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Author Topic: Is actual RP in MMORPGs another next impossible thing?  (Read 9339 times)
Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #60 on: January 28, 2009, 11:51:50 PM »

I've been silent but watching this thread, because I never felt I could add something not already added ... but,

Patrice and Caldis, even if you're playing an MMORPG and on your own, is it not still "sharing"? If I build my own computer game and explore it myself, I would agree, but the land of Azeroth from WoW, Urza from MTG, or Narnia from .. well you know .. they're all fictional places that are being shared with me by someone else. If I show you a picture of a fantastical event, play a song or recite a poem I wrote, I'm sharing what's in my imagination with you. With online games, the idea of "exploration" is even there too, because I'm not presented with the whole concept linearly, I can instead wander through it at my leisure.

Granted, this may ALL be a huge aside because even though it's all technically "sharing" and "exploration", it doesn't really help us as designers of TT RPGs, but I think it's a valid point to make.
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Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #61 on: January 29, 2009, 11:45:53 AM »


There is some validity to your point however the sharing is all happening in only one direction.  The actions of the player have no impact on the designer.  So play in an MMO that only deals with what has been programmed into the game is like a table top player only playing with the rulebooks of a system and no other players.   

Can we discuss this aspect of play?  Sure, but it is entirely different than what the theory looks at and so using the terms (like exploration) may not be all that useful. 
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Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


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« Reply #62 on: January 29, 2009, 01:26:50 PM »

In table top games you don't have an impact on the designer/the actual author of the game, either.


Patrice: The word 'Exploration' doesn't really mean anything to me at a personal level. It's a word that acts as shorthand for a longer description someone made up.

If I looked hard enough into what it meant to me personally, I would start inventing my own version of what it refers to, rather than trying to understand what the author personally meant. Which is a kind of creative denial.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #63 on: January 30, 2009, 11:59:17 AM »

I think there is more agreement here than not, the disagreement seems to be mostly wrestling with abstracts and jargon. So I'm probably saying the same things you all have, just in my own way. Maybe a slightly different angle on the issue will help.


Point: You can play TTRPGs via chat client. ***
Point: Every MMO I have played includes a chat client.

Therefore, you can run a tabletop-style RPG in an MMO. Not kinda-sorta, no question of "is there an SIS", but a complete, no-holds-barred-break-out-the-Big-Model RPG. Use any System you like. There is absolutely no reason why you couldn't run a 2-year Traveler campaign using World of Warcraft as your communication platform. In fact, the 3D emotes and avatars should really contribute a feeling of "being together" you wouldn't get from just a chat client. Add in a voice server and all you're missing is the argument over where to buy pizza.

Now, the real question y'all are asking is, at a very high level, "how do certain kinds of technology facilitate or fail to facilitate TTRPGs?" More specifically, given a specific feature set such as today's World of Warcraft, which tools/features should we incorporate into our System and how should we go about doing it? Then there's the flip side of that coin: given our desire to play TTRPGs online, what kind of tools and features do we want that don't exist yet?

This is the essence of your "parasite" discussion. Yes, you really are playing some kind of free-form TTRPG using mainly the chat client and 3D emotes of your avatars. Your frustration arises from having (and paying for!) all this other stuff around you which looks great but is essentially useless for your purposes.

I think the root of this problem goes waaaaaay back to the dawn of single player "RPGs" and especially MUDs. Programmers made a fatal mistake: they proceeded under the assumption that the Developer's role was to be the GM rather than the Game Designer. This is doomed to fail because the GM is a full participant in play and must have 2-way, real-time interaction with the players. Enter Neverwinter Nights which had the right idea but couldn't deliver (IMHO) regarding the real-time demands on the GM. (Also consider the possibility that having a GM may not be desirable in this medium.)


So you have two branches to this topic:

1) What can Developers/Designers/Publishers do to help future games support our online TTRPG experience?

2) How do we design a good and proper System which is well suited to the medium of today's MMOs? What works and what doesn't?

The first branch is Game Design in the sense used by software engineers and publishers, but the second is absolutely Forge Big Model Theory and its application.


DISCLAIMER:

*** I'm a long-time avid TTRPG fan. I've logged a couple thousand hours in MMOs but have never in fact played a TTRPG via chat.

