Real consequences in MMOs

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by AlexWeldon, May 11, 2010.

  1. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    I talked a while back about a hypothetical way to make a truly non-linear RPG: http://www.benefactum.ca/wordpress/?p=272. Although I think the idea is sound, it'd be a tough thing to put into practice.

    Thinking about ethical choices in games, and how most of the ones we see nowadays are pretty weak, I realized that there's a way that MMOs could allow players - collectively, at least - to make real decisions. In a nutshell, if you have a quest with two possible "solutions," then when releasing the next content update, you consider each player's choice in the quest as a "vote," and base the changes to the world on what the majority of players opted to do. An area might be removed because most players chose to burn it down. A formerly hostile race might turn peaceful and even become a player-character race if the majority of players opted for a peaceful resolution. And so on.

    Here's the blog post I made about it. http://www.benefactum.ca/wordpress/?p=322

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Nexic

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    Sounds like a pain to admin and half the players will still be in a world that doesn't match their personal experience.
     
  3. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Regarding being a pain to admin, you have to update content anyway to keep players. The idea is you're just looking to the players' decisions for inspiration for future updates... I suppose that, because you'll as often be changing existing stuff as adding new stuff, the volume of your game world will suffer, though it will gain in richness. Maybe MMO players just want volume, though...

    As for the second point, I address that in the blog post. Most of us understand that our votes count, even if we end up in a country whose leader we didn't vote for ourselves.
     
  4. zoombapup

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    There are plenty of reinforcement/feedback approaches that could deliver content based on user metrics. I think this is an unexplored area that indies could definitely use to their advantage.

    Think of it like the ai "director" in left 4 dead. Its a method of balancing or affecting gameplay in a way that is dynamic and allows for temporary instabilities whilst still maintaining overall balances.

    I'd love to have time to experiment with those things more, but I plan to explore some of that with my economy in my game (which is still a bit in flux though).
     
  5. Qitsune

    Qitsune New Member

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    It could also be that only paying customers can "vote" with their actions. I've been elaborating very complex emergent storytelling systems in my spare time and that's one of the premises of some of them, you have to be part of a "priviledged" category of player to influence where the world is going.
     
  6. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    That's a good idea. Much better than the current model of "pay to be more powerful." I guess controlling the content of the game is a form of power, but not in the same way. You could even combine it with the "pay for added content" philosophy, by having a mostly-static, "core" section of the game world, open to both free and paying users, and then build a dynamic "borderlands" section around that, which is accessible only to paying users, and updated based on events that happen there.

    On an unrelated note, but back to the problem of the players in the minority living in a world they didn't choose... you can make "split votes" a separate result (i.e. three outcomes: 66+% of players choose A, 66+% of players choose B, or neither option has a 2/3 majority). As a further refinement, since you'd presumably have more than one quest going on in the world at once, the changes in the game world could be based on whichever of those quests was eliciting the clearest preference in players.

    Additionally, small-scale changes could be handled automatically, and serve as a form of auto-balancing. E.g. if one area features an enemy, say wolves, who are unbalanced in terms of XP vs. difficulty and are a popular target for farming, their population could be reduced as a result, by basing respawn time on the average lifespan of the mob between being spawned and being killed. Farm an area heavily, and it repops more slowly, giving the feeling of a species gradually going extinct. Meanwhile, unpopular areas could occasionally pop up automatically generated mini-quests (triple the number of goblins in the mine for a limited time and reward the players who kill the most of them, for instance) in order to draw people to them.
     
  7. DevTactics

    DevTactics New Member

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  8. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Interesting system, though it's not exactly what I'm talking about.

    Here, you're coming at it from the other angle... you're taking the way the players themselves have always had an impact the game world - by requesting features - and working it into the context of the game itself, so it doesn't feel as "meta."

    I'm talking about making actual player actions impact the game world in dramatic and not-entirely-predictable ways. Again, I think the system you're pointing out is cool, but it's more like an in-character equivalent to emailing the devs and saying "Snilloc's Snowball needs to be downgraded or banned from PvP because that's all anyone casts in the arena," instead of the devs noticing that e.g. the Ice King of the Frosty Peak is being killed more often than his enemy Pyros the Red Dragon (because the players want the Snowball spell from the book he carries), and changing the whole mountain range area from snowcaps to active volcanoes because the tide of the battle has shifted...
     
  9. speeler

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    Our latest action RPG, Din's Curse, does a lot of dynamic world stuff. It's not exactly what you are talking about and definitely not an MMO, but things definitely change based on the player's actions.
     
  10. Jack Norton

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    It's interesting but requires LOT more work since you have to handle all possible case/changes (unless the changes are minimal and so, not much relevant). Especially in a MMO, but even for a singleplayer game.
     
