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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 6:49 am 
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I see people talking about fan-fiction, in-game story, and role-playing. These are all different topics.

But first I must toss aside (with great force) the term "role-playing game", when applied to computers -- as in "CRPG" or "MMORPG". That was a misnomer from the beginning. (The beginning being, perhaps, Wizardry. Or I guess Rogue was earlier.) Yes, those early games allowed you to *play a role* -- but so did Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Doom, and Myst.

What is "role-playing" in a computer game, if it isn't a particular genre of game? People will answer differently, I'm sure, but I say: it's the sense that you are acting within the game world -- you are involved in what's going on. If the game hands you a choice but then forces a particular response, you're not involved; you're following a rut. If the game hands you a choice but ignores your response, you're again not involved; you are powerless. Ideally, the game should hand you choices that make a difference.

Notice that I do not specify *what* difference the choice makes. There are always some game elements that you can influence, and some game elements that you cannot.

The naive player says "I want to choose how the story comes out!" Contrariwise, the cynical player expects to have a pre-existing story pass in front of his eyes -- perhaps as cut scenes sprinkled in between meaningless (but time-consuming) fight scenes. Or in between meaningless-but-time-consuming puzzles, depending on what kind of game it is.

Both players are wrong. Or rather, both need to find better games. (And maybe the naive player needs to become a game designer.) An effective game will be built of large and small events; layers of events, really. It will offer meaningful choices in some layers, while guiding the player in others. Obviously, if the player fails to perceive the choices he has, the game will fail. But equally: if the player thinks that he has choices where he *doesn't*, the game will fail. The player will get stuck and frustrated, trying to find a path that doesn't exist.

I'll use Myst as an example. You have great freedom in walking around and looking at things. (Particularly in RealMyst.) You have very little freedom in picking things up and carrying things around -- but this is clear as soon as you encounter an object; it just plain doesn't come with you. On a higher level, you can choose which of the four Ages to explore first (second, third, fourth). But you can't choose to swim out and explore the ocean. On yet a higher plane, you can choose which of four ultimate story-endings you will reach. You can't make new ones. Making a deal with Sirrus to conquer Stoneship together is a cute idea, but it's not in the game.

Next part: what this means for Uru.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 6:49 am 
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Let's apply this thinking to Uru.

When you're exploring new Ages, Uru works just like Myst -- like the middle part of Myst, where you're exploring the four Ages. Your choices are about exploration and experimentation. That works fine. It also doesn't last very long. We've all spent days exploring new Uru content, but most of us have spent weeks or months (if not years) playing Uru. What choices fill the majority of the time?

As everybody has observed, the meaningful choices are few. Mostly, you can run around and talk.

(Some players, in a fit of absolute brilliance, have taken those abilities at face value and formed a *marching society*. I cannot stress how much I love that. But it's not my thing, and I don't think it will be the *primary* Uru thing for most players.)

In Prologue, Cyan seemed to be stressing garb as a game-meaningful choice. Yeesha says, "Wear this to show others what side you've taken, when sides are taken." Players went along with that. Some players took the more extreme choice (no longer available) of forgoing a Relto book.

Those examples, I hope, support my identification of player choice with player story-involvement. Those actions (garb and Relto books) were perceived by everybody as ways of being involved. Similarly, the basic avatar commands -- chat and movement -- are co-opted by players into story form: speeches, questions of DRC personnel, marches and sit-down protests.

So when I think about how player-created story is going to mesh with Cyan-created story, I start from what players can do, and work out from there.

At the moment, the choices seem thin. But they may expand as Cyan releases new Ages. To that extent, we're trusting that Cyan has interesting ideas coming down the pipeline. We've always needed that trust, of course, but it's a bit frustrating in the present.

(Yes, I'm skipping over the notion of player-created Ages. Why? Because it's such a powerful notion that it changes the entire game! Once we can build new game content, our problem will not be how to influence the story, but how to *create good stories*. And that's another topic entirely. In any case, we don't have creation tools yet. This essay is about Uru as it exists today.)

There are also player choices *outside the game*. That's been a significant part of Uru from the start: organizing events, forum activity, having discussions with Cyan people, writing stories, creating videos. In sci-fi fandom, that would be called "fanac" -- and it has as much significance in that community (if not more!) as *reading* science fiction. Take a lesson from that. And also from Greydragon, who said in a recent City appearance (http://urulive.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=6544) that Brian Fioca and the Great Tree group were the "best example" of player storyline working out. That, as I understand it, was a mix of in-game conversation and a well-tended player-run web site (http://www.thegreattree.com/).

