Myschyf’s Roundtable: Fiction in Massively Multiplayer Games

This roundtable was done as part of a series of talks hosted by Myschyf of The Rantings of Lum the Mad. This first one included a number of notable online game designers and community managers, and discusses forms of online narrative. It’s pretty casual in tone, since most of us knew each other.

Myschyf’s Roundtable:

Fiction in Massively Multiplayer Online Games


  • J. Todd Coleman (“Warden”) is one of the founders of Wolfpack Studios, Inc, a privately held corporation located in Austin, Texas dedicated to producing games in the MMORPG market. The founders of Wolfpack hail from a long history of MUD and MUSH implementation, starting with a Scepter of Goth system in the late 80s. Over the last decade, they have assisted in the programming, building, and/or management of a handful of popular MUDs, including Chaos Mud, The Ways, Lost Souls LP, Moment in Tyme, Amber MUSH, Patternfall MUSH, Star Trek MUSH, Age of Chaos and Mortal Kombat.
  • Aaron D’Orive (“Ahriman”) is the lead fiction writer for Ultima Worlds Online: Origin, or, as it has become affectionately known in the industry, TGFKAUO2.
  • Jonathan Hanna (“Calandryll”) was a marketing major who previously worked as Director of Communications for a small game developer in New York He begin playing UO in Sept. 1997, was heavily involved in player-run events in UO, designed and coordinated one of the largest and longest running role-playing scenario in UO, the Lake Superior Divided Lands Scenario. The Divided Lands boasted over 200 active participants and was an on-going, dynamic, player driven scenario that lasted for over a year. He went to work for Origin in April 1999 as the Online Community Coordinator and joined the first department dedicated to facilitating communication between players and the design team of a MMORPG. He was recently promoted to Manager of Community Services, in charge of both Community Relations (OCR) and Events Programming (the interest team).
  • Scott Jennings (“Lum the Mad”) edits and writes for “The Rantings of Lum the Mad”, a web site which focuses on design and community issues in massively multiplayer online gaming. He has held numerous careers including software engineering, web design, video editing, (ad) copy writing, ISP technical support, and trophy manufacturing. The greatest moment of his life was when he successfully placed the line “Do you feel as though you are just a cog, a cog in a vast machine?” in an infomercial for a technical college. It’s still on the air, somewhere, late at night when you’re not listening. Currently his day job is as close to Dilbert’s as you can possibly imagine.
  • Raph Koster is a game designer currently working on a seekrit projeckt for Verant Austin. Before that he worked on a seekrit projeckt for Origin Systems, Inc. Before that he was lead designer for Ultima Online. He is known in the mud world as Ptah, former implementor on LegendMUD. Raph is also an active member of the MUD-Dev list, a regular speaker at the Game Developer’s Convention on online community and design issues, and maintains a page of online game design writings.
  • Rich Lawrence is the project lead for Freelancer Online at Digital Anvil. I asked him to write up a short bio and he sent me this:
    Well, let’s see. First computer (a TRS-80) purchased with money from paper route at age 11. Sold a sprite library I wrote later that year for twice what I paid for the machine. This set a bad precedent of convincing me computers could make me wealthy. It’s all been downhill from there. After the usual college noise, worked for Commodore for a bit, then got into network programming, particularly wide-area stuff, for SynOptics (Bay Networks) and Cisco. Left Cisco in ’94 to work for Kesmai, since the entire time I was working for The Man I was writing and playing multiplayer networking games at home. Worked on a whole host of projects at Kesmai, including Air Warrior, Poker (don’t laugh, at the time the most commercially successful online title available), most of their third-party stuff, and a couple of unreleased games. Since then have moved to Digital Anvil, where I am project lead on Freelancer Online.
  • Chris L’Etoile (“Stormwaltz”) writes most of the backstory for Asheron’s Call. Here’s what he has to say of himself.
    I’m 25, and Turbine is my first “real” job – unless you count screen printing, installing rugs, and other “put food on the table” busywork. I came here in May of 1999 with a cum laude degree in writing. I do not own a sword, nor have I ever been to a Renaissance Faire, nor have I ever been a MUD junkie. I do, however, devour histories of the medieval and other eras, and buy any game that comes with a scenario builder. My main inspirations when writing fiction for AC are H.P. Lovecraft, Tanith Lee, and the music of Dead Can Dance.
    On the weekend, I play Age of Wonders or FreeSpace2. If I had one wish, it would be the ability to function without ever needing to sleep. Then I might be able to finish my more grandiose quest ideas.
  • Brad McQuaid (“Aradune”) works for Verant Interactive as Executive Producer for EverQuest and Star Wars Online.
  • Ryan Palacio works for Verant Interactive on Everquest and Everquest: Ruins of Kunark. Before that he spent 9 years as a coder, admin, and area builder for various MUDs, and 3 years at UCLA as a Computer Science/Computer Science Engineering major.
  • Lee Sheldon trained as a director in theatre and film, Lee has over 200 produced TV credits from Charlie’s Angels to Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is winding up his 6th year as designer and/or writer and/or director and/or producer of interactive entertainment, filling various roles in eight titles either published or about to be, including the award winning games Dark Side of the Moon and The Riddle of Master Lu. Lee regularly writes and lectures on game design and interactive writing. Most recently he was writer/co-designer of the action-adventure game The Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin, and was most recently head writer/coordinating producer of a new online persistent world, The Gryphon Tapestry. He now is consulting on another multi-player game, and is about to embark on the formation of yet another persistent world. Details are still under wraps.
  • Brian Urbanek (“Balseraph”) entered the computer game business with high hopes of bringing a higher level of passion and craftsmanship to the art. He still doggedly holds to those beliefs with a sometimes wide eyed fanboy nature despite five years of the best efforts of the industry to crush them. He has worked on a number of projects, many of them doomed from the start by evil marketing departments on very hard drugs, such as the pair of critically well-received but amazingly poorly-titled real time strategy games, War Wind 1 and 2. The published work he is most proud of is the turn based strategy game Warhammer : Rites of War, where he was lead design and co-lead programmer. He would like to someday see a world without strife or hatred because all of the stupid people voluntarily left. (He’s shy, and didn’t mention that he is currently a programmer on the widely anticipated MMORPG Shadowbane.)
  • Geoff Zatkin is a game designer for Everquest. He says this about his background: I came into the industry as a professional three years ago and have been with Verant 3 years. I worked on EverQuest & EverQuest: Ruins of Kunark and am most known for my work on the Magic system in EQ. I hold a B.S. in Psychology from Trinity College in Hartford, CT. and was born in San Diego, Ca

Hopscotch apparently originated with the Romans. According to some sources, it was merely a training exercise for soldiers that was copied by children (and indeed it bears a resemblance to the “running through tires” exercises used in today’s military training), but other sources claim that it was based on a story: that of the labyrinth from which it is difficult to escape (cf Minoan legend, minotaur, Daedalus, Theseus). Likely derivation of the current word is from the French for escocher, to scratch (as in, to scratch into the sidewalk the game field).–Raph Koster

* Myschyf cues intro music

Myschyf: Can you start off by just going down the list and introducing yourselves? Ahriman?

Ahriman: My name is Ahriman, I’m the writer for UO2. I like hiking and sailing.

Myschyf: Balseraph?

Balseraph: Yo. I’m Brian, I’m a gamer and fanboy who figures that by working and making games for a living, I can cut my per anum expenses in half. I work on Shadowbane as a game system programmer, and general pain in the ass to the design team.

Raph: Be sure to snip the last four words there, Myschyf. 😉

Myschyf: ayup Raph, got it covered. Cal?

Balseraph: Thanks Raph, love you too.

Calandryll: I am Jonathan, Manager of Community Services (community relations and event programming) for OSI.

Myschyf: Lee?

LeeS: I’m Lee. I was a writer/producer in Hollywood. I now write and design games

Myschyf: Lum?

Lum: I’m Scott, better known as Lum, I run this website and hold the occasional opinion

Myschyf: I’m Deb, moderator and organizer of this here chat, work for Lum and hold more opinions I think. Raph’s turn

Raph: I’m Raph, formerly lead design on UO, and more lately working on seekrit projekts for Origin and now Verant Austin.

Myschyf: Rich?

