[MUD-Dev] Self-Sufficient Worlds

Lee Sheldon linearno at gte.net
Thu May 18 17:53:37 CEST 2000

> -----Original Message-----
> From: mud-dev-admin at kanga.nu
> [mailto:mud-dev-admin at kanga.nu]On Behalf Of
> Matthew Mihaly
> Sent: Friday, May 12, 2000 3:09 PM
> To: mud-dev at kanga.nu
> Subject: RE: [MUD-Dev] Self-Sufficient Worlds
> On Fri, 12 May 2000, Lee Sheldon wrote:
> > Here are my 3 rules for story delivery in a persistent world:
> >
> > 1.  The story must be compelling enough to justify the
> world.  (Do we really
> > need yet another "There was a great conflict in the past,
> the evil was
> > defeated - but not destroyed - now it is rising again"
> fantasy world?)
> Hmm. How do you incorporate this with the idea of primal
> myths? Take the
> hero's journey, for instance. I think people, clearly, find
> that to be an
> exceptionally compelling story, even when told over and over and over
> again (albeit in a different context every time).

The context is what's important.  It is just so often taken so literally!
>From "Star Wars" to "Pawn of Prophecy."  Paint-by-the Numbers Joe Campbell.
No one, including Campbell (who has been misquoted about as often as
Marshall MacLuhan these days), meant that all stories must follow every move
of the journey!  He wasn't writing a primer for storytelling.  It just
happens to be one of the best.  You can find the Hero's Journey is
everything from Alice in Wonderland to Shane to As the World Turns, not
simply J.R.R. Tolkien.  Anyway, all the confusion between backstory (past
evil) and story isn't in Campbell at all.  It's copycat storytelling that
unsophisticated storytellers (and some supposed pros who should know better)
latch on to with their teeth because they can't think of anything more
original, don't realize what they're they're doing -is- cliche, and wouldn't
know how to plot something more interesting even if they did.  That's what
I'm objecting to.  Let's do Burnam Wood coming to Dunisnane!  Oh... wait...
Macbeth isn't really the Hero's Journey though...  Sorry, Matt!  I could go
on and on, lol.  Don't mean to take it out on you!

> You've thought about storytelling so much more than I have
> that I feel a
> bit hesitant to even assert this point, but are there not some fairly
> well-accepted theories stating that there are really,
> fundamentally, only
> a limited number of compelling stories. You can add window
> dressing on top
> of them to make them seem different, of course, but they are still
> fundamentally the same. I mean, you've written for a soap
> opera. They do
> the same stories over and over, just substituting characters
> and settings
> really.
> I, for instance, happen to really like the "evil that was not quite
> destroyed in the past coming back to mess with the world"
> story. I realize
> it's completely formulaic (but then, mass entertainment is
> nothing if not
> formulaic) but it taps into something primal in my psyche.

It's not just formuaic.  It's the only one we got!  Ok, here's the problem.
It's bad enough when someone sets out to tell a story without realizing it's
formula.  That dilutes it.  When someone knows it's formula, but does it
anyway, it is diluted even more.  You find the same phenomenon in people who
want to write for television.  As you point out, what -could- be more
formula?  Yet would you believe that precious few of the hundreds of
thousands of people who try to write for TV actually end up making a living
at it?  I mean so much of it is so hack.  And it looks sooooo easy.  But the
ones who survive, and the exceptional shows that survive, do so because
someone has gone beyond formula.  And I don't mean just window dressing.
The writer (me sometimes) has dug hunks of her or his own psyche out, and
left it raw and bleeding on the page.  And some producer or story editor has
come along (me sometimes), and pumped the formula into it like steroids into
a cow.  Unless you know that...  Unless you know that's how it works (and
can live with it)...  Unless you can keep on digging into your imagination
in spite of it...  You never have a chance in TV.  Or of one day turning
formula on its head, and producing something original.

Unless we derive our ideas from our own visions of the universe, and not
from Joe's and J.R.R.'s, we will never be more than tarnished mirrors of
their souls.  And we will fail to touch the millions whom -they- have
already touched.  Yeah, the evil foozle works so well, we may think we don't
need any more.  But we need more.  Much more.

> > 2.  The story must be constructed as an integral part of
> the world.  (And
> > not feel like an imposition or an afterthought.)
> Again, I'm not sure I agree. From a storyteller's point of
> view, I agree
> that the "strange aliens we've never heard of invade" plot
> (ie a clearly
> slapped-on afterthought)  is completely weak, but people seem
> to enjoy it
> in sci fi books and movies.

Here I'm talking about the development of the game.  When I design a game I
don't begin with story, and add gameplay later.  Nor do I put together a
kickass game engine, then figure out why all the monsters want to kill
everybody.  It all happens together: quests and characters, puzzles and
skill tracking, story and sword-swinging all grow together.  They have to.
It all needs to feel like the same world.  And all the story and gameplay
elements need to feel as if they're an integral, consistent part of the
overall experience.  Is it any wonder that story feels like the odd cousin?
That's the way it is often built.

> > 3.  The story must be told to the players.  (If people are
> running around
> > either confused about the story, or ignoring it, you have
> wasted a lot of
> > time on 1 and 2.)
> Yes, definitely. I've found that when running plots in
> Achaea, it's almost
> essential to ensure that the players are getting the
> information. And you
> have to feed it to them, not just let them discover it, or depend on
> word-of-mouth.

If only a couple of our major commerical MMORPGs would realize this!  What
fun they might be!  And what purpose living in their worlds might have!
I've mentioned before I think the complaining that a PR guy from a major
MMORPG did when players were killing event NPCs before trying to find out if
they were involved in the story.  Even if 1 and 2 are there, the players
will never know, if nobody realizes how to do 3.  And they will always kill
the messengers -before- listening to what they have to say. :)

> In our last plot, a Tsol'dasi, (Tsol'dasi are the long-lost
> cousins of the
> Tsol'aa player race. They  dwell in a sort of "lost land" (minus
> dinosaurs) setting, came south to contact the other mortal
> races for the
> first time since around the birth of the human race as this
> one (Pryla'ka)
> had seen a threat to life, etc etc. I thought it was cool as
> hell. I won't
> go into the plot, but over the space of the three weeks that
> the plot took
> to play out, I realized that some of the participants had no idea who
> Pryla'ka was, what the significance of her being a Tsol'dasi
> was, or why
> they should care about her.

More power to you for figuring it out! (Geez I used a lot of exclamation
points in this post.  I hate exclamation points!)  But this stuff is at the
very heart of what I care about.  Thank you for the thoughtful post.


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