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Wavinator

Coming of Age as Character Building

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This is a bit sim-life, but hopefully that won''t scare folks away... I have this idea that in an SF game the player "lives" a whole life and sees the game world around him expand and change. As a way of character building, I was thinking the player could make choices in youth that determine opportunities and resources at the start of the game. I''d make this both abstract, and optionally interactive. Abstract Mode: The Psych Evaulation Basically, you''re taking a Psych Evaluation and building your character by answering questions about your youth. This gives player skills, opponents / allies, and starting conditions. Then you start. Interactive Mode: Think "Starship Troopers" You build your character by interactively growing up. Each game is a succession of mini games called Turning Points . Turning Points are basically chapters that start you off in a setting, give you some backstory (to connect the PC''s life), and a time limit in which to build your character. You build your character by making choices and interacting with NPCs and the game world. At the end of each Turning Point, you get different skills and stats, friends and foes, and possibly even a different setting. This hopefully keeps things interesting and allows me to shift PCs into diverse events no matter how poorly or well they play. In theory, the player could experience a wide range of childhoods, and this would add great depth to the game world. I can see the player growing up on a war torn planet and becoming a hardened veteran. Or they could be Paul Atreides (Dune), being raised as a prince only to have the whole universe change. Family life, friends, and skills would be determined by randomly generated family and game universe settings, then modified by player choice. So the daughter of a struggling space trader or the son of a wealthy terraformer would have different play experiences. Thoughts? (C''mon, don''t hold back! I can take it, just be constructive! )) -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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The old Infocom text adventure "A Mind Forever Voyaging" had a similar premise. You played an AI simulation testing the effects of some government legislation over X amount of years (I think it was 40.) I''ve never actually played the game, I''ve just read about it, so I can''t give you all the details, but it''s something like that.

I also played some cheesy text game a long time ago where you play through a persons life making multiple choice decisions about what to do.

I''ve considered using something like the psych evaulation mode in a game after the player goes crazy and kills\injures too many bystanders or teammates(or even in the event of cruel treatment of the enemy.) Kind of unrelated, but I think it''s a cool idea.


You''re really one of the few people that sees the future of game design not as carefully handscripted storylines, but as dynamic content that reacts to the player''s actions, not the other way around. Hopefully the industry (the real one, not use independents and wannabes) will begin to think this way also. There are far too many game designers that want to be film directors working with polygons instead of actors...

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I think the Psychic Evaluation is the perfect way to prevent powergaming... May I use it in my game? :p

But I also think that playing the childhood first can be a bit... strange to do. I''d rather just have the psych test to ''extrapolate'' my actions in my youth...

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quote:
Original post by Impossible
You''re really one of the few people that sees the future of game design not as carefully handscripted storylines, but as dynamic content that reacts to the player''s actions, not the other way around. Hopefully the industry (the real one, not us independents and wannabes) will begin to think this way also. There are far too many game designers that want to be film directors working with polygons instead of actors...

This is an interesting point as it relates to one of the Mini-wars that we''ve had in the Game Design forum: Writers vs. Programmers (with Designers floating somewhere in between). The Writers tend to argue that the highest quality content is always that which is created by a high quality human. The Programmers tend to argue that no human, no matter how skilled, can produce enough original high quality content for everybody, or for enough time.

My personal view is that computers are improving faster than humans are, and the number of players in a game are increasing faster than the number of writers are. Therefore computer-generated content is the way forward, providing that designers and writers are involved in producing the algorithms that generate it. But I know many others disagree, and I would concede that there is certainly a place for 100% scripted and pre-planned behaviour in the single-player game market still.

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Hehe, I guess I''m a programmer. I''m not really advocating 100% generated content (this would make the game pretty dull, and isn''t possible in most situations), but a "good" (whatever that is) mix of the two. I believe that mixing story and gameplay properly means at least using some dynamic content as opposed to 100% scripting. Otherwise you''re just playing a game with little movies in between (or in some cases, the other way around.)

