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Communication (MMO)

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In my current design concept (MMO), characters do not have human vocal chords and can not speak. They communicate by making sounds and using body language. When two strangers meet, they will have to make do with sounds and body language. Each player can assign specific sounds and body movements to convey certain messages. This should/could lead to different 'languages' being created by different groups of players. Sound A might be used by one group of players to indicate fear, but another group of players might use it to indicate joy. If a player wants to converse with other characters, it's in his best interest to make his character follow the established rules of sounds (a guidebook to sounds will most likely be created by the community and posted on the web). As player interaction is one of the key concepts in an MMO, I've introduced a system into the concept that I like to call Delayed Chat Communication (DCC). The theory is that when two characters converse, they gradually start to understand each other better. To simulate this, limited text chat will be introduced at this point. Initially, when character 1 utters Sound A, the player controlling character 2 has to decipher that sound. But, with limited text chat, the meaning of the sound will be displayed for player 2, but there will be a certain delay between the sound being made and the text showing up. The longer two characters know each other and the more they have conversed, the shorter the delay will be. The exact wording of the 'meaning' of each sound can be selected by players from a list of common words. This list will be limited and only include very general words like 'danger', 'help', 'hello', 'back off', etc. When two characters become close friends by being near each other a lot and talking a lot, they may start to use advanced text chat. In advanced text chat, players will be able to actually type messages to friends. These typed messages will show up only to friends within sound range. Each player will be allowed to use one sound for advanced text chat. This means that when advanced text chat is used, any nearby non-friends will hear this sound. Advanced text chat can further be divided in several steps. Step 1 for example could allow for only one word with a maximum number of 8 characters to be typed. Step 2 could allow for two words of a maximum 8 characters each. The final step would allow a player to use text chat as it's used in current MMO games (but proximity rules would still apply.). Any comments and/or suggestions? [edited by - Silvermyst on February 8, 2003 11:07:25 AM]

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On the one hand, it''s an intriguing idea in theory. On the other hand, it basically eliminates from your game a key draw of MMO games - the ability to speak freely with other human players - and so you should really consider the effects carefully to see if the benefits outweigh the loss.

One thing you might want to reevaluate is the "leveling up toward chat" factor. Making the player earn through laborious work abilities which would be useful right off the bat is one of the factors which repels me from MMOGs as they stand now. I don''t want to wait to have fun, I want to do it now! This also basically invalidates the purpose of the "sounds and gestures" system, which is to make communications more of a challenge.

Further, it also invalidates a side benefit of "sounds and gestures" - limited communications between players, which makes the game potentially more kid-friendly. If people can only communicate using a set list of phrases, as in a Disney MMOG I read about recently, then there''s no need for language filters or worrying about child predators etc. The "sounds and gestures" system makes this even safer - certainly a particular gesture could be considered an insult, but it would be impossible to get specific - as in, giving away your RL address to some psycho.

Basically, I say either scrap this idea, or hold to it more rigidly - and if you hold to it, make absolutely sure the rest of the game is entertaining enough that people won''t mind the loss of free chat.

-STC

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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It doesn''t matter how one communicates, they still largely ''say'' the same things.

Just make it ''flavor'', not a barrier. Like trashy said, chatting with people all over the place is one of the biggest draws for MMOGs. Get rid of the ability to easily communicate and you get rid of a LOT of your audience.

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SpittingTrashcan wrote:
quote:
it basically eliminates from your game a key draw of MMO games - the ability to speak freely with other human players - and so you should really consider the effects carefully to see if the benefits outweigh the loss.

Agreed. This would be sacrificed. But I think there''s an element of mystique that is added, a deeper form of communication that is opened up, if sounds and gestures are used. Players could still create a language with sounds that allows them to use basic questions and give basic answers.
quote:
If people can only communicate using a set list of phrases, as in a Disney MMOG I read about recently, then there''s no need for language filters or worrying about child predators etc. The "sounds and gestures" system makes this even safer - certainly a particular gesture could be considered an insult, but it would be impossible to get specific - as in, giving away your RL address to some psycho.

This is one of the motivations for the sounds/gestures. It means no filters need to be put in place and no monitoring needs to be done. I''ve been toying around with the idea of letting players assign ''friend'' status. When two characters have both on each other''s friend list, regular chat would be enabled (the different steps could still be used). Otherwise, just sounds and gestures would be used. A reason why I''m not yet willing to adjust the system in that manner is that I don''t want players to assign friend status like that. But it may very well be that I have to let go of that objection.
quote:
I don''t want to wait to have fun, I want to do it now! This also basically invalidates the purpose of the "sounds and gestures" system, which is to make communications more of a challenge.

