What can MMOs learn from modern RPGS?

edited January 2006 in Story Games
Ok, most MMOs are still D&D. There are a few exceptions, but the biggest ones (WoW, Lineage I & II, EQ I & II, DAOC) all very clearly reveal their tabletop roots as good old fashion dungeon bashing. Even those that move a littel bit away from that model (say, City of Heroes/Villains) change more trappings than they do the underlying premise.

Now, this is not to say they haven't evolved at all. A lot of good ideas have come out in how differing games handle skill systems, but at the heart, that still seems to be refinement within the same model.

That's hardly a problem - it's clearly a very fun mode for many people, myself included. But it raises a fascinating (to me) question: What would an MMO look like that took it's lessons from more modern games, both at the forge and elsewhere. What ideas are scalable up to that level?

I don't have my own satisfactory answer for this. Most of the really interesting strengths I've seen are very personal and subjective (and by extension, non-repeatable). Some might work better in a more minimally multiplayer model (which, ironically, the new D&D online seems to be trying) but that's more of an emerging concept/market.

So to go back to high school: As D&D is to Everquest, Sorcerer* is to ??????????

-Rob D.

* Or TSOY, Dying Earth, Dogs in the Vineyard, Unknown Armies, Dead Inside, Collectors, Unknown Armies, Polaris or whatever else strikes your fancy?

Comments

  • Man, I'd love to see the concept from DitV in an MMO. You're running down the city street and see a waif that interests you. You decide to go through the entire talk tree the waif has and bam you're offered the waif as a connection. I could see this in a steampunk game or something like that; you'd get messages that the waif was in trouble and an instance could spawn when you got there. If too much in-game time goes by, the waif is kidnapped or has starved to death or something, and you've lost an opportunity for experience. Show up in time, however, and you've got extra power for defending the waif. It would be like an instant notification of an event, but you'd get extra power from it.

    Is that kind of what you mean?
  • That's exactly the sort of thing.

    One interestign question for MMO's, which this touches upon, is what might be involved in "Instancing" a personal cast of characters for each player, and what might be doable with that.

    -Rob D.
  • Actually, imagine the opposite of Instancing, as applied to DitV.

    Players are in a large large double large city. Every NPC has a value towards other NPCs that they've 'met': that is, either the two NPCs have been in the same locale (I imagine NPCs moving around like in Shen Mue the Dreamcast game). They can also 'meet' when they are engaged by a PC; much like an STD, they've now 'met' everyone you've engaged before, and now have a base value towards them. As they continue to meet in venues or meet by engagement, the game starts assigning them values to like, hate, be jealous of, etc. You'd have some crazy wonky coding and storylines, but every blow up or instance of NPCs doing something other than being polite to each other (whether for love or violence), every one of those things would be unique; that is, you can all have Sister Sara fornicating with Sister Sally, it might only happen once or whatever and have lasting effects from the encounter (their values toward each other would either harden or take on extreme levels or something). With constant unique instances like that, even if they're only from a list of twenty things that NPCs do to each other, you'd be involved in and could take part in and get extra for your dice involved in these instances.

    *whew*
  • Well, I think you'd wan tto get both simply to support numbers. You absolutely want the city populace to be dynamic and responsive. A lot game have "faction" based models but I think there's a lot of improvement to be made in that model (and maybe that ones of the arenas that modern lessons can really shine). But considerign a populace of thousands of players, any characters in the public arena are goign to feel kind of common. Haveing at least a few instanced NPCs provides a venue for more personal relationships (as odd as that is to say out loud about MMOs).

    if there was some middle ground, a way to make characters who exist/matter for only a subset of the games populace, that might be a fascianting way to make things feel both personal AND public. Not sure how to go about that, though.

    -Rob D.
  • And as I don't play MMOs nor do I program, I end up stuck here at the pre-design phase.
  • edited January 2006
    What would an MMO look like that took it's lessons from more modern games, both at the forge and elsewhere. What ideas are scalable up to that level?

    Hmmm. It'd be very hard: A lot of these games focus on player creation, setting creation, and character-driven issues, usually in a small group. How can you manage that in a MMORPG environ? Where's the give?

    I'd say, though, if you created a limited, graphical environment somehow appropriating the code from CoH or WoW or something for graphics, and somehow injected a new system, something may work. Here's what I had in mind:

    You do... whatever. Kill crabs. Build your house. Talk in the taverns. Find stuff, whatever. This is the background of the game setting, but in no way is the focus, it's just stuff that you do while you make friends and look for Games.

    A Game starts: A GM and 5 Players in a guild of sorts have decided to meet every Tuesday for 3 hours for three weeks to play a game. The game uses the world's engine, and for the most part has the look and feel of a Neverwinter Nights, complete with DM engine. But the players, far from being assigned to create one character, rather have the ability to create or posess other characters in the background, to "animate NPCs".

    Here's a twist: By "living in the world", being there, talking, killing crabs or selling bread, or just being logged in, you get "XP". "XP is traded in for "Story Coins".

    When the players come together, the GM plans out an adventure of some kind, and sets what Skills will be in use, from a laundry list of several dozen skills of all kinds: Fighting, Social, etc. Say he wants Fighty Game, then he opens up skills in Swords, Shields, Intimidation, Healing, etc. He creates a game, which becomes its own universe of sorts on the server, maybe called a "Session" (Sessions last for a certain time until, unused, they are purged from the DB) This game, though, is Socialy Game: The GM opens up Charm, Manipulate, Resources, and heck Running and Fighting. The characters then take their "Coins" and spend them on the open skills for that session. Then they play, using those skills, in that session, in the adventure/interaction that the GM provided.

