RANT: The Future of Quests

18 messages in this thread from mud-dev2 in 2009-01

  1.   missing
  2.   Mike Rozak <Mike@mx...au> 01-02 09:10
  3.   Amanda Walker <amanda@al...com> 01-05 03:19
  4.   cruise <cruise@ca...net> 01-08 10:17 Players are shallow [was: The Future of Quests]
  5.   Amanda Walker <amanda@al...com> 01-08 20:51
  6.   Mike Sellers <mike@on...com> 01-08 22:57
  7.   John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com> 01-09 01:43
  8.   cruise <cruise@ca...net> 01-10 14:01
  9.   John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com> 01-14 21:34
  10.   Mike Oxford <szii@sz...com> 01-09 10:54
  11.   cruise <cruise@ca...net> 01-14 10:26
  12.   Damion Schubert <dschubert@gm...com> 01-26 07:07
  13.   Threshold <mlist@th...com> 02-02 21:19
  14.   John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com> 02-05 15:39
  15.   Mike Sellers <mike@on...com> 02-07 22:46
  16.   cruise <cruise@ca...net> 02-10 13:14 Replaceable NPC's [was: Players are shallow]
  17.   Mike Sellers <mike@on...com> 01-06 18:34
  18.   Damion Schubert <dschubert@gm...com> 01-09 19:46
  19.   Mike Rozak <Mike@mx...au> 01-14 21:51

This message appeared in a previous month, was never archived, or was lost.

Mike Rozak <Mike@mx...au>

2009-01-02 09:10:57
Zach Collins wrote:
> And 2: the real secrets of open questing are that everyone (including
> NPCs) can give a quest ("Hey man U get me gold I give U potion") to
> whomever, by several different methods; and that NPCs are motivated by
> their personalities much like characters.
RANT MODE ON (not directed at Zach):

Whatever MMO scenario a player is in, designers need to ask themselves, "Why 
do players want to do X?" After designers have asked that, they need to 
design the gameplay and "story" so that players REALLY want to do X. 
(Designers also need to provide players choices, so players can potentially 
decide that Y would be a better outcome than X... but I won't get into that 
here.)

Designers also need to ask themselves, "Why do I want players to do X? How 
does it make the player's experience more "fun" or "gratifying" in the long 
run?"

One of the uses for "quests" is that they provide an avenue for "story" and 
emotion. Players want to kill 10 rats because they get a cookie as a reward. 
Fine, but that's simplistic "game" design.

The "story" part of the quest is that the rats are in an old lady's house. 
The old lady has been kind to the player before. The player feels sorry for 
her, so he kills the rats for her... not for the reward. After killing the 
rats, the old lady is noticably happier, and to show how happy she is, she 
bakes some cookies for the player. (Note: She doesn't just hand a cookie to 
the player. She invites them to tea, pulls the warm cookies out of the oven, 
and says, "Here, I baked these for you.") And everytime the player stops by 
for a chat, the old lady is happy and talks about the rats being gone.

AND, the player's relationship with the old lady draws them emotionally into 
the world. The player meets the lady's granddaughter, etc. And when the evil 
overlord's armies destroy the old lady's house and kidnaps her 
granddaughter, the player translates their care for the old lady into their 
hatred for the evil overlord. (Or maybe it was another player that destroyed 
the house and did the kidnapping...)

And, to tell the truth, if you can generate enough emotional attachment that 
the player cares about the old woman, you don't need to use the "Saving the 
world from the evil overlord" card at all. Saving the world is kind of like 
the ultimate emotional cop-out for poor writing/design because, by 
implication, saving the world saves everything in the world. Even if the 
player doesn't care much for the individual bits of the world (aka: 
poorly-written characters), they should  (theoretically) care about the sum 
of those bits. A good author gets the player to care about the individual 
bits in the world, making whether or not character X gets married (or not) 
the emotional center... not whether character X dies... not whether 
character X's city is blown up... or that the entire world is destroyed. If 
you can make players really care that character X gets married (as per any 
trite romantic comedy) then you don't need an evil overlord.

While procedural quests work as filler, you can't create a procedural quest 
with the impact of the old-lady quest because your 
procedural-quest-generating algorithms don't sufficiently understand 
emotions and human reality.

Procedurally-generated quests have the emotional depth of an obnoxious male 
teenager on a power trip.

