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News & Features Discussion  » [Column] General: The Directed Experience

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  SBFord

Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 13440

 
OP  11/25/13 6:16:01 PM#1

Tabletop gamers will understand what we mean when we say "directed experience" by fondly remembering their favorite Dungeon Masters of yore. In today's column, Mark Miller talks about how MMOs of today could benefit from a more directed experience for players. Find out what else he thinks on the topic and then leave your ideas in the comments.

Tabletop GMs may even be using a published adventure module, which is closer to the type of game that MMO players experience today. Go here, do X thing, kill Y monster, collect Z loot. The benefit to playing with a small group of players was that the Game Master was free to improvise and customize the adventure to the players involved. Has a player been pursuing a specific magic item? He could put it into the boss’ treasure trove. Is one of the characters wanted for crimes they didn’t commit? Have one of the encounters be bounty hunters looking to make a quick buck.

Read more of Matt Miller's The Directed Experience.

Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

  Senadina

Hard Core Member

Joined: 4/16/06
Posts: 885

11/26/13 12:14:46 PM#2
In my tabletop group, when the GM asks  "Are you sure?", more often than not, it's just a red herring to make you feel unsure. We are sure, sir.

  AlBQuirky

Spotlight Poster

Joined: 1/24/05
Posts: 3191

Tomorrow's just a future yesterday...

11/26/13 12:34:51 PM#3

I was following Wish for awhile, with high hopes.

 

It would be nice to have that tabletop feeling again in an MMORPG, but I am not sure it can be done well, yet.  That seems like a lot of expense that companies right now do not seem to willing to spend.

- Al

Personally the only modern MMORPG trend that annoys me is the idea that MMOs need to be designed in a way to attract people who don't actually like MMOs. Which to me makes about as much sense as someone trying to figure out a way to get vegetarians to eat at their steakhouse.
- FARGIN_WAR

  Iczer

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/10/04
Posts: 104

I want a world in a sandbox ... not a theme park!

11/26/13 1:08:06 PM#4

Lately I have been thinking nearly exactly what Matt voiced here. I would LOVE to see this actually happen. But, I think where the AD&D tabletop experience falls short in an MMO is when you have 100's or 1000's of people in the same world so its very difficult to make much of anything unique. 

Instanced dungeons and events try to take the road of you and your group having this separate experience but all of that is lost when you can do the dungeon again and again. The obvious answer is to make the dungeon a 1 time thing and then its gone and have the system spawn a new adventure somewhere in the world. The problem with that is when something is created on the fly like that it wont have the same well crafted experience as if a human was to do it. 

 

 

  GrumpyMel2

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1824

11/26/13 1:26:10 PM#5

Matt,

Absolutely and I think this is part of the misapprehension of what a "sandbox" style game is or can be? When I think "sandbox" what I really hope for is not a complete ambandonment of the games course but allowing for the players to take a much more creative role, ALONG with the GM/Developer in shaping the narrative of the game. Something like an old-style MUD (I know you are familiar with Gemstone and Dragonrealms) but with all the advantages for dynamic effects and feedback from the players afforded by modern technology.

I think it's a mistake for the Developers to abandon the players to be the ONLY powers that be in the game world. There should be powers that be outside the players that help push and direct the narrative of the game-world and then allow the players to interact with story-arcs in large and small ways driven by those narratives which in turn help shape and shift the direction of those narratives in large and small ways. Ideally it's a feedback loop. At it's most basic level this doesn't have to be super complicated. Something like a public quest that can end in one of two ways (success/failure) with the Developers allowing for and prepared to have those results effect the overall narrative of the game in SOME way is a very simple and basic example of what I'm talking about....and I'm absolutely certain it's possible to be far more sophisticated then that.

The problem is that too many Developers think they need the game world to be in an absolute static state all the time....and that they need allow the players ZERO input into the state of the game world and the narrative of the game. Ultimately those type of games get very boring for many of us very quickly. I'm absolutely convinced you guys can do better then that.

It's not a binary choice. You guys don't need to choose between zero control and anarchy and absolute control and a static world. There are levels in between. You just need to figure out some sensible bounds and limits that you can have the players work within and still not break the game while allowing for creative input.

 

 

  GrumpyMel2

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1824

11/26/13 1:42:48 PM#6
Originally posted by Iczer

Lately I have been thinking nearly exactly what Matt voiced here. I would LOVE to see this actually happen. But, I think where the AD&D tabletop experience falls short in an MMO is when you have 100's or 1000's of people in the same world so its very difficult to make much of anything unique. 

Instanced dungeons and events try to take the road of you and your group having this separate experience but all of that is lost when you can do the dungeon again and again. The obvious answer is to make the dungeon a 1 time thing and then its gone and have the system spawn a new adventure somewhere in the world. The problem with that is when something is created on the fly like that it wont have the same well crafted experience as if a human was to do it. 

