Flutterby™! : Gaming musings

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

Gaming musings

2001-07-24 16:25:31+00 by Dan Lyke 9 comments

A Gamegrene rant about the lack of richness in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) has me pondering. Debra Hyde has talked recently about her experiences with multi player Diablo II, and Alec[Wiki], the alpha rat boy, has punctuated my helping him with his homework with showing me his progress through the single player game, and I realize that this is a wonderfully rendered and realized environment, but the interaction with it is too abstracted to be compelling to me. Anyone wanna chime in with observations on the current state of avatar chats, MMORPGs, MUDs, and how they've become more or less compelling?

[ related topics: Games ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:20+00 by: other_todd

Debra and I also exchanged a fair amount of Diablo II chat in person this weekend, Dan, to my surprise. I'm a serious addict of the single player game, but oddly, the multiplayer has not fascinated me.

You may recall that I have written a couple of long analyses of game design in general and what makes an environment immersive in particular (URLS on request to interested lurkers). I think that my current opinion runs like this: If you want to just socialize, then the visuals probably get in the way. If you want to do other things (i.e. dungeon-crawl or complete other external, arbitrarily assigned goals), then the visuals are probably a requirement, at least to the latter generation, which did not grow up with MU*s and Infocom games as their cultural influences here.

But I didn't always agree with the first half of those conclusions. Back in the days of The Palace (anyone remember the Palace? Had a little smiley face as your default avatar), in fact, I argued vehemently in the other direction. At the time, all I saw was that the Palace was getting people in droves, where all my favorite MU*s were languishing ... so I thought, "Hmm, avatars good."

Only later did I realize the stultifying effect the visuals had, not just on the kinds of conversation, but on free-form roleplay and other such in-character fun. Basically, all the chat was about the avatars! It was like giving a kid what child-psych people call a "closed-play toy" - it comes pre-scripted, you can only play with it one way (as opposed to, say, an "open-play toy" like Legos).

Anyway, I digress. I believe the first thing a visual-online-environment designer needs to think about is, "What do I intend for most of the people to be doing most often when they're here?" If it's just chatting and interacting in other social ways, then, no, the battle.net system is probably NOT fully suitable - but then, it wasn't meant to be; it was just meant as a place where people could put Diablo/Warcraft groups together, sort of a glorified waiting room - and it serves that purpose more than adequately. Everything else it is now used for has evolved along the way, an ad hoc solution to this problem: People who get together and become friends from their battle.net interactions and don't know of any other good or equally convenient places they can go to socialize online when they're not actually out storming the dungeons.

The one you want to look out for is Coming Soon to a computer near you, Will Wright's latest and greatest bid to own the asses of America: Sims Online. Everyone who knows a Sims addict, raise your hand? Thought so. Now imagine that crossed with a visual chat room crossed with a MMORPG. Ouch. When I mentioned this in a chat room yesterday, the average response was along the lines of "I might as well just quit my job and go on welfare in advance."

(If you'd like to see more about this impending form of crack, get the September PC GAMER when it comes to the newsstand. It's the cover story.)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:20+00 by: canis

My feeling is that at present, massively-multiplayer games suck bigtime. Through a straw.

There's several ways of approaching the subject, but unfortunately, I feel they fail in each case.

Some of the problems I have answers for, some I don't.

Socially: I agree with Todd, the visuals mostly get in the way. This needn't be the case, but it is currently. If the visuals were orientated around the social aspect (instead of dungeon-bashing) they could complement it, with cooperative play (in a "playground" sense rather than a "insert coin player 2!") sense coming in... the "hey come look at this cool thing!" factor rather than the current "me hit thing. you hit thing. thing die twice as quick" yawnfest.

At the moment though the visuals are just a waste of space: Anyone doing social interaction just types and *emotes like this* and most people are too lazy to do that even, so you might as well be on IRC.

So moving on to the twitch-game angle: Might as well play Quake 3. Quake is fast, smooth, sexy fun, if you're into large amounts of somewhat cartoonish interactive violence. MMORPGs are generally slow and tedious and frequently somewhat turn-based. This is because they're not *supposed* to be twitch games, of course, I'm just covering all the bases.

Typically they focus on the RPG angle in terms of previous single-player RPGs such as the Ultimas or the Might and Magic or any of those other roman-numeral'd series that're into their teens. This translates across reasonably well, but the way multiple players have been integrated, does not significantly enhance the gameplay over the single-player, *plus* unlike the offline versions you have to pay a fee each month and deal with lag, cheaters and so on. The upside is that you have people to chat to while you wait to heal. Oh and the competetive angle of course: The fact that you can advance and compare that progress to other peoples' is probably what keeps a lot of people coming back for a while, but it soon loses its appeal when people realise you can buy that 'advancement' on eBay. This is perhaps why you repeatedly see a pattern of someone being fiercely addicted ("EverCrack"...) and then suddenly packing it in cold one day and never looking back: I think disillusionment creeps in somewhere along the line and so the psychological addiction is dispelled; and since there's no physiological addiction to back it up it's gone.