Diku MMORPGs are INCREDIBLY naive / simplistic / childish / immature in 
their use of player motivation. Hence, the grind. The central reason that 
(core) players play diku-MMORPGs is that they want to grow up. They want to 
acquire. They want to become more powerful. They want to trample on the 
happiness of others in order to improve (or prove) their own self worth. 
Core players then pull in their friends, who play because they want to play 
with their friends, the core players... but really, they'd rather be doing 
something something else beside trying to keep up (level-wise) with their 
core friends. This enormous mass of players also pulls in wanna-be 
stock-market traders who play the auction house because they find the 
markets intellectually challenging and emotionally exciting.

No wonder MMORPG quests are so inane!

Because MMORPGs have degraded into catering almost exclusively for such 
players, people that play MMORPGs (and worse, people that design MMORPGs) 
think that all there is to a quest is a contract: "You kill X, and I give 
you Y."

PS - This rant was inspired by Warhammer Online.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Amanda Walker <amanda@al...com>

2009-01-05 03:19:30
On Jan 2, 2009, at 4:10 AM, Mike Rozak wrote:
> Whatever MMO scenario a player is in, designers need to ask  
> themselves, "Why
> do players want to do X?" After designers have asked that, they need  
> to
> design the gameplay and "story" so that players REALLY want to do X.  
> [...]
> AND, the player's relationship with the old lady draws them  
> emotionally into
> the world. The player meets the lady's granddaughter, etc. [...]
Which runs into a problem, here in the future: player preconceptions.   
The "Fantasy MMORPG" genre has become so formulaic (because of its  
very success, from EQ to Warhammer Online) that even little UI details  
like keyboard accelerators are becoming standardized across games.

One part of that formula is that quest-givers and reward-givers are  
vending machines.  The story can be engaging or not (and some of them  
are surprisingly so), but the mechanics of the leveling/questing grind  
(which we've gone round and round about on mud-dev for years, possibly  
decades :-)) has become part of the genre, as have some others (the  
basic "health/mana" scheme, armor and weapons and "dps", etc.).

> Diku MMORPGs are INCREDIBLY naive / simplistic / childish / immature  
> in
> their use of player motivation.
Yep--but boy howdy are the popular (as continues to be the basic D&D  
gameplay that Diku was itself based on).

I adore the idea of engaging, immersive virtual worlds without grinds  
as a background for player story construction, but after experiencing  
Second Life (technically fascinating, but so non-linear it's not even  
a game, and which converged on "porn and gambling" thanks to its lack  
of structure), WoW (Fantasy MMO that finally managed to combine casual  
player accessibility with power-gamer achievement rewards), and Guild  
Wars (minimizes leveling grind and downtime, embraces PvP and "sport"  
aspects, plus a long multi-forked back story for people who like that  
sort of thing) has led me to conclude that virtual worlds and MMORPGs  
should be considered separate sorts of thing--the latter were just the  
first large-scale examples of the former, and so far the most popular.

--Amanda

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2
On Sun, 4 Jan 2009, Amanda Walker wrote:

> One part of that formula is that quest-givers and reward-givers are
> vending machines.  The story can be engaging or not (and some of them
> are surprisingly so), but the mechanics of the leveling/questing grind
> (which we've gone round and round about on mud-dev for years, possibly
> decades :-)) has become part of the genre, as have some others (the
> basic "health/mana" scheme, armor and weapons and "dps", etc.).
Players do not know what will be fun.
People naturally prefer easy and shallow over complex and rewarding. 
Unfortunately, things are worth what you pay for them, and so the easier 
something is to get, the less satisfying it will be.
This is a problem for anyone trying to produce a "popular" game, and hence 
we see the trend towards the grind and vending machine NPCs as the 
predominant gameplay element.

I too would love a deeper, more engaging world, but I fear such a thing 
will always be doomed to obscurity, simply because most people would not 
be willing to put in the extra effort required to access the content.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Amanda Walker <amanda@al...com>

2009-01-08 20:51:06
On Jan 8, 2009, at 5:17 AM, cruise wrote:
> I too would love a deeper, more engaging world, but I fear such a  
> thing
> will always be doomed to obscurity, simply because most people would  
> not
> be willing to put in the extra effort required to access the content.
Depends on what that effort is.  I tend towards explorer type play,  
and one of my ongoing gripes about most MMOs is that the only effort  
that's rewarded by unlocking new content is combat.  The occasional  
raid or "bring me 25 bear skins" quest is fine, but geez.  Let me hire  
bodyguards or something.