    There are chat/mic channels for both in character and OOC talk.

    Something like that would be a start. That's also why I like Neverwinter Nights... It's not perfect, but it's certainly a step in an awesome direction.
  • As far as indie games go, one of the biggest lessons is "think small, stupid!"

    Take the "massive" out of the MMORG. Make small, short games that you and a handful of friends can finish in a month, a week, or a single evening. And then let them run through a series of short games instead of having to build this massive world for everyone to be in at the same time. The characters could even carry over, but think episodically or in story arcs.

    Small is better.
  • edited January 2006
    MMOs actually do this. They subdivide the massive whole of the game into arcs and parts with social dividers, quests, &c.

    Instances are episodic, and (generally) formed of a small and necessarily tight group. (WoW is undermining this with raids, which I don't see the appeal of...)

    When you cut out the massiveness of an MMO, though, you lose a lot - the simple joy of wandering around exploring, the pleasantly aimless feel... remember that an MMO is a pastime, not something that needs necessarily to be planned as an event; the mass serves it in this capacity.
  • This is an interesting thread in the context of 4e being announced to be going in the direction of WoW in some ways.

    One thing that I got thinking is that indie games strike me as being like single player focused games on computers. The point about taking the massive out is probably the first thing to making games more like indie games. But if you think about it, those games already exist. Grim Fandango was released in 1996. Had indie games even started to catch on at that time?
  • Thing is, many, many MMO players think strong instancing is ass. It's often cited as a negative element on DDO.

    What MMOs are not so good at is providing an overarching sense of story or allowing the PCs a strong hand in the shape of the world. EVE Online is a notable exception to the latter because of PC economic power but there's still no sense that one is a distinct protagonist. This gets back to anti-instancing sentiments, because lacking the sense of being the protagonist players appeal to the community and sharing a play experience to reinforce their sense of importance.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Malcolm SheppardThing is, many, many MMO players think strong instancing is ass. It's often cited as a negative element on DDO.
    And yet it works like a dream in Guild Wars. I wonder how much this is a "how it's done" thing?

    But GW approaches the "M" part of "MMO" (the first "M" part, not the second "M" part, which is a different "M") very differently than most MMOs. The only universally shared spaces are the cities, in which you can team up with anyone and head out into an instanced world. This lets them involve you in the story a lot more, since characters and events can be spawned into the world based on the specific players entering it. If one of them has just been told that psycho dwarves are blocking the refugees' path through the mountains, voila! the road is full of psycho dwarves massacring refugees. Once they've been cleared out, when the player returns to that area, the dwarves are still gone and the refugess are travelling along unmolested.

    I don't mean this to be a "Guild Wars is great!" post, it's just that it's an MMO that does things radically differently to other MMOs, and I find it fascinating. It feels more like a "indie" MMO to me, with its system built from the ground up to support what it's doing, and its out of left field approach to traditional MMO problems.

    What GW is still terrible at is letting the players affect the course of events. And that's something I'd love to see MMOs learn from indie games - letting players have more of an effect on the gameworld.
  • Isn't Eve Online letting players control the gameworld? There aren't any NPCs, only PCs. That's going even stronger than RPGs in terms of player control, it's just finely distributed instead of put in the hands of a few.

    Second Life I think also has that quality.
  • edited September 2007
    What I'd like to see is some kind of MMO-ified AGON. You have all these PCs in a big shared city, and then a smallish group band together and pick an "island" to go to. Then, after a loading screen, they get a GW-style instanced Island, and are met by the Gods, given the quest objectives and so on.

    Nice, easy-to-follow objectives, and the like. Plus you have the super-tasty tactical conflict system, with positing, weapons selection, special manuvers and so on. And I believe that would be more interesting than the macro/wack-a-mole style of MMO combat as it stands at the moment. Plus you could start players with regular fights, and then move towards things like social combats and so on when they get familiar with how things work.

    Combine that with the quest for Glory, and you're onto a winner. Have a big "Glory Rankings" chart in the big city, and a list of Achievements (like the highest roll, etc.) that people can strive to beat.

    Plus, as I understand it, the difference in power levels in regular MMO's is a pain to manage. However, with AGON you've got that Fate score increasing steadily. Let's just tweak that a bit, so when your Fate > 16, that character MUST retire as a Legend (let's say he ascends to Mount Olympus or something -- out of play). But in doing so, you unlock the "Quest Builder" where that player gets to build Quests/Monsters*/NPCs (using a certain Strife budget). You then get a new starting hero, and when he retires as a legend, the maximum Strife you can use in building a quest is increased. (Hell, Legend players could even have a "Antagonist Mode" where they can "possess" any character they've created in an actively running Quest and interact with a group of players running through it). Have a ranking for Islands & Quests, as well (Strife spent vs. challenges won or something?)

    Therefore you get the players of the game to create content for you, as a reward for playing well. But because Legends are forced to retire you don't get the difference in power that you get with long-serving MMOs (as I understand it).

