Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by DougQB:
Couldn't we strive for something a bit more abstract and still achieve the same type of results?
I don't think so. As I see it, you can abstract out gameworld behaviors (i.e., make the world simpler and more predictable), or you can have interesting gameworld behaviors, but not both.

"Simpler and more predictable" isn't necessarily a bad thing. From the typical MMORPG developer's point of view, a game where you don't know exactly how the gameworld will look after a while is a threat to gameplay because it means you can't control it. That's not an unreasonable concern if your sole aim is to force the game to provide exactly the kind of gameplay experience you think it should provide. (I might even argue that this could be considered a responsibility of a game designer.)

My problem is that not every gamer wants a predictable experience. Sure, you could make faction as simple as it is in most MMORPGs -- one per NPC. That would be nicely controllable. It would also be incredibly boring, because we've already seen that in multiple games; we know its texture; it's easily gamable. Where's the surprise? Where's the joy of encountering a situation you didn't expect? Where's the satisfaction of being part of a truly dynamic, living gameworld, where the NPCs have attitudes and goals and allegiances shift over time just like they would for any group of sentient beings?

The major concern about this "multifaction" concept seems to be that groups who we expect would always cooperate -- like Starfleet Command and the Federation Council -- might have their faction changed toward each other so much that they'd start fighting each other. About this concern, two comments:

1. If this is considered too loosey-goosey, you could put fenceposts on the faction level of groups that are "supposed to" like each other. In other words, you just tack on an extra bit of code that checks the current amount when some action initiates a request for a change of group vs. group faction, and if it's already at the desired limit doesn't allow faction to get any better or worse.

2. Alternatively, suppose that groups who normally like each other were allowed to develop negative faction toward each other. So? What if the game was so well-written that changes in group faction like this generated story-based missions and other gameplay? Wouldn't that be a fascinating storyline to be a part of?

I hope it's clear that I understand the desire of those who develop multiplayer games to come up with designs that provide a reasonable assurance that most players will have fun.

My point is that not every gamer wants the same kind of fun. Yes, some want a highly controlled play experience, where nothing is left to chance and everyone always knows exactly what to do next... but not everyone is into that. Some gamers prefer a world that breathes, where part of the fun is seeing what's different when you visit. What about these gamers?

Those who prefer static and predictable content can and should have it, as they do in current MMORPGs... but those who prefer dynamic and surprising content should have some features supporting their preferred gameplay as well.

I think the multifaction concept described in this thread could be one small way of achieving that latter goal.