Perhaps ''challenge'' is the wrong word. ''Skill'' might fit better. In a game like Everquest, when I first found out about the many different languages that could be used I was intrigued. That is, until I found out exactly how one ''practiced'' these languages. From that moment on, I have tried to figure out a way to make communication into an actual skill.

I fully agree with the ''I want to do it now!'', but I feel like every ''it'' should be devided into several steps. That way, there can be progression throughout the game, while giving the player everything from the get-go (be it in limited form).

The design is very simulation oriented, and is targeted at long-term group interaction. I''m not using guilds as they are used in MMO games now, but clans will certainly be formed. A benefit of belonging to a clan could be that text chat could immediately be entered with any fellow clan members. In other words, joining a clan would immediately make all clan members your ''friend''.

I accept that there are several problems involved with this communications system, but that''s why I am trying to get some input.

SOLINEAR wrote:
quote:
Get rid of the ability to easily communicate and you get rid of a LOT of your audience.

It''s a concern I share I first want to attempt to solve the problem at least to some degree. If that doesn''t work, I may scrap the idea and start over.

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Don''t scrap the game, just scrap the idea of forcing people to (effectively) not communicate.

There are huge numbers of ''chat guilds''. These are groups of people who run around together in these games (UO, EQ, DAOC, AC, etc...) just for the communications aspect of the game. These are the exact people you DO want in your game. Not the powergamer that is going to spend 14 hours a day in your game and largely do nothing other than piss off everyone around them by not caring about anything but himself. No, he won''t end up being driven out of your game, he''ll band up with a bunch of other people like himself and create a ''raiding guild'' as it''s called in Everquest. These are people who live almost as much for the challenge as for the game. They make up a relatively small portion of the population (10%) of the gaming community, but they do the majority (90%) of the pissing off.

You can dream of Utopia, but it''s best if you plan for Purgatory.

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I''ll second what solinear said. Chat guilds are something you want. Without them, you''re game is going nowhere.

Take this for example: A lot of MMORPG''s force the player to sit still and wait long periods of time for his character to heal. The main reason for this is simple. If you have to wait, you''ll want to do something while you wait. If you can''t move around while waiting (and you usually can''t alt-tab) you''re only choice is to talk. When people talk, they make friends with other waiting people. When people make friends, they make guilds, they play more in order to be with friends, they bring other friends into the game, and they help establish the community which is your only chance of survival in the MMORPG market.

Any hinderance to communication is not going to help you. Believe me, people will get annoyed at even the slightest hitch when it comes to talking in an MMORPG (I do too). The only restriction with communication that''s considered acceptable (if not desirable) is not being able to shout really long distances and spam (and even then, these restrictions are usually lifted for guild/party members).

It''s a nice idea, but not a good one.

------------
MSN: nmaster42@hotmail.com, AIM: LockePick42, ICQ: 74128155
"It''s all part of the conspiracy of conspirators conspiring to conspire their own conspiracies..."

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Bear in mind the main feature of a game, especially an MMO, is to provide fun. Keep that in mind when deciding whether to go with this idea.

For my input, the biggest complaint I''ve seen with MMO''s (by the players) is communication tools. People want area chat, private chat, group chat, trade chat, allegiance chat, help chat, etc, etc. Beyond whether the system you''re proposing is fun to use or not, it certainly seems to rule out any option of including the advanced communication tools players are demanding.

- Ben Scott
Just starting out

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Hey you could use this system and melt it with a race system. Players from the same race can understand each other and chat/speak normally, but with other races you''ll have to communicate with gestures or sounds unless you know/learn other races languages.

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First, let go of any MMORPG thoughts...

Second, imagine yourself a wolf.

The entire concept strives to put you, the player, in the role of a semi-intelligent wolf, on a planet that is Earth-like.

Meetings between players should be somewhat uncomfortable at first, as both players' wolves test each other out. They'll pace, as they use sounds and body language to communicate their emotions.

Once two wolves become friendly, they will be able to communicate in a somewhat easier manner, as they become familiar with each other's sounds and behavior.

Groups of friendly wolves will be able to eventually use normal text chat, but only within hearing distance.

