First Principles

Because we haven't had a crazy, abstract, whacked-out design thread for a while...

One of the things that bugs me about virtual worlds (game-like ones in particular) is how the paradigm doesn't really change much. We still get designers discussing what classes and races their world will have, without having considered whether they need classes or races at all.

So here's a question: given the absolute minimum that you need to have a virtual world, how can you extend that in ways that don't take us back to Second Life or World of Warcraft?

I guess I'd better define what I mean by "absolute minimum" first, huh?

OK, well for a virtual world you need a world (obviously) and players. The players need to be able to do things to or with each other; they also need to be able to do things to the world, which in turn should be able to do things to them.

That's about it.

Yes, I know, there are a bunch of assumptions embedded in there. Here are the main ones I think I make:
i) To count as a world, its existence has to be independent of that of the players: it continues to run when you're not there. In other words, it has persistence.
ii) There are absolute limitations on the actions that can be undertaken in the world: it has a physics. Because the world is virtual, the physics is implemented via computers.
iii) Players operate within the physics: each represents an individual within the virtual world. They have a character (or avatar if you prefer).
iv) Because players exist in the real world but their characters exist in the virtual world, there must be synchronisation. Virtual worlds therefore have to operate at speeds close to real time.

That really is it.

So, given this starting point (or your own), where can we go that we haven't been to before?

Richard


Comments on First Principles:

David Cheney says:

Is this playful curiosity, or are you suggesting that there are clear motives to *avoid* going "back to Second Life or World of Warcraft"?

Can anyone provide links to some notable posts offering critiques of thse games ... the things we'd like to avoid?

Dave

Posted May 4, 2007 12:24:17 PM | link

Thomas says:

What about single-player Virtual Worlds?

I had this recurring idea of a virtual "Robinson Crusoe" island, where the physics of the game-world dictated everything -

say for example that you want to build a fence around your base, you wouldn't click "build->Fence" and then "place" the finished fence somewhere, but instead you would build it by collecting sticks and ramming them into the ground.

Eventually the sticks would become a de facto fence, even though it would still just be a lot of individual sticks in the sand.

Posted May 4, 2007 12:26:48 PM | link

Chad O'Neil says:

This reminds me of a robot vacuum example from a computer science (CS) class I took. I am not a CS person so if I mess this up pardon me. We have the robot, the undetermined area to be vacuumed, and the program. Make it vacuum without covering any spot twice.

So we have our undetermined area (the ‘virtual world’) and the point of “absolute minimum.” I will skip the program for now and go right to the robot. What about customized avatars or class/race combinations are compelling? What makes my presence in a virtual world different from yours? I need difference for one.

Posted May 4, 2007 1:17:55 PM | link

mike says:

I think there's some wiggle room in iii)--just why does each player need to control a single piece?

I can imagine VWs evolving from game genres other than dungeon crawling rpgs: train games, sims, and civs all have the investment of long hours into steadily building up a thing, that thing's just not a person. Even there you could still have avatars; one of the striking things about playing Japanese console versions of these kinds of games is how often they put in characters to do the job of mouse pointers and menus.

Or, oo! How about space tradin'! :P

It's a neat exercize: it's hard to not wind up in the same place as WoW or SL; a lot of the things they do, they do for a reason.

Posted May 4, 2007 1:35:56 PM | link

Verilazic says:

Well, players will want some way to distinguish themselves from each other, preferably on more than a visual level.

Posted May 4, 2007 3:02:08 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Drop: euclidean space and predictability.

Posted May 4, 2007 3:07:17 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

1. Well, you could use scale as a major force in leveling. I've been thinking about "Spore" since... well... they started hyping it in 1979, right? And Katamary Damacy, too. Could you have a VW where you start as something very small and leveling makes you bigger. But where certain skills stopped working at larger levels. I mean, little faeries can go places where trolls cannot. So maybe you might *want* to "level sideways" as a smaller thing as opposed to growing bigger.

1.b. Worlds/characters within worlds. Start as a warrior but discover an ant-farm and dive in as an ant-lord. Tunnel into the earth and find the Horde of the Dead and inhabit a ghost and haunt your old buddies.

2. Other than strategy that is based on folks working well together in groups (which isn't based on the world, but on basic ideas of strategy), I haven't seen much work done on the idea that groups of players can actually do *different* things than individuals. IE, skills that require 5+ people or chaotic things that happen if you get Type A and Type B players in the same room.

3. Time-flow. A couple great single-player games have allowed for the player to rewind time, usually for short bursts, or to slow it down. Don't know how possible that would be in an MMO. But how much would it suck if you just beat-down a PvP rival gang and they pulled a "do-over" spell on you?

4. No equipment (or identical, communal equipment for everyone). All in-game actions based on skills.

5. XP awarded (and or stolen) by (from) players from a personal pool.

5.b. User created quests.

6. Characters that can join together to make a mega-character (boss-like).

7. All in-game "stuff" built from a few key elements; water, air, fire, earth? Kind of a "Black and White" meme, but where you learn to control elements more precisely as you spend time doing it. Start a fire enough times, you get to start it at a distance. Put rocks around the fire to contain it enough times, you get to create heated rocks. You don't know what the skills will be until they pop up.

8. Not knowing if a character you approach is a PC or an NPC. Ever.

9. No in-game communication beyond the initial physics of the world.

10. No in-game visibility of avatar beyond the effects of what you do.

10b. The shepherd/programmer type game, where you can't do anything yourself, but must rely on your minions to do it all.

11. A game where leveling gives you more environment/land to control, to do with as you will. Farming gives you food, mining gives resources, etc. Which then levels you differently. Larger land = ability to build stuff. Merging land with neighbors allows for bigger stuff immediately... but all neighbors must agree on the builds, etc. Or elect a leader? Anyway... built around land as the value. When one player/guild owns the whole shard, they can make war on other shards ;-)

12. Classes based on "doing" vs. "judging." If you are a "do-er," you get to kill stuff, complete quests, etc. The usual MMO things. If you are a judger, you get to assign quests, give out XP, award trophies, etc. Yeah, I know. Shut up.

Time to stop for now.

Posted May 4, 2007 5:01:41 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

I'm tempted to answer with a lengthy post, but I don't think I'll bother. I've tried in the past.

Whenever I try, people either (a) say it's impossible, (b) assume that I'm talking about classes/XP in disguise, or (c) nod politely because either they don't get it, or they think I've lost the plot. In all cases, they go on making Diku/EQ/WoW clones or Moo/SL clones.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink... out of a water fountain. A horse will recognize a stream or trough as a source of water because it's had experience with those, but it couldn't possibly imagine that the water-like substance coming out of the fountain is actually water.

Posted May 4, 2007 6:18:46 PM | link

ErikC says:

why does there have to be one to one scale in size, time, or avatar representation?
Even if one of your conditions is realistic simulation (or have I misread here) couldn't I be a quark, or something moving near the speed of light, or be an ant colony?

Also: not sure players have to operate within physics as understood by us, or literary worlds could not be simulated as virtual worlds.

I'd add another requirement: what people do leaves some form of possibly decipherable trace for others, player actions should also have ongoing environmental presence and persistence.

Posted May 4, 2007 6:41:27 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Picking up on some of the stuff Andy mentions, there is a lot of unexplored territory in all the possible Virtual Worlds. I like the idea of communicating with other players by the effects of what you do. I’ve had some sense of that in the world of WURM, where players can do a lot to shape the landscape.

I’d like to see a world in which your avatar carried on a life when you were offline. Or even break the one to one correspondence between player and avatar. Make the player a spirit god, able to possess NPCs and push them to outstanding feats when under the influence. But the player may choose to posses a different NPC next play session. Such a “game” would become one of creating the story of your Demi-god, and their interventions in the world.

I’m fascinated by the idea of time travel in virtual worlds. I’ve been messing about for years with idea of a gardening based VW that would have such a feature. I’ve concluded that, to be practical, players would have to be very limited in their actions in the world. But planting seeds, tending gardens, following different weather histories might all be things amenable to the “what if?” impulse. Now, how would you hold a conversation in such a world?

Maybe some of the territory has been explored, and found wanting. I don’t know. Certainly, if you want to do something different, its hard to see how you would connect with the people who might like it. Game sites are frequented by people who like current games. As people have noted, game betas tend to eliminate novelty, because people complain about stuff that doesn’t suit their playstyle. People who might like that novelty don’t hear of the betas. Katamary Damacy and Spore suggest that novelty is possible though.

Posted May 4, 2007 7:57:05 PM | link

Thomas says:

Stop talking about Spore until it's actually out.

Posted May 4, 2007 8:29:50 PM | link

Mikyo says:

"To count as a world, its existence has to be independent of that of the players: it continues to run when you're not there. In other words, it has persistence."

I think we need a better definition of persistance. A world can never be independent of the players, who would pay for it? Continues to 'run' when you're not there? Continues to exist perhaps, but essentially does nothing except wait for input. I love the theory that a persistent world can continue to evolve even without players. But the truth is that most 'virtual worlds' do not evolve even with players present. Azeroth will be exactly the same from now until the next patch. The only thing that actually 'persists' IS the players themselves.

Posted May 5, 2007 2:52:32 AM | link

Dave Rickey says:

I'd like to explore the implications of geometry. Worlds laid out in toroids, mobius strips, klein bottles, other hyperdimensional contructs. How does this effect the territorial impulse (which evolved for the essentially 2D surface of a globe)?

Since it's impractical to try to reduce the means by which the players communicate (because they just fall back on out of game means), what if we could *enhance* them, in terms of legitimate intercepts of hostile communications and movements?

AI is still a grossly under-explored area of great potential. Not by neccessarily making the NPC's tougher, but making their actions more coordinated, with goals of their own.

I'm currently focusing on games that don't have combat (it's not that popular with the 13-35 year old female market). I think these games have a lot to teach us, not just about how to make games for that market, but for non-combat conflict and cooperation in all games.

This is all just kind of stream of consciousness, maybe I'll have something more structured tomorrow.

--Dave

Posted May 5, 2007 3:51:07 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Geometry has a huge impact on Second Life. Magnified because of private spaces, and multiple kinds of spaces, and because most locations are 'owned' by someone. Most plots are much taller than their ground level footprint, so there are many high-rise structures, and even gravity-defying 'skyhouses.' Much controversy also about the right to fly over private areas, peek or teleport thru walls, dump primmy 'garbage' on the neighbors lawn, and suchlike.

Posted May 5, 2007 4:43:51 AM | link

Mikyo says:

I love the idea of surveillance and 'interecepts' spoofing, jamming and such. All of these are already being done in (you guessed it) Second Life. Almost all also violate the Terms of Service. But in a more 'gamey' world, privacy laws might not apply.

