Thursday, November 8, 2007

Admiral-Level Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Brian_Starr:
I think it would be bad for there to be any type of official player evaluation. It will happen between players, you know it will, but it could open up a chance for griefers. I could be recruited, do my job perfectly, and still make the "Captain" angry. At that point, with official crew evaluations, he could "dock" me points, give extra points to his girlfriend, or just keep them all.

From what I gather, the points will be handed out by the game mechanics. I perfer it that way. If you are a good player, people will want to play with you, if you are so-so, people will never hear of you, and if you are just terrible, people will avoid you. It happens in every on-line game I play.
I think you might be criticizing this concept a bit too hastily. While I agree that it's a bad idea in a game to give players too much power over each other, I think the concept of responsibility has enough value to be worth exploring without just dismissing it.

In particular, there are a couple of ways this game could be structured to take the sting out of the gloomy scenarios you painted.

1. Yes, sometimes you can run into a bad commander who thinks it's fun to get people to do stuff for them and then jerk them around afterwards.

So when Captains and Admirals evaluate a lower-ranked player, make those evaluations visible to the player being evaluated. Players will then be able to immediately judge which commanders are fair and which are not, and can freely choose never to serve under that commander again. (This could get slightly more complex in a fleet, but I expect there'll be enough fleets that the badly-led ones will eventually lose their members to the good ones.)

And if you really wanted to make things interesting, let players also evaluate commanders... and make that (aggregated) information visible to other players as well. Commanders who hose their officers will become as undesirable as players who regularly fail to complete their missions.

This concept of information visibility is the cornerstone of any functional trust system. There's no reason why it can't work for the social systems inside Star Trek Online.

2. Commander evaluations should be part of the overall evaluation of a mission, but only a part. The system itself should be able to detect when the conditions of a mission have been fulfilled and apply the appropriate results -- this works no differently from missions taken from NPCs.

What this means is that the system for allowing player-assigned missions must be designed such that, once a mission is accepted, the commander can't change it and has no say in whether the terms are fulfilled or not. In this it works basically like a contract -- once both parties have accepted the terms, neither can change them unilaterally; they can only be fulfilled as written or not.

There is a question here in that we might expect missions from a commanding officer to be assignments you can't refuse, rather than a contract that must be mutually agreeable to both parties. That's worth considering; for acceptable gameplay it might be necessary to allow players to refuse (some number of) commander-assigned missions even if that's not really in line with reality.

The overall point here is that, with a little effort, I think we can come up with constructive suggestions for helping a player mission system for distributing prestige points become a reasonably bullet-proof gameplay feature that's a lot of fun for many players.