Friday, 7 August 2009

Querulous Plains: response to reader feedback, part 1

Thanks so much for all your thoughts everyone.

First off let me clarify something. Unlike many of the independent designers who are actually making games and blogging about game design I am an armchair theorist and the purpose of these threads is simply to explore ideas in what could be done. The chances of me, at the age of 44, giving up the day job to work 80 hours a week for a slim possibility there could be money at the end of a game project are close to nil.

I think there's a value in exploring ideas and I have very much enjoyed the very constructive feedback I've had so far.

OK, so now to specific concepts


Jack wrote: "I don't know of a single person who really RPs in Eve...By working "RP like" situations into the game you are not actually encouraging people to RP. You are simply encouraging them to interact. The miner intereacts with the trader in eve (or they are one in the same) but they do not RP their transaction."

OK let's consider two example players.

Cap'n Blythe is a self-professed role-player in World of Warcraft. He walks up and down the dock at Booty Bay with a parrot on his shoulder, a pirate hat on, drinking rum and saying "yarr" to players who pass by.

Leetboy doesn't even know what RP stands for. He plays Eve and camps gates for non-combat players. He runs from pvpers and kills carebears and loots their wreckage.

Which one is the pirate?

Roleplay, to me, is about playing a role. In the sense of actively doing it. Just saying you do something but not actually doing it is dramatisation, improv theatre.

To make a genuine roleplaying game you have to get people into their roles first in the sense they are actually being bandits and sheriffs and witch hunters and paladins. That is the prerequisite from which all else flows.

To me Leetboy is a roleplayer because he plays the role. In the examples above he's the one who actually is a pirate in-game. OK he lacks the window dressing but a player who is a pirate without acting out as one is more a pirate than a player who isn't a pirate but acts like he is.

Once you have a full world of people with competing goals you get very interesting play emerging. Someone who starts by being very much a gamer gets sucked into the role.

Let me give an example from Larp. I used to be a member of quite a militant faction of orcs, goblins and other such creatures in a UK event. Our leader was something of a carebear which didn't quite fit the faction. A very cunning clique of players started calling him Dark Lord and humming the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars whenever he walked into the room.

By acting as if he was an evil overlord the gameplay followed. Even though he's not naturally inclined that way he was lured to the dark side by the expectations of an appreciative audience.

So if Leetboy were to start playing a pirate I believe he would gravitate from the lolololol teabagger stage to a sophisticated and interesting characterisation if he played it long enough because of the demands of his role and the complexity of the game's interactions.

I've seen this behaviour happen. Most pen and paper role-players have seen it happen.

So the main purpose of QP is to create a virtual world where role-playing behaviour emerges as a direct result of game design. Warhammer Online has "witchhunters" who are just a generic melee dps class who probably never even think about prioritising witches as targets. In QP witchhunters are paid exp for hunting witches and not for anything else. So QP will have witchhunters in a roleplaying sense because our witchhunters will actually walk the walk.

And I hope that also explains why I think Eve is more of a role-playing game than World of Warcraft.

Klepsakovic wrote: "I suspect the unfortunate truth is that most players don't want to RP."

And that my friend is why we don't tell Leetboy he's roleplaying. We just let it sneak up on him.


Jack: "Permadeath needs to be meaningful, or at least death less pointless. I don't want to lose a year's worth of work because I lagged. If you must have permadeath make the death of a long lived character beneficial in some small way to your next one. Even tabletop RPGs (which seem to be your comparision) have ways of getting characters back."

Well originally most people played D&D and AD&D at levels lower than 9. Ressurection is not available as a player ability until level 9. Many other games either had no ressurection mechanic or significantly discouraged it.

In Call of Cthulhu your character slowly went insane as you progressed. There would be a point in your progression where your character became a NPC maniac and you needed to re-roll a new one.

Stepping back further many many games do not offer persistence. You can play Chess for a year without having "wasted your time" because your king died in the first match. You can play with your toy soldiers again and again even though most of them die every time.

RPing is often compared to acting. Actors don't give up because their character dies. In fact many of the most interesting characters do die during the drama (MacBeth, Boromir).

Consider what Richard Bartle said in his IDC presentation earlier this year:

"There are three kinds of story in MMOs
- indeed, in all games
Backstory describes what happened before the MMO went live
- how the elves came to Middle Earth
Narrative is what the designers arrange to happen
- quests to help the Fellowship of the Ring
History is what actually happened
- cool, I fell off Weathertop!

Of these history is the most important."

The most interesting and powerful history in a dramatic sense is character death. This is very clearly illustrated in our culture - the death of Eowen in LOTR, the sacrifice of Jesus in the Christian religion. Very very powerful images that resonate through our lives.

