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Jan 07, 2008

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» Where's the hate? from The Brainy Gamer
When smart bloggers with smart readers ask smart questions, interesting conversations frequently ensue. Such is the case with Timothy Burke's essay Foozles I Have Known, Quests I Have Done which appears on virtual worlds blog Terra Nova. Burke is inter... [Read More]

Comments

1.

The Carmen Sandiego quest? The Running Man quest? The Clue quest? Spy quests with double agents also come to mind.

2.

I admit that I've gotten some satisfaction after killing a Son of Arugal or the Fel Reaver, but making something truly hated or loved is hard to do.

Xanathos Gambits a'la Final Fantasy VII (or WotLK) go a long way, but it's not enough. The player needs to spend time with a character to develop feelings for it. Memorable villains (Shodan, Ryan, Sephiroth, S-AX etc.) are memorable because there's more to remember. They don't just sit brooding in the Black Temple and talk to a skull called Wils.. Gul'dan, they actively interfere with your progress. More than that, they make it personal. Sephiroth didn't just outwit you in getting the Dark Materia, he made you give it to him personally.

3.

One of the things that, I think, retards the emotional content of MMOS -- not just in quests but in the overall fictions -- is a lack of distinction between types of characters, races, guilds, etc.

This holds true, of course, for bad fiction, as well. If the only difference in behavior between the Black Hats and the White Hats is that White defends White territory, kills Black characters, etc., and then Black does the same unto White... that's no real, dramatic narrative; it's just death sport w/ teams.

In many MMOs, there's no real reward contrast for even minor behavioral differences. In most good fiction, however, the rewards that "good guys" hold up as important are often hugely different than that which the "bad guys" seek; saving innocent lives vs. willingness to spend them indiscriminately; personal honor even in the face of set-backs; self-sacrifice vs. egotism. All that neat stuff that makes you cheer the hero and hiss the villain.

Seems to me, you could have quests that depend on a player's alignment (to use a D&D term). If you are "lawful/good," then you shouldn't be killing anything you don't have a Letter of Marque for. If you are "chaotic/good," you might not even kill legitimate, lawful targets... depending on what the trial of the moment is.

I played a bunch of races, classes and both sides in WoW and never really got the feeling that they were substantially different in terms of dramatic or personal reasoning. Different spells/skills, graphics, etc... but all pointing at killing lots of NPCs and enemy players.

In the absence of contextual differences for motivation, all choices are purely tactical. And tactics aren't emotional.

4.

I'll take on the second question about how quests might be more diverse and/or emotionally engaging. These objectives might be helped if there were more reputation dependent quests. Not just the sort of quests where you open up new areas and quest chains, but quests where there is a significance to your choice of deciding to ally yourself with one faction over another.

WoW has the structure for this in place with the Aldors and Scryers (and to a less developed extent with Booty Bay and the Bloodsail Buccaneers), but the background lore diminishes any conflict between the two and any significance to the choice other than the tactical concerns of which faction's loot will better suit your objectives.

If you have a setting that features more than two major factions, like the Alliance and the Horde, allowing players to choose which reputations to develop would allow the player to choose their character's place in the game during game play. These types of multi-branching and interlinked relationships between groups and quest chains can be difficult to design and manage, but tabletop games have been doing it for the last twenty years. I think that players would welcome being able to negotiate their place in the game through relationships with multiple factions.

5.

I think this starts with the stated objective(s) for the encounter, be it quest or boss encounter. If a major objective is to emotionally engage the player then the encounter developer will focus on making decisions that work towards engagement. Keeping with the WoW examples - Nefarian is a major character the player can make an emotional connection with. From his encounter in Black Rock Spire to the corruption of Vaelastrasz, Nefarian is actively trying to halt the players progress, which leads the player to develop feelings towards the character.

This type of activity could be enhanced through the frequency of encounters with the NPC and through building up characters like Vaelastrasz. In this case if we had been helped by Vaelastrasz on previous occasions, his corruption, and the fact we had to kill him would be more emotionally engaging.

In an MMO I think the key would be visual interaction, this shouldn't just be textual since so many people skip the text. For instance if a new player was "mentored" by an NPC throughout their leveling, helping the player in various ways throughout their time, and then was slain in front of the player by an "end-game" boss, that would help strengthen the player's feeling towards the NPC.

I think the keys to develop emotional interaction are, first it must be an objective, early and/or often contact with the NPC, visual stimulation - we need to see the NPC doing good/bad things to remember them, and lastly the actions the NPC takes has to be sufficient to cause the desired emotional response - don't expect me to care if the NPC just takes one sheep from a farmer that has 100 sheep.

6.

Biggest problem: no matter the quest, the repetition kills any attempt at emotion. When you turn anything into a mechanical process, any 'magic', feelings, emotion, etc., disappears.

Any decent single player (even "ride the rails") adventure game has you do important things once, somehow ties it into a narrative, and allows you to become attached to your character in the process. I played 6 characters through all four Gold Box AD&D games back in the day. There was a lot of leveling going on along the way. Lots of repetitive combat. Puzzle solving was a bit lacking in ingenuity at times. BUT, the narrative progressed with my characters, I began to identify with antagonists and protagonists in the narrative, and was able to have emotional responses to the narrative.

Key: a game makes you feel a part of the story. I currently see NO way of doing that in any current MMORPG. Go back to an old style MUD with active moderators who create and develop story arcs and allow player participation, and maybe something could happen. The closest I saw of late was online D&D using an actual dungeon master.

If you can't have a lasting effect on the real world, you will never be tied into the narrative. Emotional ties cannot develop as a result of the game world. Because of guild activities and relationships? Sure. But not due to the game.