    BTW, I'm a video games coder, but I stay away from MMOs, so take all this with a pinch of salt, as I have no idea if this would appeal to the level-grinding demographic that seems to be addicted to WoW :)

    * Monster models and animations and so on would have to be created by the actual development team, but the powers and abilities could be bought with Strife by Legendary players.
  • Posted By: migoIsn't Eve Online letting players control the gameworld? There aren't any NPCs, only PCs. That's going even stronger than RPGs in terms of player control, it's just finely distributed instead of put in the hands of a few.
    Yes and no; the economy is mostly controlled by the players, though there is some amount of NPC market mixed into it. The space itself is controlled by the players (especially the lawless 0.0 -space). What's not controlled by the players (at least, yet - some of this might be chancing) is the world outside economics and space. Politics of Empire and republics and such - these are quite static, changing only when developers change them. The quest givers are also NPC's.

    What I'd like to see:

    Player generated content and mechanics that either enable or support this. At the moment, player generated content that has any effect on anything but other players, guilds or corporations is the economy - you harvest resources, you transform them into goods and you sell or wear them. Other stuff would be good. Changing the ownership of stuff would be good as well - for example, a player could take over an instance and run it for other players in a kind of traditional gm/player -split. NWN went this way.

    Better communication. This is where the MMO's really suck compared to tabletop playing/larps/text-based games. There are channels and maybe a funny talkbox like WoW has. And some emotes. Which pretty much help you nowhere when it comes communicating anything that roleplaying requires. The best games provide crude tools (communication) for roleplaying and don't actively hinder you from playing. But they don't really do anything to help you.
  • Posted By: warrenNice, easy-to-follow objectives, and the like. Plus you have the super-tasty tactical conflict system, with positing, weapons selection, special manuvers and so on. And I believe that would be more interesting than the macro/wack-a-mole style of MMO combat as it stands at the moment.
    Take a look at Guild Wars. Lots of emphasis on timing, positioning, and skill selection; good players always have multiple weapon sets (the same weapon type, different attributes) for situational switching; you can do things to a character other than just chip away at hit points (making red bars go down is still how you kill someone, but whose bar will hit 0 first often depends on energy management and the application of debilitating conditions); characters "plateau" mechanically very quickly. Now, all of the tactical things express themselves more in player-vs.-player than player-vs.-monster gaming, but they're definitely there, in the system.

    Now, Guild Wars isn't much of a story game at all. It feels like a really linear, cutscene-based D&D campaign. But it's not as, well, deprotagonizing as the standard MMORPG, because the instanced storyline shows your character doing all the big cool stuff.

    -- Alex
  • <disclaimer>I'm a software engineer on an MMO, so I think about this a lot! :) </disclaimer>

    I think players are missing control of the game environment/world. The only "content" players can really control are guilds and the economy. In a game like EVE Online, most of the gaming is dealing with other players.

    What if players or guilds had more meta-game controls for creating or altering the game world or quests? The new Age of Conan MMO allows guilds to build their own private 3D cities, which they must defend against NPC sieges. But why not allow PvP sieges?

    Age of Conan: Build and defend player-made cities
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Chris Peterson
    What if players or guilds had more meta-game controls for creating or altering the game world or quests? The new Age of Conan MMO allows guilds to build their own private 3D cities, which they must defend against NPC sieges. But why not allow PvP sieges?
    One reason they should treat carefully is that PvP greatly accentuates any deficiencies in the system. If you've got a bad PvE mechanic that some players exploit, it's mildly annoying. If you've got a bad PvP mechanic that some players exploit, it leads to tons of griefing.

    Shadowbane tried to support city-building and global PvP and failed terribly. (I'm not sure the details are particularly relevant to this thread, but I'll gladly tell y'all all about it if you want to know.)


    Now, speaking of griefing...

    Overall, I think the hands-down most important thing that MMOG designer should pick up from the kinds of games we usually talk about on Story Games is social engineering. More than anything else, massive multiplayer games are defined by the interactions between players. There have been a lot of games with great graphics, good physics engines, even interesting gameplay mechanics that just failed to make players relate to each other and the game world in the right way, and totally sucked/flopped as a result.

    -- Alex
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: AlexOverall, I think the hands-down most important thing that MMOG designer should pick up from the kinds of games we usually talk about on Story Games issocial engineering. More than anything else, massive multiplayer games are defined by the interactions between players.
    Good point: the whole point of playing an MMO is (supposedly) about the multiplayer world. Otherwise, you might as well play Final Fantasy (or even Guild Wars) with some buddies.

    Ever since I read about people on this site using MUDs as "smart chat" to play RPGs online, I've been researching MUDs, looking for a programmable MUD system that might allow similar story-gaming play to scale to a big world without a GM. I'm imagining something like a MUD with Burning Wheel-like lifepaths and Polaris- or Capes-like negotiated conflicts. :)
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    My favorite social engineering experiment was on the Asherons Call Darktide server, the special server where everyone was in PvP mode from the moment you walk in the door. Anyone can kill anyone. And, there was a "vassal" system, which gave a character rewards for to having a person "swear allegiance".

