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Old 02-07-2010, 11:48 PM   #1
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Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

I recently published an article in the MMO Design section at Bright Hub. The article is pretty general, but as I try to do it also provides an example from the MUD community (Threshold, since obviously it is the same I know best from the developer side).

Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests for your MMO Players

Read it and enjoy. Perhaps it will give you some ideas for your own MUD.

And as always, if anyone has any ideas for articles that would help promote MUDs, please feel free to message me. I am the Managing Editor of the entire gaming section at Bright Hub (a technology site that receives ~4 million visitors per month). So the potential for MUD exposure is pretty good.
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Old 02-08-2010, 05:21 AM   #2
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

How about an article about how games are becoming more and more developer intensive.

With all the (beautiful) graphics and animation, every second of gameplay becomes more expensive for the developers. Unless they give repetitive gameplay. Which means games are either becoming shorter, or they are becoming more procedural.

Being only text, it's very easy to add new elements to the game. Around December, players wanted some sort of christmas activities, so in half an hour, we had pine trees coded, where the players could chop down the pine trees, and add decorations. To add something to a graphical game like WoW would be a significant task - in a mud (with the right coders) it can be trivial.

That allows a huge amount of responsiveness from the game staff towards player ideas. Instead of being limited to specific classes and roles that the designers pre-created, you can find a new niche, and the staff can support you in that.

There really is the potential for every single player to have something unique about themselves, to have a few unique ideas, and even unique abilities.

Obviously, how possible this is, and what staff are willing to allow would vary from game to game, but that potential is always there. And I think it's something most non-mud players don't realize.

Personally, I'm quite proud of the fact that Ironclaw Online *isn't* the game I originally imagined building. It's a game that has been shaped by the players, and has grown into something better for that. I love that we can open up (some) design decisions to the playerbase, and have forum discussions and brainstorming. And I love that individual systems are simple enough that we can give that level of personalized attention.

Useful topic?
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Old 02-09-2010, 01:28 AM   #3
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post
With all the (beautiful) graphics and animation, every second of gameplay becomes more expensive for the developers. Unless they give repetitive gameplay. Which means games are either becoming shorter, or they are becoming more procedural.

Being only text, it's very easy to add new elements to the game. Around December, players wanted some sort of christmas activities, so in half an hour, we had pine trees coded, where the players could chop down the pine trees, and add decorations. To add something to a graphical game like WoW would be a significant task - in a mud (with the right coders) it can be trivial.
I think you are 100% correct, but believe it or not this is not a persuasive argument to players as a whole. Players look at that as the developer's problem. In other words, its the devs' job to find a way to get content created fast enough. The fact that it is easier and faster to produce content on a text mud doesn't make them think that's an asset for text muds, it makes them think the graphical devs should just work harder.

I have been most effective at luring graphical gamers to muds by pointing to features that are impossible in graphical games but work well in text. One of the best examples is user generated content. For example, Threshold has a very complex and deep player housing system that pretty much lets players create anything. This is only possible because players are not limited by the pre-created art assets the devs give them in advance.

I also talk about the fact that the MUD command line interface is far more conducive to chatting/communication. One of the many reasons people chat more in text games is that you are always at the "chat prompt" (rather than having to hit enter to begin chatting, which can sometimes cause all sorts of problems if you hit enter twice and your chat letters open up 47 windows instead).
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Old 02-09-2010, 08:55 AM   #4
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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I think you are 100% correct, but believe it or not this is not a persuasive argument to players as a whole. Players look at that as the developer's problem.
Certainly. But the faster turn around leads to...

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Originally Posted by Threshold View Post
One of the best examples is user generated content. For example, Threshold has a very complex and deep player housing system that pretty much lets players create anything. This is only possible because players are not limited by the pre-created art assets the devs give them in advance.
... support for more player generated content or ideas. Not every game allows players to create whatever they want, but with easier development the staff can still listen and respond to player ideas and requests.

So I guess the selling point isn't "look at what we can do and how easy it is for the staff" but instead "here's this ability to make the game specifically responsive to *you* personally"

Ironclaw goes somewhere between threshhold and a graphical game in this regard. There are no areas where players can make their own items or rooms, however players can volunteer to build items that will be introduced into the world as a whole - so if you're particularly interested in, say, cooking... you could do building for new foods, which staff would then approve (and modify if necessary) and add to the game.

So that gives a secondary advantage in that players have more ability, even in restricted games, to add new gameplay elements and items, and help shape the game into what they're after.

