Friday, April 27, 2007

MMO Core Concept #2.5: The Rumor Mill

This is part of my Dynamic World series of ideas. The basic concept is that NPC 'fluff' dialogue will change and respond to events that happen in the world. This is done via the Rumor Mill. Rumors are created by the system when significant events occur, be they player actions, NPC actions or Gm triggered events. These rumors are seeded amongst appropriate, nearby NPCs and then have a chance to propagate throughout the land.

Some NPCs, of course, will be more likely to keep up with all the rumors (Innkeepers for example, or that beggar who does nothing but wander the streets all day) while others will ignore them completely.

Each NPC would have a limit to the number of rumors they would know at any time, and they would also have a prevalance towards cetain types of rumors (IE, merchants would be more interested in bandit activity and finds of new resources whereas farmers would be concerned with wolves attacking their animals or bugs ravaging their crops). Rumors would generally be spread along trade routes, be it via boat, pack mule or foot. And there would also be a chance that rumors don't spread to the next town for whatever reason.

It would also be neat to add a "Telephone Game" feature to the Rumor Mill, allowing for some rumors to change as they pass from mouth to mouth. The mechanics of this would be difficult and problematic to implement though.

Rumors themselves would be flagged for importance on a local, regional and world level. If Bob the Knight clears out a den of wolves near the town, that would be of interest locally, but probably not much beyond that. However, if Bob slew the great Fire Dragon who had been terrorizing the mountain villages for generations, that would be an event worthy of worldwide renown. Rumors would also have a persistence rating. Driving off the wolves would only be noteworthy for a short amount of time. But the victory over the dragon would be spoken of for many years to come!

Rumors would also have the added effect of making famous/infamous players known to NPCs, even if they've never set eyes on each other. If everyone knows that you were the one who slew the dragon, then you'll receive praise and adulation as you travel. On the flip side, if you're infamous for the butchering of small farming villages, then you might find yourself persona non grata in the entire region, forcing you to travel halfway around the world to find a city where they don't know your name and reputation.

This would also allow players some insight into local events while they are travelling. Talk to the innkeeper or other gabby NPCs to get info about whats going on.

NPCs would also have rumors about each other. Everyone in the village would know that the local blacksmith was horribly wounded recently and is unable to perform any blacksmithing duties. Smart players might see this as an opportunity to ply their own blacksmith skill to earn some extra cash, and possibly the appreciation of the local citizens, which in turn might foment a new rumor concerning the new blacksmith that recently arrived in town! Or there might be rumors about a local mage recently acquiring a Book of Demonic Summoning which in turn triggers dynamic quests from locals who want the book destroyed, or wish to acquire it for their own shady purposes!

This also ties in with another of my required, MMO Core Concepts, Every Action has Consequences. But rather than having some mystical, overarching reputation that is automatically and instantly known worldwide, NPCs would spread the words of your deeds in a semi-fluid manner, furthering the goal of a dynamic, changing world that responds to player actions in a meaningful manner.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

LotR: First Impressions (minor)

Lord of the Rings is now live, but I hopped onto their open beta a couple of weeks ago. But, for uncertain reasons, the game didn't really catch my attention. There just didnt seem to be much that was different or unique.

I played a Dwarf Champion up to level 10, then spent a couple of hours as a Warg in Monster Play.

Gameplay is pretty standard. Get quests, press buttons, drop new abilities into hotbar slots, gain levels and gold. The quest icons would often be obscured by the NPCs name.

One cool feature that was definitely different and welcome, is the ability to gain titles and special abilities based on your activities. Kill a bunch of Goblins and get the title Goblin Slayer. Kill enough and maybe you'll get access to a trait that will help you kill them faster. Use a certain ability or spell often? Then you'll likely learn end up learning how to do it better! It's a nice way to combine a level system with a pseudo-skill system.