    That server produced by FAR the most story-centric games for me of any MMO i've played, and I've played a bunch. I think it was because with this horrifically imbalanced human element out there, everything else- npcs, monsters, quests, they were reduced to just color. The real game was survival and alliances, and it was fraught with story. Here's my example from legitimate play:

    - When my level 1 guy spawned in the world the first time, he was immediately met by a higher level guy pointing a crossbow at me. "Swear allegience" he said. I knew what that crossbow could do to a little whelp like me, so I said "yes sir!", completely against my will, and clicked the swear allegiance button. "Follow Me", he said, and led me towards a town.

    Now, on the other servers, the towns were like usual MMO towns... bustling with people and noise pollution (like "WTB-BLB SWD 40g"). But not Darktide, oh no. On Darktide, you were an idiot to go to town. On darktide, you skulked around the town furtively until you were absolutely sure there were no player blips on your minimap, then you ran into town, did your business as fast as humanly possible, then took to the hills and hope that you weren't spotted.

    So anyway, there I was running towards town with this high level oppressor lord who violated me immediately upon entry, when we were ambushed by a group of guys hiding in the bushes. It got really hectic, and, since I was just level 1, they paid little attention to me. In the chaos, I darted off behind some buildings until I was far enough away that my new lord couldn't see me on his mini. Then i broke allegiance and hid in the forest. I was so terrified that he would find me!

    Eventually, I hooked up with a real life buddy, and we enjoyed our game in a constant state of terror. Every time we met another PC, there was tension. Once we befriended a strange wizard on a beach and travelled with him for a while, fighting monsters. But it turned out that he was just sizing us up the whole time, for the kill. We had a desperate exchange of steel and fireballs on the beach. He was fucking evil. But there were good guys, too. Whenever you made an actual ally in the game it was a real thrill, a reaffirmation of the value of humanity.

    Probably the most memorable moment was "Free Soushi Day". There was a town called "Soushi" and it was declared by many clans, for one day, to be a voluntary no-kill zone. It was a massive roleplaying truce. There was a huge crowd of strangers just frolicking there all day long, and they were jubilant to be together. It was still really tense, though, because everyone was just waiting for some bastard to break the truce.

    So, I was enjoying myself at free soushi day (handing out pies, actually), when a murmur started to ripple through the crowd. "Og's coming!" "omg It's Og!" "oh shit! shit!".

    Og was famous. He was a bald man with a massive club who lived in a cave in the hills. He utilized a saavy combat exploit, and was of unfathomably high level, so calling him a "man" is a misnomer. He was a monster. Og only strayed from his cave to murder the occassional super-high-level fancypants. Most of the time, he lurked at home, leaving high-level weapons laying around the entrance as bait for hardy adventurers. It was rare that anyone walked away with the weapons. Og was unstoppable, insane, and about to arrive in Soushi.

    Everybody was freaking out, and then I finally saw him, with his bald head and giant club, emerging from behind a market, surrounded by terrified crowd of admirers. He headed into town shouting, "guh!", "guh! Og! Soushi!", "Og nice!", and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
  • Posted By: Chris PetersonGood point: the whole point of playing an MMO is (supposedly) about the multiplayer world. Otherwise, you might as well play Final Fantasy (or even Guild Wars) with some buddies.
    Well, I don't think MMOGs should rule out single-player or small-group play, either, necessarily.

    -- Alex
  • wait, I just thought of one! The Sims Online. Totally story now, with supportive mechanics. Too bad it went the way of the dodo.
  • Personally, I'd be interested to hear what folks think of Jeff Strain's Games Convention 2007 speech. I know I'd be quite happy to see similar ideas being voiced by the high-ups of a big TRPG publisher.

    -- Alex
  • Alex, great link. I like this guy - he has been thoroughly beaten with the clue stick and I would work for him if I could. His points about innovating rather than imitating are particularly well taken.

    Also, since I don't have 30 million dollars and like designing games, I'm glad there's tabletop roleplaying.
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    I like that Jeff Strains disparrages people from trying to create another WoW, and I appreciate that he emphasizes that MMO is a technology, not a game design. But, I find a lot of his comments to be less innovation-minded than he would like to imply. He claims the need for innovation, but goes on to tow the MMorpg line in several statements. Such as:
    An MMO must deliver content at three distinct stages: the early game, which is the first twenty hours, the mid game, which is the first few hundred hours, and the late game, which is at a thousand hours and beyond.
    This is a fairly innocent one, but it betrays an adherance to a specific way of playing, which is everquest style gaming. A good story game doesn't need to an incredibly lengthy experience. What he's talking about is an RPG that you can play one campaign in, and that campaign would take over 1000 hours. Most RPG people I know would be happier with a game that provides the flexibility to play 10 shorter "campaigns", and have them be 10 distinct and unique experiences. There's nothing wrong with his comment except that he takes the current MMO playstyle as a given.
    With each generation of MMOs, players become less tolerant of being forced to spend time resting after battles to restore health, onerous consequences for dying, the length of time required to level up and reach the mid-game, and high failure rates for activities such as crafting. Early MMOs could be "meaner" because there were fewer choices, but today players have options, so be nice to them.
    This statement emerges from the truly twisted mindset that originated from designers trying to support the subscription model of an MMO. The challenge for MMO designers is to keep people playing for as many months as possible, and the early designers implemented these massive delaying tactics into the games because of it. Long back-and-forth runs, long monster grinds, rare quest item drops, all of these horribly artificial hurdles that are designed to make it take longer for you to get to the next level. This intentionally implemented torture is the biggest hurdle, in my opinion, to players getting a good MMO.