Potentially there are other options. Ironclaw has the concept of "loyalty points" which players get for being continual players (if they have a premium account) or they get awarded it for helping out (such as building items) - these loyalty points can be spent to get custom modifications, or to have custom items created or coded. So every player can literally have staff work on just making something special for them. There's unfortunately no way that can be offered in a graphical game.

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Originally Posted by Threshold View Post
I also talk about the fact that the MUD command line interface is far more conducive to chatting/communication. One of the many reasons people chat more in text games is that you are always at the "chat prompt" (rather than having to hit enter to begin chatting, which can sometimes cause all sorts of problems if you hit enter twice and your chat letters open up 47 windows instead).
Mmmmm, yup, or even going a step further.
Again using Ironclaw as my example, since that's what I'm familiar with, every action is done with a "verb"
So instead of:
Hi, how are you?
I'm good
Have you heard about the gladiators?

players instead get in the habit of showing their body language.
wave to bob "Hi, how are you?
nod cordially "I'm good
ask curiously "Have you heard about the gladiators?

Players become so familiar with the verbs that they use them without thinking about it (since almost every reasonable verb is available, and players can suggest any that aren't...)
Where this gets really fun is when the game code watches what verbs are used, and responds accordingly. So an NPC could judge if your character is being aggressive or passive, they can judge if you're showing strong or neutral emotions, and other general impressions - and they can do that while you're essentially just chatting to another player in the game. This means, in a very crude way, the NPCs can react to your character's conversations. If you're a thief, and in a thief den, the NPCs might pick up on the fact that you're having an argument with a visitor, and perhaps loom, or throw the visitor out. Or maybe not do anything, but remember the incident and only let the visitor back in when they are escorted by a thief.

That allows games which have many "hidden" triggers. As in your example in threshhold where the players might not know all the methods of gathering the religious influence - it leaves the players free to react appropriately for the game world, and get a reasonable reaction and reward or punishment for their actions. Which is a whole lot more interesting than what a graphical game would have to be. "Do you a) argue with the thief, or b) befriend the thief" - not nearly as interesting as actually *having* an argument, or befriending, another PC while having an actual conversation.
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Old 02-10-2010, 08:01 PM   #5
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post
players instead get in the habit of showing their body language.
wave to bob "Hi, how are you?
nod cordially "I'm good
ask curiously "Have you heard about the gladiators?

Players become so familiar with the verbs that they use them without thinking about it (since almost every reasonable verb is available, and players can suggest any that aren't...)
On first impression, this sounds more than a little bit fruity. But on reflection, considering all verbs to be a possible form of communication, seems like a really interesting prospect.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thinking about it
take backpack from bob mockingly "What are you going to do about it?
stab pete stealthily
stab pete obviously
If you were stabbing pete stealthily, then it might be an action you perform if you think you can get away with it. And by doing it obviously, you would be inferring to any bystanders that they would be in for a bit of a hiding, if they were to intervene. So it, adds nuances to verbs that were merely rough actions before.

Where did you get this idea from?

Quote:
Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post
Where this gets really fun is when the game code watches what verbs are used, and responds accordingly. So an NPC could judge if your character is being aggressive or passive, they can judge if you're showing strong or neutral emotions, and other general impressions - and they can do that while you're essentially just chatting to another player in the game. This means, in a very crude way, the NPCs can react to your character's conversations. If you're a thief, and in a thief den, the NPCs might pick up on the fact that you're having an argument with a visitor, and perhaps loom, or throw the visitor out. Or maybe not do anything, but remember the incident and only let the visitor back in when they are escorted by a thief.
A situation I have seen described in the past, is an ideal response to an act of crime on a city street. A player attacks another player. Ideally, if there is someone nearby who might hear or see it, they may depending on their own situation or ethics decide to join in, or summon the city guards.

Let's say that the guards arrive and that both parties are dragged off to jail out of principal. They might then, decide to question nearby residents and bystanders, and ask if they remember you and what they remember. Cue the remembered actions of interest being communicated to the guards, and through those, their ability to reconcile what happened.

Hmm. I need to go away and think about this and some other stuff, as writing a command system is where I am at in my code base.
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Old 02-10-2010, 10:26 PM   #6
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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On first impression, this sounds more than a little bit fruity. But on reflection, considering all verbs to be a possible form of communication, seems like a really interesting prospect.
Yep, the interesting thing about this is it takes the gameplay away from "entering commands" and more towards "describing what your character is doing"

Obviously, there are still commands to interact with the game world "ask fishomonger for swordfish" etc.

