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Creating a RP-only MMO - what's there?

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Okay, so here's the thing: I have been meaning to work on my own MUD for quite a few years, but have continuously put the project off for various reasons, including feasibility and questioning whether or not I would still even have an audience by the time the thing was finished. I would ditch the idea altogether if not for one single, simple reason: MMOs and other graphical games simply do not provide an immersive-enough environment that is conductive to "hard core" roleplaying. Sure, there are servers out there that are RP-only/enforced... but they still have that tacky, number-crunching feel and players are still generally having to rely solely on the chat system for their roleplaying needs and completely ignoring the rest of the game's features. Player customization is still not all that great, and in the end, the roleplaying is very obviously a secondary, optional feature of the game. (Note that I am targetting a very fine, niche audience here, the kind who are a little too serious about their story and characters and rage vehemently against the usage of 1337 and bad grammar. I am not targetting a general or casual audience AT ALL.) So now we come to the real question for this thread. Are there any MMOs (*cough*free*cough*) out there that put roleplaying FIRST in their development and design? If so, what sort of features have they tried to implement and what was the success of those features? I am considering veering away from my MUD plans in favor of creating a small-scale MMO. Obviously, that would open up a whole new can of worms in terms of the technical sides of things, including art, modelling, networking, etc. I want to know how feasible it would be to alter my designs in this way, and what sort of things would need to be approached completely differently than I would expect with a MUD. (For example, the economic system, character saving/development, etc) I'm not interested in pursuing a "team" for this, I just want to do my research before I pour my soul onto paper in a potential design.

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Quote:
Original post by Parhelion
Are there any MMOs (*cough*free*cough*) out there that put roleplaying FIRST in their development and design? If so, what sort of features have they tried to implement and what was the success of those features?


Not that I know of. I mean, I guess you could avoid the "number crunching" factor (IE levels, damage) in Second Life since I don't think it has a combat system and relies on player-generated content to the extreme. Of course, I don't think that's what you're looking for.

Quote:
Original post by Parhelion
I am considering veering away from my MUD plans in favor of creating a small-scale MMO. Obviously, that would open up a whole new can of worms in terms of the technical sides of things, including art, modelling, networking, etc. I want to know how feasible it would be to alter my designs in this way, and what sort of things would need to be approached completely differently than I would expect with a MUD.


I'm currently working on a largely solo project with ideas very similar to this. I never had intentions of being a MUD developer, though I've been programming for some time now. A 2D game would be infinitely less complicated than a full blown 3D game. If you understand how to create/display images and network a MUD, you can probably handle a 2D (not so) MMO.

A 3D MMO introduces a whole new dimension (pun intended) of problems. While you could get away with simple models and art assets, your 3D game would look like it belongs in the 90's without learning about modern graphics techniques like shaders. It's taken me a good year or two to understand how to create pretty graphics in DirectX (or at least be arrogant enough to claim that I understand).

Not only is art a problem, AI/collision in 3D space can get out of control quickly. I'm working around this in my game by designing an encounter system with barely any hardware-intensive pathfinding checks.

Of course, don't let me discourage you. Learning about HLSL and the rendering pipeline is a VERY rewarding experience, and in all my ignorance I felt the need to dive head-first into 3D online RPG programming for my first real project and I haven't completely failed yet.

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There are a lot of heavily RP MUDs out there but most of them still have a regular stats system beneath them. If you want a purely RP game you will need a game master and there you will find play-by-mail, play-by-posts (on forums) or IRC game sessions. However, there is a fine line between "interactive fiction" and role playing game.

As someone who likes RP very much and tend to have contempt for stat-based RPGs, I still think that a decent RP-only game still needs a combat engine beneath it.

When you do roleplay, you have to roleplay ABOUT something. If you want to be heavy on diplomacy, for instance, it means that violence is possible. Even without being focused on war and combat, if you want to roleplay about merchants intrigues, you have to be an economic system beneath your game, otherwise, it will become shallow. In a situation where you have to choose a camp, it is important to have some way of at least have a vague idea of who is powerful or who has an edge in a direct confrontation.

For me, a RP-focused game means that confrontations will be rare. The more rare they get, the more RP-focused the game is, but also the more important the result of confrontations are. I think it would be a grave error to think that because confrontations are rare, removing them completely is possible. It is like saying that in most detective fiction, murders are rare and protagonist usually do not kill each other (there is often only one murder that happened before the story begins) but even rare and not shown, removing it would make all the rest of the story impossible. In fact detective fiction is a good example at how important it is to have a detailed "murder system" especially when only one murder happened : you get interested in the shape and locations of wounds, the weight of the body, its condition, strangulation marks, and so on. Even if most of the novel will be about chatting and gathering clues, it all relies on the "murder system" being coherent.

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Would you consider Second Life to be non-numerical and conductive to roleplaying? That's the only one I can think of where I'd even try to stage a diceless roleplaying game.

Here's how I'd design a visual diceless roleplaying setting:

- With a system somewhat like sim2 or 3, a GM player can create buildings and larger locations and especially puzzles. It's important that the GM does not have to pay for the various furnishings and things they use. Probably they also need to be able to place monsters and assign them simple AI/place NPCs and assign them dialogue. The GM may also need to be able to limit what characters can look like or wear within the world, and whether they can enter with any possessions.