Posted May 5, 2007 4:47:22 AM | link

Mikyo says:

I don't see much need for making smarter combat AI. Nor even more realistic behavior. What I would like to see is 'artificial characters' with more personality. Imagine NPCs with 'mood' and 'tone' that change depending on how you treat them.

Posted May 5, 2007 4:51:54 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

DaveCheney>Is this playful curiosity, or are you suggesting that there are clear motives to *avoid* going "back to Second Life or World of Warcraft"?

The motive to avoid it is that we don't know that we might be missing something better. Thinking, unlike developing, is free.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 6:11:09 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

mike>I think there's some wiggle room in iii)--just why does each player need to control a single piece?

They don't need to control just one piece, but they do need to feel that one of the pieces they control is "them" (ie. the player in the virtual world).

>it's hard to not wind up in the same place as WoW or SL; a lot of the things they do, they do for a reason.

In that case, what are those reasons, and are there other ways to address what they address?

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 6:34:11 AM | link

virida says:

Some ideas ive had:

1. small and big characters. Like, in a disney mmo, you could make both small chipmunk, squirrel, bee or mouse characters, or big human sized ones. And both interacts (shrink rays, giant robots to crew, etc). same is possible wit Transformers, and humans and robots as playable in same world.

This is a assumption most make: you cannot make a game with so wastly different characters. It should BE possible.

2. Differing physics laws. A playfield of flying coins, cogweels, or something, and the ability to wanter on all surfaces, and face other players going on an other plane. Ability to jump and "swim" to an other gravity field. Or, say, areas of playfields who is 2D "flatland", and places with 4 dimentions who players can move in (up/down, side/side, forward/back, and two new directions, i call them inside/outside here).

3. dimentions and time. Like, 2 planes beside each other, who is mirror worlds, and players can "shift" between them.

I think this isnt any good ideas even, just ramblings, but its possible, imho, and most devs who atm love WOW as the best game in universe would say its impossible.

A longtime mmo player
Virida, from EVE online.

Posted May 5, 2007 6:36:41 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>Drop: euclidean space and predictability.

We did have this for textual worlds, of course. Nevertheless, we found that a world with physics too distant from reality's meant that players struggled to immerse themselves - they had to think about things they don't have to think about much in reality, such as which way is down. A world that operates on the whole in a fashion similar to the way that players internalise how reality works will be easier for them to accept (they can do it automatically), and therefore easier for them to become immersed in.

Do we want players to become immersed in virtual worlds? If so, we should go for a physics not too distant from reality's; if we don't care, we can try other physics.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 6:40:30 AM | link

Alex says:

To drop in a few thoughts:
- as it stands right now, weather is purely decorative (in WoW for example), except for perhaps the odd visibility drop; snow should be slippery and heavy wind could have an effect on your speed. Then, there's the bigger stuff: tornadoes that fling trees/skinnier party members in your direction? Earthquakes? Volcanoes that don't just sit there looking pretty? Bottomline, an environment that isn't so damn static.

- on the subject of classes: I liked the way old UO handled this. You had some templates, but there was nothing set in stone. You could combine skills however you wanted and, if you got bored with them, you could just get other skills (granted, it was a tad more complicated than I make it sound). You reached the level cap and realized you'd rather be that bloke with the sword and breastplate rather than the healing bot you currently are? There's no reason you should have to waste another few hundred hours grinding up a new character, when you could respecialize. Granted, this should also take some effort but not to the extend where you want to gauge your eyes out.

- a world that players can actually influence. As it stands right now, most MMOs have a story that advances by itself, in its own rhythm. It's a tad ironic that the ads usually call for you to be the 'hero of the land' and as you do step into the land, you find yourself in the shoes of a FedEx employee, while the big script advances more or less the same way, regardless of your actions. Granted, when you have 1M+ players, it's rather hard for every one of them to have a strong impact on the story but then again, attempts are being made (ie: Vanguard's diplomacy system?).

I should probably stop rambling for now.


Posted May 5, 2007 7:18:06 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Andy Havens>1. Well, you could use scale as a major force in leveling.

You could use it without linking to levelling at all. We don't need levelling for scale.

Different scale is, though, an appealing idea. So long as the player has a sense of their continued identity, then whether they operate at the level of the atom or the universe is immaterial. The interesting thing is that different players can be at different sizes in the universe and have different effects on each other as a result.

>I haven't seen much work done on the idea that groups of players can actually do *different* things than individuals.

It would still have to be the individuals who acted (or one individual who controlled the group). That said, there hasn't been a lot done that I'm aware of in terms of persistent group properties except in terms of collective ownership and reputation. If, for example, I refused to accept a few meagre coins from some poor peasants on the grounds that "the members of my order work for good, not for money", then that would enhance the reputation of my order (guild); if I said "I work for good, not for money" then it would enhance my reputation.

There seem to be different kinds of groups in virtual worlds: persistent, transient; formal, informal. Each has different needs and different benefits. For the virtual world itself to support a group, it would have to be formal (ie. recognised as an object by the virtual world), but could be transient (party) or persistent (guild).

What would be interesting here is if an informal group gained some extra ability as an emergent consequence of playing together. There should be some nice gameplay possibilities there.

>3. Time-flow.

A virtual world's time is necessarily linked to real time, at least in the sense that it has to map to it continuously for all the players for significant (real) periods. You can break it with resets/restarts or system-wide database revisions, but you can't wind it back for an individual unless you wind it back for all the other individuals.

>4. No equipment (or identical, communal equipment for everyone). All in-game actions based on skills.

Are skills the only alternative to equipment?

>5. XP awarded (and or stolen) by (from) players from a personal pool.

This breaks the usual fiction of what XP represents. If you want this system, you have to present a fiction to explain why I can steal experience from you.

>5.b. User created quests.

This means that players must be able to propose actions for other players to take, and offer rewards for those actions. Again, there are two ways to go about this: formal (supported by the virtual world) or informal. An example of a formal one would be where I put up a contract for one dragon's head for which I will pay twenty cows, and the moment you present me with the head then the virtual world honours the contract itself in code. An informal one would be where I ask you to go talk to a NPC while I raid his house, and we split the booty. The only thing that enforces that contract is trust or threat.

>6. Characters that can join together to make a mega-character (boss-like).

And what would each player do? Just sit and watch while the commander wreaked havoc?

This kind of thing does work for vehicle control. If five people are in control of a starship, then one could be captain, another the navigator, another on comms, another on weapons, another on engineering. What happens here is that you take the attributes of a super-character and separate them off into individual subsystems, each of which you put under the control of one player.

>7. All in-game "stuff" built from a few key elements; water, air, fire, earth?

This has been tried in textual worlds. It's a lot of effort and the rewards aren't great. The major benefit is that you get the ability to take objects apart and rebuild them (easier in text than today's graphics). However, it has a heavy reliance on physics to succeed. If, for example, I hammer a nail into my club, does it do extra damage? What if I added 2 nails? Or 20? Or 200? Some poor designer has had to write a formula to cover that...

>Start a fire enough times, you get to start it at a distance.

When new designers ask me to look at their projects, well over half of the Fantasy ones have an elemental magic system as part of it. A good half of the remainder are of the "magic returns after nuclear apocalypse" variety.

>8. Not knowing if a character you approach is a PC or an NPC. Ever.

Better AI - yes!

>9. No in-game communication beyond the initial physics of the world.

Now this is interesting. Players would resort to using external means of communication, of course, such as Teamspeak or Ventrilo, but they'd have to know each other to do that. If the world's physics matched that of reality, you couldn't tell a complete stranger in-world at a distance that you want them to come and buy 1000 gold from you at only $90.18 .

>10. No in-game visibility of avatar beyond the effects of what you do.

Or contingent visibility? And of the world, as well as the player? If everyone in my group has done the "burn down the village" quest then when we arrive at the village it's burned down, but people who haven't burned it down see it still intact (and don't see us).

>10b. The shepherd/programmer type game, where you can't do anything yourself, but must rely on your minions to do it all.

If there's no representation of you within the world, or if there is but it can't act on the world, do we still have a virtual world or do we have something else?

>Yeah, I know. Shut up.

I get told that, too!

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 7:29:33 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

ErikC>Even if one of your conditions is realistic simulation (or have I misread here) couldn't I be a quark, or something moving near the speed of light, or be an ant colony?

Yes you could. Realistic simulation isn't a criterion, but there are consequences of straying from it too far. The more the players have to force themselves to accept the world, the fewer players you'll get.

>Also: not sure players have to operate within physics as understood by us, or literary worlds could not be simulated as virtual worlds.

The physics don't have to be understood by us, but they do have to exist. The virtual world must constrain what players can do to the environment at some level; those constraints constitute the physics.

Some things which are physical in virtual worlds aren't in the real world. In the real world, for example, setting up a company is a legal thing; in a virtual world, setting up a guild is a physical thing, because it happens in the game's code.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 8:14:38 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Richard responded to Andy, Now this is interesting. Players would resort to using external means of communication, of course, such as Teamspeak or Ventrilo, but they'd have to know each other to do that. If the world's physics matched that of reality, you couldn't tell a complete stranger in-world at a distance that you want them to come and buy 1000 gold from you at only $90.18 .

You're assuming a bit much about the physics of the world, aren't you? Then again, I was thinking about soundwave modulation for hearing, marking paper with ink, etc., so...

Posted May 5, 2007 8:22:28 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Why not adjustable difficulty levels like in single player games? Cheating? Maybe not, not everything we do must be a competition. Who cares if I play on easy mode? "It's not enough for me to succeed, everyone else must fail?" Or it breaks the fiction? But let's face it folks, the respawning monsters and corpse runs don't make sense either. Impossible to implement? Not in instances.

Posted May 5, 2007 8:22:45 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Hellinar>I like the idea of communicating with other players by the effects of what you do.

Strictly speaking, this is how the real world works, of course. I communicate by changing the environment in a way that you can detect, whether this be by vibrating air in my larynx, or moving body parts you can see, or causing electronic pulses to be stored in a database that you can display graphically.

>I’d like to see a world in which your avatar carried on a life when you were offline.

This is easy to finesse, eg. by giving players points to spend on movement and crafting, with more points accruing the longer they were logged off. You seem to want the player's character to have a physical presence in the virtual world, though, out of the player's control; that does indeed have implications outside of the existing paradigm.

>Or even break the one to one correspondence between player and avatar.

It's already broken, in that players can have more than one avatar. If an avatar can have more than one player, though, that's a different matter. If you can't tell that the same character in the virtual world is played by the same player in the real world, there's a conflict between persistence and character, ie. of points i) and iii) of the introduction.

Would a world in which you never knew who was whom really qualify as what we call a virtual world? Or would it be something else?

>if you want to do something different, its hard to see how you would connect with the people who might like it.

Although there may well be practical problems in attracting players, but we can't be certain of it. It could be that a novel idea is so obviously a good thing that people who grew up on WoW and EQ will still see its merit.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 8:26:56 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mikyo>I think we need a better definition of persistance. A world can never be independent of the players, who would pay for it?

