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Mephs

An MMORPG where you can do anything you want!!

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Ahem... well, the title is somewhat appropriate, but please be assured, it's not meant in the n00bish sense ;) I'm just pondering upon an issue I'm sure many of you have considered before, and that is the issue of allowing the player to make more freeform decisions about what actions they wish to take. Thinking in the vein of a pen and paper RPG, the player can essentially do (or try to do) anything they wish. They are able to do as they wish because they have a human GM who decides what is and isn't possible, possibly with a little assistance from the game rules and background. They then either straight up allow the player to perform the action, or they perform a number of dice rolls to determine if the player is successful. I love this element of freedom, I think it encourages much more thoughtfulness on behalf of the player and really heps to draw them into a game, not by necessarily being realistic, but by offering them an almost infinite number of choices about what actions they can take. To me this has a similar appeal to customizing characters in a CRPG, you are able to stamp your mark on a game and walk away with an interesting story, and what's more, it's a social activity that allows a group to have a combined story they can share with one another and enjoy for a long time to come. So this has me wondering if there is any way we can get an element of this type of gameplay into a CRPG? Off-hand I can think of two ways this could be implemented. Firstly through use of user-definable actions and events. Perhaps we could have some kind of scripting system, or a tool that allows the user to create custom actions/events in a game prior to actually commencing play. In a sci-fi RPG, we could have a set of players roaming a decaying building looking for members of a gang (a la Necromunda). The level could have a pack of events suited to the environment and actions suited to the characters. For example, we could have an event of "unstable girder", which would allow the players to target an unstable girder and cause it to crash down around an opponent causing damage. We could have a player action "use grappling hook" which would allow them to scale otherwise unreachable heights. These events/actions would be available at the games discretion. Using a scripting system, we could allow the player to do more than the game normally allows by offering them simple commands such as "relocate player" for the grappling hook or "spawn destructable girder" for the girder example. This could of course include some kind of points system if it needed to be balanced, or we could leave it at the players discretion, which might allow them to create more silly scenarios, but would give the player smoewhat more freedom. The scripting language however, would likely need to be quite comprehensive to allow the player such freedom, allowing the player to modify most if not all of the games internal data, which is why I suggest that a tool to simplify script creation may be more the way to go. The other alternative of course is to have some form of human GM that has access to the same abilities the scripting offers, so the player could state that they wish to use a grappling hook, at which point the GM decides if this is plausible and relocates the player manually. This has the advantage that pretty much all actions/events will make sense as the GM uses common sense where the computer cannot, but requires that a GM be present for a game to take place. This means there cannot be a single player version of the game and that a players experience is likely only as good as the GM is capable. So what do you think, is this a good idea, do you have a better suggestion, or should we perhaps just stick to a more static set of actions in games? Cheers, Steve

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The problem with CRPGs is there is no human GM (nor in general time to query one). Most actions will result in a direct effect on the character(s) involved, which must be validated - either requiring strict adherance to the rules or vetting and implementing by human staff. Obviously this can't be done on the fly for any number of players, and almost certainly not in an immersive, graphically represented way.

Ordinarily, I blab quite freely about some of the mechanisms we're using. In this case I won't. You want to know, come sign an NDA. I can say that flexibility *almost* to the point of what you're describing is possible, but isn't always a good idea, especially if changes to a dynamic environment are irreversible.

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The inclusion of a human GM isn't the only reason that PnP RPG players are able to attempt more actions, the medium itself is inherently more flexible. Interaction is in a textual and/or verbal format, making dynamic games much easier to implement.

Adding new actions in a graphical computer game is not merely a matter of writing a little extra script, as players will expect extra animations and/or sounds to be included for each of them, and creating such content takes much more time than talking and writing about an action.

This is the main reason that graphical adventure games are shorter, easier and/or have much simpler puzzles than their text based predecessors.

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Okay, I take your point and somewhat agree, however, I am interested in playing with the idea still, just to see what (if anything) comes out the other end.

What is to say we need visual feedback, or that the visual feedback can't be simplified?

If we look instead at the problem from the perspective of a computer collectible card game, somewhat like say, Magic the Gathering. Each script could instead become a user generated card. The only visual feedback we would need then would be a picture for the card and perhaps a partice effect or something upon use. Now, for the sake of arguement, I'm going to assume that this idea works, as it is comparible to a designer of a CCG simply creating a new card, but giving this freedom to the players. If it works for a CCG, is it such a huge step to think we could have something similar that would fit into a more traditional RPG style game?

