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Game Design musing from Ready Player One

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by JoeStrout, Apr 16, 2018 at 3:51 PM.

  1. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    First, if you haven't seen Ready Player One yet, exit this thread, and go see it. :) It's a fun movie and this thread will contain many spoilers.

    I just saw it yesterday, and it's given me lots to think about, both in terms of gratuitous eye-candy (something I need to get better at), and in terms of game design.

    The OASIS is an MMO on a truly massive scale. And it's what I think of as a "classic" MMO — one where everybody is in the same virtual world, more or less; there was no hint of instancing. I mean sure, there are different "planets" which probably run on different servers, but for any given planet, it seems like all players there are seeing the same things at the same time (unlike, say, FFXIV, which is an MMO yet much of the time you are really playing a single-player game).

    So anyway, this raises for me many interesting questions, such as:
    • It appears that there is a pervasive physics model that affects everything, including the prebuilt environments (such as when they blow up the bridge on the final level). How do you avoid players wrecking the entire world in short order?
    • The game doesn't have perma-death, but upon character death you lose all your money and in-game possessions, which might represent years of work. How would real players react to that?
    • When you kill (or severely wound) a player or NPC, they spill their coins out into the terrain, where anybody can scoop them up. I love that idea! (OK, so this is not a question.)
    • They allow in-game modding (such as where Aech is building an Iron Giant), and the mod objects can be used in arbitrary combat situations. How do you avoid such objects being just stupidly overpowered? I.e., how do you let modders do almost anything, without breaking the game?
    • More generally, in a genre-crossing mash-up game like this, how do you allow combat between dwarves, trolls, space marines, and Mecha-Godzilla while still keeping the game balanced enough that everybody has fun?
    Those are a few questions to get us started, but you may have your own, so bring 'em on! Let's have some fun and explore the design issues in the world that (who knows?) we may one day have a hand in creating.
     
  2. Teila

    Teila

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    I did not read your post as I have not seen the movie yet. But I did watch the trailer and it looks amazing. :)
     
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  3. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    Yep, grab your family units and go see it ASAP. I recommend the 3D IMAX version if that's an option.


    ...More (spoiler-rich) design questions...


    Thinking more about instancing. I think many MMOs do this not primarily because the servers are getting bogged down, but simply because the public areas are getting too crowded with players. Some spots will be more popular than others; how (apart from instancing) do you allow everyone to enjoy them, when you've got millions of players that all want to be there at once?

    I suppose one solution is, make sure your virtual world is big enough that there's enough space for everybody. Then let particularly popular places just be crowded; players who don't like crowds will find somewhere else to go.

    Any other approaches to this problem?
     
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  4. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    @JoeStrout, you should read the novel.

    The OASIS in the novel is divided into 27 zones, each with its own set of rules. One of the zones is even a school planet where the characters attend school (it's a non PvP zone).

    So I think the idea is that the "hard core" zones you would only go into by choice, like playing Diablo in hard core mode.

    In general, permadeath just doesn't work in MMO's, since like you said, really nobody wants to lose months or years of effort. I do think much of what's in the novel and the movie simply wouldn't work in terms of real game design, but it does bring up some interesting challenges that we'll inevitably run into.

    The genre mix-up issue is an interesting one. Have there been any attempts at something like that? I'd think realistically there'd be licensing issues, though you could do similar things without specifically having X-Wings and Sonic, etc. You could have made-up space ships, orcs, wizards, robots, or whatever. Do players care about tonal consistency? I don't know. Players who care about story and characters might not be happy with that.

    The "mods" question is definitely a tricky one. There is the idea of intentionally imbalanced game design, but at some point I'd think it would keep too many new players away, if you really had no chance when starting out.
     
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  5. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    I am reading the novel. And I think this feature (that PvP or even PvE danger only applies in some zones) was apparent from the movie, too.

    But that doesn't really change the question — would players put up with it?

    I suspect you're right. I mean, +1 for causing real emotional investment in the game, and making people think about their in-game choices. But, yeah, I could see people getting pretty upset.

    On the other hand, suppose you keep your levels and skills. You're losing only your stuff. Presumably a level 20 character, even buck nekkid, could re-acquire much of that in-game wealth a lot faster than it took to do it starting at level 1. Does that make it more playable?

    Another way to soften it (which I think is actually done in some games) is: you lose whatever you had on you at the time, but not any money/stuff in your bank/chest/home. But this might be too soft; you're really not losing much, unless you brought some rare item with you into battle. I suppose it could also happen that you get some rare item out of a dangerous place, and get killed bringing it out. But still, I don't know that this gives that feeling of urgency that you get from your total wealth being on the line.

    Though now that I think of it, in a lose-all-your-stuff world, assuming you can transfer coins to other people — pretty necessary for commerce — banks would arise anyway. They'd just be players who you give your coin/valuables to, they take good care of it (never straying out of safe zones), and give it back when you ask for it. So you really couldn't enforce "lose all your stuff" without preventing commerce anyway.