So from *that* point of view, *anything* you do is influencing the story. Even if it seems unrelated to in-game or in-character activity.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 6:50 am 
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Side note: honestly, I think in-character versus out-of-character debates are just a distraction. City of Heroes (or WoW) is the same game whether you chat like a superhero (or bad RenFair player) or not. People prefer one or the other, but they're there to *play the game*. The meaningful choices in those games aren't how you talk; they're how you develop your stats, tools, and powers. In Uru, if we have meaningful choices available to us, we'll be too busy making them to sweat about the character point-of-view.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2007 3:34 pm 
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Andrew Plotkin:
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At the moment, the choices seem thin. But they may expand as Cyan releases new Ages. To that extent, we're trusting that Cyan has interesting ideas coming down the pipeline. We've always needed that trust, of course, but it's a bit frustrating in the present.



There are so many great points you've made, Andrew, in your expanded essay that it doesn't need extended commentary; it is speculative and self-validating as is, and gives us all an excellent overview of the territory.

Yes there is a need for trust in Cyan to present us new and innovative story branches both in the near future and as part of their -- what Rand Miller, in his interview with Steve tushies -- ongoing vision for Uru:Live:

Quote:
Rand Miller: ...Let's not tell a story that's already been told. Let's make it now. This is what would happen if the story was absolutely true, an underground empire was there just as the story laid it out. Now you can get there and find that things are still alive and things are still happening. Instead of being portrayed as history, you're part of what happens.


Many of us hope to participate in this ongoing revolution that is Uru:Live and become fully fledged particpants who can, not only play the static puzzle games that are always an aspect of the Myst series, but can also be innovators and become actors and creators of new storylines ourselves. I think the lesson from Rand Miller's interview is that the major storyline is in the "now" (present tense), and that they will be introducing new options as time progresses (i.e., ability to change, modify, or create new Ages, wardrobes, objects of power, etc.). And, ever, the more interesting notion of the full fledged restoration of the D'ni as a people into real time.

I can personally see a time in the future when certain members will reach a level of understanding that they will become part of the story, either by reenacting ancient events (much like we have Old West days, or Civil War reenactments), or we will see certain individuals recruited by Cyan to take on the personas of actual living representatives of the D'ni.

Some form of both would be great. The idea of becoming a full tilt actor on the stage with a character portrayel of some actual D'ni citizen would be exciting. For me it goes along with your idea posted in another forum message of the "parallel worlds": what if the D'ni still exist in another Age, a different time parallel to ours, and somehow one of the DRC stumble onto a doorway that has been closed off for ages... somehow they bring it to life (and I speak not of just an Age Book) and a D'ni citizen shows up in our realm and realizes the city is no longer uninhabited.... and, more, and more of these real D'ni show back up in the cavern? Just think of the many storylines that would come out of such an occurence...

The other angle is the different aspects of our own present day explorers who might find and restore the Art itself, bring back the ability to change, modify, and create Ages (we know that that is a possiblity somewhere in the future of Cyan's vision for the game). When this type of thing happens then a whole new set of rules will change the existing perimeters of the Uru vision...

I'm sure that there will be a complete set of standards and formal procedures put in place for developers, artists, script writers, et. al. I'm sure that there will be teams (Guilds) formed for the different projects as tools become available for this effort. As a software engineer I look forward to the time to help in this area as do many within the already large Myst community.

And, finally, I do agree with you about the IC/OOC debates, being myself a newbie to the concept and how it operates within both forums and the actual gaming environment. The forums are on the surface and present and open public face to people who may not understand (and I am guilty of this as well) all the subtlties of the IC way of being. And sometimes -- and I've been guilty of this, too -- someone with lack of understanding and a knowledge of the deep history of the IC players may take certain statements at face value and feel that an offense has occured which can lead to confusing and misappropriate behaviour that ultimately lead to small flame wars (and, yes, I have been guilty of this, as recent events on this board have shown). I know that we are all working through many of these issues and that it is a difficult but practical aspect of all MMO's to face and understand.

We need some type of FAQ's, Newbie Guides, and Rules and Guidelines so that people who do not understand this IC/OOC aspect can come up to speed and be more aware (I've seen some efforts toward this on this forum, but nothing formal... but, then that might be the best path?). I know that if we had a set of guidelines either on the forum are in the Uru manual that it would alleviate a lot of misunderstandings. It is sometimes hard to differentiate the subtle characterisations, especially if an IC character takes on the persona of an antagonist (which is certainly viable as in Douglas Sharper in Uru). But for newbies it might be the differance between knowing the truth and suddenly finding oneself in a misqued flame war.

Anyway.... thank you for your fantastic input, Andrew. It is truly appreciated... 8)

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 09, 2007 2:13 am 
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I think that belford raises good points in the "side note". I like to think that, as we get more to do in the game, the whole thing will sort itself out!

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mszv, amarez in Uru, other online games, never use mszv anymore, would like to change it
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Last edited by mszv on Fri Feb 09, 2007 2:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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