Monday, October 15, 2007

Diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG +

I've long held that the game mechanism of faction is an area that's woefully underutilized in MMORPGs. Faction is memory! The problem is that individual NPCs are no more than perfect representatives of a group memory -- everybody in that group somehow holds exactly the same faction toward the player, and they all update their faction toward the player the instant it changes with respect to any individual NPC who belongs to the group. Oh, and NPC groups can't have faction toward each other.

That's all pretty strange, isn't it?

Letting players have different ratings with different factions is a good start, but there's so much more that could be done with this concept that would help the game world feel more dynamic and more responsive to what players do. Diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG would be a great way to showcase this possibility.

Consider just these three extensions to the basic notion of player faction with NPC groups:

1. Tag in-game actions to have multiple factional effects.
2. Allow NPC groups to have faction toward each other.
3. Design the Diplomacy Game in Star Trek Online around adjusting the faction of NPCs towards the diplomat's client(s).
Let's take those first two ideas first. Most computer-based RPGs already allow for player actions with respect to an individual NPC to affect the player's standing with respect to the one group to which that NPC is coded to belong. But why stop there?

Suppose that I, as a Starfleet officer, save a stranded Romulan NPC from death. My faction with several groups is high enough so that I am considered a member of those groups. The Romulan, in turn, belongs to several other groups. So what kinds of factional changes could my saving a Romulan's life produce among all these individuals and groups?

Here are some (but by no means all) possibilities:

  • I gain 50 "personal faction" with the individual Romulan NPC I saved.
  • I gain 3 faction with Romulan Fleet Command.
  • I gain 5 faction with Starfleet Command.
  • I gain or lose some amount of faction with my NPC commanding officer based on the strength and direction of his/her feeling toward Romulans.
  • I gain 10 faction with the Federation Council.
  • Starfleet Command gains 2 faction with the Federation Council.
  • I gain 20 faction with the civilian Federation-Romulan Benevolent Society.
  • I lose 3 faction with Starfleet Security.
  • I gain 3 faction with Section 31. (Note: Official records contain no reference to any such organization as "Section 31.")
  • Starfleet gains 2 faction with the Romulan I saved.
  • Starfleet gains 1 faction with Romulan Fleet Command.
  • The Romulan I saved loses 10 faction with the Tal Shiar.
Now take my individual action and add it up with all my other actions, and all the actions of the other players on my server, and across several weeks and months and years of play.

Suddenly the game world gets a bit more interesting, doesn't it? For example, what happens to the Federation's relations with the Klingon Empire if so many players play kissy-face with Romulan NPCs that the UFP and Romulan Star Empire eventually have high faction with each other?

Talk about your dynamic game universes!

My third suggestion builds on this notion of multiple groups who can change faction with each other -- call it "multifaction." As a diplomat, making that happen would be your task. In other words, the art of diplomacy would consist of taking on a client (by accepting a mission from an NPC member of a group) who wants you to raise their faction with a particular group. If you succeed to some preset level, then perhaps you earn a commission -- 10% of the factional improvement, maybe.

Of course, by doing so you may lose -- or gain -- faction with other groups who have an interest in preserving or changing the status quo wherever you went. And that in turn could lead to new offers of diplomatic missions from groups who like you better now, or to being opposed by members of groups who've consistently lost faction because of your diplomatic triumphs.

And what about diplomats who are inconsistent, who serve one client today and serve their enemies tomorrow? What if a group could recognize when their faction toward you shifts back and forth repeatedly?

And what happens when there are multiple diplomats in action, some working together, some working at cross-purposes, and some whose goals are diametrically opposed to those of other diplomats?

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