Monday, 23 November 2009

DDO: Designing a Dungeon Builder

"DDO Executive Producer - If we could do anything today with no limitations, I would love to add Dungeon Master tools to the game to empower our players to create new quests and areas of the game. It is a natural fit for Dungeons & Dragons and it would really unleash the creativity of our player community to get to expand the world and make it their own. In the long term, I envision opening up huge parts of our world of Eberron and filling it up with the best examples of the player-created content."

Lifting this quotation from Jacoby's excellent thread on the Beckett Massive Online article I'd like to ask folks  what we would like to see in a Dungeon Builder, a toolset that lets players create content.

(Disclaimer: this was mentioned by Fernando as a personal pipedream, it is not a feature the community has been "promised".)

First of all I'd like to look at player-created content in a wider MMO perspective.

One of the most notable successes in this department has been World Of Warcraft's use of its player base to make customisations to its User Interface. Thousands of unpaid programmers have produced tens of thousands of downloadable add-ons hosted at fan sites and tested by fans.

This is wonderful for the game developer because of the Darwinian sink or swim nature of the process. Some addons bomb or just don't work. But many are highly popular and are perceived by almost every player to be an improvement over the default UI. And some of these get incorporated by the developers into the game, improving the UI at zero cost and risk.

Even if Blizzard had hired a crack team of highly paid celebrity developers they could not have got better UI development out of them because the community selects and follows the best addons itself. If you launch something it may sink or swim, this system allows Blizzard to incorporate features which are already proven successes with no risk of failure.

Eve Online has a similar program of player UI coding and also involves players in game design direction with its Council of Stellar Management which is kind of like a Student's Union. No actual power but a very effective method of channeling feedback.

Now generally player-designed dungeons haven't worked in MMOs so far (I'm told Anarchy Online has a decent mission creator but I don't know enough about it to do any more than pass on the rumour).

City of Heroes/Villains tried earlier this year. The Mission Architect was extremely popular and some cancelled subscribers started playing again.

One of the first missions was called Meow and spawned a sub-genre of missions known in the game as meow missions. Basically they put a load of high exp low hit point mobs in a cluster at the start of the mission and players would zone in, blast them all down with area of effect damage, then zone out and reset. People got to very high levels super-fast doing these. The game developer reacted by mass bannings, the community was outraged and it all ended in tears.

Which brings us to the first design consideration - Achiever players will design and play exploit dungeons if the system allows for it.

(My personal suggestion would be that player-created content is uploaded at first with no rewards. No exp, no favour, no loot. Each month the developers will pick one from the player-created dungeons to win 5000 Turbine Points and be incorporated into the game).

Next I'd like to talk about Second Life. Second Life encourages player creation, in fact it isn't a standard game, it's a really just a vehicle for player-created content. To encourage this they give players copyright over their own creations. This recently resulted in a mess where a player sued the developer over a matter related to his Intellectual Property rights which were being ripped off by other players.

Legally that may create the headache where a MMO with different EULA treatment of intellectual property may create legal precedents that make it difficult to encourage player-created content in DDO. Of course any lawyer worth his salt should be able to distinguish between a case where the company assigns copyright to its players and a case where a company requires players to waive IP rights but still. This is probably something that should specifically pop up in the Dungeon Builder every time you open it so players can't possibly claim they couldn't be expected to know they were waiving their rights.

Next design consideration: ownership of the copyright. (I think WoW has shown that it's ok to tell everyone feel free to create but we still own it. People will still make stuff and no one has tried to sue Blizzard over add-on copyright).

Other design considerations
- pvp dungeons. capture the flag maps, king of the hill maps and so on. PvP functionality would be very popular I think.

- environment: tileset or design? Should the Dungeon Builder basically use a tileset like Waterworks so every dungeon is a series of sewer tunnels which lets things stay manageable or can the software and the game support more free-form design?

- who can make them? all of the player base? VIP only? (Personally, even as a non-VIP I'd suggest VIP only. This is an advanced feature that would benefit greatly from extensive DDO experience).

- lore considerations. What if a player creates a dungeon where you kill Jeets? Should there be some kind of restriction, possibly use the DDO NPC names database as a block list of unavailable names for quest NPCs and mobs. What if a player creates a dungeon where the purpose is to kill a mob named for another player? If someone made a Kill Mockduck dungeon where the end boss was a large and sinister duck with terrifying oratorical skills would that be funny or griefing?

- obscenity issues. If someone can conceivably draw a penis with the dungeon editor you can guarantee they will. How do we stop players using obscene text and imagery? Or does it even matter, after all we can't stop people being obscene if they choose to in chat channels, maybe this is no worse.

Anyway there's a lot to think about and hopefully we can put together a thread that may have some usefulness to the developers if they get a chance to pursue this dream.

Player-created content would be awesome!

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