Rich: My name is Rich, and I’m a gamer. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Raph: And I don’t have a Shadowbane t-shirt yet, so my purpose this evening is to tease Balsy and Warden here.

Myschyf: me neither

Ahriman: I want a tshirt too!

Myschyf: and Warden promised to mail me one like 3 months ago

Rich: I’m the project lead for Freelancer Online, which I would like to point out is not a fantasy RPG. Thank you. And I want a tshirt.

LeeS: Non fantasy

* LeeS weeps with relief.

Myschyf: Ryan could you introduce yourself please?

Ahriman: Starlancer looked great at E3, Rich. 🙂

Warden: I know, I know! We can’t keep the damn things in stock. Good art is hard to come by.

Rich: Freelancer looks better : )

Ahriman: I’m looking forward to it.

Ryan: is a Verant Employee and game designer on EQ and EQ:ROK

Myschyf: did you want a Shadowbane t-shirt?

Ryan: surely!

* Myschyf notes Warden is taking orders

Ryan: wants a t-shirt!

Myschyf: Chris yer up

* Lum is still trying to talk LoH into wearing her Shadowbane t-shirt

Warden: I must warn you. These shirts are not to be taken lightly.. this is dangerous, dangerous stuff we’re dealing with here.

Stormwaltz: I’m ChrisL from Turbine. I write most of the backstory for Asheron’s Call these days, and also work on s3kr1+ pr0j3k+z. I enjoy warm Guinness, shoegazer bands, and long walks on the beach. I’ll swap beer for a t-shirt. 🙂

Ahriman: Yeah, Guinness…

Myschyf: Guinness is good

LeeS: I read that too fast. I thought that said, “I’m Christ”

* Rich exercises supreme, iron will and says nothing about how bad FA sucks to Ryan. really.

Ahriman: You didn’t know that the Savior was in our midst, did you Lee?

Myschyf: Was a surprise to me too

LeeS: So back story would be OLD Testament?

* Lum prostrates himself

Myschyf: I wasn’t aware I invited Him

Calandryll: he does not need an invite

* balseraph furls his dark wings

Ahriman: Wow, that’s more backstory than Tolkien.

Myschyf: Warden would you care to introduce yourself or are ya just taking t-shirt orders tonight?

Ahriman: But did we really need to know that Shem begat Ham?

Rich: Is that before or after the archangel nerf?

Warden: Savior of the World or not, you better not steal our ideas.

Raph: Somewhere out there is a guild using that line as evidence that the game must support bacon, you know.

Warden: and you’re not getting a tshirt. Heh, yeah, sorry. I’m Warden, and I head up the design team for Shadowbane.

LeeS: And now… starting at the top for those who came late…

Myschyf: Great. Besides being a gigantic bad joke fest we are actually here tonight to discuss fiction in gaming so let me toss out the first question. We’ll start with Ahriman and go down the list but I don’t want to stifle discussion so feel free to chime in. Psychochild actually asked this on the fiction board and I thought it was an interesting question. Why is fiction in gaming important? Why do we want to do this? Its content heavy and not cost-effective (so far) and a pain in the tukus, so why? Ahriman?

Ahriman: Fiction establishes the “rules” of an online world. It’s a how-to guide for players for purposes of RP and to give them an idea of what to expect. Dune, for example, would have very different rules from Middle Earth or Gotham City. Makes the experience more immersive and enjoyable. Done.

* balseraph raises hand

Myschyf: go for it

Balseraph: Just a thought… but I think “rules” might be the wrong word. Perhaps “context” might be better… In a role playing game, there is a great difference between killing a random enemy, and killing someone who has defiled your guild. The actions and the commands entered by the players is the same, but the difference in the *significance* of the outcome is huge. done.

Ahriman: Context implies some rules.

* Aradune is done nerfing people for the day and has entered the chat room.

Myschyf: Howdy Brad. Thanks for coming. We’ve done intros already. Aradune is Brad McQuaid from EQ and let me find the question of the moment and paste it for you Brad.

* Aradune waves

Rich: CORP POR. CORP POR. oops

Myschyf: Psychochild actually asked this on the fiction board and I thought it was an interesting question. Why is fiction in gaming important? Why do we want to do this? Its content heavy and not cost-effective (so far) and a pain in the tukus, so why? Brad, as fate would have it we are going in semi-alphabetical order and you happen to be next. Don’t you just love popping in and being thrown right into the fire?

Aradune: Storylines are important to set up an immersive world — they give it depth. Storyline in an MMORPG should be history you can interact with. The problem, of course, is MMORPGs are supposed to keep people’s attention for years, not months, like single player games and since it takes perhaps 6 months to write a book and a week to read a book you always have the problem with players consuming content. They can be voracious, can’t they? So, so far, MMORPGs have relied on quests/storylines/etc. as a secondary mechanic, and have used hack-n-slash, be it PvP or PvE, as a primary mechanic. done 🙂

Myschyf: Cal?

Calandryll: Fiction separates the “games” from the “worlds”. It allows players to feel a part of the world and creates a basis for their characters and experiences. Of course, it is also very important to allow players to create their own fiction as well as the fiction generated by the developers fiction provides a purpose to being in the world beyond hacking monsters or raising stats/skills. Done.

Myschyf: Lee?

LeeS: Story is what drives all that entertains us. Whether it is created for us as observers, as participants, or whether we create it ourselves where none exists. It speaks to us and fills our dreams. When we want to communicate emotion in a “safe” way we use story. We use story to communicate to the imagination. And our worlds must communicate to survive. Done.

Myschyf: Lum?

Lum: Fiction is important even if players don’t feel that it is; it provides a context by which the actions they do fit into a greater whole. It is my belief that if a fiction in game is compelling enough, it will drive the interactions between players beyond single-minded PvE levelling or PvP bashing without purpose. Done.

Myschyf: Raph?

Raph: The crass answer, since nobody else has given it: Because players want it. 🙂 We need to give them some of what they want so they keep paying. The high-flown answer (though not as high-flown as Lee’s) Stories are means of encoding value systems, emotional content, and moral lessons. Provided as backstory to the events in the game, they set up social expectations and teach. Provided as an interactive experience, they also teach: they teach us about each other, bridging gaps between people. Players arrive in games desperate to learn.

Warden: Lemme tack one onto Raph’s business answer : I think it’s also question of competition. We’re in the business selling reality. (Granted, ours aren’t quite as engrossing as the one we live in, though they can be at times.) Since this reality — meaning the one we’ve all been born into — has a such deep backstory, it would make since that we’d have to have an equally compelling one to compete. 🙂

Raph: They may think otherwise, but above all what they crave first is direction, context, etc. So the high-flown answer is also: because players want it.

* LeeS applauds Raph’s wing flaps.

Balseraph: hmmm….. I’d like to debate that if there is time.

Myschyf: If no one minds? I’d like this to be a discussion rather than just listed answers. Go for it Balseraph.

Ahriman: Could we get the other responses first? Then go back?

Myschyf: ok, that makes sense. Hold on to that thought Balseraph

Balseraph: fine by me.

* Raph sharpens his quill pen in preparation.

Myschyf: Rich I believe yer up

Rich: Without some fiction there is no context to the player actions : it’s raw game mechanics at that point. Not very involving IMHO, unless you are aiming for a straight reflexes type of game. So there ARE games without fiction – hopscotch is a game, it has rules, it’s even enjoyable to some, but it doesn’t have a background fiction, (here’s the part where Raph tells me it does and pulls out some obscure damn reference), but those type of games don’t create the sense of immersion we are after in online; and there is no compelling reason to make that style of game an online one in the massive sense. Players want to be part of a living, breathing society in massively multiplayer games…

* Raph cackles madly.

Rich: and a living, breathing society has story to it. Fiction or real life, all societies have a story. So we provide one to give our worlds depth and make them seem more real to the players. done.

Myschyf: Ryan?

Ryan: I think that a lot of what I would say has already been said in general… tho there is one thing I would like to point out from my gamer side. When I game – I don’t want to be me. Bottom line is if I want reality – I go out, not game. I want a “new perspective,” a new set of shoes to step into.

Raph: But you are from LA. You don’t even COME from reality.

* Lum cackles

* Myschyf chuckles

Ahriman: Behave, Raph.

Ryan: A new view. Fiction is the means by which I can gain a different perspective or experience. Fiction provides that for me – a new view every game. That is all. Done.