 

 

Yup and I think taking the players out of the world to have some sort of highly defined (scripted) experience is really the wrong way to go for that. What's needed is a very, very large experience that the players can play some role within....that becomes thier own individual experience within the overall (larger) experience of the playerbase.

Think D-Day. It wasn't one individual story, one individual act of heroism  but thousands and thousands of individual stories and acts of heroism that combined together to determine success (or failure). The Developer doesn't need to custom design each little movement or moment within that according to script, anymore then they would need to custom design each little exchange of fire in a FPS game. What they would need though is mobs that can act with some very basic level of A.I....no more then unit pathing in a RTS game.....and some way for a GM or even dynamic system to control things on a grand scale.

 

  Iczer

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/10/04
Posts: 104

I want a world in a sandbox ... not a theme park!

11/26/13 1:49:31 PM#7
Originally posted by GrumpyMel2
Originally posted by Iczer

Lately I have been thinking nearly exactly what Matt voiced here. I would LOVE to see this actually happen. But, I think where the AD&D tabletop experience falls short in an MMO is when you have 100's or 1000's of people in the same world so its very difficult to make much of anything unique. 

Instanced dungeons and events try to take the road of you and your group having this separate experience but all of that is lost when you can do the dungeon again and again. The obvious answer is to make the dungeon a 1 time thing and then its gone and have the system spawn a new adventure somewhere in the world. The problem with that is when something is created on the fly like that it wont have the same well crafted experience as if a human was to do it. 

 

 

Yup and I think taking the players out of the world to have some sort of highly defined (scripted) experience is really the wrong way to go for that. What's needed is a very, very large experience that the players can play some role within....that becomes thier own individual experience within the overall (larger) experience of the playerbase.

Think D-Day. It wasn't one individual story, one individual act of heroism  but thousands and thousands of individual stories and acts of heroism that combined together to determine success (or failure). The Developer doesn't need to custom design each little movement or moment within that according to script, anymore then they would need to custom design each little exchange of fire in a FPS game. What they would need though is mobs that can act with some very basic level of A.I....no more then unit pathing in a RTS game.....and some way for a GM or even dynamic system to control things on a grand scale.

 

This sounds like the concept of rallying calls in Everquest Next as Dave Georgeson presented it. He said it would be an event that is available to everyone on the server (I think) and that it could take months to complete that involves many pieces that the players must accomplish to achieve the grand goal forever changing the world.

Some people commented in another thread that this was a pipe dream and that it would probably involve a lot of tedious and boring repetition. But for me personally it sounds like a group project where everyone can contribute and that sounds fantastic.

 

  jakin

Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/27/04
Posts: 237

11/26/13 1:52:11 PM#8
Originally posted by GrumpyMel2

Matt,

It's not a binary choice. You guys don't need to choose between zero control and anarchy and absolute control and a static world. There are levels in between. You just need to figure out some sensible bounds and limits that you can have the players work within and still not break the game while allowing for creative input.

 

I don't think the tools are quite there yet for this to be realistic.

 

Content creation takes a really long time in current-gen MMOs.  With the demand for high quality graphics, hand-crafted design, and full voice-over it will likely take a very long time before game development can be as responsive as would be desired.

 

To a certain extent, developers are forced into static worlds because they have these long lead times before content can be produced.  If it takes 4 months to go from concept to finished content the storyline pretty much has to be static and scripted or else the content would be continually behind the times.

 

The GM-type program that various games have had comes reasonably close to the ideal of responsive storytelling, but a game company would have to build a game specifically around the idea of having in-game GMs to really make the idea sing - and such a choice would drive a lot of other decisions (sandbox systems, single-shard universe, large staff of GMs on payroll, etc.)

 

More on-topic to the OP.  I once tried running a "sandbox-style" campaign for our D&D group.  My take-away lesson was primarily that my group was not really prepared for a largely undirected game experience.  Some of that was my fault, but to a very large extent, without a figurative ! (long before that paradigm existed) the players were conditioned to wait around (usually in an inn, later in their castles) for the very obvious "for adventure - go here" hook.

 

On the other hand - it may have just been our group.  In another campaign with another DM one of the newly-rolled characters came into the game with a very obvious adventure hook that would lead to the character joining the party, and our group as a whole simply walked away from the new character and the hook and the whole thing ended up in the trash can. 

  GrumpyMel2

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1824

11/26/13 2:36:13 PM#9
Originally posted by jakin
Originally posted by GrumpyMel2

Matt,

It's not a binary choice. You guys don't need to choose between zero control and anarchy and absolute control and a static world. There are levels in between. You just need to figure out some sensible bounds and limits that you can have the players work within and still not break the game while allowing for creative input.