** I must admit I skimmed through some of this thread. If I'm way off topic, please pardon the interruption by a Johnny-come-lately.
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Patrice
Member

Posts: 133


« Reply #64 on: January 30, 2009, 04:17:47 PM »

I thank you four very much for contributing to keep the topic forward, trying to solve the issues it has raised lately. I want to try to take your all points in and give it a different aim, fed by what you brought in these. Despite my initial claim, we've been way too far, or so it seems, into sterile theory. I wasn't least to play this game of words and I gladly accept your idea to shake it off and to move on because that would lead us nowhere, except maybe questioning our understanding of the Big Model notions, which is not the matter of this thread. That wouldn't be a creative denial to question our understanding, Callan, but that would lead us deeper astray instead of solving anything. In short, you're right, let's move on.

I love the branches John Adams has set, they are very practical issues and would relate to actual play experience. They capture the purpose of our debate since our questioning has to lead somewhere.

I first want to answer Dan and Callan about Caldis' statement:

Quote
There is some validity to your point however the sharing is all happening in only one direction.  The actions of the player have no impact on the designer.  So play in an MMO that only deals with what has been programmed into the game is like a table top player only playing with the rulebooks of a system and no other players.   

Can we discuss this aspect of play?  Sure, but it is entirely different than what the theory looks at and so using the terms (like exploration) may not be all that useful.

John says pretty much the same when he goes like this:

Quote
Programmers made a fatal mistake: they proceeded under the assumption that the Developer's role was to be the GM rather than the Game Designer. This is doomed to fail because the GM is a full participant in play and must have 2-way, real-time interaction with the players.

This leads us to understand the sharing thing. The players of a TTRPG share with their GM, not the players of a MMO because they have none. They haven't dropped the GM like a few TTRPGs in which the players all tell, share, about what is the environment becoming, their environment doesn't change. It's a very different thing, Callan. Of course you mostly never have an impact upon a TTRPG's author, nor do you upon a MMO designer but in a TTRPG you share with the environment through your GM. In a MMO you don't. Hence John's remark that :

Quote
This is the essence of your "parasite" discussion. Yes, you really are playing some kind of free-form TTRPG using mainly the chat client and 3D emotes of your avatars. Your frustration arises from having (and paying for!) all this other stuff around you which looks great but is essentially useless for your purposes.

Now, I'll gleefully take into account whatever assumptions saying that the soft is behaving like a GM, but that wouldn't content me without a few suggestions about how to make it happen for good, because this isn't the case in the MMOs I've played.

I'll be back and sound in a few days, guys, I have a lot of work to do at the moment with pretty much tight deadlines and can't give the thread the attention I would, but surely we can carry on upon this different basis and try to answer John's questions?

Thanks again for the forget-the-theory part.
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #65 on: January 30, 2009, 05:11:31 PM »

Hi John,

Really strong evidential points there, as far as I can see, and a really useful contrast with the traveler in wow chat client example. Nice work, indeed!!

I'm not sure about your question #2. Are you asking about building a system that suits the MMO medium? Or only using elements of the MMO medium that suit the system you want to design?

And I'm not sure about your statement of GM role in computer RPG's? As far as I know, all players can roughly only have the power of characters, and it's an RPG. There doesn't have to be a player who can make mountains or dragons blink into existance, or who can design and implement whole continents. You could have just a pair of players, both with roughly the power of a single character, yet roleplaying along with each other.

I'll phrase your statement another way and you tell me what you think - when the games designers started trying to be GM as well, they ended up removing all roleplay from whatever they put in, precisely because of that lack of communication you mentioned. It doesn't matter how many mountains or streams or dragon hordes they wrote in, because if only two players are playing and they are bickering about who is going to kill the most orcs (Gimli and Legolas style), THAT is the only roleplay that is occuring. Because that bickering is A: They have communication between them and just as important B: That bickering has the ability to actually change*. They might bicker and become friends, or bicker and move onto another subject, or even go blood opera and fight each other (or scar opera, and merely duel each other).

ALL of the rest of the game world is static, because the game designers tried to play GM, but they will never be in communication with our bickering pair. And so they will never change or add to that game world after, perhaps, being inspired by that bickering. That communication line was severed, so the only RP that's going on is in that tiny space between the characters. Only in that space do A and B exist.

And in traditional MMORPGs, the only communication going on is between players and the only change going on is getting new gear (and the brief change of a dungeon full of dead NPCs - but that resets so probably on the gear change is a change). That or you go parasitic and start saying your the mayor. That gear change IS Exploration, though a strangled and tiny one. Oh, and 'spec' (for those not in the know, where you spend character points on your characters abilities - which can be reset for a fee), that's an area of communication and is part of the Exploration as well.



