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Playing to Designing, Either or.

I'll be spewing out either my experiences working with an indy team developing an MMORPG, or my experiences playing video games to fill in the gaps between univerisity classes.

Author: Munki

How to ignore the tools your given (A look at roleplaying and its under-utilisation)

Posted by Munki Sunday May 24 2009 at 7:23PM
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 I had an interesting dicussion recently both on the forums and with some friends about personality types and how in the business world we are starting to understand and take advantages of difference, yet is an often paralled competative social setting, mmorpgs, we continue with our currently one size fits all approach.

One might be able to argue that the varying archtypes appeal to different people, but I would beg to differ. Every class appeals to a competative, acheivement type personality. 
Regardless of who you are, if you want to have access to all the content of the game, you must commit to the task of gathering exp.

Role-playing while leveling still requires you to level. Playing only the fun quests and enjoying the stories still requires you to quest.
At the root of every solution is exp, goal oriented gameplay and a focus on achievement. Fundamentally we are ignoring an entire group of players.

One of the hurdles faced by designers is that if we were to have a "social leveling system" and we were to appeal it to the casual gamer. To help them "progress" it would need to require less investment than traditional leveling but as a result the goal oriented players will exploit this laxed system. Again though I would argue that no matter how you dress up exp, be it with training skills or a talent tree, you're still ultimatly creating an acheivement based system which will require so much garnish to dress up as a social system it leaves it vulnerable to exploitation.
What I propose is an entirly different system in which social players are given tools, abilities, responsibilites and limits that the acheivments playres do not. Rolling a roleplaying character if you will.

At its root level it would be a character with no levels, it would be a character that simply exists and explores. The focus of this character is to meet people, find places and attend events. Gather titles, roleplaying powers and extend its social network.
The benifits? a social presence and the ability to receive special considerations.

If an acheivment minded player was given the power to give a buff that nobody else could give, it would be exploited. Either for profit, progression or status.
If a roleplayer who has attended hundreds of player run events and regularly holds a tournament at the start of spring (in game) was given the ability to grant a blessing, Id be willing to bet he would use this power as a reward for a valiant warrior who bested other in a tournament of champions.

When an acheivment minded player is given a new ability, they find out how they can use it to get ahead, what is to say that a social minded player wouldnt do the same? The difference here is how they would be getting ahead...

What does a seasoned, respected member of the role-playing community stand to gain from handing out a buff blindly for gold. Not much.
What does a seasons respected roleplayed gain from having a power that would bring players from all around to play and enjoy in his/her story... A lot.

The fundamental difference here is that the social player wants to be social, create events, meet others and create an avatar that is part of the world. Why not let them?
If you look at the audience of roleplayers you will find people who are eager to share stories, ideas and create meaningful adventures. To them beating a boss isnt as much a reward as being hailed as the fabled master blacksmith from the Country of Zibane. A calm man who once every few years holds a tournamnet at the royal courts of the king where the victor is presented with a one of a kind weapon.

Here we have roleplayers working toward a goal, an event and establishing themselves. On the acheivment side we are given a much more realisitic, authentic and beleiveable world.
Here we see roleplaying that benifits them in their goal to acheive.

Im not saying this would be an easy dance to mange. This would have to be a very elloquently implented tango, but the results could be a game that provides an enviroment that allows a radically under-utilized market to be realized and used to the benifit of everyone involved.

There is no doubt that nobody will be able to beat wow at what it does, but perhaps finding a way to include more players of varying playstyles, with radically different(and clashing) goals and idea in a way that is constructive to both will be the way to userp the current kings of the market.

Design a game.

Posted by Munki Thursday April 3 2008 at 2:36PM
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To keep as vague as possible and respect the wishes of my fellow teammates, im keeping the perticulars of our game a little under the radar, but in this blog I want to give people a little heads up on just how much work a design document can be, and things I've found very useful on this project.

The first thing I was to say is that a wiki is glorious. At first we were just typing things up and uploading, but when multiple people were updating the same subject, version would be overwritten and it was chalked full of issues.
Thats when the wiki came along. This marvel of technology allowed parts to be updated in unison as well as being attractive and easy to access from any computer. It really helped us get ideas in there when people could just log in and pop em on.

