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Wavinator

Making History Useful To The Player

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Wavinator    2017
History, particularly the kind of made up history found in RPGs, seems to be boring to the majority of players. Is there any way to make it more relevant? I ask because I'm working on procedurally generating the history for the space game I'm working on. At the moment I'm at the macro level, generating life, evolving it up a tech tree of sorts and trying to get it to interact in interesting ways. Eventually I want this all to generate history and map fragments and set the tone for encounters (ruins, derelicts) in regions of the game. It seems that there are some things not as worth doing, though. What could it possibly mean to you if some alien race never made it past the industrial age, got bombed by an asteroid or disappeared in a nuclear war? Other than varying the inhabitants of the map (which can be done far easier) what use is history?

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Atrix256    539
I dont remember the details but i read an article a little while ago about a MUD admin who wrote up a paper about the different kind of players of MUDs

some liked to PVE
some liked to PVP
some liked to explore
etc (there were some other types i think)

Anyhow, in your game, I could see history being useful to those who liked to explore.

Imagine if you came to a strange planet and there was something blocking you from getting into some cool looking ancient place.

Like maybe a door to a temple was made out of some indestructible material and there was a combination lock (with strange non-english symbols on it).

Or perhaps there was some seemingly unbeatable guardian of a temple who you couldn't ever destroy in combat, that would always engage you when you got close.

Maybe for these things, if you went and researched the history, or had been paying attention when history was being told to you via storyline, you might have a clue of what to do or at least who to talk to or where to go to research information.

You might find the combination to the lock in some history text

You might find that if you bring a certain item to the unbeatable guardian that he detects that you are friendly and leaves you alone.

These are things that would make history add to the experience of the game without requiring players to deal with it who didn't like doing research etc.

Also, in this sort of situation, the players who knew history and were more of the explorer types would be sought out by other types of players for their knowledge about certain things that might come up in the world.

It could also be a "sub class" that you understood things about the universe's history.

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lmelior    325
I'm one of those players who enjoys the history aspect of those games. Dragon Age had some information in the codex that directly affected the events of the game. You can actually find instructions for uncovering a hidden treasure cache or performing a ritual in the codex. Of course, I suspect most players used a guide and didn't bother reading it, but it was a neat feature all the same. I can't remember if Metroid Prime did something similar, but I sure enjoyed scanning everything I came across though.

So, you could include general hints from history that could help the player indirectly. A warning about focusing character development on a single type of skill. Or, detailing the route that a famous historical figure took to prosperity, highlighting a certain combination of skills that work well together. More directly, you might make fragments of history into a puzzle, the solving of which will lead to secret loot or lost technology. If you have a DA:O Codex-like mechanism, you could even make it required that the player read it to advance beyond a certain point, though they may not appreciate that.

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caffiene    237
Quote:
Original post by Atrix256
I dont remember the details but i read an article a little while ago


Id say you're thinking of Richard Bartle's "Players Who Suit MUDs". Theres a later version that adds an extra axis, too (also on the same site).

And I think you might be onto something, there, too. Addressing the player "types" does seem to lend itself to some simple ways of making history relevant - you just phrase the history in such a way as to appeal to that playstyle.

Scatter some rare history around in hard to access places as a reward for players that like to explore; describe specific tasks as a challenge to competitive players (eg, "Ancient Race [A] once attempted to follow this path through space and conquer the races along it, can you succeed where they failed?"; give conversation/diplomacy options related to history which lead to an emotional response from the other party to reward more empathic/social players. (Although not everything in the papers is relevant to a single-player game, of course)

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doomhascome    142
You could find out that an alien race used Ion technology, which, should you provide Merxonium in addition to the standard fuel, could boost efficiency by up to 500%, but rapidly degrades the tech? Tons of optional boosts and trade offs. Maybe you can find that they buried many cultural treasures under an area, for fear of war. If you search a specific field, you get the treasure, which can be sold for a bunch. You could find it by luck, or by finding the documents and reading them.

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pothb    102
You can give hints in your history, like lets say the main enemy is some ancient evil, previously defeated. Record it in your history in a way the character can access it, how he was defeated... for a possibly easier way to defeat him or something of the like.