It leads to exactly what you described. If you stab Pete stealthily, or stab Pete obviously, the system doesn't much care. It just assumes you're stabbing Pete, and gives Pete an injury based on the combat system. The other players, however, do get to see that message and (since the game is RP enforced) for the most part they do respond appropriately. Stabbing Pete stealthily might lead to a scene where the other PCs run up to Pete to check what's wrong and why he collapsed, while stabbing him obviously might lead to them drawing their weapons. In both cases the end result might be the same (or it might not...) - but the social roleplay would be different.

(It also means we have future options. At any point we could add a "stealth attack" option, where if you stab silently/secretly/stealthily/hiddenly/etc. the system might roll to see how stealthy you are, and not describe the attack to any witnesses if you rolled well enough. Because the players are already using commands like this, we wouldn't even have to announce the new system or give a list of commands, the players that are roleplaying would just discover it.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
So it, adds nuances to verbs that were merely rough actions before.
Precisely. It also helps in more normal communication. You can use actions to "speak for you"
Instead of saying "Go away! I don't like you" you might: threateningly loom, "I think you should leave" or shrilly scream, "Go away!" or nervously stutter, "Go away! I don't like you" - all giving the same answer, but giving a lot more information about the sort of character you're playing.

Giving the players easy tools to use when expressing their character helps make the game a lot richer. Staff created content is never going to be as rich as the social interactions that you can have with real human-controlled characters - so we should do what we can to make those social interactions as interesting as possible.

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Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Where did you get this idea from?
I didn't.

When I was new to MUDs, I stumbled across a webpage about a game world, and was kind of intrigued. I found out that there is this "text game thing called a mud" - found mud connector, and tried out about twenty muds. I was pretty overwhelmed by them all, characters coming and going, combat systems, NPCs that walk in and attack you, giant cities to get lost in. It was too much for a raw newbie.

Then I came across Castle Marrach at Skotos - which had this interface. I found it much more intuitive, instead of worrying about learning commands I could "type what I wanted my character to do" and most of the time that worked. I also loved being able to type things like "run my hand through my hair" and see something appear on the screen ("You run your hands through your untidy brown hair") - Castle Marrach had a small world, with lots of players, and no creatures to kill... which means everyone I ran into was ready to roleplay rather than distracted killing orcs - and since it was social, I didn't have to worry as much about learning commands.

I'm not saying that Castle Marrach was a better or worse game than the others that I tried out - but for me, I'd come from a tabletop roleplaying background, so I wanted a story, not a combat simulator. Marrach was simple enough to let me get my foot in the door.

When building Ironclaw Online, I wanted to focus heavily on social interactions - I wanted to make a political game - so this same game engine seemed like the right choice to me. I know it's on an LPC base, but I'm not sure how much Skotos has customized it, or if that's how it behaves "out of the box."

So long ramble that basically comes down to "I copied it from a MUD I played"

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
A situation I have seen described in the past, is an ideal response to an act of crime on a city street. A player attacks another player. Ideally, if there is someone nearby who might hear or see it, they may depending on their own situation or ethics decide to join in, or summon the city guards.
Exactly.
This isn't too hard to code in, most games have a specific command that says "I'm attacking you now" which the NPCs could react to.

What is more interesting to me, and much harder, is for the NPCs to spot that a fight is *going* to break out, and react to that. Maybe their idle chatter dies down, they start watching the PCs more carefully. One might tell the PCs to calm down, or suggest they count to ten. Another might go to summon the guards in anticipation.

Having said all that, Ironclaw Online doesn't actually have NPCs that react to fights in the street. (Yes, I know, I'm all talk about how we can do this, but haven't done it yet.... ) - mostly that's because we've just upgraded our combat system, and I haven't gotten around to writing this yet.

In our case, I'm probably just going to keep things simple, if you have a fight in the streets, there is a percentage chance that the NPCs report the crime. Depending where you fight, the percentage chance is different. The reason for that is because we have a crime system already, where the players can investigate, gather evidence, gather testimonies from other characters, and all that. So I wouldn't want the NPCs to take over too much from that. Being able to question the NPCs and get information like "Peter hit first" or "John used a weapon, while Peter didn't" would certainly contribute to the player's abilities to investigate the crimes, though.