Myschyf: Chris?

Stormwaltz: I think everyone’s already voiced my thoughts. 🙂 A strong fiction (at the most basic level) isn’t necessary for *all* games. FPS, for example, don’t really need a fiction, though Half-Life proved that a fiction enriches them greatly. Without an immersive fiction, an ORPG is little more than a pretty chat space or a really big Quake level. The essence of roleplaying is the fictional underpinning of the universe, which informs a players’ projection of themselves into it. Done.

Myschyf: Warden?

Warden: Stories are a means of depicting a people, a universe, or a culture at it’s core. This permeates every other form of media – verbal storytelling, novels, movies, RPGs, you name it. I don’t find it surprising at all that it should be integral to this one, as well. People define a universe based on the stories that surround it. Nothing teach us more about ourselves than stories. Our concepts of nobility, treachery, heroism — all come from stories. As persistent world designers, we actually have two goals : define stories that show the universe as we envision it, and then provide a foundation (and set of rewards/punishments) to allow people to build stories of their own that match this vision. ..that’s it.

Myschyf: ok I think Balseraph wanted to argue with Raph ::grin::

Raph: Everyone always wants to argue with Raph…

* Raph sighs

Lum: oh everyone likes to argue with Raph. It’s fun!

Raph: See?

* Rich takes bets

Balseraph: oh, not really argue… how about this: Raph said that we have story because the players wanted it. My thought is this – every player is an individual, and every player wants something different. I think it would be hard to deny that some players really don’t care about a back story: they “hate that RP crap”. Perhaps a different story would draw them in, perhaps not. While the story has to be for the players, it really has to be for the game, and it has to be there because it makes sense for it to be there. An RPG is about context, and being a persona, and being in a world. Some people will ignore it, but it still exists in the background, holding everything together, shaping the Rules and providing the Context.

* Raph thinks that story has diddlysquat to do with roleplaying per se btw.

Balseraph: I’m not really disagreeing, Raph – just splitting hairs. Oh, I agree… you can roleplay without a story being given to you. The advantage of an existing story is that is creates a universally recognized common ground. And that can be a wonderful tool to facilitate the experience. done;

Calandryll: I’d disagree Bals. I think the vast majority of players do want fiction, not necessarily a “story” but a purpose to their actions beyond skills and loot

Ahriman: As I said, it establishes “the Rules.” 😉

* LeeS raises his hand

Myschyf: Lee go ahead. I think its a free for all here.

Raph: Stories are means of expressing archetypical behaviors, personalities, and dilemmas. By providing a story (and the richer, the better) we give easy access to…

Calandryll: fiction does not have to be a story, it can be consequences for actions based on history and laws, etc

Balseraph: I agree that a majority do want it, but my point was the not ALL want it.

Raph: those archetypes for players. For example, Amy Jo Kim argues that a flaw in UO’s backstory is that there are no female characters of significance.

LeeS: This is for Brad… I have a question then a thought…

Raph: It makes it harder for players who fit any feminine archetypes to find their place in the game.

* calandryl has noted that as well

LeeS: How many quests would you say there are in EQ from biggies like Paw of Opalla to A/Bers like the Kerran toy?

Calandryll: although that did change a bit in the last bit of fiction we ran

Raph: So whether or not players CONSCIOUSLY want it, they want something to hang their hat on. They want the context.

Balseraph: Raph, that’s an excellent example of a use for a back story – providing archetypes to model yourselves after.

Rich: omg he had to bring up the Paw (shudder)

Raph: It may not have anything to do with wanting story per se–they want the encoded content that stories contain. though.

Warden: Actually, bal, I think I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. The reason people look to these games is to find a new way to escape.. and while not all of them can write/roleplay/whathaveyou, I think they all want a story. The key fact to keep in mind is that THEIR story may not mesh at all with yours.

Balseraph: Right, and context was my reason why there should be a story. Like I said… just splitting hairs.

Raph: They may not even think of it as a story.

Aradune: I think we were at about 800 quests before Kunark. I imagine we are at 1000+ now.

Raph: Hey Myschyf, do you have that quote from the Black Rose guys handy?

Myschyf: I can get it. which one?

Raph: Great example of players modeling themselves after an archetype without actually stating that they want “a story.” “We want to be the few, the proud, the playerkillers” or whatever it was.

Balseraph: I suppose I’m lumping both *back story* and *ongoing story* together here.

Lum: My opinion is that if some players are violently revolting against being a part of your story, as we see sometimes in UO, then that is a reflection upon the story, not the players

LeeS: Then imagine those as “stories” connected to the backstory, revealing it, etc. instead of isolated quests… How would writing stories be so much harder than what you’ve already accomplished?

Raph: Here:

Lynx hmms… So you’re saying you want to randomly kill people? Arion says “yes! randomly but with the same chances of dying!” Ack says “we want to be the few… the proud… the outlaws!” Lynx should note you are probably despised by a great many people, which is hardly helpful. Ack says “that is the best part about it!!!” Arion says “that’s the way we like it!”

They are telling themselves a story. 🙂

Ahriman: They’re playing villains, in their minds.

Rich: I’d have to agree…even the l33t d00dz who don’t believe in the story at all WANT the proper context to r0xr U hard. Otherwise it’s a meaningless victory. They WANT to deprive you, that means the victim has to identify with the world…fiction helps that.

Warden: Or the A-Team. Who knows what they’ll be playing? ..but it’s still a story, sadly.

Aradune: LeeS: I’d say a significant percentage of the quests are connected to the backstory.

Lum: truly well played villains are appreciated by other than themselves

Calandryll: Anyone who has ever tried to roleplay a villain can tell you, it is extremely difficult

Ahriman: They get images of Frazetta’s Death Dealer, or Elric, or Darth Vader, or whatever “cool” villain they were inspired by as kids.

LeeS: Not in a way that’s comprehensible to the players, I’d argue. But my point was in response to your worry about the time it would take to feed that players, yet you’re already feeding them quite a bit, no?

Ryan: Rich: I have to disagree – MECHANICS are what the l33t d3wdz utilize and story is irrelevant. they will “roxr U h4rd” becuz you will suffer from MECHANICS not story

Ahriman: They may not play villains well, but they’re certainly trying to play villains (at least in their own minds).

Lum: “I’ll roleplay you to DEATH, man!”

Raph: They are telling themselves a story in which they are powerful, is all. Who HASN’T told themselves that story, at one time or another?

Ryan: raph: their own personal fantasy is completely separate from the game fiction

Ahriman: Correct, and the images that pop in their heads is probably one of a cool badass fictional character.

Warden: Keep in mind that most people aren’t necessarily good storytellers.

Rich: Ryan: dunno, if that were the actual goal I think those people would gravitate towards entirely skill based combat games (air combat, etc).

Ahriman: Amen, Warden.

Aradune: LeeS: I guess you’ll have to argue that point, because I think the backstories and history of Norrath are pretty clearly evident to those who participate in quests regularly. In fact, quests are our primary means by which to communicate storylines, be they static or dynamic quests/events. But no, I don’t think we’re feeding them NEARLY enough content, be that content quests, storylines, places to explore, NPCs to encounter, etc.

Balseraph: If the story isn’t shared, is it still a story? In a single player game, sure, but the point of a game including a story is to give a unified base from which to craft your own stories.

Raph: Not at all, Ryan. They are in the game, and they are telling themselves a fiction, by definition it is the game fiction. 🙂 When they are playing, it’s their game, after all.

Calandryll: Agreed Raph, player driven fiction is just as relevant as the fiction created by the developers

Raph: We may not like it, and it may clash with everything else around, but it is the story from which they derive their values, their archetypes. It is their myth.

Ahriman: Agree with Raph.

Raph: Well, Balseraph, there’s certainly enough of those people out there that they can share it with… I think we can all agree on that! 😛

Warden: …and they’re paying you $10 a month for their myth, not yours. 🙂

Aradune: lees: ryan just did a database query and came up with 1450 quests.

Ryan: because I have the power to ruin your game experience MECHANICALLY can be perceived as story – tho story is irrelevant to the l33t dewd – or so I am asserting is my opinion

Warden: it isn’t irrelevant. It’s just that they don’t hold the same values in a story that you do. Call it ‘storybook greed.

