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Lost

Suspending reality within RPGs & MMORPGs:

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Disclaimer: While not intended as a rant, some might seem like it. Also I do not claim to be the first to have theses thoughts/ideas, it is more a statement along with the chance to get feedback. Suspending reality within RPGs & MMORPGs: Entering the world of a RPG or MMORPG filled with magics and monstrous creatures requires a certain suspension of the rules of reality. But at what point is that suspension abused? Magic: What if a sewer rat began to cast magic spells on you? While a rat is an over statement in the poor or misguided designs of fantasy creature (or at least the abilities they are given) that inhabit theses worlds, I believe that in some cases that it pushed beyond the limits. While players do (or should) expect that some of the creatures within this world have some ability to work magics that they may also know, but when they run across a creature that has this power that in their mind seems absurd the player's suspension is abused and possibly destroyed. So think twice before reaching for that fly swatter, because there is a number of games that have given their larger cousins the power to swat you much harder and faster with magic and abilities. Levels/skills: "Periodically, as we travel, I can feel myself growing swifter and stronger... not in the normal way one does in a training regimen, but in strange jumps at unexpected times. " while I'm sure that this line from "A Letter from a Dungeon" is probably familiar to many of us, it holds true for level based games. In reality no one believe that doing the same thing over & over that we will suddenly unlock the knowledge to do something more complex, so why do some designers try passing it off in their games? While skill based systems offer more flexible, they come with design challenges. Should skill decay be used? What if it is something that a player has done for years and has decided to take a break from for a month to relax and try something new, can we justify it without abusing suspension of reality and common sense? Skill caps offer the some of the same challenges, unless we want to believe that the world is filled with Kelly Bundy like players where they can not learn something new without unlearning something old there will be a suspension of reality and common sense issue (UO used/tried both). Also I'd like to touch upon a player first arrival into theses worlds. Players aren't forced to begin playing as an infant or a young child, they arrive in the world as an adult. But often times they have the skills of 10 year old and then have to build upon that. Should we believe that a shell of a adult being is hatched somewhere just waiting for the player to fill it (with maybe the exception of SWG and cloning factories)? Aren't designers asking them assume the role a being that was most likely born within that world and shouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that in the life prior to hosting the player that character to have had some experiences with what would most likely be daily duties/experiences would be greater than what they are given at the beginning. While I'm not advocating that the entire history of a character should be completely filled out for the player, but I can understand the reason that some MUDs require an essay about the character that you plan to create before being accepted into the world. Again the suspension of reality runs counter to common sense. *edit for typo* [Edited by - Lost on March 8, 2006 6:04:30 AM]
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You need to ask yourself what your target audience is primarily looking for in your game: a chance to have fun, socialize with friends, kill monsters, and get phat loot; or a dissertation on theoretical parapsychology of imaginary creatures with an in-depth simulation of muscular/mental growth and atrophy. I know which I'm generally looking for when I play a game.

Edit: That probably sounds meaner than I intended it to be. Certainly, some RPGers do enjoy intensely huge tables of statistics and various different schemes to character advancment, and will gladly fiddle with numbers all day and have a good time doing it, and that's ok. But a lot of people don't want to be bothered with that and prefer things simple and straightforward; that doesn't make them "too stupid" to understand the million-skill spreadsheet, it just means they don't care and would rather be doing something else with their gaming time. If people can put aside the realism problems of pac-man or q-bert, they can certainly allow for a jagged curve in skill advancement.
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Original post by Lost
Magic:
What if a sewer rat began to cast magic spells on you? While a rat is an over statement in the poor or misguided designs of fantasy creature (or at least the abilities they are given) that inhabit theses worlds, I believe that in some cases that it pushed beyond the limits. While players do (or should) expect that some of the creatures within this world have some ability to work magics that they may also know, but when they run across a creature that has this power that in their mind seems absurd the player's suspension is abused and possibly destroyed. So think twice before reaching for that fly swatter, because there is a number of games that have given their larger cousins the power to swat you much harder and faster with magic and abilities.