A wolf howl can be heard from far away, so players will be able to communicate across large distances with their friends. Non-friends will simply hear a howl and be unable to really gather much information from it.

The 'fun' element will be so much different from current MMORPGs that I don't think ANY of the established elements of MMORPGs should really be carried over. Let's try something entirely new for a change. If players want to guildchat no matter what, they'll have to stick with playing EQ/AO/UO, etc. Chat amongst wolves will happen on a smaller scale, but I imagine the bonds between wolves to become stronger than those between the elves and dwarves we now play. You'll mate with your friends, produce offspring and care for your children together. You'll mourn lost friends (permanent death), but will be able to see their spirit live on in their young. Territories will be established, hunting tactics developed and rivalries will evolve.

In this type of setting, I think the established way of communicating would completely destroy the immersion.

[edited by - Silvermyst on February 11, 2003 10:16:50 AM]

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quote:
A little research regarding the reasons that people play MUDs and Online games in particular could be beneficial to your game design.

Agreed, but it could also be harmful as it can only deal with the reasons why people play CURRENT MUDs and Online games. I know that may sound a little arrogant (as in ''I don''t want to listen to what others have to say, because I know best'') but I am fairly familiar with those ''reasons'' having played online games for a few years now. I think I''ve learned more from the reasons why I''m NOT playing online games anymore than I''ve learned from the reasons why I did play.

The ''wolf'' concept breaks just about every established rule out there. No items, no levels, no experience, no skills, limited chat, no stats, no races, no classes, no ownership, no NPCs, no quests, etc. I can see you scratching your head, thinking "But... that means there''s nothing left!". I''m hoping to prove that a game doesn''t need all that in order to be fun. I let the design drive the design. Anything that''s not absolutely necessary and that doesn''t fit perfectly into the design will be excluded. (Of course, this means that if it turns out that some form of items, levels, classes, etc are needed, they''ll have to be included)

I''ll check out Raph''s site though (and have done so in the past).

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You''re not talking about a game now, you''re talking about role-playing an animal.

Sorry, but while it may be an intriuing idea, it''s not realistic. Just as anti-matter bombs would be a great concept for raw destructive power, the fact that you would need rediculous amounts of power to keep the magnetic bottles intact and in a vacuum environment to avoid any matter infiltration means that they are impractical.

In other words: Neat idea, horrible (and I mean HORRIBLE) game.

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quote:
you''re talking about role-playing an animal.

Well, I happen to believe that humans are just smart animals, so it''s no different to me than roleplaying humans, elves and dwarves.

The wolves will be semi-intelligent, so you''re talking about role-playing beings that are somewhere in between humans and wolves (the ones we know on Earth).

But yes, in short, it''s a life simulation of animalistic beings.

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Don''t get me wrong... I’m not trying to dissuade you from designing this game – I’m merely trying to point out some simple facts.

First of all, the subject for the topic pretty much says it all. Communication is the key to a successful online game. If you remove or limit the ability of players to communicate with each other then you have basically impeded the growth of the games community. If you have limited communication why would the game need to be an online game in the first place? Wouldn’t this work as a single player game with some nice AI controlling the other wolves?

At last years GDC I sat in on a conference with Rich Vogel, Raph Koster and Gordon Walton. I believe it was Rich that provided the best analogy for online games. This is close to what he said – but not verbatim. First he asked the question, “How many of you know you next door neighbor?” Next he asked, “Ok, how about the neighbor across the street or behind you?” With the normal looking around the room to see how many hands were held up he followed with something along these lines; Don’t you remember when you were kids and you would get up in the summer and run across the street to play with your friends… what happen to those days? Unfortunately when you get older you no longer want to know the next door neighbor for fear of lack of privacy – yet we all want to be social. So, online games fill the void that the child in us has by letting us get to know people in our online games – socialization.

It’s late and I’m incoherent – one too many Killian’s (actually I only had one) but I think you get the ideal – removing the ability to communicate takes the player and the game further away from the socialization side of the triangle (you know about the triangle, right?). Thus, prohibiting players from forming groups and in the end limiting the length at which you will retain players.

Now, here’s the question – would you hurt the game by providing the game mechanics to allow people to communicate and form groups? How much is your game dependent on limited communication? And what about IRC, AIM, ICQ and all the other instant messengers that are available – wouldn’t you players resort to using these tools to communicate? Would the use of these tools destroy the game?

