Jul 022007

Hey Raph, Just wanted to note that the CMP Game Group (who runs GDC, Austin GDC, Gamasutra, Game Developer magazine, etc!) has launched WorldsInMotion.biz, which is a Game Developer Research-branded online worlds blog. In my post over at GameSetWatch announcing it, I particularly mention your commentary on web-based online worlds passing the game biz by – we’re going to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen, while documenting the most interesting bits of the current online worlds.

This is looking quite good, and another one to add to the virtual worlds-specific news sources that are rapidly springing up. In particular, the Online World Atlas that they are putting together looks like it could be extremely useful. For those keeping track or interested in the space, here’s the list of other ones that I am hitting pretty regularly these days:

Pretty soon, I’ll have to stop just posting news here, since I do a pretty bad job of it compared to these other sites…

I suppose the reasons I’m emailing you are two fold. The first is the classic, age old question of suggestions on how to break into the industry.

But my more focused concern has come from listening to the recent podcast GDCRadio provided. Some of the directions of the industry that you suggest frankly disturb me, and I wanted to hear your opinion on the subject.

Now, if the current model starts to falter, leaving consoles largely in the lurge, I won’t be too upset. They, especially Microsoft and Sony, sort of made their bed on the subject to a degree, and I admit that the current pricing model simply won’t work. Development costs have increased exponentially while pricing hasn’t changed, and as the Playstation 3 is demonstrating, pricing can’t really change without reducing the audience. So something will have to give.

My worry is that this would mean the death knell for complex RPGs, adventure games, action/platformers, and honestly every genre I really have that much interest in, especially from the development side.

This also worries me personally, because while I am technically a programmer with a Computer Science degree, years of working in that field have taught me that I really see it as the means to an end in terms of creative expresion. My real interest comes from the narrative and artistic elements of games. I rarely consider programming for fun, but I am able to write literally hundreds of pages on a game design concept well beyond the idle brainstorming phase; the very stage you seem to think will be rendered obsolete.

On that note, I know nobody in the industry likes talking about this, but how do you see this new model affecting the use of games as art? I think that, without an idea on long-term story and thematic plans, it will be hard to include this element in games. After all, as shows from X-Files to Lost showed us, the audience generally will not accept a long-term project that has no idea where it’s going or how to conclude its story.

Can the rapid design model still find room for projects that use this form of storytelling? Or will we as an industry cede that entire style en masse to television, possibly meaning the death of games like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Shadow of the Colossus?

Frankly, given how hard it is to break into this industry and the level of time, commitment, and risk it entails when entering, I worry if my efforts would even be worth it without such a possibility. I appreciate any ideas you may have on this subject. It’s rare that a podcast or article would inspire me to write this much, but these fears have been gnawing at me all day since I heard your words.

Wow. A heartfelt and thoughtful set of questions. Let’s try to tackle the two core issues separately (and ignore the question on breaking in, since I have answered that one several times before).

  • Will the rising costs and general bind the industry finds itself in mean that some genres which are extremely heavy on costs simply start to go away?

My take is no. There will always be room for marquee projects.

Some of them may be undertaken as blockbuster titles that demand high rates of return. These are basically games that are trapped in, but thrive in, the hit-driven sort of market. They have to be hits, though. With proper portfolio management, it should be quite possible to keep making titles like this. However, part of that smart portfolio management will also have to be making a broader array of titles, and investing in ongoing IP development. Think a Grand Theft Auto here, or a Final Fantasy XII.

Some of them may be undertaken as prestige projects in order to drive platform exclusivity. These aren’t expected to earn out, necessarily. But they earn kudos for the platform may drive platform adoption, and serve as a major differentiator from competing platforms. They might also be intended to win awards and general status in the industry. Think something like Shadow of the Colossus or Halo 2 here.

That said, keep in mind that it’s an inherent graphical bias that keep us thinking that something like Shadow of the Colossus has to be that sort of graphical smorgasbord. I mean, look at Jeff Vogel’s work for Spiderweb.