It's all in how it's presented. If everything in the world had a magical flavor to it, why shouldn't those sewer rats have magical abilities? Also, the "fights" are rarely a problem for suspension of disbelief. I'm not saying there aren't some out there who take issue with it, but even most of the hardcore RPG players I've met don't give them a second thought. The game is, perhaps subconsciously, divided into "game" and "story". The fights are game. Min-maxing your team is game. See how seemlessly they'll go from discussing their character's motivation for fighting a boss to discussing mechanical details of the fight itself? Getting into a fight with a boss is story, but fighting the boss is game. Where these overlap there are sometimes issues, like when a former enemy joins your team but is inexplicably neutered.

Thus, I'd say that the suspension is abused when you do a poor job of handling the frontier between game and story.

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Levels/skills:
In reality no one believe that doing the same thing over & over that we will suddenly unlock the knowledge to do something more complex, so why do some designers try passing it off in their games?


I recently started playing the banjo. If I've kept up my practicing, I'm surprised how much better I am the next day. Overnight my skill took a leap. I know I'm not the only one because it's common advice that if some part is giving you trouble you should put it down until tomorrow. Now, the breaks between fights aren't separated by a night of sleep, but I sometimes notice improvements after even short breaks (e.g. setting down my banjo for supper and then coming back).

Quote:

While skill based systems offer more flexible, they come with design challenges. Should skill decay be used? What if it is something that a player has done for years and has decided to take a break from for a month to relax and try something new, can we justify it without abusing suspension of reality and common sense? Skill caps offer the some of the same challenges, unless we want to believe that the world is filled with Kelly Bundy like players where they can not learn something new without unlearning something old there will be a suspension of reality and common sense issue (UO used/tried both).


Again, it's more realistic than you make it sound. If I don't play my banjo for a few days, then I start tripping up on things that didn't give me any trouble before. It's faster to get back up to speed, but skills do decrease over time. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but that's only true in so far as you'll never forget how to keep it upright. People can, and do, "forget" how to ride smoothly or do some trick or lose speed.

Also, look at players' complaints when faced with a system where you lose skills without practice. The complaints are first and foremost about how their hard earned character is being weakened. Arguments about realism and suspension of disbelief are brought up as an after thought because they feel it strengthens their case. However, that their first concern was a game mechanics concern tells me that they weren't suspending their disbelief in the first place. The only suspension of disbelief was, perhaps, in playing a hybrid of being told a story and playing a game.

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Also I'd like to touch upon a player first arrival into theses worlds. Players aren't forced to begin playing as an infant or a young child, they arrive in the world as an adult. But often times they have the skills of 10 year old and then have to build upon that. Should we believe that a shell of a adult being is hatched somewhere just waiting for the player to fill it (with maybe the exception of SWG and cloning factories)? Aren't designers asking them assume the role a being that was most likely born within that world and shouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that in the life prior to hosting the player that character to have had some experiences with what would most likely be daily duties/experiences would be greater than what they are given at the beginning. While I'm not advocating that the entire history of a character should be completely filled out for the player, but I can understand the reason that some MUDs require an essay about the character that you plan to create before being accepted into the world. Again the suspension of reality runs counter to common sense.


Well, most of the skill system is focused on "adventurer" skills. You can easily say that the point where the player takes over their life is the point where the character decided to become an adventurer. They may know how to use an axe to chop wood, but that's very different from using it to chop an opponent. They may know how to soothe a crying baby, but that probably won't come up too often. They may know how to cook a few basics, but probably couldn't make something worthy of a four-star restaurant. And these are the skills they do have at the start. If you choose "axe" as one of your skills, then this reflects that you know a thing or two about swinging an axe, but don't really know much about using it in combat (at least 90% of your targets probably didn't move). If you take "cooking" as one of your skills, you know how to bake bread or how to throw some random stuff in a pot and call it "stew", but you aren't going to be able to compete with professional chefs.
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There are alternatives to level based advancement. One that I am working on at the moment is based on skill points. Instead of a character advancing up a level when they earn enough experience, I have the player able to purchace skill points with their experience points (the highter the skill level the higher the experience cost). This allows a player to choose when their skill advances and also eliminates the "big jump" in overall skill levels when a character advances a level.

One aspect that I am thinking of including is skill synergies. These snyergies will reduce the experience cost to increase a skill, based on the skill synergies. This means that if a character had put experience into say the One Handed Sword skill, then it will cost slightly less to upgrade the Two Handed Sword skill.