--Amanda

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Mike Sellers <mike@on...com>

2009-01-08 22:57:05
Cruise wrote: 
> I too would love a deeper, more engaging world, but I fear 
> such a thing will always be doomed to obscurity, simply 
> because most people would not be willing to put in the extra 
> effort required to access the content.
This is a point that's vital to remember.  It makes you decide clearly what
it is you're trying to create: the equivalent of "lite" TV fare that is
accessible by just about anyone (woohoo, commercial success!), or the
equivalent of obscure arthouse film that makes the audience work, but
delivers great rewards for those who do (woohoo, obscurity except in certain
literate circles!).  And over time, these approaches can blended too.  

George Clooney, as one movie-based example, has said that he agrees to make
movies like "Oceans 13" so that he can make others like "Syriana" and
"Michael Clayton."  Neither of these latter two are terribly difficult
films, but neither reached anything like the audience that the "Oceans"
movies do (but still not bad: $92M for Michael Clayton vs $311M revenues for
O13, and better in terms of ROI).

The fact is, no one really knows what a well-executed, deeper, more engaging
world would bring in terms of players, especially as online worlds have
become more known in the mainstream.  We know the forms of MMOG gameplay
that have now become tried-and-true, and we know the audience we havee.  And
sometimes it's wise to stick with that.  But we shouldn't make the mistake
of assuming that the audience we have is the only audience we could have.

Mike Sellers

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com>

2009-01-09 01:43:43
Cruise writes:

> Players do not know what will be fun.
> People naturally prefer easy and shallow over complex and rewarding.
> Unfortunately, things are worth what you pay for them, and so the
> easier something is to get, the less satisfying it will be.
> This is a problem for anyone trying to produce a "popular" game, and
> hence we see the trend towards the grind and vending machine NPCs as the
> predominant gameplay element.
A problem here is that game designers seem to think that complex and
rewarding game systems are those that involve the player with the game.  The
complex and rewarding game systems that work best are those that involve the
player with other players.  People are automatically important to us.

I used to be all about the game itself, thinking that if the content of the
game was sufficiently sophisticated that players would enjoy it all the more
for the lookitthat moments.  The current discussion of sophisticated NPCs
that know how to hand out quests and such is an example of that.

The players in the first two standard deviations of the bell curve are
pretty ambivalent about the quests and NPCs.  They're playing an MMO so that
in some way, shape or form they will be doing things in relation to other
players.  Some want that to be a very direct relationship (grouping), some
want a very indirect one (best gear).  But that relationship, not the one
they might have with the NPCs, is the focus of their gaming experience.

So if you're going to have quests and NPCs, do it all such that it gets
players interacting in all the myriad ways that they can.  Eliminate grinds
not by presenting players with different interactions with your NPCs, but by
ensuring that players are experiencing varied interactions with each other.
Get THEM interacting, not your NPCs.

> I too would love a deeper, more engaging world, but I fear such a thing
> will always be doomed to obscurity, simply because most people would
> not be willing to put in the extra effort required to access the content.
Right. Because the purpose of these games is to provide a break from putting
extra effort into things.  The only people who will put extra effort into
your game are the ones who have a definite surplus of effort.  That may be
due to a driven life, or simply a lack of opportunity elsewhere to expend
themselves productively.

Players are shallow because even the ones that are truly deep will spend
their deep time elsewhere.  How many deep people will focus their energies
on playing a game?  We don't really.  We spend them designing the things.

JB

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

cruise <cruise@ca...net>

2009-01-10 14:01:09
On Thu, 8 Jan 2009, John Buehler wrote:
> Right. Because the purpose of these games is to provide a break from putting
> extra effort into things.  The only people who will put extra effort into
> your game are the ones who have a definite surplus of effort.  That may be
> due to a driven life, or simply a lack of opportunity elsewhere to expend
> themselves productively.
>
> Players are shallow because even the ones that are truly deep will spend
> their deep time elsewhere.  How many deep people will focus their energies
> on playing a game?  We don't really.  We spend them designing the things.
Why wouldn't people spend their energies on a game? Currently the answer 
to me is because the games don't provide the payout for that kind of 
effort.