7.

I think the repeatability of MMOGs also contributes to the lack of emotional engagement with bosses and storylines. Even if players did come to hate boss x, there is no final victory to be had over boss x because it will repop once the dungeon resets and that dampens the heightened emotional state one can get from something like say, non-game fiction.

Of course I realize that changing this would also likely kill the MMO genre as players would likely kill all the bosses and then promptly leave the game. However, I think maybe adding more world changing events, like the opening of the gates for Ahn'Qiraj in WoW might help in this respect.

8.

Oh where to start?

First, there's no structure to the plot (intro, climax, conclusion, ending). For example Agent missions in Eve seem to tell parts of a story, but it's like reading chapter 5, then chapter 2, then chapter 5 again, etc.. As described in this Wiki Article, MMO stories seem to lack a great deal.

Second, the players are supposed to be characters in the story, but we can't really interact with the NPC's. In other words, there are no consequences for our actions as described suggestions about good fictional characters you'll see almost zero resemblance to MMO storylines.

There's more, but those are my three big ones.

So the question remains: How could you incorporate any of those elements into our MMO experience, and do we really want to?

9.

that's strange. This section didn't make it into the post:

Third, I don't know the NPC I'm helping or the other NPC that I'm killing. In order for me to care about them, I need to know them. I'm a geek who reads the back story fiction associated with my favorite MMO and I still don't know of any characters in the game that are round as opposed to flat. None of them are believable in the least. If you look at suggestions about good fictional characters you'll see almost zero resemblance to MMO storylines.

10.

Many MUD quests achieved this sort of emotional engagement. The barriers these days have to with a bunch of complicated factors, but they include (IMHO)

- incentive structures that are very goal-focused
- which means a lack of patience on gamers' parts
- which designers accomodate, by reducing the sorts of storytelling tools used (hidden info, branching narrative, etc)
- which results in stock simple quests that are highly atomic

It's a mutual feedback loop, I think.

Compare to the quest I have posted many times before:

http://www.raphkoster.com/?p=216

It's nothing but fetch and carry, a few simple puzzles, and a bunch of "kill target" quests strung together. It does have a big emotional impact. But many of the storytelling tools used would not work in the environment of say, WoW, in part because of scale and in part because players simply wouldn't have the patience because they have been conditioned not to.

11.

"What do antagonists do in other narratives that makes them hateful, that gives the audience a desire to see them destroyed or defeated?"

This makes me think of the series Lost and the character Ben.

Ben lies. He speaks half-truths. He manipulates. I hate him for all of these character traits.

So, imagine an NPC that gives you a very difficult quest. He gives misinformation as to the location, items, etc required to complete that quest. Then, he doesn't give you a reward.

I'm guessing you'd hate that NPC.

Now imagine encountering that same NPC later in the game. There would be real animosity there. You would want to kill him.

It is this type of narrative structure that might be impossible in a MMO.

Imagine a quest that didn't give a promised reward. Player would send bug reports. How would the game dev respond? Can the devs say, 'We want the players to develop negative emotions to this NPC to enhance later quests. Therefore, we (the NPC) lied to you.'

It would be exciting to see a MMO that controlled a story line like the series Lost or Heroes. But because of the issue of replayability, I'm not holding out.

12.

A very small thing that City of Heroes did, and now WoW has a very limited implementation of oddly has a very big impact on my sense of emotional connection: atmospheric NPCs with conversation strings that put my character's name into what they say. In WoW, the daily quest NPCs will say things like "Wow, here comes , he's the best flyer ever" once you hit a certain reputation. City of Heroes has a more extensive implementation of this, in that the NPCs actually refer to recently completed missions (but what they say is private, so only you're hearing it, which is less fun).

Even given the limitations that Raph describes, however, I think there are more tricks like this that would help. Another, hinted at in some of the above replies, would be quest NPCs who recur constantly in the progressive life of the character. How about for every WoW character above level 20, you get an "archenemy", an NPC who appears every once in a while to try and mess with you. Rather like ambushes in COH. Or have more characters like Hesingway who pop up at three or four points in the character's questing life, and remember what's gone before. Part of the reason that the NPCs are just mechanical XP-granting machines is that you know you will NEVER see them again UNTIL you have another character who is progressing past that point. Save them, damn them, eat their babies, who cares: when you're done with them, you're done.

Branching narratives would extend the logic of rep quests a bit more. In Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, the hero at one early point in the stories helps a giant killer hawk who serves the antagonist. We don't see it again until very near the conclusion of the series, when it helps the lead character at a critical moment. Suppose I have to decide early on in my character's questing life how to resolve a difficult branching point. If I do it one way, one set of things happens much later on, if I do it another, a different set of things.

13.

Thoreau:

Great idea. Imagine a quest NPC who defaults on his promised reward. Or one who ganks you four or five times while you're in his zone or area. Then imagine that ten levels later, he's the boss at the end of an instance. You'd be extra motivated to kill him (at least the first time).

14.

A little bit off topic, but IMHO the real issue here is that players have no effect on their worlds. You can visit any of the shards in any of the popular MMO's and they are essentially the same, you can go talk to NPC_01 on any of them and he will ask you for the exact same 10 kills/items/etc. If you play a class on one shard your skills and abilities are exactly the same as the guy next to you playing that same class and very close to the guy on the other side playing a similar class. Equipment is the one difference, but given enough time one can get the exact same stuff as the guys on either side of him and not to mention that you don't even need to go look for the items, most things of worth are found in a limited region or from a single encounter. The fact that mobs go on farm status in order to obtain those coveted items speaks to this. Nothing in the world actually changes, the farmed mob will always be in the same place to allow you to farm them, the encounter will play out largely the same every time you do it, NPC_01 will always want you to get those same 10 bear hides.