As for inital skills in a game, you could include a brief questionare that could give you an initial skill set (this is much the same as chooseing a character class). This could be expanded into a "Life Path" history where the play chooses (or is randomly chosen) a set of events that occured in their past, before they became an adventuer. This could create (or link to) some background "Plot Hooks", or even give them skill, equipment, or special abilities.
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I'd also like to add that Planescape: Torment, one of the oft-lauded "best rpgs ever" on these boards, did in fact include a sewer full of rats that cast magic spells, led by a giant brain composed of rats that cast bigger spells.
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Iv'e noticed that although level based systems seem to differ from reality, most gamers I meet really enjoy leveling. I think this is because leveling offers a very clear goal that they can then work towards. It seems as if it reassures them that they are progressing and rewards them appropriatly. That isn't to say that other ways might work better, but perhaps some clear goals are are appreciated by players.

As far as the reality of a rat casting a spell, it all depends on your world I suppose. If you want magic to be something rare and amazing, then its probably not a good idea to allow all these random creatures to use it. However if magic is something commonly found in your world and something that takes little skill to use, why not? I do agree with you that most games today have taken the magic out of magic and overused it far too much.

As far as the way players are born into MMO's, there is a fairly good reason we don't start as young babies. For one, most people that play MMO's are older or at least in their teens and above. To force a player that is 30 years old to start and roleplay as a child, would be absurd. Having a player be able to chose to play as a child would be much more acceptable. I also dont believe that players start with the skills of a 10 year old. In most MMO's Ive played, characters can do things like fight and cast spells as soon as they enter the game. Also a players intelligence (real intelligence) is not determined by your game. A person has all of their real world knowlege available to allow them to successfuly navigate and problem solve within your game world.

To increase "reality" in MMO's is something that doesnt quite make sense to me. An MMO is about escaping reality and the worlds need not function as our own. If you want players to feel that magic is something rare and amazing in your world, then make it rare and amazing. If you want players to be unaware of stats and levling, perhaps these could be kept hidden or a non level based system could be used. If you want players to feel as though their world is not just populated by adults, add the option to start a character as a child, and add more quests or NPC children to the world. Perhaps introducing a form of aging is something you want to consider. In any case, striving for realism isn't always the best thing, but it could offer direction in creating a consistent and interesting world. Just remember, that players play your games to have fun. If they wanted real life, they could always go outside.
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Original post by Lost
"Periodically, as we travel, I can feel myself growing swifter and stronger... not in the normal way one does in a training regimen, but in strange jumps at unexpected times. " while I'm sure that this line from "A Letter from a Dungeon" is probably familiar to many of us, it holds true for level based games.


LOL; I never saw that before. Is there a response? Also, is the warrior's name 'ernest' backwords on purpose; I can only assume it is.

Bookmarked, and stuck with the "Evil Overlord List".
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Original post by makeshiftwings
I'd also like to add that Planescape: Torment, one of the oft-lauded "best rpgs ever" on these boards, did in fact include a sewer full of rats that cast magic spells, led by a giant brain composed of rats that cast bigger spells.

Although it should also be added that since in the world of Planescape: Torment you also had an immortal protagonist, floating talking skulls, a man perpetually on fire, scores of magic doors that could lead anywhere that pop up seemingly at random, and a race that communicates via rebuses, then the odd magic casting hive-mind of sewer rats wasn't exactly out of the ordinary [grin].

I guess it's all down to what rules you set for your gameworld. I don't see any reason why rats shouldn't be casting magic spells in a world with magic. If your world contains magic, you can define what you want [wink].
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To increase "reality" in MMO's is something that doesnt quite make sense to me.


Reality, no; but self-consistency, yes. I think this is what the OP was getting at; you suspend reality but expect to suspend it for an internally consistent other set of rules.

RPGs are in many ways similar to storybooks (particularly fantasy books, in most cases), and the same thing applies in both cases. You are creating a world in which some of the rules of nature (from the real world) are broken, but no reader/player will really 'get into' your world if that world does not have internally consistent rules.

Good post, though :).

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Yes, consistency, no matter how bizzare, is what allows one to be immersed in the game world.

I suspect the reason that people are so focused on levels as a measure of progress is that there has rarely been a game that had anything for a player to DO besides level up.