The players would?

Although with most large-scale virtual worlds there is little chance that a particular instantiation will be empty, it happens with smaller ones. It could even happen with, say, WoW. Imagine there were some major international event of incredible significance - aliens land in Mexico, for example. Everyone who can get to a TV is watching it. Virtual worlds will be just as empty as the shopping malls.

The definition of persistence is more a theoretical than a practical one. IF the players all left to go to bed THEN the virtual world would continue to run without them. This is in contrast to FPSs, which stop running when the players leave.

>Continues to 'run' when you're not there? Continues to exist perhaps, but essentially does nothing except wait for input.

Well that depends on the virtual world. I suspect that the majority of them do continue to move NPCs and monsters around and do continue to count time until darkness, irrespective of how many players are in them. I know my own MUDs did (and sometimes with interesting results).

>the truth is that most 'virtual worlds' do not evolve even with players present.

Correct. However, you can't use the fact that most don't evolve as an argument that the definition of persistence is wrong. The purpose of this thread is to extrapolate from the minimum requirements to find new paradigms, not use existing paradigms to specify the requirements.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 8:37:57 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Dave Rickey>How does this effect the territorial impulse (which evolved for the essentially 2D surface of a globe)?

We saw a bit of this in the heyday of textual worlds, but today's graphical worlds are pretty well based on a flat plane with no wrap-around. Nevertheless, connecting edges east and west would at least give a cylinder; connecting north and south too would give a torus. Putting in twists would give more still, and that's still while having basically a 2D map. I agree, there's a lot more that could be done here, and there could be fun gameplay consequences as a result of it, too.

>Since it's impractical to try to reduce the means by which the players communicate (because they just fall back on out of game means), what if we could *enhance* them, in terms of legitimate intercepts of hostile communications and movements?

Players can't communicate with NPCs or (probably) complete strangers out of game, and this is where playing with the communications channel could be fruitful.

>AI is still a grossly under-explored area of great potential.

I agree.

Richard

Posted May 5, 2007 8:47:03 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Maybe we are only trying to square the circle. There are endless games that have features very unlike SL or WoW. Those games are not MMORPGs, and probably wouldn't appeal to players who like MMORPGS. Why not automated henchmen and servants? Oh wait, thats guildwars.
The greatest potential for change is in abandoning the static, menu driven type of 'world.' Given a finite state machine, that may not be possible, or perhaps possible only by giving players some authority to change it.

Posted May 5, 2007 8:47:47 AM | link

ErikC says:

I like this thread, and Richard's replies.Which leads me to the suggestion that in a virtual world there is either the sense that my understanding of the world can be made manifest to others and/or others seem to understand each other in this 'world.'
I also like the idea of indirect communication, I believe if potential communication is suggested and possibly varied, that in itself will attract players to attempt to unravel and institutionalize and deinstitutionalize the means of communication.

Posted May 5, 2007 9:32:55 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Could you do more with situational awareness? I keep seeing the same radar style minimap everywhere. Rogues need not be silent, or use terrain, they only click a button. Monsters never seem to actually use their hearing or vision, but behave more like land mines waiting to be pulled or stepped on.

Posted May 5, 2007 9:52:05 AM | link

Hellinar says:

@Thomas: Spore is already “out” for the purposes of this discussion. Its novel, and heavily funded by a major game corporation. Which shows new paradigms can be developed, if only in particular circumstances. How well the marketplace accepts the new paradigm is yet to be determined.

@Richard: “A Tale in the Desert” does let you spend accumulated offline time on travel and production. I always felt Teppy was missing a trick there though. A frequent complaint about ATiTD was that the world seemed empty. If your neighbors character could be seen working on his offline straw gathering, or even walking along the road to a new destination, it would have added a lot of life to the place.

When it comes to breaking the link between the player and the current avatar, I’d argue that this is an sense would be more “immersive” than the current paradigm. Representing the Player as a powerful being from another plane of space and time is actually closer to the underlying reality than saying the player “is” the possessed character. So there would be less fictions to swallow in such an environment. You might need to toss in an “Olympus” where player Demi-gods could socialize as themselves though.

@Dave and Ola: I’m very interested in worlds that don’t entirely mimic our familiar concepts of space and time. Richard has a good point though, that most people don’t want the work involved in jumping the gap. As I see it, most people are looking for fairly mindless entertainment in these worlds. Messing about with the physics and such requires an attitude of “mindful play”, where the objective is more to learn surprising new things about yourself and the realm of the possible. Not “fun” for most people.

Posted May 5, 2007 10:10:04 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Wow. Why not a "Quantum Leap" type game. The player might temporarily take control of a new avatar to solve each particular quest?

Posted May 5, 2007 11:58:39 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Each quest could require the player to temporarily take control of a new and different avatar. One might be King the first day, but slave the next. Roleplaying, for once, held higher than combat skill. Instead of the typical struggle for (illusionary) power, players would be tasked with making the best use of whatever skills their "host" had available.

Posted May 5, 2007 12:11:44 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Mike Rozak: I'm tempted to answer with a lengthy post, but I don't think I'll bother. I've tried in the past.

Remember, "well done is better than well said." People aren't going to get new concepts until they see them. They're impossible until, well, they're not.

In another post here I quoted Henry Ford saying how if he'd listened to customers, they would have wanted a faster horse. He gave them something different, something that they would have thought impossible, right up until they experienced it for themselves.

And anyway, I believe it's better to not talk about things until they're actually real: too many games or game features get announced with much fanfare, and then turn out to be complete vapor. This isn't a change to virtual world design itself, but we could sure do with fewer way-too-early big announcements of upcoming worlds that then fizzle out (not pointing at you, Mike!).

Dave Rickey: AI is still a grossly under-explored area of great potential. Not by neccessarily making the NPC's tougher, but making their actions more coordinated, with goals of their own.

Agreed, completely.

Mikyo: What I would like to see is 'artificial characters' with more personality. Imagine NPCs with 'mood' and 'tone' that change depending on how you treat them.

This goes right along with what Dave Rickey said, and with what Mike Rozak is trying, I believe, as are we, among others. To me "artificial psychology" (to differentiate it from the path-finding dead-end that "artificial intelligence" has become in games) is a key component of the Next Big Thing.

Richard: They don't need to control just one piece, but they do need to feel that one of the pieces they control is "them" (ie. the player in the virtual world). And later: If there's no representation of you within the world, or if there is but it can't act on the world, do we still have a virtual world or do we have something else? ... Would a world in which you never knew who was whom really qualify as what we call a virtual world?

You already don't know "who is whom" -- who is behind any given avatar, and the 'worldiness' is not broken. The virtual world does not depend in any way on a singular representation of the player within the world. There's no a priori reason why a player has to have one avatar that represents "them." But for our collective RPG roots, you could as easily have "this army is 'me'" as in RTS games.

Limiting the online world to a one-to-one relationship between player and avatar is a sacred cow from old RPG days. Why not multiple players driving one character, one player driving multiple avatars, or a combination of both? There are very interesting forms of gameplay, identity, and community to be mined once we break out of "I am my avatar" limitations.

Alex: - a world that players can actually influence. As it stands right now, most MMOs have a story that advances by itself, in its own rhythm.

Actually I think that's far too generous. Most MMOs have no story at all: their worlds are frozen in time, or at most have occasional, lurching changes that proceed on the schedule of a new "expansion" rather than on the basis of the flow of the story.

IMO 'world-story' or 'multi-viewpoint story' (no one actor's view is any more valid or preferred than any other, a radical departure from millennia of story form) are another key aspect of the next generation of game-based online worlds.

Posted May 5, 2007 12:23:31 PM | link

Mikyo says:

Yes, thats it. Not so much artificial intelligence, more artificial psychology. NPC combat skill, ninety percent of the time, is already good enough. "Realistic" behavior in a world of elves, dragons and vampires doesn't seem likely or necessary. I would like characters that have more, uhm, character.

Posted May 5, 2007 12:31:38 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I would like characters that have more, uhm, character.

Workin' on it. :)

Posted May 5, 2007 12:59:39 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Given the current model of repeatable and instanced quests, which essentially references time travel and multiple realities, why not just make this the basis of the world.

It can be a game based on Daybreak, the failed TV show. Daybreak is a kind of a groundshog day situation where the characters repeat a "raid" not to get loot, but to get a particular result; not by killing bosses, but by influencing their decisions and actions.

Frank

Posted May 5, 2007 2:22:54 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Richard: "A virtual world's time is necessarily linked to real time... You can break it with resets/restarts or system-wide database revisions, but you can't wind it back for an individual unless you wind it back for all the other individuals."

Well... I'm gonna disagree.

What the heck is "time" in a world that is recorded in a database? What if everybody else's character (or every other guilds' characters) was "reset" to their stats for yesterday, or "before the raid," but my guy (team) stayed the same. Obviously, you can't erase the memory of the players. But you could undo quest-points, take stuff out of inventories, remove links from friends' lists, etc. etc. Time, in games, is recorded not in real-life seconds but in time-spent in the game. Which is recorded, really, in "stuff what I've done."

Not saying it'd be easy. Or really fun. Just that you could do it. Everybody else wakes up having lost whatever they did in the last 10 days of game time... you, me and our crew... we get the girl, the Stone of Chronos and keep our XP.

Posted May 5, 2007 2:38:51 PM | link

genericdefect says:

I would say that in terms of what participants are doing in a shared virtual space has little to do with the objects that populate it. Objects only facillitate to serve as a focal point for shared attention and dialog.

If the emphasis is on the shared aspect of that space, and namely the sharing itself, then the focus must be on the interactions of the innumerable protagonists. We can divide that further in thinking that individual protagonists will have tools which affect their relationship to each individual antagonist they come across, but also a set of tools that can be utilized to affect the relations -between- other antagonists.

By intensively focusing on the metaxical aspects, it should be possible to develop a real sense for the "we" in virtual worlds.

There is infinite range for exposition, qualification, quantification and concretization of the mode of tools that focus on such things, but since it's just a virtual experience anyhow, it can be reduced to an elemental form. The blanks can always be filled in with details and particulars.

Posted May 5, 2007 3:09:17 PM | link

Mikyo says:

Many virtual worlds dont even have time. What's time anyway? What makes a year last a year? It ends when the planet finishes one revolution around the sun. Time is a measurement. A 'year' describes the amount of change in the location of the planet. So what is time in a world that cannot change, where every day is exactly the same as every other day?

Posted May 5, 2007 4:37:18 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Mike Sellers wrote: People aren't going to get new concepts until they see them. They're impossible until, well, they're not.