In our game we have concluded that we need to provide as many different methods of communication as we can – as we are going to have numerous levels of socialization ranging from groups to guilds to cities. The types range from mail messages to group chat and even in-game online message boards.

Anyway, keep designing and think about what impact limited communication will have on the game.

Dave "Dak Lozar" Loeser

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quote:
would you hurt the game by providing the game mechanics to allow people to communicate?

I think it would, in that meetings between players will end up being just like meetings in any other MMO(RPG) game. Dewdspeak will kill any kind of atmosphere the game has tried to create for the community. Now, this doesn''t mean that players shouldn''t be able to talk dewdspeak with their friends in-game. That''s why the limited communication system disappears to make room for a full chat system (which will only be limited by hearing distance) over time.
quote:
and form groups?

I don''t really think that limited communication will have a real effect on the early formation of groups. In EQ, when I formed on-the-fly groups with strangers, it was just a matter of ''can I join you'' and then we''d collectively start bashing monsters for ep and loot. Grouping in my game will be for far different reasons, primarily for the ''safety in numbers'' rule of nature (which goes hand in hand with ''survival of the fittest''). Groups will be much more like the clans of FPS games, than like the guilds of MMORPG games. You''ll be able to play solo, but it''ll be tough to survive. There will be nobody to protect your young while you''re away hunting for food. Being part of a wolf pack comes with great benefits, but also with responsibilities. A benefit is that while you''re hunting, those of the pack that remain behind will protect your young. The responsibility that''s tied to that is that in turn when you stay behind, you are bound to protect the young of those that hunt.

As the groups will have a much deeper meaning, on-the-fly grouping will be much less common. People who join the game with friends will form a group with those friends. People who join the game without any friends will join a wolf pack, which will welcome them with open arms (safety in numbers).
quote:
How much is your game dependent on limited communication?

It''s dependent on it, in that it maintains the realism that the world tries to create. This realism needs to apply mainly to strangers, not to close friends. Without limited communication, it''d be hard to maintain realism, as even one encounter with a dewdspeaking wolf could destroy another player''s immersion.

Of course, one could provide players with the option to simply not show text chat from strangers (ignore all text chat). That way, those that want to use text chat can do so without spoiling it for the rest. But that will mean that the sounds of wolves communicating might disappear, as the motivation to use sounds is taken away. This might prove to be a good middle-ground solution though.
quote:
And what about IRC, AIM, ICQ and all the other instant messengers that are available – wouldn’t you players resort to using these tools to communicate? Would the use of these tools destroy the game?

This would create an effect similar to the option of letting players ignore text chat from strangers: it might lead to the disappearance of the wolf sounds. As there''s little that can be done against these extra-game communication methods though, it''s something to be considered.

The main goal of the limited communication is to ensure that those that want to immerse themselves in the world of the wolf can not have their immersion taken away in one encounter with a non-immersed player. There''s nothing wrong with free communication between friends.

Perhaps limited communication should just be an OPTION that players could choose, creating a more hardcore mode for them. It might give them some small reward (for example, their wolf might have a louder howl).

In order to maintain the amount of sound that is desired, text chat from wolves that did not choose limited communication could be converted to generel sounds. These sounds wouldn''t have the variety that the sounds of wolves that use limited communication would have. The varied sounds that can be used in the limited communication mode might actually be enough of a motivation for some players to use it.

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There was an article in the most recent Game Developer magazine that I read that summed up rules for making games best. I'm pulling this from memory, since I don't have that article easily accessable right now.

A) Make games that are fun to play for the player.

B) Don't make a game with yourself as the target audience, or that will be your audience.

C) Don't make the game fun for the computer.

D) Don't make a game to be fun to program.

You've got probably well over a dozen MMOGs in development or already out right now. What you're talking about isn't a game, it's a boring graphical chat room with little actual chat. Your only skillup will be "You've gotten better at chat! (45)". That's not a game. That's a chore of learning a new language every day. All you will end up with is some (very) small groups of people who decide that they like this chat room style and fiddle around in it, but in reality they can do what you're offering much better in mIRC.

Here are my rules for game design:

1) Don't overestimate gamers. Make the game too hard to play and they'll find something easier to play and leave you high and dry.

2) Make lots of things to do. If they can't find something to do quickly and easily, they will go find something ELSE to do that is quick and easy.

