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Gameplay and emotional experience of entropy

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What's the point of playing if it all runs down in the end? Ever notice how much permanence plays a role in creating meaning and satisfaction in our game worlds? The great evil is defeated "for all time," the land/world/galaxy is saved, and the heroes live happily ever after (until the sequel, of course). Not only is this emotionally satisfying, it is a crucial closure to gameplay that cannot escalate and diversify infinitely. Yet if you compare this against history, nothing lasts forever. No battle, no endeavor, no sacrifice settles things once and for all. Save the land, and yet another evil king/general/demon/etc. rises. Knock out a murderous faction, and somewhere in the world another rises to take its place. In one quest/mission you may stop two warring tribes only to find their successors inevitably back at it again. So why did you even bother? After enough time, you'll become a jaded immortal, indifferent to the plight of the ephemerals because you've heard it all before. In the game I've been working on, entropy seems like a good way to create constant change. Empires, factions and characters may rise, but they all must inevitably fall. When, how and why is up to you and the game to decide. But while it seems like a good and natural way to create a constantly renewing game universe, I'm troubled by the emotional and gameplay impact it will ultimately have. So (naturally) I have a few questions for you guys: What would it mean to your experience if, despite your best efforts, everything you ever did was eventually undone? More specifically:
  • If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile effort?
  • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?
  • If the game world constantly changed such that old haunts disappeared, streets rerouted themselves, names of places and organizations changed, etc. until what you once called familiar was now completely alien, would you yourself feel alienated (having not changed with it)?
  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?
The ultimate question is "how do you maintain meaning for any action in a world that's constantly changing-- without introducing artificial, out of game constraints?"

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You've written a few questions along the theme of player attachment to the game world, but I think it will depend a lot on the presentation rather than the mechanics. It's the reason why I like playing goody-two-shoes hero type characters in games, even if that's not the best "power-max" way to play the game; they are expected to help everyone and anyone, because that's just their basic nature.

In your game, if the non-permanence of everything is central theme, then I'd entwine that into the backstory and the mythos of the game world. While it might make the game a bit bleak, you can include lots of elements based on this theme; maybe characters keep quoting philosophy or poetry based on the slow decay of civilization, or the erosion of everything that is known (you might be better than me at coming up with good metaphors here [smile]). You could even base the local religion on this theme.

Of course, you'd also need to include something to inspire the hero/player to actually make a difference, so you could put in some more philosophy to help counter that. I'd put in a few local legends about how it's not the destination that matters, but the journey. Or if you want to be really bleak, phrase it that although everything is ultimately doomed to decay, the purpose of life is to stave it off for as long as possible; to struggle against entropy.

This approach might end up giving the game a rather depressing theme, but it's somewhat similar to Fallout in that regard, and that is one of the best RPGs I've ever played.

However, I'd also be wary of just disregarding the simplistic nature of stories, because I feel very strongly that it's that way for a reason. "Story-world" logic differs from "real-world" logic, but it encodes something deeply engrained into our psychological make-up (possibly the way we think the world should work, rather than the way it does?). If you are going to disregard that, you'll have to make it clear to the player that the rules of the story have changed. Of course, if you do something similar to my suggestion above and soak the mythos with decay and entropy then I think they'll get the message [grin].

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I think keeping track of particular bloodlines could help give the player some focus in an otherwise every-changing world. Power, holdings and politics may change, but particular people may always have "the right stuff", even if its only a recessive gene in a nobodies genetic makeup and won't show until the next generation is born (maybe the next christ?). Even though a world might inevitably end, its generally how the people in it handle it and those that manage to survive. If the worlds going to ultimately implode than the player could try catoring to a particularly promising bloodline in the hopes that even though they can't stop the world from inevitablly being destroyed, he can at least make sure their bloodline survives until the next apocalypse.

