[MUD-Dev] Ray Feist interview

Koster Koster
Thu Dec 28 20:42:29 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000

<EdNote: Slightly reformatted to make the Q&A more clear>

Stratics just did an interview with Raymond Feist on massively multiplayer
games. Thought there'd be some interesting debates based on it, if we got
Lee to pipe up. :)

start quote--->

Raymond E. Feist Interview 

1. Can you list what Massively Multiplayer Online Games you have
played and your overall impressions of them?

I've tried Meridian, Ultima, and EverQuest. My playing time on each is
probably in the area of an hour or two, so my impressions are based on
limited exposure. My impression of Meridian was it had a very
difficult interface, which made doing things from their first person
perspective clunky. Ultima was rich in imagery, but chaotic. It made
no sense that as soon as I entered the game, a cat attacked me, until
I read about "PKs" and discovered that if you took the skill "pets"
and had a cat or dog that killed some character, you got the points
and goodies. EverQuest seemed overly complex and difficult to
navigate. In short, I found the game play less than enjoyable in all
of them. Latency was also a major problem. I got very tired very
quickly of trying to fight a cat and getting whacked before the host
computer processed my moves. Today with broadband, I expect that's
less a problem, but back then I was on dial-up.

2. Do you feel that an MMOG is capable of telling an in-depth, quality
story on the level of one of your novels?

No, nor would you want to. RPG's and novels serve two different
functions.  You write the "story" in your head in an RPG, while a
novel is a far more passive undertaking, one which someone else did
the majority of the work for you. You can have a grand adventure in a
MMOG, but the story is in your head and that's what makes it grand. My
first novel, _Magician_, covered a period of twelve years, and if you
break any story down, you realize that when you don't have action,
you've got people sitting around and talking. There's almost no
sitting around and talking in a MMOG, which is a shame, really, as
when we did paper and pencil games in college, some of the most fun we
had was the nonsense characters did to one another in a tavern before
we even got out the door on whatever quest we were supposed to be

3. What drawbacks do you feel there is in telling a story in an MMOG?

First of all, there's no coherent single source for the story. And
usually, if you break the narrative down it reads like, "We kicked
down a door, killed something, got the treasure. We rested, healed our
wounds, and went to the next door, which we kicked down, then we
killed something, then got the treasure." In a story, a little of that
goes a long way. Often people confuse the concept of plot and
story. "King dies, queen dies," is a plot. "King dies, queen dies of a
broken heart," is a story. In an on-line game, the players have to
"fill in the colors" in their head that turns the plot of "kick door,
kill monster, get treasure, repeat as needed," into a story, "the
quest for the Silver Dagger," or whatever it is. That's the essence of
heroic fantasy in the game reality. If you look at the earliest
computer FRP's, for example the original Apple II version of Wizardry,
it's line art, no plot, except what you read in the manual, which says
you've got this wizard at the bottom of this maze, and you, the hero,
must kill him. I've had people say, "It was a good story." It
wasn't. It was a very basic computer game, primitive by today's
standards, but because of that, the player had to build the fantasy in
his or her head. That's why it worked.

4. What advantages do you see to telling a story in an MMOG?

No story advantages, really. You can set a paradigm, setting up a
group to "save the world from the evil Uga Booga," and give them a
mission.  Everything after that is what the players do. So, it's not
about story, but about game play and pleasure derived from game play.

5. Do you feel it is best to have key characters played by GMs
(personnel hired by the design team) or make individual players the
key characters themselves?

Depends on what you're trying to do. Both have advantages. I think the
later approach is a better solution for the players, else they spend a
lot of time being "red shirts," a reference to the original Star Trek
where you knew whoever the red shirt security guard who beamed down
with Kirk or Spock, was going to be the one to get fried. If there was
a MMOG of my work, for example, and Arutha and James were played by
GM's, then lots of times the player is merely sitting around waiting
for the GM to tell him/her what to do. Better is the notion that you
meet James and Arutha in the palace, and they tell you, "Private,
we're completely out of competent officers and experienced sergeants,
so you're elected to take care of this trivial matter." Well, we all
know the matter will turn out to be not so trivial, but you need that
sort of set up so the "back story" makes sense.

6. How would you suggest accounting for the "extra players" who may
appear at an in-game event, and finding them a place in the story?

There are a variety of ways. It depends to a great extent upon your
system design, and how anal you are about keeping the illusion that
it's not a game. If you're dealing with a world-wide population of
players, you're going to have folks popping in and out of campaigns at
all hours of the day and night. You're UK players are going to bed,
while your Canadian players are getting home from work, and your
Australian players are getting out of bed the next day. There are
mechanical ways to compensate for this.

7. What if they shift the intended direction of the story?

So what? It's not about a story. If it was about the designers concept
of the story, it wouldn't be a MMOG, it would be a movie, and we'd all
watch it while eating popcorn. I love a good movie. Just saw
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" yesterday and it was incredible. It's
a terrible role playing game, but then it's a terrible sports car,
too, if you see my point. You don't ask a computer to bake bread and
you don't try to run spread sheets on your oven. A game is a game, and
story is only a small element of it; game play is everything.

8. Would you advocate smaller story events with a limited number of
participants, or larger events with an unlimited number of

Again, that's a basic design paradigm issue. If I waved a magic wand
and the Bitter Sea Company decided to produce a game on-line, my first
mission would be for the design team to give me design options. Lots
of little parties on parallel servers? All starting from one point in
"Krondor" but heading off in their own little realities where they
don't encounter one another? Or a truly open world where players from
Group 102 can bump into and interact with players from Group 451? The
latter has a certain "real time" appeal, but you get into all sorts of
serious management issues with that. Time scale becomes a major
issue. Overland travel in real time is not a fun game play. Nor is
sitting around for weeks in a tavern waiting for your third wizard to
arrive on a caravan. You must have ways to get around these sorts of
problems, and the small server approach obviates some of them.

9. Should players determine the direction and resolution of a story,
or should GMs guide the players towards the intended result?

Again, do you want to watch a movie or play a game. I think you set up
the parts of the machine, then get out of the way and see how the
players screw with it. That's a big part of the fun.

10. Do you prefer games played from a 3rd person perspective such as
Ultima Online, or a 1st person perspective such as EverQuest?

For me, 3rd. I like seeing what's around the character, while others
prefer 1st person so they can be "in character." I think it's just a
matter of taste.

11. Do you feel that MMOGs are ideally suited as vehicles to adapt
popular science-fiction or fantasy series to? Would you suggest
allowing players to relive the story from the books, or simply have
the game based on the world of the story?

The latter. There have been some games in the past that tried to
recapture the book, and what's the point? The book's the book. Nothing
gets older faster than playing a game where you know exactly what to
do at every point to "win."

12. Any particular books or series you feel would make terrific MMOGs?

Any of them with a good world. I think a game set in Asimov's
Foundation Universe would be fun. Bob Silverberg's Majipor would be
fun, as would Jack Vance's Big Planet world. Alan Dean Foster's
Midworld would be a bear to play in. Any really well developed
environment would work as a setting. Then the issue would be how was
the game designed?

13. Any plans on basing an MMOG on your series of books?

Nothing I can discuss at the present time.

14. Many players base their game characters on favorite characters
from your works. If you had to choose a character from one of your
books to play in an MMOG, who would it be?

Oh, that's easy. James (Jimmy). He has nine lives, gets out of trouble
better than anyone else, and gets the best lines.

15. Which character would you definetely not want to play?

Pug. He's like a force of nature and it would be "all the other
players stand around and watch Pug solve the problem" at just about
every junction.

<---end quote

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