  11. zoombapup

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    There was the +7 balance engine (if I remember the name right) that was being used in some MMO context. That did dynamic balancing stuff.

    Its discussed in "dynamic difficulty adjustment" somewhere on gamasutra too I believe.
     
  12. hippocoder

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    MMOs already do this, in a sensible way: give the customer what he or she wants and keep them coming back for more.
     
  13. Nexic

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    Sure, but why invest a lot of effort in a system that won't deliver anything more than what you get with a static world? Chances are, that every player would be stuck with several quests that shaped the world in way that doesn't match their own experience of the quest. I would instead invest this time in making decent staff run events that involve the entire player base, and have a world shaping outcome based on the actual outcome of the event (ie, blue army kills red army, burning down their HQ and erects a statue to mark the victory). Then the game world will match everyone's experience.
     
  14. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Yes, this is a good point that I was expecting someone would make... I think one-time, large scale quests would be great fun. On the other hand, if you think that basing updates on how the majority of players choose to solve a static quest sounds like too much work, surely it's too much effort to build a whole epic quest for the entire player base, which will only be used once...

    Anyway, maybe MMOs aren't the best place to try this out. What about a single-player game where, upon completing the game, the player is offered the option of uploading to the developer a file containing a log of the choices they made throughout the game. The developer could then use this information in shaping the sequel (or DLC) - not just in terms of the gameworld consequences of the actions chosen by the majority of players, but also in shaping the player character's personality. If, based on the dialogue choices made by most players, it seems like they see the protagonist as a sarcastic jerk, then there are more snarky dialogue options in the sequel, and NPCs begin to act like they expect such behaviour from him.

    There could even be a hybrid, maybe... large-scale changes that would be too much work to do multiple versions, you use the players' data in the aggregate... but for simpler things like dialogue options, you could base it on the individual user's data from the previous game (they have the option of loading it at startup), or a combination of that and the majority trend.

    In any case, there are still obvious flaws in all of this. The point, though, is that it's pretty well impossible to provide characters with real ethical dilemmas in a conventional game, because it's only a real choice if it has real consequences, and the nature of a game provided in one shot is that it can't branch too heavily. I don't pretend to have a perfect answer, I'm just saying that the nature of MMOs, with their constant updates, and more episodic, DLC-type content for single player titles maybe provides a way to solve this problem, if someone comes up with the right way to do it.
     
  15. ecruz

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    What you said above sounds like Mass Effect to me,
    also you don't even need to upload your log file, only by using your old save file.
     
  16. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    I haven't played ME (don't touch AAA games myself, for the most part), so correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the choices made by the player have a pretty conventional "branching narrative" style of implementation. So, a) all branches have to be explicitly coded by the developers, and the overall storyline can't diverge too greatly without requiring exponentially-increasing development time, and b) if the player doesn't like the outcome, or wants to see the alternative, he can reload an earlier game and make the other choice.

    If so, that's the old, flawed way that I describe; I'm proposing an alternative to that.
     
  17. Game Producer

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    I smell balancing issues in a MMO, but this is interesting indeed.

    And... of course the more options you give, the more complex it becomes, like you mention:
    But with all that said... I like this.

    Also the comment by Link in your blog post gives some more idea for this:
    If this MMO was done so that the same story goes on over and over, and is restarted (players could perhaps receive some skill points for just playing one round and then earn some lil boost for the next round, but not too much to ensure balance).

    In fact... I'm not sure if this would need to be an RPG at all :)

    It might be interesting for players to try affect different outcomes and see "what happens this time".
     
  18. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Just to be clear, since you seem to be responding more to the first link than the second, when I wrote the first post, I was thinking more of single-player RPGs. I just mentioned it as a little bit of background to my thinking on the subject of non-linearity and adding real choice to games... the first post was a way to build true non-linearity into a one-shot game, which is a lot harder, whereas the second was about how to take advantage of the unique attributes of an MMO to do a similar thing but in an easier way.

    Nonetheless, it's interesting to think about how the two could be combined. I especially like your idea of a non-linear MMO that gets reset periodically. One advantage here, if you're looking at combining ideas from both blog entries, is that you can keep everything that was created previously and reuse it later. For instance, when the elven forest burns down, the work the developer put into that area won't be gone, because it'll be back on the next reset. Meanwhile, the work that got put into the "charred wastes" that replaced it isn't lost on reset, because that area will be kept in reserve (either to be used exactly, or modified a little) for the next time a forest gets burnt down.

