[MUD-Dev] Design: Food in MMOs

Lachek Butalek lachek at gmail.com
Sat Feb 4 07:21:07 New Zealand Daylight Time 2006


Note: This was originally sent a long time ago. I guess something happened
to the list, or to my subscription on it. The threads I'm mentioning may be
stale by now, but the points and questions in this mail still stays
relatively fresh. I hope someone finds it interesting.

--*--

I was about to send the list some interesting links about instancing:

http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2917 (Original article)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2933 (Brad McQuaid)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2954 (Raph)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2956 (Lum)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2956 (Scott Jennings)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2967 (Jason Booth)
http://www.gamergod.com/article.php?article_id=2981 (Brad McQuaid again,
developing...)

when I realized that most/all of my MMO commentaries preach realism as a way
to fix a multitude of problems. After all, we have a pretty good, well
established simulation environment of what a virtual worlds should act like
- the real world. My theory is that as long as we aim towards absolute
realism, our virtual worlds will not be afflicted with symptoms caused by
artificiality. In the case of instancing, my commentary was to be that
instancing is a cop-out - a slick cheat around the complicated problem of
limited resources and game content - and that there are other ways of
dealing with such problems without cheating. It appears (from the articles)
that Vanguard will be implementing some realism-based solutions to alleviate
the problems of not instancing. One example is the roaming "boss" monsters -
no more camping a single spot for the boss monster to spawn, because the
spawn point is random and the boss roams around the world when present in
the game. This is a step in the right direction, IMHO.

My solution to the problem above would be to make player characters so
utterly powerless against a "boss" monster that they would be more likely to
flee from the spawn point than camp there. After all, this is a "boss"
monster - why should a single character or small group be powerful enough to
not merely easily destroy it, but be so confident that individuals and
groups compete for the pleasure? Defeating a city-pillaging,
maiden-kidnapping, countryside-ravaging beast should not be something you
and your buds do on a lark, or to get phat drops. It should require communal
efforts between multiple villages or towns, governmental/military
involvment, logistics, support from a deity or perhaps a mage's council, etc
- or be the result of some earth-shattering, epic, DM-led plot featuring a
group of protagonists central to the game world's storyline. Anything less
and the reputation of Hzzarath, Lord of the Fiery Pits of Doom will be
seriously questioned.

What is inherently wrong with making player characters more vulnerable and
helpless? Will it make the game less fun to play if you don't score a
magical weapon after 30 minutes of play? Will it somehow break the fantasy
genre mold to have the protagonists be any less than almighty? I seriously
doubt it. In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship was made up by the
creme de la creme Middle Earth had to offer (and a few hungry Hobbits, too).
Even so, Boromir - one of the most mighty fighters - was slain by some orcs
by the end of the first book (and he couldn't even run back to his corpse to
resurrect!). Orcs, you say? Why, they only have rusty short swords, causing
6 points of damage at best - and with my Fighter's armour class and damage
reduction, they would have a hard time hitting me, much less cause any
damage! The only reason I kill them is because their presence in number is a
little too taxing for my video card to handle - or I'd just let them be!

The traditional fantasy MMO/MUD suffers from inflation from the moment it
goes into public beta - possibly before. In a tabletop session of D&D, the
player characters are protagonists, with special abilities and skills that
sets them apart from the common rabble. They are likely some of the most
talented, skilled and all around powerful people in their corner of the
world - or they will be right after they reappear from the newbie dungeon.
The problem with MMO/MUDs is that there are literally thousands of these
Nietzchean Ubermensch in the same province or even city, which is a major
game balance and realism problem even before you start taking mudflation
into account.

So if you're looking to alleviate this problem, what do you do? How would
you cripple player characters in a way that still enables them to play the
game - not just sit around waiting to be eaten by the next major foozle to
come around? Again, look towards the real world - what was the most
prevalent problem of Dark/Middle Ages Europe, which is when most fantasy
settings are most similar to?

Food.

Access to an adequate amount of food was what separated the poor from the
rich, and enabled the rich to pursue other pursuits - like knighthood,
priesthood, or trading. In a realistic fantasy setting, a young adventurer
who set out to the big city to sell her skill as a mercenary would be
concerned with feeding herself. A cleric would concern himself with
collecting the tithe from his congregation so he could feed himself, while
ensuring his faithful still had enough for themselves. A powerful vassal
knight would be concerned with the food production of his populous, because
if there was a bad harvest there may be a revolt - and so forth. Similarly,
a simple weaver or carpenter would perform their services in exchange for
food (or coin for food), and a farmer could become one of the most powerful
figures in a township if he played his cards right and had good luck.

Food is consumed at a fantastic rate on a national scale, creating a
perfectly realistic "sink" in the economy. Those with access to plenty of
food will develop quicker both physically and mentally, and will be less
likely to fall ill - a perfect complement stat to XP. If a person didn't
have enough food, they would be crippled and unable to fulfill themselves in
other ways. Food supply is an important factor to consider when travelling,
as everyone who has played D&D or been on a roadtrip in AZ will know - a
factor almost completely unutilized in MMO/MUDs, that nonetheless often
feature extensive travelling.

So, there's my RFC. How can food (supply and production) be implemented best
in an MMO/MUD, to encourage realism and prevent all the problems associated
with inflated stats, while still providing a fun and playable game? What
games currently implement food, in what ways, and how successful are they?
Are there any major problems with the whole concept of food in an MMO/MUD?

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