  • With less of an emphasis on narrative, will be we seeing less games that reach for art? With rapid development, will we see less storytelling?

We may see less games that reach for imitating the art of the film. But I don’t think we will see less that reach for the art of the game. More likely we will see more. I think it is no accident that people have pointed at games like The Marriage, Ferry Halim’s work, Jon Blow’s work, or stuff like Boomshine as being art. We may see less storytelling, but not necessarily less games reaching for art.

Dear Mr. Koster,

Hello. My name is Susan. I am writing to ask advice. But first may I offer some background of my question. My first game was Star Wars Galaxies and I still play. I started in October of ’03. Altho I have not played other games,(bought some but they paled in comparison to the game I 1st played.)Naturally when they changed SWG,it was a transion to say the least. During that time, I pondered what it was I would like to see in a game. So was born 2 ideas that I have been working on in my idle time.

Both ideas are MMORPG. One starts players at high level and as the progerssion of the avatar goes they become weaker in some areas and stronger in others. The next is based on taking terriories as a Mayor or as a Crimelord. It would not only be a game of conquesting one world but of many differnt worlds.

I am sure you get many such letters as mine. and though people that I tell my ideas too agree they would be fun games, they think I’m crazy to persure tha idea that the ideas could ever be brought to the public.

I am 48 years old and am amused when people call me excentric. But regretfully I am too old to get the education needed to fulfill the goals of these games. The advice I seek from you is, How can I start to get these ideas recognized and in a position to offer entertainment to the public? Im sure you understand that the discription of the games I have offered to you are extreamly bacis and I have more in depth to offer to an interested person. I will be happy to hear what you have to say on this and look forward to your reply. Please let me take this time to thank you for your attention.

So, the first idea is interesting from a mechanics point of view. It’s basically a game of adaptation, right? You start out with a sort of jack of al trades competency, but then you start adjusting your powers in order to adapt to a particular niche. That is a cool twist on typical RPG progression, and one that would probably be pretty interesting.

The second idea is too vague for me to get a good sense of it…

As far as being too old, I think that is nonsense. The first question you should ask yourself is in what form you could get these games to the public. Could you do them as a board game? A pen and paper RPG? A PHP web game? A text mud? You should ask this of yourself, and not take “I can’t do this” as an answer. The bottom line is that you should avoid getting caught up in the idea that it has to be a full blown DirectX10 boxed MMORPG. If the mechanics are good, they are good, and presentation will matter relatively little in proving out the idea.

If you still feel like you need help, the best bet is to find one of the many RPG enthusiast communities and post your ideas and invite others to work on them with you.

Yes this is a SWG question and yes it is about the old version. I was curious if the whole knockdown and posture change systems where working as intended in SWG before the combat upgrade? What I mean is, if you where to hit knockdown and KD someone, then hit it again, was it a bug that the player went back to standing or was that how it was intended? Me and some friends where curious about this thanks for reading…

No, that sounds like a bug.

The posture change system was pretty directly based on the position system in DIKUmuds, as we had evolved it on LegendMUD. In these systems, “position” was an enumerated list of positions going from “least capable” to “most capable.” Commands then were sorted into tiers. So, something like this:

  1. Dead (can’t do much of anything)
  2. Stunned
  3. Asleep
  4. Prone
  5. Sitting
  6. Running
  7. Standing (can do just about everything)

Clearly, in a system such as this, knocking someone down by a notch conferred a significant advantage in combat, as the possible responses that the opponent could offer would be reduced.

In SWG’s case, we were trying to evolve towards something that better represented ranged combat. So we had three postures that sat near the top:

  1. Prone
  2. Kneeling
  3. Standing

Each of which offered a different set of tradeoffs. From each posture, players would have a different set of possible actions, and depending on their particular skill set, they may have particular advantages to being in one of the three.

You can mimic this with a simple card game. Imagine that you and your opponent have action cards that you can play against each other — you have a hand of cards to pick from. Most cards simply score points against the other guy.

