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The "Living World" Game
by Bart Stewart on 04/20/09 03:49:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Have you ever heard of heterosis?

Also known as "hybrid vigor," this is the process by which the offspring of two different strains of a species sometimes express the best parts of both parent strains. Such offspring often demonstrate a survival advantage over purebred offspring.

I've been wondering lately whether something like this might be applicable to single-player and massively multiplayer online games. Suppose we were to say that the "best parts" of these two strains of computer games (in particular, computer-based RPGs) are the player-centric focus of single-player games, and the persistence of massively multiplayer online worlds.

What if a game could be designed to have the size and depth and persistence of a MMORPG, and the character-focused story and gameplay reward structure of a single-player CRPG? Would such a game inherit the recessive flaws of its parents and be stillborn? Or could it be the first game to emerge with the vigor to successfully exploit an unexplored niche in the computer game environment?

I think there are reasons to believe the latter might be true. The rest of this article will explore some of those reasons from the perspectives of the players, developers, publishers and operators of such games.

The "Living World" Defined

Both single-player CRPGs and MMORPGs are obviously capable of commercial success. But both also have certain defects that are inherent to their content delivery model.

The typical play experience of today's single-player computer games is "played it, beat it, sold it." While some gamers may not mind this as the norm, it has important consequences for game developers and publishers, the most important of which is the need to extract as much money as possible from the consumer in one fell swoop. This depresses sales due to the perception of high cost, and increases the effect of piracy (since there's only one opportunity for a sale).

At the same time, developers and operators of massively multiplayer online games have the problem (arising from rarely-repeated interactions in relative anonymity) that some people are jerks and/or cheats, and only a few of these in a gameworld can spoil it for many others. This requires that the developers of an online gameworld add considerable amounts of special-case code solely to prevent players from griefing each other, and that operators of such games actively monitor them to detect cheating and other forms of players taking advantage of bugs (or each other). Both of these requirements add to the cost of developing and running massively multiplayer games.

The hybrid of single-player and massively multiplayer games I call the "Living World" game addresses both of these issues by building a single-player game inside a persistent world to be played for years.

A game designed to be played for years will need new content throughout that time. MMORPGs show us that this content provision can be monetized. This not only creates a more steady revenue stream than the much riskier hit-based model of single-player games, the normal and accepted registration requirement of online games should reduce the incidence of piracy as a proportion of total revenue-generation opportunities. At the same time, structuring the gameplay for individual players reduces development and operational costs by eliminating the need for special-case code to prevent griefing by other players or to address undesirable emergent social effects. This allows a more dedicated focus on the relatively simpler goal of a satisfying play experience for one person at a time.

Not all the advantages for this kind of game accrue to its developer and publisher. From the player's point of view, rather than being like the cotton candy of many single-player games -- insubstantial and quickly forgotten -- a Living World game would be a highly memorable place that the gamer could return to at any time, whether for new adventures or for a sense of coming home to something familiar. It would also have the advantage of letting the player be the sole hero, free to advance at his own preferred rate (or not at all) rather than being merely one client among many, easily abused by those who've been playing longer.

Those, then, are the key arguments in favor of producing a single-player, persistent-world RPG that could be not just played in but lived in for years.

Let's now consider some of the specific design possibilities and issues a Living World game might face.

Enormous area to explore

The map of a Living World game would require weeks (real-time) to traverse by a character traveling as rapidly as possible. This would insure that the game contains unknown places for a long time.

Rather than the entire gameworld sharing a single culture (and language), in a huge gameworld there could be places where the player character simply would not be able to go (at least for a while) due to limitations on travel speed, cultural biases ("you can't come in; our country is at war with your country") or simply not knowing the local language. This allows for a very extended process of world exploration, giving the player a reason to keep coming back to the gameworld over a long time.

A dynamic world

As in a MMORPG, time in the Living World CRPG would continue to pass even when the player is not actively playing.

NPCs could die of old age and be replaced in their roles (perhaps in some cases by their descendants). As years pass in the game world, NPC behaviors in the aggregate could alter some parts of the game environment. In prosperous areas, some settlements or colonies could grow into stable habitations. In poor areas, or as a result of famine, disease, or war, some settlements could be abandoned, later to be occupied by barbaric/native NPCs or reclaimed by nature.