Most of the factors that hurt immersion (at least as I see it) are based on game mechanics that originally existed to bring some structure to imaginative role-playing. While these rules need to be in place in any sort of computer game, they don't really need to be the focus any more in a genre that has the potential to be so much more fluid and dynamic.

I'd like to see a game world that was meticulously created with the right tools to allow players to make of it what they wanted within the consistency provided by those tools. Then the game would take on a whole new level of meaning.

Why are there magic rats in the sewers? Because some crazy player-mage combined some weird spells and came up with those creatures to guard the underground entrance to his secret layer. Problem is, they got out of hand and spread to all the sewers in that whole part of the land. The NEAT thing would be that if you really worked at it, you could get rid of them. Then they came to be for a reason, and became extinct for a reason. Of course who is to say that something similar won't happen again.
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Personally, I would have to say internal consistency is at the low end of the list on what makes video games fun for me. Video games are not novels, and they are not movies. I'm sure someone could go through Super Mario Bros. and change the whole game to make it logical, scientifically sound, evolutionarily correct, and internally consistent, including designing complex background psychologies for each character and monster encountered, but it would not be more fun. I want to stomp on the turtles and kick their shells around; I don't care that there's no plausible reason for a sentient turtle with wings and a detachable shell to be floating eternally up and down in a straight line over a bottomless pit.
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Mario Bros is not an RPG, though. And besides, it is fairly internally consistent; jumping on monsters stuns or kills them, falling off the bottom kills you, and nothing breaks those rules. Self-consistency doesn't mean that you have to fill in the entire story, it means that the snippets you do tell must tally with each other; and nor does it mean a game must be "scientifically sound [and] evolutionarily correct".
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Original post by Bob Janova
Mario Bros is not an RPG, though. And besides, it is fairly internally consistent; jumping on monsters stuns or kills them, falling off the bottom kills you, and nothing breaks those rules. Self-consistency doesn't mean that you have to fill in the entire story, it means that the snippets you do tell must tally with each other; and nor does it mean a game must be "scientifically sound [and] evolutionarily correct".


I guess it depends on your definition of consistency; I do agree that the gameplay and physical rules should generally be consistent, as you said, jumping on a turtle shouldn't randomly kill you, and falling off the bottom shouldn't sometimes randomly drop you out of the ceiling. I interpereted the original post as saying that games need to be consistent with the real world, and in the places where they aren't, a pseudo-scientific reason needs to be presented to the player. Sort of like Star Trek episodes; there, it would make sense that Geordi would have to walk on camera and explain to the audience that the rats can cast fireball because the warp core breach caused damage to the holodeck which teleported Q into the body of the rat. But lots of genres, especially in video games, don't need it, and work fine if the player just says "Oh look, a rat that casts fireball." It's not any stranger than a plumber that jumps on turtles and sentient mushrooms. I guess it all depends on how you interperet the original post, and honestly, I'm still not sure I understand what point he was trying to make in the "rats with spells" section.
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Original post by makeshiftwings
I'm still not sure I understand what point he was trying to make in the "rats with spells" section.

Quote:
Original post by Bob Janova
Quote:
To increase "reality" in MMO's is something that doesnt quite make sense to me.
Reality, no; but self-consistency, yes. I think this is what the OP was getting at; you suspend reality but expect to suspend it for an internally consistent other set of rules.
I've quoted Bob, because I think that he stated it well. While suspending the rules is needed, there should be some "internally consistent". Maybe I'm being to picky or it is something that you don't notice right away (at least until you get bored or not that into the game to start with). This thought began with the poor/unrealistic AI and how it also effects belief (which I had in the beginning, but removed to keep it focused on theory/design). But as I thought about it more, I thought of the little detail things that can jump out. Most RPG draw from common myths/stories (dragons, unicorns, centaurs, etc) that have already been accepted as believable in a fantasy setting, I don't know of any myths that have rats as magically power creature and to me without some reasoning for it would be hard to believe.

While Mario Bros isn't what most would call a RPG, as Bob said it is fairly consistent. Also the setting is so completely non-realistic that it covers anything that isn't consistent (I wasted many hours playing Super Mario Bros & Donkey Kong Country and had fun at it). When I say RPG/MMORPG, I'm thinking more of UO, Guild Wars, Diablo, etc.
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