That's down to us game designers - I've mentioned how I'm trying to fix it 
- what else can we do to give games the "reward" of a good (as in "deep 
and rewarding") book or film?

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com>

2009-01-14 21:34:46
> On Thu, 8 Jan 2009, John Buehler wrote:

> > Right. Because the purpose of these games is to provide a break from
> > putting extra effort into things. The only people who will put extra
> > effort into your game are the ones who have a definite surplus of
effort.
> > That may be due to a driven life, or simply a lack of opportunity
> > elsewhere to expend themselves productively. Players are shallow because
> > even the ones that are truly deep will spend their deep time elsewhere.
> > How many deep people will focus their energies on playing a game? We
don't
> > really. We spend them designing the things.

> Why wouldn't people spend their energies on a game? Currently the answer
to
> me is because the games don't provide the payout for that kind of effort.
That's true, but I dread the consequences.  It will end with virtual
environments being preferred over reality.  We already have problems with
that.  Certainly there are enough cautionary tales about the phenomenon.

> That's down to us game designers - I've mentioned how I'm trying to fix it
-
> what else can we do to give games the "reward" of a good (as in "deep and
> rewarding") book or film?
I wouldn't suggest targeting MMOs for that sort of thing.  I'd recommend
single player or group games.  You can control the experience of your
players there.  In an MMO, the players control the experience.  Pretty much
by definition.

JB

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Mike Oxford <szii@sz...com>

2009-01-09 10:54:45
cruise wrote:
> Players do not know what will be fun.
> People naturally prefer easy and shallow over complex and rewarding.
I cannot really agree with this.  The "instant gratification" and "just 
one more X" type scenarios are, just like gambling, "feel good hits" of 
serotonin and dopamine.  Easy can be quite rewarding. 

Where I see WoW succeeding where others have failed (and continue to 
fail) is that they own the vertical market.  The whole stack is theirs.  
No matter what your timeframe you can find something to do which, in the 
end, builds your character up.  Whether that "something" is skilling up 
a tradeskill, farming to supply raid materials or playing the auction 
house, it's all one big vertical column.

At its most easy and basic, "farming" groundspawn material, like ore 
nodes and herbalism.  Then using those in tradeskills or selling them.  
Then using that revenue to buy different materials to support the 
raiding environment, build a custom mount or work towards some other 
goal.  Everything is related in a vertical column, and if you can't do 
the "best stuff" right now, you can prep for it and get the feel good 
hits from quick accomplishments.  There's always something to do.  You 
long to come back because there's so much to be done; so much that could 
be done.  You subconciously want that interaction, those serotonin and 
dopamine hits.  You think about the upcoming raids and plan for the next 
set of encounters.  You wonder about your arena team(s) and how many 
points you can acquire from this week's play.  You scan gear lists.  You 
plan what you need from what instance.  Even when you're out of game 
you're thinking about being in-game and reading websites, scanning 
forums and posting about the game.

Once you're in the stack it's easy to get lost ... and you really don't 
mind being lost. 

And the worst part about it is trying to break free, because it's always 
there...always available...always inviting.  One moment of weakness and 
you end up right back in the stack.

It really is an addition; an addition to chemicals made by our brains 
and those hits don't come from long drawn-out quest chains, but by the 
accomplishment at the end.  Thus, the more "accomplishments" you do (the 
more times you press the red lever in the cage) the more good feelings 
you get from the food that drops out of the quest giver's dispenser.

There is one notable exception: epic quests.  The quests that are unique 
to your class.  Your race.  Your character.  If everyone can do it/get 
it then it's not special.

 From personal experience, anyways.

-mox

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

cruise <cruise@ca...net>

2009-01-14 10:26:40
On Fri, 9 Jan 2009, Mike Oxford wrote:
> It really is an addiction; an addiction to chemicals made by our brains
> and those hits don't come from long drawn-out quest chains, but by the
> accomplishment at the end.  Thus, the more "accomplishments" you do (the
> more times you press the red lever in the cage) the more good feelings
> you get from the food that drops out of the quest giver's dispenser.
For some, yes, it is strong enough to rival a chemical addiction, but for 
most that hook degrades over time. I think the word I should have 
originally used is "unfulfilling" - chocolate is "fun", but (with 
aforementioned caveat) isn't really something you can base your life 
around.