Raph: The l33t dewd thrives on telling the story of how they roxxored you. It’s what they live for. In fact, many have argued that if you took away their ability to brag about it in any way whatsoever, they’d go away. cf Bartle’s definition of Killers

LeeS: Brad: K, two separate issues. My main point though is not that you need more, but you already have a bunch. I’m just trying to square that with your concern that you wouldn’t be able to feed the players over a long time. Yet you are, as far as I’m concerned. So the point about not being able to tell story seems like a contradiction.

Raph: Their self-image is intimately tied up in fulfilling this role. You can see this just as much in say, Xavori’s stories, as in that of your run of the mill PKing guild.

Ahriman: Even carefully crafted fiction will not always go the same way if you let an audience vote on the outcome…

Ahriman: There would be plenty of folks voting for Neo to be defeated by Agent Smith in MATRIX if they could. Or Luke to get chopped in half by Vader.

Warden: …or Luke to team up with Vader at the end of Empire.

LeeS: Brad: Not picking on you, I’ve just run into the point of view before, and it confuses me.

Aradune: lees: I guess what I’m saying is that while EQ probably has the most content of any released MMORPG there are still many players who have a. done most of it, b. don’t care to do some of it (doesn’t interest them). In other words if all players did was quests (and most don’t, and most also don’t do quests most of the time they’re on) they’d run through them as quickly probably as you run through a single player, more linear game

Myschyf: Ok guys lets move on

* Rich buries that dead horse

Myschyf: Why is fantasy fiction used more than science fiction, horror fiction of crime fiction? Warden? Would you like to start this one off?

Warden: argh, you skipped one.

Myschyf: well you kind of got that in with the last? didn’t you?

Warden: and I had such a nice pre-canned answer.

Myschyf: oh all right hang on

Warden: no biggie. I can move on.

Myschyf: Is there some real benefit to having a story in the game? If so, what are these benefits?

Myschyf: hehe nono I wouldn’t dream of missing out on a good canned answer. I live for stuff like that.

Warden: okay, here’s the original answer: The story is your best way to 1) define your vision of the universe and 2) distribute that vision to the playerbase en masse. It’s also probably the only mechanism in which you, the designer, control all the variables.

Rich: depends on how you tell the story :). but that’s a discussion for later I guess…

Aradune: lees: so, at least for a while, creating an MMORPG where players are constantly involved in some sort of storyline, is a holy grail type issue. You just can’t get that much content into a game to involve 2000 people per shard over 2-3 years. And so we (the MMORPG developers) are working on solutions to this problem (for example, randomly generated content, etc)

Rich: Can I use my stuck at the log-in server joke now?

* Myschyf slaps Rich around with a dead fish of some sort.

Myschyf: I have a whole arsenal of dead fish to keep you guys in line with. Rich why don’t you go ahead

Rich: I can give you an answer to that question which strips away the thin cover of creativity and reveals online gaming to be an (ack) business. Stories are content, and content either at the onset of the game or injected during the life of the game helps the all-important money factor of retention. It keeps people interested. So that’s one benefit – another is it’s one of your only opportunities to change your world, since story is a lot easier than wholesale substitution of your other content assets (textures, models, blah blah). So that was my The Man answer for that one.

* Ahriman_ regrets he’ll have to depart in about fifteen minutes

Ahriman: Didn’t realize how long this would take and foolishly made plans.

Myschyf: tsk tsk shame on you

Calandryll: I’ll cover for ya Ahriman 🙂

Ahriman: I know…

* Ahriman_ sniffs. ..

Ahriman: Excellent, Calandryl! I’m in good hands. 🙂

* Raph_ figures that at this rate, we’ll be wrapping up around 6am 🙂

* Raph_ thinks that the next question is more interesting. 🙂

(note: at this point we had a net split and by the time everyone got back in we decided to move on to the next question. All the net split stuff was deleted in the interest of brevity.)

Myschyf: Why is fantasy fiction used more than science fiction, horror fiction of crime fiction?

Myschyf: Raph?

Raph: Ah 🙂 My chance to go all academic

Rich: when are you not that way Raph?

Raph: When stealing t shirts

Warden: watch it.

Rich: hmm. got a point there

Ahriman: The taking of spoils is a long and proud tradition.

LeeS: Agreed 🙂 But if none of them do, I don’t see the market expanding too much.

Ahriman: Very academic.

Raph: So I think that the reasons why fantasy: because it is a) an Apollonian genre b) because it has a very broad array of archetypes and c) because it lends itself to worldbuilding

GeoffreyZ: no kidding

LeeS: And because the people building the worlds, for the most part, are saturated with it.

Raph: To break that down: it’s comfortable, because it is largely about restoring order to the world. Horror and crime genres also share this, but they don’t offer the other traits. I’ve noticed a definite trend in muds: players play the ones that feel comfortable.

Warden: and d) because it’s an easy place to sell into. roleplaying in a fantasy world isn’t as new and weird a concept, ergo you got a foothold into the market.

Ahriman: Fantasy evolved out of fairy tales, which we’ve heard since we were toddlers. It has stuck with us and most of us never grew out of that phase.

Raph: It’s one reason why visually, Dark Age of Camelot attracted my eye instantly, more so than Anarchy Online, say. It was visually welcoming, comfortable, familiar.

LeeS: Sure, a foothold.

Ahriman: That’s my answer and now I must depart.

Raph: Broad array of archetypes is very evident. Horror and crime don’t have that.

GeoffreyZ: if you are trying to make a community, you must make people feel that they have a comfortable place to form it

Raph: SF tends to be a Dionysian genre as much as an Apollonian one…

Calandryll: plus fantasy has a real world basis, people have an idea of what a castle is, what a dragon is, etc already

LeeS: Ack, Raph, not true!

Raph: Lastly, crime and horror do not generally present example of imaginary environments.

Calandryll: well ok, maybe not dragons as far as real world 😛

LeeS: re: archetypes

* Ahriman_ waves farewell

Ahriman: Good luck, lads.

Myschyf: bye Ahriman. Thanks for coming.

LeeS: Down these mean streets a man must go… right out of Campbell

Rich: I’m not sure I’m buying the archetype angle either, but I’m with you elsewhere. Fantasy tends to be VERY structured in terms of archetypes.

LeeS: Bye

Raph: On which, Lee, crime or horror?

Ryan: It comes down to entertainment value for me. Most people do not want to be required to be pensive when looking for entertainment. While panel presentations at conferences can certainly be entertaining. They are not my norm for relaxation and entertainment

Aradune: Is it accurate to say that of the different genres in fiction, that High Fantasy focuses more on creating worlds, histories, stories? That, and many people have dreamed of playing in a virtual fantasy world since they played D&D with their friends. I guess you could ask the same question about paper and pencil games: why were the first ones fantasy, and why are the most popular fantasy?

Balseraph: If I could add a new point…

Ryan: horror, crime, sci-fi all require too much thought

Balseraph: I would say it has to do at least partially with the social context of rules. In a fantasy setting, you can get the ol’ frontier justice thing going, where might makes right. Most Sci Fi has a tendency to reflect extrapolations of our own world, where people seem to be more rigidly bounds by legal codes of enforced behavior, rather than personal codes of conduct. There is also the fact that it’s much cooler to fight the Dragon King of the Nether Realms for a rod of uber death than to buy it at Sears. I would say it has to do at least partially with the social context of rules. In a fantasy setting, you can get the ol’ frontier justice thing going, where might makes right. Most Sci Fi has a tendency to reflect extrapolations of our own world, where people seem to be more rigidly bounds by legal codes of enforced behavior, rather than personal codes of conduct.

Raph: You can do that in an SF tinged setting too, Balseraph.

Warden: Fantasy is also structured for easier cookie-cutting. It’s hard to scale a story about a homicide detective to the massively-multi-user level.

LeeS: I believe frontier justice is borrowed from another genre.

Balseraph: You CAN, of course.

Raph: Lee, crime fiction supports that archetype very well, sure. But if you think about it, there’s really only a handful of genre patterns to crime fiction, less than five distinct detective archetypes, and a limited range of additional roles.

Lum: Fantasy settings also tend to be very hero-oriented and very personal – both of which are easier to game

Balseraph: But that tends to deviate from the common Star Trek like notion of science fiction.

Raph: The common Star Trek notion of science fiction is actually a Western.

