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Oct 04, 2004



Architecture - If you talk to an architect they'll probably tell you the purpose of their architecture is to facilitate whatever their building was built for. Building something pretty to look at is secondary because the "wow" factor wears off, while a well-designed structure proves its worth over and over again by making it easier and more comfortable to live/work in. For example: The "work triangle" in the kitchen (fridge, oven, sink) is more important to get right than having really flash countertops or cupboards. (Conversely, a trophy building, like the Sydney Opera house, is supposed to look good because its function is to make a statement about Syndey, not necessarily have good accoustics.)

Clive writes: "Which means you shouldn't force your players to do stupid, boring, unnecessary work like running through a dozen screens again and again to get between important locations." I somewhat disagree with this. The myst games, for example, have lots of detailed locations that I wouldn't spend the time to notice unless I had to pass through the same room 20 times trying to solve a puzzle. Each time through I notice something different about the scenery. However, if the scenes were boring (like most MMORPGs) I'd rather pass through them only once.

The other reason to make players trek half way across the world is to waste time and reduce content costs, as well as provide some atmophere and a sense of distance/time.

Narratology vs. Ludology - I posed a slightly different question to myself... First I asked myself what a person gains and loses by involving themselves in a linear narrative instead of the real world. Then, allow them Choose-your-own-adventure style interactativity in their linear narrative. What does the person gain/lose? From CYOA to 1-player game. What is gained and lost? From 1-player to 10-player game? From 10-player to 1000 player, to 1M player? But isn't the real world just a 6B player VW with no reset ability? I wrote up some observations in http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/VirtualWorldSpectrum.htm.


"And indeed, obsessively thinking about the game as a "story" might well get in the way of the true pleasure of the game, which is exploring the world."

If only the world's population comprise of 100% explorer types.

Moreover, architecture is not that great of an example.

Does interactive gaming have to be either a game or a story? Can't it be the type of interactive play that lion cubs engages in?

I like stepping away from polar arguments by creating new categories :)


Providing story within a mmog setting is as much a crutch for players as it is for developers. It's not uncommon for a new mmorpg player to wonder "what am i supposed to do?" the first time they are cut loose in a broad game. They are used to directed experiences of single player games and entertainments, so throwing them into a world without direction can quickly turn them off.

But, at the same time, railroading players into stories is often time cover for lack of depth. If there are really only 3 things to actively "do" in the mmog (combat, crafting/economy, and exploration), and none of the 3 are enthralling in their own right, the players could easily get bored if left to their own devices. So stuff them into whatever content you have in slowly doled out increments via quests and level progression.

I don't think providing story is the problem per se, I think providing interesting stories that people would want to share with others is the challenge. The more individualized the tale, the better.



MMOG players consider the areas in-between the goals (shared adventure locations, mission zone entrances, powerleveling hotspots, etc.) to have little interest to them, especially as compared to the goals. Many MMOG developers seem to perpetuate this perception by focusing on goal-locations and leaving the in-between areas as an afterthought. Travel between desired goals exists as a progress-inhibitor rather than existing as its own brand of interesting gameplay. Boring!

Single player games seem to make the paths to the goals as interesting as the goals themselves--they make them *fun*. For example, you can't simply bypass all the hazards of a level to get to its boss monster in a single player game. (That would probably turn your 40-hour game into a 4-hour one. ;) In a single-player game, the path to the level-goal is as important as the goal itself. All of it comprises the adventure, and is most likely driven by the hopefully-compelling story. But, not so in MMOGs.

Players of most MMOGs *can* choose to skip those in-between paths. At best, MMOG paths seem to be populated with scattered enemy-spawns. The path provides only opportunities for leveling or item-gathering. Any player can decide to bypass those enemies with minimal travel-time reduction.

MMOGs paths could, for example, include puzzles, dynamic points of interest, and "out of nowhere" NPCs that deliver game content, as well as those same "mandatory" spawns. For MMOG travel to be more appealing, the paths to get "there" needs to become as important and entertaining as the end-goal.


