migration pattern.  Maybe this new migration pattern could led our
nomad hunters to follow their preys into areas that where until then
of little interest to them.  Whether the area of choice is already
populated by other groups of player now becomes a design issue,
where the PCs as a whole actually become part of the "dynamic
content".

Nothing new here, really.  But real-time significant intervention of
gamemasters is for now the reserved practice of small scale muds,
because stagecraft content is a royal pain to handle.  Systemic
design, if leveraged as a tool and not regarded as its own end can
enable a better use of handcrafted content, and an be be somehow
"stagecrafted" at a meta level.

TTFN,
	Yaka.
--

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	Best viewed with your glasses :-)

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