    Jeff Strain says "we have to be nicer", which is translated as "we need to show more restraint with the artificial delaying tactics that we implement into the game". What he should say is "Let's completely drop the artificially lengthened playstyle of MMOs so we can free up the masses to see all of our dynamic content, and interact with it how they like! Then maybe people will stay on because they like the game and not because they want to hit level 60 or whatever and we make it take months"

    Strain also talks about how you need to allow for different playstyles, which is wonderful! However, he means it in an extremely limited way. He mentions pvp and roleplaying, but does not mention anything about how to support those styles, and goes on to describe the difference in playstyles essentially as "solo or grouping".

    If an MMO is really going to innovate, playstyles should refer to different stories that the players can make. Do they want heroic combat stories? political intrigue? An arc of change to their character? Lasting ramifications of decisions? An arch enemy? A new church? As I mentioned, the sims online was a game that put mechanics in that actually had an effect on the player narrative. I'll discuss what some of those were in another post.
  • Jason,

    Yup, it's definitely true that Strain's talking about how to make a good D&D-like game rather than a non-D&D-like game. To use a crappy simile, it's like he's designing Reign rather than Polaris. (The whole agenda of Guild Wars, pretty much, was to redeem CRPGs as a platform for FPS/RTS-style multiplayer competition, with a lot of casual gaming for casual players on the side. It's got this definite Gamist thing going, which is a refreshing change from the muddled, broken mishmash of older fantasy MMOGs.)


    My general impression from both CRPGs and TRPGs is that it's pretty hard to get meaningful, player-driven narrative out of "everybody has one dude in a big sandbox," that it's a lot easier to just break the "my character" illusion and let players touch a bunch of other stuff -- less avatarism, more story, in other words. Is that what's going on in Sims Online?

    -- Alex
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    You had a lot of DM-esque effect on your environment, yet Sims online was still very much a protagonist-driven kind of game.

    There were a few reward systems in the game, money was one. The really cool one was the emote reward mechanic.

    Emotes, instead of being used as color, were a fundemental reward that you earned based on tasks you completed, skills you developed, and the depth of friendship or hostility that you reached with other players. You had a whole hierarchical menu of emotes, broken down into many categories. In the "dance" category, for instance, you started out with a couple little dances, nothing crazy. But, if you worked out your physical skills (utilizing a dance floor object, among others) , it would unlock more athletic-looking dances, which you could show off to people and have them say "wow, what a great dancer!".

    More interestingly than working on skills for new emotes was your ability to work a relationship for the same sort of reward. If you had enough time spent with a sim, or fulfilled some other requisite interaction, you would gain friendship emotes like "dip kiss" or "tango", that you could only use with the person you are friends with. So, when 2 characters had an intimate relationship, it was instantly apparent by the advanced emotes they were able to pull off with each other.

    Even cooler, there were unlockable adversarial emotes as well. If you hated another person mutually, and you worked on that relationship with negative emotes, such as "scold" or "insult", you would unlock enemy emotes with that person. So when somebody saw you do a Piledriver on another sim, they knew you guys had a bad history.

    The game was set up for pure player-generated story, all the time. You created a personal environment, a house, tailored it to a certain goal, and invited the world to come interact with it. There was an incredible variety of environments people created, and other sims would tailor their roleplay to suit the place. There were casinos, dance clubs, workhouses, drug dens, magical mazes, gyms, frat houses, and more.

    What I did in the game was create a place named "Sim Dinner Theater". I built a stage and viewing area, and cajoled random passerby to come be in "tonight's show". Then I would put together a variety show of dancing, standup comedy, what have you, always culminating in a mainstage production (usually some adaptation of a play or book. My version of "Oedipus" was a crowd favorite).

    When it came showtime, I would never have trouble filling up the venue. And people actually simulated sitting down and watching the theater piece. They could emote applause, or boos, shout things at the actors, etc. There was sometimes heckling, and I would often have a bouncer eject rabble rousers. Even kicking a griefer off the property was rewarded in the game, by displaying a hilarious animation of you turning them around, and kicking them in the butt.

    I was so into the "sim dinner theater" thing. I'm still really proud of it. The highest point was when a friend of mine staged an actual theater event in california, in a real place. During the event, he projected the sims online onto a big screen, showing himself as an avatar in the audience of the simulated play, which was happening in realtime in my theater.
  • Posted By: jznMy favorite social engineering experiment was on the Asherons Call Darktide server, the special server where everyone was in PvP mode from the moment you walk in the door. Anyone can kill anyone. And, there was a "vassal" system, which gave a character rewards for to having a person "swear allegiance".
    jzn: your description of the Darktide server are awesome! I'm reading Robert E. Howard's Conan short stories right now. Your adventures on the Darktide server sound exactly like something from a gritty Conan story. Did other players on the server view it the same way? Were there any meta-game mechanics (or conventions) to support story-like gaming?
    Posted By: jznA good story game doesn't need to an incredibly lengthy experience. What he's talking about is an RPG that you can play one campaign in, and that campaign would take over 1000 hours. Most RPG people I know would be happier with a game that provides the flexibility to play 10 shorter "campaigns", and have them be 10 distinct and unique experiences.
    jzn: Your more, shorter campaign idea reminded me of a cool computer game idea I read elsewhere (Squidi Mechanic #030 - Communist Zombie MUD): characters are ephemeral. Ever time a player logs into the MMO, they must create a new character. But they don't create level 1 characters. They get to use some character karma points earned by the same player's previous characters. Min-max power gamers might login/logout often to 'rejigger' their point balance, but people would feel safer trying crazy new character combinations or keep a "stable" of favorite character combinations.