I guess evolution in a sense could be considered the goal, the circumstances of the current ages destruction/conditions vrs the players choice of bloodline's. To lose the game would then be to have the human race become extinct (no more story), and that to succeed would be to continue on through to another Age. This could also make a goal be to see how far, or how many ages the player can bring his bloodline(s) before or if they become extinct (or perhalps evolve physically/spiritually beyond the players control).

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  • If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile effort?

Taking real-life as an example, everything has a limited lifespan, but people still do heroic things. They do them for many reasons, whether that be: rewards; gratitude - a feeling of praise; and fame - people enjoy being the centre of attention for doing something heroic. You also have a limited lifespan, so that also means that you won't have to face the same thing over and over again. Aslong as the rewards within the game counter-balance the problem you're faced with, an NPC with a limited lifespan wouldn't bother me.

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  • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?

  • If I was still recognised for those deeds as a part of history, then no. If they became a myth, then yes, because people wouldn't recognise me for those heroic deeds anymore.

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  • If the game world constantly changed such that old haunts disappeared, streets rerouted themselves, names of places and organizations changed, etc. until what you once called familiar was now completely alien, would you yourself feel alienated (having not changed with it)?

  • If the game doesn't immerse you enough so that you feel like a part of the changes then it's failing. Being part of the game world is what makes a good game.

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  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • I wouldn't. If he was going to die anyway, then what would be the point? As I mentioned earlier, the player should also have a limited lifespan if NPCs do.

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    Original post by Undeadlnsanity
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  • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?

  • If I was still recognised for those deeds as a part of history, then no. If they became a myth, then yes, because people wouldn't recognise me for those heroic deeds anymore.

    Does it matter? If I remember some of the deeds with a smile (because the gameplay was good), then they are still meaningful. However, I think the game should keep permanent track of all major events in a journal.

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  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • I wouldn't. If he was going to die anyway, then what would be the point? As I mentioned earlier, the player should also have a limited lifespan if NPCs do.

    Why would I not risk my neck? Isn't conflict what the game is about? Where's the fun in skipping challenges? Well, I suppose when evil supervillain #317 enters the scene I may just be fed up.

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    Original post by EasyRaider
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    Original post by Undeadlnsanity
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  • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?

  • If I was still recognised for those deeds as a part of history, then no. If they became a myth, then yes, because people wouldn't recognise me for those heroic deeds anymore.

    Does it matter? If I remember some of the deeds with a smile (because the gameplay was good), then they are still meaningful. However, I think the game should keep permanent track of all major events in a journal.

    For me it does. I'd like others to recognise me for what I've achieved. Sure, having your own memories is better, but having others recognise you for something is like the icing on a cake.

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    Original post by EasyRaider
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  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • I wouldn't. If he was going to die anyway, then what would be the point? As I mentioned earlier, the player should also have a limited lifespan if NPCs do.

    Why would I not risk my neck? Isn't conflict what the game is about? Where's the fun in skipping challenges? Well, I suppose when evil supervillain #317 enters the scene I may just be fed up.

    I was speaking in terms as if the game was real-life. I wouldn't risk myself if he was going to die anyway. There's no fun in it, but you know what these hardcore gamer types are like. Personally I see no fun in grinding.

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    Original post by Wavinator
  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • Why would you include such a feature anyway?

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    Interesting points, Wavinator. I've been mulling over some of these same questions, now that I've implemented a plot generator in my own game engine. It's an online multi-player, but in my answers below, I tried to focus on points that are significant to single-player as well.

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    If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile effort?


    First you need to consider the NPC's relationship to the player. If the NPC can be easily replaced, like the henchmen in Diablo, there's not much of a problem. If it's a unique NPC with a major purpose -- e.g., a wizard who is the player's primary source of magic training -- its death is going to hurt. If you're going to make the latter type of NPC disposable, at the very least you'll have to give the player some new options.

    The player's interaction with the NPC during its lifespan should be rewarding enough to make the interaction worthwhile. It's okay if the NPC dies, even if it's a bit of a disappointment to the player, as long as the player doesn't feel the time has been wasted, and especially as long as its death doesn't feel like the end of the game.

