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Where art thee, MMORPG?

The ongoing quest for the ideal persistent virtual world.

Author: Lodeclaw

Know your place, NPC! (How NPCs can be replaced and what happens when they are.)

Posted by Lodeclaw Tuesday October 23 2007 at 9:30AM
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Greetings and salutations, my friends!

It's me once again, Lodeclaw. Before I begin I want to post a neat analogy posted in the pub; I hope the writer isn't bothered by my posting it in my blog...

Originally posted by ltlfishie

I just thought of the perfect way to explain what role graphics play in a mmorpg. A mmorpg is a women and the graphics are her looks. Yeah if the graphics are great I'm probably going to hop in bed with her (or at least try) but that doesn't mean i want to marry her. I may have one night of fun but after the novelty wears off and i see that she is a brain dead idiot, I'm probably never speaking to her again. I am a very shallow person though and I'm probably never going to talk a real ugly women because i have no interest in being with her. Its the same with mmorpgs. I am sure that their are some great games out their ex: ultima online and Shadowbane but people dint try them just because of how they look. Good thing ultima online just got a boob job and i hear anarchy online is going to get a face lift . Well thats just my two cents

 Hope that made some sense or atleast someone laugh

So there you have it. I thought it was a good analogy and a sad truth about MMORPGs. Usually it's the indie companies with not much funding that innovates, and that's why graphics suffer and the shallow masses don't pick it up. Anyway, on to my blog entry!

---

So the latest comment, as of writing this, in my first entry was by a fellow named ArcheusCross. He stated that the lack of NPCs in my initial proposition would make the virtual world rather cold and lifeless. To solve this, he suggested pretty well what I had in mind for the usage of NPCs in a virtual world.

In current (average) MMORPGs, the NPC reigns supreme. NPCs lead kingdoms, nations, factions but do nothing but stand or sit at their throne with a rather blank expression. NPCs sell most everything and that which can't be sold is dropped by enemy NPCs or given away by NPC quest-givers. NPCs can even surpass the level cap and do so regularly, I can only assume because devs don't feel players are capable of defending themselves against each other. NPCs also hold power over virtually all of your skills. To learn a skill from another player is unheard of; you have to go to your class trainer or a weapons trainer if you want to continue learning. Not only that, you have to pay them. What do NPCs need money for?

The NPC is the skeletal structure of the modern MMORPG. Without NPCs, the game's design is so lacking that you could never possibly advance in any way, shape or form. This prospect concerns me deeply. We're paying for massively multiplayer virtual worlds that prevent us from interacting with each other in a meaningful way and instead force us to be led along by mindless linear coding ala NPC.

So, let me explain what the players should be able to do in place of NPCs and where NPCs will go once they're no longer required...

When a new player enters the world with a spanking new character, what can he or she do if there is no NPC to teach them their first set of skills? What if there's no classes and no class trainers? Oh my god! What a frightening concept! Well, we're all competent at using our limbs are we not? Swinging a sword should be a fairly obvious action that we can all perform without too much trouble.

I believe any character is capable of wielding any weapon right from the start, and why shouldn't they? The more you use said weapon, the more skilled you get at using it, am I right? Practice makes perfect. But that's not to say you need to grind up your skill; everyone should be competent enough to defend themselves and their skill at swinging things around. How much difference is there in swinging a one-handed sword to swinging a one-handed mace? Not much, really. Gaining skill in one-handed anything should make swinging a one-handed anything else just as easy.

Now, I'm beginning to ramble about combat systems, but I'll get to that in another entry... Right now I want to illustrate how players can almost completely remove NPCs from the skill-learning process. Let's say you chose to make your character so quick and agile that you could be a circus act of acrobatic prowess. This is possible, the more you use acrobatics. So let's say you're now a master of the acrobatics set of skills... Why can't you teach someone else this set of skills? By teaching them, you've given them the ability to perform basic acrobatics. Why not ask for money when teaching someone such a useful skill? Have perfected a lot of techniques? Why not open a dojo and accept other players as students?

Let's move on... So now you're probably wondering (or not) what basic acrobatics actually means. So let's follow this fellow who has just been taught acrobatics by another player. I'm going to say that if you use a skill such as acrobatics or one-handed weapons, or shields, that the rate of progression is increased when you are in combat. (Does that make sense?) So our friend here buys a nice dagger from another player who just so happens to be a weaponsmith. Let's go out and fight some brigands or something. They could be NPCs or PCs, both are possible. Maybe a group of players has formed a gang and have set up a roadblock to stop and ambush traders who are looking to buy low and sell high somewhere else. Our player, who's small and wears light clothing to decrease his visibility, creeps up along the forest's edge toward the roadblock. The players have their backs turned, so he lunges out of the bushes and stabs one in the back, mortally wounding the enemy, but alerting the six others who proceed to charge at our friend.

This is where acrobatics comes in handy, because now our friend has lost the element of surprise, is outnumbered, and is slightly smaller and less armored than his opponents. Acrobatics is going to save our friends scrawny ass, because when those guys get too close for comfort, he can roll to the side or jump back with ease, allowing for him to put some distance between himself and the enemy or just dodge what could be a fatal blow to his unadorned head. At first, our friend just jumps backward and escapes being hit. As he continues his rather futile, ill-prepared fight, his skill in acrobatics increases. Soon he's not just jumping back, sometimes he flips back onto his hands and back onto his feet, increasing his speed of escape. Let's take it even farther and say his skill is becoming quite good and now kicks off the nearest enemy when he flips back, pushing the enemy back or even onto the ground in the process.

