Friday, October 12, 2007

Types of Character Power in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Let's examine this notion of Knowledge-power. What is it really, and what kinds of MMORPG features would help to generate it?

Based on the MMORPGs currently out there, we know without a doubt that within an hour after the game launches, someone will already be writing "here's how to find/do X" entries in a Wiki somewhere. Worse yet, there are even games like WoW that actually allow this kind of thing to be automated (thottbot as powered by Cosmos).

But there's something important to note here: this kind of knowledge is player knowledge. It's information from inside the gameworld that's stored and organized and exposed outside the gameworld for players to use -- it's not stuff that your character knows. That works for Achievers, for whom characters are little more than vehicles to be driven around inside the gameworld, but it's not much fun for Explorers or roleplaying Socializers who prefer to treat the gameworld (and the characters in it) as plausibly believable.

Well, what about changing that dynamic? What if in-game lore were designed to have a more direct connection to character-based gameplay? What if knowledge was something that your character could learn, and that only has an effect inside the game world if your character knows it?

This wouldn't be like gear because a tool is something you can pick up and put down -- once you have knowledge, it stays with you. Knowledge is also unlike gear in that although only one person at a time can own an individual piece of gear, an individual bit of knowledge can be held by many people.

Character knowledge also wouldn't be a like a class-based ability because it's not something that's intrinsic to your character (which a class is). It's also not quite like a skill, although these two are similar. The difference is that while a skill is essentially a new ability to do some tangible thing, knowledge is more abstract; it's information about how to do some thing, or why something works the way it does, or even just raw data about something or someone. Unlike a skill, there's not just one way to use some piece of learned information.

The most common way to acquire knowledge also distinguishes it from gear or abilities. Whereas you learn new abilities by leveling up (in a class/level model) or repeating some behavior for appropriate XP (in a skill model), and you gain new gear by picking it up, looting it, buying it, or trading for it, knowledge is typically acquired in three ways:

Observation is just interacting with the world. Being in the right place at the right time can yield knowledge if you're ready and able to perceive it -- that's how Bilbo figured out how to get into Smaug's cave. In computer games, talking to NPCs is an even more common way of a character acquiring information.

Education is sort of the passive version of knowledge-collection compared to the more active approach of observation. Educational knowledge -- seen in more works of fantasy than we can count as "wizarding colleges" and such-like -- means you don't go looking for knowledge; the knowledge comes to you. Of course, it's coming to a lot of characters at the same time... but some characters are more receptive to educational knowledge than others, no?

Finally, induction and deduction are ways of generating new knowledge from existing knowledge. Characters who are in possession of three key facts might be able to induce a general principle from them. This principle would be a new piece of knowledge that could in turn be use to deduce additional facts about the gameworld.

So what about "knowledge" seen in this light, then? Does it make this kind of character power look a little more attractive? Or does keying knowledge to characters instead of players seem too difficult to include in a MMORPG?