Permadeath does not rob players of anything if you play to experience a history rather than to accrue personal power. It adds to the game since it makes the story more interesting.

I played Hardcore Diablo 2 for two and a half years and before that many larp and pen and paper games. It does suck to lose a character. But it's worse to lose a character to boredom than to lose a character to misfortune.

Why limit people by classes?

Two reasons:
to make it clear to people what their job is (eg Witch Hunter).
to make it easier to reward people for doing their job

Essentially the game depends on players being incentivised in differing ways

Players abusing the system

Tesh wrote: "Your lawyer example wouldn't have much pull if the lawyer didn't have the ability to draw up binding contracts, in this case, of inheritance. That's one example of a power that might easily be abused by players."

Players always abuse systems especially if they see an advantage. People farm kills in Warsong Gulch while the flag runners go by. Goons use Grid Fu to exploit the draw mechanics in Eve fleet battles.

It's something to tinker with in QA and Beta rather than a game-breaking design flaw.

I don't even see what the problem with binding contracts is. There are binding contracts in Eve and slick and smart players get advantage over naive and foolish players constantly using the mechanic. It just makes things more interesting.

You don't need to swaddle players in cotton wool.


Klepsakovic wrote "When decisions have permanent consequences it makes people avoid mistakes at all costs, meaning constant checking of third party sites and planning out exactly how to run a conversation and there goes any sense of immersion."

I think the solution to this is secrecy and change and the social element.

Don't reveal precise mechanics in great detail, it's not a raiding game.

Changing hidden mechanics is a legitimate way of keeping the theorycrafters from "cracking" the game. In some games theorycrafting players enhance it. If as a developer one feels they are not enhancing it then change things unannounced. Nothing would be more discouraging than recording 10 000 swings at a target dummy only to be told a week later that the same experiment is giving different results. A games company is not obligated to provide entertainment for theorycrafters to the detriment of everyone else who plays.

Lastly the thing about competing goals is that most of your really difficult challenges are social. Back in the day we did some advanced PVE content in Star Wars: Galaxies. We could sometimes get a Dancer to come along. Now there was no loot for her, the drops weren't going to make her prettier. To get her to come and to stay for a while we needed to feed her a constant stream of chat and compliments because the game didn't give her any reason to be there so we had to come up with something to make her want to stick around. Very different from raid leadership in WoW!

In Diablo 2 at first it's very striking how defensively characters are built in hardcore. You get obssessed with stats at the expense of immersion. However after you've played it a while it becomes normal so you get immersed again. It's just part of the learning curve.

Miscellaneous questions

"The town/city/wilderness skills was a cool idea. I liked it a lot. Can classes multiclass or train cross class? Sometimes my artist likes to dabble as a part time guard or adventurer. Or maybe my diehard criminal has a soft spot for clothes."

The beauty of permadeath is that you get to try everything out in time. It's a very alt friendly mechanic.

I'm thinking of a general skill package for each player. So a town-based artist would get his art skills and some general town skills like haggling, not getting lost and so on. The criminal with an interest in clothes needs to find a tailor though.

"As for transaction times why not set timers for the items used instead of for the quest type itself? So a painter can paint as many barns as she can stand to in a day but no single barn can be repainted within 24 hours of the last paint job on that barn. Also why limit a person to just one job per one unique person a week? I want Harold to be able to help me milk my cows and paint my barn not just one or the other."

It seems an obvious weakness in a transaction based system that people will just level off each other. In SWG medics sometimes used to duel and heal each other while ignoring wounded players wanting treatment nearby.

"For the assassin; a quest giver gave me an item would this get added as an xp bonus too? As in a dagger has a base gp of 5 and I get one from killing a particularly week target, do I get 5 xp?"

Yup. Assassin is a trade class and you progress based on your income, barter or cash systems both acceptable. The whole point of being one is murder for money.

Initially you are going to need NPC based transactions. Even Eve started this way. The economy is strong now (well actually its in decline but its self sufficient at least) but it originally need NPC support.

Mmm, not sure you need this in fantasy. Just give everyone basic combat competence and the ability to find a stick or a rock to use as a starting weapon.

Remember everything you give to a NPC you take away from player crafters. I kind of like the notion of a queue of customers wanting to get a Basic Knife off a weaponsmith on Day One.

"The rock god seems annoying. Screaming into microphone. Pop ups after the griefing stops."

I think reducing the radius when they get Thumbs Down would sort that out fast. If someone is being an ass soon you won't be able to hear him or get his pop-up unless you stand on top of him while he plays.