    Was the Sims Online pure sandbox (like Second Life)? Or did it have any imposed story/quest goals/structure?
  • This is an incredibly fascinating discussion. I don't have a whole, whole lot of time to comment, but I want to mention that I've got pie-in-the-sky dreams of one day working on developing an MMO. My ideas are one part going back to old-school MMOs (and by that I mean UO, not EQ) where the time-eating mechanics didn't, to me at least, feel artificial or imposed; Given that a power gamer could max out a character in less than a week, I don't think they were incredibly limiting at all. Me? I played the game actively for a good while, and off and on for a long time after, and never once maxed out my main character... and at times I decried myself as pathetic for it, I never really missed being a "7x Grandmaster". The other part of my MMO ideas involve the idea of an ever-evolving setting, wherein the players have massive control over what happens, and when there are scripted storylines, they're one-shot deals; If you take part in an epic story, you're the only one. There wouldn't be a bazillion 20-something level paladins running around with the same pony-keg onna stick that was supposedly made especially for them. (Any WoW paladins should, I hope, know what weapon I'm talking about).

    Some of the ideas here are things I've already thought about. Others are new and interesting ideas. Anyhow, if anyone wants to read my "manifesto", feel free to do so, here: http://www.wolvesdenproductions.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=13
  • Wolfe - The "unique item"/skill/whatever thing has its upsides and its downsides. To some degree this will give that special feeling to players. To another degree (greater? lesser? the same?) this will make everyone else feel envy and jealousy in a negative way.

    I mean, let's say you're a Kingdom of Loathing player and you decide you want to collect all the trophies in the game.

    You're cruising along and you discover in someone's trophy case the Look Ma! No Pants! trophy. This is not one you've seen before.

    After some research and digging you determine that this trophy can only be won by being pantsless on January 1, 2006.

    Now, to some degree this is completely fair, even if you created your character on January 2, 2006.

    But to another degree, this means that a goal in the game that's available for some (get all the trophies!) is not available for others.

    The key is to channel that envy and jealousy in positive ways rather than negative.

    If I figure out how to do this I'm not going to tell anyone - I'm going to make one million dollars instead.
  • JDCorley: That is a good point, and my first, gut reaction was to say that trophy seekers aren't among my target audience. Then I had to sit back, and think about it... And you know what? They very well might be. So I shouldn't discount them.

    But here's the thing... If collecting trophies is your thing, then I think that my way is more conducive to it than the standard MMO paradigm. I mean... Who cares if you have a bazillion trophies that every other avid trophy hunter also has? If it's attainable to everyone, then it loses it's value. Yeah, if you have no-drop item of badassery that you had to be badass to get, then it says something about you.. But if even 3 other people on the server have that same item, then it dilutes it's value.

    Now on the other hand, you may not be able to get "The Fang of Glogorogh" that is the trophy for saving Townville from the evil red wyrm Glogorogh, because it was a one-time event.. But you may proudly display the "Severed Head of Og" (to borrow from jzn's story), which the possessor of the Fang of Glogorogh will never be able to possess, either. (this is assuming that you can't buy trophies off of each other, which is a silly assumption, in my view...)

    ...so basically, unless you're the only person playing the game, the goal of "get all the trophies" will never be available to everyone, because every trophy will be one of a kind.

    This is drifting slightly from the topic of how MMOs can be influenced by modern RPG design, I think. This particular idea comes not from my experiences with games associated with the Forge and the indie game movement, so maybe it should be discussed separately? Believe me, this is a topic I can go on for hours about, so if anyone's game, let me know.
  • Jason (Ellis),

    Sims Online sounds pretty cool. The emote/interaction mechanic is a great one.


    Jason (Corley),

    I think one way to contain the envy a little is to make it so that everybody has to specialize. Like, okay, if there was a "Look Ma! No Pants!" trophy which you got for spending all of January 1st pantless and a "Lords of the Pants" trophy which you got for spending all of January 1st Riverdancing with pants but no shirt on (and there were a fair number of either-or choices like this), it would kind of snap you out of the "collect them all" mindset. Kind of like if you made 1,000 cool artifacts of equally wondrous power sprinkled throughout the game and players only had enough inventory/storage/&c. to hold 30.

    It certainly won't fix everything, but it goes a long way.


    -- Alex
  • Bringing this back on topic a bit..

    What I think MMOs could learn from the Forge-associated indie model, specifically, is this; It's not about the numbers. Now, maybe this idea is utterly unfeasible with MMOs, I don't know. It's quite possible that the development costs and time-investment will never allow a small team of developers to create and support a specialized game that doesn't appeal to the vast majority of MMO gamers, but does appeal to an avidly, rabidly enthusiastic smaller fanbase.

    ...but maybe it can be done. I scoffed when I heard that Guild Wars wouldn't have a subscription model.. How were they to make enough money to keep the game going? But somehow, they've managed. I'm still kind of baffled about how they make it work financially, but I suppose that if I really cared, I could maybe find that information. And as Jeff Strain mentioned, there are small-scale games that are thriving for absolutely free; No initial fee, no subscription. So it seems totally possible to me that a small, dedicated team could develop a game that does weird, unpopular things that are absolutely amazing-cool to a small subsect of MMO players.

