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Sunday Morning Essay topic: 12/02/2017

sunday-morning-essay

#1

Here you go: winner gets some swag. Submissions only on Sunday please !

People like stories. Games with a great story line arguably do better than games without.
In an MMO like environment where our traditional event driven storytelling tools are hindered by thousands of “what-ifs” and edge cases: how do we tell a good story?

The story of “For whom the bell tolls” is centered around the blowing up of a bridge (and a great read: I highly reccomend it!). In a persistent MMO, how would we tell that story successfully for every user over the lifetime of the game?

:support: Cal


Content creation & the future of MMOs
#2

FAQ:

Q: how do you submit (e.g. only forum thread replies?)

A: Just reply to the thread!

Q: how long is an “essay” is e.g. 500 words minimum or maximum?

A: As long as you think is required. I’m happy to read anything up to 2000 words if the quality is high! :stuck_out_tongue:

Q: do we have the right to develop particularly interesting responses into content we can share as improbable/spatialOS on our social media?

A: 100% allowed and ecouraged. Share away !

Q: When is judging done? by whom?

A: by the wonderful, brilliant ME. When I can the following week.

<3


#3

I will make you regret not giving me a limit… I guarantee it :slight_smile:


#4

My entry, spat out in a few minutes on my phone while my son took a nap, so still rough around the edges but here goes:

You can’t. Sure, stories, or rather narratives, will emerge from interpersonal communication, be that by means of discussion or dismemberment. In-groups and outgroups will form, because that’s what people do. That isn’t storytelling though, it’s live role-playing Eastenders. The challenge for the thespian, plying their trade in the persistent game world is to spin recognised storytelling monikers into cohesive plot lines that in some way speak to the viewer or participant, in a choice-infused environment. This essay posits that the challenge truly facing the storyteller is one of dissemination over plot construction or actor constriction.

The issue at hand is one that has confounded humankind for generations: the problem is not new. Time and choice are the enemies of the storyteller. Sure, one can adapt to changing circumstances, but without knowing what choices may be made, one cannot plan fully for possible outcomes. Even if that were preferable, to establish the range of possible divergent actions would quickly become an N to the X type of problem. Sure, one can adapt to the length of time provided for a story to play out in, but even the most ardent aficionado of the arts wouldn’t wait more than eight hours for Gadoe: in the same way our story must end in order to be cohesive. Thus, we are faced with a problem that requires us to ask novel questions of ourselves in order to progress. These will be described briefly below:

‘Do people have to impact the world’? This first question is one of scale. Do we need to change the fabric of reality in order to feel justifiably part of a meaningful narrative? It seems to me that some people’s stories are bigger than others. Some inherit a fortune and go on to become philanthropists the like of which the world has never before seen. Others speak truth to a hardened heart and saves a life. To which should we ascribe the greater significance from a storytelling point of view? They could both be engaging in their own way and it is up to the wit of the raconteur to make it so. While therefore it may be that some stories are easier to tell than others, we may simply need to look for the right ones in order to tell tales in a persistent game world.

Assuming that we have the right story to tell, we must next ask ‘how we become architects of an environment where storytelling can emerge?’ without the chance meeting, they might never strike up the romance of the ages, and without the back drop of the family feud, the two children would likely never have been driven to suicide. We may not even take control of the actors in the drama, but sowing the seeds of discord amongst rival factions is within our grasp. In this way, the storyteller is less narrator and more wizard of Oz commanding the construction of the yellow brick road: Dorothy still has agency in this paradigm to follow the road, chat to strangers, or protest its impact on the environment as she sees fit.

So, we have actors making decisions within a subtly shaped environment, but how do we ensure that the stories they tell are meaningful without compromising the integrity of the actors’ agency? We can’t, because to do so would be to restrict choice and we have established this as one of the two new elements needed to constitute the pervasive mmo experience. Luckily we can call upon the other of these elements, time, to solve the conundrum. A countable number of monkeys can write narrative when the content is undefined, which is good because depending upon your definition of ‘good’, with thousands of actors putting in hundreds of hours each, it is possible for a story to emerge.

The story exists. The issue now is that only a few, or even noone may know that this is playing out. Therefore our challenge becomes one of reporting: ‘How do we disseminate the narrative to the widest number of interested parties?’ thus, this question is one for the journalist rather than the raconteuse. With the destruction of the traditional news media in the post truth age, maybe the answer to storytelling in the pervasive mmo could come from the disenfranchised commentariat?