Here's a classic conundrum: God is all-powerful, so how can the results of Armageddon be in question?

If in-game heroism requires story, and operators are all-powerful inside the games, how can any action in the game context actually be a heroic story? Either the operators decreed the result when they wrote the "backstory that hasn't happened yet", or they didn't, in which case whatever happened was something very different from a story.

Heroic progression is about the hero, a viewpoint that serves as a window onto radical shifts in how the world functions. In MMOG's, each player has a viewpoint, and they all can't be "the" hero. But that doesn't mean they can't be heroes, just that "story" heroism, with its implied privileged viewpoint, cannot serve us.

To put this another way, every player wants to be the hero of his own story, and designer-imposed heroic narrative turns him into a bit player in someone else's.



Famously, Asheron's Call 1 was (is) a game that suits the Bartle-type explorer in spatial terms. The player looking for monster spawns only sees a small fraction of that gameworld, but on the other hand, there was a lot to see. I used to take off with my character for a long trip up the coast of an area called the Direlands. Every once in a great while, I'd see evidence of someone else being around, usually in the form of unpicked-up loot from recently slain monsters. The area was very remote and somewhat dangerous--if you died, it was a horribly long trek back to your body to reclaim your goods if there was anything you wanted or needed. But a few people nevertheless did it, and the game did in fact have some Easter Eggs in remote areas--odd little buildings, a funny chest with a message from a developer, strange little vistas, and later on in its history, some very important spawns could only be found at random in remote areas.

So MMOGs aren't quite monolithic on this score. Some people also enjoy the vastness of Star Wars: Galaxies even though much of its space is hugely un-utilitarian. That's gotten less fun as the developers appear to have turned off spawning in many remote places unless there's more than one player around, so you can walk through planets which seem utterly empty of life.

Still, I agree a lot of MMOGs haven't figured out how to make travel more than a timesink which is designed to add to the difficulty of an assigned task, how to generatively make travel a source of pleasure and creativity in its own right. If AC1 provided that, it was largely only for the players determined to find it (and even there, some games don't even provision the possibility of that pleasure). The architecture of the world is function, not form, and its function is roughly the same as "numbers of objects to acquire before completion of task" or "difficulty of monster": it's a game-mechanical obstacle, not an aesthetic.


There was nothing like boats and the ocean to make Norrath feel real to me. Also, the fact that it was quite a long and dangerous hike from one side of the world to another - I really liked that. The reason EQ moved to teleports was, I was told, because of the maturation of the servers. Newbie areas were becoming empty. New players had to be allowed to concentrate quickly or they couldn't group.

The things Tim described in AC1 also sound cool. Treasure hunts! It's fun.

I think WoW will award experience points each time you go someplace new. In principle, just discovering some cave or village out there in the wilderness might get you a lot of XP. That would also be fun.


In Quest, (a multi-player version of the Ultima series postal game for 1,000 players in each game), this weas recognised as a problem early on in the design. Dungeons were scattered far and wide so you had to look for them in the wilderness, but towns and cities were large distances apart. I took the easy way out and added "travel agencies" to the game, allowing players to buy magical city to city movement in one turn.


Keith> "For MMOG travel to be more appealing, the paths to get 'there' need to become as important and entertaining as the end-goal."

Agreed... but maybe the real solution lies in seeing travel in the larger context: Why do people want to travel?

[Sorry for the length of this one, but the question is worth exploring in some detail because it goes to the heart of who these games are written for.]

Answering this question in a game context means looking at the differences in player motivations. I think the Bartle typology is useful here; in particular I see Achievers and Killers on the one hand and Explorers and Socializers on the other as having two different groups of goals, and therefore needing to be motivated in a game by different rewards. The best travel system (or for that matter any core system in a mass-market game) will be one that values and rewards the positive actions that players of both playstyle groups contribute to the game world.