So then there's the "paper and pencil RPG" angle. Most mature roleplayers (and most are these days as both they and the industry have grown up, and with computer games and such the younger generation has been less interested in RPing) have progressed past the "randomly bashing monsters" stage of RPing and focus now on a different style of gaming, one that focuses on charater, plot, morality and ethics, and ontological issues. Games like Unknown Armies and SLA Industries, to name a couple I'm familiar with (there's plenty of other mature games of course, and by 'mature' I don't mean 'tits n guns') are designed to explore the darker sides of human nature as well as entertain. Even old standbys like AD&D allow -- with a competent GM -- for a vast amount of plotting, counterplotting, character development, and roleplaying (interacting with others while playing a role).

You will simply never see this in MMORPGs. We know you won't see it on a single-player RPG (unless we develop 'true' AI -- ie sentience) because the computer can't react to all the possibilities a player might come up with, or even a tiny tiny subset of them. For a while, people thought this might be solved by MMORPGs because the *other players* would be doing the reacting, and thus the problem is solved as the computer is simply a medium rather than an active component (lets assume for a moment NPCs take their lead from other, human players, perhaps according to in-game social affiliations).

The tools are there to do that now, on a simple level, on MMORPGs. Players can pay people money to go do tasks and thus start to create plots -- build armies, fight wars, or construct peaceful settlements together, or whatever -- but noone does. Hardly anyone even roleplays a character; all these elves are running around speaking l33t. l0rd br1tn3y says, "yo u lvl'd ur char 3x 2day? u r cheat! u r lame!"

And if you're *not* getting that kind of people play your game... then you're probably not hitting a wide enough audience to pay for your development costs, server farm, bandwidth (mountains thereof), tech-support-nightmare, and 'moderators'. It needn't be testosterone-fuelled script kiddies either; just ordinary, nice people who are interested in bagging a few monsters but have no interest or understanding whatsoever in playing a role, in "being someone else" -- who have as much right to play an MMOPRG as anyone -- nonetheless act like those graphite rods in nuclear reactors: absorbing; dampening reactions.

You can't achieve critical mass that way.

(And *then* you get stuff like Old Man Murray: see http://www.oldmanmurray.com/asheroncall.shtml and make of it what you will...)

Anyway. Enough blabbing.

- canis

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: TC

The MMORPG I am looking forward to the most is Mudpie but that's a ways away. It's good to know some people are designing for the future...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: ebradway

I think Dan has posed a similar question before, but my girlfriend, Lynda, has a 10-year-old son who wants to be a 'game designer'. He is, of course, in complete awe of me (not only do I drive a Porsche but I used to make games too). He's quite bright - just saw his standardized test scores - 99% across the board - looked like mine when I used to take them.

To give him a better idea of what really makes up a game, I'm going to try to get him to play some Infocom games. Probably Zork and Starcross because they are the ones I actually played all the way through without cheats. I'm also going to introduce him to paper RPGs - something I was never too fond of but realize a direct correlation between Dungeon Master and Game Designer. If I get a chance, I'm going to try to push his edge artistically - something that I never got and made me VERY dependent on the artists on my development teams (color matching, aliasing, simple graphics, etc.). Of course I'll get him started writing code ASAP but that goes without saying.

Anybody have any other thoughts on this?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: TC

10 you say? It's probably a bit early for the cafinee IV but start him on Mountain Dew and sugary snacks. An early taste for coffee is a plus...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'd also start him looking at screenplay and story structure. While dropping the McKee book on him at this stage is probably overkill, making him aware of basic story structure, reversals, beats, that sort of thing, is a good way to start him looking at what makes entertainment compelling.

Alec's older, but I found that a great way to start him thinking about programming was walking him through the steps that helped him write a program to handle die rolling issues for D&D, since that tied in to his existing interests. From there we've made some good strides in his understanding of algebra.

While you're looking at games from a simpler era, don't forget Tetris, especially since that had huge cross-gender appeal. And programming a version of Space Invaders to get a framework for graphics, then moving up to Asteroids to start thinking about physics and trig, would probably make decent "together" activities (ie: you flesh it out, let him start to tweak on it) that would get him down the programming path fairly quickly.

Art-wise, it's never too early to work through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain to help with visualization and better ways of seeing.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

Howl! That Old Man Murray Asheron's Call review is hilarious! Thanks, canis!

For twitch gaming, Counter-Strike serves me just fine, but what I'm still searching for is an environment that does for me what email first did.

When I first discovered BBSs, rather than being the weird kid with strange interests I found a whole bunch of people who were working on similar problems, had similar interests, read the same books. And these friendships quickly followed over into the real world.

