[MUD-Dev] Moving away from the level based system

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Fri Dec 29 18:24:24 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000


<EdNote: Please indent game quotes/logs so they quote better later (I
did this one (as well as Travis' original))>

Travis Casey writes:

> How else can long-term actions be handled, then?  One method is to
> have timed actions -- the action takes a certain amount of time, and
> until that time has gone by, the character can't do anything else
> without losing the progress that's been made.  This is done
> sometimes in paper RPGs, when long- and short-term actions have to
> coincide -- e.g., if a thief is trying to pick a lock in the middle
> of a fight.
>
> Unfortunately, this can be very frustrating for players, and for
> very long-term actions, would be even more so.  Imagine:
>
>   > forge sword
>   You begin forging a sword.
>   > e
>   Are you sure you want to quit forging the sword?  You have 1 hour,
>   59 minutes, 54 seconds left to go on it.  (y/n): n
>
> Not something anyone probably wants to subject a player to.
>
> A second method is to make a single long-term action consist of
> multiple short-term actions.  This, however, is very subject to
> macroing and/or scripting, and, even if it can't be macroed or
> scripted, may be boring to the players.  It takes a lot of care to
> do it successfully.
>
> A third method is to have such long-term actions happen "offstage"
> -- that is, the character does them while the player is logged off.
> This can work nicely, but requires some sort of interface for
> players to specify what they want their characters to do while
> they're logged off, and a reporting mechanism so that a player can
> find out what a character actually got done when he/she logs on.
>
> Any other ideas on how to implement long-term actions?

Sure, you already presented it.

  > forge sword
  You begin forging a sword.  It will be completed in approximately 2
  hours.
  > e
  Do you wish to continue forging a sword?  It will require
  approximately 59 minutes (y/n): y

At which point, you exit.  This is the approach that I postulated a
while back on a Vault Network board.  In truth, I only consider these
things from a graphical sense and assume that there will be a
graphical presentation of the forging of the sword.

That assumption later led me to the axiom that states that no task
should be presented to a player unless it is entertaining to an
afficianado of that task.  Bread baking should be entertaining to
those who enjoy baking bread.  Sword fighting should be entertaining
to those who enjoy sword fighting.  In deference to Raph, stamp
collecting should be entertaining to those who enjoy stamp collecting.
This, as opposed to having bread baking done the way those who enjoy
sword fighting would do it (click on dough, click on oven, BAM,
bread).

The way I see all tasks working out is that the game must engage the
player for the duration of the task, meaning that tasks must be broken
down into a series of steps.  Not arbitrarily, but in such a way that
the player is making strategic decisions about the result.  This is
true of combat as we see it today.  Wield this weapon, hit that
target, retreat to here, ambush them, whatever.  The player is engaged
for the duration of the task, which is frequently just to get whatever
the opponent is carrying.  Forging a sword should be the same way.
How many times should the metal be folded, assuming the technique of
folding is known?  How long should the tang be?  How long should the
blade be?  How wide?  Where should the balance point be?  And so on.
These things will come out as the player directs his character to
strike the metal here or there, to fold it another time, to apply this
treatment or that, to cool the metal in oil or water, or any of a
number of treatments.  These are the decisions that an afficianado of
sword making enjoys.  Hearing the ring of the hammer, the quenching of
the heated metal, the pump of the bellows, etc.  Mistakes will be made
by less-skilled characters and the player must decide on a path of
correction - just as a new twist in a combat scenario forced the
player to make decisions.

Obviously, the pace of forging a sword is going to be rather different
from the pace of battle.  That's okay, because it is the afficianados
that enjoy the different paces.  Personally, I really enjoyed fishing
in EverQuest.  I would have enjoyed it far more if it had been more
engaging, forcing me to think about where to cast, what baits or lures
to use and to have a variety of fish to catch with different values,
weights, etc.  If I had had the opportunity to practice casting, I
probably would have just gone to a shoreline spot and cast.  Without
bait or lure.

Oh, and I assume that all tasks should take place with a non-trivial
elapsed time.  I don't believe that forging a sword can be kept
entertaining for several hours.  But certainly it can be kept engaging
for a few minutes.  The blade of a sword alone could take several
minutes.  Then there's the task of crafting the guard, grip, pommel,
wrapping the hilt, perhaps ornamenting it and even etching the blade.
Not to mention magical treatments.

The corollary to 'keep the player engaged' is that players should not
be forced to practice tasks that are not entertaining.  For example,
eating.  Unless the treatment of food can be made entertaining, why
bother putting it into the game?  Need the dose of realism and
limitation that having food brings to the game?  Fine, spend the time
to figure out how to make food entertaining and engaging.

Note that breaking a task up into various steps can permit the player
to stop the overall task at any time and return to it later.  There
may be a startup delay while the character does preparatory work
(lighting the forge, heating the metal again), but work should be able
to be resumed.  In this way, very long duration tasks can be managed,
so long as the player stays connected for the duration of a single
preparation/step pair.

The subtask approach also permits text games to generate specific
messages about what is going on in the subtask.  The player initiates
each subtask with its appropriate options, and the game can be as
descriptive about each subtask as the designers like.  That, instead
of "You begin forging a sword" and then 2 hours later "You have forged
a sword".  If that's all you're going to do, let the poor player log
off and have the work continue while he's away.  Personally, that
sounds more like something that would work well in an email-controlled
game.  I just send an email to my character telling it to forge a
sword and get an email back two hours later.

JB


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