(And add a social aspect. Do you use a weapon in a fight, or just your fists? In a non-social situation, you'd "play the game" and use the most effective weapon, but in a social situation, the guards might react differently to you if you pulled a deadly weapon in a brawl)

I probably *will* add NPCs that react to fights, but only ones directed by other players. For example, a guild might be able to hire NPC guards, and give those guards orders like "break up all fights" or "don't let anyone through this door" - and those guards would react to fights by defending guild members, or similar. But I want that to be something that someone in-game has gone to effort to put a guard there. A blacksmith walking past in the street shouldn't do more than run off and report the crime at most. That way events in the game are more directly the results of the player's actions, rather than the "simulated environment" - in a more solo, or combat-related game, NPCs leaping into the fight would make more sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Let's say that the guards arrive and that both parties are dragged off to jail out of principal. They might then, decide to question nearby residents and bystanders, and ask if they remember you and what they remember. Cue the remembered actions of interest being communicated to the guards, and through those, their ability to reconcile what happened.
Indeed.
This gets tricky, though... how much information are you going to store? Every player is doing multiple "actions" while roleplaying, since every sentence is basically an action.

So it's not hard for the characters to react to things that are happening - for example, for every aggressive-looking action they could become slightly more concerned, while every calm action could make them less concerned - we only have to process and record how concerned the NPC is. To question them, we need them to remember a history of everything that was done. A much bigger task, but certainly possible, especially if they watch for specific things, like they only remember aggressive actions. Or only remember physical actions. They they could say things like "Peter yelled at John" and "John pushed Peter" without having to remember things like "Peter wiped his nose with his hand"

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Hmm. I need to go away and think about this and some other stuff, as writing a command system is where I am at in my code base.
You can't find an engine already written? Spend your effort in building the game rather than reinventing a wheel?
(Of course, if you invent a *new* type of wheel, then that's worthwhile...)
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Old 02-10-2010, 10:41 PM   #7
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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You can't find an engine already written? Spend your effort in building the game rather than reinventing a wheel?
(Of course, if you invent a *new* type of wheel, then that's worthwhile...)
Yes, I could use an existing engine to write a game. But it could only be as much of a game as that engine would let me make, and it would have to be made in the way that games have to be made in that engine. It's entire development would be constrained. Developing a MUD code base is easy. Deciding on the way it should work, and what it should do, less so.
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Old 02-11-2010, 01:47 AM   #8
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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Yes, I could use an existing engine to write a game. But it could only be as much of a game as that engine would let me make, and it would have to be made in the way that games have to be made in that engine. It's entire development would be constrained. Developing a MUD code base is easy. Deciding on the way it should work, and what it should do, less so.
Well, yes. You want to start from scratch if you're making something new

Many codebases will handle things like objects, resource management, parser interface, etc. - while still letting you jump in and write the code for how the game should behave for the players. I was thinking more along the lines of something like that - but if it's easier to just build it all from scratch, then more power to you
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Old 02-11-2010, 08:59 AM   #9
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Yes, I could use an existing engine to write a game. But it could only be as much of a game as that engine would let me make, and it would have to be made in the way that games have to be made in that engine. It's entire development would be constrained.
Unless parts of the codebase are closed source, your only constraints are time, skill and imagination. Some codebases are better suited to certain things of course, but anything you can do with one codebase you can also do with another - and some codebases are very bare-bones, leaving most things up to you.
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Old 02-11-2010, 03:57 PM   #10
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Re: Engaging Players - Desgining Group Contests

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I didn't.

When I was new to MUDs, I stumbled across a webpage about a game world, and was kind of intrigued. I found out that there is this "text game thing called a mud" - found mud connector, and tried out about twenty muds. I was pretty overwhelmed by them all, characters coming and going, combat systems, NPCs that walk in and attack you, giant cities to get lost in. It was too much for a raw newbie.

Then I came across Castle Marrach at Skotos - which had this interface. I found it much more intuitive, instead of worrying about learning commands I could "type what I wanted my character to do" and most of the time that worked. I also loved being able to type things like "run my hand through my hair" and see something appear on the screen ("You run your hands through your untidy brown hair") - Castle Marrach had a small world, with lots of players, and no creatures to kill... which means everyone I ran into was ready to roleplay rather than distracted killing orcs - and since it was social, I didn't have to worry as much about learning commands.

I'm not saying that Castle Marrach was a better or worse game than the others that I tried out - but for me, I'd come from a tabletop roleplaying background, so I wanted a story, not a combat simulator. Marrach was simple enough to let me get my foot in the door.
On a related note, I found this article by Skotos.
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