    At least, that's my hope. If anyone's read my manifesto, I'm sure at least one thing has made some of you recoil and say "never!" Me, I'd probably play a game that does all that, forever. I'd like to think that there are others who feel the same.
  • I think the main lesson that MMOs could pull from RPGs is making failure interesting.

    I can't think of a MMO which does anything more than offer consolation prizes for failure. More often it's punishment.

    About a year ago I made a very high level pass (i.e. four paragraphs) at sketching out a supers MMO where you could work on getting access to situation builders (e.g. warehouse + hostage + Secret Society_01) and your motivation for engaging with the situation would be equally likely to be winning (short term resources) or getting pummelled (long term resources). Having some way of pulling in people to play villains or heroes and some way of sharing the experience afterwards was part of it as well -- like a mission replay for a flightsim game, but tricked out to look like a comic and remixable somewhat by the players.
  • Lance,

    The subscription thing is easy: server and bandwidth costs are, for the most part, a big lie (Strain mentions this, I think). At least in this era -- I'm sure they were much more of an issue ten years ago. Heck, even Diablo 2 did a ton of stuff server-side, IIRC. I'm pretty sure a WoW subscription is mostly going into covering the company's development costs, both for their semi-regular update pack content and other games. (It's pretty easy to support a huge development budget by occasionally releasing new "expansions" or "campaigns," too.)

    I know there are quite a few small-scale, small-budget online games. My friends have said good things about Kingdom of Loathing, Puzzle Pirates, and FLYFF.

    -- Alex
  • so some of the indie design lessons for MMORPGs seem to include:

    * success isn't binary
    * make failure interesting
    * no subscription fees
    * give creative authority to players

    Also, I think a big chunk of bandwidth costs goes to users downloading huge, fortnightly game patches (bug fixes + new content). Use bittorrent to distribute the bandwidth costs to your players. :)
  • edited September 2007
    That's what Blizzard does, by the way .. using bittorrent for distributing patches.

    Also, I don't think this part in Jeff Strains article:
    An MMO must deliver content at three distinct stages: the early game, which is the first twenty hours, the mid game, which is the first few hundred hours, and the late game, which is at a thousand hours and beyond.
    .. is necessarily tied to the "classical" MMO paradigm. Rather, I read it as being more tied to player / audience retention, and to the "real" economy of game design (hey, if you spend US$ 30 million on developing something, you want some guarantee of getting that cash -- and some more -- back somehow).

    Server and bandwidth costs are one thing .. support costs are another. WoW for example, has 24/7 in-game gamemaster support (I've received live support in-game at times like 23:00 or 01:30 in the morning -- they run 4 shifts of support, 3x8 hours, and one overlapping "extra" shift for primetime).

    About giving players creative authority: there's a (smaller) MMO called (Saga of) Ryzom. One of the parts is something called Ryzom Ring, which is just that.

    From their site:
    Ryzom Ring (R²) allows you to create your own Adventures on Atys. By travelling in the world of Atys you will open up access to more and more landscapes and NPCs to use in your own adventures, culminating in Ryzom's entire plethoric bestiary and a huge number of different terrains across all of the different ecosystems and environments of Atys. In just a few clicks you will be able to layout the scenery and NPCs of a new scenario and to open it up to your fellow players. Join the community and enjoy the player-made adventures or develop a taste for playing god as an Adventure Master ("AM")!
    But I digress :)

    More things MMORPG's can learn from modern RPG's:
    • Combat isn't everything
    (in addition to the points made above)
  • Posted By: Herman Duyker

    Combat isn't everything
    I have this vague idea that Vanguard tried a Diplomacy mechanic which was card driven. No idea how well it was implemented.
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    Posted By: ChrisYour adventures on the Darktide server sound exactly like something from a gritty Conan story. Did other players on the server view it the same way? Were there any meta-game mechanics (or conventions) to support story-like gaming?
    Basically, when you are as emotionally invested in the game as much as you were on darktide (in this case, the emotions were fear and paranoia), I think story comes naturally. I wasn't looking at it at the time as being a gritty story about 2 terrified fugitives in the snowy woods, because I actually was a terrified fugitive in the snowy woods. It was my emotional investment that made it seem story-like, in retrospect. I even remember it being cold, strangely enough.

    As far as metagame mechanics, the only one that really moved the action was the lord/vassal mechanic. The main story motivator was the open pvp. Interestingly, the developer's story of the setting, the stuff conveyed through in-game quests and narration, was almost universally ignored, other than for geographical reference. But people created amazing stories through play!
    Your more, shorter campaign idea reminded me of a cool computer game idea I read elsewhere (Squidi Mechanic #030 - Communist Zombie MUD): characters are ephemeral. Ever time a player logs into the MMO, they must create a new character. But they don't create level 1 characters. They get to use some character karma points earned by the same player's previous characters. Min-max power gamers might login/logout often to 'rejigger' their point balance, but people would feel safer trying crazy new character combinations or keep a "stable" of favorite character combinations.
    Wow, a new guy every time you log in! That is hardcore! Great idea. I love that your previous efforts give your new guy more points. It's a little similar to Diablo 2's way of handling things. In that game, you levelled very quickly, and your high level guys found magic items that inspired you to create new character builds to use with them. So, it's a hand-me-down mechanic that keeps people starting fresh. It's longevity was similar to WoW, but it created longevity by making you want to start from scratch again and again. It allowed many distinctly different game experiences, always with a fast pace of advancement. The heavily randomized content generation system went a long way towards making each play different. Hellgate:London promises to expand on that premise.