    (Incidentally, in the book Implied Spaces — my favorite book, BTW — they take it quite a bit further; if you die in the fantasy game world, you are essentially banned for a period of five years, and then you come back as a completely new character. By that point your friends and family have generally moved on, your house has been sold, etc. They're trying to make death a very serious thing, nearly as much to be avoided as in real life. But that's probably going too far!)

    Yeah, I shudder to think how much was spent on licensing in RPO! But as you say, you could at least mix genres, even if you couldn't bring in specific IP.

    In the novel, it's said that there are three kinds of zones: technological, magic, and mixed (tech and magic both). I suppose you could go a step further, and disallow some species or items on some worlds. So those who want to go far into the fantasy realm, and not see any guns, robots, or face-huggers, could do so. And those who love the mash-up could hang in the more permissive worlds.

    Yeah. I'm thinking it could be handled if mods are working more within the system than typical mods today. So if you want to make something like an Iron Giant, you have to actually acquire, in-game, all the materials that go into it; then you have to acquire and feed a power source for it, etc. You can't just type out a few commands and have a 100-foot robot.

    I guess in that case it's not really modding as we think of it at all; it's more like, the game has a built-in construction system, and you're making things out of that. The challenge would be making it flexible enough to let skilled (and well-funded) builders make almost any kind of item they can dream up, without breaking the game.
     
  6. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    And another thing...

    It appears (in the novel at least) that dungeons reset at midnight. All the traps, treasures, and monsters reappear. Doesn't that open the game to farming?

    I mean, sure, you can XP farm, and balance that out just by having an exponential XP scale for leveling up. But what about coins and items? A given service (e.g. teleporting to another planet, 100 coins) costs what it costs. So the value of coins is tied to what they can buy... how could anyone ever be broke, when out of thousands of planets, there must be somewhere you can easily pick up more coins than it costs to travel there and back?

    Perhaps this question ties into the issue of instancing. In FFXIV (the only modern RPG I've played), when you and a handful of companions enter a dungeon, that's instanced — another group could be in the dungeon at the same time, and you'd never see each other, nor does the action of one group affect the other.

    The OASIS world, it seems, doesn't do this — there is only one instance of each area (much like the MUDs I used to play back in the day). But wouldn't that mean most popular dungeons get cleared out shortly after midnight? This would force players to log on and play at specific times if they don't want to get scooped by another group, which seems like poor design. But I'm not sure more frequent resets are the answer, either.

    Perhaps there is a natural conflict between what makes a virtual world realistic (e.g. permadeath, no resets, no respawning), and what makes it fun to play. On the other hand, the persistence and realism of a world itself part of the fun — I know my enjoyment of FFXIV dropped substantially once I realized that I couldn't encounter other players in a dungeon, and nothing I did really had any effect on the world (despite the questline claiming otherwise, as it does for every character who goes through the game). I feel like there should be some solution that allows for both at once.
     
  7. Habitablaba

    Habitablaba

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    Sea of Thieves is sort of this. You don't lose the fancy sails or new hull you put on your ship when it sinks. You don't lose your fancy clothes of guns or whatnot. You also don't lose any of your amassed gold when you are killed.
    You don't *necessarily* lose whatever loot you have on your ship when you die, either, but the chances are pretty high that you do, especially if you die to some other player.
    The risk is there, though, and that's sort of my point. Boating around the world with a hold full of treasure is super dangerous and you're on high alert the whole time.

    There are only ever 6-24 players on a server at a time, so not really the same scale as The Oasis, but I think it's a good datapoint.
     
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  8. MrArcher

    MrArcher

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    Side note- the reason Blizzard (if I'm remembering an old GDC talk right) introduced world instancing was that the bottleneck was in rendering a boatload of characters on the clients, even in the days of vanilla WoW (fun fact - the base game was so optimized on the net code side of things that it could run fine on a 56k modem).

    Any big server events would slow all the clients down and make the game unplayable. There're some youtube videos of the Ahn'Qiraj opening event and you can see that everyone's framerate is taking a major dump. That's the main reason for instancing the players - not that the server is getting bogged down (after all, it's doing all of its calculations regardless of where people are in the world), but that the clients can't handle that many unique characters on-screen.

    With a well-thought out and implemented system, you could get away with a lot more on modern hardware (if that's what your game is designed to do), but it's tricky, which is why most modern MMOs just stick to instanced worlds.
     
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  9. neoshaman

    neoshaman

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    IT's second life X VRchat, for real


    ALSO losing everything on death is so ARK evolved or RUST and any survival game.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2018 at 10:57 PM
  10. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    Roguelike too.
     
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  11. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    I know that the initial design for Star Wars Galaxies (the MMO) was to allow any character to play as a Jedi, with the caveat that when you died, it was permadeath. Well, you could use that character as a blue ghost from that point on. It never went into the game, so I assume that even very early on it was apparent that players wouldn't put up with it.

    There's the game EVE Online, which I don't know a ton about, but I take it that you can put tons of resources into huge ships that can be permanently lost. So there's some market for that, but it's pretty niche.
     
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