Now if that NPC decided that well the 23815798289 bear hides that he had in his warehouse was enough, and decided that perhaps the dear population was now getting out of hand, or that he needed more firewood to cure the hides, or more stone to build a larger storehouse, or the local goblins took issue with his call to eradicate the bears then while it was really all similar quests, it would at least feel like a player's actions had an effect. If the footings of a new storehouse showed up, new fires with skins tanning over them were erected and goblins started to raid and destroy these new structures, the player would feel more engaged. As a town grew up around this single tanners endeavors the goblins and bandits in the wilds would see better pickings and grow their simple firepits into raiding camps and eventually a stronghold in the caves in the hills, offering jobs to other with similar objectives to raid the tanners stores. As the town grew up, new artisans would arrive offering skills that had not been seen in those parts before allowing the players to advance in ways that were not available or may not be available again. Through learning and doing different tasks the player would evolve along unique chains that would make them different than the next guy over. By performing tasks for either side, players would build a reputation with all involved and be treated accordingly. As the town grew it would also come into conflict and alliance with the communities surrounding it, trade routes would grow, militias would spring up and eventually, wars would break out. As the tide of war changed the landscape of the land, the city might be destroyed, its mayor/king/ruling council killed, its houses and shops plundered. The goblins might be routed from their hills, their boss leaders killed, their amassed hordes spread to the looters. The city might be conquered by a neighbor; its peoples enslaved or forced to follow the rule of a harsh despot. Corrupt leaders might rise to power or the city could be destroyed by an experiment gone horribly wrong. However throughout this, the landscape would have changed and the player would have some sense that they at least had a part in it.

The problems with this scheme are too numerous to list and mostly have to do with a customers sense of fairness and the technology that such a simulation would require, but by allowing the world to evolve and change according to the actions of the player/citizens would go far in making a player feel that he was at least a part of something larger than just the current grind.

15.

I think instead of asking what bosses or major characters you have emotional ties to or hate, you should ask what lesser characters create this effect.

Case in point, Murocs. People get really worked up over Murlocs. People seem to love to hate them - or love to love them. Here's a fan made Murloc RPG. Personally I find them the most amusing of all the monsters in WoW and love that "mgggrrrggglle" sound. In fact all of their sounds just crack me up - even their dramatic death animation.

And sometimes the emotional reaction isn't necessarily the one expected. I was playing LoTRO the other day and was being attacked by those "evil birds that aren't nice unlike eagles" (hendrevail) and it made me sad to kill them. Why? I have a pet Conure who's the greatest little "bird buddy" and every time I'd see those hendrevail flutter their wings and peep with their dying breath, it made me think of my little bird buddy. I did not like killing them at all because of that.

16.

Unique NPCs (as in only one...you kill them, they don't come back) could change this. This would probably work best as an event, but devs could throw unique NPCs in from time to time. Users would appreciate that they are a having an experience unique to themselves (or shared with a small raid group), even though most users wouldn't be able to participate. Still, it would be a easy and nice way to "spice" up the quest content.

17.

Weighted companion cube. That's how you make emotional attachments in games.

Seriously though? Recurring NPCs. You guys remember Goldeneye, for N64? If so, I almost guarantee you remember that stupid bitch Natalya that you had to run around with in every other level. Now, you were supposed to like her, but for whatever reason she always fucked you up (shitty AI anyone?), and TO THIS DAY I still hate that bitch. Emotional attachment.

Bowser in the Mario games, especially Mario 64. You'd get up to him, beat his level, fight him, and he'd narrowly escape, and come back next time with a new level and new powers.

What happened to Ragnaros in WoW? That's the boss I was the most concerned with beating, because he was the first big one. Wouldn't it have been better if he dropped his hammer, said "You haven't seen the last of me", and then we had to fight him again in the depths of Shadowmoon Valley with an all new set of skills and stuff? And if he escapes at the end, it makes sense why you'd be able to fight him more than once.

Shit, I like Rexxar the best of all the NPCs in WoW, cuz you had to find him for the Onyxia quest, and then he pops up again in Blade's Edge Mountains. I saw his name and his bear, I was like "OH SHIT! He made it here too, awesome!"

Quest givers who are with you from the beginning of the game would be good for emotional attachment. You'd find them at your starting point, they'd give you big quests with awesome goodies, you'd escort them places, you'd kind of become friends. The writing for them would have to be good, and they'd have to physically do things to grab your attention (come pick you up in a helicopter when the enemies are closing in on you as part of a quest, stand back-to-back with you to help fight, etc). Then, there could be a quest where the bad guys are coming, and he gets injured and can only walk really really slow, so he's like "give me the grenade, i'll hold'em off, you make a run for it!" and he plunks himself down and blows up the oncoming forces as you make it out of the collapsing tunnel just in time. But then the big big bad guy comes out and is like "haha i killed your buddy Joe Smith" and you're like "NOoooooooooooooooooooooooo" and now you have a reason to go after big big bad guy.

18.

It seems we are conditioned that rpg's need quests to be engaging. I would argue that they are not.

Which leads us to what would engage/provide more emotional attachment to a role playing game. I would say anything that facilitates the player to "play" that role.

But that's where it becomes tricky I guess. In MMO's you have griefers, thieves, politicians, etc...Good/bad is irrelevant. They are playing and engaged because they are playing the role that makes them happy.

