Monday, December 22, 2008

Limits of Emulating Real Life

In the making of any game, the developers have to ask themselves how much some things have to be emulated, or how much they have to be real. Be it physics, lighting, spawning or AI, everything is important, and often a middle ground must be found, because usually no single concept offers the whole answer.

Take monster spawning, for example. The traditional way of handling respawns is to have creatures pop out of thin air, with no explanation as to why or how they do it; and the harder it is to explain something, the harder it is to suspend one's disbelief. At the opposite end of the scale, however, every spawn is explained in details (and education videos), which takes more hardware to run than all the players together; not really a position in which you want to find yourself, unless you consider the players to be a background upon which the NPCs play their carefully-orchestrated masterpiece.

Finding a middle ground, you want to spawn creatures within growing groups, away from a player's eyes. The circumstances surrounding the addition to a member - or more - to that group should be good enough that the birth of that creature should be obvious and predictable, so that total immersion into the game world can be achieved. You also want the nature of the spawned creature to fit with the game world; should it spawn a member of a species which starts young, then it should be young. Should it spawn within a species with castes, it should belong to a caste, such that the group will be better off with it. And, of course, you should apply a generous amount of randomness in the new creature's abilities, so it can be differentiated from other members of its group, within the capacities of the species and group, of course.

However, there's still plenty of room for deciding how to do things. Do creatures age at a continuous rate, such that you can observe it changing slowly over time, or they they hit stages of life and pop to their new form? Are the capacities of a member decided randomly, or are they affected by its environment? And, of course, do its belonging appear upon birth, or does your creature acquire them through hard, virtual work?

You might also want to compare with the current games on market. People are used to enemies popping into existence, and would probably not look twice if creatures appeared to change before them, without visible reason. The idealism of a realistic virtual world is laudable, but it serves little purpose if it takes you a month to create something the players will never see. Balance in all things also applies to game creation, it seems.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Laws

Countries have laws. That's how you make people behave because, seriously, half of them are savages. How you uphold these laws depends on your available resources. With magic, it's kind of easy; just make sure anyone who enters your country accepts a law spell, binding them to the laws of the country, with unlawful actions resulting it automatic penalties upon the lawbreaker.

That being said, what can laws cover? Murder and thievery, of course, at least as applied to lawful citizens of the territories. You'll want to make sure people feel safe in your country, otherwise you might have trouble getting citizens to want joining your country. If you want to establish global or specific taxes, that's entirely in your right. You also want laws which establish your system of beliefs, so that like-minded people prefer your country to allies' or rivals'.

Of course, nobody is forcing you to have fair laws; if you want thievery and murder to be legal (at least against people who aren't YOU), then by all means make them legal. If you don't want goody-two-shoes entering your country, then make it illegal for goody-two-shoesians to do so. Or tax the heck out of them; who said you had to be fair? You're the king (or president, dictator, comrade, what have you), and whoever finds it a good idea to argue with you will find themselves quite acquainted with the meaning of "full extend of the law".

Perhaps more importantly, however, you want to consider the laws of neighboring states; should one of them have strict beliefs regarding certain aspects, you should at least acknowledge them, otherwise no alliance would be possible. With conflicting laws, you will have to actually pick your allies, and it's never possible to satisfy everyone. Enemies will grow of former allies, and wars will be forced upon pacifists, stuck between enemies fighting over trivialities; war is never pretty, but it rarely gets worst than good people fighting for no reason than upholding arbitrary laws.

Yes, laws are important, even when there are none. They define the country and, ultimately, they define the people who live within it, from the humble peasant to the mighty rulers. It's what you believe in, it's the laws you decide to obey that show who you are, and determine your overall experience - be it as a noble paladin or cunning rogue, you will obey the laws, or suffer the consequences.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Mood Swings

You know you're an adventurer when you can go from the wildest berserker rage to a cowardly retreat within the beat of a heart. The way things work, your mood is affected by what you need to do to react correctly to your environment; how you feel at the moment has no effect on your overall disposition.

What if it was different? (Yes, I know, how unexpected of me). States of mind are not something people can normally easily manipulate; doing so requires monk-like training of both the mind and body. Better to just go with the mood.

But what ARE moods? Moods are anger, fear, love (or lust), hatred, sadness, and all other feelings that make the palette of human emotions. Moods also affect how you act; if a warrior manages to make you angry because of his taunts, then it's normal to want to hurt him. When affected by a fear spell, you'll probably want to run away, because your attacks will be slow and clumsy. Likewise, charms can be dispelled by reminding yourself that that thing over there has tentacles and mouths where they don't belong and are these bones and I'm going to die help me please...

Essentially, moods should move only slowly and over time. A fear spell might not be your best choice against a berserking warrior, just as trying to freezing the mage in his track would be a less than temporary impediment to your opponent, who would most likely not hold back on retaliations. Applied correctly, however, it can prevent the squishiest members of you group from losing the internal part of their favorite organs. Know your targets, and know your capacities, and you will succeed where the best would falter. Let the moods always swing in your favor.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Basics of a Game World

It's all in the crystals. Really, it is. Crystals have the intrinsic ability of being associated with magical powers, and nobody will ever question a crystal's abilities, because hey, you don't know what they can do.

So if I decide that, say, crystals have the ability to store energy, nobody will question it; it's such a basic concept that it would actually be accepted without any complain. With this, you can make energy your currency - it is transferred easily from crystal to crystal, taken as life energy from the bodies of slain foes, even discharged from items with magical potential.

Once you've established that crystals hold energy, you can make them do plenty of things with it. Want to travel to a remote location? Use energy. Want to enchant an item? Use energy. Died and need to be transported someplace safe? Use energy, if you have any. Every action could have an energy cost or benefit, and it would make a lot more sense than magically converting gold pieces to labor or materials.

Now, we're back to the crystals. See, crystals can do more than store energy - they can be your essential traveling accessory and companion. The crystal provides the game interface, opening holographic windows in front of your character in response to your keystrokes. It contains its own dimension, allowing you to store items as if it was a proverbial hero's almost endless backpack; better yet, with the proper training, material and, of course, energy, you can increase its capacity to suit your growing needs!

Your life crystal is what lets you send messages to far away people. It shows you direction and your surrounding. It records every location to which you have been so that you may travel there again. It knows the name of all your friends and records every last bit of information you might need - not to mention having access to an exhaustive library containing every relevant information one could want. It is your crystal that first greets you in the morning, and the last thing you will see and hear before falling asleep is what you programmed your crystal to show and sing to you.

Do you see the beauty? It's a simple system that encompasses concepts of MMORPGs that have stayed with us so long but which always seemed a bit out of place, as if they were added without much forethought about the impossibility of their presence. With a single concept, a single word, you can have a world that makes sense, from the first shiny to the last dragon; it's a self-contained world, all ready to be explored.