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Platinum314

Secrets in a Virtual World

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Platinum314    206
I have been watching some of the original Mission Impossible episodes recently, and it has restarted my interest in a massively multiplayer game based on information and secret agents. A couple of years ago I mentioned that I was thinking of a game where there are different factions, each with their own secrets, and having trouble with the idea that a person could use the outside world or multiple accounts in order to double cross their faction. I wouldn't mind if people figure out how to do it within the framework of the game, such as drawing a map and putting it in a place where one of the fellow agents will find it, but it can also be found by other people. Pretty much I have decided that I either would need a strong user agreement, or find a way to have people invested in their side winning (even if their 'side' is the opposite one.) I don't intend to make this game anytime soon, I am just interested in the game design implications. Is it too difficult to create a game based off of deception and out smarting people?

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NathanRunge    725
The first security step you could take would be anti-multi measures, like IP checking and such.

In terms of game design itself, however, things may prove challenging. I'd personally love a game like that, but how you could make one where people wouldn't betray each other by external means is going to be difficult to determine.

I'd say the best way to do it would be to have a strong hierarchy within organisations. Force people to really work their way up in the ranks, identify with their comrades, develop feelings of accomplishment and responsibility. I play a text-based MMO with alliances. I lead my own, with people who have fought in wars beside me, talked to them a lot over the time. They become your comrades in your struggle to the top. If one of our enemies asked me to join, and I did, I wouldn't think thrice about betraying them to the advantage of my friends. I would never, however, betray the ones I've always led. If you force people to spend time with their group, sacrifice for them, fight for them, work for them for some time before they're given any secrets, then they'll be far more inclined to be loyal.

This works especially well if, at first, they're given less important information, or information with less time to act on it. This way there's a loyalty test of sorts. Before anyone's at the top of the leadership, they need to have proven themselves apt at serving, keeping secrets, and leading on a lesser scale. There needs to be ways for spies to be tracked and caught, and threats of real consequences. So no, oh I died, respawn with the people who you newly joined and be safe, situations.

There will always be spies too, it'll happen eventually. The key is to limit them to well-playing and 'honourable' ones. You, of course, need to have risks involved too. In terms of stopping people from sharing through other means... it's difficult. Make sure it's there only account, if you can, and have dangers of it being decimated and it's less likely to occur. Have incentives for reporting people who do the wrong thing in this regard, and be hardline and it'll also act as discouragement.

It's difficult policing these things, but the game itself could be awesome if executed properly.

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Sneftel    1788
You won't be able to eliminate spying. The only thing you can do is allow it within the game design, and make your preferred method of spying the most convenient AND useful way to spy, under ALL circumstances.

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Way Walker    745
Embrace it. Make it part of the game. Make multiple accounts one way of acting as a double agent. Advertise it as "blurring the line between game and reality".

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NathanRunge    725
Then you have the problem of people knowing information from both sides, without the real skill of manipulation/sneaking to get it. In a game with a lot of information/knowledge based gameplay this could really be a problem.

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RyanG    122
Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
Embrace it. Make it part of the game. Make multiple accounts one way of acting as a double agent. Advertise it as "blurring the line between game and reality".


I think there was an MMO of some sort that tried to do that... I forget exactly what it was called... think it started with an M.

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Platinum314    206
Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
Embrace it. Make it part of the game. Make multiple accounts one way of acting as a double agent. Advertise it as "blurring the line between game and reality".


Quote:
Original post by NathanRunge
Then you have the problem of people knowing information from both sides, without the real skill of manipulation/sneaking to get it. In a game with a lot of information/knowledge based gameplay this could really be a problem.


Exactly, that's what I am trying to figure out.

Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
You won't be able to eliminate spying. The only thing you can do is allow it within the game design, and make your preferred method of spying the most convenient AND useful way to spy, under ALL circumstances.


How am I supposed to do this? It boggles my mind.

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Quote:
Original post by Platinum314
How am I supposed to do this? It boggles my mind.


One way to do it is to not allow the players to see in-game information.

Say the X Organization wants to find out where the Y Agency's headquarters are. Your character, a member of the Y Agency, knows that, but you, the player, don't.

Should you decided to switch sides, your character could hand the address in a piece of paper if it's a face-to-face encounter with the higher ups from X. If it's electronic communication, have an option "Reveal Y's hideout" for the player to choose.

But then, the fundamental question: is it more important that YOU know something, or that YOUR CHARACTER knows something?

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PlayfulPuppy    419
There's only one way I can think of that you could pull this off effectively, but unless pulled off well it will undoubtedly hurt the game more than help it.