Lum: there is less motivation to role-play, say a general in a modern army behind the battle front

Raph: “Wagon Trail to the Stars” is how Roddenberry pitched it. 🙂

Balseraph: Really, Raph? I’ve never heard that before.

LeeS: Raph, take ONLY detectives, and look at Murder by Death

Balseraph: Perhaps the early Kirk episodes…

LeeS: And correct on Star Trek 🙂

GeoffreyZ: completely on Star Trek

Rich: chicken and egg, he pitched it that way because westerns were popular then, shrug. hard to say which dictated which.


Stormwaltz: Guys, I have to go. See ya…

GeoffreyZ: cya storm

Balseraph: I very don’t see it, but this isn’t the forum to debate it.

Myschyf: Thanks for coming Chris

Calandryll: later!

Balseraph: later.

LeeS: I just think the other genres haven’t been as codified as fantasy

Raph: Lee, only detectives is not as broad an array of archetypes as fantasy offers. I’d say that fantasy subsumes all those types an adds more… Nah–romance is even MORE codified. Mystery has been very extensively codified. I’d argue that fantasy is RICHER

Calandryll: fantasy is very open ended, you can do just about anything you want in a fantasy setting, current day and even sci-fi limit you to an extent

LeeS: Detectives is a subset, add cops, gangsters, molls, robbers, serial killers

Balseraph: Fantasy is about as rich as it gets.

Aradune: fantasy focuses on detailed worlds and histories and stories and heroes and quests/adventure… it has just about everything that makes an RPG attractive to the different Bartles types… I don’t think other genres necessarily have all of those attributes, and so are harder to model.

Balseraph: Literally anything is possible.

Calandryll: exactly Bals

GeoffreyZ: if you want the detectives, cops, gangsters, molls, etc go cyberpunk

Calandryll: you can justify anything you want in a fantasy setting

Balseraph: Oh, Sci Fi has all of those, Aradune. In spades, really.

Warden: It doesn’t hurt that Fantasy has “magic,” which can be a great catch all to explain away the limitations of your game.

Balseraph: I think it’s something else.

LeeS: Brad: ABSOLUTELY harder. But no reason not to try. The market just isn’t there for only fantasy.

Raph: Thing is, I don’t think SF is *comfortable. It depends on non-recognition, on the unfamiliar.

Raph: People crave the familiar. Anyone read King’s Danse Macabre?

Aradune: balseraph: I don’t think it has all of them, but it’s probably comes in second place, which is probably why 2nd generation MMORPGs are dabbling with sci fi too

LeeS: Yes, I have.

Balseraph: THAT is a good point, Raph… and one of the main reasons why I don’t see Sci Fi as being Western.

Calandryll: right, and that’s why fantasy works so well, because generally it is based, albeit loosely at times, on real history (knights, castles, etc)

Aradune: LeeS: totally agreed.

Rich: I’m usually with you Raph but on this one we’re at ends. Fantasy seems pretty rigid to me. Young everyman protagonist does not know his/her secret power. Goes on long journey of discovery, losing home but gaining powerful and interesting new friends along the way. Faces moral temptation and tests of power, defeats the ultimate evil in the end. There are various ways of telling it, but that seems THE archetype to me.

Raph: I didn’t say I saw Sci Fi as Western, I said Star Trek was based on Western. 🙂

Balseraph: Aradune: That could be. an interesting discussion for a future round table, at least.

Ryan: to an extent raph – they want a handrail on their proverbial stairway to heaven but they don’t want to be welded to it either

Warden: raph : explain this one. Westerns hit the archetypes (typically at least) better than Sci Fi. Yet clearly a western game wouldn’t do as well as a sci fi one.

GeoffreyZ: Rich – you don’t like Campbell?

Balseraph: rich: no, that’s just the cliched story… fantasy is NOT limited to the Hero’s Journey!

Rich: I’m talking about the popular perception

LeeS: And the Hero’s Journey is not limited to fantasy.

Rich: Which MMORPG deviates substantially from the hero mold?

Warden: rich : I could listen to that story over, and over, and over and probably never get bored.

GeoffreyZ: Star Wars, for example, was the Hero’s Journey

LeeS: ALL do

Aradune: westerns don’t have the rich world. they have a pretty one dimensional world, history, etc. and thus don’t meet all the things RPGs want as per my earlier statement.

LeeS: Geoff, almost copied word for word 🙂

Balseraph: You know…

Raph: Warden: I actually think that Westerns hit certain archetypes really well (Band of brothers, Noble homesteader, Hero with Heart of Gold, Loner Hero) but they don’t offer others.

Balseraph: I’m COMPLETELY SICK of the damn Hero’s Journey.

GeoffreyZ: lees – 🙂

Balseraph: I’ve done it. I done it 1000 times. I want a different game.

LeeS: Because it is so literally interpreted!

Raph: Examples of stuff that fantasy hits really well: the vampiric archetype (seduction of darkness), the werewolf archetype (loss of self-control)

LeeS: Campbell didn’t say there was only one story!

Warden: not me, man. I always come back to Epic.

Raph: Most of the classic creatures and opponents have archetypical moral lessons to them

Balseraph: Campbell is so AGONIZINGLY dry! he takes all of the romance out of myth by over analyzing and compartmentalizing it.

Warden: hey, is it just me, or are we way the hell off-topic again? *grin*

LeeS: Vogler may have, but he can’t sell his screenplays.***

Raph: Every read an analysis of Beowulf as a malfunction of the Platonic tripartite soul?

Myschyf: yer not exactly way off topic

GeoffreyZ: changing the direction a bit – other reasons for popular fantasy – the world can be smaller – in SF, people expect to travel to different planets

Balseraph: Epic is the BEST kind of story.

GeoffreyZ: in fantasy, you can be much more local

Myschyf: but holding you guys back is nigh impossible so i’m not trying

Lum: None of you are following moderation — you’re all GRIEF DEVELOPERS! 🙂

Aradune: I don’t think we’re even CLOSE to creating virtual worlds that are as deep and interesting as worlds that have been depicted in novels, or even in paper and pencil worlds. So while I may be a bit weary of fantasy novels, or even paper and pencil, I’m very interested in doing fantasy MMORPGs for quite some time, because in that context fantasy is still fresh to me.

Balseraph: The Hero’s journey is Epic, there are other epic stories though

LeeS: We could be far closer, though. That’s the sad part for me.

Warden: A novel is a broader paint brush, and the reader can’t look under the rug. It’s not a fair comparison. I do agree with you, though.

LeeS: It is a perfectly valid comparison

Balseraph: Other types of stories: Defeated Innocence

LeeS: Time for Don Quixote?

Warden: valid, yes. fair, no.

Aradune: I don’t necessarily think that because space is ‘bigger’ it’s harder to implement. You could have 1000 planets with only 1 or 2 zones per planet.

Balseraph: The Mighty Laid Low

LeeS: Hero’s Journey, great literature, AND Non-linear!

***Lee refers here to Christopher Vogler who has written books on using the Hero’s Journey to write screenplays

Balseraph: The Epiphany

Rich: zone! he said zone! don’t push your design on me bub! : )

Raph: The classic example is to go through the various descendants of Atreus in Greek mythology and pull your plots from there.

Balseraph: I could go on for ages… Raph was talking about some good ones – the vampire (seduction) and werewolf (giving in to rage)

Aradune: I mean zone is a loose context, applicable to any MMORPG.

GeoffreyZ: Aradune – kind of chimpy to create 1000 worlds with only a ‘tiny’ bit of content

Aradune: a region, an area, typically with a story behind it, or representing a terrain archetype, etc.

* LeeS sighs, clearly disappointed

Warden: it’s a question of detail and expectation. If you make 1000 planets, and put 1 monster on each of them, that’s kind of sad. In SW (at least the original 3) I fully expected that there was more to the universe than Tattoine. With a mud, people can tell there isn’t anything behind your sets.

Aradune: gz: disagree. just about every sci fi show does that.

GeoffreyZ: but not sci-fi game – that is why people don’t do them yet they can’t do the content

Rich: I hear you just joking…anyway to be clear I understand fantasy literature in general is varied, I just don’t think the computer representation of it so far, or the popular perception. Both stick pretty close to the hero story/trappings.

LeeS: Just an away team and one matte shot per planet 🙂

Myschyf: are you guys ready for another question?