[Note: the interpretation of Richard's four "Players Who Suit MUDs" types described here is my own, based on my own ideas about human temperament, and is not intended to be and should not be construed as an "official" explication of his ideas. I think I've got a resonably good grasp of gamer temperament, but any errors of understanding or mistakes of description are mine and not Richard's. (I'm working on a much fuller treatment of my extensions to Richard's typology if anyone dares to be interested.... *grin*)]

As with crafting, I believe the main difference between these two groups of playstyles is one of result orientation versus process orientation. While A/K players are motivated by concrete, spatial results (loot, money, badges, noses/ears, etc.), E/S players are motivated by abstract, temporal processes (knowledge, creativity, friendships, etc.). In game terms, A/K players want to move between the dots on the map as quickly as possible; E/S players value the experience of moving along the lines connecting the dots (or, even better, going off the lines completely).

The current popular approach to rewarding travel in MMOGs is all about the dots: you get XP when your character steps within some radius of a developer-defined location. Designers get credit for attempting to reward exploratory play, but a location-specific reward system is unsatisfying to Explorers (and Socializers) because it emphasizes only the value of the result (reaching the dot) and not the value of the process (moving between dots).

In short, a POI-based travel reward system is great for Achievers and Killers, but isn't exciting to Explorers and Socializers. If the rewards in your game (whether for travel or anything else) are for collecting things and places, then the people who rack up the highest numbers of those rewards -- and, over time, the people who will dominate your game because they're the ones you're rewarding -- will be the Achievers and Killers because those are the types of rewards that make sense to them. Thus the people with the most badges for finding Places Of Interest in SWG aren't Explorers, they're Achievers who just can't help themselves. Badges are concrete rewards, so they *have* to acquire every badge possible.

Where's the joy in travel in such a system?

That's how I frame the problem. If it's a useful way of looking at things, then what's a reasonable solution?

If you want to design a travel system that appeals to E/S players as well as A/K players, then a goal-oriented system that rewards hopping between static locations in the shortest time possible -- as SWG does and as WoW is apparently considering -- won't be sufficient. In addition to rewards given at the end of a journey, you need a system that rewards the act of journeying.

That means focusing on what E/S players think travel is for: a process for expanding one's knowledge of the world and one's relationships with other players by increasing one's access to new places and new people. A travel reward system that would excite Explorers and (to a lesser but still significant degree) Socializers would be one that supports reaching those goals.

In practice, you want a balanced reward system that encourages interactive traveling for E/S players without needlessly complicating the gameplay of A/K players. Journeying as a process should be fun for those who like that sort of thing, but not at the expense of artificially making it hard for other players to move between most places.

With those constraints in mind, here are some ideas to encourage further discussion:

1. Incomplete maps. You start out with a general map of the world, but it's fuzzy. The more of the map you fill in (either by personally visiting that spot or by locating "lore" objects), the higher your Exploration score. Anyone who's not an Explorer won't be able to "see the world" for very long before being distracted by pursuits more congenial to their temperament, but real Explorers will achieve high scores almost by default because they're doing something they enjoy.

2. Difficult territory. Some (possibly most) places can be reached easily, but some places can't be. Players who are good at exploring (not because they ground the levels/skills but because they've spent a lot of time exploring) would have increased abilities to find the safest or fastest routes between places. Particularly clever/competent/experienced explorers might be able to blaze new trails or trade routes. Some places might even be impossible to reach without including in the group a player with exploration (Guide) skills or knowledge.

3. Hidden places. Difficult to do, but perhaps not all game world locations should be identified -- some players would have to explore to find these new locations. There could be hundreds or even thousands of pockets of unexplored territory, depending on the game milieu: a fantasy setting might allow "pocket universes," a well-designed science fiction setting might permit millions of solar systems in a galaxy, and so on. Another way to accomplish this might be resetting places -- you can find them, but after a while they go away and you have to find a new place. This approach would work for asteroid fields, where if you allow mining you'd need a way to refresh mined-out asteroids. In a fantasy setting you might have locations that move around on the map.

