Planet Mud-Dev

May 22, 2015

Optional Realities

The Advantages and Risks of Allowing Player Building

written by “Tyr”

When it comes to designing any online RPG, staff must often make a choice between freedom and control. Greater player freedom allows players to express themselves more, to develop more interesting characters, and to be more invested in those characters. But it also allows for them to imagine characters less appropriate for the setting, to ‘twink’ more heavily, and to use their freedom in abusive ways. One area of this struggle comes in the form of player building; how much do you want your players and/or your story staff to be able to alter or add to your built gameworld?


Section One: World Alterations


The upsides:

Allowing your players and/or story staff to alter the existing grid can be a fantastic tool for creating the impression of the world as a living and changing place. Being able to walk down an alley and see the bullet holes from that firefight you were in last week adds a lot to the immersive feeling, and makes that firefight feel like more than just something which happened and then was over with no consequences.


Players being able to personalize areas such as houses also makes those areas mean more to them. The time and effort they have spent customizing it to their liking causes them to care more about what happens to it. It also allows them another tool to express their character; for instance, perhaps when you enter the enclave of a combat badass, you find walls covered with posters of kittens — he’s just a big softie after all.


The downsides:

Any type of player housing, which is a natural type of grid alteration, can make it harder to get your players’ characters to encounter and interact with each other.


Additionally, creative destruction is the most effective way of griefing other players. Leaving another character with a wound which limits what they can do until healed can be annoying, but ultimately pales in comparison to how disheartening and miserable it can be to have someone destroy the things you’ve put time and effort into making — whether that destruction be an entire character (through death), or even room and or item descriptions, or other creations that your players have put a lot of time and energy into developing. It is never fun to have someone else break your toys. Any type of grid alternation then runs into the risk of being used as a griefing mechanism, with people using the ability to alter descriptions to destroy or re-write what others have done in order to frustrate them or spoil their gameplay experience.


Any type of creative control can be used by players to try to get an edge over others. You give them the power to personalize their living space and you may find them filling it up with crystal chandeliers and diamond sculptures. The line between using creative freedom to create more identity for your character and using it to improve the identity for your character can be a very blurry one.


Possible solutions:

Ultimately where you want to fall on the control vs freedom spectrum is going to be entirely up to you. But for any given point there are always ways to minimize the downsides and maximize the upsides. You can, for instance, make adding detail a lot easier than removing it, to reduce the potential for griefing. Or you can create rules in which different types of customization have preset costs that must be paid before people can hang a crystal chandelier and the like. Depending on your staffing structure you might let players add details, but only let them be destroyed or altered by staff, or have added details fade over time. You might use game mechanisms to determine which PCs have ‘control’ over an area, and give customization rights only to them. You could limit the number of houses available so that players will be forced into cohabitation. No solution is ever going to entirely remove the downsides of creative freedom, or the downsides of creative control, but smart design can go a long way to reducing the effects of either.


Section Two: World Additions


The upsides:

Allowing players and/or story staff to create new rooms for your game can make your game world grow and develop over time. It also has many of the benefits of creative freedom as listed above, without some of the potential downsides of creative destruction.


Particularly with regards to story staff, world additions can offer a way for them to create pre-written content perfectly in line with the story that they wish to tell. If they want their gang of antagonists to be holed up in a warehouse full of traps, they can create said warehouse.


For players, if they wish a particular location to exist and it currently doesn’t, they can build it. Allowing for this depends on your setting of course; you may have a setting in which it is part of the world that only the rooms already constructed exist. But in many settings there are towns and cities and the like which are implied, or only partially built in a concrete manner. So if I want to take my friends out for a guys’ night to a strip club, but there isn’t a strip club, I can make one and still tell that story.


The downsides:

Again, you can run into concerns with players making these locations with a mind to making their characters seem ‘cooler’ than what is appropriate. Although, if they have no personal in-character attachment to the location, that issue is less problematic.


Organization can be a problem; if people are freely adding to your grid, the grid can  become disorganized and poorly laid out. If people are adding rooms of lower quality than the rest of the grid, things can seem patchy and denigrate the average quality of the built world.


