[MUD-Dev] Design: Food in MMOs

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Tue Feb 21 06:53:38 New Zealand Daylight Time 2006


Lachek Butalek writes:

> My theory is that as long as we aim towards absolute
> realism, our virtual worlds will not be afflicted with symptoms caused by
> artificiality.

Just playing devil's advocate, they will be afflicted by symptoms caused by
reality.  I assume that players come to these games for a release from
reality (aka entertainment).  I further assume that requiring a large time
investment from players is counterproductive for both players and game
publishers.  Short and sweet is probably the best model to pursue.  Reality
doesn't encourage a "short and sweet" model.

> What is inherently wrong with making player characters more vulnerable and
> helpless?

Said another way, what's wrong with a realistic formulation of character
power?  Per what I just said, there's the fear that players won't want to
play a character that can only shoot a wooden bow and swing a metal sword.
The challenge is in making those things inherently entertaining.

> 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.

Gah.

When introducing a feature into an entertainment venue, there's one very
important thing to consider: how to make it entertaining.  Food suffers
because players cannot taste ir or smell it.  This relegates food to a
resource management issue.  There are plenty of successful games that are
predicated on resource management as a means of entertaining players.
Civilization, various Tycoon games, etc.  I can easily see a similar game
for Medieval Tycoon or even a subgame within an MMORPG to address the
operation of a barony populated with NPCs or some such thing.

What I cannot see is players welcoming resource management as a constant
task on top of whatever else it is that they're trying to entertain
themselves with in the game setting.

Consider travel.  Travel is very similar to food.  It *can* be entertaining,
but when it is always present as an issue to manage, players invariably ask
for shortcuts.  Teleportation, horses, speed spells, you name it.  Why?
Because when I'm entertaining myself with a quest, I don't want to travel
through 14 intermediate points that are little more than an annoyance.  If
I'm making swords, I really don't want to have to travel in order to go get
more raw materials.  If I'm trying to rejoin my group, I don't want to make
them wait for me and I don't want to get left behind.

If I want travel, I'd hope that I could find some good travel entertainment.
If I want food, I would hope that I'd similarly be able to find some good
food entertainment.  Perhaps cooking, or working at a tavern, etc.  The
problems arise when food (or travel) becomes mandatory.  Then it ends up
being a barrier that players must contend with in order to access the
entertainment that they're after.

> 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.

I wouldn't present that to that player because they want to be a mercenary,
not to be managing food.  If there are no mercenary jobs, that player still
has to worry about getting three squares.  Players should have easy access
to the style of entertainment that they want, with zero barriers, ideally.

> 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.

Maybe.  It all depends on whether the player running the cleric is
interested in doing the resource management for that small community.  If a
cleric is normally an adventurer, that probably wouldn't match the player
mindset drawn to adventuring.  If a cleric is more of a Peasant Tycoon, then
it would work nicely.

> 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.

When I was thinking of a sub-game within an MMORPG, this is what I was
thinking of.  This really does become a kind of Manor Tycoon, permitting the
player to manage the entire operation of a manor and its peasant farmers
(all of which would be NPCs).

> 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.

It would be interesting to see how many players drawn to being farmers would
be interested in accruing power, and how many players interested in accruing
power would enjoy being a farmer.

> 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?

I think that inflated stas and other 'evils' of the current mainstream
experience will be solved in other ways, such as decoupling achievement and
character power accrual.

Food comes into the equation when we start talking about artificial
intelligence and motivation systems.  I can easily see a whole raft of
quests being automatically generated by the motivation of food needs and
wants.  Because NPCs hand out the quests, NPCs need motivations, and food is
a great one - because it was such an important consideration in daily life
as recently as the 1950s in America.  It still is in much of the world.

> Are there any major problems with the whole concept of food in an MMO/MUD?

Not the concept.  Only the application of hunger to player characters.

JB



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