Heya Patrice,

I wonder if you don't see it as Exploration in the same way as you wouldn't see bugs as food? But in some countries insects are part of the common diet. Here, gear changing and respecing and the talking about it all (I can pull multiple threads of talk about this from RPG.net, per week) is a communicated environement and it's an environment that changes based on that communication. It's Exploration, even though to a table top roleplayer its Exploration as much as bugs are food. Were spoilt!

Oh, cross post!
Quote
but in a TTRPG you share with the environment through your GM. In a MMO you don't.
This is exactly what I was just getting at. There is a changing environment the players are in communication with each other about - changing gear and changing specs is that environment. That's probably environment to you about as much as bugs are edible. But bugs are food - and this is an environment that they are communicating about and it is an environment that is changing because of that communication.

Anyway, there seems to be an incredibly strong parallel here that indicates the exact same thing is happening in either case (Exploration). I think I've shown evidence of that paralel, but I'm not sure.

* On a side note, I think the Exploration definitions at the forge are probably supposed to have B in them, but only focus ALOT on A for some reason? I'll grant someone can't be inspired by your ideas if they can't hear you, but hearing you is hardly the most important thing even so.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #66 on: February 02, 2009, 06:56:07 AM »

I'm not sure about your question #2. Are you asking about building a system that suits the MMO medium? Or only using elements of the MMO medium that suit the system you want to design?

For clarity, when I'm talking about bits and bytes, I'll say software explicitly, as in "the software design". When I say System, I mean it in the Big Model sense, as applicable to table-top style role-playing using whatever medium.

So in this case what I'm getting at is that when your MMO role-playing experience is frustrating or feels too limited, one of the following is likely the problem.

1) Your System relies on features of the software to do things they were not designed to do
2) Part of your System does what it needs to do without reference to the software, and crossing the boundary between software and pure imagination creates a jarring sensation as you play. In particular, you might wish that the software handled this part of the System too.
3) Any kind of System problem that could arise at the table-top or any medium. This is even more likely because the System is probably loosely defined, frequently changing and largely implicit or (mis)understood.

The challenge seems to be to ...

A) Work out a System which avoids (1) and (3) while minimizing (2), working within existing MMO limitations
B) Identify software features which could address (2). Some might be feasible modifications to existing MMOs, others might require a complete re-thinking of the current MMO software model.


Quote
There doesn't have to be a player who can make mountains or dragons blink into existance ...

I'll phrase your statement another way and you tell me what you think - when the games designers started trying to be GM as well, they ended up removing all roleplay from whatever they put in, precisely because of that lack of communication you mentioned.

Yes! Let me break that down a little further. There are some tasks traditionally left to the GM which software can handle very, very well. Managing complex rules for instance. Providing almost anything which would fall under Setting is another. But software designers didn't stop there, they went as far as they could to imitate a Story Before GM style, and to a large extent, that works: as long as you are content to follow the trail of bread crumbs and take the quests as the "GM" hands them out you're fine.

My own play from a few years ago bears a striking resemblance to a lot of MMO play, and I'm afraid neither was very satisfying for me, and for the same reasons.

AP illustration. A few years ago I was running Story Before in a detailed hand-made Setting and as usual I was getting burned out. Coming up with new ideas week after week and doing all of the heavy lifting myself was a chore. I was reading the Forge frequently, and suddenly it dawned on me that there were 5 other highly creative people sitting at my table doing nothing. The story wasn't about the PCs, they just sort of floated through it most of the time, and the player's creative input was limited to providing color and making ultimately trivial decisions. If there was a meaningful fork in the road for them to choose it was because I put it there.

So I resolved to shake things up and get them creatively involved every session. The elaborate backstory slipped into the background and the game became a story about the PCs. All it took was focusing closely on the PCs place in and reaction to the events going on around them and making that central. Who cares how the war turns out overall, what effect does this battle have now, on your PC?

I feel the same tension trying to role-play in MMOs. Players have almost no creative freedom within the software, all of the creative energy comes from the software designers. And guess what? They're burnt out and they know they can never keep up with the customer's demand for new content.

What's needed is major design shift that places the creative engine in the players' collective hands. More on that later.


I want to throw down the gauntlet here. When I play MMOs, I don't want a table-top experience! I want something different. I want our shared imagining to explode out of my LCD monitor and sizzle our of my speakers; I want to see it, hear it, and feel it! I want to BE THERE to the greatest extent the technology allows. But I want the active creative input and sharing that is the hallmark of the best table-top experience. That's my goal.


