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Game Design musing from Ready Player One

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by JoeStrout, Apr 16, 2018.

  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.
     
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  6. 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

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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

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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

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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
  10. 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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  12. VelocitistOfficial

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    That seems more feasible.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
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  13. VelocitistOfficial

    VelocitistOfficial

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    How do we compartmentalize? Who's best at doing what?
     
  14. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    (Referring to an in-game construction system flexible enough that some will consider it "modding," while limited enough to not break the game...)

    What would such a system look like, I wonder?

    It seems to me that if you don't want to break the game, then custom objects need to obey some basic conservation laws. There should be no way to get out more than you put in — and that applies to materials, energy, and currency.

    So just to make a trivial example: I can't just create a box, open an object editor, set the box value to 10,000 coins, and then sell the box to an NPC — that would break the game.

    So I guess instead to make a box, you have to define (somehow) the shape and dimensions of your box, and then actually pour in some material that you get from the game. This material has a certain value, and casting it takes some amount of energy or money... and if you later recycle the box, you get back the material, but not the extra energy/cost it took to make it. In fact you probably don't get all the material back, either.

    Then when it comes to adding behavior, I guess any scripting would need to go through a carefully controlled API, that only lets the object do things that fit with the game — and some of those things (flying, expanding in size, whatever) would require inputs of energy/fuel/material, or they just don't happen.
     
  15. neoshaman

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  16. JoeStrout

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    Looks to me like a video of how Second Life building works... which is super cool, but would break a RPO-style game (right?).
     
  17. neoshaman

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    You mean the economy?
    if yes, well it demonstrate it was already possible many years ago, adding currency restriction to command wouldn't be the hardest thing, it would be essentially crafting and the problem is more design and less technical.

    It just demonstrate that building and scripting is already possible internally of the game. VRchat show how modding is possible (aka external building, you can import avatar and animation, maybe props to make scene).
     
  18. JoeStrout

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    Yes, but this is the Game Design forum. I'm trying to raise design questions, not technical ones. I realize that none of this is technically difficult. But the design difficulties are deep.

    Neither VRChat nor Second Life are games, in the RPO sense. They don't have combat and XP and levels. If you can just wave your mouse and create a house-sized box, then with more mouse-waving, you could create impenetrable armor or unstoppable weapons, and then you've broken the game.

    And then, yeah, there's breaking the economy. I tried to address that above. SecondLife does have an economy, but it's not based on stuff in the world, which is again unlike RPO (where the economy is mostly based on fighting mobs).
     
  19. neoshaman

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    I think I misread lol
    Then how it is different from any other MMO? They have been struggling with combat/crafting based economy forever and it's well documented.
     
  20. JoeStrout

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    Other MMOs (with combat) don't allow the creation of custom objects, do they? A crafting system where you combine two sticks and a stone to make a shovel isn't the sort of thing we're talking about here.

    The idea is that players can create entirely new objects, that were not defined by the game designers, complete with custom behavior... and yet not break the game.

    Maybe that's been done before, but if so I haven't heard about it (and I'd surely like to!).
     
  21. Xoduz

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    You could lose virtually all your stuff (even your house with all your most prized possessions, or your boat) in Ultima Online - the early version of it anyway. And both this and permadeath have been done in many different forms in the MUDs of old. You can find many debates on these topics in the MUD Dev Archives; originally a mailing list for MUD developers and other devs of early online mmorpgs.
     
  22. neoshaman

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    I haven't made MMO or relative, so it's all opinion, but I don't think custom objects change much how economy would play, there is still a problem of sink and sources, and unreliable player's spending (due to connection frequency) that cause huge inflation problem. The problem is that game tend to have infinite sources (like combat's loots) and potentially hoarder account that hold resources that can suddenly be released lots of material crashing the whole market for that material.

    The closest economy of created good would be things like the skin market of CS:GO but I doesn't seems like it change anything much. One answer dev had found to control the economy was super rare loot and loot boxes economy. I had thought of an upkeep economy, were maintenance of items has a cost (to create infinite sink to infinite resources), not sure if anyone has attempt it.

    Now
    Is a bit reductionist, what you are describing is transforming one reseources into another, and in practice I don't think it would affect much the problem of the economy has told anyway. And what constitute a new custom objects? I pointed to survival game allowing to create objects based primitive resources (generally building) would that count? Using primitive is a way to mitigate technical issue and also control gameplay boundaries. Does a game like Ark evolve would qualify?

    The proto all crafting game is minecraft,a dn there is many clone that allow similar level of crafting with mild in game scripting (redstone for early version, something more complex later), there is many custom multiplayer server of minecraft with that type of economy, there is the game löve that have some form of scripting too.

    Fortnite build battle anyone? In can work that way.

    The way I see ot it's more a matter of degree, it's kinda there.
     
  23. neoshaman

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    Okay I that game is planet explorer lol, I was seeking the name:
     
  24. JoeStrout

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    Actually this is a great anti-example. In Minecraft, you can't create custom objects; you can only create whatever item types are supplied by the engines or by mods. And a mod can do anything — make you invulnerable, make an unstoppable weapon, restructure the world, etc.. But mods aren't made on the fly, by players; they can only be added by the server admin. If players could do anything that mods can do, it would completely wreck any economy, adventure challenge, or whatever other actual game you were trying to layer on top of the Minecraft sandbox.