GeoffreyZ: was that the question?

Myschyf: hahaha

Warden: yeah.

Myschyf: ;p

Raph: I agree there, Rich–fantasy thus far in MMORPGs is pretty conservative.

Balseraph: w00t!

Myschyf: Ok I combined three together. These are all about technology. Is the fiction of an online world more important then the technology to the success of a game? Does the fiction drive the technology or does the technology drive the fiction? Can you give a specific instance where the technological limitations hindered the progress of a fictional storyline?

Balseraph: this time, let’s do it in order

Myschyf: ok we go in order this time

LeeS: Starting with L?

Aradune: gz: but I still think that would be more interesting: visiting 500 planets with archetypes in terms of inhabitants, terrain, etc. than developing only a couple of worlds with great detail on each of them.

Myschyf: ok we can start with L. Lee yer on

Lum: hang on

Rich: Aradune: or one world that happened to be the Well World : )

Myschyf: now everyone behave this time

Lum: ok go

* LeeS waits patiently

Myschyf: go Lee

LeeS: The fiction will always be more important. And it has NEVER been held back by technology. Technology is often used as an excuse however 🙂 Done.

Rich: disagree! have example

Lum: many examples actually and it’s MY TURN 😛

* Raph_ cheers on the free-for-all

Calandryll: lol

* Myschyf giggles

Lum: grief dev. Anyway

Rich: I need a point of clarification: are we talking about the technology to deliver the story, or the technology that provides the service of the game in general?

GeoffreyZ: : wonders if he remembers how to emote.

Myschyf: emote /me

Aradune: gz: /me

* GeoffreyZ nods

Myschyf: It doesn’t matter Rich. When its YOUR TURN interpret it anyway you like.

Balseraph: you giving away our leet seekrits!

Lum: it’s been a hallmark of the single-player games we’ve seen in the past (Ultimas, Might & Magics, esp) that the program and technology was designed,

Warden: I Disagree. They’re both incredibly important, but without the technology, you can’t even play. I can think of examples when I’ve both had to work technical limitations into the backstory, and when I’ve had to change the technology to match the story. They drive each other.

Aradune: I got that off of an IRC spoiler site


Lum: then a game has been written around it.

LeeS: Quit KSing

Warden: That’s like saying someone could be a good painter without 1) talent or 2) arms. You sort of need both.

Warden: oh crap, sorry about that. Got out of line, my bad.

* Myschyf laughs

Myschyf: Lum yer still up

Lum: I don’t think you will ever get away from game programming/design not influencing how a story is told. I do think that the most successful story tellers will find ways to ply their craft independently of what their limits are; that is true of any storytelling medium.

* Ryan_Palacio has to run – emergency – sorry I couldn’t stay longer *wave*

LeeS: Aye, we did it without sound in movies. And without pictures in books

Lum: And whoever can best test/exceed those limits will have the better game, in my opinion. done.

Myschyf: Raph?

Raph: As long as there is a medium, there will always be story. I enact it when I make my hand into a spider and walk it up my two year old’s belly, just to smack it down with my other hand. Crude, but effective storytelling. Gets a giggle out of him, at any rate. The technology, the medium, doesn’t limit the effectiveness of the story. What it limits is who gets to see it. I’m not going to have a ton of impact on you guys with my spider because you can’t see it, and IRC doesn’t tickle.

LeeS: If you touch my imagination, you tickle me.

Raph: What the medium does is let you tell more kinds of stories, in more kinds of ways

Aradune: or more effectively

Raph: Don’t push my metaphor too far, Lee. 😉

* Rich would rather Raph keep his hands to himself, actually

* LeeS looks innocent.

Raph: In the case of games, we just need the technology to be to the point where we can tell the stories. We’re WAY past that point already. What we don’t have are the new kinds of stories, and the new kinds of ways. Yet. We’re still figuring them out. It’s like early movies, which were just stageplays filmed straight on.

LeeS: Can you say “Amen” Brothers and Sisters?

Raph: We’ll know that we’ve got it figured out when there’s no point in asking your question

Balseraph: I can denounce heresy.

Raph: It would like asking, which is more important to a movie, the camera or the movie. done

Myschyf: Rich?

GeoffreyZ: damn it Raph, I’ll never get to say anything interesting at this point – you keep shutting it all down 🙂

Lum: he’s good at that

* Raph could change his nick every round so he goes last…

Lum: damn grief dev

Calandryll: lol

Myschyf: hehe

Rich: ok, re: which is more important, I would say the literal interpretation of this question argues the technology is, (the camera in Raphs example), the story thing we have down after a few tens of thousands of years. We will find ways to tell a story. But the medium is new and full of problems, and it has to be reliable to deliver the story.

Warden: the medium is only important because that’s the focus of this group. In the end, only the story is ever remembered.

Rich: cant show the guy his TV program without hooking up his cable. Can’t tell him his online story without getting him into the game in the first place. Narrow interpretation, but there you have it. Ok, example of technology failing the story….or maybe how the story was told. A recent example would be the UO taking of Trinsic. The problem actually was the story was determinate, and it should not have been. The player perception was they won, the story demanded they lose. This is a terrible break from perception for the player and kills the story for them.

Warden: Examples are even easier to come up with. Why does UO have a background story with a broken prism and a handful of cloned worlds? Easy, technology. That’s all that was possible at the time, so they build a cinematic to explain it.

Calandryll: actually, that is only partially true 🙂 the conquering of Trinsic was not dynamic, but the retaking of it was

Rich: whether that is the fault of the technology or the _method_ or _manner_ the story was created is an interesting side discussion. In the end the players don’t care, because in their minds they got shafted. They won, but then they didn’t. It’s all angels on pinheads from there for them : ) done

* Raph thinks that was a problem with the storyteller, not the technology

Calandryll: players had to interact and participate otherwise the city would not have been retaken

* LeeS agrees

* Aradune must go — thanks all — let me know when we are doing this again next. *wave*

* Myschyf glares at Warden and Cal

GeoffreyZ: see you A

LeeS: Bye

Myschyf: Thanks for coming Brad

Calandryll: also, the method by which the city was retaken was different, each shard had its own story when it was all said and done

* Warden smiles innocently.

Myschyf: but now it is your turn Warden

Warden: what’s that?

Myschyf: hahaha

Warden: oh, we’re still taking turns? *grin* sorry, couldn’t hold my tongue. I’m done now.

* Myschyf laughs

Myschyf: Balseraph?

Balseraph: heh heh. okay. First up, and not a good one to talk about this, because I’m WAY different from the usual gamer. I still love text based games, and I replayed Ultima 4 about a year ago. So, I’ll always say that the story is independent of the technology. However…. It’s technology that gets people in the door. I’ve seen a lot of people – friends, co workers, random folks at stores, walk away from great product because it didn’t have good technology. Word of mouth helps, but how much is questionable… look at any PC Data sales chart. Also, you can’t argue that BETTER technology allows you to tell BETTER stories.

* Raph notes that most of the readers of this log can’t get to the GOOD PC Data sales charts

Balseraph: It doesn’t by any means guarantee it, it just ALLOWS it. So, I’d say that you need story to keep people… but you NEED technology to get them in the door, and more is (in competent hands) always better. done.

* Raph WILL argue that better tech allows you to tell better stories

* calandryl would argue that as well

Calandryll: 🙂

Raph: er, will argue against that proposition, that is

Balseraph: Guys…

* GeoffreyZ nods

Balseraph: anything you can do in old technology, you can do in new technology. you can’t argue it.

* Warden would argue the opposite — that a lack of technology can stifle a story, but not the other way around.

Raph: Very much not true.

GeoffreyZ: unless people get caught up in the tech and lose sight of the story

LeeS: Agreed

Balseraph: Okay, fair point GZ

GeoffreyZ: seen that happen a lot

Balseraph: Look… Any great movie ever made any time could be shot with modern cameras, have a fighter image quality, and would have a better feel. Technology is what limits us,

Raph: You can’t do facial expressions and vocal inflection in print the way you can in live storytelling; print is later tech. You can’t do footnotes or easy self-referentially (including breaking narrative linearity by flipping pages) in film as you can in print.

LeeS: Nope

Balseraph: and the fewer limits we have, the more we can do.