And of course, there's the much talked about, Monster Play. Monster Play started off interesting, but, once you actually start looking around, it's just a bunch more of the same type collection and kill quests. Though I do admit that I had a lot of fun the first time I snuck into the hobbit-town as a Warg and ambushed gardeners on the outskirts of town and collected their cute little hairy feet as tribute to the Dark Lord! Not long after I arrived, two orcs showed up and proceeded to pillage in a more direct fashion. It felt good to be bad! But otherwise, this mode also didn't keep my attention. I joined a raid one time, but it turned out to be against a bunch of NPCs, and the organization of it was exceedingly slow, so I left. In the few hours I spent as a monster, I didn't see a single 'good' player. Since it was still beta, I imagine that there simply weren't many characters capable of reaching the Monster Play zone, much less surviving for long. However, this does highlight a potentially troubling issue. If no human opponents show up, Monster Play will turn out to be incredibly boring. It's also unfortunate that Monster Play is restricted to a single zone. If LoTR gains enough followers, I wouldnt be surprised to see extra Monster Play zones opening up.

All of the standard features are there. Mail, Auction System, crafting, instancing, etc. It felt very polished and ready for release, unlike many other MMOs. But of those systems, I didn't really notice anything new or innovative that would draw me in.

One thing that I've come to the conclusion on recently, is that I really like the cartoonish graphics for my fantasy games a lot better than the pseudo-realistic ones. Everything seems a lot sharper and easier to look at in Warcraft as opposed to Vanguard and LotR. So while the LotR graphcis were beautiful to look at (and MUCH easier on my mchaine than Vanguard), it just didn't feel right. Of course, I didnt get a chance to see much of the world. Just the early dwarf zones and the monster play zone. I'm sure there are plenty of breathtaking, panoramic vistas to be found.

Anyway, not much hard info about the game, as I didn't really play as much as I had planned, thus the (minor) in the title. But, that sort of says something in of itself I guess.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Minor MMO Idea #3: Player Created Artifacts

When reading fantasy books, one aspect I always find fascinating is when they speak of great and powerful items that were created from the Tears of a Goddess by Amazing-Guy, the famous Mage-Smith, who laboured for four days and nights, harnessing the power of the enslaved Fire God BurnEmAll and quenched the blades in snow carried by ten virgin brides!

I've thought that it would be a really cool idea to have these sorts of things doable in an MMO by the players. But the HOW of it always stymied me. No matter how difficult you make the learning of the recipe, or how obscure and rare the ingredients are, the player-base will always grind it out to create as many copies of the same artifact as they can. Sulfuron's Hammer, in WoW is an excellent example. Sure, the first one was a big deal. But it didn't take long before you saw one, or even more, in every single battleground match! And thus does epic fantasy vanish into the nether.

Then, an idea hit me. Rather than hard-coding in the artifacts themselves, let's just code in a framework for how artifacts are created, and let the players fill in the gaps... in a limited manner of course...

This concept revolves around the idea of Inspirations. These would be given out very sparingly, and only to crafters who have reached the pinnacle of their profession, or near to it. I don't quite have the details of that part worked out, but perhaps a fixed number is given when the character becomes a Grand Master, or perhaps they accumulate slowly over time, or maybe they have a small chance of being acquired when a craftsman makes an especially wondrous creation.

Then, these Inspirations can be used on the corpse of a named or otherwise very special creature. Or maybe even on an ultra-rare resource. When used, the crafter is given a pseudo-random special item type (Blood of, Tears of, Essence of, etc) that is tied to the creature/object it was acquired from. This special item will be flagged with attributes based on the skills, special abilities and such of its parent object.

The crafting interface would then allow this special, artifact-resource to be added to any regular creation. So if they player wanted to make an Artifact-quality chair, they could. More likely they would use to it imbue armor and weapons, though I could also see extending its uses to larger constructions such as buildings and ships!

For example, suppose a player used an Inspiration on Gorgofen, the infamous Black Dragon whose spittle could eat through even the toughest armor. They receive a special ingredient, called Essence of Gorgofen. This essence would take some of the attributes from Gorgofen (dragon, acid-breath, etc). Then, when the player adds this special essence to something they are crafting, that item will be appropriately imbued with these traits (this is the framework), flagged as an artifact and the player would have a chance to name it.

This system allows players to create unique artifacts in a meaningful way. They get to choose how, when and why to use their Inspirations, and then they get to choose how, when and why to incorporate those inspirations into a fabulous, one-of-a-kind creation that will be written about in the history books!