Quote
* On a side note, I think the Exploration definitions at the forge are probably supposed to have B in them, but only focus ALOT on A for some reason? I'll grant someone can't be inspired by your ideas if they can't hear you, but hearing you is hardly the most important thing even so.

I think in Big Model terms, (A) is Exploration and (B) is System, the mechanism for change in the SIS. It's all about changing Situation A into Situation B.


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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #67 on: February 02, 2009, 08:41:28 AM »

And I need to address Patrice's point in more detail.

The players of a TTRPG share with their GM, not the players of a MMO because they have none. They haven't dropped the GM like a few TTRPGs in which the players all tell, share, about what is the environment becoming, their environment doesn't change. It's a very different thing, Callan. Of course you mostly never have an impact upon a TTRPG's author, nor do you upon a MMO designer but in a TTRPG you share with the environment through your GM. In a MMO you don't.

Now, I'll gleefully take into account whatever assumptions saying that the soft is behaving like a GM, but that wouldn't content me without a few suggestions about how to make it happen for good, because this isn't the case in the MMOs I've played.

This is exactly what I'm driving at. Like many of the indie games of the last few years, I think the best model for an MMO is a GM-full model where the players share the creative responsibility. There are other possibilities, but I don't think they fit the medium as well as GM-full play.

I mentioned that MMOs have reproduced a railroaded GM-Story Before model pretty well. If that's what you want you're probably pretty happy with the status quo. Given the popularity of MMOs there must be a lot of people who fit that description. I'm not one of them. The major drawback is what I'll call the Content Problem: players consume the new game content much faster than the software developers can produce it.

Neverwinter Nights puts the adventure creation back in a human's hands and suggests a live GM run the players through her creation (NWN leans toward the Story Before angle, but there are other options). That's exactly what I did with my play group; we all bought the game, several of us created modules and we took turns running the group through it. The results were dismal, but very instructive.

First, voice has it all over typing and at least one of my friends simply cannot get into the game via a chat window. The pool of players who are comfortable (or more comfortable) with voice communication is surely larger than those who work well in typed chat.

Second, the interface problem: NWN tries to use a traditional GM role, but that flies in the face of the technology. In traditional TTRPG (at least the way we usually played) the GM is the "black box", the player's only interface to the SIS, but in NWN the players had direct control over their PCs in the world without routing it through the GM. The result is that as soon as everyone logs in the PCs scatter like cockroaches and the GM is badly outnumbered. Two PCs going in completely different directions want to talk to two different NPCs at the same time. Your choices are to script the conversations and give up the Live GM feel entirely or to make one player wait while you handle the conversations one at a time. The latter is a jarring example of problem (2) from my last post: what we could do with the software was directly at odds with the System we were using.

These problems might be overcome with clever software programming and choices of System, but the GM-full model seems less problematic from the start. I think it would play to the medium's strengths and entirely avoid the problems I just mentioned.

Patrice, we need to break apart what you mean by "environment". The real background stuff must come from the software, else we should be playing via some other medium. If you can't really see that amazing castle on your monitor and walk around in it, what's the point? And is it such a big deal that as we create our play experience we must choose this castle or that one, rather than creating it whole-cloth? I don't think so. I think that's where the software developers will really earn their monthly subscription fee: creating the basic software content we use in all of our play. I'm talking about models, bitmaps, skins, sound effects, animations ... all highly reusable stuff. Our job as players is to combine it in fun and creative ways which satisfy our Creative Agenda. They give us the stuff, we figure out what it's for and what it all means.

I don't think that means the software should get out of the System, quite the opposite. I think it needs to provide System and constraints far beyond the combat-system only approach they have taken so far.

We just started a Sorcerer campaign. The traditional part of character creation boils down to "assign 10 points to these 3 abilities." But chargen goes much, much further and if you follow the rules you can't help but create 3 dimensional dramatic characters who are ready to drive meaningful play immediately. By defining your Kicker, Descriptors and Price you've already decided what this PCs story will be about and what questions it will pose; play is all about answering those questions and creating the story you outlined in chargen.

Now why can't software provide the same kind of framework?
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #68 on: February 03, 2009, 02:00:10 PM »

I've run a small-scale MMO for 12 years. It's text-based, not graphical. It's designed for "role-play" (socio-political situations, mostly) more than combat. It's still basically an MMO. It hosts 500+ characters played by about 250 different real people.

So.

Is actual RP there impossible? No, absolutely not. It happens every day. It's happening right now.