Does a Civil War re-enactor have to do fedex quests to get his uniform and rifle so he can participate in the battle? No, but if the folks running the re-enactment told the guy he had to press a lever 10,000 times to get a confederate uniform he would do it.

Would anyone expect him to be emotionally involved in the reason the "management" told him how that relates to the battle? Hell no.

I would say for the most emotional attachment to the game - get rid of "quests"

19.

1) Is there anything that a boss or major NPC could do in game-fictional terms within the current conventions of most virtual worlds that might make players feel a strong emotional desire to defeat that boss?

"Within the current conventions of most virtual worlds"? Probably not. I wouldn't say a flat "no," because maybe someone will figure out a way to create real emotional engagement along the lines of the wonderful weighted companion cube (which depended on stellar and spare writing, not graphics, game-lore, or even AI).

There have been some good ideas above, but I believe that all they all fail due to the repeat gameplay nature of MMOs. That is, in KOTOR you can feel like Bastila has eyes only for you; and in Portal you can feel like the poor li'l cube has been used only by you. But in an MMO based on current NPC/quest conventions, an NPC who for example helps you out or "falls in love with you" will instantly be seen as a wheezing clockwork going through its soulless paces. It's all been done before, just like "oh thank you for saving my village" really doesn't do anything for you when you see three guys do the same ahead of you and see four more waiting in line behind you to talk to the oh-so-grateful soulless NPC.

2) Are there stock structures or types of reasonably implementable quests which might be: a) more emotionally engaging than the current range of stock quests and b) a good way to diversify the current range of stock quests?

I think you know what my answer is. :)

The problem isn't in somehow making better quests given out by vending-machines shaped like people; it's in changing the underlying gameplay so that such devices either aren't necessary or at most take a back seat to more emotionally engaging interaction models. There's nothing wrong with tasks, jobs, missions, etc., but "quests" as the mainstay of gameplay become drained of significance and emotion when they become repetitive, mechanistic, dim shadows of the heroic undertakings to which they refer (Perseus being sent by Polydectes to slay the Medusa isn't quite the same as being told by a blank-faced NPC to bring back ten rat tails).

20.

1.
a) Introduce your major villains to the players in the course of character progression well before they get to fight them. Use dramatic animated in-game scenes involving some previously familiar NPCs rather than text. Don't get fixated on the villain's epic role in the world -- instead cleary express its antagonism towards the player's character. Build this antagonism across multiple events before the final confrontation. Think Dr. Breen from Half-Life 2.

b) Have factional bosses that benefit the enemy player faction and impede your player faction. Let thier death be persistent for a significant length of time or require the enemy faction to complete a group quest to respawn the boss. Think Alterac Valley in WoW, only on world scale.

c) Have bosses talk trash to players. Employ quality voice talent to taunt, insult, belittle, and threaten players. This has to be well-written and performed to work.

d) Make annoying or destructive world bosses that interfere with smooth levelling/questing experience by spawning mobs/ganking players/shutting down resources/etc. Mustn't be too annoying, too though, or unavoidable. Think NPC griefers that the player can get easy revenge on.


2. I think the best bet for creating engaging quests is using more digital acting and event scripting. A typical MMO player cares little about non-interactive text description of quests and doesn't read them. Instead, use animated NPCs to tell simple but dramatic (or amusing) short stories. Have them accompany you during some quests and perform meaningful actions and emotes. Take some plot twists. Make it as interactive as possible. Look what Half-life 1&2 have done to the FPS genre with this approach. As a bonus, a world where a number of quest events is always playing out seems much more alive to all players present in the vicinity, not just the ones that are doing the quest. This also allows for character development of major NPCs and villains that the player may have to confront later (addressing point #1).

It should be noted that WoW already has some quests like these, but suffers from simplistic character models and lack of facial animations, which limits the dramatic effect. There's obviously a high development cost of theatrical quests, which is why the vast majority of quests out there are of a simple "talk to static NPC, fulfill gate condition, talk to the NPC again to get your reward" variety.

21.

One obvious solution to this is that the quests that players undertake should be for the benefit of other players.

So e.g., players of race or class X need to get from Point A to Point B, but can't because mob/obstacle C blocks the bridge in the middle and race/class X doesn't have the means to clear the mob/obstacle. So the quest of players of race/class Y is to remove the obstacle threatening race/class X. X does a similar service for Y. Z might help X and Y. The threat is real, the gratitude ought to be real.

There must be an obvious reason, though, that we don't see that quest structure occur in most MMOG. To difficult to coordinate? Prone to some kind of abuse? To difficult to script?

22.

As JiK and Raph have pointed out, if you go back to text MUDs then people did have emotional engagement with some NPCs. You don't even need human GMs or well-designed quests to do it - we had it in MUD1, where certain mobiles (such as the goat) were able to cause apoplexy in even the calmest individuals by attacking you when you were at your most vulnerable.

In WoW, the only NPC that came remotely close to this was Hogger, but of course WoW doesn't have permanent death so the effects of being ganked are merely tedious rather than gut-wrenching. Nevertheless, the first thing I did when I made level 60 was to go back and kill Hogger.

As Mike Sellers says, though, although there are many tried and trusted ways to get players emotionally involved with NPCs, it's not so easy to do it in the current MMO climate.

Richard

23.

Richard Bartle wrote:

As JiK and Raph have pointed out, if you go back to text MUDs then people did have emotional engagement with some NPCs.

*cough* Not did. Do. :)

(I know you know it, but most people seem to forget/not know that there are well over one thousand functioning text MUDs still in existence.)

--matt

24.

Great thread; thanks to all for contributions.