    Getting into issues of game balance is a bit of a digression, but I like the reset idea for that too... if everyone's back to level 1 at the reset, new players can still compete with veterans on relatively even footing. The veterans still have an advantage because of the player skills, but that's good... we want to encourage skill-oriented gaming. Meanwhile, to keep them around, you can offer qualitative, rather than quantitative bonuses. That is, even if you've been playing for years, you still restart at level 1, but you unlock new races and classes as you go (and get to choose a new combination each reset). Maybe complete beginners only get to choose between two or three of the simplest races and classes to play, like basic fighter and healer types. Later, you can unlock ones with more subtle, potentially more powerful, but harder-to-play abilities. Experienced players would also be more in demand for parties, not only because of their skills, but because it's harder to find someone with their race/class combo. Finding a Dwarven Fighter might be easy, because 25% of the newbies are playing that, but if you need a Naga Planeshifter, then you're going to need to find someone who's been playing for a year or two.
     
  19. Game Producer

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    I somehow mixed "MMO" in this thread's title to this idea... anyway, more ideas in the mix.

    If the area is large enough, then becoming familiar with it is one advantage. For example in Zombie Panic, noobs are clueless where the shotguns are located but after a match or two (after following the veterans ;)) they get the idea and notice some key locations. Of course by playing more, they get better understanding of the level and can benefit from it.

    Similarly, veteran players in this MMO can benefit from the reset. They know where the witch lives, where the Golden Armor is located and so on. Veterans can use this information for their advantage in some ways.

    Unlocking new races is a great idea. Noobs start as humans and try kill elves and after playing enough... you can unlock elves to start fight back. Or after playing more, you can unlock the ents and wipe both races of the planet.
     
  20. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Well, you'd have to be careful. If the races available to newbies are fighting other races, which become available to the vets, then it ends up vets vs. newbies, which is hardly fair.

    What you're saying about knowing where the best stuff is reminds me of a PvP-only MUD I used to play back in the day, called Genocide. It was played as a series of wars, sometimes 2 teams, sometimes multiple teams, sometimes free-for-all. You'd get to vote on what kind of war you wanted, but it'd still be randomly chosen, just weighted based on what people were voting for. Also, each war, a different set of areas would be in the game... maybe there were 30 areas in all, and 12 would get chosen at random for each war or something.

    Being on the winning team, killing enemy players, surviving the war, etc. all gave you experience points which persisted between wars, but these had no impact on your character's strength, only on whether you'd get to be a team leader, and I think on who got first pick of the races and classes, since some of the weirder ones were limited to only one or two per team (e.g. Slime, Griffon, Lich...). However, the most important thing was knowing areas by heart. Since it was a text-only game, you could move around as fast as you could type. Hotkeys were allowed (so you'd rig your numpad up to NW, N, NE, W, E, etc.) and the game featured convenient things like "KILL" would just attack whatever enemy was first in the room, if you didn't specify a target, so you could just hook that up to a key. Scripting, however, was illegal. The game was insanely fast.

    Anyway, after you died, you could enter the world (or even one of the areas that wasn't being used) as a ghost in order to map it out and figure out where everything was, but you still needed to figure out the fastest route to get all the stuff. Memorizing the optimal route was critical, but you also needed to know your way around more generally, so that if you got jumped, you'd know how to lose the guy and hopefully grab the most critical items from the area before getting the hell out.

    Between the real vets, the strategy was quite deep, mostly revolving around "drops" and "bangs."

    A "drop" was teleporting directly to an enemy's location, and could be done using various items, spells, or race abilities. Knowing who to drop and when was key - based on their skill level, race and class, you could figure out who you'd likely have the edge on, and when the best time to surprise them would be; e.g. if they'd just killed someone on your team, they'd likely be weakened.

    A "bang" was a tougher thing to pull off, but incredibly deadly. Essentially, if someone said to the team chat channel "BANG AT [location]!," everyone on the team was supposed to try to get there within the next 10-20 seconds, if they were close enough and knew their way there. The person would be calling the bang because they were being chased by one of the better players on the other team... rather than trying to shake them, they'd just pretend they were trying to do so, and lead them right to the room where the rest of their team were (hopefully) waiting in ambush. Beautiful, when it worked... almost always an insta-kill.

    Anyway, all that to say, yes, a skill-oriented PvP action-RPG MMO with frequent resets would be awesome. A war on Genocide typically lasted like 30 minutes, because death was permanent. But a more modern philosophy could also work with much longer resets (on the scale of weeks or months), without perma-death, and with the battles being waged not only PvP or PvNPC, but more like large kingdoms with both PCs and NPCs fighting on both sides.

    Edit: Looks like Genocide is still around: http://www.geno.org/
     

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