Wednesday 16 October 2013

MMOs: Consequences of Choice.

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]
 Often the most important choices you make in an MMO are your first few, when creating your character. This is because you'll have to live with that decision or start all over if you don't like it. Afterwards at best we only get the illusion of choice where all actions will lead to the same result anyway or worse, there is only one path forward as if we are actors following the script in a play. As a result the choices you do -in- the game are of little consequence. This is an area that needs improvement. However, I actually think the problem is more of a technical limitation than a design one.

Currently when you make any choice worth remembering, something is saved against your character, probably a little string of numbers, so that the game knows what you did / have done and can do something "different" for you (consequence) at specific parts of the game - usually in story instances separated from the open world, as to not wreck or spoil anyone else's experience. I say we move some of those consequences back to the open zones and this will in turn make an otherwise static experience something more lively. 

To start, I'd introduce NPC faction ratings, a sort of invisible "like-ability meter", which is what the Elder Scrolls series runs on. This more than just Horde/Alliance. No, it would need to be extensive. Each group, each town, each society and in some cases each individual NPC should have a hidden rating of how they percieve each player. This extends to groups of what other people would deem as monsters (like, bears of this forest, bears of that forest, etc). Database wise this is probably nightmarish, but it's still just a bunch of numbers. By doing this you could have the following example play out:

Bob the mercenary did a job for Town C who wanted him to raid a goods caravan between Town A and Town B. After returning the goods his rating in Town C improves, but Town A and B dislike him more (especially if he let anyone escape). Maybe Bob kept the goods for himself (didn't hand it in within time limit) which means Town C also dislikes him. Maybe Bob is happy living with the wolves in the white forest who he feeds and hence they like him now, but must remember to be wary of the wolves in the nearby black forest since they still don't like him.

Groups that favor you will trade for better prices and possibly won't attack you, while groups that dislike you probably will trade only select goods and not give you more rewarding quests. Groups that hate you will most likely attack you on sight, forget about trading. They may even send bounty hunters to come get you. What happens if one person in the party is wanted but the rest aren't? Well, if they attack an otherwise non-hostile NPC (non-hostile to them) their rating would drop really fast. That rating should not decay on its own. Players must actively do something to alter it.

Town NPCs should also be killable, and should be the target of quests too. That blacksmith who broke your armor? You can kill him. Or rob him. Or be paid to execute him. Or kidnap his daughter. Same goes for the morally ambiguous wizard in that dark tower. How would this work though? Easy! All shops or NPCs of interest are within solo instanced zones. A house, a room, a tent, whatever. Mabinogi even forgoes this, just having some people see particular NPCs while others cannot.

Freddy may have killed the blacksmith, so when he goes in the shop is empty, or can't go in at all. Bob who is in Freddy's party can still enter, since the blacksmith is alive for him. Sure, Freddy can get Bob to buy and repair stuff for him at the said Blacksmith, but that's extra maintenance and would get annoying. Also, Bob might then run off with Freddy's gear. That's the price of his choice. Not to say that Freddy is a crazed murdering bastard. Maybe Freddy simply took a quest to slaughter that entire town becauase they were cannibals.

That moral shade of grey is important, as is giving perspective from all sides. Never mind if the players don't look for all sides of the story, but make sure it is there if they choose to make an informed decision. That's really what it should be about. Let them earn their heroism, let them own their decisions and not be railroaded down the path which is convenient for "the story". Done properly I believe this system will have everyone living their own story already anyway.

150 Shades of Grey? That's probably overkill.


  1. I like this stuff man. I have heard a lot about Mabinogi and its in depth systems. I should download it and check it out. Are you still playing?

    1. Mabinogi is certainly worth a look, it's one of those love it or hate it right away kind of game. Ironically I've not logged in for awhile (I'm on the Ruairi server) mainly because the patcher keeps stuffing up for me (which then leads me to do something else). I really should get around to sorting it out. :P