But each player is also blue, green, or red. You can switch from green to red or red to blue quite easily, but it takes up your turn. What’s more, one of the action cards that the opposing player can play against you is to force you to switch colors.

This matters because every action card you have have varying effects depending on whether the opponent is red, green, or blue — and for that matter, some of them simply cannot be played unless you are in a particular color.

So, you’d love to use the Whammo card (which hurts the other guy and knocks him to green), but you would have to be in blue to use it. You don’t want to go into blue because you know your opponent can play the Sizzle card and give double damage to anyone in blue. But that means that it is very likely that your opponent will try to knock you into blue. So you hold that Whammo in reserve until he knocks you into blue, then use it as a counterattack which pulls him into green… you get the idea.

When layered on top of additional variables, this can make a combat system more interesting and tactical. In Legend’s case, we also had something called “wary/agg” which let people boost their attack bonus in exchange for reducing their odds of avoiding a hit, or vice versa, so you could play conservatively or not in a a fight, or even shift it up in the middle of a fight. Basically, a crude simulation of “distance to opponent.” In SWG, actual combat ranges for equipment would expand on that.

In SWG’s case, it was intended that some of the combat professions have specialties in different postures. Hence snipers being at an advantage when prone & at long range, pistoleers kneeling to take better aim, etc. You wouldn’t want to knock down a sniper who is at a distance — you would want to force hm to stand up, so that he would lose his attack advantage and also be out of cover.

  6 Responses to “Monday Mailbag: WorldsInMotion, postures, games as art”

  1. Legend has Prone, Kneeling and Standing now (has for a while), and instead of worst-to-best, they’re a matrix of tradeoffs regarding what you can and can’t do in that position or how well those positions are handled and what bonuses or penalties you have to different skills in those positions. 🙂

  2. Susan wrote….

    …The next is based on taking terriories as a Mayor or as a Crimelord. It would not only be a game of conquesting one world but of many differnt worlds….

    Ahhh… a conquer-the-world/galaxy/universe game, one of the old stalwarts of early computer games. It’s a genre that seems to be under-represented these days, other than games like Shogun/Medieval/Rome: Total War. And that series is focused on military conquest as the primary means of territorial acquisition. Another recent commercial release worthy of note would be Galactic Civilizations — and that one was developed by an independent studio precisely because its developers saw the niche as being under-represented. And that was a game that was at least successful enough to spawn not only a sequel, but a deluxe edition of the sequel.

    In this case, Susan could be pointing to a basic conflict between peaceful expansion via the formation of economic interrelationships (represented by the “mayors”), versus conquest by force (i.e, the “crime lords”). All kinds of levels of representation of the conflict could be written out. At one end would be totally abstract gains and losses, in which the application of “x” amount of resources by the “mayors” would be cross-referenced against the application of “y” amount of force by the “crime lords,” giving a result found at the intersection of the two values. At the other end of the spectrum would be the spinning-off of all sorts of details: The “mayors” could allocate resources to, say, local police forces, who would be pitted against local crime dens, the winners of which would designate a given zone as “crime free” or “seedy.” And perhaps the “mayors” could band together and form paramilitary or “national” military forces, which would wage large-scale conflicts against large high-crime rogue regions. And as peaceful commerce takes hold in a region, it gains momentum — maybe.

    And so forth, ad infinitum.

  3. […] Games Room Design 31.12 | 6:00 Monday Mailbag: WorldsInMotion, postures, games as art   www.raphkoster.com […]

  4. Pretty soon, I’ll have to stop just posting news here, since I do a pretty bad job of it compared to these other sites…

    Aww, I hope you will at least keep posting about trends in MMOs. You’re the best newsfilter around… 🙂

  5. […] Koster’s just posted a number of sources for online worlds coverage, including the latest, Worlds in Motion.  Compared to the regular […]

  6. […] here. Raph Koster has a brief interchange with the site’s author, talking about similar sites and some of the weighty issues the new blog will be […]

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