Does the cold, humanless virtual interface somehow change the nature of the game? Of course not. The "rules" enforced by server code are just one more input, like the color text in the rule books you use for a tabletop game. You might ignore it. You might ask a staff member to undo it.

You can play a D&D game where you never do anything "in character." You push your character around like a pawn, kill stuff, level up, and so on, and your halfling rogue looks no different than some other player's halfling rogue. There's no "role-playing," as such. But you're kicking ass and taking names. Everyone knows that your halfling rogue build is awesome, and Joe's build is a bit scattered.

But, really, it's still role-playing. There's a social contract among players at the table that you're gonna show up to play some D&D a certain way. There's a shared imagined space where all the action happens. There's exploration. There's conflict and resolution. This is a role-playing game.

On an MMO, it's no different. There's a social contract that you're there to play World of Warcraft or whatever and play a certain way. There's a shared imagined space where all the action happens, and it is made stronger, in many ways, by reinforcement from the game server. There's exploration, and I don't just mean walking around; I mean there's exploration of character, setting, situation, system, and color. There's conflict, usually treated as incontrovertibly resolved by the server code. This is a role-playing game. Your tauren paladin build is rocking and everyone wants you to raid with them.

Now, take that D&D game. You add some "role-play" between the dice rolling. Your halfling rogue doesn't want to break into this one dungeon because he was raised by kobolds and feels sympathy for their plight. This influences your later decisions during the game. This is a new filter through which you make decisions. This is role-playing.

You can do the same thing in WoW. Your tauren decides not to kill natural animals because they are just hunting for food. You refuse certain kinds of quests. This is a new filter through which you make decisions. This is role-playing.

Show me an example of play you think is impossible on an MMO server.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #69 on: February 04, 2009, 02:33:09 AM »

Just my two cents. Please excuse unnecessary literary flair .. I think it'll help make my point better.

Oddly enough, I'm going to take an (apparently, but not actually) opposite position from the one I took earlier. I argued that what goes on, on a MMORPG, is *technically* roleplaying and the people participating in them are the same who participate in table top RPGs, and therefore we could apply some lessons from such games to our table top games. Now, while I still hold that belief, I understand where you're coming from, Patrice, and I agree with that too.

It's important to bear in mind: the fictional worlds we build in our minds and the virtual worlds are polar opposites. A few words will instantly generate a rich, lush environment in our heads full of colour and chock full of content. This content is flexible and animated, and it all has depth: if you imagine a sledgehammer, you imagine it is heavy and could crush stone and melt in lava. For computers, the opposite is true. Nothing at all exists unless the computer is given explicit instructions to make it so. Even then, these constructions are hollow things, facsimiles, lacking colour, personality, and behaviour until granted by the programmer. Change comes very slowly, requiring the use of arcane and tricky languages. Consequently, trying to roleplay in this environment is inevitably going to be a different experience than trying to roleplay around the table.

Is actual RP in MMORPGs another next impossible thing?

Well, it's true that you are not going to get the same table-top RPG experience in an online game because some or most of the content is on a computer, out of the reach of your imagination. However, as others have pointed out, if you're willing to make the necessary concessions (just as you would suspend disbelief while watching a movie), then it works well enough.

Dan
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Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
FredGarber
Member

Posts: 95


« Reply #70 on: February 04, 2009, 10:28:52 AM »

Overall, I'm chiming in on the "possible" side of this discussion: RP is only possible with MMOs if someone else, even part time, is taking the role of audience.  "Actual RP" requires feedback, and if I refuse to accept a certain quest for "pure" RP reasons (*), then someone needs to think "ooh, he refused to do that for RP."  If I'm the only one who knows why I refused the quest, it's not Actual RP for me (**)

However, I'm going to chime in with an opposite stance from Dan now:

When I RP at a tabletop game, I have to NOT use the fictional world I use in my mind.  The fictional world in my mind has all these little details that the fictional worlds in my fellow players' heads might not. 
For example:
GM: You kill the orcs, Fred.
Me: Ooh.  I take the little yellow scarves that these orcs have to symbolize clan
Janet: Everybody knows orcs denote clans by their stripes and spots.  They're goblinoid.
Heather: I was kind of thinking of a tribal scarring thing, actually.  What scarves are you talking about?

See, all of us have our own fictionalized image of the orcs our PCs killed, but now there's a conflict over what bits enters the SIS.  In fact, a virtual world, by specifying a lot of Color, System, and Setting facilitates my roleplay, by allowing me to better synch with my fellow players.