Allowing such changes due to the passage of time in a persistent world has pros and cons. While it would support the feeling that the game world is a real place whose existence is independent of the player, long-term changes in creature and NPC populations could upset narrative- and roleplay-focused gamers who form emotional connections with some strongly-realized NPCs. Providing in-game tools for discovering and understanding change, such as genealogical charts and "newspapers," could help players whose enjoyment of a gameworld comes in part from feeling connected with the characters in it.

Letting the gameworld change also provides a mechanism for refreshing content -- as the player explores the game world, changing it by his actions then moving on, explored content can be repopulated or even replaced. (This could be done by the game itself, or through content updates, or -- preferably -- both. More on this in a few moments.)

However, "change" in a Living World game will probably need to be restricted to prevent NPC inventiveness. A medieval-era fantasy Living World, for example, should probably not be allowed to invent itself into a Renaissance or Industrial Age or later, since this would require developers to create launch-time assets that players might not see for years... and where do you stop the march of progress? This restriction on NPC creativity is likely to make the game less satisfying to dedicated Simulationists. Still, this could create opportunities to deliver subsequent cultural/technological eras, with their modifications to code, art, sound and other assets, as major expansion packs to the original game.

Environmental, ecological and social simulation

A Living World game probably needs to have extensive simulation capabilities, both to provide dynamic content for exploring while the player is in the game and to allow the gameworld to appear to persist (and change) when the player isn't in the game.

Environmental simulation means modeling macro-level physical phenomena such as stellar types, local gravity, rotation and orbital periods, seasons, day/night cycles, tectonics, mineralogy, topography, atmospheric composition, temperature, hydrography, geographically appropriate weather, and native lifeforms appropriate to their environments.

Ecological simulation will reflect the effects and movement over time of groups of living things as they live, reproduce and die in large numbers. Plant types and animal populations might vary in type and location due to changes in habitat over many in-game years. Humanoid populations would move to follow more attractive conditions and better food supplies -- players who are out of the game for a while might return to find that a village they once visited had been abandoned. (Some places should be exempt from such changes in order to insure that a player has a secure place to store valuable items between play sessions.)

Social simulation would model high-level cultural changes. These would include changes in the opinions of NPC factions toward each other, and possibly even the automated extinction, merging, and creation of factions as small as towns and as large as nations. Social simulation would also model large-scale economic, military and cultural behaviors. This level of simulation would be extremely useful in creating a dynamic gameworld that can change enough to be interesting over the long (real-world) term.

Constantly refreshing active content

A Living World game would need some way to refresh existing active content. (I use the word "active" to mean content with which players interact directly as gameplay, rather than content which changes on its own to mimic a dynamic world.)

Randomly-generated active content that looks good and plays well might be possible for some definitions of "active content" such as puzzles. More conventional content, however, such as quests given by and including memorable NPCs, would be very difficult to create in this way -- for example, where would the audio dialogue come from for an NPC who's part of a dynamically generated quest?

A Living World game could also be designed to allow players to create content for themselves and others, using some combination of the world-building tools available for games like Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind and the content-rating system of Spore to refresh some game content with high-quality replacements.

But I believe developer-generated content would be the best way for a Living World game developer to go. As with MMORPGs, providing a Living World game with a steady stream of new content and enhancements long after the core game is purchased and installed could be a successful business model for a developer. Players would be assured of getting high-quality new content (including professional voice acting), while the developer would gain the long-term revenue stream that would help to pay back the costs of developing a Living World game.

Truly epic storylines

An opportunity uniquely afforded by a Living World game would be the chance to tell significantly larger and more complex stories than those found in other kinds of games. A large and complex gameworld which can't be affected by hundreds of other players creates a broad but relatively stable framework on which to hang stories of great scope.

An interesting possibility here would be to provide players with several outlines of epic stories. Once an epic is selected, large-scale world-changing events are set into motion, and before long the player will be impacted in some way. Epics could be story-based (the princess is in love with a prince of the neighboring enemy country and needs your help), action-oriented (barbarian/alien invasion), or adventure-driven (find a way to appease the angry god who's disrupting the world with volcanoes). But in all cases, starting an epic will reshape the physical and/or social structures of the game world in some way that affects (and can be affected by) the player's character.

Customizable rules

As noted above, some players might prefer a world in which NPCs don't die. Other players, however, might enjoy seeing NPCs who die be replaced. Players might wish for more or less aggressive NPC cultures, more or less environmental variation, and so on. A Living World game might allow these aspects and other rules governing world-behavior to be optional -- something else a massively multiplayer game can't do.