Humans require something...bigger, be it religion, relationships, 
philosophy, whatever, and it's that scale of fulfillment I want to aim 
for.

Too far? I don't see why it should be - books, films and music all manage 
it. We are getting better - Mass Effect, for example, comes close with 
some of the decisions you have to make - but we have a way to go yet. 
Unfortunately, the players demands (and buying habits) are often in 
opposition with achieving that goal.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Damion Schubert <dschubert@gm...com>

2009-01-26 07:07:07
On Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 4:26 AM, cruise <cruise@ca...net> wrote:

> Humans require something...bigger, be it religion, relationships,
> philosophy, whatever, and it's that scale of fulfillment I want to aim
> for.
>
> Too far? I don't see why it should be - books, films and music all manage
> it. We are getting better - Mass Effect, for example, comes close with
> some of the decisions you have to make - but we have a way to go yet.
> Unfortunately, the players demands (and buying habits) are often in
> opposition with achieving that goal.
All this is fine, if you want to pursue it - personally, I'd rather play a
game
that was fun or be in a social space with good people rather than be in
one that taught me god's grace or gave me insights into Neitzche.  But
if you want to go that way, well I guess BioShock was kinda okay.

The one thing that has really crystallized for me working at BioWare is
that games are a unique media genre.  I realize this seems stupidly
obvious in retrospect, but hear me out:  When television came out,
initially they tried to tell stories like the movies did. The makers of
the shows tried to use the same conventions, on lower budgets.  It
took adaptation of the unique problems of television to really figure
that medium out: how to merge story pacing with commercial breaks.
How to make shows serial, and keep people up to speed.  How to
break up the narrative arcs.  Even subtle things, like how to write
for a medium that may only have half of the viewer's attention,
since a whole lot of people started watching while cooking or eating.
This learning has continued to evolve over time, as viewing an
episode of Lost next to an episode of Bonanza will show.  I've heard
of seminars describing how Tivo affects television writing

One reason why BioWare games are successful is because they
recognize that storytelling techniques that work in other genres
don't work as well in video games.  An obvious example is that
video games have almost NO control over the story pacing, as
the pace of the game is determined by the player, who may in
fact save the game and walk away for a day or two.  But
in other ways, the genre is stronger, with more potential.  BioWare
games are written to embrace interactivity, in particular, in the
belief that the player's free will as a story agent is the part of
storytelling that is superior in games vs. television or movies.

MMOs are different yet again.  Yes, you can tell good stories, and
yes, you can have good quests, but one primary problem is that
your stories are competing against the interest and drama that
comes from being in a shared social space.  Nothing your NPC
is going to say is going to be as interesting as the fact that your
raid leader is cybering your guildmaster's girlfriend, and everyone
knows but him.  Creating an interesting context to make the
space sticky is great, but at the end of the day, an MMO's real
content is other people. If it's NOT -- well, then your MMO
probably shoulda been a single player game.  Woulda saved
a lot of money.

There is probably some sort of Dunbar number at work here -
It's not that humans are shallow, its just that they can only
track so many relationships in a social space, and once they
begin forming relationships with real humans, relationships
with artificial agents are going to naturally become deprioritized.
Especially when, say, reading an NPC's quest dialogue text
keeps your party members waiting.

So my hypothesis: MMOs are a unique art form and genre,
with a unique set of rules for helping its users find fulfillment.
The next obvious question is: what are those rules?  And are
NPCs really necessary and/or central to that?  WoW says
'yes'.  Games like Eve and Tale in the Desert say 'no' - they're
not about the quest, and much more about game mechanics
creating interesting social dynamics.  Overall, though, I think
we're still at the 'Bonanza' stage of this journey of self-exploration.

