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Old 11-08-2002, 10:48 AM   #1
jornel
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Hi everyone,

I was reading the discussion thread about RPXP, and was struck by how such 'rp' systems construct a set of combat stats that seem to be every bit as contrived and as mechanical as the regular vanilla combat stats which we all are familiar.  But pray tell, which element of inter-character 'roleplay' do these manufactured stats apply to?

One might be tempted to think of them as PK shortcuts for manipulator twinks... 'My character can kill your character, and I didn't have to kill zillions of mobs gaining levels to do so.'

This immediately raises two questions in my mind:

1) What does THIS have to do with RP?  (rhetorical)

2) What's so wrong about killing mobs? (which is the topic of this post)

The basic motif in every Tolkienesque story is to assemble an assortment of colorful individuals from a variety of backgrounds, allow them (or coerce them) to form a group that must go out into The World (always for some worthy or noble purpose) and to have as many hair-raising, narrow escapes as possible.  And all throughout these frequent encounters with Fierce Nasty Beasties, each character experiences a kind of mytsical inner growth, which helps them to overcome whatever internal personal demons they struggle against (shyness, meekness, unworthiness).

The formula ain't broke, folks.

I personally fail to see how players standing around town square chatting and emoting up a storm (no matter how melodramatically they do it) qualifies as RP. Or why this should be worthy of experience while at the same time combat against mobs is pooh-poohed as mere 'hack and slash'.

It is true that some muds out there suffer from lack of imagination (Oh look, another zombie!  Think we'll have to kill this one like we did its 9999 brethren before?  Or should we try to make friends this time?)

What I'd like to do on this thread is to look for better ways to use mob combat to enrich the rp experience, rather than to detract from it.  It naturally implies that we'll have to build better mobs, but that's a topic for another forum.

I'm specifically interested in hearing about people's actual rp encounters with memorable mobs, whether friend or foe.  Failing any actual good experiences, I'd ask for your suggestions as to the types of encounters you'd like to see in a game.

- Jornel

(Looking to restore respect to the title 'Goblinslayer')
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Old 11-09-2002, 01:53 AM   #2
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There is nothing wrong with killing mobs. NOTHING. UNLESS, your rp goes against it. Priests of the goddess of Peace or whatever shouldn't have to go out and slaughter things to gain experience so that they can heal people. They should be able to heal people to be able to heal people better, no? Fighters can be RPed, believe it or not, and that RP may involve practicing against those poor goblins. This is why I like skill-based, not level-based, muds. Not because it's hard to level, or that it involves senseless slaughter (Hurray!), but usually, there is only one way of leveling. Even if I were to play a warrior there, I'd still be frustrated, because I'd be supporting something that doesn't really work in my mind. You kill and you kill and you kill, and that leaves out so much more you can do with a mud. It degrades the RP of muds (there are some exceptions).

On a side note, I don't care about Tolkien. LotR are books. Pretty original ones. Good ones. Ones that shouldn't be copied to death. So everyone think of something non-Tolkien for your muds if you can/want. Originality is the well-spring of advancement, and such.
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Old 11-09-2002, 03:56 PM   #3
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There's nothing wrong with killing mobs. It just insults my intelligence, monotonously killing the same thing. It doesn't require any mental capacity or special talents, zero skills, and mobbers just so resemble the jocks from gym class I had to put up with oh so long ago.
That's it- mobbers and pkers are the jocks of MU*s.
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Old 11-09-2002, 04:26 PM   #4
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I think the key issue here is that online RP is impractical no matter how you try it. In full RP systems you get forced to interact, even if the style you want to use to play is as a loner. In combat based systems it is kill the same thing 500 times in a row to get the next spell/skill, so that 'maybe' you can kill something bigger. There is no real middle ground because mobs are precoded, stupid and often do little more than stand around waiting to get attacked. There is no DM around to make the orc you run into speak with a lisp and offers to give you a magic ring, if only you can find something unique to add to its slug collection. Players can grow in the game, but the mobs by nature can't and that leads to a split between muds that force RP by eliminating mobs as targets, or those that force player interaction by making some mobs so strong they can't be killed alone.

Neither method works in the long run, because at some point you either get tired of standing around talking or you run out of things that are worth attacking. The mud I play on is more of the combat one. It manages to have a fairly loyal following because of special events, invasions and a fair amount of intereaction between players. No one is forced to RP, PK is limited to make life safe for most players and practically anyone can apply to design an area. However, some of the most loyal players spend most of their time idle (unless there is an invasion) and more than a few have left due to boredom.