...

Obviously there'd be a lot of work necessary to put some real meat on these bones of an idea. Numerous novel problems would need to be solved.

But I'd be interested in hearing what people think of the basic concept. Does the business model of shifting revenue from the one-time purchase of a single-player game to the ongoing content enhancements of MMORPGs (while retaining a single-player focus) seem plausible? What about the gameplay -- would there be enough gamers interested in something like this to pay back its likely development costs?

In short, is there enough vigor in this hybrid to survive in the competitive environment that is today's computer game industry?

Thanks for reading!

(Note: This article was adapted from a version originally published on an older blog of mine.)


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Comments


Ted Howard
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If you can stomache the UI, which is roguelike, check out Dwarf Fortress (http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/). At least read up on the features and roadmap. It's an impressive endeavor along the lines of a 'living world.'

Christopher Wragg
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I think the reason MMORPGs actually do so well isn't necessarily the giant persistent worlds, other single player games with large worlds have sold well in the past, aka Morrowind/Oblivion, Fallout sagas, Innumerable other single player RPGs. MMOs do well because they involve a social aspect that can't be found anywhere else. In fact I'd say the anonymity and option to be better than another player, attracts a large number of players to the game. In fact removing players ability to negatively interact with each other (aka Guild Wars) will cause just as many people to hate the game as to love it.



Also a lot of the dynamics you mention aren't really available in most MMOs or even single player RPGs because of the cost involved in implementing them and it's a completely new ocean that games are just beginning to dip their toes in. Sure WoW has started instancing areas so that once events have transpired they are forever altered in appearance for your character, and Oblivion has some interesting social interactions, but these are still pretty minor compared to what you're talking about.



Don't get me wrong I think the concept of a Living world a great one, I just don't think it's really the combination of the successful elements of single player RPGs and MMOs inherently because what makes single player RPGs a success when we have MMOs, is that people like going it alone, and what makes MMOs appeal is the exact opposite. The reason the RPG genre is a success is a combination of people enjoying personal growth and killing stuff, and the concept of a living world could be applied to either.



I also get the feeling that a single player game that was designed to be played for years couldn't hold its audience. You would go to the effort of creating this wonderful unique character with unique standing in the world, who has achieved so much. But ultimately you couldn't hold it over anyone, there would be no real psychological reward gained for playing that long, and people would abandon you're world for the latest shiny toy that comes out, games with a multiplayer community are the ones that usually survive the test of time.

Gerard Gouault
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Neverwinter Nights meets Spore.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Bart Stewart
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@Ted, it's Internet Law that one of the required responses to any "wouldn't it be cool if" posts is "X already did it," so I think we're legal now. :D



But seriously, thanks for the pointer to Dwarf Fortress. I'd been hearing about it but hadn't checked it out -- seems I need to.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

@Tim, if my proposal came across as suggesting only that "world = plot," thanks for giving me the chance to correct that impression.



My suggestion is better understood as "world = setting." That is, a large gameworld creates opportunities for gameplay content of many different kinds.



As the size of a MMORPG permits a vast scope for storytelling and adventure that can unfold over time, I can't help but wonder whether that same effect might be possible in a single-player Living World game. In fact, I believe it would be even easier (not "easy," just easier) to achieve in a single-player game than in a MMORPG. Changing the world in an epic way in a MMORPG creates "haves" and "have-nots" -- those who experienced pre-change content and those for whom that content is now forever unavailable. So it's usually not done in MMORPGs, even though the scope of the gameworld permits it. In a single-player gameworld, there's no such restriction -- in fact, I think you'd actually want such epic stories precisely for their gameplay content.



Like you (and most people), I can see any number of practical difficulties in implementing such a design. Effectively designing world generation and NPC behaviors would be crucial. I don't pretend it would be trivial to bring something like this to life.



But my question really is whether it's worth trying at all. Is there a good business opportunity here for a well-designed single-player game set in a large, detailed, persistent and dynamic world in which ongoing content updates become the primary revenue source?



"How do you address the fact that what causes the conflicts and tensions in a game are not really physical elements but psychological and societal ones? The fight on Normandy wasn't a product of Normandy itself - it was a product of a larger conflict - of a disagreement (to put it mildly) - part of which, circumstantially, happened to be settled at that time and place."



