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JQP

[Theoretical] MMORPG Concept - the Gamemaster

17 posts in this topic

Just kicking around an idea here - I'm not going to get a minesweeper or a Tetris made any time soon, much less an MMO (TBH I've barely even played any MMOs).

Basically, the idea is to incorporate a MMORPG version of the long-neglected engine of the tabletop RPG - the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_Master"]Gamemaster[/url] (GM) (link is to DM because the GM article is too diffuse and far afield for my purposes). Not like the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamemaster#Gamemasters_in_online_games"]MMO GM[/url] described at Wiki, but the GM as fellow CRPG player; he's not there to play lifeguard/customer service rep (not that that model and the one I'm describing are mutually exclusive, mind), he's there to breathe life into the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-player_character"]NPCs[/url] and challenge the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_character"]PCs[/url].

That's the thorny design issue, though. Generally, the GM is [i]not[/i] there to beat the other players. In most PnPRPGs, the GM can kill the party off with ease; he gets his rocks off by providing the other players with an interesting story, characters, challenges, etc. Ideally, in the most common method of PnP play, he tends to "lose" to the other players, in the sense that his villains get knocked off eventually, their plans are thwarted, and the players win the day. Like the bad guy in a Hollywood action movie, he has a great time chewing the scenery and giving the good guys hell, but eventually he kicks the bucket, preferably in grand style. (on the other hand, he can't be a pushover - we're talking games, not movies, and if the players muck it up they should lose, retreat, live to fight another day...even die).

But this is a CRPG, not pen and paper. We can be much more structured, to account for the aggro effects of online play between strangers - limit the GM's power so he has to work within the constraints of game balance. I.e., he can't call down the greater powers of the universe to smush the PCs like ants. He has to be very good at his task if he wants to beat good players, and they have the edge in the long run (just like a single-player game; it costs the PCs some lives, but they usually win out in the end).

In essence, the goal is to change the GM player's concept of "winning" (i.e., of "being entertained") from "I defeated the other players," to "I kicked ass - a great time was had by all!" I can think of two main ways to accomplish this. First is by rewarding the kind of success you want - give GMs rewards for good GMing, rather than defeating players. Ranking as a good and/or challenging GM, "experience" points to use in-game, etc. Second is with alternative gameplay. The GM role really screams for some RTS/[url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_time_tactics"]RTT[/url] and simulation elements. This is where we get to the good part. PCs are supposed to solve the mystery, save the princess, kill the villains, etc. They're the stars. But the GM gets to be [i]everything else[/i]. He gets to set up the story, design the dungeon, create the bit players, play the villains, command the evil horde, etc. And when the PCs finish breaking all his crockery and leave, he gets to repopulate, repair the damage, add on a new wing or level (e.g., set the evil dwarves to digging a new mine shaft), concoct some new inhabitants and challenges, etc. Say, with points recycled from the previous version, plus new points earned for GMing, plus any bonus from good GMing. Another fun aspect of GMing is that you can jump around as much as you want. You can keep jumping from one orc to the next until the patrol is all dead - then you get to be the next critter to try to bash the PCs over the head, and so on, upping the ante all the way until the big finale when you play the mustache-twirling arch-villain (who then escapes through a secret door at the last moment, once again thwarting the PCs' attempts to bring him to justice), or the dragon to be slain, whatever. And all of it is optional in a CRPG; don't like the RTS/RTT or simulation parts? Don't mess with them. Let the AI do it while you mustache-twirl. Or vice-versa.

Basically, [i]make GMing into a fun game in its own right.[/i]

So, what's the point? Intelligent challenges: villains as crafty as the PCs, with as much personality (this is a big one - a good GM beats a dialog tree to hell and back), and unique content (GM-created plots and challenges). In a nutshell, someone behind the wheel for the opposition.

It probably won't be every player's cup of tea, but it doesn't have to be. A typical PnP GM can handle anywhere from 4-6 PCs ; some take on twice as many (though a GM is most effective, and the game runs most smoothly, when the PCs obey some general 'rules,' like not splitting the party, regardless of size). And an MMORPG GM could easily take off his GM cap and join the PCs whenever he likes.