    Another thing to consider is making the NPC's death an element of new plotlines. Say a player has a quest with two goals. The primary goal is to steal an artifact from an evil wizard and deliver it to a good wizard. The secondary goal is to kill the evil wizard. The player succeeds in stealing the artifact, but fails to kill the evil wizard. Due to the failure, the evil wizard sends an assassin to kill the player's mentor. (This could happen off-screen, and the player wouldn't know about it until he returned to the mentor's school.) Another NPC, say the mentor's brother, might be willing to take the player as a student if the player finds and kills the assassin. Thus, the mentor's death is not only the end of one plot, but the beginning of a new one.

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    If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?


    Depends on how long it takes the reputation to fade, and how much fun it was to earn it. If I went through a boring grind to get a statue of myself erected in a park, and the statue was replaced with someone else's in a day... yeah, I'd be annoyed. If the quest was entertaining, a gold ring I could stick in my inventory might be reward enough.

    Keep in mind that every quest doesn't need to affect the entire world. If the player cares enough about one NPC to get involved in a quest for it -- for example, the mentor in my previous example -- then it's a worthwhile quest. If the player feels involved enough in the world, even a failure can keep him playing. A success can reward him and generate new quests. A failure can penalize him and generate different quests. The end of a plotline does not need to be the end of the game.

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    If the game world constantly changed such that old haunts disappeared, streets rerouted themselves, names of places and organizations changed, etc. until what you once called familiar was now completely alien, would you yourself feel alienated (having not changed with it)?


    That's a more difficult question. Again, it depends on the time involved. There should probably be major aspects of the world that are more static; for example, maybe New Orc City is always there, but the shop where I bought my sword has moved, or someone else owns it. That wouldn't bother me. If entire cities got razed once an hour, it would probably grow tiresome.

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    If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?


    I can't imagine wanting a feature like that in a game. I'd be loathe to use it, yet its presence would make me wonder why I bother doing everything "the hard way." Knowing that there's a simple escape to any problem would also diminish the reward of tackling it. Maybe... just maybe... if there were limited opportunities to skip forward, or if it incurred some sort of penalty; for example, a chance of jumping into a future that is much, much worse.

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    Original post by Trapper Zoid
    In your game, if the non-permanence of everything is central theme, then I'd entwine that into the backstory and the mythos of the game world. While it might make the game a bit bleak, you can include lots of elements based on this theme; maybe characters keep quoting philosophy or poetry based on the slow decay of civilization, or the erosion of everything that is known (you might be better than me at coming up with good metaphors here [smile]). You could even base the local religion on this theme.


    Nice. The player is one of several immortals, so this would fit in. Maybe a "battle for the player's soul" would fit? You could have a faction of immortals whose philosophy is to let humans (ephemerals) live their life unmolested, another that looks down on them as no more than chess pieces, and another that is trying to uplift humans (maybe this last could be two factions? Guide us into immortality, or thrust us into it whether we want to or not?)

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    Of course, you'd also need to include something to inspire the hero/player to actually make a difference, so you could put in some more philosophy to help counter that. I'd put in a few local legends about how it's not the destination that matters, but the journey. Or if you want to be really bleak, phrase it that although everything is ultimately doomed to decay, the purpose of life is to stave it off for as long as possible; to struggle against entropy.


    I like both of these. The latter is very Lord of the Rings as I understand it. (A biographer for Tolkein was saying that that was his stance against evil, that it had to be struggled against whether you won or lost).

    What do you think about the idea of two secret human factions who know that immortals are walking the earth, one which has the "journey" philosophy, the other the "struggle against decay" philosophy.

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    This approach might end up giving the game a rather depressing theme, but it's somewhat similar to Fallout in that regard, and that is one of the best RPGs I've ever played.


    Heh, agreed. I grew up on post-apocalyptic fiction, so I'm a sucker for any game that lets me "struggle against the fall."