I have two responses to this interesting question.



The simpler of the two is that I'd hope a Living World game wouldn't be only about conflict. A sufficiently large gameworld ought to support an equally rich palette of gameplay.



The other response is that I think the structure of places defines to some degree the psychological and social (and other) structures of those who live in and experience those places. The type of fighting that could be done effecively in Normandy in the D-day invasion and after was strongly conditioned by the "hedgerow" nature of the country. As Carlo d'Este noted in his biography, one of the secrets to Patton's success there (the breakout from Avranches) was that he had been there years before, first as a captain in WWI and later returning to tour that part of France with a Michelin map. He knew the physical structure of that place; he understood its practical effects on the kinds of (military) activities that would be feasible there.



Why shouldn't that also apply to a Living World game? I believe it would be relatively easy for the environment (minerals, topography, rainfall, vegetation, animal life, etc.) to suggest many kinds of gameplay -- including but not limited to armed conflict -- in a fantasy-based game. But the "structure" of space, with many thousands of worlds and specific mechanisms for traveling between them, could equally suggest a variety of gameplay activities in a Living World game with a science fiction setting: how difficult is it to expand by colonizing new worlds? How hard or easy does the structure of space make it to create empires spanning many star systems, or to hold onto them once absorbed?



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

@Christopher, I actually agree with you on the good point you make regarding the real strength of massively multiplayer online RPGs. Their "worldiness" is definitely not the only (and probably not even the primary) reason for the success of those MMORPGs that have done well -- some gamers definitely do want to play together.



What I'm suggesting is that this highly social aspect, while a strength of MMORPGs to some, is a weakness to others. Sartre wasn't the only person who felt that "Hell is other people." ;) I'm sure there are plenty who feel that way today... and the continued success of single-player games leads me to suspect that there are enough such people to constitute a viable market for a Living World game.



So my question in this article is whether one of the aspects that make MMORPGs fun -- the remarkable worldiness they require in order to support many actors and epic stories -- would still be fun for some gamers without all those other people insisting that their play preferences be catered to. In other words, would the combination of persistent worldiness and single-player focus create a widely enjoyable combination?



"I also get the feeling that a single player game that was designed to be played for years couldn't hold its audience. You would go to the effort of creating this wonderful unique character with unique standing in the world, who has achieved so much. But ultimately you couldn't hold it over anyone, there would be no real psychological reward gained for playing that long, and people would abandon you're world for the latest shiny toy that comes out, games with a multiplayer community are the ones that usually survive the test of time."



Consider the outcry over Bethesda's game design decision that Fallout 3 would "end." Apparently -- as even Todd Howard has recognized -- there are plenty of gamers who aren't ready to abandon even the gritty post-apocalyptic Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3. Their experiences in that imagined world have made them less likely to want the game to end, not more so.



I think the success of single-player games like The Sims, of "open-world" games such as Oblivion/Fallout 3 and Two Worlds, and of "massively single-player" games like Spore, point to a market opportunity for games that consciously merge the single-player game experience with the vast canvas of a MMORPG's persistent worldiness. Certainly not all gamers would enjoy a Living World game... but then not all gamers enjoy MMORPGs, or shooters, or platformers. There seem to be plenty of gamers who are perfectly happy exploring a gameworld over long stretches of time to satisfy no one's interests but their own.



So the question, I think, is not whether every gamer will love a Living World game over the long term. Of course some won't. The question is whether enough might enjoy such a game to make the risk of developing it appear worth taking for its potential reward.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Pro or con, I appreciate your taking the time to read and consider these concepts.

John Hahn
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I've always thought of single player games like interactive novels or movies. There is a clear cut story and a clear cut ultimate conclusion to the story (the big bad guy loses, you save the princess, etc). I think one of the primary reasons the single player game is still popular is precisely because people enjoy the thrill of killing the big bad guy and saving the princess and seeing an ultimate conclusion.



MMOs, on the other hand, are appealing because of the social aspect. Whether it be teamwork, pvp, or just chatting. The problem with MMOs, for me, is the fact that there is no ultimate conclusion. You can go with a guild or group and beat all of the biggest baddest raid bosses in the game, and when you're done the game still goes on. It doesn't have the same thrill as seeing the ultimate conclusion of a good single player game, which again, I liken to the ending of a novel or movie. The end of the 3rd act, the big payoff, so to speak.



