[MUD-Dev] Simulation vs. Status Quo

John Mauney montyculligan at gmail.com
Fri Feb 24 19:42:31 New Zealand Daylight Time 2006


There is not a day that passes where I am able to keep a certain thought
from my mind; the thought of the "perfect" cRPG.  For years now, I've been
tossing things over in my head, and I've come to my first real conclusion:
this cRPG would possibly be best labled a "Fantasy Medieval Simulation"
(FMS).  In many ways, it would be like a MMORPG.  At the least, it would be
massive and online.  However, there would be some important differences and
these differences are the many specific ideas that have been bounding about
all over my brain now for a long time.  I would like to present some of
these before the community (many of them have been presented before) to see
how plausible one thinks it is that these non-standard ideas replace some of
the more current ideas that abound in our MMORPGs today.

The main idea is that MMORPG fixed goals could be replaced by transient
goals.  Much discussion has ensued about ways to remove levels from games.
This is one static goal out of the way, and I see no need to re-discuss it
here.  Another static goal which few, if any, have expressed desire to
remove from the design table are completable quests.  Quests are something
that must be designed by a quest designer.  It seems they actually put on
their best show in single player RPGS and PnP RPGs, for reasons which have
also already been discussed at much length.  For the FMS, let's remove
them.  Or, at least, let's allow them to be a non-essential part of the
world.  In the strictest sense, quests will always exist, especially if you
define a quest as some kind of task or list of tasks a player can
successfully complete.  What do we replace quests with?  In the FMS, we use
transient goals.  These goals are things that the player, along with the
help of the game, sets for herself.  Since this is a Medieval themed game, I
will propose the goal of becoming and then also being a witch.  Let me be
clear!  I am not proposing that there be an NPC somewhere who, when talked
to, starts the "become a witch quest" and the player then recieves a new
journal entry and a list of instructions for completion.  I mean that, at
some point while playing the game, she says to herself, "for some reason,
after looking around this medieval world a bit and reading a bit about the
history of this town it has placed me in, I feel that I wish to become the
resident witch here.  After all, it appears they don't have one yet".  Can a
transient goal such as this one replace the kinds of quests we are used to
in current MMOGs?  I think it depends.  If the complexity of the simulation
itself is deep and rich enough, I say yes.  You see, in this imaginary case,
I have yet to mention that the player begins the game as a meager villein,
far from any of the big cities.  The player owns no currency or property.  A
few things the game "has given" the player might be: family ties, some
friends, an above average (heoric) capacity for human achievement, and the
meta-game knowledge that the hero will be successful at what she puts her
hands to in the game world.  She wants to be a witch?  Okay, well, she needs
to learn about witches.  Asking around in her home village will only get her
fearful looks -- these people are simply too low minded.  She will have to
make her way to a larger town and see what she can stir up there.  Of
course, nobody in the village has ever traveled more than 2 miles away.
Gaining the resources to do so will be a goal itself.  As you can see, goals
beget goals on their own.  The more complex the world; the more depth of
play.

What makes this work, or not work?  Some things that would help this to work
would be a deliberate focus on the simulation aspect of the game.  In a
fantasy medieval society, we will wish to see medieval things often and in
picture-perfect brilliance.  We will want to be able to be a witch and to
exploit the ignorant.  We will want to be able to play on the fears
of villeins to help us achieve our transient goals.  We will want to be a
questing knight and achieve ridiculous amounts of attention for heroic
deeds.  We will expect certain things of the world, and when we see those
things at work, achieving our goals is actually satisfying.  What would
cause this to *not* work would be dumping the player in the middle of the
sandbox with a shovel and a "that's that, get to it".  Direction and
guidance are key.  If the world is broad enough, some players will be able
to define goals for themselves before they even log into the game.  Want to
be a sorcerer?  Okay.  A necromancer?  Of course.  A soldier?  Sure.
Command other soldiers?  Certainly.  The more that is there which *should*
be there, the more those players can truly play their own game.  Still,
guidance is needed because not all players are ready to go searching for
their own goals.  Either they are not used to the idea, or they prefer to
begin games with a blank mind, expecting the game to fill it.  This is not
such a hard task, and it doesn't require interactive GUI enabled quest
journal style quests, either.  Fill the player's brain with ideas from the
start!  Planning on having a tutorial for the FMS?  Of course.  Well, rather
than simply teaching the player the mechanics of playing the game, we can
use the tutorial time to introduce game concepts and player roles to him as
well.  Maybe the player is rescued by one of Sir Lloyd's Knights of the
Spear.  The beauty of a simulation is that everything in a simulation is
self contained and accounted for.  In the case of an RPG simulation, it
means everything you see, you can do, too.  In this example, it means that
simply witnessing a Knight of the Spear means that you can potentially
become a Knight of the Spear.  You could also: kill a Knight of the Spear,
command the Knights of the Spear, or ruin the Knights of the Spear.  Again,
depending on how deep and broad the simulation goes, your alternatives can
be quite exciting.  The player might deign to become a noble through cloak
and dagger techniques, with the aim of one day possibly getting rid of the
Knights of the Spear through political gestures.

So, if the world is so broad and deep, why necessitate the online aspect?
This should be obvious.  In regard to a simluation, there is only so much
depth that can be achieved.  Only X amount of time can be spent on AI.
While it may be possible for the player to come up with such dastardly
Machiavellian political schemes based upon the nature of the world, the AI
will never be able to replicate.  This is where multiplayer steps in.  In
the FMS, multiplayer is not simple "another way to play".  It can be, but
more importantly it is inherently much more than that.  It is intelligence.
To continue our above example, as the player begins to infiltrate the royal
court and replace NPCs who originally held those positions for continuity's
sake, other players will, too.  As those players meet each other on the way
up, they may choose to interact.  If they do, they may, by nature of the
system, create new goals for themselves.  If our devious player finds out
that another new face in the royal court happens to also be a Knight of the
Spear, our player may have to alter his plans.  Alternatively, he may be
able to sway the other player to join his cause, this making his original
goal that much easier.

Yes, this has been very abstract, and I have left out too much, but part of
the premise is that X amount of time can be shifted from designing content
such as quests and level-based stuff to creating a deep and broad
simulation.  We already know that sandbox can be addicting, and sandbox does
not have to mean a total elimination of grind.  Chopping down wood in the
forest can be pretty grindy when you need to gather a lot of wood for your
house.  However, it also doesn't take a game developer or a programmer much
time to conjure up and implement that kind of a system.  A lot less that
designing even one quest, probably!  And you are killing more than 2 birds
with that stone.  Chopping wood to build a house?  Well, you could also use
that wood to build dozens of other items the 3d art department has designed
for the world.  You could also use the wood as firewood.  You could also use
the "chopping wood" animation on all number of random NPCs in the world,
adding some more ambience to the game.  I dunno, I think this kind of game
design has merit.

=$=

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