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Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy comes to mind. The titular character is a space fleet commander and a strategic genius who collects art of alien races and uses it to predict how an opposing commander of that race will react to his moves. Do they have the kind of imagination necessary to figure out a particular plan and counter it? What do they find psychologically distressing - uncertainty, a loss of face, ... - so that they fold easier than strategically necessary when faced by that thing? Are they impatient? Does demonstrating a particular quality like cunning, ruthlessness or loyalty provoke respect or contempt in them?

In other words, you could allow a history knowledge that concerns particular AIs or their ancestors to help the player predict what a particular AI is most likely to do in a certain scenario. The more knowledge, the more accurate the prediction.

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Dragoncar    517
I don't know specifically what sort of space game your working on, but the generated history could be used to decide the relationship between factions. This would mean that rather than knowing who will dislike you if you help someone else (this is usually in the manual, revealed really easily or at best the same everytime the game is played) you can either take the risk or find out the history of the "world" to know so you can make a better choice.

You could also then give the play the ability to fix some of these rifts that happened in the past.

This is similar to Atrix256's idea:
Another thing that might be ok is to make the players race (or guild etc.) have lost some of the skills and abilities they use to have and these can be regained by the player by hunting down the history or their race.

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Atrix256    539
Another idea i was thinkin of...

In the storyline you could have some kind of computer that can extrapolate the future from knowledge of the past.

So, you go out and discover historical oddities and artificats and bring it back to the computer which then paints a more accurate picture of the future.

Not sure if this would be appropriate for your type of game but there might be a cool mechanic there of a computer telling you future events with a percentage level of certainty so you can prepare yourself accordingly, or try and be in the right place at the right time and such (:

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Diodor    517
History as background story... a game (or a film but less so) without a story is like a ship without a swimming pool.

History is massively important in one game: poker. The solution then: to add a poker element to the game and make history very specifically relevant to how various randomly generated alien factions play that subgame.

A pre-combat negotiation phase is what I have in mind. Some aliens might bluff and haggle all day, some might take any aggressive gesture as an excuse to go all in... I mean to attack outright.

The same, having some clue of the technological level of aliens you have not encountered might be better than discovering the same by having your ship sliced by their borg beam.

In other words, what Stroppy Katamari said.

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kseh    3840
I really really want to come up with some way that history can enhance gameplay but I'm having a very hard time. I want it. I want it really lots, but I can't think of much of a use. Knowing why a race of aliens acts a certain way is nice and all but what does it help? A warlike race is a warlike race (or any trait), regardless of why. Your knowledge of their history is not going to help force them into peace.

Maybe to fulfill the old axiom about history repeating itself. It might be useful to see what the game is capable of so that you can plan what sort of actions you might take if you intend on affecting things on such a historic scale. Maybe reading about a hero, politician, or pirate's accomplishments will insprire the player to try the same things. But I don't know if in order to provide that inspiration you would need to develop a history for lots of planets.

Maybe you could use history in generating relationships between races or creating heros and other notable figures. Again, knowing how such things came to be is nice and all but I'm not sure how a player can make use of it.

Unless maybe the reason I want detailed history is the same as why I want beautifull graphics and music. I guess the question is then, how far do you want to get into that one dimension of the game?

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Orymus    156
Quote:
Original post by Atrix256
I dont remember the details but i read an article a little while ago about a MUD admin who wrote up a paper about the different kind of players of MUDs

some liked to PVE
some liked to PVP
some liked to explore
etc (there were some other types i think)

Anyhow, in your game, I could see history being useful to those who liked to explore.

Imagine if you came to a strange planet and there was something blocking you from getting into some cool looking ancient place.

Like maybe a door to a temple was made out of some indestructible material and there was a combination lock (with strange non-english symbols on it).

Or perhaps there was some seemingly unbeatable guardian of a temple who you couldn't ever destroy in combat, that would always engage you when you got close.

Maybe for these things, if you went and researched the history, or had been paying attention when history was being told to you via storyline, you might have a clue of what to do or at least who to talk to or where to go to research information.

You might find the combination to the lock in some history text

You might find that if you bring a certain item to the unbeatable guardian that he detects that you are friendly and leaves you alone.

These are things that would make history add to the experience of the game without requiring players to deal with it who didn't like doing research etc.