Your living world concept is intriguing, but i don't know that it actually takes the best of both worlds. One of the best parts of a single player game, for me, is the ultimate ending, and your idea takes that away.

Tom Newman
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Great article!

Personal story as it relates to this post:

WoW was the first MMO I played that really hooked me in. I played several others before, but I felt that if you took out the online component, you were left with a pretty dull gaming experience. WoW really got it right, I feel that it stands on it's own two feet if you play it like a single player game (until the level cap at least). After I leveled my first charachter to 60 (the original cap), I started another and went through the 60lvl process 98% as a single player only, and had a great time doing so.

When Oblivion came out I was still playing WoW, and although I could respect it as a great single-player experience, the world felt lonely to me and I shortly went back to playing WoW. When WoW reached the point where the only way to progress was to do 40man raids, I lost interest, as I prefer to play independently for the most part. I have not played recently, but have very fond memories of all of my experiences, especially the one-chance-to-see world events.



I didn't like to be forced to join multi-player groups, but the ever-changing world kept luring me back in, and still does from time to time. This concept of a "Living World" game sounds perfect for the type of experience I look for.

Luke Rymarz
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If you're looking for info on Dwarf Fortress, I came across a post at Penny-Arcade (http://www.penny-arcade.com/2009/3/13/) that mentions Dwarf Fortress, and how interesting it is to just read the instructions for it. They link to a tutorial that is pretty good (http://afteractionreporter.com/2009/02/09/the-complete-and-utter-
newby-tutorial-for-dwarf-fortress-part-1-wtf/). I ran through the first few pages a while back, and for someone who's never played Dwarf Fortress, it was a good primer.



Note, however, that the version of Dwarf Fortress the tutorial has you download is slightly graphically enhanced. Certain Dwarf Fortress purists may laugh at you, but it's still the same game.

Owain abArawn
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I followed the link for Dwarf Fortress, and while interesting, it seemed very primitive to me. It does provide an existing framework to build upon, but for those who would be interested in experimenting with this concept, I think there is a better option available.



For UO fans, the free, player run UO shards have some aspects of this. For many gamers, myself included, UO was our first and favorite MMO. I like skill based games over class/level games because of the greater flexibility they afford, and I like the open ended style of play UO offered over the quest-centric play of games like WoW.



There are many player run shards to choose from, and depending on what you are looking for, some are better than others. Right now I am playing on a shard called In Mani Ylem, named humorously after the UO Summon Food spell that in early UO versions summoned a ham for you. It tries to replicate an early phase of UO before Origin watered it down. To find out more about IMY, look here: http://www.inmaniylem.com/index.php?title=Main_Page



The person who maintains the IMY shard has done a very good job of recreating the UO:R pre-UO:AoS era, but because skill gains are realistically slow, the shard population has remained low for the two or three years it has been open. In this way it's almost more like a single player game than an MMO, although I do see other players on occasion. After playing on the cut throat Siege Perilous shard years ago, playing IMY is a casual, relaxing thing that allows me to explore the world at my leisure, something I could never do back then.



This, then, might be a tool developers could use to explore the idea of a living world. The frame work is there. You can shape it and populate it as you see fit, modifying the game mechanics to fit your vision.



One thing I've thought would be interesting if I were to have the time or energy to devote to the project (which I don't, unfortunatley), would be to make a single player game out if it where you could direct NPCs to build a community trying to survive in a hostile world, almost like Civilization, but without the technology development. You would enter into the world as a single player in the wilderness, and would have to build up from ground zero, fighting against rival camps, both humans and non-human, using only minimal supplies and equipment. You would have a minimal weapon which would never be lost or wear out, but anything more advanced would have to be either looted or manufactured.



Over time, if you survived, you would encounter other friendly humans (npc's) you could seek to add to your community, and set them to tasks to help you build your civilization. There are many necessary skills in the UO universe, such as warriors, hunters, gatherers, and artisans, and how you allocate your people would determine how well your budding civilization survives. Too many fighters bent on conquest would leave you with not enough miners to supply the ore for the blacksmiths to create weapons and armor, and not enough foragers or farmers to feed your population would result in famine. Once you set an npc on a career path, mining, for example, it would be able to operate autonomously, however if you wanted to accelerate the character's development, or customize it to add additional skills, you would be able to control him/her just like a player character.