"And the kings. I would seriously campaign to be a king just to raise taxes to 99% and kill as many people as possible. Problem with that?"

That's wonderful because you'll establish a context where people really appreciate good kings. I think that would really enhance the story.


  1. Trying to hide game mechanics won't work unless you're constantly changing them. Would your theoretical company hire someone just to randomly make small number changes, just to throw off theorycraft? I suppose that would tend to discourage min-maxing without totally ruining attempts to understand the general way things work.

    As a suggestion for resolving binding contracts: No contract is any more binding than the legal system and the power which can back it up; in other words, if the king doesn't have a police force to back up contracts, too bad for the lawyers, but if he does, they're going to be in a very good position.

  2. Yes, constantly changing them is exactly what I mean. Hire someone or even run an algorithm.

    I think Jack was referring to deus ex machina contracts such as a will that means that if your main dies you new alt gets his stuff in its inventory. Which I don't really see a problem with.

  3. My contract idea was more fun and by fun I mean more able to be cheated and therefore give police and assassins work.

    Ooh, how about allowing kings to set death taxes? A low tax would encourage people to fight more for him (since death wouldn't be too bad) while a higher one would make him richer. Imagine the history of a kingdom which is strong but destroys itself when all the soldiers quit because the tax is too high.

  4. "It's something to tinker with in QA and Beta rather than a game-breaking design flaw."

    Yup, definitely. If I sounded like I was objecting that it would break the game, I wasn't writing clearly enough. The mechanic definitely has potential, you will just need to keep a close eye on it, and the place to start thinking to counters to abuse is now, not as late as QA/Beta. Player contracts would also be kissing cousins to player questgiving, another idea I'd like to see implemented well, but with potential for abuse.

  5. This was done over the course of a few days and takes up as much as 2 pages in a word document (maybe pushing a little into three). Sorry for the length. I hopefully will be starting my own blog soon with a similar theme to yours (arm chair design as you call it) but I plan to be a game designer or work in the industry some day. Once I get the blog up I think my replies will start coming through there. Gets the word around more I think. By the way I found out there is a limit to post characters so I will be starting that blog soon than I thought.

    As for roleplaying: Normally Id agree with you, role first then dressing. But your example has some bias in it. In WoW you can't be a pirate in the normal sense of stealing booty and sailing the sea. So all Blythe cane be is dressing. While in eve there isn't much RP because RPing consists of talking and interacting the way you would in modern life. Well how you would act if you were actually a pirate in real life. The Role is there and the playing is there but the two, at least from my perspective, are not combined.

    I guess the difference between the two is the point of your game, one doesn't allow you to be what you want to play (IE you have to do improv theatre as you put it) and the other does not reward you for your efforts (but does not deny them out right either). Which with that I think I just explained what I wasn't getting about your idea; the reward of it all. Eve doesn't have very many RPers because there is no reward for specifically acting like a pirate other than a feel good sensation. Very little money it unless you are specifically hunting an alliances drug runs or tech 2 shipments. At least I think thats what I was missing.

    When you said the witchhunter is paid in exp for killing a witch that made me think of an interesting system for experience and skills. Utter side note here: What if you gathered xp in a class and then could spend the xp on skills within that class. So Tom could have some experience with the brush as well as the sword. If you like have a main “focus”; the class you choose at the beginning of the game which won't get a percent reduction to xp gain for what you do. All the other classes get an xp reduction based on the amount of xp you have in your main class.

    But in D&D it was still an option at later levels. Long long long ways off I know, especially with what I have heard of player survivability back then. (The game sounds like a testament to existentialism to me) As far as ones that discouraged (or out right didn't allow it) I am not saying encourage death or an easy way to bring a character back. Not sure of the ones that don't allow it (Im not old enough to know of the “elitist” time frame of MMOs and RPGs) but I have heard that EQ reduced your xp when you died and all your loot was dropped where your body was. Reminds me of D2, which I love, and I honestly would have no problem with in a game like WoW. It would have made it so I didn't run myself against the wall that was an elite 3 levels higher than in the off chance I could kill it. As for CoC anyone in their right minds (no pun intended) knew their character wasn't going to be a permanent fixture in that world. If they didn't then I would probably be right in saying they had never heard of Cthulhu or Lovecraft.

    Chess is a bad example. There is no persistent character to actually gain xp with. No sense of fulfillment as you beat that last raid boss. No gear or anything else either. You actually said it yourself, there is no persistence. Not that there is no way to come back from death or permanence, that there just isn't any persistence. Plus I would argue that despite acting like a general or tactician you are not actually RPing in chess (if that was your aim). MMOs pride themselves on their persistence (or semi persistence in the case of games like A Tale in the Desert).