Of course, this would still require that card designers are competent artists (although card designs made in paint by amateurs could be interesting!), perhaps a community could be developed to overcome this obstacle, such that players had access to (perhaps paid, or perhaps free) pregenerated content created from the player base.

Could we simply represent the scripts in a RPG by particle effects for example? We already simplify spell effects in games to a series of particle effects.... you don't actually see someones skin catch fire and their eyeballs pop out when you cast a fireball at them in World of Warcraft (Well, I presume not as I haven't played it!) in most cases you get a simplified representation of the spell effects, yet it doesn't kill suspension of disbelief there because to an extent, players still use their imagination (or ignore that the spell effect isn't 100% accurate to life).

Another example of this are emotes, players often have a limited set of inbuilt emotes, but are then given the freedom to create their own through '/em coughs up blood' or something similar. Again, the players seem happy to use emotes that are not built into the system because of their desire to express themselves.

Part of my recent thoughts actually include the idea of having a separate roleplaying section to the game done in text/voice similar to a pen and paper RPG session but with computerised aids to ensure that dice rolls and rules systems do not slow down the process. So I wonder if the answer is to diverge from the idea of mainstream RPGs and make this idea a CCG or textual RPG.

Please note however, I'm not saying any one of these ideas is the best solution, I'm just trying to explore the ideas :)

Cheers,

Steve

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I think that after battering with it a lot you would probably end up with one of two things. Something that can be achieved by grabbing your favorite D&D book and playing with dice. Or something that's like the old half-text half-graphical games... Where you walk to the door, but then have to type: "Open door..."; If it fits in some script somewhere, the door would open.

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Thinking on this a little more, I'd forgotten to address the element of time taken to perform actions via a human GM.

Now, I also think that I'm looking at essentially 2 very different systems here as a human GM would still allow a lot more flexibility, even pre-scripted actions would still only allow the player to perform actions if they have been thought of prior to the adventure. I think this is as much as we could expect from a single player game, as if we could create a system that literally allowed you to do anything and get visual feedback... we would probably never need code another game again... and that' not going to happen any time soon!

So, assuming a human GM situation, what would be the best way of dealing with the amount of time it takes for a player to convey their wish to perform a given action?

Well, naturally, I think the only way we can give a GM enough time to deal with anything is to pause the game while people take actions. Pausing the game could potentially be an annoyance to other players and could disrupt the flow of a game, so we need a way to keep the game flowing, and to stop people taking advantage of stopping the game as they desire to the annoyance of other players.

Looking at what we'd like to achieve, game events and opporunities the GM would like to present to the player could still potentially be pre-scripted, just in the way a pen and paper GM pre-scripts a mission or campaign. It would then be up to players to spot these opportunities and react to the events using the normal system. Player defined action however would require the player to query the possibility of the action with the GM.

Now, looking at a possible system to deal with this, perhaps players could have a statistic representing their resourcefulness. This stat could influence the frequency with which they are allowed to query the GM. Or perhaps the players could submit an action request to the GM, who monitors a queue of such requests and decides whether or not it is appropriate to pause gameplay. Of course, the GM can pause/unpause the gameplay as and when they desire.

To combat annoying players, we could allow every individual player to save the current state of their game (minus party information), leave the game and return with a new party or GM, should they desire.

Anyhoo, that's just another option to look at... any further thoughts or dieas are welcomed :)

Cheers,

Steve

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Well, yes I suppose you could achieve similar results with a DnD book or a half text half graphical game. I guess you could liken this idea to a third option however. Offering the player a visual depictation of their combat/travelling, taking care of looking after the rules systems without needing to wait for a GM to look something up from a 500 page rule book. Something like this would allow a roleplay group to do what they do with less of an interruption to game flow.

As another example, I was recently involved in a roleplay session for the first time in a fair while. Two things became apparent to me. Firstly, the GM occasionally seemed to forget that my character was surrounded by grunts in one particular fight and amidst the confusion and so I never got attacked! Secondly, players often had to query the GM for a description of who was where and what they were doing, and we often referred to characters by their real life names as you couldn't easily see others character sheets (and rightfully so).

Now granted, with a skilled GM, these matters may be trivial, but with a computer system giving us a visual display of this interaction, it would never be a concern in the first place, leaving the GM to do what they should be doing... creating a compelling story and encouraging players to think outside the box.