And at the same time, if the idea/meme doesn't begin propogating long before the technology is ready, people won't get the technology when it arrives. Science Fiction writing/movies have done a great job of propogating the ideas of spaceflight, robots, aliens, and whatnot, softening the intellectual barriers when, for example, spaceflight actually took place. (And we still have people that don't believe men landed on the moon.)

In another post here I quoted Henry Ford saying how if he'd listened to customers, they would have wanted a faster horse.

Or in other words, a horse with more polygons. :-) Which is exactly what Richard Bartle is talking about.


This isn't a change to virtual world design itself, but we could sure do with fewer way-too-early big announcements of upcoming worlds that then fizzle out (not pointing at you, Mike!).

I have no intention of making a big announcement. My product is niche market, one (out of many) reasons being that the meme hasn't had time to propogate so most people wouldn't get it, even if I had $50M of eye candy behind it.

Besides, no one would believe/understand a big announcement. (Which is all part of the mental block that Richard Bartle is talking about.)

Posted May 5, 2007 6:09:58 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Andy Havens said, Time, in games, is recorded not in real-life seconds but in time-spent in the game. Which is recorded, really, in "stuff what I've done."

I disagree. That's not time at all. If it is, then doesn't WoW already allow you to remove skills to regain skill points? But that's beside the point:

Stuff you've done is represented in the database, sure, but in the database, you've also got that funny little thing called a timestamp which plods onward by the millisecond. You can't assign different players different timestamps. (If you can, I want to see it.)

Let me draw an analogy. In a couple months, I'm going to be handed a diploma. Yay me. If RL were a virtual world, that would be recorded in the database. Level up, ding. Now, your idea of time reversal is to go and remove that record from the database.

Did I actually go back in time? No. My experience of time is completely independent of my accomplishments. One second I had it, and the next second, it poofed. But time nevertheless marches inexorably on.

What you're actually describing is being ripped off. I pay 10 hours for one apple. Ten hours later, I get an apple. The next day, the apple is involuntarily removed from me. But I didn't get those ten hours back: no time travel here.

Posted May 5, 2007 6:22:12 PM | link

Hellinar says:

@Michael: Sounds like you are making no distinction between character and player there. Your in-world character has certainly been time traveling. Which could make for an interesting world I think. I can imagine being a time traveler, without any computer assistance. But the computer generated “reality” of VWs could amplify the effect far beyond my unaided imagination. I’d like to try it.

Posted May 5, 2007 8:45:14 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>there must be synchronisation.

You must have thought of this but...why? One of the things that was great about the Sims offline is that you could speed up or slow down or freeze (using the hacks) the characters.

And even if a "real-time" game you could have part of the game be somebody stuck/frozen in time instead of dead.

I always thought it would be great if there were a world were "time doesn't pass/even though time goes by" like in the Frogg Marlowe song. Narnia, by contrast with RL England, was such a world, and SL sometimes seems like that, given the long hours people are willing to put into it.

Posted May 5, 2007 8:57:03 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Hellinar said, @Michael: Sounds like you are making no distinction between character and player there.

I'm not. Richard has been going on and on about immersion in this thread; I saw no reason to make a world that is not.

And I have yet to visit a world where time travel that's out-of-step with the rest of the population existed. That was Andy's initial proposition, if I understood it correctly.

Now, granted, it's possible to change the number of actions performable within the same interval of time. That was immortalized in the Haste/Slow spells of D&D, and works just fine. But that's not time travel: it's a change in your capabilities, not a change in time.

But now I'm suspecting that I don't understand your meaning. Elaborate?

Posted May 6, 2007 2:21:45 AM | link

Hellinar says:

@Michael: The context I am looking at time travel is in a gardening based game (or perhaps pastime). The back story is that you are on an alien world of tiny energy beings who have little material interaction with the world, but can plant and tend flowers. These beings are natural time travelers.

One frustrating feature of real world gardening is that you never know what would have happened if you had done things a bit differently. Answering that “what if?” will be possible in my world, if it works as intended. The downside is that the Player interactions with the world have to be kept pretty limited, if the engine is to recompute the state of the world from changed initial conditions. Plants fortunately sit still and don’t interact much. Time travel in a world of mobs would be vastly more complicated.

In a world of time travelers, nobody ever has the frustration of losing their apple as you describe it. Each traveler always has their own history, which steadily accumulates, if not always going forward in time. Their personal story goes ever forward, though not with respect to world time.

Which world history you see becomes a player choice. Will Player A choose a world line in which Player B planted a garden at such a time and place, or not? Which makes the game multi-player, but strong choice on who you play with. Of course, I haven’t got this complex feature working yet, so it remains just a theoretical possibility. I have hopes its somewhere on my future time line though.

Posted May 6, 2007 8:46:49 AM | link

illovich says:

I think there's much to gain from looking at genre mashups - for example, a persistent world RTS mixed with a persistent world city builder, or either being done well alone.

I don't think that a really radical game design (e.g. non-euclidian geometry) would have a great chance of succeeding (I could be wrong) - it's better in my opinion to start with a goal of getting away from the 3d MUD concept and towards new ideas, but be willing also to accept small steps, like elimination of classes and/or combat (although doing this, you also have to accept you're going after a different audience than the WOW/EQ crowd, I think).

I've been goofing in Gaia Online -- which seems to be the bare-bones-est virtual world you can make that is more than text written on loose-leaf, and that has no classes or combat, and yet they seem to have 50k users on at peak times every night. It makes instant sense to people who try it, and the casual games they offer are fun enough (although they could use more).

But I think the really brilliant thing they did was making community participation a way to make money. Post in the forums? You get money. Vote in a poll? Make money. Make a journal and write an entry? You make money.

I think what they should do is add something similar to Doctorow's Whuffie currency, because I see a lot of low-level gaming of the system (bumping posts for money, etc). If money gained was based on how interesting people found the content you created, that would be even more interesting.

It can be a game based on Daybreak, the failed TV show. Daybreak is a kind of a groundshog day situation where the characters repeat a "raid" not to get loot, but to get a particular result; not by killing bosses, but by influencing their decisions and actions.

When I got bored with Everquest I made a barbarian and tried role playing a lunatic who was convinced that Norrath had become unstuck in time. I would tell anyone who would listen "Haven't you noticed? Nothing changes permanently. The dead reappear, objects that were taken reappear. Nothing can be done to change the world now. It is forever frozen. FOREVER FROZEN!!!"

Nobody seemed to like the joke though, so I didn't do it for long.

Posted May 6, 2007 10:38:05 AM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Come on, anyone thought about Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy?

First, you got a virtual world with deep background.

Second, you have Psychohistory, the science of the actions of very large groups of people.

How would this be applied to MMOs?

Hellinar said:
"The downside is that the Player interactions with the world have to be kept pretty limited, if the engine is to recompute the state of the world from changed initial conditions."

Is this a real limitation? On possible solution is to recalc state change say once a month. The recalc applies statistical analysis of the actions of large groups of people to determine what the state change will be. It's a basic application of Psychohistory, Wisdom of the Crowd, the Long Tail, the Blue Ocean strategy and all that internet hype called Web 3.0 :)

illovich said:
"When I got bored with Everquest I made a barbarian and tried role playing a lunatic who was convinced that Norrath had become unstuck in time...Nobody seemed to like the joke though, so I didn't do it for long."

What if someone did liked the joke and you built a group of supporters? Could the world change because of it or would it still stay the same? That's the interesting question to ask.

Now, compare and contrast the results when you attempt in an instanced location and in a common location. What if you can change the state of the instance, such that player can choose to go into your instance location rather than some other location?

These are all interesting questions that I would like to get comments from the readers of TN.

Frank

Posted May 6, 2007 11:07:34 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mikyo>Could you do more with situational awareness? I keep seeing the same radar style minimap everywhere.

Part of the reason for that is practical, in that your client software has to know the people are nearby or it can't instantly display them if you suddenly decide to turn around. If the client knows, then a program sitting between the client and the server sniffing packets knows, and then when it's released everyone knows. This is what happened to EverQuest with ShowEQ.

There are software solutions, though. The server can send the client all the information it needs, encrypted. When the player turns around, then all the server needs to send is the decryption key. This may still result in a half-second delay, but that could be acceptable.

>Rogues need not be silent, or use terrain, they only click a button. Monsters never seem to actually use their hearing or vision, but behave more like land mines waiting to be pulled or stepped on.

I agree that it's ridiculous to have monsters that stand around oblivious to the battle that's going on just down the hall in full view. Then again, it's ridiculous to have them standing aimlessly where they are anyway. Better to have smaller numbers of monsters with better AI, perhaps...

Richard

Posted May 6, 2007 12:31:55 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Hellinar>When it comes to breaking the link between the player and the current avatar, I’d argue that this is an sense would be more “immersive” than the current paradigm.

Only in the sense that the real world is more immersive than the virtual world. If you didn't play a game at all, and just spent your time being yourself watching TV or something, that would be more immersive still. It wouldn't let you be someone else, though, which is something virtual worlds do (and, I believe, must) allow.

>Representing the Player as a powerful being from another plane of space and time is actually closer to the underlying reality than saying the player “is” the possessed character.

But is it too much closer to the underlying reality?

Richard

Posted May 6, 2007 12:37:05 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mike Sellers>You already don't know "who is whom" -- who is behind any given avatar, and the 'worldiness' is not broken.

You don't know their real-life identity, but you know it's the same person as it was yesterday. If I establish a relationship with the player of a particular character, then I know when I see that character again that it's the same individual behind it and that I have a relationship with them. If it turns out to be a different person, I'm surprised. If it's always a different person, I don't form any relationships.

>There's no a priori reason why a player has to have one avatar that represents "them."

There isn't, but would the result still be a virtual world? If you are an army and I'm an army, we can still communicate and so on, but has the virtual world lost something essential of what makes it a virtual world?

>Why not multiple players driving one character, one player driving multiple avatars, or a combination of both? There are very interesting forms of gameplay, identity, and community to be mined once we break out of "I am my avatar" limitations.

They are indeed interesting. However, there's a danger that in breaking "I am my avatar" we also break "this is a virtual world". We could get a brand new kind of exciting shared-reality game, but would it still qualify as a virtual world? Or would it be something else?

Personally, I think it would probably deliver a qualitatively different experience to the extent that it wouldn't be what we think of as a virtual world. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing, of course!

Richard

Posted May 6, 2007 12:46:02 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Andy Havens>Well... I'm gonna disagree.
>Not saying it'd be easy. Or really fun. Just that you could do it. Everybody else wakes up having lost whatever they did in the last 10 days of game time...

This isn't disagreeing. I said: "you can't wind it back for an individual unless you wind it back for all the other individuals.". Your solution winds it back for all individuals.

Richard

Posted May 6, 2007 12:49:31 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Richard> But is it too much closer to the underlying reality?

Yep, thats a good point. I suspect it may depend on the details of the implementation. As with other radical ideas in VWs, it might be hard intially to tell a fundamentaly flawed idea from simply a bad implementation.