Also, in this sort of situation, the players who knew history and were more of the explorer types would be sought out by other types of players for their knowledge about certain things that might come up in the world.

It could also be a "sub class" that you understood things about the universe's history.


Myst 2 Riven did that.

There was a room with symbols impossible to understand. You had to learn about these symbols to unlock the room. To learn about these symbols, you had to know what they meant... In Myst IV: Revelation, they went a step deeper. To know what the symbols meant, you had to understand the event order in the world etc. As a whole, Myst IV is a good way to teach you how to mettle story and game mechanics. The game is good for what it is, so I recommend playing it if you wish to train yourself: there is no learning without actual effort, you might even dig elements I haven't seen in that game if you play it with this specific focus in mind :)

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Polama    1105
One option is to make the game about history: Why is the universe the way it is? DNA testing, excavation, local history can all give clues as to when worlds traded and when they warred, when they were settled and by who. Gameplay could focus around gathering evidence and then piecing together consistent stories. The player would be rewarded for correctly describing historic events. I imagine the theme would be rather mysterious: Who could possibly have destroyed this many worlds 5,000 years ago? What became of that technology? Why did the great martian Diaspora occur?

Or if you want a more traditional game, history can be important for generating consistent storylines. There's an iceberg philosophy in writing that says you should only tell the reader a fraction of what you know about the world. Consider Star Wars: the viewer gets the sense fairly quickly that there's this large universe out there, and that they're just viewing a small piece. Galatic war, rebellion, a mystic society that's mostly vanished. Han Solo enters the storyline with a history we don't view firsthand, and that history impacts the part of the story we do see. The player doesn't usually want a history lesson, but if you put little clues about a history they'll be intrigued. You can put those clues in without explicitly pregenerating a historic narrative, but doing so ensures consistency. It gives you more narrative freedom, like being able to present information in reverse chronological order, letting the player see the impact of some event before understanding what that event was.

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theOcelot    498
You have to remember that history is very important in real life, and still most people ignore it and find it boring. A game, where people go to avoid boring things, is not likely to do much better. It just doesn't seem to be in most people's genes to care about history.

Even if they find it interesting at first glance, it will usually get swept away by immediate concerns, which they will do their best to muddle through without referring to history.

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wodinoneeye    1689
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
History, particularly the kind of made up history found in RPGs, seems to be boring to the majority of players. Is there any way to make it more relevant?

I ask because I'm working on procedurally generating the history for the space game I'm working on. At the moment I'm at the macro level, generating life, evolving it up a tech tree of sorts and trying to get it to interact in interesting ways. Eventually I want this all to generate history and map fragments and set the tone for encounters (ruins, derelicts) in regions of the game.

It seems that there are some things not as worth doing, though. What could it possibly mean to you if some alien race never made it past the industrial age, got bombed by an asteroid or disappeared in a nuclear war? Other than varying the inhabitants of the map (which can be done far easier) what use is history?




The 'history' also flows in different gradients across space. The fall of a civilization effects frontier vs core urban worlds differently (frontier being more rugged/less dependent would survive largely intact while an urban situation would be mass starvation/heavily looted ... etc... The effect of historic changes radiate outward to a varying decreasing effect. Influence fields could be used to smooth the transitions so not to have too disjunct situations in adjacent area of space.

You are doing the procedural to vary the content in logical cohesive ways and supplies the theme/flavor parameters for generation. You will already have the context decided/defines to build the situations so the only further difficulty is 'history' info that isnt too useless -- how it is to ne conveighed to the player.

Posting 'clues' ahead of the player arriving gives the player a chance to prepare with equipment or supplies and how to approach his dealings in that region of space (fall of civilization = roaming pirates/desperate people -- as well as opportunites not available in a locked down controlled area).
Hearing about something interesting far way will guide the player to go to it (or maybe avoid it if it sound bad).

The problem is imparting the info to the player without it always being the same way (some ways should be overtly made clear, others would require some attempt at observation or thinking/piecing info together, and others active seeking of the info (you dont always have the cliche of the guy in the bar who tells you exactly what/where/how the situation is).

A little misinformation (misleading or no longer current or even exagerations) can be thrown in so that the player might get a supprise and for other situations there might be an info blackout (ie- the old 'many have entered, but none have returned...') Multiple different rumors should tip off a player that he needs to seek better info, etc.... Players can learn to judge info quality by its source.


