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MMORPG in the hand of the player


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#1 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 09:05 AM

How can I give the players of a MMORPG power to create their own stories?

I know that it seems a story writing topic, but I think it's more game related, since I'd like to find game elements to entice player interaction with the world.

I read some opinions about this argument, and I started to hear the word "story sensing". So I'd like to deepen these concepts.

I think the first element to be defined is what's the stake? Why does it matter for the player?
And what's the prize?

Some example I know is "territorial conquest": an element in some MMORPG where the player has to defend or conquer some place, and the story of the world is related to these wars.

After a little brainstorming I thought about 3 type of stake:
- Territorial wars, where player fight to conquer a place. -> the prize is territory control.
- Buildings or item creation, where players need to interact to gather resources to create something big -> the prize is a "special item"
- Grand Jury, where the player can vote to change something. - > in this latter case the prize can be everything, but I think that the "vote" alone is a little boring.

Any other ideas?

I'm searching for any other example of a game element that let the player interact with a MMORPG setting. I need game elements to help the players to create their own stories.
And I'm really interested to listen to new ideas, too.

Any suggestion? Do you think it's good to entice players to create their own stories for a MMORPG or you think it's bettere another type of approach?
And how?
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor

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#2 Edtharan   Members   -  Reputation: 606

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 11:04 AM

I like to use the term "To give the players Agency of their story".

The first step is to abandon the traditional cRPG style. This style was taken from the mechanics of pen and paper RPGs, but it also left what made them Role playing games.

In games like D&D, the role the player takes on is similar to the Ancient Greek Mythological Heroes. This limits the range of roles somewhat, but there is still a large scope for the variety of roles.

In this sense, "Role" is not the same as the game mechanic of "Class". It is actually more closer to the meaning of "Persona". So in terms of PnP RPGs I might have the class of Wizard, but this just states how I go about dealing with the world, but the "Role" is the personality of the character and the choices I have them make (and the rationale of why that choice was taken).

The problem with current cRPGs is that they use decision trees to map out every possible choice you can make in the game, and then they write into those the rational you are supposed to apply to why you made that choice. Giving the player Agency is giving them back the power to make their own choices and have their own rationale for them.

This can sometime lead to the player having less options at any one time (but not always). The way it is done is to give the player a full set of actions, even ones unrelated to the current situation at all times. You might have a choice and then sub-choices that lead directly from that, but once that sub-choice set has been dealt with, the player is brought right back up to the full set of choices as soon as possible.

As an example:

I am a Knight and lord of an estate in a fantasy medieval RPG. At the top level I have the ability to choose any of the basic actions, however, I choose to send in spies to a rival knight's estate to make the peasants revolt (in game mechanics, I build a spy unit, move it to the target territory and give it the order "sow descent"). However, at the top level I could have also decided to march my army into their territory and attack, challenge them to a due, or even visit different knight's manor house and conduct a trade negotiation.

Now, this allows me to create a persona for my character. If I want them to be sneaky, I'll send the spy. If I want to be militaristic I can send the army, If I want to make the issue a personal one and defeat them in an honourable fashion, I'll challenge them to the duel. Or, If I am not interested in battle I'll go conduct the trade negotiation.

However, the reason I do these things might be different depending on how I want my character's persona to be. I might choose the spy method, not because I am sneaky, but because I can't defeat them in any other way (they have a bigger army and they are better at swordplay then my character). Also, I might choose the trade negotiation because it builds the alliance between me and the 3rd knight and together we can defeat my (our) enemy.

So each choice can have many different reasons you would choose it. Giving the player Agency is giving them the power to form that rationale behind a choice and making the choice to reflect their character's persona.

There are games that have been doing this for a long time, right back into the 1980's they were being made, so doing this is not so much dependent on complex computer algorithms and processing capacity, but in how you approach the design of the game.

There are two things that seem important for this to occur: Memory and Communication.

The game must have a memory of the past actions of the player. This can be a complex system where it remembers specific events, or it could just be a single variable that stores a value that is changed by the choices made.

The other is Communication, which means that entities in the game must be able to communicate with each other about their attitude to your character. Again, this can be a complex system that tries to model real world information spread through populations, or it can be a simple variable with each NPC that gets updated each time multiple NPCs are in the same area.