First off, you wouldn't be able to have a friends list nor choose a server. Every time you play the game, you play with a random selection of other people, but have absolutely no choice over who you play with or where. This eliminates (Or at least drastically reduces) the potential for people talking outside of the game.

Second, all in-game communications would have to be restricted, so no free-text or speech. Maybe work it so that characters can communicate through a selection of emotes.

This would have to be worked in with the game style and the graphical style to be pulled off even almost effectively. You'd have to make people think that those 2 decisions were integral to the design of the game, or people would just think that you're limiting them for no good reason (Which, in a way, is true).

But if you want to keep secrets inside the game world, that's the ONLY way I see you achieving it.

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Daaark    3553
Design secrets so that they only make sense to a character, and have no value in the real world. The 'HQ' can be in a different building for each player. Everyone sees the world differently, based on what they know.

You earn the knowledge of the enemy HQ through gameplay. The same way you earn levels. So that no 2 users can trade achievements.

Let one player gather information and send a group of players out on a quest to do whatever it is that needs to be done. If all the quests are randomly generated, then none of the info stays relevant for very long.

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Talroth    3247
yeah, the only way to do a game like that is to make it so that the CHARACTER has to know the information for it to really be of any use to you.

You use an alt to learn Player "John Bauding" is an agent for Faction "Majestic Honour", and you want to kill this agent with your main character. Opps, your Main doesn't know anything about John Bauding, so even if you walk your character up behind John, pull out your piano wire, you have no option to kill him. Why? Your Main Character doesn't know John Bauding, and therefore he can't harm him.


Allow Alts to pass off information learned, BUT, there is always a risk of it being caught doing so. Double agents are part of the game, what players do you trust? how do you work in a world where the next new guy you meet and talk to might be someone from the other side selling you out?

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PlayfulPuppy    419
Quote:
Original post by Talroth
You use an alt to learn Player "John Bauding" is an agent for Faction "Majestic Honour", and you want to kill this agent with your main character. [...] Your Main Character doesn't know John Bauding, and therefore he can't harm him.


Although the point of being a double-operative is to gather information and subvert the opposing side, not to just hang out and not die.

If one player found out he was a double-op, he could tell the rest of his faction and they could vote him out or keep him out of any important strategies. ANy subversion that he attempted would be met with "Ah he's just a double-op, ignore him".

The fact of the matter is that it's the knowledge that's important in a game of secrets, being able to act directly on that knowledge is kind of moot.

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NathanRunge    725
The character idea sounds nice. However, I feel it really is destroying the point of the game. I believe that deception, manipulation and in-game espionage are mean to be valid tactics. What he is trying to avoid is improper distribution of information through cheating.

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It would take several levels of encryption to keep information relevant to gameplay without being available to the player. I think it's possible to run everything based on "character knowledge".

Limit travel to map navigation and "location hotspots" that can't be reached without knowing where they are or following someone who knows. You could blindfold characters and transport them to a location, and then late drug them and dump them in a ditch, and when they woke up, that player would be totally unable to find his way back to the location, even if he gets on MSN and has a chat with his "captor" about the place. You could get on MSN and say, "Hey, I'm going to bury a map to the base under the park bench three blocks south of the warehouse where the first NPC mission is," and that would work, but the characters have to go bury the thing and dig them up, which means they can be seen doing it.

Truth be told, I envision this game being less of a 3D world and more of a command interface, where you tell your character what to do and then draw conclusions, Clue-style, from the outcome. "Surveil man in black coat" would yield a collection of data about what that guy did, maybe who he is, who he's interacting with, etc. Or maybe you won't get any info at all and your guy will wake up in a parking lot with a headache and a vague recollection of telling Mr. Blackcoat an awful lot of pertinent information while enjoying the euphoric side-effects of the interrogation drugs.

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krez    443
i was asking about something in a similar direction a while back, and someone mentioned the idea to make each piece of information an in-game object which can be copied, traded, stolen, etc etc.
here's the thread.
with such a system, it wouldn't matter if someone put up a website or instant messaged their friends outside the game; their characters would not be able to use that information in-game.

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Part of the problem of metagaming that you describe here is a problem with identifying events with people. One solution might be to allow the people to change their identity... new ID card, new passport, plastic surgery, etc. (see Bourne movies, Gattaca). If Agent A is identified as John Smith of Majestic 12, then a change of haircolor, added moustache, fake glasses, a nosejob, and a change of clothes could be used as game mechanics to give him a new identity in the event that he gets in trouble.

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Funkymunky    1413
a secret agent mmo? how are you going to actually sneak around other players? I don't think the graphics are there yet.

the only way I see secrets working is if a dedicated development team is constantly evolving the game world. writers, more or less.