#5

Here is mine, I spent most of the morning working on something so I forgot to upload it, wrote it yesterday.

Instead of trying to come up with some modular way stories can be built within a mmorpg I will first tell you all of the only story which I ever cared about in a mmorpg, and how I think we can facilitate more like it.

It was nearly 5 years ago, and I was playing a game called Darkfall (Large scale open world pvp city sieging/clan war mmorpg), I was liking it well enough but as I’m sure most of you know open pvp often leads to griefing of new players and I was no different, but I wanted to like it, so I looked into the looking for clan chat window and asked around and eventually ran into a man by the name of Kind Zaraki. The initiation was pretty simple “Get to us and your in” I then essentially pulled off a 2 hour reenactment of frodos part of the lord of the rings, eventually getting to their hamlet in the southern part of the world. What followed was 2 years of the best interaction I’ve ever had online, and it was solely due to one mans goal, King Zaraki was going to take over the world. There was the desert wars when we took the island to the southwest where we ended up taking the position where the siege stones were in a cavalry charge (A frigging cavalry charge!), we then lived in that city for several months and farmed the mobs nearby, but it wasn’t permanent we moved on to the jungle island to the northeast, and finally the “Winter” campaign in the icy north was the final war I took place in, we hired an entire clan of pirates to help us, they brought in a man-o-war (largest ship in the game) and a few smaller ships to bombard the enemy city.
I tell this story to almost everyone who asks about my experience with mmorpgs, because it was the only time I felt engaged by a story, and it was because it was being made in real time, and it had everything good stories had, intrigue, betrayal, last stands (it was the other guys last stand but that’s neither here nor there :wink: ), and eventually we won, we did take over the world, I unfortunately had to leave the game and when I came back I heard stories of the end of our guild (the name was The Empire) was people running in naked with spears, in other words, barbarians defeated The Empire, how much more roman can you get?

In any case, this leads into my proposal, and that is pretty simple, players make their own stories. They will do this anyways, the only difference is now we have the capabilities and resources to not only allow this, but to let it thrive in a way we have never before. I believe that in order to allow player stories to flourish you need a few things, I’ll outline these below and then talk about how to incorporate them into a cohesive game.

⦁ There must be some way for players to alter history, and their future. What I mean by this is that there are large overarching themes, and “World objects”. By world objects I mean things that one person through sheer force of will can change, and everyone can see those changes. It may not be easy, and in point of fact it is necessary that these objects be incredibly difficult to change, and they alter the way the world functions or its makeup. In Darkfall these were the cities, when they changed hands everyone knew it, and there were avenues of travel and mob grinding that were no longer open to you.

⦁ There must be some way to convey this history, and change. In that other players can see the changes to the world in real time or at least hear about it, and the past is documented to some degree. I think that this is where Darkfall failed, it only had in game chat and forums. People soon forgot that the entire world was once controlled by one group, and that group by one man.

⦁ Finally there must be real danger, what I mean by this is there must be a threat which may actually change the world, and not for the better. In Darkfall to some degree, We (The Empire) were that danger, we were literally trying to take over the world, and I have no illusions that, for all intents and purposes, we were the bad guys.

Now, how to use these in a real game. For now I’m going to assume some things for my test case, it is a fantasy MMORPG, featuring the ability to chop down trees, build houses, grow crops, and wage clan v clan war. The primary theme/World Objective of this game is Entropy, in one of the demos spatial has put out they mentioned this, and I think it would make for a great game mechanic. In this world the players must eat, it’s not much and it’s pretty simple to go out, kill a couple goblins, and buy some food, but they must do this once every so often while playing or they will eventually die (quite a long timer on this so it doesn’t hinder game play much). But, this game world is finite, the resources do not respawn, trees grow, plants grow, and gold that is dropped on the ground eventually “degrades” making it mine-able again in gold mines, same with all other metals, so what at the beginning of the world was a lush resource rich world, as time goes on finding rare metals becomes harder and harder, and burning crops becomes a common war practice. To fight this you allow the end of the world, somewhere in the world is a ring with 100 circles along it’s edge, with one in the middle. In order for this world to end 101 of the highest level wizards must come together and stand in those circles for 1 hour. Once this condition has been met a beam of light will fire into the sky that is visible from the entire game world marking the end. During this time the wizards health are linked, as such you have to essentially do enough damage to kill all of them to kill one, and if you kill one they all die. This creates the “danger” that I spoke of earlier, this is something that some people would welcome, and some people would fight to the death to prevent.
Basically this is a really simple way to fight entropy, but it does offer something interesting to story telling, in this world gold doesn’t ever disappear, just there are more people who want it, it was always finite. Same with food, it is reproducible, but technically if you burned all the crops and destroyed all the seeds there would be no way to create more, such famines would follow great wars. All of this creates a world in which those with riches lead, those without follow, and between those two comes the interactions which create “real” and engaging stories. The mechanic with which to end the world is the balancing piece, this is a way for a determined group, (with quite a few guards) to reset the world, take the gold out of the hands of players, and make the world new again, and if necessary to combat growing famines.