--d
_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Threshold <mlist@th...com>

2009-02-02 21:19:02
Damion Schubert wrote:
> MMOs are different yet again.  Yes, you can tell good stories, and
> yes, you can have good quests, but one primary problem is that
> your stories are competing against the interest and drama that
> comes from being in a shared social space.  Nothing your NPC
> is going to say is going to be as interesting as the fact that your
> raid leader is cybering your guildmaster's girlfriend, and everyone
> knows but him.  Creating an interesting context to make the
> space sticky is great, but at the end of the day, an MMO's real
> content is other people. If it's NOT -- well, then your MMO
> probably shoulda been a single player game.  Woulda saved
> a lot of money.
That is a brilliant point. Developers have to be aware of this and not 
get their "feelings hurt" when players do not really care about the 
various NPC relationships in the game. Those NPC relationships are just 
going to pale in comparison to the ones players form with other players. 
Can you imagine someone saying to an in game friend "Sorry, I can't help 
you. Glorthok the Usurper is about to murder my favorite shop keeper, 
Blimpo the gnome, and I need to save him." Among other things, the 
friend is doing to say "wtf, Blimpo will respawn 10 minutes later. Help 
me now!"


> So my hypothesis: MMOs are a unique art form and genre,
> with a unique set of rules for helping its users find fulfillment.
> The next obvious question is: what are those rules?  And are
> NPCs really necessary and/or central to that?  WoW says
> 'yes'.  Games like Eve and Tale in the Desert say 'no' - they're
> not about the quest, and much more about game mechanics
> creating interesting social dynamics.  Overall, though, I think
> we're still at the 'Bonanza' stage of this journey of self-exploration.
I think the NPCs provide "filler" entertainment when players cannot find 
interesting things to do with other players. And that is a worthwhile 
role. But if you expect much more from them, I think you will be 
continually disappointed.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

John Buehler <johnbue@ms...com>

2009-02-05 15:39:24
Damion Schubert writes:


> So my hypothesis: MMOs are a unique art form and genre,
> with a unique set of rules for helping its users find fulfillment.
Clearly.

> The next obvious question is: what are those rules?  And are
> NPCs really necessary and/or central to that?  WoW says
> 'yes'.  Games like Eve and Tale in the Desert say 'no' - they're
> not about the quest, and much more about game mechanics
> creating interesting social dynamics.
NPCs are facilitators of player interaction.  More specifically, they are
proactive facilitators.  Swords, spaceships and spells all facilitate player
interactions as well, but they do it passively.  Both passive and active
types are part of a toolkit that MMO developers can use to get their players
interacting as strongly or as weakly as they care to.

Note that quest NPCs are passive.  That's why they're likened to vending
machines.  Monsters are active.  They demand reactions from players.  If
they demand reactions from multiple players then they are doing their job in
an MMO.

The classic example is the monster assault on a village.  A bunch of
monsters take it upon themselves to attack a village populated by a bunch of
players.  The players are obligated to react over a shared problem.  That's
good use of NPCs in an MMO.  From there, we get into levels of
sophistication such as why the monsters are attacking and whether the world
state will change depending on what happens.  Monster motivations are only
interesting because they make them more interesting as proactive
facilitators.

So my rule of MMO design is that players interact.  The interactions range
from shallow to deep, incidental to purposed, but the goal of MMO
entertainment is to be involved around and with other players.  NPCs are
just one way to facilitate those interactions.

JB

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Mike Sellers <mike@on...com>

2009-02-07 22:46:44
There have been a few really good posts on NPCs and such in MMOs.  Damion,
you in particular wrote a couple of posts I wanted to respond to but just
haven't had the time.

Here's the thing, as I see it.  Damion is correct in that MMOs are (well,
have been thus far) largely combat simulators.  Great genre, very popular.
But it's hardly the only way to envision or experience MMOs.  And as a
genre, we may have just about mapped out its limits.  Calling that the
extent of MMO gameplay is IMO a failure of imagination, and the kind of
thing that leads to design stultification and commercial "so whats" very
quickly.  

I suspect strongly that the more combat/achievement-oriented MMOs are, the
less need there is for active MMOs that are more than vending machines or
opponents-of-the-moment.  OTOH, as MMOs become more social -- where "social"
goes far beyond chatting and guild drama -- they will attract many more
people (the majority of people playing games online who still have no desire
to play an MMO) and socially interactive NPCs will become far more
important.  It may even be that having such NPCs is a gating factor to
creating virtual worlds that non-gamers and casual gamers find engaging.

I see socially interactive NPCs as the scaffolding around which social
gameplay grows.  These NPCs are the people, after all, who actually live in
the world -- we as players are just occasional visitors.  If the NPCs are
able to shoulder the load of making the world feel like a social place (a
big "if" certainly), then they become an unparalleled support and an
attractant to new and returning players.  