Some games that do this are: "Balance of Power" and "Sword of the Samurai". Both of these are older games, and both had developers that worked on them that have gone on to become quite famous designers (so even just for the history of game development they are worth a look at).

Chris Crawford, the designer of Balance of Power, has even written a book on how the game was designed (IIRC it is available as a free e-book).

#3 PropheticEdge   Members   -  Reputation: 150

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 01:33 PM

Read up on the game A Tale in the Desert. It was one of the most amazing MMO's ever created, in my opinion, but virtually unknown. It had a fairly static, but extremely extensive, crafting system that was very cool. It also had a bitchin' sweet legal system.

You could become a politician in the game by drafting a law proposal and getting players to sign it (there were voting boxes scattered across the world, one of the two or three NPC structures in the game.) The playerbase could look at active petitions and vote on them. If a petition got enough votes, and was realistic, the developers would implement it as a change to the game.

It worked surprisingly well. One of my favorite examples is when a new tech tree was created called the "School of Progress" At the time, it was the first new tech tree that hadn't existed since the game's launch. The technologies featured in it tended to be very powerful and lucrative, but potentially destructive. One of them was called "Clear Cutting"

Normally, you could click on a tree to harvest it once every 20 seconds or so. If you had an axe, the amount of wood you could harvest went up while the regeneration time of the tree increased as well, but only to the order of a few minutes. This made trees effectively a limitless resource. Clear Cutting allowed you to harvest a huge amount of wood from a tree all at once, but stripped it of all wood for a week real time. Trees were a pretty valuable resource in the game (you couldn't plant them, the only trees that existed were those that were generated when the world was spawned), and guilds would have forests staked at as part of their territory. Rogue players with Clear Cutting would roll through, cut down an entire forest in the middle of the night when no one was looking, and cripple a community's wood production for a week.

It took about 3 days before a law was passed that made clear cutters carve their name into the stump of the tree they harvested. Once people could identify who was destroying their forests, they'd be put on regional trade blacklists (guilds and communities usually had alliances with each other and some sort of overarching political structure). Within a week the problem had mostly resolved itself.

Edit: Moral of the story is that A Tale in the Desert was almost entirely player driven. There wasn't really a big, overarching plot of great significance, but stories were made through player actions. The game was designed in a way that almost invariably forced people to work together to accomplish anything significant, forcing them to form alliances and guilds, and the legal system game players power over the design of the game as well. Actions and player interactions drove the story of the world.

I can't stress enough how important the mandatory cooperation was. You were never forced to do anything, but the crafting system rapidly grew so complex and massive that it was effectively impossible to work as a one-man show. Hell, some mechanics were literally impossible (building a large pyramid required multiple people for instance). This meant that you had to rely on others for help, but no one was going to give it for free. You had to trade, and since you had to trade, you had to maintain your reputation. Reputation was really important in that game. If you started stealing from people, or never giving back what you borrowed, word would spread through the player base and people would stop trading with you. If you were helpful and could make it in with a powerful guild, you'd get preferential treatment and access to tools and resources that a solo player couldn't dream of.

Cooperation was the pillar of the game held in place by a linchpin of personal reputation. It was pretty brilliant.

#4 kraz007   Members   -  Reputation: 130

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 03:59 AM

MMORPGs are not the best genre to foster innovation. They are extremely stale and the "story" is derivative. Frankly, I doubt you read your quest description in WoW and neither do I.

Minecraft seems to be a better platform for SOME innovation, let's call it spatial innovation. Again, there is little in terms of stories.

Playing: Riftforge - an online rpg with tactical combat similar to 90s RPGs

Sign up for the playtest and get a 50,000 gold headstart!

 

 


#5 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 08:31 AM

@Edtharan

The first step is to abandon the traditional cRPG style. This style was taken from the mechanics of pen and paper RPGs, but it also left what made them Role playing games.

I agree, the structure of story this needs to have some linearity. And it's full of NPC characters fully controlled by the "pre-created story". The evolution in the story can differentiate. Creating multiple options for a character can spend much resources, and it needs very much more resource to implement different pre-created storylines for more than one "persona".

Now, this allows me to create a persona for my character. If I want them to be sneaky, I'll send the spy. If I want to be militaristic I can send the army, If I want to make the issue a personal one and defeat them in an honourable fashion, I'll challenge them to the duel. Or, If I am not interested in battle I'll go conduct the trade negotiation.