- Each campaign must be registered as either pg-13 or adult, and only age-verified players can join adult campaigns. Also each campaign must be set as closed registration or open for X players or open until X date, and there must be a searchable directory of all open campaigns. The start state of each campaign should become publicly available when it is 'published' to the directory, so anyone can run their own clone of it. Genre tags would be nice too.

- The game should also provide some standard campaigns to exemplify good campaign design, allow players to edit them as a starting point for their own, and possibly these wouldn't need live GMs so players could always start them even when no live campaigns are open for registration.

- The major 'loot' the player would acquire would be:
1. A karma rating awarded by other players for literate and creative RPing
2. For each active hour a player spends inside a campaign they get a gold piece, these can be spent on avatar customizations. A new player could be awarded 100 or so of these for filling out their profile completely and going through the standard tutorial on 'how to be a good roleplayer'.



If that's too complicated, I bet diceless roleplayers would also love something much simpler: a forum (which must allow adult content) which provides a paperdoll avatar creator (like GaiaOnline's avatar system as emulated by TekTek, or eLouai's candybar doll, or the HeroMachine. Players would be able to create multiple avatars, one for each campaign, and the correct one would be displayed beside all posts made in that campaign. Then there would be a 2D library of images which a GM could use to create a room or outdoor scene - these would be non-interactive, they would just be displayed within the forum thread to visually orient the players. Players could also create their own rooms or personalize a standard room which could be displayed with GM approval.

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For me, RP-focusing game would be about playing your role in a society. So there has to be a persistent society, with it's needs, enemies, goals, etc. For example, if there's a warrior class, then the purpose of the players playing that class is to help the society reaching it's goals by implementing warrior-like actions. So, the game should focus on making the players feel like they're actual warriors, doing actual warriors' actions in a society that demands it. The same goes with other classes. And in achieving this "feel like actual warriors/mages/nobles/etc," level-grinding isn't necessary at all.

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There are several decent "light" rule systems that don't interfere much with role playing, but still provide a tangible game structure and conflict resolution mechanics.

I've had a whole list I can't find right now, but Fudge is my personal favorite.

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Light rules are fine, but the more complex rules will be, the more interesting negociations will get. If every territory has the same strategic advantage, trading them becomes straightforward for instance. But if some faction has a technology that makes one territory very useful to them but some other faction could get an economical edge through it becoming unused, etc... everything becomes more interesting.

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While my intention here is to design a world that is specifically catering to roleplayers, its not my intention to do away with numbers or strict rule systems. In fact, I would prefer to have them as the very structure of the game's "physical" existence.

In real life, you have intrigue and drama, but you still have to obey the laws of physics. You're not going to go teleporting through walls simply because you say you can.

The difference between "hack and slash" games and "roleplaying" games, in my mind, when it comes to how it treats numbers and statistics, is how the two deal with presenting these figures in the world and through the user interface. The best roleplaying MUDs I've seen have "done away" with numbers without actually doing away with them -- players just can't interact with them.

SOMETHING has to be governing the Laws of Existence -- or I really would be better off grabbing a free codebase/system similar to Second Life or just starting a new forums game.

Wirya is pretty much touching on the kind of experience that I want to provide players without dropping them into some sort of free-for-all setting.

One of the most ... evil ... features that I would like to implement is the idea of true persistence. This is a feature that could potentially fatally break the game, but provide a very unique (or at least highly uncommon) play experience if it succeeds. In most multiplayer persistence games, game areas are separated into zones which reload in time but generally always have the same state. In my dream of true persistence, "zones" would no longer be so static. For example, if a player leads a band into a village and wipes the place out, then that village is dead... unless, of course, another player leads new villagers to it. This kind of mechanic carries with it some very dangerous and troublesome design problems because it goes right down to the individual items in the game but I really want to give it a shot.

Then there's the "keep them entertained/guessing" appeal by making sure that the world keeps evolving. This could make modelers/programmers go bat-shit in a hurry.

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Quote:
Original post by Parhelion
Are there any MMOs (*cough*free*cough*) out there that put roleplaying FIRST in their development and design?
Yes. Somehow not many people have heard of A Tale In the Desert. Wikipedia excerpt:

"A Tale In the Desert is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) set in Ancient Egypt, run by the independent company eGenesis. Most notably, the central focus of the game is, unlike most other MMORPGs, society rather than combat: in fact, this game is one of very few in the genre to boast no combat system whatsoever, although there is some equivalent in board games. Instead, the core of the game is economic development. The initial software download and all new content are free, but there is a monthly fee of US$13.95 to continue playing after 24 hours in-game."

Official website here.

The game system looks very well thought out, and the developers and GMs take an active role in the game. I haven't tried it but I'm intrigued and might try it in the future.

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Original post by Parhelion
Then there's the "keep them entertained/guessing" appeal by making sure that the world keeps evolving. This could make modelers/programmers go bat-shit in a hurry.


I considered this, since im also in love with the idea of a persistent world... basically the only way i can see it happen is if you built some sort of system that let players add new items within the game rules and environment..but the resources you would put into monitoring the system I think would make it unusable.


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