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    If you are going to disregard that, you'll have to make it clear to the player that the rules of the story have changed. Of course, if you do something similar to my suggestion above and soak the mythos with decay and entropy then I think they'll get the message [grin].


    I think I understand, but just to be sure: Are you saying be careful of noir? I'm no fan of noir at all, so if so, no worries there. I want you to get the impression that "it all works out in the end" from the quests and backstory, but the universe belies that fact by design (because things decay).

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    Original post by Gyrthok
    I think keeping track of particular bloodlines could help give the player some focus in an otherwise every-changing world. Power, holdings and politics may change, but particular people may always have "the right stuff", even if its only a recessive gene in a nobodies genetic makeup and won't show until the next generation is born (maybe the next christ?).


    Hmmm... I'm starting to wonder if bloodlines shouldn't be critical, rather than (as I was thinking) an optional way that you advancing and holding onto accomplishments in the game. This idea of the "right stuff," maybe expressed as some sort of quasi-scientific/quasi-mystical potential, might mean that you start caring about large aggregates (as human communities) as well as specific characters (maybe). It's weird, but you could get into some kind of concept of "chosen people" who are "imbued" or "tainted" with certain traits, such as great empathy or the capacity for horrendous violence.

    (uh, oh, I feel another post coming on...[rolleyes])


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    Even though a world might inevitably end, its generally how the people in it handle it and those that manage to survive. If the worlds going to ultimately implode than the player could try catoring to a particularly promising bloodline in the hopes that even though they can't stop the world from inevitablly being destroyed, he can at least make sure their bloodline survives until the next apocalypse.


    I want there to be varying tech levels with the possibility of everything collapsing down to a Fallout level. So this would have to be more than just science. Do you think the ability to retain and persuasively spread philosophy / religion, generation after generation, might work?

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    To lose the game would then be to have the human race become extinct (no more story), and that to succeed would be to continue on through to another Age.


    YES! I've been trying to figure out how to get the player into this kind of goal for awhile. It really perfectly blends the aspects of an empire game (lose your last base, lose the game) with an RPG feel. [cool]

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    This could also make a goal be to see how far, or how many ages the player can bring his bloodline(s) before or if they become extinct (or perhalps evolve physically/spiritually beyond the players control).


    I haven't touched on this much, but do you think there is room for evolution of the human race as gameplay here? Is that too far out?

    What if, for instance, through the spread of your chosen people (as a faction) you evolved humanity into lotus eaters, or cold, calculating flesh and blood machines? I can't imagine how in the heck to balance that sort of thing, but it could be an "omega point" end of game goal, like in many strategy games. (I remember in Alpha Centauri you could end the game as the sole power, or as a unified leader, or as transcended superbeings.[smile])

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    Original post by Undeadlnsanity
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  • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?

  • If I was still recognised for those deeds as a part of history, then no. If they became a myth, then yes, because people wouldn't recognise me for those heroic deeds anymore.


    Unlike many RPGs, I'm trying to get you deeply engaged in worldbuilding. So I'm wondering: Even if you weren't remembered specifically, would it mean anything to you if you spawned a myth that influenced the world's behavior? Let's say, for instance, that you played out a merciless conqueror ages back. Because of your example, the people often go to war invoking the legend that you created.

    (Dunno, it might be too abstract...)

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  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • I wouldn't. If he was going to die anyway, then what would be the point? As I mentioned earlier, the player should also have a limited lifespan if NPCs do.


    In this situation the only thing I could offer would be this: If you hole up and let evil walk the land, the ultimate destiny of the game world will suffer / change (maybe through philosophy and myth which are really AI settings). So if a Stalin wins, the world should somehow become more Stalinist. That should ultimately affect the end goal of the game (I don't know, maybe humans become so violent they eventually destroy themselves if you don't intercede...)

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    Original post by EasyRaider
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    Original post by Wavinator
  • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?

  • Why would you include such a feature anyway?