Many great points have been covered. My two cents on some random related things:

1) I agree that the structure of WoW intentionally avoids trying to build deep emotional connections with NPCs in favor of a style of game play that appeals to a wide audience of excitement-seeking players. I bet the Blizzard devs would say they almost never cared for emotional connections.

2) Most memorable NPCs to me: Deekin in NWN whose annoying humor was endearing. To a much lesser extent but sort of parallel: the Warloc's imp in WoW. GLaDOS in Portal because of the awesome hummor. -NOT the most memorable to me, personally, but often touted: Companion Cube, Alyx Vance, or anyone in WoW world.

3) Key factors to building emotional connections between PC and NPCs: they need to touch the player in an emotional way, either positively (e.g., humor, helpfulness/caring, attractive/sexy???) or negatively (e.g., significantly frustrate PC in some way). It's clearly more common (ergo easier) to do this in a negative way.

4) Have significant and lasting effects on the player and the world.


As has been pointed out, humans running characters (like GMs or DMs) can be much more engaging and memorable. I'd think that as time goes on, we'll see more complicated scripting for NPCs and they'll become more engaging. -Here's to the future :)

25.

"Great idea. Imagine a quest NPC who defaults on his promised reward. Or one who ganks you four or five times while you're in his zone or area. Then imagine that ten levels later, he's the boss at the end of an instance. You'd be extra motivated to kill him (at least the first time)."

In Everquest there was an NPC named Holly Windstalker[?] that would kill you if she caught you in combat with the wolves & bears in the zone. Of course there were lots of both and they were aggro. When I finally got to a level where I could take her out I would go WAY out of my way to hunt her down and let her know what I thought of her earlier behavior. It was very satisfying.


26.

Just an interesting tangent to the topic, since some have mentioned Bioshock: Irrational Games' Ken Levine has an interesting opinion piece in the Feb. 2008 PC Gamer Magazine titled "GAME STORIES ARE DEAD! -Long live video game stories!" In it he discusses how he's changed his tune about the value of story and substance in games and says how the way that developers approach the concept is key.

27.

Matt Mihaly wrote:

*cough* Not did. Do. :)

(I know you know it, but most people seem to forget/not know that there are well over one thousand functioning text MUDs still in existence.)

--matt

*smite* Stop advertising. :P

I think a very graphical representation of slaughtering innocents does the trick for a good number of people. While it’s not always the case, i.e. people go around killing “happy little girls” in Achaea all the time, it does seem to work when the culprit isn’t particularly a friend of yours in the first place. The human “defender” mechanism turning into the avenger one could cause some very strong emotions. I’m no big fan of the series, but if the Hostel seems to do the trick (torturing everybody who the protagonist loved/liked to death and then setting you loose) on the silver screen, you could do the same (but not necessarily as graphical as Hostel) in a MMORPG.

PS: Just make sure they don’t get lag while at it or it’ll be you getting fired, rather than the NPC. :P

PS2: You would most probably have to cut down on you younger customers for this sort of game.

28.

Yet another note:

I think one of the problems is that quests are only regarded by the players as... quests. You get a mission, you complete it and get your bonus. I think removing the quest-log could actually help the atmosphere a great bunch.

So, for example, you listen to the fletcher, who talks about his daughter being raped by a group of bandits, who reside on the other side of the river. You go there, take them by surprise and kill the entire party. Shorty afterwards you discover that the fletcher only manipulated you because he wanted to get rid of the competetion. selling goods at lower prices.

Once again, if you do it by the quest-log tactics, there's a good chance that people won't even follow the plot. You want them to live the world, not complete generic tasks within it.

29.

To answer the original question, I think to hate the NPC he needs to defeat us time and time again. To do this within the story it just needs to be scripted that way. To give an example of how to do that within WoW.

1) At level 10 We see Joe Rival in Ironforge. He's rude, and you think he might not have the best interests of the Dwarves in mind.

2) At level 20 he's part of a quest chain but refuses to give you want you want unless you do him a favor. Rob a grave and get him a keepsake. After you do it, he gives you the referral you need to continue the chain.

3) Around level 30, you get a quest to kill Boss monster Y in instance Q to get Item Z. This monster only spawns if you have the quest. After he falls, but before you can recover, Joe Rival jumps out, reveals himself to be level ??? Epic, and beats you up, taking the item for himself. He rants about how he only needs "one more now, thanks to you." Quest is marked "completed" but handing it in only gets a lecture and a small amount of reputation. Quest giver ignores your suggestion that Joe Rival is anything but a straight apple.

4) Joe Rival can now be attacked when you see him, but the Ironforge guards will come to his defense.

5) In another instance you find someone who says he knows about Joe and can prove he's no good, but he needs an escort out. If you get close to the door Joe attacks, rants about how he's actually undead but the fools in Ironforge are too drunk to notice, kills your escort and runs away unharmmed. This quest is also "completed" and you can hand it in at the dead corpse.

6) By now you should hate Joe, you just need a good quest to take him down. :)

30.

I think it is possible to develop some sort of emotional 'feeling' towards an NPC, but I've never really seen it in an enemy, nor in a MMO (Granted my MMO experiences are limited to EVE [NPCs are just harvesting fodder], ATITD [NPCs pretty rarr] and Muds[/kill zombie] ).

In Half life, the character of Alyx is wonderfully developed , in the sense that she elicits some sort of sense of wanting to see 'her' make it thru. Granted the mechanism for this is pretty cheap (She flirts and gives lots of puppy-dog eyes. Clearly theres an implication she's supposed to be romantically interested). Its all fairly straight forward narrative building. Its a character your supposed to identify with. But its a harder thing to do, to build an enemy your supposed to feel real feelings of dislike towards, particularly in a MMO environment, where the emotional attributes of NPCs seem so shallow compared with the real humans walking about.