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Hey, I am trying to create a game something like this but with a different approach than sim-life.

The Psych Evaluation is a good idea but I think there needs to have a random factor added in to keep the players from repeating the same optiminum route to get the most attribute/skills/allies.

BTW, anyone out there is a 2d artist ?

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What''s most interesting, Wav, is that the player ends up with a character he can more closely relate to since that character made the same choices the player would have. I think it''s a REALLY good idea and would make quite a difference in the number of casual gamers who would come back to play your game...

I''ve had a thought similar for an RPG game. A "I''ve never played an RPG so help me out" kind of character builder. Something as simple as race and class. Extract some of the characteristics of race and class (if you use a class system) and put them in a little quiz so that your game can recommend a race on the basis of it being a character that will be easier to "stay in character" with.

Some rough rough rough rough examples:

I am fascinated by ____
1. the ecosystem (+1 to elf)
2. cave systems (+1 to dwarf)
3. the supernatural (+1 to magicuser)

I ____ get lost:
1. never (+1 to dwarf)
2. rarely (+1 to elf)
3. sometimes (+1 to human)
4. always (+1 to ...)

Art is _____:
1. for some people (+1 to human)
2. pointless (+1 to dwarf)
3. to be enjoyed (+1 to dwarf)

Good craftsmanship is more important than looks.
1. True (+1 to dwarf)
2. False (+1 to elf)

On and on...

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Well I agree that games should be about dynamic content - but it still needs scripting. There was a thead a while back that dealt with the situation where the player enters a room to get orders from the King. Instead of doing that he bounds about the room, testing everything, assaulting a maiden fair etc.. etc.. while the King just sits there doing nothing. In that sort of RPG game the designer is challenging the player. That must mean that there is some discipline in the game that guides the player onto the right track. Not so much for "The Dev knows best" but to make the game playable.

In the sort of game you suggest the player gets much more of a free hand. But it still needs some discipline. For example "you build your character by... interacting with NPCs..." Ok so I meet em and kill em. Then what?

A Turning Point in an educational setting ( whether formal classroom, wise old man etc...)needs the co-operation of the player to a certain extent. Say he tries to kill the teacher. Is some sort of sanction imposed? What are the moral implications of not imposing a sanction?? Should games allowing certain behaviour be published??

No doubt this gets thrashed over regularly but in the sort of game you suggest it might be a real problem - and we haven''t even touched on sexual conduct / misconduct.

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One of the main titles that I remember playing that really had an intricate system of character generation (like proposed):

Twilight 2000 (you just kept picking choices for each year of your character''s life BEFORE you actually took control. Age 19? Went to college and took a course in medicine. Age 20? Took some self defense classes. Age 21? Took surgery classes... etc)

I even think it was big enough to prevent me from quickly figuring out what the best ''route'' was in the choices to be made (and I think that each choice limited/guided your next).


PSYCH EVALUATION:

Good idea, but make sure to put enough random factors in it to keep players from powermaxing their characters with picking the ''right'' (best?) choices all the time. That would defeat the whole purpose of the evaluation (might as well let players pick all the tiny details that make up their character).
I think you''d have to set up a system that would create a pool of thousands of possible questions to be asked (either with YES/NO answers or multiple choice answers).
A player creating a new character would be asked certain of those questions. For example, you could have 10 different ''how, where, to who, when, why, etc were you born'' questions, each with multiple answers, giving you lots of possible outcomes.
Each phase in the character''s life would have tons of questions to be asked, but never quite the same answers. But, each question would have to somewhat be based on a previous answer. If the character turned out to be a bully at age 5 (''did you: a) share your toys with all other kids, b) shared your toys only with your best friends, c) kept your toys to yourself, d) didn''t have any toys and played with the toys of others, e) didn''t have any toys and took the toys of others, making them your own... answer = e), then the question about the character''s life at age 6 should be aimed towards defining the ''bulliness'' of the character. (at age 6, did you: a) beat up kids to get what they had, b) stole from other kids, unnoticed, to get what they had, c) smoothtalked your way into getting what they had).