-Fred


(*) What constitutes a "pure" RP reason is a whole 'nother thread, and I don't want to get into it.  Suffice to say, I'm treating it like a choice made in an MMO that has a low or no impact on the computerized mechanics.
(**) I'm willing to concede that if I know I did it, then I'm RPing in a single person adventure, but that's pushing my RP definition.  I also don't want to get into RPing a character who has "mysterious reasons" for doing things.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #71 on: February 04, 2009, 02:55:39 PM »

John, I think its worth noting that if the game designer hard codes in a forest or city, while that removes the ability to roleplay/Explore in terms of that forrest/city and that seems an actual mistake in the examples we gave, it can actually be a feature rather than a bug. Ie, roleplay/Exploration is NOT supposed to happen in terms of whether the forrest or city exists - get yer roleplay/Exploration happening over at X, instead! Quit trying to roleplay whether the forest exists - that's not what this particular roleplay game is about.

I'm thinking yourself and Adam are at opposites and yet thinking the same thing - you both think roleplaying should be able to happen anywhere in a particular RP games presentation.

I think roleplay through a MMORPG might indeed be an impossible thing, if roleplay/Exploration has to happen in every single piece of the games presentation. I think Exploration is facilitated by having things which you do not Explore - they provide a wall to kick off into what is supposed to be Explored.

I'll qualify and say I see the value of any particular RPG (MMO or TT) is that it restricts your imagination. Creative restriction - the restrictions require you to think in new and imaginative ways to get at stuff, and bam, there you go, new and imaginative ways are created! Alot of people see RPG's as allowing them to have an imagination, rather than restricting it. That's why shallowthought's quote from me is "Hands: How to have them and have them attached to your nerves". It's something I said to illustrate that a book that tells you how to have hands is stupid, and the idea of a book tell you how to have an imagination is...can I just say it? Stupid? (for anyone who's had a hand severed, I'm sure it's still stupid - the book can't help them, either. And if you've had your imagination severed, OMFG!).

My point probably only makes sense from a 'restriction' viewpoint, and that'd be another thread to provide evidence for, I guess.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #72 on: February 05, 2009, 08:39:00 AM »

Callan, you and I are on the same page. I wrote:

Quote
The real background stuff must come from the software, else we should be playing via some other medium. If you can't really see that amazing castle on your monitor and walk around in it, what's the point? ... that's where the software developers will really earn their monthly subscription fee: creating the basic software content we use in all of our play. I'm talking about models, bitmaps, skins, sound effects, animations ... all highly reusable stuff. Our job as players is to combine it in fun and creative ways which satisfy our Creative Agenda. They give us the stuff, we figure out what it's for and what it all means.

The friction with current MMOs is they don't help you with that last part. They tell you what it all means and what you're supposed to be doing right now, "here's the quest, now get to it!" That's all well and good if you find the quest entertaining and don't mind being railroaded through the developer's story. It has all the hallmarks of a Story Before campaign with all of the ups and downs associated with it.

* The story isn't your character's story. It CAN'T be, unless (like The Bard's Tale) you also hard-code the player's character.

* You're not the protagonist. I generally get the feeling I'm just watching the story unfold, running from A to B so I can see the next scene. Sometimes literal cut-scenes tell the story, and making me wade through hours of meaningless combat in between does not make me more involved.

* The "GM" carries the whole creative load. This leads to burnout, as one person does a large amount of work to realize a small payoff in game. With MMOs this is magnified many times over, developers spend months creating and testing new quests that only take players a few hours to finish.

* On the other hand, MMOs make a perfect "black box" if that's what you're after. The GM vanishes behind a wall of programming and you can interface with the world directly.


So my assertion is that the Quest or Story Before model is a poor fit for online play. This has nothing to do with who gets to design the Big Black Castle of Ultimate Darkness (TM). It has everything to do with why I as a player would want to go there and what happens once I arrive. I think the players should be actively engaged in answering those questions and those creative activities should be a large part of actual online play. This implies a few things:

* Every character who is not a mook or "furniture" should be controlled by a real person in real time. Good guys, bad guys, important secondary characters ... all played by real people.

* This does not imply free-for-all PvP, there can be plenty of structure to restrict the players' interactions. As you pointed out, sometime restrictions spark creativity rather than stifle it.

* The game can provide tons of Setting but the backstory, if any, must remain firmly in the background. What's important is my character and his relationship to your character and the Situation that creates. The key will be designing software and System to support this kind of play.

* The player search and matching software will be critical so you can find a group of about 50-200 players who have similar goals and RP styles, people you would want in your TT game.



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