    Two reasons: The first is that it's a very common trope found in science fiction, and I'd like to capture the essence of sci-fi in this game. Just as swords and magic and dragons often make an appearance in (but are not a requirement of) fantasy, sci-fi often features things like time dilation, hibernation, and wormholes.

    The more important gameplay reason is that this is a RPG-empire game fusion which (if I can pull it together) will feature a dynamic universe. The goal is to have the computer play a kind of Risk or Civilization in the background while you play. The most important thing about this is that in order to cover the widest array of surprising possibilities I don't intend to balance the background simulation much. That means that if the world works itself into nuclear annihilation, the universe will resemble Fallout. Because of this, you need to be able to ride things out (maybe in a Fallout-style Vault, or space colony). And you also need the ability to make great swaths of time pass so that you can found things like colonies or personal empires.

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    Original post by Wavinator

    • If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile effort?

    • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?

    • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?


    These are all basically the same question, so I'll answer them together.

    Ultimately, there are two reasons for why anyone would interact with anyone else: empathy, and egoism.

    For the empathic person, good deeds are truly their own reward. The mere knowledge that one has made a person happy is all the reason one needs. Such deeds retain their value even after everyone else has forgotten about them, because their value wasn't dependent upon people knowing about them in the first place.

    For the egoist person, it is the fruits of deeds, both good and bad, which are their reward. The deeds in themselves have no value, but just people's conceptions of these deeds. The egoist makes no distinction between good and bad deeds, and sees no problem with repeating the rewards deeds that are not his own, or that were not performed in the first place.

    There is also the sociopath. For him, bad deeds are their own reward. He is otherwise like the empath. Sociopaths don't survive long in our society, but then they aren't immortal. A race of immortal people would probably have more evil people in it, not because immortality causes evil (although I'd imagine it causes a certain amount of apathy) but because evil immortal people can't be killed.

    Most people cannot be simply classified as one or the other. We are all empathic and egoist in differing degrees, depending upon who we are interacting with, what we are doing, and what mood we're in.

    Perhaps the most important distinction between the empathic and egoist motivations is where the value lies. Empathic deeds derive their value from the fact that the victim is a conscious being. Egoist deeds derive their value from the fact that the protagonist is a conscious being.

    In a computer game, NPCs are obviously not intelligent beings. Players know this, and although their empathy can be baited with quality dialog/animation/voice acting, most are not fooled in the long term.

    That window of empathy may be enough, though. Most people are sufficiently vulnerable to empathic trickery that they can cry at emotional movies. Some people, upon faced with the death of a loved character from a soap, are effected as profoundly as if it were a real death.

    To cover all bases, there should be long-term consequences for your actions.

    Perhaps that evil empire will eventually fall, but society will never reclaim the heights it once occupied, no matter what you do. Conversely, if you bring about an age of peace and understanding and then sleep for a thousand years, you could come back to a Universe which will never again be ravaged by total war, although it will not be perfect.

    At the more individual level, if you help an NPC, perhaps his family will offer you aid for centuries to come. (Of course, they think the agreement is with you and your descendants, not knowing you're the same person).

    'twix the two, if you help a colony defend themselves against slavers, they could offer you a substantial economic and political 'safety net' for future years. Perhaps they'll have a fleet of ships waiting for you, perhaps they'll vote your way on the galactic council. Contrariwise, if you enslave the colony, perhaps they'll still be under your domination in a thousand years.
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    If the game world constantly changed such that old haunts disappeared, streets rerouted themselves, names of places and organizations changed, etc. until what you once called familiar was now completely alien, would you yourself feel alienated (having not changed with it)?

    You're begging the question, sir! Naturally I would feel alienated if the world was alien to me.

    The real question is how easily could you adapt to an alien world. Inevitably this depends upon who you ask, and what's changed. For some people, coping with an alien world would be the toughest challenge the game has to offer. For others, it would be a trifle barely noticed.

    The key is to keep both groups happy. If your character is immortal, I cannot imagine he would not, over the years, have a significant influence upon galactic society. Therefore, he should have opportunities to mould humanity how he sees fit.