Posted May 6, 2007 12:57:48 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Me>there must be synchronisation.
Prokofy Neva>You must have thought of this but...why? One of the things that was great about the Sims offline is that you could speed up or slow down or freeze (using the hacks) the characters.

The Sims (offline) wasn't a virtual world.

For a virtual world, you have lots of people in the virtual world at the same time. This means they have to share a common timer. Now although there is some leeway to allow players to collect "time points" to spend on abstracted actions that could have been performed while they were offline (eg. travelling), when the player actually appears live in the virtual world, it does have to be live. If there's too long a delay between a player issuing a command and its being executed, the player will feel disconnected from the world, not "in" it. That's why there has to be a real-time aspect to it (and why play-by-filling-in-a-web-form-twice-a-day games aren't virtual worlds).

Richard

Posted May 6, 2007 1:00:53 PM | link

MIkyo says:

"would it still qualify as a virtual world? Or would it be something else?"

We want something 'different from SL and WoW.' But not all THAT different. Let's not stray too far, lest we arrive at 'something else.'

Beginning with the same assumptions does tend to always ending in the same place.

Posted May 6, 2007 2:28:31 PM | link

Dylan Nagel says:

Great topic.

I'd enjoy a virtual world about moods and emotions. Either fairly realistic, with character body language, or abstract, with shape and color. It would be interesting to see a virtual environment be affected by the average player mood. Or by the mood of the most 'advanced' players, or by the most 'emotional'.

Perhaps it could even be therapeutic, in the sense that if you felt misserable, you could hang out with like-minded people. You'd be able to find them because they'd be visually recognisable.

Alternatively, when done carefully, with integrity in mind, as a happy character you could mingle with the sad, to distract them from their sorrows.

I'd love to be part of the reason a virtual world would change constantly - from fertile forests to woods of despair.

Posted May 6, 2007 2:36:32 PM | link

Mikyo says:

Speaking of time, perhaps one reason why virtual worlds dont change is because, if anyone could truely win that 'epic struggle' then the game would be over. We can reset the server, but some subscribers might decide that they didn't enjoy it enough to do it all over again from the start.

Why not, "World of Camelot?" Isn't Mallory public domain by now? The game will have a definite time limit, and a predestined 'tragic' ending.

Posted May 6, 2007 2:59:40 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Richard: I'm still going to disagree about time.

Obviously, we can't alter RL time for players. And we can't alter player memory of what has happened to their characters during real play. But that's what this whole "V" in the "VW" is all about, neh?

As has been pointed out, all the database markers for everything I do, be they particular to me or tied to the world or to anybody else, have time-stamps on them that match up to the server, which is the RL thing-a-ma-bob that actually does the job. But the server is most assuredly NOT inside the magic circle. Nor are those time stamps. What my character does while I am controlling it (and, if there is some kind of persistence factor/feature, while I'm not) is what is the only "time" that matters as far as the inside of the game goes. And what I do is marked by steps taken along the road to Gondor, swings of a hatchet, conversations with PCs/NPCs, experience, farming, etc.

Einstein clued us in that time is relative to how fast we are traveling. I would postulate that in a VW/MMO, time is relative to what actions we take, and, therefore, as malleable as anything else stored on the server; landscape, equipment, toon characteristics, etc.

If we take WoW, for example, there really isn't any "time" to speak of at all! All the quests are repeated every tolling of the gong, you and I can live the same adventure separated by months or years of real time, and there are very few world-generated, dynamic events that multiple players can point to and say, "There. That. We need to do *this* before *that* happens." Most time issues come from outside the magic circle. "We need to meet up and finish the quest before dinner."

Imagine, for example, a world with real time, day night cycles, days, months, years. And a world where certain spells only work during certain phases of the moon, let's say. So a big gang of players get together and work they butts off in order to collect all the supplies necessary to complete the Capricorn spell during a 48 hour period where that's possible. Major spell, will give their "side" a huge advantage. Well, it works and does them major good mojo. The other "side" is so badly spanked, that they decide to work a time-travel gank, whereby the clock is set back to the month before Capricorn. In the game lore, time travel leaves a "residue" of knowledge of what happened first time through (a dream... to explain why all the players will be chatting about "that sucks" or "how cool"). So... Team Two manages to cast the Retro Spell, the clock goes back for everyone, and it's the month before Capricorn. Team Two uses that advantage to interfere with the collection of materials necessary for the cycle-specific spell, or to stage an interruption of the spell itself.

Maybe you could also have geographic areas or players that weren't affected. So that there would be a way to defend against time-specific spells. But in a medium where advancement (levels, XP, loot, etc.) is a major reason for playing, having to "take 3 giant steps backward) could be a huge penalty. And having a way to "undo" certain things (again, maybe only on a local shard). Like if somebody inadvertently ninja loots something... time travel the local instance back 5 minutes and have a mulligan.

Again... I'm not sure if this would be any fun. But I'm still not convinced it's impossible.

Posted May 6, 2007 3:00:32 PM | link

Arkwright says:

Facade style chatting with npcs and game that revolves around manipulating players and npcs succesfully, with mainly talking. For example, evil cultist that tries to convince 10 npcs of local village to join a ritual and tempt someone to be sacrificed versus the goody preacher that tries to get the villagers to realise whos the evil guy and behead him.

Posted May 6, 2007 6:05:25 PM | link

Tim says:

Just from reading other people's ideas, nothing new here, but I thought this might be fun:

Players enter a world with lots of normal things lying around on the ground, like multiplayer Katamari Damacy. Certain pieces would require more players to pick up heavy objects, as in Pikmin. The goal would be to work together to put the pieces together to build something to reach a goal or complete an objective.

For example, everyone starts off gathering small blocks to make a large block which will be moved into position by a bunch of people. Everyone keeps adding things. Some may have to hold and support a structure while other pieces are put in place. Those who make it to the top of the tower make it to the next level.

Or they may need to build a space shuttle, an Egyptian pyramid etc. gathering all the pieces and putting them together like a jigsaw.

Or even work together to figure out how to destroy something, like Shadow of the Colossus.

I don't play WoW or anything because I don't want to play anything that just forces me to keep playing forever, only rewarding me with higher levels or stronger weapons. As for Second Life - I want to play games and actually do stuff with other people. I don't want to have "social interaction" with a bunch of losers online just for the sake of talking. I have real friends to talk to.

I like the kind of things I mentioned because it doesn't lock you in to play indefinitely, but more levels can always be added to keep it new and interesting. Plus you get that sense of completion from actually finishing. No leveling up, health meters or chat rooms please! Anyone could pick up and play, without being locked out by being called a n00b in a chat room or going against a 99LVL character.

I'm also a big fan of survival games. I'd play anything that put me on a deserted island, zombie infested town, Mars exploration or post-earthquake city and forced me to co-operate with others and test me to try to make a livable environment.

Posted May 6, 2007 11:41:41 PM | link

Kami Harbinger says:

I'm a big fan of really weird gameplay, and creating new environments, but several of the ideas are way off. They seem to ignore the fact that virtual worlds (VWs) are SOCIAL environments. If you're not building it for people to connect and communicate, you shouldn't be making multi-player VWs, you should stick to 1P games (nothing wrong with that, I like both 1P and MP games).

You shouldn't take out direct communication[0], and you can't prevent indirect communication. At the barest minimum level, there's always blockchat (pushing objects, or even just walking, into positions to shape letters or numbers to dial on an external channel). Moreover, unless you have somehow made the greatest environment since sliced bread, people won't put up with heavy obstacles put in their way.

Artificial intelligence and NPCs are pretty close to the perfect example of things that shouldn't be in VWs. There are over 6 billion other primates on this planet, of whom 1K to 10M might reasonably be in the same VW as you. Who needs a crappy software agent pretending to be a person? Do you really need a dragon to slay, if you can instead go to a combat zone?

Do you really need an NPC shopkeeper, if there's a friendly player who'll make and sell stuff? In FFXI there were three economies: the NPC shops, which had hugely overpriced garbage, but were the only source of certain disposables and unique items; the official auction house system, which tended to have lots of crap at reasonable prices, but not much of the good stuff; and people with packs full of goods set for sale, where you got the good deals, and could often haggle with them, and could buy supplies from wandering merchants. They could easily have eliminated the NPC shops, and possibly even the auction house system, and made the world more social. I like running my little shop in Second Life. My sales boxes are basically vending machines, so it's not a 40-hour-a-week job to run it, but I'm often there to meet people and answer questions, and I sell more when I'm present for a few hours a week than I do all the rest of the time. Why is Second Life full of casinos and nightclubs? Because those environments let lots of people get together in one place and share some experience, and you get to meet lots of people. You could make all sorts of profitable solitary businesses in SL, but few people do, because they want to be with other people.

AI is great for 1P games, because otherwise you're all alone. But if you can't get the other players to fill those roles in a multi-player game, you are an incompetent game designer. I don't know how to say that nicely; NPCs in MMOs are absolute proof that you don't know what you're doing. I think Myst Online: Uru Live is a giant empty disaster, but at least in theory they got the right idea: the "NPCs" are role-played by staff at Cyan. Everyone else is another player, and mostly they stay in character.

Richard's dead-on about magic being overdone. I'm not without guilt: I've done my own share of Greek alchemy magic systems, but magic is ridiculous and obsolete and, worst of all, boring. Players will demand some kind of powers outside of the mundane, but it doesn't have to be the same-old, same-old D+D crap. I think Second Life has the best magic system ever. Anyone with intelligence and talent can learn to be a sorcerer who can make objects out of nothing and create complex enchantments that animate them; mundanes who can't script, paint, or build are mere consumer scum. If you're making a game instead of a VW, go ahead and give the construction system some fiction, even simplify it more than SL's system (the Lego Mindstorms programming tools might be a good model), but don't do another magic system. The Matrix Online's special abilities were pretty neat, and did something creative with the setting. If you can't be more creative than the Matrix Online, go home.

---

[0] The one possible exception being worlds for children. Frankly, I'd rather that parents acted like responsible adults and just supervised their children, but since they're often dumb enough to think the Internet is just like a TV set and therefore a mindless babysitter, censored VWs for children are going to happen.

Posted May 7, 2007 1:28:04 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Andy Havens says, I would postulate that in a VW/MMO, time is relative to what actions we take, and, therefore, as malleable as anything else stored on the server; landscape, equipment, toon characteristics, etc.

But the thing is, that's just not true.

Back when WoW was still pre-infantile, I listened to the music for Elwynn Forest and wanted to get a WoW account just to sit there and listen to it and enjoy the ambience for a while. No accomplishments, no actions, nothing but me, the music, and the trees.

But time would be passing for me just as it passes for others. Can you really rollback time for me? A virtual world isn't a game: it's a place.

Mikyo says, Beginning with the same assumptions does tend to always ending in the same place.