4. Group travel modes. Let the A/K players have individual ways to get from Point A to Point B, but also provide features that allow groups to travel slowly but entertainingly between places. This is great for Socializers as well as Explorers -- the more social players can entertain themselves by coming up with group participation activities (minigames would be useful here), while the Explorers can knock themselves out trying to figure out how the vehicle works, and what the crew hierarchy is, whether players can affect steering/speed, and so on. Examples of "massively multiplayer" activities this kind of feature would support range from the Canterbury Tales to fabulous riverboats to modern cruise liners. (Note: Kudos to SWG for apparently including this kind of feature through the YT-1300 and other multiplayer ships.)


In summary: travel will continue to be considered a boring inconvenience in MMOGs until designers start thinking about it in the context of player temperament, and start creating travel features that engage those differing temperaments instead of treating them as undesirable gameplay styles.

(The same could probably be said for most game features, but that's another thread for another day.)



[Ok, so this post started out as a response to Flatfingers, and turned into my letter to Santa. Sorry about that, but it's rare and it's nice when those moments of little-kid enthusiasm strike.]

Nice post. You've got a good point that it's hard to reward explorers without inadvertently just rewarding achievers.

I like the ideas of stumbling onto special places. Explorers are often rewarded in games because they eventually just get lucky and prospect something really rare etc, which actually works really well for my tastes. You can't find that sort of thing on purpose, so achievers lose patience, and it makes for a satisfying treat every now and then for explorers who spend all their time out wandering/rummaging around in the wilderness.

The one that really sounds cool is a slow moving group of players traveling almost for its own sake. Whether it's a traveling troupe of performers, crafters hunting as they go, or a group of cartographers and surveyers, that's the sort of thing that really appeals to me. There might end up being a payoff at the end, but it would be delayed and the amount wouldn't be enough to be near as efficient as standard achiever level-grinding. Actually, slightly gimping explorer-type tasks is a pretty good way in general to ensure that people never end up exploring for achiever reasons.

With regard to traveling specifically, I think one of the best ways to reward people for being nomads in some form or another is by allowing them to be able to spend more and more time wandering without having to go visit a town. In a world with a need for eating and drinking etc, learning how to live off the land would be a lot of fun. I'd love to gradually become able to extract liquid from plants in the desert, use herbs to make food more nourishing, light a fire in the rain, climb a tree before resting/sleeping, and know where to look for fresh springs.

The ability to know what type of animals or people have recently passed through a patch of dirt and being able to recognize natural hazards, like quicksand/rifts underneath snow/poison foliage are some excellent realworld examples of the type of reasons knowledgeable explorers could end up being sought as guides through the most dangerous areas.

Most times in games we see the only dangers coming from mobs and other players. Because of this it's very common to have a prospector or other explorer type needing the protection of achiever/fighter characters, and it would be very cool to see the tables turned in some cases.

I might quite some time before our virtual worlds can do this sort of thing, but your idea of blazing a trail through the wilderness has really got me salivating. Imagine being part of a group clearing jungle and building a temple or a bridge or a road to a new city: Scouting and charting for the right area, clearing trees, quarrying stone, and then crafting and assembling all the elements. All the while, you'd still have to worry about foraging for food, repairing broken tools, and keeping a constant eye out for the local wildlife. Then when your work is done, civilization moves in and your group takes a week's vacation, resupplies, and heads out to another patch of wilderness to start a new project.

[The hardest part would be balancing that realism with some aesthetic control and not end up just feeling like more grinding. However, I think when building a structure or road that becomes a permanent part of the world, the end result would be enough to make even a monotonous task seem worth it.]

Maybe someway a world can go retail with only one or a few dev-designed cities and a huge expanse of natural wilderness. Design the world such that only certain areas contain the proper resources and space to build a settlement, and so that cities can only get so large, and then just let the world grow as more players come. You'd end up with player architects, city planners, a shipping industry, ports, urban burnout and renewal, all manner of interesting things emerging. Every shard would be unique, and explorer players could happily build parts of the world while achievers and killers make the ubiquitous war, while devs weave their own content within.