In EVE, its entirely common to get really angry about the opposing team. After all its full of people actively conspiring to make you fail. But it doesn't make sense to get worked up over belt rats. They are at most clay pidgeons.

I'm not sure how WOW works it. My understanding is that one COULD get worked up over griefers, but the pressure is probably not the same. But again, does getting worked up over a Raid boss make sense. Its not like the Raid boss cares. He's just a computer program.

31.

@mdx: I think it's actually harder to make an NPC loved than hated, but both are feasible if they're really desired.

32.

@Tripp: I think, I'll disagree with you on this one. It mainly depends on what you describe as "loving" the NPC. On a purely absolute level, I personally felt affected to one or the other Hero/Henchman in GuildWars. Never really hated any of the villains. Even though their characters are rather shallow, they follow you through the game and you get used to them. The enemies? You meet them and 3 missions later they are dead.

PS: I know that GW isn't the best example for a classical virtual world due to its cut-scenes, but there was one or another NPC, who you only new through looks/text.

33.

I think there is something a boss could do that would really make you hate him. Imagine you get a few really good NPCs in a game, like Alyx Vance or Pey'j. Now imagine that after having gotten really attached to those NPCs, the boss kills one when you're not around. Are you PO'ed?

I wrote a post back in September which I titled Bioshock - A Pre-Review Rant and Rambling Introspective on My Own Reactions to Emotional Content in Media, in which I complained about the game's inability to evoke any kind of emotional reponse in myself. Maybe it's just me, but I had more of an emotional reaction to games like Resident Evil 2 and Half-Life 2.

34.

About WoW, at least, I think there are two main factors preventing a deeper immersion in the game:

1) In PvP, cross-realm battlegrounds really ruined whatever feeling of rivalry one might have. Before they came about, most PvP'ers would know their enemies, because they pretty much fought the same guys everyday. The rivalries between guilds would eventually be known even by people that didn't PvP, and the servers felt more "alive". Now everyone just fights a bunch of nameless grunts.

2) In PvE, I think the main thing is that you can actually skip the quest text. Most people just read "go x, kill y, collect z" and completely bypass whatever explanation there is for the quest. It's very hard to build a connection between the player and the world s/he's in if text quest appears instantly and can be easily skipped.

Still, WoW has at least one good example of a "recurring villain you get to hate", as the concept is being discussed here: Teron Gorefiend. You meet a spirit in Shadowmoon Valley that gives you a rather long quest chain, supposedly to know more about Gorefiend (the first Death Knight, in Warcraft lore). Turns out, of course, that the spirit is Gorefiend himself, and he actually possesses you and uses you to kill his jailor (one of the most interesting quests in WoW, by far), and then runs off to the Black Temple, where he is now a raid boss.

Of course, the rub is that currently a very small percentage of WoW players will be able to actually fight Gorefiend in the Black Temple, since it's the hardest raid instance there at the moment. Still, it's one of those chains you don't forget. Provided you read the quest text, of course ;)

35.

If quest were initiated on a random basis, rather that voluntary, I believe they would require the player to have emotional involvement. I have Not played many MMo's, however, just watching youtube videos of the demon that was lured into into the city thrust an emotional element into the play. Players HAD to defend themselves!

36.

Neverwinter Nights II - the single player campaign has some very good character development. It has this really surprising end scene where the villain of the story tries to convert each of your party members to stand with him instead of the PC. Based on your reputation which each of these members they will switch sides. The reputation which each member gets build during the main adventure, and interaction with these characters.

I think what NWN did really well in this series is:

1) Definitive choices. Some conversations will end up telling you more about the NPC or tighten the bond between the PC and NPC, while other decisions, based on multiple choice chat lines will make you drop in reputation up to the point where they leave you/no longer interact with you.

2) Character Development without PC involvement. Some NPCs will progress their story without the PC interacting, like arguing with another NPC, or make certain assumptions about the PC based on their interactions with someone else. This gives them some flesh and bones, like they actually do something else than wait for you to bring them their 10 murlock eyes.

3) Well rounded characters that represent different views. The WoW NPC's lack a lot of depth. All faction leaders are 'honorable' - all villains are 'vengeful'. You can't disagree with most of the quests, or take alternative routes. This does not only limit the PC's development as a role player, but also the attachment to the NPC's.

4) Spontaneous interaction. In some areas, or some fights the NPC will start to talk to you, instead of you having to talk to the NPC. Though common in single player campaigns, this rarely happens in MMOG's

5) Casual interaction. Most NPC's in WoW 'die' after you've completed their quest. They are no longer important and unless they have a follow up quest its likely you will never get another option to talk to them except for 'thanks for saving my husband'.... 'thanks for saving my husband'.... 'thanks for saving my husband'.... et cetera. In NWN it's possible, up to a certain point, to have casual interactions with NPC's, inquiring about backgrounds that don't relate to any quests or are of no importance to the storyline.

6) It's not just the villains that could disagree with the PC. Often NPC's in MMOG's will agree with the PC, as being the center of the universe. But what makes the persona of an NPC is a difference of opinion, his views and argumentation. When I find myself disagreeing with an NPC I get a lot more triggered to find out why, compared to an NPC that will just follow me blindly, or will constantly tell me how well I did.

7) The point that bothered me about NWN 2, and many MMORPG's is the absolute loss of feeling at 'risk' with anything. In Baldurs Gate, your companions could die permanently, some did. This gives a certain 'value' to them, you would protect them over others, or maybe not protect them at all. These are gaming choices made on emotion that can only be triggered by well developed, consistent characters and will make you aware of those feelings more than anything.

