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On The Virtual Precipice of Design Concepts

This blog will discuss design concepts (or game mechanics) that have yet to be implemented effectively or at all in mmorpgs. I'm not a developer, but I am a long time gamer, and especially online gamer (since 1996).

Author: Antioche

Episode 4: Finally

Posted by Antioche Saturday February 6 2016 at 8:35AM
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It has been years since I touched this blog. Honestly, I don't care if anyone reads it. It is a place to think and brainstorm, and confuse myself, and probably you as well, in the pursuit of finding some great idea. Too many commas?

In the span of time between my last post and this one I finished university, moved to Japan, got married, and started my own English school. I don't play mmorpgs anymore really, but I do monitor the genre and one game in particular. That game is Camelot Unchained. 

I titled this post Finally because Camelot Unchained represents what many of us have desired to see in an  mmorpg for the last 10 years. In fact,  it goes beyond our expectations in many ways. My own theorizing was often fantastical and perhaps impossible, but Jacobs and his team are doing something that will reshape the genre of mmorpgs forever. This is a game changer people. Anyone who can't see that should go get their vision checked, then spend a few days going over the CU site, reading everything and watching the livestream recordings. 

Obviously it won't be perfect, and it won't have everything that everyone wants, but it will break new ground. The engine alone is breaking new ground by allowing hundreds of players to fight a pitched battle in a small area simultaneously with playable framerates DESPITE the engine NOT being optimized yet. That is amazing!

CU has so many great features I won't bother to list them all, just go learn about it on your own. 

I just hope that Jacobs will consider being generous with the amazing tech he is creating by allowing other devs to license it for the other great games that could be made with it. 

That's all for now. Hopefully I will find time to post more later. 



Episode Three: The Faux Inhabitants of My Virtual World

Posted by Antioche Sunday March 1 2009 at 5:01PM
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One of the things that is, usually, enjoyable in a good book or movie is the interaction that occurs between the characters. The dialogue, when witty or poignant, can be quite provocative and memorable. Take a film like Snatch, for instance, or Boondock Saints. While many people might not have enjoyed the content of these films, they had some really hilarious and enoyable dialogues.

Another thing you might notice is that people, even in books and film, tend to go to sleep, wake up, and do crap during the day, and then rinse and repeat. And while this is a bit of a generalization, I feel that it is true of almost every inhabitant of the fantastical worlds we watch and read about. Unless everyone is a zombie in the book you're reading, or an insomniac, there tends to be some semblance of life as we might see it in the real world.

"What's the point?", you may be asking. Well, look at the mmorpgs you've played lately. How many of the npcs, or players, take time to sleep, go to the bathroom (in game), or eat meals (again, in game). Uhhh, none? With all of the advances that have been made concerning scripting in raids and such, why are the npcs so static and unbelievable? Well, most likely it is because developers fear that if a banker npc decided to call it for the day and go home, the players would have a fit. And while I can conjure up some semblance of sympathy I must acknowledge that the virtual world would be richened by a properly implemented ai for npcs.

If shops closed for the night, and people went home to spend time with their families you would suddenly have a real community, with families, and that would mean they would have needs too. And imagine if these npcs could carry on conversations with each other, and players. They might talk about what they did the day before, what they'll be doing tomorrow, the latest events in the town/city/village/whatever, about their families, about politics, religion, or about making a deal. And if the world around them was never exactly the same as the day before then what they would have to say would always change.

And given the change in seasons, in weather, and other changes everything would be able to change over time. And this would make the world much more believable, because a static world is boring and predictable. This predictability is great if you eat McDonald's everyday, some of us like to see things change in the world we live, whether things get better or worse, we know that they will continue to change.

Now let's consider a family unit: father, mother, son, dog. They live in a city. The father is a banker, his wife is a magician who teaches at the local academy of magic arts, their son has shown some promise in the field of magic and is attending the academy. Every morning they get up and eat breakfast together. Then the father heads to the bank, and his wife and son to the academy. The wife might serve as a teacher for players in the academy, while her son would, of course, learn new spells. Everyone would age over time.

In the evening they would all leave their places of learning and work and head home. They might eat dinner, and then spend time together, or head to the entertainment district (assuming it isn't too seedy of a place). The son would be anxious to show his father some of the new spells he'd learn. They would all talk out loud, and if you were in the room with them you'd hear each other their voices.

Now let's imagine the father was offered a bribe to look the other way during a robbery that will happen in a few days. He refused the bribe, but was afraid to tell the police because he didn't want his family to be involved. So the person who attempted the bribe hires an assasin to kill the father, which the assassin is able to accomplish.

Now the assassin would need to be hunted down, and of course law enforcement would need to try to figure out who had done it, and no stupid game mechanics would tell people the name of the player, or npc, who had done it. The wife of the banker would be able to use magic to help identify the assassin, or perhaps to locate him. And players or npcs could be hired to hunt him.

Oh, that brings up another point. The cycle of birth and life and death would also need to be part of a virtual world as well. And, personally I think permanent death is worth a shot, but not with any current games. But that's another blog for another day.


Episode Two: The Worlds We've Dreamed Of

Posted by Antioche Sunday March 1 2009 at 4:22PM
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In my last blog I talked about systems of relationships that exist in the real world as well as the general makeup of a society. Today I am going to discuss the worlds that exist in the imaginations of humans. Fantasy worlds that have been crafted for the purpose of telling a story, or set of stories, are numerous. They exist in literature, film, television, and of course video games. The best ones are full of life, full of conflict, full of scary monster and sadistic villains, and best of all, full of great food. =) One thing they tend to be scarce on are heroes, these seem to come in small quantity so that their acts might be all the more amazing and heroic. (This presents a practical dilemma for people making 'games' around such worlds.)