History usually takes a long time (not usually changing much during the players time) so that it can largely be kept static, so you wont have to deal with a more complex dynamic information system. But it would be neat for the player to start hearing feedback to actions(incidents) that he made happen, but it shouldnt be laid on too thick.

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Wavinator    2017
Thanks to everyone for the insightful replies!

I'd like to try to widen this a bit:

What About Interactive History?
Would it add any value to watch and possibly interact with the game universe BEFORE you actually play? The idea is that you're basically part observer, part agent, with more of a stake-- if only to see how your meddling turned out.

I'm envisioning a galaxy map that uses icons and particle effects. You'd have fleets warping or jumping about, novas going off and fx denoting the demise or tech advance of a culture. You'd see territory expand, networks of wormholes spring to life and maybe icons denoting unique gear being created, stolen and even fading from the map.

This might be cool in and of itself but what if you could stop history at a point (or even rewind), pick a starting location and start playing from that point on? Or what if you could drop in threats and bonuses, say dropping a nova or "space monster" near a culture and watching them adapt or flee?

Balance and surprise might be problems. To balance things maybe barriers and threats are higher for things that are nearer, or maybe they're nerfed a bit so their stats go down. On surprise there's nothing written that the game would HAVE to play out as the future you saw.

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Drethon    212
I like your latest idea but your wording got me thinking of something else. What if the players comments formed history in some way (if this could be done without too much work)?

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kseh    3840
Now that sounds like it'd be a kick ass way for history to add gameplay. Let me know when I can order a copy but be sure to give some advanced warning so I can upgrade my machine accordingly first.

It does make me wonder though. If you could rewind history, pop yourself in, and start playing, how would you handle the inevitable situation where a player tries to pop in at a time and place where they were before? When the player tries to cross paths with his old old character, it'd be easy enough to come up with some reason why you can only control 1 character at a time. But what happens when the player starts getting in the old character's way? The issue I'm thinking of isn't so much about if you kill yourself in the past as it is about just having that character react appropriately.

I'm wondering, is the whole thing is a can of worms you want to open? I'm sure it could all be delt with but I can see it expanding development significantly.

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kseh    3840
Argh! I'm a nerd, I can't help it I have to keep going...

If the ambitions and goals of notable figures in history are tracked as a part of the process of generating a history then it might be appropriate to describe a completed destiny (for lack of a better word) of an old player character using such goals and ambitions. When a player arrives at a time which includes an old player character, the old PC could be driven by the same AI system as all other notable NPCs. Although it would be expected that the AI system should mimic the old PC's actions, that the player took while in control of the character, disturbences caused by any new events may not make this possible. Rather than trying to force events to occur it may be simpler to allow the AI system to make different decisions for the character effictively creating a new destiny for the former PC. And then explain the difference in events with some crazy time travel theory.

I would describe the difference in 'destinies' with a theory that says that if a person is originally traveling on a timeline charted to follow along an x-axis, the act of time travel to the past displaces the direction of travel relative to the original timeline by 0 + x degrees (likely an extremly small fraction) before any additional action after arrival can be taken by the traveler. (This is a personal theory of mine about time travel which is quite possibly crazy but carefully considered. Of course, I have several more.)

Sorry if I've gone a bit off topic.

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Polama    1105
Regarding concerns over rewind, the easiest solution is to assume that when you move backwards and then forwards in times you've entered a new timeline. So just because you forced an event to happen in in a previous play-through doesn't mean it'll happen post-rewind. Ideally you should be able to leave "crumbs", so you can return to a particular timeline later on (you rewind, see how something would've played out, then jump back to the original timeline)

Making the history modifiable highlights a totally different view of history from what I'd originally been thinking about. Traditionally, an imagined history is used to flesh out a particular moment in time: there was this ancient evil, we did this about it, that's why you see the world the way you do. The game/novel/movie usually deals with a very quick span of time (at most a lifetime), and the history is just there to make that moment more interesting. But the interactive history idea seems to change the scope of the storytelling: it's no longer the story of an individual, but the story of a civilization. It's a direction not commonly used in literature (perhaps because it's hard to relate to a constantly changing cast?), but civilization suggests it's a valid direction for interactive media.