And the GM-PC dynamic I've outlined is only the traditional PnP model. The dynamic could be reversed, with PCs as the "black hats," predisposed to lose, and the GM (and assisstants) as the "white hats," predisposed to win. Or the players could all become GMs, and have fun slaying NPC bots playing the role traditionally filled by PCs.

For all I know some or all of this has been done already. Either way, I think PnPRPGs have a hell of a lot to offer us with the concept of GM.

Flame away if you like, I have a thick skin. I also love a good argument. And I haven't kicked the tires on this idea at all, so I'm looking forward to discovering and considering the flaws. :) Edited by JQP
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From what I understand from you idea is that you have a player that is a dm and then other players are the char in his/her campaign? if so I believe vampire the masquerade the old java based game had something similar for online/lan play also never winter nights also has that set up where someone crates a game and its set up and has players go thru and play it

the two ways I can see rewarding the gm is a players rating of set campaign or a set time to death ratio the longer the players services the more xp the gm would get though bout could be abused

On the other end the reward for gm player could be access to more resources, higher level dev (where higher level char can play) and of course reputation that’s what I would think off the top of my head

side noite from what i have been reading for the neverwinter night online i belive there are adding something along that line as well Edited by Recoilthreat
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Yeah NWN was the only game I could think of that used a GM, but that was a more traditional DM role, as opposed to an attempt to fuse the role of GM and that of an active competitor in the game, if you take my meaning.

But I think just returning to and advancing the NWN model would be a great leap forward for CRPGs. In fact I think the model I advanced above might be a step backward for the type of game where small groups play online cooperatively, like NWN 1 & 2; the competitive/GM trying to win thing might work best for MMOs.

[quote]the two ways I can see rewarding the gm is a players rating of set campaign or a set time to death ratio the longer the players services the more xp the gm would get though bout could be abused[/quote]

I was thinking some kind of challenge rating algorithm might work to reward good GMs too; the harder the DM works the PCs [i]without[/i] killing or otherwise annoying them, the higher the rating. Something that rewards the GM for challenging the PCs, but not for breaking them. But I don't know how that would work.

It could be just as simple as keeping balance sufficiently in favor of the PCs, and then turning loose a GM bent on destroying them. Then just find the sweet spot for balance. Maybe GMs could play with a handicap - the better they are, the less resources they get to deploy against a given party, but they could also get bigger rewards for their services. Maybe good GMing could have rewards for players as PCs; it could serve as a way to get points toward PC rewards like magic items without forking over cash.

[quote]side noite from what i have been reading for the neverwinter night online i belive there are adding something along that line as well[/quote]

I didn't even know [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neverwinter_%28video_game%29"]Neverwinter[/url] was in development, thanks.

[quote]When asked for gameplay details during an interview with MaximumPC.com, Cryptic Studios chief operating officer Jack Emmert explained, "It's not an MMO in the sense that there aren't zones with hundreds-and-hundreds of people. You are not fighting for spawns. There's a very strong storyline throughout the game. So it's more of a story-based game closer to things like Dragon Age or Oblivion, which we really try to follow."[13][/quote]

Which raises the question of why it went from an online multiplayer cooperative CRPG to an MMORPG in the first place, if it's just going to be an online multiplayer cooperative CRPG. Oh, wait, I know - revenue. Heh.

"Neverwinter" isn't a very smart name choice, in terms of marketing. You're supposed to add another word so search engines can filter out the other Neverwinter stuff. Maybe they'll recover from this error by allowing me to backstab and kill Drizzt. :) Edited by JQP
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Prohibitely expensive. You would need to hire a lot of dedicated people to do the job of GM. You can't use for this random players because it will turn into power abuse, you can't do it yourself because you have no time and need to do thousand other tasks related to keeping a MMO online instead.

The only place I have seen it working was PBF games, but these were very small games so just one GM was enough (also all these games ceased to exist when the original owner run out of time/got tired). I have also heard there were some paid games like this (subscription based, players hire a GM to run a game for them).
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[quote]Prohibitely expensive. You would need to hire a lot of dedicated people to do the job of GM.[/quote]

I was thinking more along the lines of [i]charging[/i] people to do it. Just like any other players. :D

[quote]You can't use for this random players because it will turn into power abuse[/quote]

But you can prevent power abuse by not giving them enough power to abuse.