And yet, SL is not WoW, despite beginning from the same assumptions of "virtual world" as described in Richard's absolute minimum. Fancy that.

Posted May 7, 2007 2:32:27 AM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Regarding Mike Sellers' original comments about multiple people controlling one character, and Richard Bartle's reply - What about a ship in Puzzle Pirates? The ship "character" is controlled by more than one person.

Regarding one person controlling many characters - I always thought a RTS where you play a general (as a character) and command troops would be interesting. The game would be less about the RTS, and more about dealing with the fog of war, especially with regards to "do I go to the front and see the battle first hand (and which front do I go to)" or "do I trust the competence of my commanders". As well as dealing with all the commanders (and troops) on a pesonal level, such as morale, delaing with politics, etc.

Posted May 7, 2007 3:17:08 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Hellinar: most people don’t want the work involved in jumping the gap. As I see it, most people are looking for fairly mindless entertainment in these worlds.

Many people are escaping reality and trying to pursue dreams, which the fail to bring to life and then they settle for mindless entertainment, or at least they settle for less than they wish for. Few players are happy about the virtual worlds they visit. Nevertheless, "many people" has never been a good measure of Quality... It is a good measure of Fashion, though...

Anyway, my current design (sketch) doesn't involve any big "gap" for the user and would be much easier to use than any current world. I believe you only have to maintain a tight usability focus throughout every phase of development. Sure, usability-expertise can fail unpredictably, and the test is in eating your pudding, but I believe that (properly designed) non-euclidean worlds would be easier to use than VR-worlds. Just like the web is easier to use than one billion sheets of paper.

Hellinar: Messing about with the physics and such requires an attitude of “mindful play”, where the objective is more to learn surprising new things about yourself and the realm of the possible. Not “fun” for most people.

On the contrary. By most accounts I've seen (including my own studies), people are thrilled to beat realistic physics. Run-in 100 mph, fly etc. You need some levels of constancy, but that doesn't by necessity imply earth-bound analogies in exess. What players dislike are unwarranted restrictions... (mountains that cannot be climbed for unexplainable reasons etc).

Posted May 7, 2007 6:20:40 AM | link

TheTurnipKing says:

Players need to be a single piece because of the logistics involved in controlling more than one of them in "close to real time", assuming a reasonably complex control system.

Infact, UI design might well be the lynchpin to the whole thing, since that is the key to interacting with the world in some fashion.

Posted May 7, 2007 6:33:13 AM | link

TheTurnipKing says:

After all, if you're not going to interact with the world in some fashion, why even bother going there?

Posted May 7, 2007 6:35:18 AM | link

Ainai says:

Quite an interesting discussion. The definition of a virtual world is a sticking point for me. I assume the discussion relates to 3D worlds, but doesn't it also apply to 2D? Can't a virtual world also be described with text using measurements, cardinal directions, and literary embellishments? And if this definition relates only to massively populated worlds, what kind of world does that leave single player games?

Persistence is observational. A single player game such as Animal Crossing uses a real-time clock to make changes to the game world to reflect the period of time not being played: seasons change; residents come and go; saplings turn to trees; cockroaches invade your house and weeds grow. In this sense, I'm inclined to agree with Mikyo.

From my limited experience, most MMO games are static and the only real changes to the world are the people playing and game updates which usually require server downtime. The question of persistence in a virtual world is akin to asking "If a tree falls down in the forest, does it make a sound?"

The passage of time is also perceptive. Time is measured by the rate of change. A second was determined by the swing of a pendulum; now we use atomic half-life. For a virtual world, the only indication of change other than time of day or weather is the player state: changes in stats, inventory, location, or affiliations.

Before designing a virtual world, I would ask what purpose would it serve? Why do I need a whole persistent world over a game lobby or chatroom? Game lobbies in the guise of towns are good enough to meet people for instanced missions (Guild Wars) and chatrooms are sufficient for online games like FPSs or golf (Albatross18).

For the purpose of avoiding homogeny, less can be more. A large feature set makes a great selling point, but not so much if found in other games. Creative use of a limited rule set and player ability could give rise to unique play opportunies. After all, an artist does not need to paint with all the colors of the rainbow. Art direction can work wonders too.

Posted May 7, 2007 6:35:38 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle: We did have this for textual worlds, of course.

Well, I've been into MUDs for 14 years, but never really been involved with text-only MUDs, still...

Nevertheless, we found that a world with physics too distant from reality's meant that players struggled to immerse themselves - they had to think about things they don't have to think about much in reality, such as which way is down.

Yes, but that is a property of text, in which you have very heavy cognitive load if the system relays visual descriptions. Text invokes pre-existing experiences and thus rely quite heavily on something you have already experienced for efficiency/effectiveness. Conceptual descriptions would be easier on the user though... but would require some initial "training".

A world that operates on the whole in a fashion similar to the way that players internalise how reality works will be easier for them to accept (they can do it automatically), and therefore easier for them to become immersed in.

Yes and no. Or no and yes. A world modeled after things they know have to match exactly in order to appear realistic. If you have no preconceptions you have get less disconnected when things doesn't match up (as you don't have any means to know that they don't quite match). You need an exceptionally expensive stereo to get a decent reproduction of a symphony orchestra. Electronica plays well on a cheap portable player or a boom-box. Why? Because you have no way of knowing that the distorted rendering acutally is distorted.

Do we want players to become immersed in virtual worlds? If so, we should go for a physics not too distant from reality's; if we don't care, we can try other physics.

People were immersed in computer games in the 1980s... Though, I do agree with "not too distant", but that's a VERY vague phrase... (We can't thrive in pure noise, obviously). If the world is enticing, then you are on the road to immersion. If the user is willing. Realism is a tool, a learning tool, but making it a goal is a mistake. Real Reality is infinitely better. Always.

Ola.

Posted May 7, 2007 6:45:39 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Mike Rozak says: I'm tempted to answer with a lengthy post, but I don't think I'll bother. I've tried in the past.

Please do! :-)

Whenever I try, people either (a) say it's impossible, (b) assume that I'm talking about classes/XP in disguise, or (c) nod politely because either they don't get it, or they think I've lost the plot. In all cases, they go on making Diku/EQ/WoW clones or Moo/SL clones.

I wouldn't. Try me...

Posted May 7, 2007 6:48:05 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mikyo>Beginning with the same assumptions does tend to always ending in the same place.

But not always.

It's quite easy to stretch the definition of "virtual world" so far that it loses some essential essence of what it is while remaining usable. Take out the world, you have a chat-room; take out the other players and you have an adventure game; remove the action and the interaction and it's a TV show. None of these things are necessarily bad, but they're not virtual worlds (or, if they are virtual worlds, then we need a new term to describe what the core is that we just lost).

In defining what virtual worlds are, there may be a gradual blurring of the borders between what is and isn't a virtual world, or there may be actual lines that can't be crossed. Either way, we could end up with something we already have or something completely different but still retaining the heart of what a virtual world is.

Richard

Posted May 7, 2007 7:49:20 AM | link

ErikC says:

It is possible to see other people in your world but they see your avatar in their world, and the environmental speed of change could differ between the perceived virtual worlds, or as objects are shared across them, perhaps time begins to converge.
Worlds can be downloaded but only specific objects or events updated in shared time.
Secondly, false memories could be flashed back to the player along with actual recordings, to suggest a past that really wasn't.
Thirdly, if the character (avatar) had their own memory and intentions, that could change when the player is offline, and fill in or oppose or seduce the player's memory.
Players could also try to hop across different characters, while the main controlling player is offline, and different characters could natively (innately) have different levels and safe zones of resistance to this take over, but it could also mean shared/false memories.
Fourthly, magic isn't boring, or it would not have been a cultural ingredient for thousands of years, its implementation, on the other hand, could be boring. And it is so relative-nanotechnology to us is almost certainly magic to our ancestors. What is to say future science does not appear magical to this time?

Posted May 7, 2007 7:57:41 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Andy Havens>Maybe you could also have geographic areas or players that weren't affected. So that there would be a way to defend against time-specific spells.

Yes, you could do that: revert only part of the database based on some criterion such as geography or level or gender or whatever you felt like. Whether you could call it "time travel" or not is another matter, of course, but I guess you could probably draw up some fiction to cover the holes.

The interesting part of time travel is where you go into the past, change it, then return to a changed present (or you go into the future, see some fault, then come back to the present and change that). Both of those are just about possible in single-player games, but in a multi-player world they'd have to affect everyone if they were to be consistent.

Of course, instances aren't exactly consistent, so inconsistency doesn't necessarily rule out this kind of thing.

Nevertheless, the general point remains: the virtual world has in the main to be synchronised with the player actions, though. Actions operate in real time, even if the time to which they map in the virtual world runs at a different relative speed or has the occasional discontinuity in it.

Richard

Posted May 7, 2007 8:01:27 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mikyo>Speaking of time, perhaps one reason why virtual worlds dont change is because, if anyone could truely win that 'epic struggle' then the game would be over.

It doesn't have to be an epic struggle on the world scale, it could be on the personal scale. Escaping from a prisoner of war camp, for example, would end the game for you but not for everyone else.

Richard

Posted May 7, 2007 8:06:51 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Kami Harbinger>Do you really need an NPC shopkeeper, if there's a friendly player who'll make and sell stuff?

You don't IF there is such a player. You'll probably be OK for shopkeepers, as it happens, because some people do like doing this. However, for mindlessly boring tasks such as guarding a city wall, this isn't something sufficient numbers of players will want to do. In that event, NPCs offer a solution - they'll do the jobs that real people don't want to do.

Richard

Posted May 7, 2007 8:15:33 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ainai>The definition of a virtual world is a sticking point for me. I assume the discussion relates to 3D worlds, but doesn't it also apply to 2D?

I was very careful in my definition not to imply anything much about the interface at all. World of Warcraft and Second Life are virtual worlds, but so are Ultima Online and Meridian 59 (2D environments) and so are Achaea and LambdaMOO (textual).

Richard

Posted May 7, 2007 8:19:28 AM | link

Mikyo says:

"In defining what virtual worlds are, there may be a gradual blurring of the borders between what is and isn't a virtual world, or there may be actual lines that can't be crossed."

Excellent. My thought is, I don't think that virutal worlds have been defined very well. At least not yet.

Posted May 7, 2007 8:55:15 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Still puzzling over 'virtual time.' Many events do occur inside the virtual world. Birds move, the sun sets, pets roam around and such. The thing is that they are 'looping.' Repeating the same route from now until doomsday. Perhaps a virtual world has a sort of 'cyclical' time. Not a time-line. A time-circle.

Posted May 7, 2007 9:01:24 AM | link

Mikyo says:

And of persistence, I have a friend (yes really, hehe) with a 'quake' server thats been running almost coninuously for several years. It is however, mostly empty (of players) most of the time. It contains a few 'bots' that constantly shoot each other, and then 'respawn' to shoot some more. If the bots could speak, they might call it a 'virtual Hell.' Is it persistent, is it a world? Im not sure.