One solution is to design some sort of AI system like in The Sims, where there is true interaction between the mobs and the enviroment. If they could change, grow and do things not hard-coded into them, then you wouldn't be killing the same thing over and over, you would have to plan and consider tactics (such as how to deal with a normally harmless orc that just picked up the Mace of Oblivion some player dropped), not to mention something more suffisticated than simply repopping the same identical mob every time. Wouldn't it be more fun after all if the new mob 'remembers' the player killing its parents? It is quite easy to install a mud, create a few standard mobs that stand around and look stupid, then throw players at them, but it doesn't provide true RP and can often sabotage any RP you try to introduce. The middle ground between the two extremes of mudding is practically a wasteland due to the apparent inability of anyone to design one that isn't either 'Myst - The chat room' or 'Doom - Now using full ansi text!'.
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Old 11-09-2002, 06:24 PM   #5
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This is exactly what I'm going to do with my mud. Every mob which it makes sense for will have the ability to talk to a player, using a chatterbox AI. It may take a few seconds to respond, though. Each mob will have it's own file in which is kept it's experiences and what it has learned, and the mud will have to load these every time something talks to it, or else it all gets to be too much of a strain. I'm even planning for inter-mob interaction, with code preventing loops.

Of course I suck at programming, and this will all take time to learn. I've considered holding a contest of sorts where a person who integrates some sort of AI that learns well gets some money. Would $100 get people on their feet and making it? $500? I could even save for a while and give you $1000, all in the name of the progression of MUDkind.
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Old 11-10-2002, 06:58 PM   #6
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Hmm. Well chatterbox ideas are interesting, but until someone makes a publicly available one that is at least close to a system called CYC (which has a 4 year old comprehension level) it will never quite work. The problem with CYC is it needs its own server, requires an immense database and there are major problems with it 'learning' things about the game you don't want it to know or for that matter giving in a means to pretend to be more than one mob. However, it will take this level of interaction to make it real enough to avoid the 'Oh, its just a chatterbox' response.

In general I was thinking more alonge the lines of a limited set of responses like they used to have in the ultima games, which where good enough to make them more than just a flower pot that can hurt you. Combined with that would be a simple AI like in The Sims which combines a set of attributes that change over time, like how tired, hungry, angry, greedy, etc. the mob is. So a thief that is very hungry might ignore a player completely or if greed and hunger are about equal, try to steal from you 'while' getting a snack. Each attribute would have a build rate, with say a good priest having a build rate of 0 for greed, so they would never try to cheat or steal. This requires some work to balance things so that a merchant is satisfied enough with a sale to offset the greed, at least unless they haven't sold anything for weeks, etc.

The other problem is that in The Sims how and to what the mob responds to is dependant both on level of need for that thing 'and' proximity to available sources. If a mob wanders all over town on a set schedual, this 'may' work, but if yoiu want them to wander out of their areas or be more random, how do you define proximity on a mud without giving them a map of everything and hoping you don't have to go back and change it everytime someone tweaks some code in the area. The other issue is needing a way to allow the mobs to know what objects do and how to use them. This could be based on what 'skills' the mob itself has, but they still need some way to know that the fire arrows are used with the bow it just bought, etc. It is complicated, but imho probably easier to make mobs believable in this way, than trying to make them 'talk' like real people.
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Old 11-10-2002, 11:27 PM   #7
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Hmm... seeing how the discussion is going, maybe I should clarify a few points.

Shadowfyr seems to have some very valuable insights about ways of producing 'more intelligent' behaviour from mobs (something I would be more than happy to pursue on the coder's forum), but the question I want to ask here is a different one.

Alahja's feelings about killing mobs illustrates the problem I wish to find answers for.  Repetitively killing mindless mobs *IS* dull.  But consider the alternatives out there: take away the mobs, and you are left with either an ANSI chatroom, or worse, a 'game' where you pay irl money to buy 'learning points' so that then you can find another player to learn from, who teaches you how to give tattoos - or bake bread.

Look at many of the popular non-mud RPG games out there.  There are plenty that involve fighting computer-generated mobs, perhaps in varied groups or formations...  Of course someone could argue that it's mindless, but the truth is that there are many avid gameplayers who get a kind of  satisfaction from that, and would enjoy the added rp dimension of grouping with (irl and on-game) friends while doing so.