But you have a point, in that the roleplaying aspects are problematic with a hostile GM (it's one thing to limit a hostile GM by not giving him enough power to abuse when it comes to combat, but a hostile GM is not going to play by the rules when it comes to following the plot and the like). But players can choose their teammates in instanced MMOs like D&DO; I don't see why they couldn't choose their GMs, too.
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[quote name='JQP' timestamp='1339275502' post='4947750']

But you have a point, in that the roleplaying aspects are problematic with a hostile GM (it's one thing to limit a hostile GM by not giving him enough power to abuse when it comes to combat, but a hostile GM is not going to play by the rules when it comes to following the plot and the like). But players can choose their teammates in instanced MMOs like D&DO; I don't see why they couldn't choose their GMs, too.
[/quote]

thats where the level system could be used for the gm players the higher the gm level the more power he/she would have to set up a campain so the people who would abuse wouldnt get very far if they got a bad rep for the campains they run

for example a lvl 2 gm would have very limited power to use against other players and it would be obvious to the players so they quit the campain and the gm would no xp for the whole setting they set up that alone would be enough to deture most people to do such things
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Also, leaving aside the concept of GMs as authors of quests, I was thinking of the GM in terms of a manager; not [i]necessarily[/i] there to cook up a quest, so much as to [i]manage[/i] one. Basically, he's playing the quest from the other side. The PCs go in to beat it, the GM goes in to run it. Thinking of it this way, the GM advances similarly to the way the PCs do. He runs quest 1 successfully, then moves on to quest 2 successfully, etc. So he has to hit his marks if he wants to get to the next quest, just like the PCs do (it's what "hitting his marks" means for a GM that gets a bit fuzzy here, of course :) ). Thinking of it that way, being a GM becomes a way for a player to go through the whole game again from a totally different angle.
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[quote name='JQP' timestamp='1339275502' post='4947750']
[quote]Prohibitely expensive. You would need to hire a lot of dedicated people to do the job of GM.[/quote]

I was thinking more along the lines of [i]charging[/i] people to do it. Just like any other players. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/biggrin.png[/img]
[/quote]You don't play pen and paper RPGs a lot, do you? :D I have never, ever heard of a situation when there would be an abundance of GMs, it was always like "OK, I will GM this time again, but that's the last time, someone else takes instead next time".


I think you would do better dropping the GM concept and divide players into 2 groups, heroes and dungeon overlords. Heores storm the dungeon to loot it and overlords dispatch mosters to prevent it.
Like this one: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/31563/middle-earth-quest
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This idea really intrigued me. The way I was thinking was this:
Basically, a GM sets up a map, which contains monsters, quests, NPCs, etc. There can also be an option to export and import different maps, sort of like Portal 2 maps that players make and upload for others to play/use.
Now, each map has a level, derived from how many monsters there are, what kind of monsters, traps, bosses, etc.
Players then enter the game of similar level, e.g. Players who are level 10~15 enter a map level 10. The game begins.

GM has to manage the whole map in a RTS style, and his main objective is to destroy the players. However, the more monsters the players kill, the more xp GM gains.
But the main reason why GM wouldn't want to just throw weak monsters at the players would be this: If GM beats the players with the final boss, GM gains a big xp bonus, so throwing weak monsters without doing much damage would mean that it'll be really hard for GM to beat the players with the final boss, thus losing big xp. Also, throwing really strong monsters at the players, and those monsters killing the players mean they also lose the chance to gain that big xp with the final boss.
So GM must make sure he whittles the players with the mobs, but make sure the players actually do survive for the final boss.

Players are now sufficiently challenged, and they must act together wittingly to clear the mobs and quests and eventually defeat the final boss. Defeating the final boss would gain them big xp.

This then becomes a competitive game, where both sides are sufficiently motivated to be engaged in doing what they're supposed to do.