Most importantly of course, is that to FIRST establish the possible outcomes of all your questions.
Goal: establish the value of the character''s strenght
Questions: Age 0: how big were you as a baby?
Age 5: did you ever fight with other kids?
Age 10: did you play sports, read books, help your dad with his work, or just lay in the field doing nothing?
Age 15: did you work out?

One important question to ask yourself in a system like this:

DO I WANT THE PLAYER TO BE ABLE TO GUIDE THE PROFILE OF HIS CHARACTER?

In other words, should the questions be obvious ("question: did you work out when you were 15?" The player will realize that a ''yes'' answer will improve his character''s physical abilities) or should the outcome of an answer be kept vague (this would be very hard to do, as you''d have to create question/answer that DOES give a logical result but does NOT give away it''s secret)

INTERACTIVE MODE:

Having a character grow up interactively by using the suggested Turning Points seems like a good idea as well. Current MMORPGs (not that these ideas would be limited to that type of game) make a player stick with the character they choose at the beginning, till the very end. If you pick a Warrior to start with, you''ll be using your character as a pure warrior throughout his career. Even if after 100 hours of play you find yourself enjoying Thievery more than physical combat, you''re still stuck with being a warrior. Some games use a pure skill based system, which means you could just assign some points to desired thievery skills, changing your warrior from pure warrior to 90% warrior/10% thief. But what if I completely change my life around? What if I give up my warrior days and focus on being a thief? Should I be able to become 50% warrior/50% thief? 10% warrior/90% thief? What course of action would I have to take? Give up 2 warrior skill points for 1 thief skill point? And how does my warrior past affect my thief future?


Change is good!
Logical change is even better!
Me making sense is rare.

Woohoo... I''m on day 7 on my C++ in 21 days course. %Another two weeks and I''ll be a master programmer!%

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Crydee: Dynamic content doesn''t necessarily mean completely free form. I think that with dynamic content more rules should be applied to keep the player from doing stupid stuff (they should always be punished in some way.) Also certain things need to be scripted (dialouge especially.) I guess that my current ideal isn''t completely free form dynamic content, but more like dynamic multilayered scripts that form some sort of story web. Simple generic events would be pre-scripted to adapt to different situations. Then links (preconditions) would be described to call new events. With enough plotlines running you could end up with a complex and dynamic story based on simple sub elements, or maybe not...

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An obsticle in the path of truly dynamic content is the players themselves. The players can be just as imaginative as writers. And players tend to get just as creative as writers so that they get frustrated when something doesn''t work that they think should have been part of the game. To try and cover every aspect is unrealitic even with some set guidelines. Players aren''t going to follow the path designers want, they''re going to rebel in the hopes of making it interesting. It''s great to include as much content as possible making the game as dynamic as possible, but the question remains when do we really have ENOUGH to make it fun.

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Wavy : "I was thinking the player could make choices in youth that determine opportunities and resources at the start of the game."

In case you don''t remember I proposed that a year ago, it''s written in Dwarsoft''s "Future of RPG" also.

In fact the whole thing you''ve written, I proposed it a year ago.
Only the italic part I didn''t told about.

So you didn''t invented it :p


-* So many things to do, so little time to spend. *-

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Getting back to dynamic structure - surely the other problem is space? A simple example:

The main plot - find the staff of Asherak

sub plot(1) - on the way you stop at a village. Thieves
steal the Lord''s prize cow. He will reward
you for returning it

sub plot (2) - you track the cow, attack the thieves.

The game allows you to kill the thieves. It allows for one thief to run off.

The player would like to pursue the fleeing thief but this is not scripted.

Even if the game allowed pursuit, where does it end? The pursuit takes the player to a wood. The player kills the thief but decides he would like to explore the wood? What I mean is at some stage the player has to be pushed back to the cow and back to the plot.