LeeS: Black and white was evocative in ways color can’t match

Calandryll: exactly, how many times do you hear people say “the book was better than the movie”

Balseraph: Okay, I’m referring to within the same medium. Film is different medium from live.

Raph: Each medium opens up new possibilities, but closes off others.

Myschyf: Did you guys wanna let Cal and Geoff have a turn or just blow them off and start the free for all early?

Rich: movies not directly applicable – linear, static story deliver mechanism. Online gaming CAN benefit from other options. A multi-branch story line allows a story to be told that is not possible with a linear story line.

Balseraph: But we have better black and white film and cameras now too!

Calandryll: well I jumped in the free for all, so I am as much to blame 😛

Warden: Raph : he could make an argument, though, that vocal storytelling is a higher tech in the areas of facial expression and vocal inflection.

Balseraph: You guys are crossing mediums on me. I’m not saying that.

GeoffreyZ: at this point you might as well let the wind blow – raph said most of what I wrote down to post

Myschyf: ok go for it guys

Balseraph: I’m talking about staying WITHIN the medium, but doing it BETTER.

* Myschyf loves chaos

Calandryll: yea pretty much what I would say has been said

Raph: I thought that was the point, different media… we’re talking about a new medium.

GeoffreyZ: a new one, or an expansion of our current one?

Warden: you know, I find it strange that other people don’t recognize that.

Raph: Ah, KO. Sure, if the medium continues to improve, then yes, you can preserve all the old techniques whilst adding new ones.

Warden: No, it’s a new one. I think it clearly is different enough to warrant that.

Balseraph: Yes, MMORPGs are a new medium.

Calandryll: I think as the medium improves though, it is easy to get wrapped up in the technology and lose the story

Raph: A pity we hadn’t sorted out the single-player game medium yet 🙂

Balseraph: And I am talking about better technology WITHIN THAT MEDIUM – not as it compares to books or plays or movies

Calandryll: you see that a lot with sci-fi films…all special effects and no story

* Myschyf chuckles

Balseraph: Yes, you CAN get wrapped up in technology.

LeeS: Technology CAN’T stop a good story. It never has. Bad storytelling stops it.

Balseraph: I’m not arguing that. Exactly, Lee.

Calandryll: agreed Lee

Warden: The sad thing is balseraph is right. People don’t pay us for story. They pay us for technology.

Rich: Compare the rigid story line of the Trinsic take over to one that would have reacted to the player death/monster death ratio and allowed the players to “win” on shards where appropriate. I think that’s a better technology that allows for a better (more consistent with player view) story. Not necessarily better told story though : )

GeoffreyZ: nowadays it cant lees – before it could

Raph: Well, it’s interesting that all our best techniques for MMORPGS storytelling borrow liberally from other media–there’s just about nothing out there that is exclusive to this medium and in wide use

Balseraph: Good technology can help a storyteller, who KNOWS HOW TO USE IT tell his story more effectively…

Calandryll: I think people do pay us for story, technology will get them in the door (screenshots on a box, feature lists, etc)

LeeS: Geoff? Technology could stop a story from SELLING maybe, but when has it ever hindered a storyteller who knew how to use it?

Calandryll: but story KEEPS them in the game

Balseraph: Ah, everything is cross platform these days… books and plays and movies all borrow from the word processor and email, for instance.

GeoffreyZ: 10 years ago you couldn’t make a graphic MMORPG. tech didn’t exist

Warden: I know. We tried.

GeoffreyZ: that was for lees

Balseraph: Cal, you just quoted me verbatim!

LeeS: But you didn’t need to. The audience liked text MUDs.

GeoffreyZ: and tried well – but if the tech isn’t there, fiction can’t cover that IF that is the story you want to tell

Raph: Geoff, graphic MMORPGs were possible in the 1970s

Calandryll: I was paraphrasing you bals, disagreeing with how warden interpreted your words

Rich: he said graphical

GeoffreyZ: to a consumer level raph?

Warden: LeeS : text MUDs never received mainstream appeal.

Raph: graphical 🙂

Balseraph: oh, okay.

GeoffreyZ: and yea, graphical

LeeS: Agreed. I never got the impression they wanted to.

Rich: they were possible back then anyway, but not economically viable

GeoffreyZ: well, as a biz, it has to be economically viable ;p

Raph: I was responding specifically to the tech didn’t exist remark.

GeoffreyZ: sorry, should have phrased it better

LeeS: Two different arguments. And you’re now on my side of the tracks, lol

Raph: I’d say that the lost opportunity was when PLATO was working on the 8 bit computers. There was all the tech AND market availability you needed.

Rich: There was a graphical, online massively multiplayer combat flight sim ten years ago however…the technology was there

Warden: Cal : I’ve yet to see as much storytelling in ANY MMORPG as I’ve seen in any one of a dozen MUSHes. The average consumer in our market is paying us for technology, not for story. Once they’re in, they’re willing to make up their own stories to fill the gap.

LeeS: But again it such a small market, you can sell em anything.

Raph: The average MUSHes are also relying on old storytelling devices. They are doing theatre, usually. Improv.

LeeS: Unless you might want to…

Raph: What we need is NEW devices that are specific to the medium

LeeS: Expand some day?

Calandryll: I’d disagree warden, some players will make their own stories (I did when I played UO before coming to OSI) but in the end

Raph: And (as with movies, and other media in the past) that will require understanding the medium thoroughly enough to reinvent what storytelling MEANS

Calandryll: most players don’t create their own stories and they want us to give them a purpose for playing beyond loot and stats

LeeS: Or if they do, they’re bad

Calandryll: providing that in a creative and innovative way will keep people in the game, after the technology gets them in

Rich I’d be careful with “most” in that statement

Lum: if I can interject something (translation EVERYONE QUIET FOR A MOMENT)

Lum: background: I play EQ in a very, *very* non-roleplaying guild

Warden: sorry, I disagree. If I make a character named mCm0thBalz and I kill you over and over, I’m constructing a story of my own making. A horrible, un-entertaining story for you, perhaps, but a story none the less.

Balseraph: To look for technology specific to our medium sounds like an artificial goal… every medium has the same goal – to create a totally immersive experience, and a good technique is a good technique. Not all are universally applicable, but still…

Calandryll: despite some of the pitfalls in it, the fact is, tons of players clamored to Trinsic to be in that story

Lum: they really do play the game solely for loot and stats and camaraderie


Balseraph: most anything that we would develop would likely be imported into another medium

LeeS: NO KSing!

Rich: Lum: Do they brag about their loot? About the kills they got? the cool mob they were the first to kill?

Lum: Now, a player in our guild found a thread to the Kunark backstory that apparently no one else had and that alone converted him to actually getting into the story and roleplaying. He really wants to help save the princess, etc etc. Now what that tells me is that (a) players not interested in backstory can get interested very easily

(b) players like to be the first to find unique/little known things

(c) even in a game which is supposedly all about leveling and loot (EQ) storytelling is possible. I found the whole phenomena very interesting

* LeeS has a 3-pt list he’d like to share too.

Lum: ok Lee I’m done

Raph: An example: both comics and film make use of the technique of the close-up. Everyone would agree that it is a storytelling technique of great power, even when not combined with dialog or exposition. It did not exist in theater, in print, or in live storytelling. What is its MMORPG equivalent?

Warden: Raph : paper dolls. but your point is still valid.

LeeS: 1. The story must be compelling enough to justify the world.

2. The story must be constructed as an integral part of the world.

3. The story must be told to the players. And it’s number 3 everyone is failing on the most.

Balseraph: Raph: if it could exist, it would… and if you ever played a LARP, you would know it DEFINATELY exists in live storytelling!

Raph: I am not saying that unlocks the secret to MMORPG storytelling–I am saying that we’ll know we’re on our way to being journeymen with the medium when we have a library of such techniques just as other media do.

LeeS: It’s what Raph means about finding NEW ways to tell stories. Hey, parallel processing works in chat.

* Raph meant “one storyteller telling a story live” not LARP, which is a whole other ballgame. 🙂

Balseraph: Okay… but even so…

LeeS: Study number 3. It’s the one most neophyte storytellers frail at.

Raph: Well, so I agree with you there, Bals… but consider this: we haven’t even gotten around to employing film techniques in our games yet! Instead, we mostly insert films wholesale!