 

I don't think the tools are quite there yet for this to be realistic.

 

Content creation takes a really long time in current-gen MMOs.  With the demand for high quality graphics, hand-crafted design, and full voice-over it will likely take a very long time before game development can be as responsive as would be desired.

Well I think that's bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you concentrate on providing high presentation values over gameplay then it should come as no surprise that the audience you've attracted mostly cares about high presentation values. I really couldn't care a whit about any of that.....I want improvements in game-play. You can have can have old 16 color dot graphics if you are providing great game-play as far as I'm concerned.

If the contention is that there aren't enough people like me....I'd counter that no one has actualy tried to build or market a game toward people more interested in great, innovative gameplay. I mean how many people out there are playing "Words with Friends" because of it's awesome graphics and cut-scenes?

 

 

  Sandric

Advanced Member

Joined: 10/06/03
Posts: 102

11/26/13 2:39:49 PM#10
While I agree with the sentiment I do not believe 1) that the technology is there yet and 2) the current market/climate would not give it the time of day because its not what they think they want.  

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  AfryChi

Novice Member

Joined: 1/22/13
Posts: 3

11/26/13 3:51:03 PM#11
As I have never had any sort of table-top gaming experience, I would actualy be very excited if an MMO could pul this off. Id like to experience something at least remotely alike to common pen & paper RPGs.
  maplestone

Novice Member

Joined: 12/10/08
Posts: 3109

11/26/13 5:05:36 PM#12

The philisophical difference between themeparks and sandboxes also exist in pencil-and-paper games.  Some GMs are storytellers, leading players through a pre-packaged sequence of events that will lead them from one dungeon to the next.  Other GMs have a whole world living in their imagination and present themselves as an interface for players to explore it, adding detail wherever players focus their attention.

To me, the secret to capturing that personal-story pencil-and-paper world is simulation, simulation, simulation.   The moment you let players have a unique view of the events of the world, the complexity of your canon explodes beyond the capacity of any writer's ability to manually track it all and no team of event-runners can produce content at anywhere near the speed that players can consume it.  There comes a point where you need to start offloading motives, events and history to the computers to track, control and reference.

  jbombard

Advanced Member

Joined: 11/06/08
Posts: 465

11/26/13 8:51:57 PM#13
Neverwinter Nights is probably the closest we have seen a game get to the GM/Player D&D experience.  I think as an MMO it is hard, because you cannot afford to staff enough GMs to provide all your players with a unique experience.  That means they need to build in systems that do this.  We are talking about extremely complex interdependent systems.  Systems were interactions with the environment have to not only affect the player who made them but have to ripple out and affect other players as well, with millions of players all making such interactions at the same time.  Even with an extremely limited scope we are talking about some pretty massive development time on a behind the scenes system.  Development tends to end up being focused on features that sell boxes not the really cool behind the scenes technical stuff.(even though you need some of that too but it is a balancing game)
  Scot

Elite Member

Joined: 10/10/03
Posts: 5244

11/27/13 2:49:20 AM#14

I can see exploits abounding as players go along different paths, the players perhaps not even realising that the game has given them an easy ride. It would surely be much harder for the designers to work out where an exploit was occurring under such a system. Likewise players might end up not being able to finish quests and the like.

But any system that offers a more unique levelling experience is long overdue.

 

  Po_gg

Elite Member

Joined: 5/12/10
Posts: 2033

11/27/13 3:34:02 AM#15

It was sad to read the "You get quests, explore areas and kill monsters to get loot and level up."  and "Go here, do X thing, kill Y monster, collect Z loot." parts from you, Matt... It's absolutely not how rpg's were played. I can accept that nowadays in the post-diablo era that's the trend sadly, but still, roleplaying is not equals go-kill-loot-levelup, not at all.

 

The other part I agree wholeheartedly. Story is the key, and the GM's capabilities. There should be a "force" (GM, devs, in-game moderators, anybody) present, directing the experience.

 

I don't agree with maplestone in:

Originally posted by maplestone

Some GMs are storytellers, leading players through a pre-packaged sequence of events that will lead them from one dungeon to the next.  Other GMs have a whole world living in their imagination and present themselves as an interface for players to explore it, adding detail wherever players focus their attention.

The pre-packaged GMs are not storytellers, they're simply bad GMs. Like a gramps or parent who simply read the module as a goodnight tale for the kid, just occasionally rolling some dice on the side... :) luckily I've bumped into very few of those. Even a trained monkey can buy a module and read it for the buddies.