37.

OK, I would agree that a "henchman"/follower, an NPC on your side who helps you could elicit affection (if not love). I vaguely remember Baldur's Gate NPC party members and thinking that I really valued them for pulling my fat out of the fire a few times. True enough.

I think I haven't feel warm and fuzzy about Alyx Vance because I felt manipulated to do so. Ick.

38.

OK, I would agree that a "henchman"/follower, an NPC on your side who helps you could elicit affection (if not love). I vaguely remember Baldur's Gate NPC party members and thinking that I really valued them for pulling my fat out of the fire a few times. True enough.

I think I haven't felt warm and fuzzy about Alyx Vance because I felt manipulated to do so. Ick.

39.

Oops. Sorry 'bout that...

40.

Well yeah. It is emotional Manipulation, but thats kind of what literature does isn't it?

Now I think about it (Sorry for using non MMO examples here), the Government agency one is working for at the start of Deus Ex actually really had my blood boiling a bit in terms of just how cold it was. That was a neat little Narative twist. Your going after the terrorists, but slowly learn, that maybe its the government are the evil guys. Its all a bit X-Files, but it does work.

41.

I think the main problem is actually coming from the business department here. If you concept a game, which has moral choices in-between paragon good and Diablo evil, you end up with something that is designed for a very mature audience. This means that you'll get only few people below the age of 16 playing it. It'll definitely make the game much more fun to play, in regards to emotional attraction, for an adult (best example in single-player, The Witcher), but it'll cut down your income quite drastically. And let's admit it, 95% of MMORPGs are probably 12+.

42.

Good point about the cash aspect. In a straightforward, single player adventure, it's easy to script a story and score some emotional involvement points. In a persistent world, in the first place that becomes a lot harder to do. You're dealing with a mess of people who have to do all of the same things (hence the lack of world impact). Second, most MMO's are built for the grinders. There's not going to be much (NPC) emotional involvement in a game where you've spent the past 30 hours of gametime killing giant rats. And soon move up to big spiders. Game addons are additions of further areas for grinding. There's story along with it. But when you have to kill the boss 6 times before you level up and can go fight the next boss, game design has quashed any chance of emotional involvement.

43.

whoops, forgot to finish that with:

it's a lot cheaper to code such a game. You're player time per dollar invested in much higher. It's likelihood to induce 'addicted gamer syndrome' is much higher. And in an MMO that makes it's bucks according to continued resubscribes, that's what counts. story line and emotional involvement don't come into play unless they somehow get you a more 'sticky' environment. And they usually provide the opposite, as emotional storylines need to culminate eventually. (soap operas excepted).

44.

Well, apart from business, I think the problem with the a "good story" would be the sheer amount of implementation it would take to get anything nearly as good as the middle-range single-player (sp) tale.

Unlike a SP game, you want the MMO experience to last over a period of at least a couple of month. That is providing that you're looking at the nerdiest of nerds without any real life, etc, i.e. a person who'd beat the 100 hours of SP entertainment in a bit more than a week. This means that you either:

1.) Have to artificially extend the periods during which you progress through single chapters of the storyline, completely destroying the atmosphere and the continuity of the telling. (as far as I'm aware FFXI is a good example for this sort of thing)

or

2.) You script a brilliant, active story which lasts for good 6 month (side-quests included) and will take you five regiments of artists/designers/developers/etc to implement it within a moderate period of time. I have my doubts on whether it is possible at all.

So, I think you can cross out the story bit, unless you want a really short one (e.g. GW, even though it was a pretty boring one).

45.

Don't underestimate how much money actually is spent on MMOs. CCP claimed something on the order of 50 man-years (presumably no women on the art team CCP?) in just modelling for new textures and ships for the latest expansion. And honestly, CCPs graphic engine , whilst pretty, would be much simpler than the hack and slasher graphics engines (no need for portaling, much simpler LOD algorithms etc) Thats for a minority MMO. Blizzard would be spending inordinate sums of cash, and still have spare coin left over for funky stuff.

Interestingly CCP have pretty much given up on scripted 'event' stuff. The player content is way more compelling, except perhaps for the minority of strict role players.

46.

I believe that my formulation was poor, so I'll try again:

By no means am I assuming that making a quality, graphical MMO is cheap, easy or whatsoever. I'm merely comparing the effort it would take to make a MMORPG with a story that could compete with those of a SP game. In the end, what you want is not just a good story, but also an intense one, i.e. there's always something going on.

As stated previously, FFXI has a story. I never got pass it's introduction, but the fans are claiming it to be a pretty good one as well (which is almost a requirement for a FF game: P). However, it never really appealed to me, because I never even got past the SP-equilateral of the first chapter of the first act, simply because it lacked intensity. One event taking place every 4 RL weeks, hardcore playing assumed, simply doesn't do the trick.

Thus, whilst talking about a story, we're also talking about the frequency of occurring events. SP is very good at this sort of thing, but then, once again, you'll never get more than some 60~100 hours of it, which is logically, simply too short from an MMO. Leaving all the implementation issues behind, it is my firm belief that simply scripting a story which would last is rather problematic, to say the least.

Question is, do you really need a good story in a MMORPG? In the end it's all about immersion of the world itself, which could possibly even suffer if the focus is put entirely on the quest for the Holy Grail. Scripted long-term events, which would promote interaction with players rather than NPCs, e.g. state A declares independence from empire B and everybody who likes puts the PVP flags on (or whatever), could be just as enticing as a good quest. Reading books is a solitary activity, as is playing a SP-RPG. MMOs just don't fit anywhere in that formula.