So here, possibly, you have a god game, like civilization, where you order a community in competition with computer controlled groups, human and non human (although maybe you might want to run the game with an orc civilization. Why not?), but it also could have RPG aspects in that you could make it so you as the player could control any npc in your community as if it were a player character. Does your army suffer from shoddy armor and weapons? Control your blacksmith directly to build his smithing skill to improve the quality and quantity of armor and weapons in your armory.



As a disclaimer, I must admit that I have never looked at the RunUO code that emulates the original UO servers, so I cannot say for sure how feasible this idea might be. The code base appears to be very open to customization, judging from the wide variety of player run UO shards available, so perhaps it might not be altogether too difficult. Some discussion on the RunUO forums would probably be worthwhile to determine feasibility. www.runuo.com



If nothing else, this might afford some aspiring developer with a game prototyping tool that would allow you to explore various game ideas, whether it be the one I described, or your own personal vision. That might be an MMO, or a single player game, or whatever. Once you have established the validity and playability of your ideas in this prototype environment, then your idea could be transferred over to your own architecture and/or engine that would allow you to market the game without getting sued by Origin. :)



I think that RunUO, rather than Dwarf Fortress, would provide a great environment to test ideas for a Living World. Much of the basics are already there, such as a virtual world, a basic game structure that includes a skill structure that could be expanded, modified, or completely reworked, as desired, and an existing set of inhabitants, human, humanoid, and animal, magical and mundane.



A developer's sandbox.

Bart Stewart
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That is a fairly fascinating idea, Brent. It's a window into the play experience of a Living World to which I hadn't given much thought before.



It makes me think not only of Civilization (the computer game), but of the "Hammurabi" games that inspired it, where -- because it's simpler than Civilization -- your responsibility for keeping the populace fed and happy is a bit more explicit.



A Living World with the "inhabit any NPC" design you describe would take this one (maybe two) immersive steps further. You wouldn't necessarily have to be the ruler of a nation (although you might be able to do so) -- perhaps the kind of game you get depends on the NPC you inhabit. Today you might choose to be a village chief, managing the growth of your tribe in a sort of SimCity/RTS mode; tomorrow you might decide to play as the leader of an infantry squad in a tactical shooter mode; next week you might feel like playing as a king's counselor to enjoy some grand strategy in a sort of Diplomacy mode...



...but everything you do would add up, and flow down, and persist as part of the larger Living World.



I still need to think about how that could work within a larger narrative structure, and within the "leveling-up" mechanic -- some people prefer to identify closely with individual characters who have distinct story arcs of their own.



Still, it's definitely seems like an interesting possibility for a kind of game that hasn't been fully explored yet.

Owain abArawn
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In UO, other than on the Siege Perilous shard which only allowed you one character per account, many players maintained a stable of supporting characters that served their 'main' character. Thus, you might have one character that was a blacksmith/miner, another character that was an alchemist/scribe, and so forth. The skill sets you selected for your family of characters was determined by what kind of crafting items your collective group needed.



In the game I described, this would work over a larger population. Everyone in the village would work, because there is not much point in having a character with no purpose, but while everyone might be a citizen soldier with at least some combat skills, you wouldn't need more than one smith to fabricate weapons and armor, but you might have several miners that supported the smith with ore. Once your militia is equiped with starting gear, you might not need to play your smith again for a while, and you may choose to concentrate your effort in a different area, such as developing an alchemist to supply healing potions to the troops. Down the road, as you expand, you may encounter a group with weapons that are superior to yours, which would require you to devote more time to your smith, so he has the necessary skills to make chain armor instead of ring armor, and broadswords instead of longswords to work more effectively against the thicker armor worn by your current enemy. Or you might develop a bower to equip a group of archers instead to add a ranged unit to your troops.



In this way, you are developing the necessary skills for your whole nation, not just an individual character, but even so, most of the time you may choose to play your favorite character, King Arthur (or whoever), who is always at the front lines leading the fight.



There's a lot of flexibility possible there, depending on what course of action you want to take, and which skills you want to concentrate on, but there would have to be risks as well. If you devote all your time and effort to developing swordsmen, you might find yourself vulnerable to a band of sorcerors against whom your fighters may be ineffective.



Lots of possibilities. Now that would be a game I'd like to play.

