Moo Tang Clan: World centric or player centric?

Friday, November 12, 2010

World centric or player centric?

Via Syp over at BioBreak:

“How many times will a developer promise me that my decisions will impact the world before I actually see it?”
~ KvanCetre @ Massively

... when the world itself is designed to be the game, with player participation a secondary consideration.

What I mean by this is first design a world, populated with whatever is in that world, and design it such that those things are determined by the other things in the world. Make the world a dynamic model, even absent of players. Design and develop the world such that, even if no players ever logged in, the fates and fortunes of the world inhabitants will ebb and flow.

Now, add players. (Then fix all the bits that get broken by adding players).

Contrast this with what you've likely seen a few times now: design a world as a static landscape, add players, and then add mechanisms for players to affect that world. The design of such a world is entirely player centric - without players exploring their personal destinies (aka "consuming content") the world effectively ceases to exist.


Glyph, the Architect said...

I think that, for a world to exist that continues onwards whether the player plays or not, requires one major piece of the puzzle that we don't really have yet: AI. It would be needed to give the NPCs the means to accomplish their goals. At least it would in any game that was suitably complex enough to be interesting. They would need to be able to plan military campaigns, manipulate economies, set up and administrate towns, cities, farms, and other resource sources. They would also need to interact with each other in meaningful ways, though we already have the Sims so this part is possible.

The task appears to be a massive one to get all of the pieces connected together properly so everything runs mostly smoothly and doesn't come grinding to a halt due to unforseen circumstances. Even if there were a developer who would take up such a massive undertaking, would players really want to play in that world?

Imagine, you log in and find that your capitol city is now in ruins, occupied by enemy forces, and you are quickly being descended upon by dozens of their guards. Imagine that enemy NPC forces have taken all of your nation/faction/group's territory and you are now forced to fall back to a small bunker base with the remaining few survivors. For most games, the MMO's lure of being the hero is a primary driving force for playing. A game like this where everything marches to the beat of its own drum, regardless of player involvement, would require the player to basically live in the game world to have any sort of real impact. This would likely ruin the experience for all but the hardestcore of players.

I've always taken the "Players are able to affect the world" mantra that has been spewed from the mouths of marketers for years now to mean that the world will stay mostly how it is until the players instigate changes which then become permanent. I think that a happy medium between the two would probably be ideal. A world where the wheel of time continues to turn and the NPCs continue to try and accomplish their goals. The NPCs have a negative impact, but never to the point where it can ruin anything outright. Only to the point where it gives the players incentives to do something about it, at which point only the players can make a real and lasting difference in the world.

Garumoo said...

Good points.

The AI problem itself has a couple of facets for solving: the developers need to work out how this AI works, then they need to work out how to make it apparent to players that there is actually an AI at work and it's not just the server rolling arbitrary random dice at them, and lastly they need to allocate CPU resources to running these AI routines.

Add the various CIV games to to SIMS example, and many other strategy games, and we see it's mostly a solved problem.

Some of the complexity could be mitigated by dumbing down the AI, and explaining that in the lore of the game. Maybe the world is populated by neanderthals and trogs, and the players are visiting aliens.

Note that the capitol city scenario can happen even today: log out in Crossroads or Halaa, and then log back some time later and you might just find it overrun with the enemy faction.

Nonetheless, having a more dynamic world does affect the likelihood of the scenario occurring, if only at least on the factional borders.

Note too that by having a dynamic player impacted world you don't need to make it quite so easy for players to mount up & raid a foreign capitol city with such impunity. You can make it such that they need to mount an entire campaign, capturing outposts, laying seige to supply routes, etc. As such players would have due warning that some place or other probably isn't a safe place to sleep.

Glyph, the Architect said...

"Note that the capitol city scenario can happen even today: log out in Crossroads or Halaa, and then log back some time later and you might just find it overrun with the enemy faction."

Although this is sort of true, I was more talking about logging into the game to find the Horde has completely (and permanently) taken over Stormwind and now you have to hoof it all the way to Ironforge to use the Auction house or a bank. This becomes a possible and extremely inconvenient possibility with AI that can continue running playerless. The Zombie invasion was cancelled because the capital cities were, to many people, completely unusable and QQ ensued everywhere on the forums.