47.

One of the things that kills story possibilities in the current MMOGs is that they are all tuned for 100 hrs a month or more content consumption. What I would like to see is a MMORPG tuned to about 5 or 6 hrs of content per week, with “exhaustion” or a similar mechanism preventing more adventuring than that. Of course, you could spend much more time than that in the world if you wishes, socializing, setting up your adventure, or helping other adventurers.

With that rate of content consumption, the 20 days played of a first time WoW account would take getting on for two years. The majority of characters born at a particular time could move through the world together, meeting the same NPC in different situations as they also grew and traveled. Meanwhile, old quests could be modified, perhaps just in name and appearance only, to give the new arrivals a different set of NPCs to follow. I think that would make the world feel more alive.

The biggest roadblock for my friends who would like to play MMORPGs is the sheer time they take to play. One that required not much more commitment than a TV series, and was about as dynamic as one, I think would attract a new and perhaps large audience.

48.

@Hellinar: You said,
"The biggest roadblock for my friends who would like to play MMORPGs is the sheer time they take to play. One that required not much more commitment than a TV series, and was about as dynamic as one, I think would attract a new and perhaps large audience."

A) There's no requirement of lots of time invested in an MMO. Good ones are addictive, so players often WANT to play a lot, but many don't. I'd bet the majority of WoW players play less than 15 hours per week. (Not that this is the mean of all players, but I bet >50% of them play <15 hours/week.)

B) I'm surprised that anyone would compare an MMO to a TV series. It's been years since a TV series could hold my attention as much as a decent game. (OK, I watch the best shows later on DVDs, true.) The general consensus seems to be that good games generally win over good TV shows with up and coming generations because they're interactive. I think the trend will continue.

49.

@Trip

In the demographic I am thinking of, 15hrs a week is a “huge” amount of time to commit to a pastime. But I think you are missing the main point of limiting productive adventuring to 5 or 6 hrs a week. It means that when a casual player starts in June, they can reliably expect that most of the level 5 people they see in the newbie zone will be around the same level as them in November. This makes building social networks much easier for the casual player.

In my experience, in casual play, its not so much the game addiction that causes pressure to level up. It’s the desire to keep up with the more active friends you have just made. If the game was marketed to casual players, and leveling limits enforced, that pressure would go away.

This thread seems to be about content production and players relationship to NPCs. Reducing the new content requirements to 20 hrs a month would allow an NPC story that evolved over time in response to player input. Just like soap opera writers modify their scripts in light of viewer response to various characters. I’m thinking that would draw a new and potential large audience to MMORPGs.

50.

@Tripp: I think that, due to the recent course of events, Richard could actually fill us in about TV series and MMOs.

51.

One of the things that interested me about the bioshock reflections was the comment: "a structure of feeling I experienced as within rather than outside of the fiction of the game".

How do you distinguish between structures of feeling within or outside the fiction of the game. Have been thinking a lot about this recently and was curious to hear your take...

52.

(True, we're getting a bit off topic, but Hellinar's idea of limiting play is an interesting one.)

There's one fallacy in your idea, I think, Hellinar. That is that you're envisioning the game as something everyone starts at once. While a large "boom" of folks would start near the roll out, many more would start at random times, not in waves, probably. So unless a player started playing when the game came out, they'd miss the whole benefit you're aiming for, I think.

53.

@Tripp: That is if you're not having a solid newbie-income. In the large MMOs, e.g. WoW, you always meet people in the starting areas, who you then often spend time with leveling up. After a while, you can be almost 100% certain that they'll be either a good number of levels above or below you. Hellinar's game wouldn't have that problem.

Though the idea is interesting, it's not essentially new. WoW has a less drastical form of it, i.e. the resting system. For those of you unfamiliar with the game: You get double XP for each monster you've killed until the sum of XP gathered reaches the amount X. The timer refreshes once every so often.

54.

Yeah, it’s a bit off topic. Anyway, I am thinking such a game would strongly promote the idea of each monthly intake as a visible social group. Have a big monthly welcoming ceremony each month, character info that clearly shows your birth month etc. Perhaps even give bonus experience gain to those starting at the end of the month, and a small penalty to those starting at the beginning of the month. Applied for a few months, this would squeeze each monthly intake into the same experience range.

Its not totally off topic though, as it does address the issue of players having no effect on the world. With slow progression, and distinct monthly intakes, the quest writers could make the experience of monthly group just a bit different, reflecting an actually changing history in the world. That would be distinctly different from the current “frozen time” MMORPGs.

55.

@Nicholas

Yep. The beta WoW rest system also featured “exhaustion” when you played a lot. Your experience rate would begin to drop dramatically if you played long hours. This feature was howled down by the beta test group though. Any “casual only” game would have a serious problem finding suitable beta testers. Almost by definition, the beta test crowd are not casual. I think this is one of several factors currently preventing casual play MMORPGs.

56.

The inside/outside distinction is something I've been chewing over a bit. Clearly it has something to do with immersion as you write about it, Gordon. It seems to me that there are things that I have a strong reaction to in games that are significantly external to the game fiction or narrative, where what I'm thinking about are metaquestions. ("That's a very interesting choice in the graphics" or "What an unusual level design"). There's a few WoW quests that are structurally so unusual that they make me think about the designer, where I am pleased by the novelty of the design itself. Then there are experiences where I feel as if I am thinking "within" the game fiction: rage at Andrew Ryan in Bioshock, for example. And then there are border experiences where both sensations occur to me at once.

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