This can add options.
Having any objective (like "territory conquer") can be differentiated by giving player different challenges to gain it.
An objective that can be achieved in different ways. The player has to decide not only which one suits more to his persona, but which one is more easy for him.

Giving the player Agency is giving them the power to form that rationale behind a choice and making the choice to reflect their character's persona.

I think that giving the player some type of objective can entice him to develop his character's persona. That's why I think well-deisgned objectives can enrich a game.
I read something about the "agency", also for P&P Rpg.
Is there any article, book or other material where I can read some more about the "agency"?

The game must have a memory of the past actions of the player. This can be a complex system where it remembers specific events, or it could just be a single variable that stores a value that is changed by the choices made.

Let's see if I understand this. You mean something like the moral alignment of Planescape Torment?
Where action of the player define a part of the character (as I said the alignment).

The other is Communication, which means that entities in the game must be able to communicate with each other about their attitude to your character.

Alas I am not sure to understand this one.
You mean that NPC relates with the PC in a different way (like the merchants in some MMORPG who sell things only if you have good reputation with a faction)?

Some games that do this are: "Balance of Power" and "Sword of the Samurai".

Thank you, going to check them.

Chris Crawford, the designer of Balance of Power, has even written a book on how the game was designed (IIRC it is available as a free e-book).

If you mean Art of Game Design, I read it. And I like it very much.
Alas, in my country, I can't find anywhere the cards!

@PropheticEdge

Read up on the game A Tale in the Desert. It was one of the most amazing MMO's ever created, in my opinion, but virtually unknown. It had a fairly static, but extremely extensive, crafting system that was very cool. It also had a bitchin' sweet legal system.

It hink that using player designed laws is a nice way to let them interact with the setting.
I'll check A Tale in the Desert to see how and what exactly the player can legislate.
Thank you for the segnalation!

I can't stress enough how important the mandatory cooperation was.

I agree. The best objectives are the ones that entice players not only to interact with the world but also to cooperate.

@Kra007

MMORPGs are not the best genre to foster innovation. They are extremely stale and the "story" is derivative. Frankly, I doubt you read your quest description in WoW and neither do I.

I'm not so sure about this.
I agree that WoW is full of lame quests. They're not only boring, you also know that if you win or if you fail nothing will change in the world (yeah, ok you gain some items and xp, but it doesn't have any important impact on the world story).
One other thing is also the Setting itself, WoW (and also Ultima Online) were created on a setting with a deep story background.
But sticking to objectives and challenges WoW gives the players at least one interesting objective: wars and conflict between faction.
This type of objective is not a story itself, but it's a story creator objective.
I'm searching for them, to see if they are implementable, and to check if they add fun for a MMORPG.
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor

#6 Edtharan   Members   -  Reputation: 606

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 09:19 AM


I agree, the structure of story this needs to have some linearity. And it's full of NPC characters fully controlled by the "pre-created story". The evolution in the story can differentiate. Creating multiple options for a character can spend much resources, and it needs very much more resource to implement different pre-created storylines for more than one "persona".

Done right, it should require less resources in the long run. This design concept is not about creating lots of different paths the player can follow, but allowing the player to create their own path.

If you think of a fight in another type of game (Say FPS). During the fight the player has set goals (stay alive and kill their opponent). This is the "Story". However, how they do this is not set. They might use a sniper rifle and stalk their opponent in a game of cat and mouse (whole movies are made around this "story"), or they might use stealth to get in close and finish them off with a knife, or they might grab the shield belt and the chain gun and mow them down.

But, even within this there is still things going on. How their opponent reacts, how bot use the terrain, the near misses, the surprise moves the sudden reversals as one gets a lucky shot in (or fouls up an easy shot).

In even an FPS fight there is a story in the microcosm of events. In fact, this is a perfect example of Agency. The players might have a set beginning and end, and even the basic story is pre-set, but the players have Agency over their character's actions and this allows them to create a narrative as they try to achieve their goals (and even on a failed goal there is still a story - although it might be seen as a tragedy).

This can add options.
Having any objective (like "territory conquer") can be differentiated by giving player different challenges to gain it.
An objective that can be achieved in different ways. The player has to decide not only which one suits more to his persona, but which one is more easy for him.

