Game Design: Living WorldBy: Necroscourge posted at Nov 30, 2010 2:33 am
A constant term uttered by every single MMO in existence has always been "Persistent World". To the point where I honestly don't think anybody actually knows hwat it means anymore. Just like people associate "MMO" with "Horrible WoW Clone" to the point where Firefall flat out refused to call its game a MMO in advertising because people might think its a horrible WoW clone. So tonight we may as well set this particular record straight.
In theory Persistent Worlds literal translation would be "A World that will always exist". Which is often what most people think of it as. However this always leads to the let-down of realizing they are just basically saying "Your progress is never reset and the world always remains the same". When you realize this your focus goes on the last part of that sentence. The world never actually progresses or falls back. The world is in a perpetual state of being screwed over and in the process of being saved.
The same creatures never migrate from whatever place they are, the same handful of quest givers always need people to do a always needed task always. Does this sound like almost every MMO game ever made? It should because that's what it boils down to. To find out our problem lets look at the "We're calling our rooster a duck" solution that Firefall is adopting for their game and then lets look at how they are nipping a persistent world in the bud.
Massively Multiplayer Online. Which by popular company definition is a game with the capability for hundreds of users to play at once in the same server. Notice how this says absolutely nothing about the games genre or gameplay elements. Does that make Firefall a MMo. YES. Is that bad. Of course not!
The problem however is a issue with a rabid fanbase that trolls other users on the foru We're getting off track here. A Persistent world and a Living World may as well be two different things. With Persistent being "A game world that saves progress and never turns off" and a Living one being "A game world that constantly evolves and changes with or without player interaction".
What I mean there is actually quite simple. A popular town grows in popularity, being a rich hive of activity and resources. The result is the bad guys swoop in and lay siege to the town. Failure to fight back by the players results in not getting the use of that town until players fight back to reclaim it. Once again a Firefall example. While yes the world is a typical persistent one, player actions heavily weigh on how the order of things work. Such as calling in resource collectors that instantly piss off the local easily pissed off wildlife.
Lets take a original example now in the MMORTS field. Players relocate close to each other to form a Guild, their cities start to interlace with eachother, the local populations growing accustomed to eachother. To the players surprise, a racist revolt ignites in the metropolis and citizens mobilize to take sides. Suddenly the players log on to find large groups of their citizens are fighting a small war amid the town based on a extremely rare chance this event would trigger. Using a extremely basic mechanic temporarily changing the groups of units to different allegiances the designer has suddenly not only surprised the players but made the game world feel much more alive. Its a large list of rare occurrences like this such simple mechanics can enrich the players experience.
However, making these events too common or too significant can also ruin a experience. What if the differently aligned units fighting their war would also be attacking buildings or killed off all of a players resource gathering units? The damage suffered in the time the player is away could be frustrating beyond belief. Many structures that took far too long to build could be damaged or destroyed. Resource upkeeps would make the players economy grind to a pathetic standstill with the rioting units killing the players workers.
However if the effect is useless, why care at all? If it happens all the time, what makes it different then a persistent world? Its a idea worth exploring, in short. Adapt it to your own ends. Surprise your players. Lets take a look at the procedural content creation method and a popular example of Borderlands. Sure Spore did it the biggest and first but Borderlands really went nuts with it. They designed a large array of gun parts, told the program "Here are the parts you can use, and here are the effects that are possible. Go nuts" , and tweaked it to no end. The result is most entertaining piece of weapon generation technology ever made. If realized for other applications such a piece of programming evolution could be adapted to countless things.
Like for example, creating a game world that was for lack of a better term "Alive". A environment that was changing according to what happens in the environment simplified to rather simple "If/Then" mechanisms. Robotic combat soldiers armies possessed by players constructed from a large array of parts with different effects giving each player a slightly personalized army. There are so many ways to elevate gaming with something as simple as a fresh take on a simple process with procedural content.
However the inherent problem with this content is immediately apparent . Balance. Lets take the personalized army generation concept from before. Balancing such a concept would take several months of open beta testing to perfect. Interior and Closed beta testing is extremely limited as even though the developers could regenerate their armies there's only so much data they can produce with their bias as developers of the product. Let us assume that like Borderlands Gun Generation the Unit generation system can create several types of robots with varying special abilities, procedurally generated attacks and stats. Statistics can easily be limited into a particular range quickly by Dev testing.
But then comes the hundreds or even thousands of combination's of robot attacks and abilities. Achieving even a resemblance of a balanced system would take a long time in a PvP oriented MMORTS game. While extremely attractive to gamers the undertaking is mind-numbing. Is the shock grip hand overpowered? No only when combined with the blitz armor. Bah does that mean the blitz armor is overpowered? In smaller testing environments such a system would produce widely varying data. It is not impossible of course. As in the end Borderlands Gun system works perfectly. Guns scale up in level as they should and its very hard to get bored with the amount of new content constantly offered to you.But in a PvP based environment things suddenly get more complicated.
When we think of a Living world, lets get to a ecosystem. Particularly the Sci Fi favorite of ages. The planet is pissed off, alive, and wants to kill you. Almost every plant seems intent on either poisoning, devouring or outright strangling you to death. Every carnivore (And even some herbivores) finds you right damn delicious. How interesting would it be to design a procedural system where the players must do battle with eachother but also fight the ecosystem itself. Every now and then the bloody fungus encroaching on the base needs to be burnt back. Vicious plants and animals must be eliminated and their populations must be kept low.
The only problem with that system is to make the ecosystem reproduce too slow to pose a actual threat. Since players won't be on 24/7 why would they want to log off if their base was going to be instantly over-run during the night. There are easy fixes in actual game design that can fix that of course such as having bases built on the planet be a test of time. Build a outpost and see how long you can keep it standing. Players would fight over them and in the event the outpost is built way too far away from the player hotspots there's a good chance that if left unattended for too long the jungle will just swallow it right back up.
In short. Todays technology allows for incredible innovation in creating a game environment that truly feels like its evolving. But so far we are still waiting for a game that can actually deliver that. No activity for tonight I am afraid.
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