In those games, at strategic points in the story, there are 'episodic' scripts that direct NPC actions at key moments in the game - they are part of the 'reward' to the player and/or the group who have advanced the story along.

In a mud, all stories run in parallel, but nothing prevents this type of story progression on an area-by-area basis.  And yes, the stories would have to be repeatable, since there are always new players coming on, and even some older players may like to 're-run' an area.

Maybe now you understand the discussion I'm trying to provoke here.  I want to raise the 'game-enjoyment level' of killing mobs, to raise it so that perhaps it is LESS boring, and more tied to the RP of the player or of the sub-story they are participating in.

Direct your thoughts outside the world of MUDs if need be.  Don't get bogged down on the technical side of it, but at the same time don't assume that there will be huge advances in the level of game AI.

Hope its clearer now...  
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Old 11-11-2002, 04:01 PM   #8
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I am not 100% sure you can seperate the technical end from the RP. When you do you get one of two things, mobs that are little more than window dressing and players that get to a high level, reinvent themselves half a dozen times in new guilds, then eventually leave because there just isn't enough real RP to keep them there. Or the other problem is forced RP, where most of the effort gets put into interaction and being in character and there is little if any real mob involvement, combined with people like me that like some RP, but would go nuts trying to stay in character all the time. lol

I have yet to design an area for a mud and one 'major' reason for it is that, short of developing an entirely new one, the biggest problem besided ideas I have had is figuring out how to make it into something more detailed and interesting then, find key, open box, take contents of box to sage, get key from sage, open locked door, kill boring mob for the tenth time... There has to be a balance and unless someone comes up with a workable way to let mobs become smarter, including expanding their territory or the like if the players stop paying attention to them, things are not likely to get better any time soon. So in a way it does become a technical issue, because the 'current' way of doing things, while easy to impliment, doesn't really work.

In any case I already put in my two cents about what flaws exist, so.. anyone else?
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Old 11-11-2002, 04:29 PM   #9
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Old 11-11-2002, 05:41 PM   #10
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Most of the time, I would prefer a pen and paper adventure run by a competent, imaginative GM and some good RP companions.  I believe the reasons can be used as a list of 'what would make killing mobs more interesting."

I. NPC's/Monsters are connected to an overall story.
 
  A. As plot/story advancement devices.
      The bloodied merchant who stumbles in the tavern at
      the beginning of the adventure provides a rally-point for
      our intrepid band of RP'ers, and gives them a specified
      goal that leads them in a particular direction.  Motives
      can vary from the Paladin wanting to wreak holy
      vengeance, to the thief looking for booty.

      The group of highwaymen are lead by a charismatic
       NPC leader with a yet undisclosed tie to a VPM
      (Very Powerful Mage) who of course has the overall
      goal of ruling the entire world.  

      Key NPC's and monsters are part of the adventure to
      set the wheels in motion, and to move them along in
      whatever direction the group decides to go.

      Putting this to work in a MUD can be done as it is with
      most commercial CRPG's: Set pieces, and storytelling
      dialogs.

      The weakness is that with a random number of players
      logging into the game, you have to leave that piece
      there for all the newer players.  The only way the vets
      would return to such a sequence is if they get some kind
      of RP or XP for doing so... barring the occasional PC who
      goes back to check on information to solve a mystery.

      Providing this level of interaction necessitates a
      relatively low-tech solution... not really more than
      conditional triggers and HD/DB space to store the text.

      A better solution to my thinking is to have these story
      and plot setting NPC's run by a human.  This of course
      requires dedicated and knowledgeable staff/volunteers.
      The major drawback here being that few people meet
      the requirements of 1. Ability, 2. Trust, 3. Dedication.
      By trust, I mean someone who shares the vision of the
      MUD operators, to keep their directed RP within guidlines.
      Trusting them not to cheat, create Uber-weapons for
      friends and so on is so basic I only mention it because of
      my anal-retentive thoroughness.

II. NPC's and monsters in PnP games display a great variety
   of types and even within types there are skill and
   weapon differences.