This would be true even in a dynamic game as first the game needs a plot of some kind otherwise it''s just boring and secondly space on the server means that there must be a barrier to where the player can go.

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quote:
Original post by Ingenu
In fact the whole thing you''ve written, I proposed it a year ago.
Only the italic part I didn''t told about.

So you didn''t invented it :p



LOL! Really? Well, see, that just goes to show that great minds think alike!!! I''m actually fleshing out a concept I saw years ago in a Megatraveller cRPG. They were so hardcore about it, though, that you could die while rolling up your character.


--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Impossible
The old Infocom text adventure "A Mind Forever Voyaging" had a similar premise.


Yeah! I remember hearing about this on a Gamespot gaming history article. Never played it, though.

quote:

You''re really one of the few people that sees the future of game design not as carefully handscripted storylines, but as dynamic content that reacts to the player''s actions, not the other way around. Hopefully the industry (the real one, not use independents and wannabes) will begin to think this way also. There are far too many game designers that want to be film directors working with polygons instead of actors...


Wow, thanks! I think this is a big philosophy difference. The more reactive games are far more alive to me than even the best rotoscoped, voice acted, polygon character steeped in a well written story. I look at them and say, "that was pretty... but what do I get to do? "

I hope the industry goes this way, too.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Ronin_54
I think the Psychic Evaluation is the perfect way to prevent powergaming... May I use it in my game? :p



Heh, feel free! (After all, you''re one of the few souls on the face of the Earth that is creating a SF RPG. I''d give you my spleen if I could spare it! )

quote:

But I also think that playing the childhood first can be a bit... strange to do. I''d rather just have the psych test to ''extrapolate'' my actions in my youth...


Gotcha. That''s why it''s probably good to make it a choice of modes.

I''m really thinking that playing a teen is really not much different than a standard hero, except with the restrictions that come with youth. I''m only thinking of adding it to cement the player in their character, and give them an opportunity to be the quintessential "young hero."

I''d also like to add it so that players can experience a visceral science fiction vignette.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Mooglez
The Psych Evaluation is a good idea but I think there needs to have a random factor added in to keep the players from repeating the same optiminum route to get the most attribute/skills/allies.





quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
Good idea, but make sure to put enough random factors in it to keep players from powermaxing their characters with picking the ''right'' (best?) choices all the time.



Good point, guys. I hadn''t thought about that one!

quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
INTERACTIVE MODE:

Having a character grow up interactively by using the suggested Turning Points seems like a good idea as well. Current MMORPGs (not that these ideas would be limited to that type of game) make a player stick with the character they choose at the beginning, till the very end.



I''ve become curious about how much players would actually bother replaying an RPG, so you''re right, this would allow them to change. They could more be more eclectic about their choice, and even at high levels switch over and have a new experience without having to start from scratch.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by kerryl
What''s most interesting, Wav, is that the player ends up with a character he can more closely relate to since that character made the same choices the player would have. I think it''s a REALLY good idea and would make quite a difference in the number of casual gamers who would come back to play your game...



Great, I hope so! Thanks!

quote:

I''ve had a thought similar for an RPG game. A "I''ve never played an RPG so help me out" kind of character builder. Something as simple as race and class. Extract some of the characteristics of race and class (if you use a class system) and put them in a little quiz so that your game can recommend a race on the basis of it being a character that will be easier to "stay in character" with.



This is a very cool example. You could widen this, as well, and use it to modify some of the game''s content settings. For instance, you could see how much and what type of action they wanted, whether they liked puzzles, and maybe even where to start them up in the game universe (like some of the Ultimas did).


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Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Crydee
In the sort of game you suggest the player gets much more of a free hand. But it still needs some discipline. For example "you build your character by... interacting with NPCs..." Ok so I meet em and kill em. Then what?


I''d like to model player interactions with the completeness that one would model a billiards game. Even if the interactions are simple, it''s important to me that they be complete .