The best thing I can say for it is that it's a good opportunity to inject continuity into a procedural world: Each game can take a totally unique path in a PCG, but it seems like a waste to get the player invested in a specific setting, only to have it reset when they've achieved a characters primary quest. With an evolving history you can tell a self-contained story about a single character, then move the player to another story while taking advantage of their connections to the current game world.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by Drethon
I like your latest idea but your wording got me thinking of something else. What if the players comments formed history in some way (if this could be done without too much work)?


Can you explain this a bit more? Are you thinking something like keywords generating part of the history?


Quote:
Original post by kseh
Now that sounds like it'd be a kick ass way for history to add gameplay. Let me know when I can order a copy but be sure to give some advanced warning so I can upgrade my machine accordingly first.


I think I was thinking far more macro than you might be thinking for rewinding and fast forwarding. You wouldn't really have made a character at this level. Once you decided to get involved at a low level, however, you'd make your character and then be committed to that 'frame of reference.' I don't see it being feasible to journal everything at that point as there'd be more entities active at a lower level (characters or factions-- in theory anyway, I really don't know how evil this would be to implement at just a civilization / empire level).

Quote:

It does make me wonder though. If you could rewind history, pop yourself in, and start playing, how would you handle the inevitable situation where a player tries to pop in at a time and place where they were before?


Alternate timelines is the easiest as they wouldn't cross.

Quote:

When the player tries to cross paths with his old old character, it'd be easy enough to come up with some reason why you can only control 1 character at a time. But what happens when the player starts getting in the old character's way? The issue I'm thinking of isn't so much about if you kill yourself in the past as it is about just having that character react appropriately.


Funny enough I've been thinking about this problem wrt generations and heir systems. The easiest fix is to not let the player play a character in the operational range of a previous character or to somehow freeze / retire the previous character, OR let the player play more than one character. None are really palatable but the first is the lesser of all evils.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by Polama
Ideally you should be able to leave "crumbs", so you can return to a particular timeline later on (you rewind, see how something would've played out, then jump back to the original timeline)


This would be an interesting mechanism. If I were to do something like this it would be akin to a save game with a reset on the random number generators that would presumably be driving everything.

(This would be a wacky idea to pair with permadeath: Die in one timeline and be reborn to the next.)

Quote:

Making the history modifiable highlights a totally different view of history from what I'd originally been thinking about. Traditionally, an imagined history is used to flesh out a particular moment in time: there was this ancient evil, we did this about it, that's why you see the world the way you do. The game/novel/movie usually deals with a very quick span of time (at most a lifetime), and the history is just there to make that moment more interesting. But the interactive history idea seems to change the scope of the storytelling: it's no longer the story of an individual, but the story of a civilization.


Nice. I've wanted to aim for something with this bent for quite awhile, a twist on the typically RPG progression experience (which ostensibly has you saving something noble but in reality killing and stealing your way to the top). If you're an integral part of the story of a civilization's rise or demise, you may play the game with the grander motives actually realized. Maybe you care enough to self sacrifice, for instance, or work toward something bigger than your virtual self.

(Maybe.)

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Drethon    212
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Quote:
Original post by Drethon
I like your latest idea but your wording got me thinking of something else. What if the players comments formed history in some way (if this could be done without too much work)?


Can you explain this a bit more? Are you thinking something like keywords generating part of the history?



That is kind of what I had in mind but its pretty much a half formed idea :)

Something along the lines of certain key conversations, perhaps talking with an NPC before entering a new region, would set the backstory for that region. If your answers are aggressive then the region's history is it was taken over by an aggressive socity. Possibly items like inquiring about fusion drives will change the region so it never progressed beyond chemical propulsion...

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swiftcoder    18437
Quote:
Original post by Drethon
Something along the lines of certain key conversations, perhaps talking with an NPC before entering a new region, would set the backstory for that region. If your answers are aggressive then the region's history is it was taken over by an aggressive socity. Possibly items like inquiring about fusion drives will change the region so it never progressed beyond chemical propulsion...
So something like this, extended to operate throughout the game?

The issue I can see here is that if the system is at all predictable, the player can game the system to create favourable histories (and thus a favourable present). In your example, I will quickly learn never to ask about fusion drives, if I really want to buy/find one.

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