Posted May 7, 2007 9:08:31 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Maybe a better definition could begin by examining the interface. Not the interface between human and machine. The interface between 'characters' either human or artificial. What do they have the capability/permission/authority to do with/for/to each other?

Posted May 7, 2007 9:47:26 AM | link

Rick M says:

Seems the basic framework we're starting from involved time and space, right? From Richard's initial post, we have the conditions of persistence, physics, real time and a character living/acting in that time and space.

Some of the posts here about space (thinking about Dave Rickey) made me think about books like Ringworld novels or Arthur C. Clarke's Rama stories. Both of those frameworks would allow the manipulation of space, or at least place a virtual world beyond a recreation of our earth. Setting a virtual world in a space environment opens up the opportunity to play with time travel, alternate universes, wormholes, etc.

There are problems straying too far from familiar time and space, though. I'm in a discussion with someone on another board about the viability of sci-fi MMO's (discussing the rumors of a possible World of Starcraft announcement from Blizzard). Regardless of the veracity of the Blizzard rumor, the conversation interests me because my friend opines sci-fi virtual worlds will never be hugely successful due to the disconnect from the comfortable, familiar fantasy genre. The commonality of the elf/dwarf/human warrior/wizard/healer dungeon crawling genre has no similar construct in the sci-fi gaming world.

That's the argument, anyway. Instead of seeing that as a limit, I'd rather see it as an opportunity. I like the Henry Ford reference here. Instead of a better horse, how about a whole different model?

I want time travel. I want alternate universes, maybe to be used for clones where I can adventure with friends. I want to break the idea of levels, so my sense of adventure inspires me to explore and interact with others, rather than my need to get XP to get another level to the top of the treadmill.

I want Ringworlds to visit, Rama ships for exploration. I want wormholes and hundred or thousands of alien worlds or places or races. I want my game to be different than other players based on the places I choose to visit...but I want to be able to find my friends as well if I choose to adventure with them.

Clearly we can't do a lot of that without an incredible amount of computing horsepower and developer time, but it's what I want! And sometimes wanting is the first early step toward getting. To start, though, I'd play a game that redefines time and space as more malleable domains for play.

Posted May 7, 2007 10:44:54 AM | link

Kami Harbinger says:

Richard wrote: "However, for mindlessly boring tasks such as guarding a city wall, this isn't something sufficient numbers of players will want to do. In that event, NPCs offer a solution - they'll do the jobs that real people don't want to do."

If a task is truly boring, it should be automated instead, but not with a mannequin, just a machine. Instead of guarding being a full-time job, one option is to have a security door that only lawful residents can pass. Now guarding becomes a matter of watching for enemies, with perhaps a minigame of false alarms.

The better option is to make human interaction a required part of guarding, so it's fun to do. "Halt, who goes there?" "I am Walter the Carpenter! Let me in, there are orcs behind me!" "Waitaminit. Walter the Traitor? We heard about you. Get lost, don't bleed on our door." I'd rather do a shift of that for an hour to collect gold and XP, than go level-grind the same monster over and over again. I know this works in practice, because most nightclubs in SL have bouncers who happily do their job all night, and the military roleplay groups are happy to hire out to guard areas.

There are very few real scut-work jobs in a virtual world. Most of them are things that require human interaction, judgement, and creativity, all of which are fun.

NPCs actively increase the "empty" feeling of a world and exponentially decrease the social interactions, like damper rods in a nuclear reactor. If you see a few real people running back and forth, only stopping to talk to NPCs, you're even more alone than if there were just the real people, looking for other people.

Posted May 7, 2007 11:03:15 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Michael> But time would be passing for me just as it passes for others. Can you really rollback time for me? <

One of the basics of most time travel stories is that the protagonist, the time traveler, has his own personal time line. This differs from the current “world line”, in which events just follow each other from natural causation. In theory, there is an infinite number of these world lines, in which any combination of events that could have happened has happened in one of them. Rather than thinking it terms of “rollback”, think of your character as sidestepping into a different world line in which another set of events occurred.

Richard> The interesting part of time travel is where you go into the past, change it, then return to a changed present… (in a multi-player world they'd have to affect everyone if they were to be consistent. <

But would the inhabitants of a world with time travel expect any such consistency? I don’t think so. History becomes a matter of choice not necessity. A culture of time travelers would have a different take on consistency than our culture.

Sure, in a single player game where only your character has time travel powers, you could have a culture like ours, that assumes time travel is impossible. But in a massively multiplayer game, you would have to fabricate a culture that “knows” about time travel. In that context, I imagine socialization would greatly revolve around choosing who’s worldlines and history you want to include in your own. At least, that’s the direction I’m aiming in my own world.

Posted May 7, 2007 11:24:09 AM | link

Mikyo says:

Have i returned to the "Avatar Bill of Rights?" Most would agree that artificial agents have not rights. They do have (or lack) capablities, and sometimes intentions. Many technowhizkids will argue that humans also have no rights. "I own the server, so sod, peon!" Again, they do have (or lack) capabilities and intentions. Would those capabilities, intentions and rights (or lack of) define a virtual world? Or several different types of virtual world?

Posted May 7, 2007 11:36:54 AM | link

Storm Thunders says:

The biggest tangle here is two conflicting ideas: Create something new, and bring in people. People are attracted to the familiar.

Talking people into manifesting VW ideas with their time, effort, and money is another matter. People are more willing to follow a winning formula.

Sensory exploration environments a la shared Myst-like worlds. Herd-management games. Body-hopping series of storytelling worlds. Ever see the console game Magic Pengel? - merge that in your head with an achievers-focused MMO. Chained worlds - a collection of environments linked together. You can throw in collection games, cooperative and competitive games, tie VW and RW economies together, have in-world methods for increasing effectiveness in the VW, use out-world methods like math or music theory for increasing effectiveness, controlled or freeform user-created content...

Posted May 7, 2007 11:39:24 AM | link

Ainai says:

Richard Bartle> I was very careful in my definition not to imply anything much about the interface at all.

I misunderstood one of your comments given your generous use of physics and the implication that textual worlds no longer satisfy the need of immersion. I was addressing the need for a better definition or a better term, which you answered in response to Mikyo. In my mind, a virtual world is any world that is not real, regardless of its medium.

Going by what has been discussed thus far, a virtual world must exist with rules that a player character must follow. The character must be in sync with the player also. Furthermore, the virtual world must be populated by more than one player at any given moment.

I question the need of persistence if it ceases to be a virtual world with only one player present. A virtual world only needs to exist to facilitate interactions between multiple players. I also question the need for synchronicity if I can send private messages to people offline within the virtual world. While I can't say I've ever played a MUD, I've played a little BBS door game called Legend of the Red Dragon which let me battle other players even if they were offline. Characters could rest at the inn to avoid battles, but it was still possible to attempt assasinations. A player could login to discover a character dead and unplayable until the next day.

Posted May 7, 2007 11:40:39 AM | link

Wolfe says:

Time travel already happens in games like WoW. When uberguildX kills bossmobY but the bossmobY was bugged and didnt drop his ph4t loot the uberguildX people will petition to the gods for help with time travel.

The gods have found that their worshippers will be unhappy unless timetravelling is done so they go back in time and remove the bug that made uberloot go poof. (Edit the database to make the bug go un-happen.)

Exploiters also time travel when they dupe gold, or do others whacky cheats to alter desicions made in the past. (Like which class your character is.)

However if you gave the ability to alter this time of data to all legit players the game would have a hard time with consistency.

Posted May 7, 2007 11:46:04 AM | link

Evan says:

A quick comment (kinda feelin' JV on this topic) but in reply to Andy's

"11. A game where leveling gives you more environment/land to control, to do with as you will. Farming gives you food, mining gives resources, etc. Which then levels you differently. Larger land = ability to build stuff. Merging land with neighbors allows for bigger stuff immediately... but all neighbors must agree on the builds, etc. Or elect a leader? Anyway... built around land as the value. When one player/guild owns the whole shard, they can make war on other shards ;-)"

I seem to remember an interesting FPS/RTS online game called "Savage" - The game put players on a map, and gave the players an opportunity to elect a leader, who--instead of running around and killing--would control the construction of the teams base, determining when weapons were available and how base defenses were laid out.

I'd like to see a town simulation that allowed political systems to directly involve the players. A player's avatar could be elected to a mayor position and change the laws of the world, or devote more game resources to one part of town instead of another.

Posted May 7, 2007 12:19:50 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Kami said: Artificial intelligence and NPCs are pretty close to the perfect example of things that shouldn't be in VWs.

Others of course disagree. Richard has brought up the example of various jobs that (your personal experience notwithstanding) most players don't like to do, but which add to a virtual world. Adding more believable (less mannequin-like) NPCs and the ability for players to interact with them has the potential to open more economic niches, making for more types of gameplay and variance within them.

In addition, more believable NPCs can be a tremendous boost to the story-telling aspects of a game-ish virtual world, since they are in effect actors that the system or operators can control. You don't get this with players filling all the roles, and you can't get this at scale with human staff.

Finally, I believe that more believable NPCs can be a catalyzing factor in the social landscape of any virtual world. They aren't a substitute for player-player interaction, but an enabler of it. Well beyond shopkeepers and quest-givers (both of which can be reduced to vending machine level programming), NPCs who have a place in the world can help situate a player and give them a social context as well.

Posted May 7, 2007 12:58:40 PM | link

Arkwright says:

Example of npcs with use of language technology, speech synthesis and knowledge of their surroundings to add to game atmosphere:
You enter local pub. Dwarf 1: "Go away you filthy orc, we dont like your kind here!" Dwarf 2: "hush, quiet now! Cant you see that tabard, I heard that guild fought a dragon - and he is still alive! And then they would go on discussiong which of the gameworlds dwarf fighters (player characters) is toughest.

Posted May 7, 2007 1:16:21 PM | link

Tripp Robbins says:

Sheesh, this thread has caught some interest. And there are lots of creative ideas.

Some thoughts on conventional wisdom, its strengths and weaknesses. I'm all for dreaming and brainstorming, really. But I also think that for VWs or "games" to be feasible to be A) made and B) attract a substantial audience, they need to appeal to a reasonably large audience. So conventional wisdom says that a wacky, obtuse game probably won't A) get funding to be made and B) attract a decent audience. There's a lot of truth to that, but there are real exceptions too.

Two things about the VWs originally mentioned...I found WoW really, really well designed in terms of game coherence and consistency. The gameplay design was so well done, and I think that was a lot of why it has been so successful in terms of numbers of players and revenue. SL, on the other hand, didn't float my boat at all, despite repeated attempts. My conclusion is that the former gave me lots to do and kept me coming back to do those things; the leveling design worked better than any other similar MMORPG I've seen. But SL seems to be more of a social thing, and I don't really want/need to go there to socialize...I don't know, but it just doesn't grab me at all.