I cant recommend a wiki enough, but that aside, lets get to the real meat and potatoes of this post.

Atleast in my mind, creating the world people play in is the next best thing to god. Being that Im not too qualified for the latter position, Ive been working towards the design job since I was a wee little man. That being said, nobody ever mentioned just how hard it was to get your ideas into a game.

It starts with an idea, a broad, cool idea that you think would be fun. You type it out and there ya go. Then another one comes are you write it down. Repeat this untill you've got all these ideas, but absolutly nothing to tie them together. As I am slowly learning, this is the hardest part.
How can you plant a tree, and have this really cool skill system, all while keeping things in the scope of the original idea.

This is where a LOT of our design meetings sat still for the first while. Stapling all these ideas together into an attractive package can be daunting, but if you love what your doing its worth it. I have yet to meet the satisfaction ive felt after reading through ideas, walking around, thinking and then it his you. You change one thing, call this something else, tack on a few little extras and BAM it fits like a glove. Sometimes Ive had one idea that became part of another which explained another and it all just fell into place. This is how we came up with our current plan for a skill system.

I HIGHLY reccomend learning how other games work. Take a game you love and break it down. Not just into little peices, little LITTLE peices.

Here is another example of a problem I ran into when designing the skill system:
When we were designing, how skill and abilities would be designed, we were at a loss on how to do it. We've all played numerous online and offline games, we all knew how skills worked... but we had no idea how they WORKED.

sounds funny I know but if you actually take the time to think about it, what peices do you put together to create a skill. We went through a couple ideas, some of them were actually good, other were gross and messy. The coders were all on a stand still on this issue untill the design team had sorted it out.

Being a cosc major I strived for something elegant and simple.. yet powerful. I loaded up RPG after MMORPG, thinking how the skills worked, but short of parsing a simple coding language, I was left with somewhat powerful solutions, but none had the grace and simplicity of what I needed.

Then I logged on WoW a few days later and was in an instance with some friends when we went up againsed a mob. Cant remember for the life of me who/what it was but it had a skill I was curious about so I popped onto WoWhead and looked it up. From there is had a breakdown of the skill.
In WoW abilities are defined by effects.
You can define an effect as a conjuction of the group of pre-defined/programmed effects. Then you can further define more complex effects using those effects you just made.

From there everything just sorta fell into place. The way we implemented it im sure its probably different from wows but we took the idea of defining more complex effects as a composition of the predefined ones and from there we've been able to create what I think is a VERY powerful, yet simple system for designing not only the player useable abilities, but buffs, items, armor, everything. For armor we give it a predefined armor effect, toss in the armor stats, give it buffs. It was beautiful how it all just fell into place.


In closing, Solving design issues can be a daunting task. Trying to tie everything together is harder than it looks at usually the simplest solution is the best. Don't just go with the best of the first few ideas and never except a solution when you know there is a better one out there. Sometimes it takes time but in the end its worth it, or at least so far it has been in my experiences.

The man, the myth, the Munki

Posted by Munki Wednesday April 2 2008 at 2:05AM
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WoW, could I cliche that more please?

Anywho, I go my Munki on the MMORPG forums, or Sparkky/Tyar on any other game or forum. Why I chose Munki on these forums even I dont remember, I think I created this account to make some angry response back when I was but a young pup... Well I still use it and keep it just incase there is a person out there who actually wishes to read what I have to say.

As for what this blog is about, Im currently working as a programmer/lead designer/business man for a small indy team of 10 University Students. Were working on a MMORPG project that goes off in a different direction, without actually leaving the well worn and familiar path of fun and familiarity.
Im learning more than I ever thought I would and Its changing the way I play games, and the way I look at every aspect of games themselves.

Its either that for second year Philosophy, which is a subject I HIGHLY recommend for even the most hardcore of science students by the way. Arguing with a fellow COSC (computer science for those liberal art majors our there) like programming in Python, quick, easy and simple.

So in the future look forward to my adventures as a new indy game designer. My exploits as a student who plays, for lack of a better word, lots of video games, and the insightful advice that got my minstrel guild stickied on the LOTRO forums for looong past its expiration date.