Do you understand? I think I'm going off topic, but that's ok, it's my blog and I'll blog what I want to!

Anyway... Allowing players to learn new things through experience rather than NPCs is important, in my opinion. What if you want to be a kind of hermit who lives away from towns and cities? Sure, you may suffer some consequences, but you're closer to untapped resources like animal hides, wood and maybe ores and it's not as though you can't still gain in skill as you can learn to some extent on your own.

Players will generally start out with the ability to perform just about any action, including the use of weapons, shields, the ability to wear armor, make a fire, chop wood, mine for ore, skin an animal... If a player wants to learn something faster, simply become a student at another player's dojo or... Something. There are a lot of possibilities and I can't really explain them all in a single blog entry.

Now, I've just realized that I can't really explain all the other uses for NPCs in this entry, simply because I've focused so long on a single aspect of it. In my next entry, I think I'll explain a feature I like that will use NPCs. Thanks for reading my entire rant. The next few entries will continue my discussion about NPCs.

Yours truly,
Lodeclaw

Rakoth writes:

Generally, that's what UO was back in the day, barring being able to throw a couple hundred gold at a NPC to give a small bump to a related skill (said bump never exceeded 30.0 (Out of 100.0) in any one skill - After 30.0, one had to actively practice the skill to raise it.)  At least, in terms of any one skill.

Also worthy of note, is that this is pretty much what Trial of Ascension was going to do, and take it a step further by leaving NPCs out of the economy, even government; NPCs would be around for a while, to allow players to get established, build up farms, stitch up homes and cities, then would be gradually phased out, left in only to act as guards to hire, transporters, field workers, et cetera.  Shame the independent developers put the game on hiatus due to lack of funding.  -Sigh-

Even sadder, it's likely this won't come to pass any time soon.  Players whine and want this, that, or the other thing - But what players want isn't necessarily what's good for them.

Tue Oct 23 2007 10:48AM Report
Lodeclaw writes:

A number of games have tried this, Rakoth, but like you said they usually end up on the back-burner or scrapped...

Tue Oct 23 2007 11:00AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

Yeah, congrats, you've just described UO.

 

As for the NPC part of it, plenty of games do not require you to visit an NPC to train a skill.  Even EQ, which originally started with mandatory NPC trainer visits, has phased that tiresome journey out of the picture.  EQ also has always allowed player characters to learn languages from each other -- in fact, chatting with other players is the main way of accomplishing this.

Broadly speaking, this is what happens anyway in a class-based system.  The game assumes that you are using all of your skills as you play, hence the increase in effectiveness when you gain a level.  Some find this unrealistic, others don't mind the trade-off in realism for a more streamlined, less meta-game feel to the world.

Tue Oct 23 2007 11:48AM Report
Lodeclaw writes:

Haha. You know, I figured I would probably tread on a lot of things already covered by other games. I freely admit that there are a lot of games I haven't had the chance to or bothered playing, so bear with me. If you feel my blog doesn't have much merit, I understand and don't expect anyone to read it. If I get a little golden nugget somewhere in my ramblings, I'm happy, but I don't expect to be original and innovative even some of the time.

Tue Oct 23 2007 11:58AM Report
Qaze writes:

One thing puzzles me (well two things now that I think of it). Number one: How would a player create a dojo and teach others to do the skill that he learned? Would he just give another player a scroll teaching him the basics then they would practise it to get better? Would he have to learn a teaching skill allowing him to teach others his skills? And number two: In the heat of battle, how would the player suddenly know how to do a more advanced acrobatic move, and how would the person controlling it know which buttons to press?

Tue Oct 23 2007 2:28PM Report
Rakoth writes:

Passive observation.  Designate the master of the school as a...well, master, and the students as students while in the influence area of the establishment, and while the master does X, if the students are set to raise skill X and they're in his proximity, skill X raises slowly for them.

That's just off th top of my head.

Don't worry about rehashing anytihng, Lode - That's pretty much all WoW is, of older MMOs, and look how successful that one is.  Besides, gushing is cathartic, promise.

Tue Oct 23 2007 3:21PM Report
Zynro writes:

First, Lode (If I may call you that) You amaze me. YOu have quite the talent for figuring out and making systems. And Qaze, in response to your "New Move in battle" thingy, maybe "Our Friend" paniced and suddenly accidently did a Back Flip? Fully possible. Grats, you learned how to back flip, that time was auto  and a tiny message box might appear and say 'Grats! You learned to so and so! Heres how:". Or something.

Tue Oct 23 2007 3:26PM Report
Zynro writes:

Sorry for double commenting, OR, Rakoth, the 2 could go into a little side-mish, where the Teacher shows the student to fight off an enemy using said move. OR! The Student and Master go into a little side-show where the master does X with the buttons X and the sutdent repeats but you gotta do it fast, the more you do it, the slower you need to hit the combo till its easy.

Tue Oct 23 2007 3:30PM Report
Lodeclaw writes:

For that matter, Neyro, a master and a student could simply enter a sparring mode. The master can attack the student for 0 or very little damage and the student is responsible for practicing the skill in question. While in this sparring mode, you get a bonus to your increase in skill.

Tue Oct 23 2007 6:17PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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