Note that I'm not talking about variations on old (and IMO effective but
tired) quest constructions, "saving the village" etc.  Those aren't
particularly social.  They are, in effect, static, plot-driven gameplay.
I'm looking more at dynamic character-driven gameplay, where your stories as
a player intertwine with various NPCs' stories in ways that are meaningful
to you.  It's a different way of seeing gameplay, particularly online
gameplay, but one that I think leads to the next levels of engagement for
wide audiences.  

Mike Sellers


_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

cruise <cruise@ca...net>

2009-02-10 13:14:41
On Mon, 26 Jan 2009, Damion Schubert wrote:
> There is probably some sort of Dunbar number at work here -
> It's not that humans are shallow, its just that they can only
> track so many relationships in a social space, and once they
> begin forming relationships with real humans, relationships
> with artificial agents are going to naturally become deprioritized.
> Especially when, say, reading an NPC's quest dialogue text
> keeps your party members waiting.
This brought back another idea that has been floating around in mymind for 
a while - temporary NPCs.

By that, I mean shopkeepers, political figures, etc. Whose roles can 
potentially be filled by players. Has anyone tried allowing players to 
take over a role formerly filled by an NPC?

For example, suppose you had a political system in your MMO, where players 
could vote for other players to become Mayor of towns. Obviously, when 
starting the game, you'd need an NPC to fill that paret, because there 
wouldn't be any players. However, once a player builds up sufficient 
support they could run for office, and if they win, the NPC mayor is 
replaced.

If the player stops logging in, cancels their account, etc. The NPC mayor 
could be voted back in, to ensure that there was always something seen to 
be filling that role.

Basically, only using NPC's as placeholders, and allowing players to 
ursurp their jobs when they want to, and filling back in again to cover 
absences.

This would deal with the issue raised with Damien and others, that players 
prefer dealing with other players, or at least should if they're playing 
an MMO.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Mike Sellers <mike@on...com>

2009-01-06 18:34:00
Mike Rozak wrote: 
> ...
> And, to tell the truth, if you can generate enough emotional 
> attachment that the player cares about the old woman, you 
> don't need to use the "Saving the world from the evil 
> overlord" card at all. Saving the world is kind of like the 
> ultimate emotional cop-out for poor writing/design because, 
> by implication, saving the world saves everything in the 
> world.
Ding!  We have a winner!  "Saving the world" is a huge crutch just as you
say.  The key isn't to find more and better ways for players to save the
village, kingdom, or world, but to find more and better ways for the
individuals (PCs and NPCS) in the world to mean as much to them *as if* they
were saving the world.  

> While procedural quests work as filler, you can't create a 
> procedural quest with the impact of the old-lady quest 
> because your procedural-quest-generating algorithms don't 
> sufficiently understand emotions and human reality.
Until they do.  Others have written about the NPCs themselves generating
needs and tasks (aka "quests" -- I've really come to dislike that word in
this context) that are meaningful to them and to the players.  Having a bona
fide emotional connection between the player and the NPC(s) is part of this.


> Procedurally-generated quests have the emotional depth of an 
> obnoxious male teenager on a power trip.
Could that be because most of them are written primarily by those who are
emotionally still obnoxious male teenagers on power trips?  

> Because MMORPGs have degraded into catering almost 
> exclusively for such players, people that play MMORPGs (and 
> worse, people that design MMORPGs) think that all there is to 
> a quest is a contract: "You kill X, and I give you Y."
> 
> PS - This rant was inspired by Warhammer Online.
Good rant.  As with the best rants, this one also highlights the way out of
this particular design cul-de-sac. 