Memory can be an issue on the backend, too. If players and or story staff create content but it’s never destroyed, then over time it’s going to use up more and more memory. Even aside from system resources issues, it can also cause clutter for the players and staff if player-built locations are never likely to be used more than once.


Possible solutions:

Exerting control over how and where people can add rooms can help with organization. For instance you could have roads people could make new rooms off of but they can’t make new roads or make things anywhere not attached to a road, with your roads being either static or dynamically generated. You can also detach these rooms from your main grid to reduce the confusion or impact they might cause. With regards to clutter and memory keeping track of what’s been made and when it’s been used allows you to set up systems for the automatic recycling of assets.


Section Three: Haven


This is a brief description of how we tackle these issues on Haven: Mist and Shadow. If you’ve no interest in Haven, feel free to skip it.


Haven employs several systems to try to facility creative freedom with regards to the game world, while limiting abuse. With regards to on grid alterations, we give all players an ‘adddesc’ command, allowing them to add detail to any existing room. However, it does not allow them to alter the underlying room description, and the added details can be removed by any other player.


We also make use of player property ownership, which is something of a hybrid between creating rooms and altering them. It can only be done at specified locations, usually along roads in the gameworld, and will turn a block of rooms from wilderness or forest into a building site. These sites can then be turned into shops or houses with the players having almost unlimited freedom to create their layout and descriptions. Each of these properties incurs a cost, both for the location of the land, and for the number of rooms developed. Additional costs apply for the ‘decor level’, making players pay if they want to hang that crystal chandelier that their character has always dreamed of. No one, apart from the owner and those they trust, can generally alter these properties. The properties do, however, have an ongoing monthly cost. If a player fails to pay that cost, be it through poverty, inactivity or death, the property can be bought by anyone else and then altered as they see fit. Buying an existing property is always cheaper than developing your own, encouraging players to reuse existing assets.


Additionally, we have a system which allows characters and/or story staff to make off-grid rooms. These don’t connect to the main grid in any direct way but instead have to be traveled to, a process taking different amounts of time depending on how far away the location is from the game’s central location. This allows players to roleplay out visiting any location they could conceivably wish to visit. Said rooms can either be recycled by the creator, or will be automatically recycled if they become too inactive.


Story staff, in particular, make use of a slightly modified variation of this system in order to create zones in which to carry out their adventures and plots. Sometimes these are simply one room, in others they can be whole areas. Moving many staff-run stories off of the main grid helps us to avoid issues with the difference in speed of IC events between normal grid activities and run stories. It also limits the potential for players’ OOC friends to just ‘happen’ into the scene by chance, to give their buddies backup. This solves a number of ‘twinking’ issues with our system.


Displaying buildinghrpg.jpg

A Story Runner creates a room for a plot, sets the timezone to -6 UTC, and then the weather in the area to be raining.


Of course, Haven’s approach is just one way of doing things, but it hopefully helps to shed some light on how one game tries to maximize the player’s creative freedom, while minimizing the problems and potential abuse that freedom can cause.


Section Four: Summary


As a game designer, you will face many choices with trade offs. Creative freedom versus creative control is one of them, and it will manifest in your game in a multitude of ways. It may manifest in how much control you want to give players to alter or add to your grid, such as it does in Haven. What’s most important is not where you fall on the creative freedom spectrum, but rather how well you understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of your choices, and how able you are to smartly design around them. Human creativity is infinite; there’s always a better solution to building a more immersive RPG, and it’s just waiting for you to find it.


Tyr is best known for creating and administrating Haven: Mist and Shadow, and BuffyMUD.

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The post The Advantages and Risks of Allowing Player Building appeared first on Optional Realities.

by Jaunt at May 22, 2015 06:54 PM

May 19, 2015

Optional Realities

Building Better Aesthetic Variables

written by Stefan Ludlow (“Icarus”)

In a MUD, there are four primary entities that make up the gameworld: mobiles, which are essentially NPCs — rooms, which form the infrastructure of the environment — objects, which mobiles and characters interact with — and crafts, which we are all essentially familiar with as a means to create objects out of other objects. In most MUDs, and I will expand that to say in most games, these objects are static assets. Procedural, or indeed random generation or cosmetic variation of the gameworld is often limited often to asset production work, and the objects and world that a player interacts with will remain static outside of specific instances. The wooden barrel asset #225 will always look the same, regardless if it is placed in a tavern, street corner, is made by a craftsman, etc.