At the max level, e.g. level 100, there can be a ranking feature, where the rating depends on whether GM beats the players using final boss, or players beat GM by defeating the final boss, and matches the GM and players according to the rating, like SC2 ladder system.
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[quote name='jsj795' timestamp='1339378650' post='4948042']
So GM must make sure he whittles the players with the mobs, but make sure the players actually do survive for the final boss.
[/quote]

If players know they can't beat the final boss, they'll just quit.
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hmm you're right.

Seems like that won't work. I didn't think of it from players' side that much.
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I think the GM should be kind of like a part of the map.

So when people want to play, they look through the maps (GM's, it might also show the map the GM has prepared and description of it) and choose one they like or have had good time in and play.

The better ratings as a GM you get, the more games you can GM before you need to stop and play normally for a while. So the top GM's who a lot of people like can host matches 24/7, but someone who isnt that good or isnt popular yet (even if people liked him) needs to play normally once in a while. This is to make sure there will always be players playing the game itself.

If the matches are hosted, good GM's would get access to larger maps and more resources to make fun games (people obviously want to play those games, but they might run out of space so people will go play maps of newer gm's). And maybe GM's could get benefits to their player on the non-GMing side.

The experience players gain should be based on the time they play, as the point is to play cool GM-ed games, not to grind. So they gain experience for having fun. But if they GM, they gain experience based on their skills.
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Also keep in mind that some GMs won't expect any sort of reward. Some people just enjoy story telling. Giving them a way to do so in a very creative fashion is often enough reward in and of itself.
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But without some sort of reward or progression, I doubt there will be enough GMs unless the map-making and GMing is that much compelling within the game.
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I thought of this idea as well, but I realize there are two major problems:[list=1]
[*]Quality Assurance
[*]Game Balance
[/list]

Quality Assurance (QA)
It is difficult to maintain QA with a game that uses players as game masters (GM). The reason is that we do not understand if the GM is in any way creative enough or fair enough. GM quality are always varying through time, and they cannot maintain a standard of quality. Sometimes, creativity of an individual may run out during a role playing session, and the story does not feel smooth.

Game Balance
Players will always want to have a game that is in a challenge range. Of course, that means that the GM must increase the difficulty for strong players, and decrease the difficulty for weak players. However, some players believe that it is not fair to player with different level of difficulty. Those typical players want a challenge for all players. Thus, the reward for effort and skill is never balance. Weak players tend to get more reward for less effort. GM that are easy tend to be overwhelm with playes wanting them to GM games. Hardcore players and Hardcore GM will end up together, separate from the casual players in the long run, but the sorting of players and GM over time is the problem. Strong players, and difficult GM must be brought together quickly, while casual players and easy going GM needs to be together. However, when games become too easy, players get bored. That's the main reason why if a GM goes too easy, they may become popular in the beginning, but they make the game boring for the players, and force players to leave through the boredom. Edited by Platinum_Dragon
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I would imagine that the player level only affects perks and maybe what classes he can have. In other words, it would be like a roguelike. However, there would be options for the GM to let players load a character from specific previous campaigns.

I also imagine that, to prevent idiots from becoming GMs, you can make it so that you can only be a GM if you either get to a high enough player level or pay extra money. That's also necessary to make a ratio of GMs:players, or eventually everyone will be GMs but barely anyone would actually play the dungeons.
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I think a game similar to D&D or Pathfinder where the monster stats are set, and the players may apply templates however they wish within the rules of templates, but they cannot create "new content". Of course, GM will have the ability to bring together monsters, story, and treasure based on a fixed system. They could have the loot using the random system that D&D and PF has, or they could select a subset of such possible items with a different item fequency. This will bring the game more balance, as the GM cannot dictate the experience points of the monsters, nor change the level of loot as long as there's a function that could create some form of correlation. Loot levels have to correlate with the challenge rating of the monsters, and thus, the game could be balance.

EDIT: While skimming through the entire archive of game design, and look at some of the hot topics, I see this: http://www.gamedev.net/topic/573653-the-dungeon-master-in-video-games/ Edited by Platinum_Dragon
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