Which leads me to another variation on this idea. Presuming something like this is to be used with a group of roleplayers, perhaps it would be a nice touch to allow multiplayer via hotseating (or having the GM run the show). This might encourage RP groups to use such a system, as they would only require one machine for the whole group, and I would guess it is quite likely out of an average roleplay group that at least one persn has access to a PC or laptop that could be used for such a purpose (I think our group would probably have about 3 or 4 available for example, though this may involve everyone cramming round a friends house!).

This would of course leave us taking a slightly different direction with the idea, as then the game would probably be more of a graphical representation of a game board... but then, is that such a bad thing? Don't get me wrong, I am still fond of miniatures and nice hand painted scenery being used to represent a battlefield or RPG scenario... but a computerised version of this in my mind at least would be pretty sweet :)

Just some more food for thought...

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Quote:
Original post by Mephs
Now, I also think that I'm looking at essentially 2 very different systems here as a human GM would still allow a lot more flexibility, even pre-scripted actions would still only allow the player to perform actions if they have been thought of prior to the adventure. I think this is as much as we could expect from a single player game, as if we could create a system that literally allowed you to do anything and get visual feedback... we would probably never need code another game again... and that' not going to happen any time soon!


Don't you believe it. Literally anything is not a possibility, given an infinite variety in contexts. By limiting the context, or controlling the context of interaction, you can however provide a very large set of relevant actions - certainly enough for the intuitiveness (it's a box - I can open it) required to increase immersion in the gameworld.

There will always be further objects or interactions to add to such a system - and that's where the fun lies - the system needs to be forward-compatible in such a way that expansion is possible - the basic rules for MtG are a good example of this - things fit neatly in the sorcery, summon, creature/wall, interrupt and instant brackets. Getting new things to put in those boxes will always be a combination of coding and scripting to interact with existing mechanisms.

NWN within some restraints is the RPG-in-the-PC you're describing - it's mod community (and persistent game community) both have elements of this.

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Ok, I think if you were to take the first M out of MMORPG and developed something to work with the average PnP RPG group size, then what you have is an idea with a lot of potential.

Back when I used to play DnD, we used figurines and some kind of plastic sheet with a grid that you could draw on with markers like a white board. So the image in my mind is to replace that with 3D models in a pregenerated world. It wouldn't be about having a living breathing world so much as providing props for the story telling element of the classic pen and paper RPG. The bonus is that you can have some really nifty stuff going on for magical effects. Oh and flight was never something easy to depict with a 2d surface and figurines.

You could have the program inform the GM about random or preplanned encounters and the GM could then decide whether there should be one. Players would queue up their desired actions (I think a combination of a chat message and a proposed move of the objects in the world) and they'd be handled accordingly by the GM. Having everything layed out for you visually should make it easier to determine what's what's going and should happen. Present stats to the GM for each monster and player object and allow for automation or modifications at his discresion.

Basicly I'm thinking something to used as a presentation layer that can also eliminate looking up rules in a rule book. It'd be up to the GM to do the story telling and keep the players in line. So of course it'd be up to the GM to decide how many and who all are allowed in the group. Allow for modding of characters and worlds. It wouldn't be any different than purchasing a new DnD module or buying new figurine and painting it or using other objects for props.

You could get very close to being able to do just about anything.
Something like this could've been done a long time ago.

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Oh yes! I never really meant to imply this idea should be used with an MMORPG, I was just trying to play on the whole notion of a newbie wanting to make something impossible for their first game, but instead actually take a serious look at the freeform actions that seem so desired by saud newbie.

That is basically what I am suggesting kseh, except you have perhaps gone into more detail than I. I think you are right, this is an idea that could have been done with much older technology, but with the visual technology we have available today, I think this could greatly enhance an RPG groups experience. Being able to visualise something to the level a computer can would IMO make it easier for a player to be aware of their surroundings and as such include the environment more fully in their roleplay.

Is this perhaps going against the idea of roleplay in that we should be encouraged to use our imaginations rather than be spoon-fed with a fully realised world? Would there really be a demand for this or would it be more hassle to set up a computer for a RP session than it is worth? Would this be a niche market, and presuming it is, would this niche market be big enough to sustain a game or two of this nature (assuming that someone else tries to enter the same market).

Just some more thoughts to chew on!

Cheers,

Steve

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