So for our killer player, if I am complete about coding what happpens when you attack a neutral or friendly NPC, and include the notion of degree (injury vs. death), then ideally you''d be able to kill the NPC and go to jail.

quote:

A Turning Point in an educational setting ( whether formal classroom, wise old man etc...)needs the co-operation of the player to a certain extent. Say he tries to kill the teacher. Is some sort of sanction imposed? What are the moral implications of not imposing a sanction?? Should games allowing certain behaviour be published??


These then gets incorporated into your personal backstory: You killed, say, a teacher, went to prison, learned more criminal skills, lost 20 years from your total life span, etc...

quote:

No doubt this gets thrashed over regularly but in the sort of game you suggest it might be a real problem - and we haven''t even touched on sexual conduct / misconduct.


In terms of controversy, whatever is allowable is where you run into trouble. Even though it''s sim-life, it''s still an adventure. So if there''s no interface, no reference, and no mention for undesirable concepts, then they''re not possible.

I have no problem with this because I can make a case for leaving certain controversial things out of the game just as easily as I can make a case for not including thousands of mundane things (teeth brushing; haircuts; appendicitis, etc.)

Where things are allowable, I think you''re safe as long as you present a reactive system that maintains a moral center. So if the ability to kill isn''t restricted, then at least there should be a system of consequences.

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Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Crydee
Even if the game allowed pursuit, where does it end? The pursuit takes the player to a wood. The player kills the thief but decides he would like to explore the wood? What I mean is at some stage the player has to be pushed back to the cow and back to the plot.

This would be true even in a dynamic game as first the game needs a plot of some kind otherwise it''s just boring and secondly space on the server means that there must be a barrier to where the player can go.



I don''t have a problem with a bounded universe, if it''s sufficiently large.

As far as the player and plot goes, though... I know I''m committing high treason among cRPG fans, but I think plot is overvalued. After playing what I now consider to be masterpiece cRPGs, the Fallout games, and System Shock, I get the impression that a very maleable world is far more valuable than a well told story.

Now before you pick up that noose , let me say that I do think story has great value. But I''d like to see it used to motivate at startup, and occasionally tempt them in a given direction. But beyond that, freedom is vital, and I think that if the world is reactive enough, the level of interactivity will make up for the lack of a heavy, in-your-face plot.



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Just waiting for the mothership...

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As soon as I saw "I don't have a problem with a bounded universe" I thought well why not set the game in a prison. The advantages are that the player - innocent who was wrongly convicted? - knows there are physical boundaries to start with. Thus the options are much more to do with character development - representing him/herself on appeal and winning? Escaping etc..

Another possibility is someone marooned on an island. If the game is clear from the start that there are physical boundaries then a story is less important - you're not questing for the staff of whosit in the first place.

The objective is to escape from the situation. There might be ten different ways of doing this. But before you can achieve method x your character has to have developed in a certain way.



Edited by - Crydee on August 14, 2001 8:51:06 AM

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quote:
Original post by Crydee
As soon as I saw "I don''t have a problem with a bounded universe" I thought well why not set the game in a prison. The advantages are that the player - innocent who was wrongly convicted? - knows there are physical boundaries to start with. Thus the options are much more to do with character development - representing him/herself on appeal and winning? Escaping etc..



One setting I''ve imagined is a world much like Bajor in the Star Trek universe. Some occupying enemy has enslaved and brutalized the population, and the player starts out in a prison camp. So this would be one of many possible starting positions.

quote:

Another possibility is someone marooned on an island. If the game is clear from the start that there are physical boundaries then a story is less important - you''re not questing for the staff of whosit in the first place.


This one works, too. But I''d never leave the player entirely in these environments, and would always want to open the game universe up. I''m a fan of the idea of increasing larger and larger boundaries that expand as the player grows more capable. So both the island and the prison would have escape routes that lead to larger worlds.


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Just waiting for the mothership...

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