    If the gameplay experience is dynamic, I don't mind playing the same module over and over again with different characters. I can't tell you how many different parties I've levelled up in the "Temple of Elemental Evil" PC game.
    Was the Sims Online pure sandbox (like Second Life)? Or did it have any imposed story/quest goals/structure?
    Second life is pure sandbox, but Sims Online was a gamer's game, even though you could turn it into whatever you want. There was a solid resource-management game powering the whole thing, where you traded off time spent advancing yourself with time spent trying to meet your virtual life's needs (namely eating, sleeping, peeing, etc)
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    erver and bandwidth costs are one thing .. support costs are another.
    I've heard several Blizz employees, or ex-employees, state that maintining WoW is a ludicrously expensive proposition. Lucky for them, it's also a cash cow of Brobdingnagian proportions.

    Ryzom ring sounds great. Allowing a player to be a DM in a computer game is a difficult thing. It's an exciting idea that has been tried several times, but has yet to really work. So far, the original Neverwinter Nights got it best, I think. Vampire The Masquerade- Redemption was a valiant attempt, too.
  • I like the Ryzom Ring in concept, but in execution, you've got to be moderately familiar with game scripting stuff to actually use it. I've played around with it a tiny bit, but I never really got into it during the period that I played Ryzom. It's kind of like creating content in the Elder Scrolls series of games; There are powerful, built in tools you can use, but you basically need to take a class to use them.

    In addition... The Ryzom Ring allowed you to create self-contained "modules" that, at the time I was playing, at least, had no effect in the actual game. Your characters couldn't level up through the Ring, they can't get equipment.. And any events that happen on the Ring don't change anything within the fictional world of Atys. That isn't to say that the Ring was worthless; Not at all. I had several ideas that I never did put into play for the Ring. If I'd managed to actually make any friends within the game, then I may have continued playing, and learned to build in the Ring enough to realize some of my ideas.

    What I think needs to happen with upcoming generations of MMOs (at least those that go more the "living world" route that I prefer) is to have a dynamic world, changeable by the players. Players building their own cities is a grand idea, one that was almost realized in Star Wars Galaxies. It needs to go a step further than that, though; Players need to make their cities the real deal, or even to take the existing cities in the game and make them their own. Players need to be the movers and shakers, creating their own stories, in addition to exploring developer content. In fact, that player empowerment needs to take a front seat.

    My own best experiences in an MMO hearken back to Ultima Online, and bear a striking resemblance to jzn's experiences in Asher Onscall.. err, I mean Asheron's Call. (inside joke). My best times were back when PvP was essentially totally free. In the cities you were relatively safe, though you had to watch your back from pickpockets. Outside of the "guard zones" that surrounded all of the in-game cities, however, you were fair game. You learned where to avoid the roads, and which hunting grounds were more perilous for the player's there than the monsters. You were genuinely apprehensive whenever you saw another player, and you felt a thrill of real fear when you spotted a red name, or saw the words "X is attacking you!". Whether you fought back and won, or fled and lived, your heart was pumping, and you felt real accomplishment. Sure, there was also the bitter, bitter helplessness when you fell and watched the PK loot your corpse and mock your ghost. But that bitterness made the victories all the sweeter.

    The above wasn't the really important part, though. The important part was in meeting friends. First off, you had to have friends to really have any sense of safety outside of the guard zones. The lone hunter, even a multiple-grandmaster, was in danger if a PK got the jump on them. But the real pay off came when you met someone and hunted with them, talked with them and possibly roleplayed with them.. and then crossed that invisible line and saw the words "You are no longer under the protection of the guards". At that point, you were putting your fictional life and all your carried possessions into the hands of your new friend. When that paid off, you had a real friend, and you knew it. You'd put your own life and possessions at risk for them if they fell, by looting their corpse until they returned, to prevent it from decaying away, or being looted by someone less than friendly. This made you a "criminal", and therefore freely attackable.. and they'd do the same for you. You'd duel each other outside the guardzones to build skill, which meant one of you was a criminal for attacking. If you accidentally killed your friend, they could declare you a murderer, which would have consequences as well.

    There was an awesome roleplaying community on my server during that time. You could go and hang out and just roleplay in a tavern, or go hunting with new friends who would roleplay with you, or have a bitter, deadly rivalry with someone you respected outside of the RP'd fiction.

    As much as I hated PvP and PKs, I lament when UO went the consensual PvP route, because looking back, it killed everything that made that game awesome. So I say.. to hell with being nice to your players. Challenge them, scare them, and make them have to extend trust to each other.

    Also, as a clarification: Yes, I consider placing your virtual life and virtual possessions into someone else's hands a real extension of trust. Whether the objects exist or not, you had to invest actual time and effort to get them, so what you're really risking is accumulated time and effort... Which is the same as trusting your real life possessions to someone else. I'd let my old friend Mitch house-sit for me, even though I never knew him outside of UO.
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