[MUD-Dev] Problems with current RPGs

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Fri Jan 23 06:18:52 CET 2004

From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>

> Basically, a simulationist manifesto. Simulationist refers to
> attempting to model basic behaviors in order to permit
> higher-order behaviors to emerge.  The opposite approach is
> essentially stagecraft; you make something that looks like a
> piano, and behaves like a piano, but is not actually a simulation
> of how a piano works.

I hate to be a poop, but I think plays can be more entertaining,
more life changing, more inspiring, and more thought provoking than
a walk in the woods could ever be. I'd rather be held at the mercy
of a genius, than left to anguish in a world without subtext :)

>   - players want to be entertained, not to be creative

Not true. Say you implement some sure fire way to prevent players
from killing NPC Joe. Within the week, there will be some absolutely
strange way that they've figured out how to kill NPC Joe by using a
coat hanger and some duct tape. That's creative. :)

Another example, I'm currently playing SWG with my wife. I'm working
up the Architect tree. I'm grinding my way to the top as quickly as
possible.  Then I'm going to create a couple of the best harvesters,
a decent house, then drop the tree completely and move on to
something else. The reason is simple. Everything you make in the
Architect tree is the same. There is only worse mineral harvesters
and better mineral harvesters. Once I've got the better mineral
harvesters, why bother creating another. For money?  That I would
use to make more harvesters?

But if I could exact some sort of creative control over what I
made. For instance, decide the floorplan of the house and create
strangely original maze houses. Possibly sell houses, complete with
premade furniture setups that I designed. If I could charge a couple
bucks more for a camo harvester than a cherry red harvester. If I
had the ability to decide the floor and wall textures, I could make
a haunted house and charge admission. If I had some sort of way to
creatively impact my decisions as an architect - I would stay an
architect. But I don't. I build a product which is exactly better or
worse than my competitors, never worse in some ways and better in
others (better storage and worse extraction rate doesn't count
because one of those variables is always more important).

>   - the content generated, because it is systemic, lacks unique
>   touches. One noise-generated cloud is much like another; silver
>   linings need to be hand-implemented. :)

I must admit that I want to agree, but I'm not convinced. If you
think about it, most auto-generated content (ie random dungeon
games) generate the content based on the simulationist model. How
many roguelikes have I played through that had endless, boring
forests with the prerequisite streams running through it?

But if you created the content based on what the player experiences,
that could be a whole new ballgame. Only one game series that I know
of has tried this (Indy's Desktop Adventures/Yoda's Stories), and
they neither went far enough or deep enough for me to tell for sure
whether it is worth persuing further. But in these cases, they are
game simulations, not world simulations.

>   - the ever-changing landscape can actually irritate people, many
>   of whom prefer a predictable environment. If Fred slew the
>   Dragon in the Hoary Mntns, everyone wants to accomplish the same
>   thing. The idea that the Dragon is gone forever is deeply
>   disturbing because it feels like a lost chance for fun.

Not if there was a chance for another dragon to appear somewhere
else.  People don't need to experience the exact same thing, but
they do need an experience which doesn't favor one player over
another. Looking at something like Magic the Gathering, which you
have nearly no control over which cards you get in each booster,
people go nuts for it just because everyone has an equal opportunity
to get rare and powerful cards. It is this fact that allow people to
have sealed deck tournaments and enjoy them.

> Long term, I remain convinced that the future lies in
> simulationist approaches.

I won't disagree, but I won't agree either. I think it has its
place, but only if the game calls for it. For instance, if you were
doing a MMORPG based on a Western, then a simulationist approach
works. But if you were creating a MMORPG based on super heroes, you
need designed content because no simulation, no matter how well
designed, is going to give you a climatic fight against an arch
nemesis on a catwalk above a boiling pot of molten lead while your
sidekick is slowly being lowered in.

As Michelangelo is quoted as saying, "I saw the angel in the marble
and carved until I set him free."

Sean Howard - www.squidi.net
Webcomic - The Starship Destiny
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