Mike Sellers

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Damion Schubert <dschubert@gm...com>

2009-01-09 19:46:08
On Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 12:34 PM, Mike Sellers <mike@on...com>wrote:

> Mike Rozak wrote:
> > ...
> > And, to tell the truth, if you can generate enough emotional
> > attachment that the player cares about the old woman, you
> > don't need to use the "Saving the world from the evil
> > overlord" card at all. Saving the world is kind of like the
> > ultimate emotional cop-out for poor writing/design because,
> > by implication, saving the world saves everything in the
> > world.
>
> Ding!  We have a winner!  "Saving the world" is a huge crutch just as you
> say.  The key isn't to find more and better ways for players to save the
> village, kingdom, or world, but to find more and better ways for the
> individuals (PCs and NPCS) in the world to mean as much to them *as if*
> they
> were saving the world.
There's a serious gotcha here, though.  Is there anything
more ham-handed than 'this time... it's personal'?  Doesn't anyone else
roll their eyeballs when Robin and/or Aunt May have to get saved again?
Would you really like to play a Batman game where your full-time job is
rescuing Robin and Alfred?

> While procedural quests work as filler, you can't create a
> procedural quest with the impact of the old-lady quest
> because your procedural-quest-generating algorithms don't
> sufficiently understand emotions and human reality.

> Until they do.  Others have written about the NPCs themselves generating
> needs and tasks (aka "quests" -- I've really come to dislike that word in
> this context) that are meaningful to them and to the players.  Having a
> bona
> fide emotional connection between the player and the NPC(s) is part of
> this.
I've worked on autogeneration before, and I now work at a company that
champions hand-crafted content, and I can tell you, it is nearly impossible
to autogenerate content with the emotional depth and resonance that
hand-written content provides.  This shouldn't surprise: after all, we still
don't have algorithms that will write better movies or novels than real
humans do.  Yet, for some reason we expect this to be true, even though
interactive content is far more difficult and subtle to write, and writing
for a media platform where consumers are routinely interrupted (logging
off, being disconnected, handling another quest, exploring another
activity, or helping a friend).

A core problem to solve with the autogeneration is pattern recognition.
The best quests in MUDs and MMOs have either interesting stories,
interesting activities or interesting characters.  One example: a quest
in Fallout 3 sends you to pick up the Declaration of Independence,
which has a lot of emotional resonance with the player in this post-
apocalyptic world.  This is not something that a random generator
would have created, and if it did, players would likely have also seen
quests to rescue the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and the Consumer's
Bill of Rights, all generated with similar explanations and expositions,
and that repetition would have destroyed the illusion.  Once the players
recognize the algorithm, maintaining their emotional hold becomes
harder and harder.

> Procedurally-generated quests have the emotional depth of an
> obnoxious male teenager on a power trip.

> Could that be because most of them are written primarily by those who are
> emotionally still obnoxious male teenagers on power trips?
I thought they were written by a procedure. =)

--d
_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

Mike Rozak <Mike@mx...au>

2009-01-14 21:51:16
Damion Schubert:
> I've worked on autogeneration before, and I now work at a company that
> champions hand-crafted content, and I can tell you, it is nearly 
> impossible
> to autogenerate content with the emotional depth and resonance that
> hand-written content provides.
I agree, mostly.

I think that the core content needs to be hand-crafted. However, there can 
still be procedural content placed around the world. Both Bioware and 
Bethesda use this trick. There's the core quest chain, which is very tightly 
written. Around that are hand-written but more cookie-cutter FedEx side 
quests - which, if you squint, could almost be procedurally gnerated. Around 
them are (basically) wandering monsters, which are procedural.

I don't think you'd disagree with this. I just wanted to point out that 
hand-crafted and procedural both have their places.


> There's a serious gotcha here, though.  Is there anything
> more ham-handed than 'this time... it's personal'?  Doesn't anyone else
> roll their eyeballs when Robin and/or Aunt May have to get saved again?
> Would you really like to play a Batman game where your full-time job is
> rescuing Robin and Alfred?
Make a game which is not about saving the world, and which is not about 
killing. It's about something more mundane, like helping Aunt May hunt down 
a long-lost sister. Find the sister, see the cut scene, end the game.

I post on interactive fiction and adventure game forums and tell people 
there they should look at MUDs and MMORPGs and steal some tricks. 
Conversely, MUD/MMORPG developers could learn a thing or two from 
IF/adventure games.

In general, IF/Adventure games gave up "saving the world" a long time ago. A 
lot of players post on IF/Adventure forums "looking for games that don't 
involve killing." The sub-text of that is they are looking for games without 
the cliche "save the world" plot.

_______________________________________________
MUD-Dev2 mailing list
MUD-Dev2@mu...com
http://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/mud-dev2

18 messages in this thread from mud-dev2 in 2009-01