Posted May 7, 2007 6:03:51 PM | link

lewy says:

Tripp Robbins wrote:

Some thoughts on conventional wisdom, its strengths and weaknesses. I'm all for dreaming and brainstorming, really. But I also think that for VWs or "games" to be feasible to be A) made and B) attract a substantial audience, they need to appeal to a reasonably large audience. So conventional wisdom says that a wacky, obtuse game probably won't A) get funding to be made and B) attract a decent audience. There's a lot of truth to that, but there are real exceptions too.

Yup. I like to compare gaming to the movies. Both industries are recent developments made possibly by modern technology. Gaming right now is where movies were back in the 1950's, in the big studio era. The costs to produce a game are prohibitive, and there is no distribution/advertising channel for small, independent games.

That did change for movies however--there's now a thriving indie scene as the costs associated with making a movie have plummeted. With the advent of digital filming it seems likely that those costs will continue to decline. And there is a thriving festival circuit which allows these films to gain exposure. One can only hope for a similar evolution in gaming some day in the future.

Two things about the VWs originally mentioned...I found WoW really, really well designed in terms of game coherence and consistency. The gameplay design was so well done, and I think that was a lot of why it has been so successful in terms of numbers of players and revenue. SL, on the other hand, didn't float my boat at all, despite repeated attempts. My conclusion is that the former gave me lots to do and kept me coming back to do those things; the leveling design worked better than any other similar MMORPG I've seen. But SL seems to be more of a social thing, and I don't really want/need to go there to socialize...I don't know, but it just doesn't grab me at all.

Yup again. If I was a producer of content I would probably enjoy Second Life. For a regular consumer of content WoW is more satisfying. Who cares whether an amateur or professional is the author? What matters is the quality, and there the professionals always win, hands down.

Posted May 8, 2007 12:42:55 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Tripp says: "But I also think that for VWs or "games" to be feasible to be A) made and B) attract a substantial audience, they need to appeal to a reasonably large audience. So conventional wisdom says that a wacky, obtuse game probably won't A) get funding to be made and B) attract a decent audience."

Have you taken a look at Habbo Hotel? Go back in time (heh heh) to 1999 and predict that a teen-centric set of mini-games based around a cartoonish visual chat-room would eventually get 60 million sign-ups and 7 million uniques a month. It's pretty wacky and obtuse, but is doing well.

Then again, go back to 1999 and predict the rise of blogs. Or of WoW. Mama always said, successful is as successful does.

Posted May 8, 2007 12:43:10 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mikyo>I have a friend (yes really, hehe) with a 'quake' server thats been running almost coninuously for several years.
>Is it persistent, is it a world? Im not sure.

There are two questions to ask when considering persistence: what is the time between reboots, and what survives a reboot? Both are grey areas, but not so grey as not to be useful. A virtual world that reboots every 5 minutes would not be around for long enough to be persistent; one that rebooted every 5 days probably would be. One that rebooted every 30 minutes would still be too short, but one that did so every hour? Well, that would have a better case. You can go away, do something non-trivial, come back, and the world has moved on while you were away.

As for what survives a reboot, well unless it includes the player characters it's not going to be enough. Characters have to be persistent even if the world reboots to the same starting state once a week.

>Maybe a better definition could begin by examining the interface. Not the interface between human and machine. The interface between 'characters' either human or artificial.

Care to have a first cut at such a definition?

Richard

Posted May 8, 2007 2:55:11 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Kami Harbinger>If a task is truly boring, it should be automated instead, but not with a mannequin, just a machine.

What is a mannequin if not a machine?

>Instead of guarding being a full-time job, one option is to have a security door that only lawful residents can pass.

What if you're guarding a caravan through the desert, rather than a building?

>The better option is to make human interaction a required part of guarding, so it's fun to do.

This is a good solution.

>There are very few real scut-work jobs in a virtual world. Most of them are things that require human interaction, judgement, and creativity, all of which are fun.

NPCs are typically used for things like: guarding; quest-dispensing/rewarding; buying/selling; training; help/tutorials; interface to other functionality (transport, bank etc.), atmosphere.

Some of those are tasks people might want to do, but would they want to do them all the time? What happens when several people want to be the ferry operator, and what happens when none do? NPCs offer a permanent, uncomplaining, full-time solution.

>If you see a few real people running back and forth, only stopping to talk to NPCs, you're even more alone than if there were just the real people, looking for other people.

Sometimes, NPCs are there as "extras" to make an area seem busier than it actually is. You're saying this is a bad move on the part of designers?

Richard

Posted May 8, 2007 3:11:47 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ainai>I misunderstood one of your comments given your generous use of physics and the implication that textual worlds no longer satisfy the need of immersion.

Ah, no, what I was saying is that textual worlds that strode too far from what players have internalised from the real world in terms of physics had those problems. Textual worlds can approximate regular real-world physics very well (a lot better than graphical worlds in some cases).

>In my mind, a virtual world is any world that is not real, regardless of its medium.

Well here we go with the problem we've always had with these constructs, ever since people stopped calling them MUDs. Any fictional world would qualify, whether in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, a novel, a movie, a play... Now while it may be profitable to examine all of these as part of the same context, nevertheless there are differences between them that mean a role-playing game is not a novel is not a movie is not a play.

The label "virtual world" is merely the latest in a long line of terms for a particular kind of computer-moderated environment, as outlined in the opening post. It's already being diluted: I'm starting to see people use it to refer only to social worlds (eg. SL), calling game-like worlds (eg. WoW) "MMOs" or similar. That means we'll soon need yet another umbrella term to refer to both kinds of virtual world, and that term will doubtless come with its own set of unfortunate implications so we'll have to spend time debating whether MySpace or Neopets is a whatever-the-replacement-term-is.

>Going by what has been discussed thus far, a virtual world must exist with rules that a player character must follow. The character must be in sync with the player also.

Yes, these are necessary (but not sufficient) criteria.

>Furthermore, the virtual world must be populated by more than one player at any given moment.

This isn't necessary. The world must be capable of supporting multiple players, but it doesn't actually have to have them all the time. Indeed, if it were the case that it had to have someone playing it all the time (or it would stop running, say), then that would probably count against its claims to persistence.

>I also question the need for synchronicity if I can send private messages to people offline within the virtual world.

You can, yes. In this example, it's subservient to the synchronous part of the game, though.

Let's say that a developer created a virtual world that allowed a great many actions to be undertaken remotely, eg. by filling in a form or sending an email. You could get people creating trading empires and managing wars that way, only occasionally dipping into the virtual world itself (the synchronous part) perhaps for meetings. Now would you have a game here? Yes - there are many games like this around, and the biggest can draw tens of thousands of players. However, is it a virtual world? It has a virtual world, but it's a tool for the offline game.

Now if you're suggesting that a new use for virtual worlds could be as a community support feature for games such as Planetarion, yes, they could. The virtual world itself would still have to be in synchrony with the players who visited it, though.

Richard

Posted May 8, 2007 3:52:06 AM | link

says:

Care to have a first cut at such a definition?"

Obivously not going to be easy, or finished in a few hours. I know you have already been considering it for long. Hmmm. It might be easiest to begin with the capablities of artificials. Can they move, shoot, pretend to speak, give or receive items, and so on? Next, might be their intentions, to the extent that they have any. Rights probably not worth considering. Human characters will be much tougher to define. Sometimes one can determine their intentions, but often not. Rights as yet unknown, because its a legal territory mostly unexplored. Their capabilities would be similar to those of the artificials. Whatever appears on the 'menu' list.

Posted May 8, 2007 5:17:45 AM | link

Hellinar says:

The problem with strict synchronicity is that it biases the world strongly in favor of hard core play. You have to be around a lot to regularly run in to the same people, or in some worlds, to run in to any people at all. Even in such a popular game as WoW.

A world with time travel would be more casual friendly I think. You could travel to a time at which there is a lot happening, no matter what time the player is at. The tradeoff of course is that player interaction would be much more limited than in full on synchronous play. Even the limited time shifted communication on this blog allows some interesting interaction though, so I am hopeful such a world could be interesting, while being less demanding of players time.

Posted May 8, 2007 11:32:49 AM | link

Dee Lacey says:

Initially my reaction to this post was "But there's a lot of games and worlds that aren't much like Second Life or World of Warcraft." I thought of City of Heroes and Toontown and the original version of SWG and (something I haven't played but my son was talking about over dinner) Bang Howdy. None of which really have the WoW class/race structure but aren't freeform build&socialize things like Second Life. But then I thought, no, he's just saying what is the unexplored territory like? What kind of games don't already exist?

Player-created quests could be a sort of cross between a mediated barter system and a GM role. You write up a little speech for the game to show your character saying when someone takes on the quest - specify a time limit beyond which the quest will go to someone new - and say what the reward is and what you want for it. Then anyone who wants the item you're offering and has the thing you asked for can do the quest and make the trade. "I'm making a bracelet that will strengthen my power to work for good - but I can't seem to get this ruby properly imbued. Take it and bathe it in the blood of a demon and bring it back - I'll reward you with this earring that boosts your own powers." Then the ruby goes into their "player quest inventory" - where it will stay for 24 hours till they either defeat the demon in question, on which time it'll return to the quest-giver's inventory and the quest-taker will be awarded the earring.

I don't think restricting players' actions so much that you can't tell them from NPCs is a good idea - how much fun could you have if the only things you could do is what the AI would make your character do? And if you could do more, people would just know you were a player not an AI controlled critter, because AI is very recognizable. So what you'd need to do is somehow make NPCs act smarter, or have them change from being player controlled to AI controlled at unpredictable times.

One idea to further either of these without major advancements in Turing-test-passing AI is to have players make the decisions for NPCs frequently. Setting up certain advancement activities to require playing the part of an NPC for a while - with how well you play the NPC determining how much it advances your character - might be a good way to leverage the players' skills for the NPCs.

Posted May 8, 2007 2:38:26 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Tripp Robbins says, Sheesh, this thread has caught some interest. And there are lots of creative ideas.

Heh, some of us geeks have been milling around in boredom watching threads go by that are more news reports than actual provocations of thought. I'm just disappointed that I've been out of the loop so long I have very little to contribute. Not that anything's changed.

Hellinar says, You could travel to a time at which there is a lot happening, no matter what time the player is at.

I'll bite. How would you accomplish this? Let's say CasualPlayer CP is the only Chinese member of a US-based virtual world. Thus, when he logs in, there are maybe a hundred people around, as opposed to the usual 500-800, and everything is quiet.

Is this a relevant scenario? Because I'm not connecting the dots you seem to be.

Posted May 8, 2007 4:15:02 PM | link