    So that's the big question... how can give players near mod-like power, while still retaining challenge-oriented gameplay (other than sandbox)?

    Maybe. But RPO pushes much further in the direction of customization, while still retaining clear and functional combat/economy mechanics. That intrigues me.
     
  25. Steve-Tack

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    It is interesting.

    I suppose in a perma-death scenario, the reality is that you'd be less likely to risk using your overpowered Iron Giant if it meant a high chance of losing a massive amount of coins. You'd only fire it up during the most important battles, like in the movie. You could have an interesting dynamic where enough low level mechs or other combat vehicles/characters could gang up on one big one and take it out, without as much risk to those individual players.

    It would seem that perma-death is a critical element if you allowed that much range of capability in your game.

    Without perma-death, you'd be forced to come up with a balanced system for builds, like traditional MMO's, racing games, MechWarrior Online, etc, or the same players would win every time.

    I guess the other aspect would be the cosmetic customization features. If you could create a vehicle that only looked like Iron Giant, but wasn't any better than any other "heavy mech", you could go with more traditional balancing.

    In MechWarrior Online, you pick from four chassis sizes, and each has a limited weight and various configurations of fixed hardpoints. It allows for a wide variety of builds, but none is obviously "better" than another in all areas. Larger mechs are slower, but can carry more armor, and so on.
     
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  26. neoshaman

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    That's where I'm having a small issue, while minecraft don't go the fine resolution you want (as in size of primitive), even in the vanilla minecraft all these objects could be primitive of much more complex creation that have new functionality, like using the dispenser with a chest on a cart with a redstone circuit to create mobile turret. The thing is the distinction between primitive and object is essentially a semantic one. I guess I'm arguing functionality (ie to find precedent to build on), you are arguing aesthetics (size and boundary of what constitute an object with unique functionality). Anyway, let's move on, I'll just assume your assumed point of view now on.

    I mentioned the "build fight" in fortnite, but fortnite isn't persistent, so I'l take another example: RUST. In rust people have been using the spawning of objects to create on spot cover, which has led a new set of strategy that took off in fortnite in much smaller session. SO we have a precedent for ONE aspect of what you were talking, does it break the game? Well that's semantic again, RUST can be broken or awesome depending to who you ask.

    I would say we can look back to fortnite again where we can see non permanence and time goal, basically anything you build don't remain beyond one single match, that's akin to permadeath, where map have a cycle of being reset everytime and so is your resources. Now we have two extreme to look at, one which give semi permanent advantage (RUST) and one where the advantage is only temporary and highly tactical (FORTNITE).

    I would say a conclusion is to have a decay function, it would make the character powerful during a time frame, but the way the world evolve and the nature of the goal, create natural decay to that advantage (for example zombie destroy building, object need to be refuel and maintain with external resources to collect, match based progression with no permanence between match).

    But we can also look at it from a pure functionality point of view, what are object in game? They are a set of property and function that achieve effect on the game world, for example, spawning a wall is functionally creating obstacle/cover. The aesthetics change doesn't affect the function if the wall is replaced by a force field or a giant chicken or a custom Lamborghini sculpture with custom decal, what matter is the size of the coverage and the tactical position, it doesn't matter if it's the dev or the player who makes the objects.

    But then it pose the question of custom behavior, the scripting part, if we can generate infinite cover, doesn't that makes us invincible? what if we change the power of the weapon to max? Basically how can we affect the parameter in a way that doesn't unbalance the game, if we have the pure functional point of view, we can look at game lile ff7 and ff9 with the materia and the gambit system, which allow to modify behavior of companion.

    The main thing is that script elements are treated in those game as actual physical resources, that is if you affect it to one character, it isn't on another, so there is a kind of scarcity, and apt affectation is key. They cost resources to use (for example MP), have power limit (strength of action) and also cost resources to acquire (ie gold), more importantly, there is a slot system which limit how you combine them, and how much you can use at the same time, you can still do OP thing with it but it doesn't break the game.

    Now if we import the idea to object and not companion, we have a sensible basis for a crafting system that have baked limitation while allowing freedom, the key insight here is that, allow the player to make any objects at a cost, but not allow the player to create the primitive resources needed to make those objects works, this introduce a risk/reward equation. This shift the game to controlling the resources, which mean part of the the challenge is the distribution and acquisition of them.

    BUT in fortnite, the player with the most well done tower isn't necessarily the one who win, a player with little resources can outplay him and even turn his advantage in an inconvenient. Which bring the idea that the system of failure shouldn't be linked to the resources and object too strongly. It works in fortnite due to the environment pressure (the storm wall getting small) but also limit on character actions and defense (you can hole up in a made up house, but you can't have infinite health, healing take some times away from shooting, you can't build an shoot at the time and there is a slight transition time between the two).

    Also did you look at the video of planet explorer above? I might have updated too late when you were writing lol. It has a blueprint system (define a functional unit) and complete aesthetics customization of all objects, gated by resources to avoid power creep and inflation, it's a multiplayer game too. Given the logic of what I said, we could have custom blueprint forging using a slot scripting system (more function slot cost more rare resources) to have fine grain resolution of functionality, and keep the aesthetics customization already present.
     
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