They are also full of dialogue. At the heart of relationships is the need for communication. Yet the communication in the mmorpgs tends to be stunted, and lacks creativity, or appeal. There's little narrative being told in the conversations between two people in a mmorpg. This presents yet another problem.

As another person who recently blogged on suggest one of the things we really need is a believable world. We need to create the illusion that there is a certain routine within each day in the virtual world. One where people awaken and eat breakfast, and go to work, or school. Where the sun rises and sets, and rain clouds roll in. Where earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes, and forest fires wreak havoc upon the land. And rebuilding becomes part of life. One where wars take place, not indefinitely, but for a period of time. Which real battles, real objectives to defend a piece of land, and the potential for loss of that land. A place when a character could grow old and learn things, and change things. A place where this alter ego could attain power in this virtual world, whether it be a religious following, or political power, or military might. One might gain followers (real and artificial), and seek to take hold of a nation, or make his/her own. All of this would be possible.

All of these things have occured in books I've read, and much stranger of course. It is the potential for a much more fantastical experience that lures us in. We want something extraordinary as well. Yet I feel that we must tend to the basics. Simply letting everyone be a jedi, or a death knight, or whatever might sound nice from a "Let's please everybody" point of view, but in practice it doesn't make for a convincing virtual world. Especially when the nitty gritty details are left unattended in favor of simply throwing as much magical crap at a player as possible in the hopes they won't mind the shoddy virtual world they live in.

Another thing that wrankles with me is the use of "mob spawns" as a place where players should go to gain experience. With the token grindy quests to assist the player in his/her pursuit of the next level. It seems to me that conflict need not occur everywhere, and certainly it shouldn't simply be expected. While dangers can and will be sought out by the adventurous type, I don't feel that angry badgers and bullfrogs need inhabit the shire (for instance). Why can't the shire be a peaceful place? Tolkein certainly portrayed it as such. And while there were a few places that were dangerous (like the woods with those trees), most were quite harmless and peaceful. In crafting a virtual world it is wise to consider creating beautiful and serene spaces for the inhabitants to enjoy without feeling threatened. While towns and cities are nice for this, places in natural settings are just as good, if not better in some ways. Druids tend to feel this way, as do shamans.

Ok, I think I've rambled enough in this blog. If you have any questions, or suggestions please comment. I enjoy hearing what people have to say, especially if you disagree. =)

In my next episode, which I will write shortly, I am going to discuss two points I brought up here: the need for dialogue, and the need for daily routines of npc mobs in a virtual world.

Episode One: The World We Live In

Posted by Antioche Saturday February 28 2009 at 12:34PM
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Many people make the assumption, and rightly so, that people play video games in order to escape the realities of our real lives. Gamers want to be heroes and villains, to fight for honor and revenge and love, to take what they please or die trying, to shape the virtual worlds they inhabit in ways they could NEVER hope to shape the real world they live in. Of course in real life I am but a lowly student, with piles of debt, a part-time job, and a gaming monkey on my back. Yet I am increasingly finding it more difficult to justify spending my time and money on these games which offer so a poor experience. I often feel as I enter many of these virtual worlds that I would have a better time awkwardly pretending to cast lightning bolts on very-uncomfortable pedestrians in downtown Grand Rapids. Why is this? Why have we all settled for a "safe is best" approach to the virtual worlds we choose to inhabit? Do we really want our virtual lives to be as banal as our real ones? Is a casual style of play synonymous with desiring the safe mediocrity of existence in my virtual life as in my real one? Much to our shame I believe this is the case. Now I would urge my fellow gamers to push themselves out of the comfort zones they have created and demand that the next generation of mmorpgs, virtual worlds, entrust their virtual inhabitants with the duty of becoming so much more than they could ever hope to be in their real lives, whether for good or ill.

So what does this mean practically? What needs to change? Is this just a lame argument for perma-death, or other hardcore game mechanics? Certainly not! And while the danger of such a repercussion drastically changes a person's choices in a virtual world, it is not a prerequisite for an experience that surpasses what we have currently settled for. Let us instead look to more subtle concepts within the realms of our collective experiences. I would consider the fantasy/sci-fi novel to be a great inspiration to anyone seeking to craft vast worlds never before explored. But first, we shall begin with the world we live in.

Consider for a moment the country you were born in. You have no doubt studied its history. You are aware of the way people live, the cultures that shape the city you live in or near. These cultures affect art, architecture, food, and religious practices. There are the political groups, and the systems of government that help to maintain order, or control the lives of the people. There are religious sects, movements, and orders. There are educational institutions, and the philosophies that they are based on. There  is the private sphere of businesses. There are powerful people in all of these spheres, leaders of commerce, politics, religion, and education. They have followers, and they have opponents. All of this is part of the world you live in, whether you pay attention to it or not. And all of it affects your life in ways you may not even realize. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that the connections we have to these systems and people are what influence our lives. As we participate more in any one of these areas of our societies we develop relationships with others who are also involved in that societal sphere. These relationships are important because they are not closed entities. No man is an island.

The concept of weak and strong ties in social networking is applicable. Imagine person 'A' is involved in law enforcement and religion. 'A' has several strong ties within both the religion and government spheres. Let's say that those strong ties are with persons 'G1', 'G2', and 'R'.  Person 'R' also has strong ties, but predominantly in the religion sphere. Now 'R' strong ties are weak ties to 'A'. And this would also be true of 'G1' and 'G2', but perhaps each has a more diverse group of strong ties. And of course this goes out and out, like a giant net. Plus add familial ties into the equation. It becomes complex quickly. Yet this is a very real part of life, that has not been effectively made use of in a virtual world.

How might this concept be used in virtual worlds? I'll save that for my next blog.