It is not so much about the number of options or the variety, but it is about having the player's choice of option re-interact with future situations and options.

I think that giving the player some type of objective can entice him to develop his character's persona. That's why I think well-deisgned objectives can enrich a game.
I read something about the "agency", also for P&P Rpg.
Is there any article, book or other material where I can read some more about the "agency"?

I can't recall any one source where I picked up the term Agency. But a lot of it comes from Artificial Intelligence where the autonomous entities in a system are called Agents. It is because these "Agents" interact within the system and the system interacts with them in complex ways that the Agents express this intelligence.

So I suppose the first step to understanding and designing Agency based systems is to treat the user and the AI Agents on equal footing.

The thing is, Agency is used widely in games, it just is not used much in cRPGs. IT is about giving the player the ability to act in the game, not just react. It is giving the player the ability to say, how they reach the goal, not telling the player they must do it "this way" or "that way".

Let's see if I understand this. You mean something like the moral alignment of Planescape Torment?
Where action of the player define a part of the character (as I said the alignment).

That is an example of a very simplistic form of what I am talking about. However, it sort of fails as the paths the player takes through the story (the narrative) are still pre-set. So although they have the beginnings of Agency, it is actually an illusion of Agency.

If they had the NPC able to asses the player and make choices as to how they react based on various inputs, then this would make the game more Agency based.

Alas I am not sure to understand this one.
You mean that NPC relates with the PC in a different way (like the merchants in some MMORPG who sell things only if you have good reputation with a faction)?

Sort of, but again this just stops short of what I was talking about.

Again, this comes from AI Agents. In an AI Agent, the agents must be able to communicate between themselves in various ways. In AI Agents systems, if an Agent can know everything about the world at any time and can act on that in any way, then they cease to become an Agent and the system is no longer an Agent based system.

By limiting what any Agent can know at any time, and restricting their ability to act on the information they have, then each entity gains individuality. As each entity is an individual, then the actions of that individual will reflect its history and it can develop.

Story is about how a character grows and develops because of the events that unfold. Every story is a journey. If you force a player to follow a particular way through a story, then they loose their connection to this experience of development. Most cRPGs substitute this experience of development with the increasing of variables (level and stats).

This again is just a false illusionary substitute for story and narrative. Ironically, it is the cRPGs that that seem to be doing this the most, and it is in the other genera that more success is being achieved in giving players this control over their character's story.

If you mean Art of Game Design, I read it. And I like it very much.
Alas, in my country, I can't find anywhere the cards!

No, not Art of Game Design (good book though - you could probably get it from an online book store). This was a document written specifically about his game "Balance of Power". Here is a link: http://www.erasmatazz.com/page78/page146/page147/BalanceOfPower.html

I'm not so sure about this.
I agree that WoW is full of lame quests. They're not only boring, you also know that if you win or if you fail nothing will change in the world (yeah, ok you gain some items and xp, but it doesn't have any important impact on the world story).
One other thing is also the Setting itself, WoW (and also Ultima Online) were created on a setting with a deep story background.
But sticking to objectives and challenges WoW gives the players at least one interesting objective: wars and conflict between faction.
This type of objective is not a story itself, but it's a story creator objective.
I'm searching for them, to see if they are implementable, and to check if they add fun for a MMORPG.

I agree, WoW is a game with very little Agency in it. Even the fights are pretty much set pieces where you need to have the prescribed sequence to complete them (there is some variety, but not much - then again, just having variety is not the same as Agency).

See most of the work went into creating a back story that most players won't both with most of the time. In these cases, the designers had a lot of Agency in the story, but then never gave the players that same Agency. It seems as if the designers specifically wanted players to not have much in the way of Agency (I am not against games that don't have Agency, I just think that giving more Agency to players in RPGs is a way to create significant innovation in the genera).

Another way to understand Agency is to look at games that don't have much (or any for that matter). The point and click adventure games (Such as the Monkey Island series or the New Back to the Future series, and such - by the way loved both of these game series). These style of games have the least amount of agency in them. The player must complete puzzles in a certain way to progress, if they don't complete them in the way prescribed by the designers, then they fail to progress until they do. And then, the story progresses in a completely prescribed manner as well with no variation or option (and yet they can still be fun).

Games with little or no agency feel like the designers are dictating the story to you, that you are just watching the story unfold. Games with player agency (even if it is just an illusionary sense of it) feel like you are making the story up as you go along, you might know the start and the destination, but you control how you get there.