    The player who enjoys waking up with a different number of limbs each day would use his political and economic power to encourage the formation of dynamic forward-looking civilisations.

    The player who wants to place his half-pint of beer on the floor next to him as he sleeps and wake up a thousand years later with beer undisturbed and at the same temperature would use his political and economic power to encourage the maintainance of static traditionalist civilisations.

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    The ultimate question is "how do you maintain meaning for any action in a world that's constantly changing-- without introducing artificial, out of game constraints?"

    Well, you live in that kind of world. How do you do it?

    I have two meanings for my actions: good deeds that are valued for the fact that they happened; indifferent deeds which are valued for what they bring to me.

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    Original post by Wavinator
    The player is one of several immortals, so this would fit in. Maybe a "battle for the player's soul" would fit? You could have a faction of immortals whose philosophy is to let humans (ephemerals) live their life unmolested, another that looks down on them as no more than chess pieces, and another that is trying to uplift humans (maybe this last could be two factions? Guide us into immortality, or thrust us into it whether we want to or not?)

    I do like this as a theme; having three factions that loosely fit the stereotypes of "good", "neutral" and "evil" is a well-established meme that you can easily adapt to fit your world (I'd blur the distinctions so all three have good and bad points, but that's up to you).

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    What do you think about the idea of two secret human factions who know that immortals are walking the earth, one which has the "journey" philosophy, the other the "struggle against decay" philosophy.

    I'm not sure how big the difference is between the "journey" and "struggle" philosophies (at least in your interpretation of them, which is what counts for your game [smile]). I was considering them to be somewhat analogous. The "journey" could be taken as a "whatever will be, will be" fatalistic approach, I guess. However I'm not sure how good that would be as a faction, as they'd pretty much consider their lives uncontrollable with that as a philosophy.

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    I think I understand, but just to be sure: Are you saying be careful of noir? I'm no fan of noir at all, so if so, no worries there. I want you to get the impression that "it all works out in the end" from the quests and backstory, but the universe belies that fact by design (because things decay).

    That's not really what I meant. It's just that from your opening paragraphs I thought you might be of the opinion that the neatness involved in stories was a bad thing because it isn't true to reality. My view is that while stories have their own set of defining rules, this is a strength rather than a weakness. If you want to intentially break the rules of the story in order to more closely mirror reality, then there's a danger that you'll end up with more of a simulation but with the loss of narrative power. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but since most people expect RPGs to follow the "rules of the story" you might upset their expectations.

    In this case, using noir might actually be beneficial, as it's an established genre that would lead into audience expectations. The post-apocolyptic Mad Max like world of Fallout also helps shape what is expected. However, I think if you create a Star Trek-like space universe instead, people will expect the neat endings and be dismayed when they don't happen. That's also a good reason to have the philosophy or religion involved; if everyone is saying things like "there are no perfect endings" then the decay will be expected.

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    Original post by DaTroof
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    If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they

    were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile

    effort?


    First you need to consider the NPC's relationship to the player. If the NPC can be easily replaced, like the

    henchmen in Diablo, there's not much of a problem. If it's a unique NPC with a major purpose -- e.g., a

    wizard who is the player's primary source of magic training -- its death is going to hurt. If you're going to

    make the latter type of NPC disposable, at the very least you'll have to give the player some new options.



    What about NPCs the player invests in? I think this loss will hurt as well. Do you have any advice in terms of

    new options?

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    The player's interaction with the NPC during its lifespan should be rewarding enough to make the interaction

    worthwhile. It's okay if the NPC dies, even if it's a bit of a disappointment to the player, as long as the

    player doesn't feel the time has been wasted, and especially as long as its death doesn't feel like the end of

    the game.


    Would you feel more callous if NPCs were primarily functional? What if, for instance, an NPC was like Ghandi,

    the reason why a land was unified. With the NPC's death, the town drifts back into factional fighting. As a

    player your goal at this point would be to either find a replacement or stop the fighting through some other

    gameplay, or (as it's a open-ended game) maybe even abandon the land for some other.