When BBSs became networked, I was suddenly talking about my interests with a substantial portion of the other people in the world who had my narrow subset of interests. And then the 'net came along and opened my eyes to all sorts of different lifestyles and attitudes I hadn't run into yet, got me exposure which lead to a job at Pixar, made me friends from all over the country that I try to get together with whenever one of us is in the other's town, let me keep friendships going with people who I'd met in physical space but had moved away from...

Games which try to create a self-contained universe don't appeal, because I don't live completely in that universe and don't want to. Unless there's a stronger likely hood that I'll find interesting people that I want to relate to, I'd much rather go hang out at the coffee shop and talk with whoever I find there.

What I'd like to see is that virtual environment which opens up my interactions with other humans, not limits it. One which has bleed-over, and therefore meaning, to my real life. One which isn't consuming, 'cause I have a life and find people who get into all-consuming games not terribly compelling, but which is interesting enough that I'd give it the same sort of attention I give to email, or even my web presence here, today.

And, yes, maybe do a little role playing, or build some environments which express my personality, it's also about allowing me to be someone a little more brash, or adventurous, or even nurturing than I am in real life, but unless those interactions matter in the rest of my life I'm probably going to get bored fairly quickly.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:21+00 by: canis

OK, so that's drifting off of MMORPGs into a more Snow Crash "Metaverse" sort of territory. Which is fine, just a subtle subject-change...

So from that point of view, I have more hope, since if gaming isn't an issue, concepts like "cheating" and "rules" become less important -- and without the need for a central "judge" (in the form of the server), distributed processing becomes viable; there's no reason why your avatar and "home environment" can't be run off of your home machine, with remote method calls (SOAP or XMLRPC or whatever) handling the protocol (although you'd probably want a seperate protocol running across UDP for more time-critical stuff).

So anyway. In the text-mode world there are MUDs and all the derived classes of MU*. A key element of all of the "good" ones is user editability at runtime (something MMORPGs generally steer *well* clear of). MOOs and MUSHes apply attributes directly to objects while LPMUDs use an object orientated variant on C to program in (and provide a UNIX-like shell environment). Each has their advantages and disadvantages; personally I hate MUSHes despite their flexibility because the programming language is so arsey (it's like ML *shudder*).

In the graphical world, I haven't seen much of interest in this arena. The closest was a system called Alphaworlds I used about 4 or 5 years back (god, it's been that long already?? woah). It was pretty primitive, so I stopped using it when they tried charging for it (pay? for a system whereby your text messages only go to the 12 people geometrically closest to you at a given moment?? i think not!). It had simple 3D realtime graphics, and users could edit the environment by creating blocks and then resizing them, applying textures, etc, and there were various "pre-fab" meshes that could be imported, oriented, and textured. You could "import" new textures via URL reference. It was kinda neat.

But the tools were too clumsy, the chat system lousy, and the 3D world largely an irrelevant distraction. Maybe I'll try and bribe one of the artists at work to make up some avatar meshes and write one that doesn't suck, sometime. (shia, along with the other 30 projects... :P )

Oh and as for learning game design, don't forget "mod-able" games. I'm thinking in particular of crack.com's "abuse" which had its own LISP interpreter and a built-in level editor that allowed you to construct game logic by drag-n-dropping logic gate elements and wiring them up to "sensors" and "actions". A good start, in 2D. And of course there's WorldCraft and its ilk for experimenting with 3D level design; the results can be more spectacular (3D's good for that...) but be warned, the learning curve is *way* steeper especially if you want a "rewarding" result.

- canis

#Comment made: 2001-10-09 04:26:08+00 by: Alec Marlow [edit history]

"My feeling is that at present, massively-multiplayer games suck bigtime. Through a straw.

There's several ways of approaching the subject, but unfortunately, I feel they fail in each case.

Some of the problems I have answers for, some I don't.

Socially: I agree with Todd, the visuals mostly get in the way. This needn't be the case, but it is currently. If the visuals were orientated around the social aspect (instead of dungeon-bashing) they could complement it, with cooperative play (in a "playground" sense rather than a "insert coin player 2!") sense coming in... the "hey come look at this cool thing!" factor rather than the current "me hit thing. you hit thing. thing die twice as quick" yawnfest....."

I read this evil ramble from above and if u think that MMORPG is boring and stupid i would have to agree with u fore the most part D2 was horrible no REAL challenge u kill monsters by the dozens! however b4 u can dump on all online RPG's u must go to http://www.lineagethebloodpledge.com and download this huge 250megabytes of a game get a free trial acount(u should tell your friends to do the same so that u have partners) and play for a while then if you r not satisfyed then u may say whatever u like about online RPG's but at least try the very best online RPG i can find note: if u do contact friends to play and actually play you should all be the same class preferably "knight"(keep it simple) and if u need some help contact me 'terillia' the controlls are very easy and the game is really fun so try it out!