LeeS: They THINK they’ve told the story. But they haven’t.

Balseraph: A close up is a method that creates dramatic tension and focuses the attention, right?

LeeS: And they blame their audience.

Warden: ..a whole other ballgame that is probably closer to what we’re doing than most mediums. ;p

Rich: terminology here is difficult btw, I take “the story” to be the backstory/overall story, which may be a part of but is not all of the story the player experiences when he logs in…at least in my game :).

Calandryll: that’s the hard part, I’d agree there Lee

LeeS: er FAIL at

Balseraph: Well, it’s really just a method by which a certain emotional and intellectual state is achieved…

Calandryll: and part of the technology is creating ways to tell the story

Balseraph: and every medium attempts to have mechanisms that pull that off.

LeeS: Yup, Cal

Balseraph: Our medium doesn’t have it though…. yet.

LeeS: Not true

Calandryll: because you cant broadcast “invasion in Yew at 9pm CST” and stay in fiction so you need to find more subtle, yet just as effective, ways of doing it

Raph: Let me give you an example of a REALLY common technique that ALL other media employ and MUDs (massive and not) do not use at all yet.

LeeS: There are techniques

Raph: Multiple viewpoints.

Rich: You could with a spectator game Raph, which none of us have yet

Raph: There is nothing precluding using it. We just haven’t tried.

Balseraph: Okay, there is a really good reason for that and it’s significant and indicative of the big difference between our medium and the others. In all other storytelling mediums, “you” are not in the story, except through the experience (viscerally) the other characters. So you can change viewpoint.

Warden: There’s a reason for that. It’s easier to shift viewpoints when you don’t have to worry about losing the viewer. With the other medium, the continuation of the story isn’t dependent on the reader’s reaction within a period of time.

Balseraph: Our games put you INTO the story.

GeoffreyZ: raph – can an interactive media (not movie or book) use multiple pov while associating “you” with one character?

Rich: uhm…choose a path stories, but I’m being devils advocate, sorry 🙂

Raph: Sure they can. Wants an example?

Balseraph: and changing viewpoints pulls you OUT of the story.

GeoffreyZ: sure

Balseraph: shoot

Raph: Story: dragon holed up in cave nearby, hero wanted, right?

GeoffreyZ: k

Raph: Pretty basic, to keep it simple. Some ways to display it: post a message on the bulletin board. Pretty standard technique. More adventurous, more like what AC does: maybe have the dragon fly overhead from time to time. If you wanna invest in the data entry and the tech, have NPCs update to talk about it too. But what about multiple POV?

Rich: I assume you mean motive/story POV and not just the concept of view angle hehe

Raph: Standard solo game way of doing it is to show a movie from an NPC POV. Like the opening movie to almost ANY game out there

Balseraph: Yup.

Raph: that’s multiple POVs right there

Balseraph: you’re doing a battletoads. Old Nintendo 8 bit game where you fought boss monsters from the perspective of the boss.

Raph: What about in multiplayer? Allow “snoop” of the people on the front lines of battle? Show the viewpoint of the LAST guy to battle the dragon from his perspective? A magic crystal on the floor, that plays this cutscene or movie for you? You piggyback on their POV for a moment when something dramatic happens?

GeoffreyZ: part of the problem raph is that, in a strange sort of way, MMORPG strives for realism and immersion – switching pov doesn’t happen in RL, so we don’t do in our games

Balseraph: You’re missing something, Raph – this is not just a story, but a competitive arena. Information is power.

Raph: What if when Trinsic fell, everyone in the battle switched to the POV of the guy closest to the fall of the gates, they ALL get to participate in the story?

Calandryll: I think there is also a lot of room to use a website as a different POV as well (like the BNN audio show we did)

Warden: As I said, shifting POV is great when the story doesn’t need to wait on the viewer.

Raph: Well, let’s say that realism = internal consistency, right?

Warden: Actually, we do it on our game. *grin*

Rich: You’re switching between a participatory game and a spectator game at that point…I agree the idea of a spectator game needs to be examined though, and nobody has done it yet

GeoffreyZ: realism is internal consistency and something that could happen to you, in that setting

LeeS: We used flashbacks to bring new players in a group up to date.

Raph: So we’re really just talking about consistency and immersion. LOTS of media manage to get those without sacrificing multiple POVs

Warden: We have a playback mode, to allow people to shift views on events after the fact — again, because we don’t want to incur this hit until they’re acting as viewers, not participants.

Raph: In any participatory game you are a spectator at least half the time. Because it’s action and reaction, right?

LeeS: We have film technique as part of our universal consciousness. People accept it. Why not use it?

GeoffreyZ: not really – you are still acting while they react. LeeS: true – it has become part of our UC recently – wont argue that

Raph: Geoff: nah, most people stop to absorb input, is my impression

LeeS: And I don’t mean cut scenes any more than Raph does.

Warden: LeeS : because it’s hard to react in real time when your perspective is changing out from under you.

Raph: Hell, cut scenes would be a nice improvement 🙂 But no, that’s not what I mean

Rich: there should be a role for a purely passive spectator in any of our games, but nobody has satisfied it yet. and it’s a great way to tell a story.

GeoffreyZ: depends on the situation – in a fight, I watch things react AS I continue to act

LeeS: I think it’s why fighting is on auto in EQ isn’t it? So people can watch partly?

GeoffreyZ: yes – and tech/internet issues too LeeS

Rich: I always thought it was to reduce traffic Lee : ) ding! (gives self a cigar)

Raph: To combat latency too 🙂

LeeS: Well then, it’s a solution that is also an interesting benefit

* Warden arghs. That’s my cue, thanks all. *wave*

GeoffreyZ: see you Warden

LeeS: Bye

Warden: Great conversation, though. Thanks for having me. See ya.

GeoffreyZ: yes – it does lead to more “watching” then a twitch game ever would

Raph: Ya know, Lum’s readers are all going to conclude we’re a bunch of geeky highfalutin’ dweebs who are completely out of touch.

GeoffreyZ: we aren’t?

LeeS: And we enjoy being an audience even as we participate

Raph: Where’s the LOOT!?

Rich: Quick, look cool somehow. That’s l3wt.

* Rich rolls eyes

Raph: d00d, I r0xx0red that lam3 rper

* GeoffreyZ rolls them back

Myschyf: Guys, I don’t know how much longer you want to do this, its 10:30 now EST. I can sit here all night and let you all talk if you want.

LeeS: Everybody pulls back in real life to watch themselves

Balseraph: I’m not a designer, so I’m allowed to be out of touch with the average player.

Rich: Myschyf, you just have to take that last statement by Lee out of context and use it

Myschyf: I’m good at taking statements out of context

Calandryll: lol

Raph: Oh God, I’m in for it now…

* Myschyf cackles evilly

LeeS: I like to watch, Eve. What movie?

Myschyf: um Peter Sellars. Being There?

LeeS: good… Yes. Of course he was talking about a passive medium.

Balseraph: so… we’re to movie quotes, eh?

Raph: No, that was a suave way of bringing up McLuhanism, right Lee?

* Raph nudges Lee.

LeeS: Geez, no, I thought we were finally on to sex.

* Raph laughs.

Myschyf: oh my

Balseraph: sex is good.

LeeS: I happen to have him right here behind this sign.

Myschyf: there’s a quote to take out of context

Balseraph: …but there is only one female…

GeoffreyZ: how long till the first MMRPG sex game?

Rich: it’s been out for years GZ

LeeS: “you don’t know anything about my theories…”

Rich: called Chat

GeoffreyZ: I missed it? oh – I meant graphical

Myschyf: NWN. You missed it.

Rich: or haven’t you ever run through the logs of EQ : )

LeeS: Raph, hehe

GeoffreyZ: no – I don’t run though the logs – I like to keep my illusions

Balseraph: heh heh… that’s true… you guys have complete logs…

Rich: don’t tell me you weren’t laughing as you did some of those mocaps for character animations…

* balseraph rolls on the floor, contemplating the consequences

LeeS: At least AC lets you lie down

* Myschyf thinks she should end this chat before it degenerates further

(note: the conversation degenerated further and the editor [that would be Myschyf] edited out the really juicy stuff. Myschyf would like to thank everyone that came to talk about fiction in online gaming. Stay tuned for the next two roundtables on PVP/PKing and Community Building in Online Games.)