[MUD-Dev] New laws. (was: Player Manipulation of Environment)

Hans-Henrik Staerfeldt hhs at cbs.dtu.dk
Wed Nov 28 15:41:09 CET 2001

On Mon, 26 Nov 2001, Marian Griffith wrote:
> In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Sun 25 Nov, Hans-Henrik Staerfeldt wrote:
>> On Fri, 23 Nov 2001, Marian Griffith wrote:

>>>   1) Muds can't be narratives for the players.

>>>     Players "live" in the game, they participate far more
>>>     directly than the reader of a book, or the viewer of a
>>>     movie. Techniques and strategies that work for a narrative
>>>     structure do not work for muds.  This is a direct result
>>>     from the "everybody wants to be the hero of the game" law.

>> This is only if you assume that Muds necessarily provide a high
>> degree of freedom for the player. I'd say its more a sliding
>> scale of two dimensions;

>>   Free Will vs. Narration.

> Not really. Or at least not necessarily. What I was saying is that
> the narrative structure is ill-suited for a multiplayer game. This
> is, I think, reflected by the current games where the story con-
> tent is limited, repetitive and generally has little impact on the
> actual game itself.  This is a matter of demands and constraints
> by the narrative structure, and has no bearing on the other
> qualities of the game. It also applies to multiplayer games only.
> The free will of the player has no meaningful impact on this
> principle, other than that lack of it is one of the elements that
> ma- kes a narrative structure impossible.

I'm not sure i get your here? The _lack_ of free will makes a
narrative structure impossible? You're sure its not the other way
around? Anyway...

What i'm saying is that youre right if you look at the majority of
the multiplayer MUD's in existance today. True that narrative works
awfully for them. It is entirely limited to short repetitive quests.

This does however not mean that this is how it needs to be. You're
assuming that narration has a fixed linear story when you _start_
reading the story, while in fact all you are assured is that it has
a linear story at the _end_ of the story (as a reader). If youre
reading a text on the screen, you're not at all aware if the end has
been written yet as you read the first chapter. I may be still
working on the last chapter, still trying to decide if the butler or
the maid did it.

To break this trend we need a better technology in the games that
allow for well told stories to unfold that takes into account the
free will of its participants. The free will of the players need to
become part of such stories, and change them in significant
ways. Quests with multiple outcomes are just the first humble
attempts at implementing narrative in the multiplayer games, and i
do agree that they are insufficient as of yet.

>> The more free will you give the player the more difficult
>> narration becomes. There is no problem with both being the hero
>> and participating in a great narrative (see FPS game such as Max
>> Paine), problem is that your free will becomes extremely limited
>> (in MP its limited to shoot everything that moves or Game Over).

>> The obstacle here is to _ensure_ that each and every action of
>> the players become meaningful elements in a(the?) narrative,
>> which is not an easy task, unless you limit the free will of the
>> players.

> Regardless.  One of the key elements of the narrative structure is
> that it has a begining and an end. When you reach the end you have
> to end the game, or you have to restart it. The first obviously is
> not working for muds.  The second also does not work, though more
> subtly so. When the story cycle is extremely short you end up with
> the spawning problems most large scale muds seem to have, but even
> if it is very long you still lose the sense of story, just like a
> book is never so fresh on a reread (even though you might pick up
> new details you had not previously noted).  With muds you have the
> additional problem that for some players it will be their first
> time around, while others have seen the story unfold so often that
> they have become jaded.

So you make the distinction that a narrative structure need to have
a beginning and an end. This i can agree with, but i would claim
that if you have a game that uses narrative in 'events' of resonable
length (say that of small novels), and you after such an event has
finished are able to start on a new set of different events, you
have succeeded in getting the same level of narrative as, say the
"Dragonlance" series.  (sure, flamebait to anyone who think they
suck :-)

I agree completely that the current technology is lacking. It does
not necessarily tell you much of the medium, but rather the

> All this does not mean that you can not tell great and wonderful
> narratives *within* the game. However, those are events. Or unique
> quests. Not something that can be repeated, and not something that
> is the core of the game itself.

So when the players of a game participate in a "great and wonderful
narrative *within* the game" isn't the MUD then a narrative?, and
what is then the distinction? What do you mean by 'core' ?

> Muds are stages and props departments, grand vistas and complete
> worlds on themselves, but they can not be narratives without des-
> troying what makes a mud.

I'm not sure i agree here. Or is what youre then saying is that
MUD's are not _only_ a narrative? That i would agree with.

I'm not saying that making MUD's narrative is easy. You are indeed
right that they are less suited for narrative than other media.
Probably it would require alot of reasearch into f.inst. automated
writing and text generation, or a new way of looking at the 'core'
of a game, creating it as an 'online' tool for a writer to take
interactive part in the narrative development of a story similar to
what a DM does in PnP roleplaying today. But i would not classify
such a development to 'no be' a MUD.

>>>   2) The game world must be large enough to absorb the player's
>>>   ability to affect it.

>>> [snip]

>> While i agree that this is good advice for dynamic, persistant
>> environments, concluding that no system currently supports that
>> players can affect the environment in a meaningful way is a bit
>> too broad.

> Perhaps, but I do not know many games where the player's impact on
> the world (*not* on the game's society) is wiped out with the next
> area reset.

I agree that it is (unfortunately) very uncommon. But some are
working on persistant worlds (not me tho).

Hans Henrik Stærfeldt   |    bombman at diku.dk    | work:  hhs at cbs.dtu.dk      |
Address:                |___  +45 40383492    __|__       +45 45252425     __|
DTU, Kemitorvet,        | Scientific programmer at Center for Biological     |
bygn 208, CBS.          |  Sequence Analysis, Technical University of Denmark|

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