Nick Harris
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I'm about two thirds of the way through the development of such a game. It is a MMORTSFPSRPG called 'Universe' which blends Colonization, Commerce and Combat. Due to the complexity of such an ambitious endeavour I knew that I would be let down by the C++ programming language normally used to write games, because it was obscure, error prone and didn't support the fault tolerant distributed concurrency for robust large scale systems. CPUs have already hit an architectural speed limit of ~4GHz leading to multicore and parallel solutions, such as GPGPU programming. A hybrid approach was needed to future proof any source code that would evolve over decades of development. A new multiparadigm programming language was required that would boost my productivity by several orders of magnitude, cope with the collaborative development of extremely large scale projects, as well as supporting multiple 'Projectional Editors' in which the representation of the solution could adopt the appropriate notation of the problem domain whilst remaining one Abstract Syntax Tree deep down.

I failed to find any existing language that delivered this demanding set of features, so I was forced to future proof my endeavour by doing extensive Research and Development on the design of what (for me) would be the ideal tool for making 'Universe'.

I also realised, with the success of the Halo 3 Forge, Little Big Planet and DayZ, that I should do everything I can to provide a shallow learning curve both to the inherent complexity of a game with subtle articulate controls and the tools with which User Generated Content could be created - which included the design of a more accessible programming language than C++ (indeed, the most expressive, extensible and elegant language possible).

These tools needed a new User Interface in order to boost productivity, a long time was spent designing an alphabetic keyboard layout to ensure any potential future contributors to my project weren't alienated by Mr Sholes' intentionally scrambled QWERTY layout.

I also spent a lot of time evaluating the control schemes of different games across many genres as I sought to define the ideal User Interface for a 360 gamepad (connected via the Microsoft Wireless Gaming Adapter to my Mac) with the long-term aim of eventually playing 'Universe' on an HD TV. I know there are a lot of PC gamers who adore Mouse & Keyboard User Interfaces, but I am not one of them - I spend enough time sitting at a desk without making it double up as my entertainment centre.

It was important for me to design an articulate, ergonomic and empowering control scheme before any other aspect of gameplay, as I believe that what your character can express fundamentally constrains the "possibility space" and an inarticulate, awkward, and (frankly) disabled character isn't fun to play as, even if they exist in a world with sophisticated physics, deep AI and inspiring art direction. Yet, it was a struggle to find a way to fit all the many actions I wanted my character to be able to perform given that I'd decided it should all work on a gamepad, rather than be something more like this:

http://manual.americasarmy.com/images/c/c5/AmericasArmyKeyboardLa
yout282.jpg

Ultimately, the solution was to use the Right Bumper as a form of Alt key, what the Human-Computer Interface expert Jef Raskin called a Quasimode:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(computer_interface)#Quasimodes

When held this would support the temporary redefinition of most of the control inputs on the gamepad. All of these hidden extras would only need to be learnt later on in the game - e.g. the face buttons would be routinely used for conversations with NPCs, eventually your character would equip some form of a weapon that they had found, purchased, or stolen and in conjunction with the Right Bumper being held the face buttons would allow them to swap this weapon for another in their inventory, or to reload it, etc. (NOTE: that it doesn't matter that the Right Trigger can't be pulled at this time because you wouldn't be able to swap, or reload a weapon whilst using it anyway - these are naturally mutually-exclusive actions).

It is nice to see that other people have had similar notions to mine. I have recently read several articles on Gamasutra that overlap parts of the same field that I have been exploring for the last twenty years. Undoubtedly, their games will be released before mine is complete. I saw the potential of such a game to be written way back in 1985 when Paul Woakes made 'Mercenary' (I was far more impressed by this than David Braben and Ian Bell's user hostile 'Elite' which I felt lacked Colonisation and Diplomacy to flesh out its promise and was far more impressed when Woakes made 'Damocles' because, although you only had a few planets to visit you could land on the surface of them and have meaningful adventures - it was as if 'Elite' was a toy with the batteries not included, it required an enormous amount of the player's energy and commitment before its secrets began to be revealed). Then, of course, there is the recently Kickstarted 'Elite: Dangerous' in which landing on planets currently appears to be a future expansion. This lacks a more emergent gameplay triangle that includes Colonisation - which yields Conquest when it interacts with Combat and Culture when it interacts with the Utopian / Dystopian societies formed through various economic models of Commerce.

NOTE: I tried to post this on your blog, but nothing seemed to appear...

http://flatfingers-theory.blogspot.co.uk/2007/05/its-all-been-don
e-no-way.html


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