Finally the last piece to this puzzle is the scribes. You know that Lore section of every mmo site? you know the one almost no one ever reads? What if that was made entirely of the actions that the players have made once entering this world. Basically my thought was to have the lore section be curated by staff (probably just have it a duty of the gms) with real game history, the reason for this is when players look back at the past, and see that there really were rebellions, and betrayals, wars, and on multiple occasions groups of dissenters tried to destroy the world. They would know that these things were at least theoretically possible, and with a large enough player base, eventually someone is going to turn the theoretically possible, to the already happened.

-David House.


#6

Was to busy to to write an essay but here we go something quick.

Current MMOs assign a quest, make player do things and would play a cinematic to change a part of the world. With with “living” world, that feels wrong. Current MMOs have single player campaigns in a world with other players. This allows everyone to experience the story but the change is rarely permanent and doesn’t feel as personal as emergent game play such as in Minecraft.

A way to fix this is to do world events that change the world state. Everyone can participate in either preventing a bridge from falling or sabotaging the efforts and trying to bring it down. When the bridge falls, players can feel either defeat or priding depending on what side they where on.

With the world state changed, a new story can begin, one of rebuilding. Players can then repair the game state, fix decay, interact with the changing world. With the cycles of destruction and rebuilding, all players can experience the story, but they can only trigger it when everything is set up.


#7

Did… everyone just write the same essay? maybe that’s the way everyone feels, hmmm.


#8

Will post my thoughts this evening; I know it is not Sunday but nonetheless an interesting topic :slight_smile:


#9

Was away for the week-end… Too bad, would loved to write something. Good job everyone!


#10

@SionoiS Post it anyways man! we want to hear your input, at least I do. :slight_smile:


#11

One of my pet peeves with most large-scale games is that they seem to have a fixed narrative that everyone gets to experience and a few events that may provide extra entertainment but that do not really seem to have a lasting effect.

For Elrakis I have been thinking about how to combat this and a mechanic that I want to experiment with is that the world doesn’t stand still, everything has a reason and every action an effect. This would mean that a player never experiences the exact same series of events but the world is history being continuously made.

I like to compare this to how television shows work, you have seasons with a large over-arching plot and episodes with smaller plots that stand on their own but contribute in some way to the larger plot. If you give players a central role in that story then their actions may further or block the world story.

For me, the narrative of a ‘true’ MMO makes history instead of that it some sort of groundhog day. And players will shape how history unfolds.

Perhaps not really an essay, I am bad at those, but at least my perspective on narratives in large scale games and one way I hope works to address that.


#12

Gamers like a good story or so they tell us but is it that simple? What is a story? What is good? Good is subjective and probably deserve an essay on the subject, I will not delve into that. So, a story, what does it eat during winter, the proverb asks.

To me, the word story is already misleading. It make us thing that it is a finite and self-contained thing, I don’t believe it to be so. Prequel, sequel, side-story, with a little imagination anything is possible. Another point I would like to emphasis is that we always tell the story after the events occurred. When the events are occurring it is not a story yet.

Now, onto stories in games! Telling stories is old as free time. In this day and age, video games are only one of the ways. Best example, for narrative in games, would be the almighty single-player RPG (The elder scroll series in mind). Gamers loved Skyrim’s story, can’t we just do the same for MMOs? Yes, we can and some did (Theme park MMOs eg: WoW). Is it the only form narrative can take? Hell No! Pen & paper RPGs have much to teach us. For example, how to deal with player agency. The most advanced techniques in modern pen & paper RPGs all tend toward one concept.

Instead of, you telling a story, create game mechanics that will help the player tell you a story, even one you may have not anticipated.