    Quote:

    Another thing to consider is making the NPC's death an element of new plotlines.
    ...
    Thus, the mentor's death is not only the end of one plot, but the beginning of a new one.


    I really like this possibility, and it's something that I'd like to somehow develop without scripting. If NPCs

    then die, you may be upset but anticipation for what's next may balance it out.

    Quote:

    That's a more difficult question. Again, it depends on the time involved.


    Time is bedeviling this design. What do you think an appropriate time would be? A few weeks of gameplay?

    Quote:

    If entire cities got razed once an hour, it would probably grow tiresome.


    Even through war? If New Orc City gets nuked, what then?

    I've been thinking of this (silly) example: The destruction of Pompeii. If the player is in Pompeii, even

    though there is volcanic activity, Pompeii will never be destroyed (because the player is there). If the

    player develops significant assets in Pompeii, it also can't be destroyed.

    Now this will lead to minmaxing to no end, but I can't really see a way out this. There is no way to make most

    players accept loss unless it's telegraphed as an inescapable part of story. This drastically limits the

    possibility space in terms events that change the game world and plot lines.

    Quote:

    I can't imagine wanting a feature like that in a game. I'd be loathe to use it, yet its presence would make

    me wonder why I bother doing everything "the hard way." Knowing that there's a simple escape to any problem

    would also diminish the reward of tackling it. Maybe... just maybe... if there were limited opportunities to

    skip forward, or if it incurred some sort of penalty; for example, a chance of jumping into a future that is

    much, much worse.


    Yes, there needs to be a balance of penalties and strategies here, though I'm not entirely sure what they are.

    Short term time skips are necessary in order to create things in the game world. Constructing a building, for

    instance, inventing an item, or travelling to a distant location. Long term time skips are crucial to building

    up even larger things, such as a colony (this is an RPG-empire game where personal actions create empire-level

    effects, btw).

    I think the solution lies in somehow making something in the land/people who are left to suffer diminish. That

    could be the "right stuff" Gythrok mentioned previously. Maybe if you let evil triumph, it's harder and harder

    to find some resource you need, or the people are more and more hardened. (This could lead to a strategy of

    you wanting to let the land suffer, if you're either evil or seek to replace evil)

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    Quote:
    Original post by Wavinator
    What about NPCs the player invests in? I think this loss will hurt as well. Do you have any advice in terms of

    new options?


    That's a tough one. It would suck to drop tons of time and money into a henchman's training, only to have him get hit by a bus before he ever sees combat. I can't think of a good solution, other than not letting it happen too often.

    Quote:

    Would you feel more callous if NPCs were primarily functional? What if, for instance, an NPC was like Ghandi,

    the reason why a land was unified. With the NPC's death, the town drifts back into factional fighting. As a

    player your goal at this point would be to either find a replacement or stop the fighting through some other

    gameplay, or (as it's a open-ended game) maybe even abandon the land for some other.


    Wow, another tough one. If you want the player to have any sort of attachment to NPCs, I think they has to serve a function. In your example, the player might want to keep Ghandi alive, because other goals are easier to accomplish when the town isn't broken into warring factions. Something like that gives the player a reason to react to the NPC's loss, and encourages him to achieve new goals that his death creates (find a replacement or stop the fighting).

    Quote:

    I really like this possibility, and it's something that I'd like to somehow develop without scripting. If NPCs

    then die, you may be upset but anticipation for what's next may balance it out.


    Have you thought about how to handle it without scripting? My plot engine is pretty extensible, but it still requires scripts to glue everything together. The plots can be desgined generically to work in multiple situations and can have multiple possible endings, and they can even trigger other plots; but it's still necessary to script the basic logic behind each possible plot.

    Quote:

    Time is bedeviling this design. What do you think an appropriate time would be? A few weeks of gameplay?