ATITD+SL+UO+Civ3+WhoKnowsWhat. Yes I do realize that there's no reason that you'd have to have have fighting and mages at all in a world like that, but to be honest some of the rpg cliches are things that do appeal to me. Why not just play ATITD and be done with it? I love the idea of having whole other cultures or modes of play within a world, even if only to avoid them. Deus Ex was cool because you didn't have to kill people, but if you couldn't kill people, it would have ended up being just as constrained as the games it was breaking away from.

Ok, so I went pretty far off-track there, and that sort of world is probably many players' and devs' idea of hell, but damn it's nice to think about a time when explorers will have that much efficacy.


Mike Darga> "I would personally prefer respeccing on a smaller scale and more often, since I think in most cases you just want to unlearn one mistake/broken feature, and not rebuild your whole character."

I would love to see a "try before you buy" feature in MMOGs. (Imagine picking up a new ability that is active long enough for you to test it, to see if you like it and want to keep it. Don't like it? Turn it in and try another ability on for size.)


Please ignore my post above. I apparently had too many windows open, got all gafloobled, and posted my reply on respeccing characters to the wrong thread. :}


Interesting response, Mike -- thanks. (I still get enthusiastic sometimes, too. It's nice to remember that this stuff is supposed to be fun!)

One of the things that struck me in Nathan's original message, and that motivated my response (although I didn't address it directly there), was how I play first-person RPGs. While it seems that most gamers try to blaze through the game as quickly as possible, that approach has never appealed to me. My feeling has always been, "I shelled out good money for this thing, I'm darn well going to squeeze out every drop of content the developers thought to include."

So rather than trying to make a beeline for the keys to the exit, I tend to linger. I talk to every character, I try to ring the changes on every skill, and -- most important for this discussion -- I go everywhere I can possibly go just to enjoy the scenery. In short, I like to explore a game's architecture.

Although there've been several games that reward this kind of gameplay, by far the best in my experience have been Warren Spector's. Deus Ex, which you mentioned, is a great example of this (I'm speaking of the original, not the console-constrained sequel), but Ultima Underworld I/II, System Shock I/II, and Thief I/II were all jam-packed with interesting places that were worth exploring just for their own sake. I would often happily turn a corner in all these games and just sit for a few minutes taking in the vista. And then I'd roam around the area looking at it from every possible perspective.

Thief I/II are particularly notable here. Not only were they fun in that you could climb on top of buildings for possibly unique views of the game world, but "architecture" (as I'm sure was intended) seemed very nearly to be an actual character in these games. The structure of the city, the materials, the building styles, all contributed to making a richly complex system that just begged to be explored in much the same way as you'd interact with a well-developed NPC.

Just to really sharpen the point, imagine a game where the player can control his size. Suppose you could experience the game world from the point of view of a mile-high Titan, then shrink down to an inch tall mite trying to see around a blade of grass. One moment you're shoving clouds out of your way and trying not to step on villages; the next moment you're hiding behind a translucent red rose petal so the enormous buzzing bumblebee doesn't get you. What would gameplay be like in such a world whose architecture could be experienced from so many perspectives?

MMOGs, as Clive Thompson observed in Nathan's quote above, ought to offer that same sensation to a player: the game world as a richly detailed space, full of interesting things large and small that reward exploration and examination from many perspectives over time. I agree. MMOGs, because they are naturally implemented as undirected persistent worlds rather than linear, play-it-beat-it-move-on single-player games, ought to be the natural homes for this kind of exploratory gameplay... but they too often aren't.

Instead, designers seem to keep trying to shoehorn linear, result-oriented games into these online worlds that by their very nature are best experienced in a process-oriented way. They turn Explorer games into Achiever games, which thus naturally attract Achievers... and then they wonder why these players spend no time just admiring the architecture.

Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with having features for Achievers (or even, in some ways, Killers) in a multiplayer game. Economic reasons alone probably mandate it. But with all due respect for limits on money and time, why should MMOGs be *only* about rewarding Achievers the MMOG game form is so beautifully suited to the Explorer playstyle?

The Explorer playstyle ought to be better rewarded in multiplayer games because Explorers have unique playstyle contributions to make to any game world... but they can't do that if the game isn't designed to allow/encourage their style of gameplay. Explorers don't need the same kinds of concrete rewards as Achievers, just slightly tweaked to have an Explorer flavor -- they need consciously designed creativity- and process-oriented gameplay features to balance the consumption- and result-oriented gameplay features developed for Achievers, because that integration of diverse gameplay styles makes for a healthier game.

The alternative to integrative games is segregation: games just for Achievers, games just for Killers, games just for Explorers, games just for Socializers, and niche market status for the entire segmented industry.

Is that really what we want?



Mike Darga wrote various comments about surviving in a virtual wilderness - I have seen other people make the same suggestion on other newsgroups. I wonder if it'll work because most MMORPG players live in cities and have no clue what it means to be in the wilderness... "You mean I have to carry food? And water? And I can't carry 3 months of food in my backpack?" (My personal experience is that 10 kg is a heavy pack for the tropics, and 20 kg for cooler climates.) Hell, they think they can wander around carrying 3 suits of armor, 10 swords, and 10 million gold without feeling it.

And as far as the whole topic of targeting Explorers - I like the exploration aspects myself. However, there seem to be way more Achievers and Socializers playing games than Explorers, so the development money goes into achievers and socializers. The only explorer-based MMORPG I know about, Uru Live, failed.


"You mean I have to carry food? And water? And I can't carry 3 months of food in my backpack?" (My personal experience is that 10 kg is a heavy pack for the tropics, and 20 kg for cooler climates.) Hell, they think they can wander around carrying 3 suits of armor, 10 swords, and 10 million gold without feeling it.

It's really a question of defining reality a certain way and then sticking to it. In many games the only time you need to come back to town to resupply is when you've used up all your ammo/other consumable, you want to sell things you've found, you want to train, or you've died. Not having a survival aspect really is appropriate to the type of reality you get in a game like that.

Obviously too much realism isn't a good thing either. In a game where a day is only 1 realworld hour long or whatever, having to eat three meals and 8 glasses of water and sleep 8 hours to keep healthy would be no fun at all. Similarly only being able to carry 6 items in a backpack would be very frustrating. My personal preference is having quasi-realistic constraints, or a caricature of reality. I want to have to eat and sleep, but not that often. I want to have a limit of what I can carry, but certainly much more than what I could carry in reality. So far I've been pretty pleased with the realism level of Achaea, for example.

I do think there's a sweetspot to be found, but I don't know whether there is one sweetspot that many people will enjoy or whether it varies for every person.

Mike Rozak:The only explorer-based MMORPG I know about, Uru Live, failed.

Flatfingers:The alternative to integrative games is segregation: games just for Achievers, games just for Killers, games just for Explorers, games just for Socializers, and niche market status for the entire segmented industry. Is that really what we want?

Personally I would never want to play a game like Uru, and I would prefer a game like ATITD as a subset of a larger world with other gameplay elements. Like I mentioned above, having other explorers and socializers around is great, but it still makes for a richer world to have achievers and even killers around too, even if only to avoid them.


One thing to remember when balancing realism is to make sure that when you add realistic limitations, you don't skimp on the corresponding freedoms that would be available in 'reality'.

For example, if I can't carry very much at once, I should be able to drop part of my load and make 2 trips, and maybe if the area is dangerous and the dropped goods might be stolen, I might want to conceal them in some way. If engine/database limitations mean that players can't drop anything, then maybe strict realism in carrying capacity isn't as good an idea as it could be.

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