Thought?

P.S. This one is a Monday Evening Essay :stuck_out_tongue:

edit: next Sunday Morning Essay subject could be player agency!


#13

Hmmm what if you had a symbiotic relationship between different players so that some create a story and others play it.
Example: You have an extremely rare object in the world (say one in 5000 players will find it) and it turns them into essentially the bad guy, should they accept the role. From that point on they are no longer able to communicate with other players but they control some portion of the enemy (lets just say zombies/lich relationship) you are immensely powerful and you can expand your armys by having them consume other npcs/players. But say… you can’t regenerate health, so every attack you sustain brings you closer to death, albeit very slowly. Innately this makes the lich want to one, keep players as far away from him as possible, and two use his armys from a distance and expand them. On the counter of that the players now have a real enemy that will adapt and do things that an actual human would do, thus you have the human element of the story telling which I don’t think you can get with procedural generation, but you don’t have to hand make each story. This is just an example and is more a game-play mechanic than a story tool (not sure where one ends and the other begins but that’s another essay xD) but still I think that this idea of using the players to create these stories by simple leaving the mechanics to do so in the game, and balancing their rarity so that the stories they tell aren’t predictable. Maybe have these “World Objects” (I love that term :smiley: ) be varied, have one that’s a lich, one that makes that person able to control any mob within say one mile, and any player within say 5 feet. It can go on, but only have one object active at any time, with random times between their presenting themselves to a player, so at any given time it would be reasonable to guess that there probably is right now somewhere in the world a player who is actively trying to take over the world, or is just a murderous psychopath with too much power, but the general idea is to great hooks that drive stories without ever actually saying what the story is or where it ends.
That was a run on sentence if I’ve ever seen one.

PS: by symbiotic I don’t mean that they both like/want each other, only that in order for either one to have a good time they need each other. Every good story needs strife.


#14

Wow!
Great response everyone :slight_smile:
I’m glad you all realised I extended the deadline…without me telling you that I extended the deadline :laughing:
@bonkahe I love your example led essay and I agree with all the points you made. You definitely win this round for me. I’ll grab your name+address and we’ll send a swag box your way!

Ok: I’ll be taking ideas for the next essay…which will probably run over two weeks again :slight_smile:
Tag your suggestions with sunday-morning-essay… @SionoiS what do you mean by player agency ?


#15

Freedom of choice, player agency, giving the player options, what makes a choice meaningful, etc…

Kinda the same concept.


#16

I like your idea SionoiS, but I was thinking for our next question maybe we could lean a bit more on VR, I’ve never ventured into that realm and so all my thoughts on it are kind of from the outside looking in and I would love to see other peoples opinion on the subject. But I can’t think of a specific question to ask. :confused:


#18

I was most interested in how an event (like the destruction of the bridge) remains significant and accessible to players who join the world long after the event and its consequences have returned to a ‘new’ state - e.g. after Hemmingway’s strategic pontoon has disappeared and the wreckage has floated away or been scavenged and re-used.

Is this event now meaningful in any other way apart from the absence of the bridge? And when the players who directly experienced the bridge damage cease to be in the world, what then?

It seems that what we are really talking about is the making of myths, legends, and stories that are typically stored and transmitted through oral tradition. How do you do that inside a game world? And does a developer need to, or want to - is there any significant impact on gameplay and fun?

If (and it could be disputed of course!) we assume that we Do want to create myths in our simulated world, then how about this? Players, NPCs and others in the world have certain sensitivities: similar to character classes, or whatever you wish.

A simple explanation would be to have poles or spectrums - say violent – passive, creative – destructive.

This makes them attuned to certain types of myths, memories or stories - and not to others. “Memories” of events that have happened are captured, and stored within the game world. Perhaps as Youtube streams, video archives, written texts, or curated by alliances or other groupings. But access to them is affected by your player sensitivities, which in turn could be heightened or reduced by the choices you take inside the world.

In a really complex world, your traits evolve, and so the information available to you about the history of the place also changes. In the future, you could also make it such that you actually saw different information (and so there was no Truth, just a view of events moderated by your traits). You would then have created human value judgements and subjective perceptions as gameplay drivers.

The challenge for you designers is to work out what gameplay experiences would be enhanced by such a system - if at all!


#19

Dwarf fortress dev has implemented myth, stories, rumors and books. It’s very interesting you should check it out!