    For large changes, like eliminating entire cities, I'd say a couple of weeks, at least. I'd get annoyed if I had to learn a new world map every other day. That's kind of subjective, though. Some players might enjoy a game where the world changes in huge swaths, especially if they had a hand in making it happen.

    Quote:

    Even through war? If New Orc City gets nuked, what then?

    I've been thinking of this (silly) example: The destruction of Pompeii. If the player is in Pompeii, even

    though there is volcanic activity, Pompeii will never be destroyed (because the player is there). If the

    player develops significant assets in Pompeii, it also can't be destroyed.

    Now this will lead to minmaxing to no end, but I can't really see a way out this. There is no way to make most

    players accept loss unless it's telegraphed as an inescapable part of story. This drastically limits the

    possibility space in terms events that change the game world and plot lines.


    Yeah, I agree. My instinct would be to avoid arbitrary destruction of the player's assets. If the player suffers major loss, it should probably be the result of something that could have been avoided; for example, a penalty for failing to achieve a goal. When the game penalizes the player for no reason but to introduce a plot element, it feels like the game is cheating. It might work if you also introduce an opportunity for the player to recover his losses. In your Pompeii example, the player might be able to retrieve at least some of his stuff by exploring the city's ruins and fighting looters.

    Quote:

    Yes, there needs to be a balance of penalties and strategies here, though I'm not entirely sure what they are.

    Short term time skips are necessary in order to create things in the game world. Constructing a building, for

    instance, inventing an item, or travelling to a distant location. Long term time skips are crucial to building

    up even larger things, such as a colony (this is an RPG-empire game where personal actions create empire-level

    effects, btw).


    Time skips make perfect sense in that example. It's usually a good idea to let the player fast-forward the boring parts.

    Quote:

    I think the solution lies in somehow making something in the land/people who are left to suffer diminish. That

    could be the "right stuff" Gythrok mentioned previously. Maybe if you let evil triumph, it's harder and harder

    to find some resource you need, or the people are more and more hardened. (This could lead to a strategy of

    you wanting to let the land suffer, if you're either evil or seek to replace evil)


    That sounds like a good approach.

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    Quote:
    Original post by Wavinator
    The ultimate question is "how do you maintain meaning for any action in a world that's constantly changing-- without introducing artificial, out of game constraints?"

    The world is only a means for the player to advance. Whether the current events in the world help or hinder the player's advancement, the player still walks away with exp., money, items, loot, etc. If the goal of the game is selfish, the player shouldn't care whether factions are at war or if some demon is destroying a village unless it effects his/her progress. If it does effect progress, it only offers new challenges.

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    • If NPCs all had limited lifespans, why would you ever bother saving or helping any one of them if they were inevitably destined to die? Would you somehow need some permanent reward for what is ultimately a futile effort?


    "Good" often means "fighting the good fight"... doing what an individual can, with the power entrusted/empowered to him.

    • If you could live so long that your reputation faded into history, would those deeds be to you meaningless?


    Personally, I act the way I do because I'm satisfied with my personality. People generally act and react naturally to events. Even in the very strongest examples of anti-humanitarianism (think Hitler), I firmly believe that these individuals were acting fully with a conscientious mind. They believed in their actions, therefore their actions (to them) were not meaningless. This is just human nature.

    • If the game world constantly changed such that old haunts disappeared, streets rerouted themselves, names of places and organizations changed, etc. until what you once called familiar was now completely alien, would you yourself feel alienated (having not changed with it)?


    Probably. I feel that way seeing my hometown falling to ruin right now ;) If I lived long enough for generations to disappear and entire cities change and evolve, then I think I would fully become a hermit, just so that my immediate surroundings remained the same.

    • If you could skip forward in time (such as by holing up in a bunker or using time dilation as "forward only time travel") why would you ever risk your neck trying to defeat the evil du jour if you knew it was destined to eventually crumble?


    I'd likely just use the time machine to skip ahead to when I could live in peace.

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