A true GM has a full, living world, and while obviously controlling the whole session (since that's the GM's task), the players barely notice any barriers or boundaries. That's where real rpg starts, and not in the monster compendiums and damage charts and modifier tables. Of course it's very hard to implement on pc. Some MUSHes got very close, because of the easy interface and prog.language. I know of a couple really great NWN modules with numerous stories in them, but NWN was inevitably more limited than MUSHes... (no code can beat the imagination :) )

 

Solutions for the pc? I don't have any. Maybe if we could get closer to a real AI to control the gaming world... but it's more than 15 years passed since my college days and there's no advancement in that department. And I think a better question would be, is it necessary? Gaming is a huge industry now, following the market and making money. Sadly I don't see any massive demand for rpg besides our veteran nostalgia ... seems the masses are satisfied with the go-kill-loot-levelup method of today. :I

(edit: NWN ofc, and not NVN :) )

  Loktofeit

Elite Member

Joined: 1/13/10
Posts: 12257

Currently playing EVE, SMITE, Project Gorgon, and Combat Arms

11/27/13 6:09:51 AM#16
Originally posted by maplestone

The philisophical difference between themeparks and sandboxes also exist in pencil-and-paper games.  Some GMs are storytellers, leading players through a pre-packaged sequence of events that will lead them from one dungeon to the next.  Other GMs have a whole world living in their imagination and present themselves as an interface for players to explore it, adding detail wherever players focus their attention.

To me, the secret to capturing that personal-story pencil-and-paper world is simulation, simulation, simulation.   The moment you let players have a unique view of the events of the world, the complexity of your canon explodes beyond the capacity of any writer's ability to manually track it all and no team of event-runners can produce content at anywhere near the speed that players can consume it.  There comes a point where you need to start offloading motives, events and history to the computers to track, control and reference.

I think a professional AAA take on remote RPG systems (ex: Roll20 or D20Pro) could bring about the return of the DM, storytelling, and more dynamic worlds.

The trade off would probably be the elimination of the persistent world environment but, really, has it paid off much in most games anyway? Other than new crap stapled on, how different are most MMO worlds now from when they were released? Have towns risen and fallen? Have territory lines changed? Have any of the quarrels between factions been settled?

"And wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica. Wikipedia is very reliable. You would be hard pressed to find a more reliable source for these kinds of things." -fivoroth

  aspekx

Hard Core Member

Joined: 12/24/05
Posts: 2197

11/27/13 8:35:53 AM#17
at its best a tabletop gaming experience is one of co-creation. the gm and the players create a story together. the gm may set the whole world up, even with a specific storyline, but in the end there must be room for both players and makers to create the world-story together.

"There are at least two kinds of games.
One could be called finite, the other infinite.
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play."
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

  BadSpock

Hard Core Member

Joined: 8/21/04
Posts: 7735

Logic be damned!

11/27/13 10:36:33 AM#18

They'd have to get a lot, lot better with the procedural and directed experience based on code than pure randomness.

But I could see such a game where you had a more extensive character bio, the game creates you an adventure - kind of like a 20-30 hour quest line including dungeons, boss encounters, some open world exploration, etc.

And you could choose to invite friends/guildies to your custom built adventure, or the game could give you opportunities to group with other players along the way that answered similarly in their bios.

But the idea is you have a start and finish to this adventure. Then another one is generated for you. Over time, of course, they'd start to feel a lot more repetitive and random, but hopefully with some more advanced coding and processing power, some clever developers, and post-launch updates to add in more variables and possible scenarios, maybe build adventures with a given theme and then switch them every few months etc. would help keep the game fresh.

But it's either something like that or the current sandbox vs. themepark model - players as content or "everyone flows through the same content"

Now Playing: Destiny

  lizardbones

Elite Member

Joined: 6/11/08
Posts: 10635

I think with my heart and move with my head.-Kongos

11/27/13 10:46:34 AM#19


Originally posted by Sandric
While I agree with the sentiment I do not believe 1) that the technology is there yet and 2) the current market/climate would not give it the time of day because its not what they think they want.  


I think it really depends on how you market the game. If you marketed the game as a D&D directed experience, then yeah, it would probably fold. However, if you hit all the talking points about "living world", "dynamic quests" and "choosing your own path", and then delivered on day one, the market might be very happy with the game.

I agree with the tech though. Yeah, we might be close, but we're not at the point where we can supply a desktop PC's worth of processing per user for every user connected to a server.

For every large, complex problem, there is a simple, clear solution that also happens to be absolutely wrong.

  olepi

Hard Core Member

Joined: 1/15/07
Posts: 1001

11/27/13 10:47:37 AM#20

I would make this optional. I like games that are virtual worlds, where I can choose what I want to do. Picking flowers all day, chasing butterflies. Or going from town to town, playing card games. Searching out new places to dig for mats. Deciding to see what's over that mountain range.

What I don't want to see is "You've finished task A1A, now go to location X, and do task A1B." Although this could be in the game, it should be optional.

------------
RIP City of Heroes. One of my favorite MMO's.

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