3) Varying levels of difficulty. The quick and easy things are to get people hooked on the game. After a month or so they will want something more involved, make sure it's there or you'll just have a bunch of people who play for 1-3 months and quit.

4) If it's online, try to get rid of as many barriers to chat as possible while maintaining the integrity of the game. DAOC allowed one to have too little downtime and for me I never ended up chatting with other players much because I was too busy playing. It wasn't really an MMOG, it was a first person RPG with a lot of other real people in it, but they were largely irrelevant. Chat was too clumsy for the 2 months that I played it and I got tired and quit playing it. UO was too 'localized' and commonly I would have to set up locations and times to meet people if I wanted to play more with them. EQ I just add the person to my friends list and sent them a tell when we were online at the same time.


What you're talking about really is further from being a game than the Sims Online. At least there is stuff for you to do in that game. You get a job, open a business, get an apartment, have roommates, go out and flirt at a bar, etc... lots of stuff to do and it has varying levels of fun and difficulty. I haven't tried it, just to be honest, but I think that it looks like it wouldn't be a half bad game, if I had any time to actually play games anymore. Too busy spending time working on them

You have to make sure that there is some 'game' to your game and you have to eliminate barriers to communication. Sure, you want to put communications barriers in the game, cool. Don't make the game BE the communications barriers. I like the idea of having a 'common' language be difficult to understand between races (like a drunk player in Everquest). I like the idea of having NPCs take a bad attitude to you if you don't talk to them in their native language. Don't make the play aspect of the game be trying to figure out what they hell that other 'wolf-guy' is saying, particularly if it's "Hey, you from the midwest?" or something equally mundane and completely unrelated to the game. Give the players something to talk about other than "What the hell are you saying?".

I don't necessarily mind having a game with wolf-people, but put some game into it. Wolves are hunters, unless you're a fanatic vegan and want to prove that canines can live on vegetables (they can, many vets recommend giving your dog only 12-16 ounces of meat per week and the rest vegetables). I'm sorry but it's not a game if all the people in your world do is run around trying to figure out what each-other are saying. That's a chat room, a challenging one at that, but it's still just a chat room.

I don't want to be a jerk, but if you just want to make a graphical chat room where people can't chat until they've went through all the necessary butt sniffing and hackle raising, go find a forum that talks about graphical chat environments. Games are meant to be played and what you're suggesting is about as playable as making tacos is playable.

OK, just read your last post... so you want to make a PVP chat room... it just gets better. You want people to bust their butts trying to learn to communicate, but if they get frustrated, they just attack. You just targeted exclusive groups. Chatters and PKs. Great, you'll have only the most social and the most anti-social in your game. Tell you what, go get some lemon juice and baking soda, toss it all in your mouth and tape it shut real quick. That's just about as good an idea as trying to toss the highly social and the highly anti-social people together and forcing them to run around together. Yuck.

[edited by - solinear on February 12, 2003 12:03:04 AM]

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SOLINEAR wrote:
quote:
Don''t make the game BE the communications barriers.

and
quote:
I don''t necessarily mind having a game with wolf-people, but put some game into it. Wolves are hunters, unless you''re a fanatic vegan and want to prove that canines can live on vegetables

Just to clarify...
Communication is only an aspect of the game, not THE game. The reason why I''ve deviced communication as described above is that it fits in perfectly with the realistic element of all other aspects of the game. Hunting, mating, sleeping, etc.

The design attempts to mimic ALL wolf activities, but adds in the element of (semi) intelligence, greatly expanding the realm of the wolf.
quote:
DAOC allowed one to have too little downtime and for me I never ended up chatting with other players much because I was too busy playing.

Wolf sound/body language communication is designed to function even while a player is busy playing. As you don''t have to type, but only have to press a button that is linked to a certain sound, it''ll be much easier to communicate while busy doing other things.
quote:
particularly if it''s "Hey, you from the midwest?" or something equally mundane and completely unrelated to the game.

The ''completely unrelated to the game'' is exactly why I want the limited communication: immersion. (note: making limited communication an option would give those players that want it true immersion, and would enable those that don''t care about it to have regular chat)
quote:
You want people to bust their butts trying to learn to communicate, but if they get frustrated, they just attack.

If they feel like it, yes. But they risk losing their character (permanent death). Note that ''busting their butts'' only applies to encounters with perfect strangers. The longer you hang out with another character, the easier communication becomes. Automatically. How long do you have to be around another wolf before communication becomes easier? Not sure yet.

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