This does not necessarily need to be the case, as we can see with the work done on the engine that games such as Atonement, Parallel, and Shadows of Isildur have been created with. The OpenRPI Engine supports the use of aesthetic variables in asset construction and generation, allowing staff to utilize a smaller suite of objects and mobiles to create a wide variety of different looking assets in the game world. The wooden barrel is now a $woodtype barrel, with $woodtype being our variable that can change depending on circumstances. If placed by staff, they can select what type of wood they would like the barrel to be, loading an oak barrel, a beech barrel, etc. Players can also interact with the object. The woodsman cuts down a yew tree, transforming It into yew barrel-staves, which is then used by the barrel-maker to put together a yew barrel. This is more than just cosmetic; the barrel’s weight is impacted by the type of wood, as is its value and durability. In this way, what a player can see in terms of an object, also helps to tell the player what that object is capable of.


What this approach accomplishes, at its core, is creates a more dynamic and immersive world. Rather than relying on thousands of objects, most variations of the same theme, a smaller set of objects can be used with variables to expand the possibilities of what any one player sees. This has been used with great success on Shadows of Isildur, implemented in such a way that for most people, it is invisible. It is natural for the wood-type of a tree to pass from tree to plank to finished product. It is natural for the black furred wolf to create a black pelt when it is skinned, and the cloak made from that pelt to also be black. To do the same work with static assets would take a library of thousands of objects.


One of the main problems with variabilization, though, is “random generator syndrome,” where all your objects begin to feel as if they’ve become a jumble of random attributes. There is a temptation, and indeed an ability, to make almost every aspect of an object variable. Take one of SOI’s first swords, for example, that had variables for $metalfinish, $metaltype, $swordstyle, $pquality, $leathercolor, $leathercondition, $animalleather, $hiltstyle, $metaltype, and $metaledge. The resulting object becomes almost absurd in complexity when so many variables are used, and they are frankly unnecessary.


To get the desired effect, which is to make each object in the gameworld perceived as being slightly different from another, only a few variables are really needed.


Take the barrel object for example. There is no need to specify the metal of the nails used to make it, even though you could. There is no reason to specify the metal used to make the hoops, other than that it’s iron. All you need to do is specify the type of wood used in most of its construction, allowing excess information to be lost for the sake of simplicity. Just like many artists and authors don’t specify every last detail of every last part of their creations, so too do objects not need to specify every last detail of their construction. A $woodtype barrel is more than sufficient for most purposes. For more atmospheric barrels, one could add a random adjective before $woodtype, such as $barreldamage, to get things like “a cracked oak barrel” or “a half-rotted oak barrel.”


It is important to keep in mind that there is no use in applying variables just for the sake of having them. They can be excessive, overly complex, and distracting from the gameworld itself. Yet when used effectively, and in moderation, they can make the world seem a little more dynamic and that much more immersive. Variables are essentially another tool in the toolbox of builders, but one that players interact with on a daily basis. They are a small thing that impacts every aspect of the gameworld, and I’d certainly encourage other games to look at utilizing similar systems. We’ve seen the world of Shadows of Isildur come to life through their use, and as our staff grows more experienced, methodologies and best practices have been developed that see them utilized in the most effective ways.


Icarus is best known for his work as a Senior Administrator on Shadows of Isildur’s Mirkwood region, Parallel RPI, and Atonement RPI’s Grungetown region. He got his start as a Craft Designer on Shadow of Isildur’s Gondor region.

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The post Building Better Aesthetic Variables appeared first on Optional Realities.

by Jaunt at May 19, 2015 06:34 PM

May 17, 2015


A Playable Game?

I think, for the first time, I’m willing to say that Epitaph is a playable game. It might be surprising to hear that I have thought it has been basically unplayable since the start – especially so for those who have managed to make their way through the gauntlet and actually succeed. I have though – I’ve been pretty upfront from the start that any time we have a number in the game, it’s basically a place-holder. We needed a number, so I threw one in. That goes for damage, well-being values, regenerations, XP rewards, XP costs and more. The … Continue reading

by drakkos at May 17, 2015 12:38 PM