  A. Variety.

      This is where I believe MUDs and PnP are most closely
      alike.  Mature MUDs have dozens of mobs, weapons,
      forms of attack and armors.  Even in a PnP session, there
      will be hack and slash elements where the dwarves run
      screaming curses into the enemy goblins with their axes
      swinging or the party stumbles into a rat-infested room
      where a mage cleans up with a fireball.  The quantifiable
      difference is that in PnP, many of the NPC's/monsters
      have their own motivations/needs/ and:
 
  B. Intelligence and ablility to adapt.

      NPC's who can respond in a variety of ways.  This
      is more difficult to implement in a MUD.  Intelligent AI
      may sound cool, but the overwhelming majority of what
      passes for AI in computer games is simple cheating
      where NPC baddies are given abnormal stats or bonuses
      unavailable to a player.  AI is DAMNED HARD to do, eats
      up money and time and isn't something likely to have a
      13 yr old code and release to public domain.  Good AI
      code is worth far too much.

      Compare the costs of such an endeavor to having
      volunteers or even a paid staff to 'run' the NPC baddies.
      Much better return on investment.

Continued after coffee...
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Old 11-12-2002, 04:40 AM   #11
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Well, I haven't so far read anything here that hasn't been attempted by the game I'm playing...

It's currently undergoing overhauls to get it all finished, but all of what I've heard so far will be addressed somewhat when it does...

So you're looking for a medium between the hack&slash and the skill-only platform? Why not have both... Hercules & Xena: Alliance of Heroes (really, don't diss it just cuz of the name) has had a combat-only system running for a number of years now, but after everything gets completed and the dust settles (which will probably be some time this year still), there's going to be a secondary, completely skill-based crafting system introduced. You want to get good at killing things? Go kill things. You want to get good at basket weaving? Go weave baskets. Seems a lot more accurate as a representation of real life.

Currently (even though the guy heading them hasn't been allowed to go nuts yet) the critters do gang up on people, pick each other up, double team, and actually do think (if they're badly injured, weaker than you and can move, you'll see just how quick something can run). They have alignments (good, neutral, bad) and all varieties can be attacked (that is, once he's allowed to introduce the good-aligned critters). Of course, the good-guys don't attack you unless you throw the first punch, and the baddies would be the best paid since crime pays, but it will be possible to decide your alignment by what you attack.

The combat system is going to be simultaneously re-repaired and guilds introduced (though strictly RP-based) and the currently mandatory profession system crushed into ashes. You wanna be a battle mage, a ranger, go train in the right skills, forget about some official name. Nobody was born to be a rogue.

So there will be *both* killing mobs and a strictly skill-training based system. Should interest both those that love, and love to hate, killing mobs.

They already have a number of events where a GM comes down (often in disguise) and has an on-going week-or-more-long storyline, where players can solve some parts regardless of when they're around.

One last thing... I'm not trying to inappropriately advertise the game I play, I just read all the posts under this category and didn't really hear an issue that wasn't being addressed by the staff. Sure, our critters won't be capable of independent speech, but then again, who's ever had an in-depth conversation with a machine? People invented a language so why not use it with other people?
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Old 11-17-2002, 05:11 PM   #12
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Some things I've noticed about single player computer games whose storylines have been praised over and over. They assign you a persona. They have a beginning, middle and end. (eg. Planescape: Torment, Starcraft, Half-Life.)

It all adds up to a satisfactory conclusion because people are story hounds and willing to immerse themselves in a persona. In muds though, players make up their own RP persona. And muds continue for all time. This makes it very hard to create a good storyline.

I'm thinking the beginning, middle and end part might just be covered by "zones" or "areas" built with a specific storyline, as someone mentioned above.

It might help if the mud underwent "cycles" of story arcs, every 6-12 months, created by the admin staff. But this might mean neverending, frenzied building and coding for admin.

How -do- you build areas for players with their own RP persona though, without good AI or a human-controlled mobile? To use some broad stereotypes, one might be a devout paladin, another might be a sneak thief, and someone else an evil cleric. All three would probably react differently to a rich merchant asking them for help.

Can we just make mob programs with assumptions based on class and race, or is this too simple a picture? Should we try to code a sophisticated alignment system for mobs to react to?

Or is it possible to assign mud players personas for each area they are visiting...Or based on the organizations they're in? I've not played Anarchy Online myself, but reviews mention their "missions" in which you can receive a set quest from a particular organization, killing mobs and gaining experience along the way.

I've got no answers, but just throwing up some thoughts.
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