Thursday, October 18, 2007

Diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by DougQB:
I agree, but I also wonder if a math wiz would care to give us some calculations on the amount of data we're talking about as we increase the number of groups and individuals we're tracking this information on? Maybe if we keep our server population small, say 2,000 to 3,000 active characters, and who knows how many more players and characters offline? How many groups and factions? What about NPCs? For that matter, how long should we track this data? Keep in mind, these are just some, but by no means all, of the possibilities!
Oh, I think we can avoid needing to fly Stephen Hawking in for the weekend.

Assuming we start with the usual simple faction system, the multi-faction concept as I've described it can be implemented substantially with just three modifications:

1. Additional records in an existing "group" table to record faction against other known groups.
2. Additional records in an existing "player faction" table to record faction against known groups and NPCs.
3. Additional records in an existing "NPC faction" table to record faction against known groups and players.
It's important to see here that word "known" -- it means you don't need a record for every possible interaction; you only add or select a record if the two entities have ever encountered each other. If your character never interacts with Bob the NPC, there'll never be a record in the database documenting the quality of that interaction. Only if you and Bob interact will there need to be records written.

(For that matter, note that some items from groups 2 and 3 could be merged if NPC/player faction is always the same in both directions -- you only need one database record to track both reactions.)

I know you understand that for a serious MMORPG we're already talking about hundreds of database tables for storing game information. In my judgement, adding some additional records to two or three tables (which are already going to exist if faction is implemented at all) out of hundreds seems unlikely to produce the kind of combinatorial explosion you're implying.

Factor in the run-time behavior, wherein none of these records will be getting updated all that often (only at those moments when characters and/or groups need to check or update faction), and I think you're seriously overestimating the potential technical issues with implementing this idea.

Now, if you wanted to argue against multifaction on the grounds that it might be bad for the gameplay experience somehow, you might have a stronger case. Maybe not enough Star Trek Online players would want a Star Trek universe where allegiances can slowly but constantly shift for this feature to be worth having.

I think there are plenty of gamers who would find charting this dynamic social landscape to be tremendously exciting. MMORPGs typically offer -- at best -- a trivial faction system in which every member of an NPC group somehow instantaneously likes or dislikes you to exactly the same degree. All I'm suggesting is a small but far-reaching improvement on this system so that diplomacy can be more than just some arbitrary minigame that's disconnected from anything else in the game, but would instead become an ongoing challenge to win and retain friends in an occasionally hostile galaxy.

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