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NathanRunge    725
FunkyMunky, I don't think Platinum314 actually ever said it was a 'secret agent mmo'. Nor did he say that sneaking would be a major game component, although that could be implied by theft of information. I don't think graphics could really limit that sort of action anyway. Sneaking can be done without fancy graphics, although it can be more complicated.

I like krez's response more than the others. Have information as in-game objects. Although, I'm not sure of Platinum's intention for what this 'information' will be. If this information is dynamically generated by the 'faction leaders', such as war plans or construction or sabotage missions, then this wouldn't really work. In this case it's human-useful information to know. It's not really usable as an object.

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Way Walker    745
Quote:
Original post by Platinum314
Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
Embrace it. Make it part of the game. Make multiple accounts one way of acting as a double agent. Advertise it as "blurring the line between game and reality".


Quote:
Original post by NathanRunge
Then you have the problem of people knowing information from both sides, without the real skill of manipulation/sneaking to get it. In a game with a lot of information/knowledge based gameplay this could really be a problem.


But it seems to me that the assumption is that, if you belong to a faction, then you know everything that faction knows. Why is this true? Why do you have all the information your higher ups have?

Make it so a second account is a valid way to be a double agent. Let's say I have two characters, character A belonging to faction A and character B belonging to faction B. Someone in faction A gives information to character A. If that information becomes known to faction B, then faction A would have evidence that my character B exists. Maybe one of their double agents even heard my character B hand over the information.

Basically, the character is actually the person playing while their characters are more like disguises they can wear. Griefers are ok because, at least in my vision, bringing about chaos could be a legitimate goal (I'm thinking of Deus Ex' "Dark Age" ending) and hopefully they'll be kept in check by not reaching the upper levels of trust.

By the way, what's the win condition you're envisioning? What makes one side the one that's "in the lead"? What sorts of information are picturing people sharing? What sorts of things are they trying to get?

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Talroth    3247
Quote:
Original post by Funkymunky
a secret agent mmo? how are you going to actually sneak around other players? I don't think the graphics are there yet.

the only way I see secrets working is if a dedicated development team is constantly evolving the game world. writers, more or less.


How have people sneaked computer equipment off countless University campuses? Stand tall, put on a shirt with a collar, comb your hair, and put on a smile as you carry a computer by a guard and complain about how the university is too cheap to provide good carts to people working in computer services.


Secret agent sneaking isn't about dressing up in black and dramatically dancing your way through shadows.

A world doesn't need writers to constantly evolve. Sim Earth was constantly evolving nearly 20 years ago. We can do a lot better these days. Would it be easy to do in an MMO? No, but then MMOs aren't easy to do in the first place.


The key to a game like this would be the player gets to use and act on information the CHARACTER knows. Limit the use of 'gut feelings', your character can't randomly walk up to some guy and start spying on them or collecting a lot of information. Populate the world with procedurally generated NPCs that walk around as background filler, (aka, extras in the movies, that woman in the cafe in the background that has the magic glass that is full, empty, 2/3 full, empty, etc all in the space of 30 seconds) to give real players something to 'hide in plain sight' in.

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Platinum314    206
I like a lot of these ideas.

Separating the information the character knows from what the player knows could fix many of the problems, it would be something to try out. I don't know what kind of depth I could get a system like this. It seems too detached for what I was thinking.

On the other hand I could just not worry about separating information at all.
Having people earn their factions trust was always something I wanted, expanding the idea to embrace the fact people may have multiple accounts could be interesting.

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Dinner    296
I heard this type of political gameplay happens within corporations
in eve online, but ive seen aspects of it happen in all mmo's

Overall id say not only assume players could make double accounts, but they will make double accounts, and design the gameplay to incorperate this..

working as a double agent is alot harder then it seems, giving both avatars equal game time, playing on the other side enough that they do trust you, giving them reason to trust you as well, if your in a group and you run into another guild member, do you gank them to fit in the group or find a way out of it, to avoid upsetting whatever they are doing.

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Yeah, it's absolutely done in EvE. Once we choose a war target, I or another corp member will make an alt (or use an existing one), join the target corp, gather intel on their capabilities, assets and habits, then try to fly with them in the actual sorties to provide real-time intel on their ships, location and comms. It's dirty pool, and it's why we use small, close-knit groups for our fighting, and make it difficult for new members to get access to critical intel.

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How about making key information available only to groups? Secret agents would need a large network of people working along side them anyway. Depending on the level of importance the information has, more members of a group would be needed to access it. I know it could freeze some people out, but provided there was enough game content to keep them active it could work. Your community would actually be policing their own secrets, making sure that they teamed with people they knew in order to protect their own faction.

Yeah, it is breakable but so is every system. You just need to find soloutions that minimise the problems.

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