#7 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 18 April 2011 - 09:18 AM

No, not Art of Game Design (good book though - you could probably get it from an online book store). This was a document written specifically about his game "Balance of Power". Here is a link: http://www.erasmataz...nceOfPower.html

Yey, I found the book on ebay, alas not the cards (at least on acceptable shipping cost).
Thanks for the link!

That is an example of a very simplistic form of what I am talking about. However, it sort of fails as the paths the player takes through the story (the narrative) are still pre-set.

Ok, I agree, I only want to check if I understood.

I think to understand what you mean by Agent and Agency, and it's a very sexy Idea (and maybe not so difficult to implement).

I'll try to be more specific.
The choices of the players can influence the game, not only in an "illusionary fake way" (like torment and many other single player games, where the player can decide, but it didn't matter to the story, or it matters, but not so much), but also in a "real way" (or simple "illusionary real way").
With "Real way" I mean that a players' decisions have (or can have) consenquences on the MMORPG setting.

I'd like to elaborate this "real way" and to check what a player can do to a MMORPG setting.
Killing is very very simple, territorial wars is a little more complex (and already implemented), I'd like to check if anyone has other ideas.
I'd like to find "objectives". What can do the players to the game-world?
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor

#8 PropheticEdge   Members   -  Reputation: 150

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Posted 18 April 2011 - 01:34 PM

No, not Art of Game Design (good book though - you could probably get it from an online book store). This was a document written specifically about his game "Balance of Power". Here is a link: http://www.erasmataz...nceOfPower.html

Yey, I found the book on ebay, alas not the cards (at least on acceptable shipping cost).
Thanks for the link!

That is an example of a very simplistic form of what I am talking about. However, it sort of fails as the paths the player takes through the story (the narrative) are still pre-set.

Ok, I agree, I only want to check if I understood.

I think to understand what you mean by Agent and Agency, and it's a very sexy Idea (and maybe not so difficult to implement).

I'll try to be more specific.
The choices of the players can influence the game, not only in an "illusionary fake way" (like torment and many other single player games, where the player can decide, but it didn't matter to the story, or it matters, but not so much), but also in a "real way" (or simple "illusionary real way").
With "Real way" I mean that a players' decisions have (or can have) consenquences on the MMORPG setting.

I'd like to elaborate this "real way" and to check what a player can do to a MMORPG setting.
Killing is very very simple, territorial wars is a little more complex (and already implemented), I'd like to check if anyone has other ideas.
I'd like to find "objectives". What can do the players to the game-world?


Well, once again A Tale in the Desert had an overarching goal for the server. Players had to build a utopian society by creating seven pre-determined monuments to the seven disciplines in the game. I cannot for the life of me remember all the disciplines, but some were like...

Architecture
Art
Harmony (used to be conflict)
Body
Leadership
Thought
Worship

The construction of these monuments was not available at the start, you had to get a player to become an Oracle in that discipline before they could build the monument. Becoming an Oracle required you to achieve 7 feats within that discipline, some of which were quite easy, some of which were extremely difficult. Once you had seven Oracles in the seven disciplines, you could complete the objective and the game ended. Yep, an MMO with a win condition. Once it ended, a new server started up (with marginally different mechanics). I think you had a year and a half to complete the challenge, or else it was deemed a failure and the server reset.

So yeah, players had a big impact on the outcome of the game since it could be won or lost. Since so much of the game depended on cooperation, you had an interesting power structure that formed. Some individual players held immense amount of power. Guild leaders could leverage a lot of resources and man-power. Some successful politicians could be promoted to the rank of demi-pharaoh, allowing them to ban 7 players in the game. An Oracle (or an individual being built into an oracle), was incredibly important. The average joe had little power by himself, but groups of regular players could band together and accomplish a lot themselves, like starting a new guild or passing a law they wanted to pass.

#9 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 04:08 AM

A tale in the Desert seems to have a nice comncept, I'll try to play it.

Yep, an MMO with a win condition. Once it ended, a new server started up (with marginally different mechanics). I think you had a year and a half to complete the challenge, or else it was deemed a failure and the server reset.

Nice :).
I think this type challenge can be set as repeteable periodically.
Also without restarting the server.
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor




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