HippoPotenuse
  » the skewed views of a large opinion: Persistent World Design
Monday, July 19, 2004
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I've been away from posting; life can get like that.  We might know where we'd like a project or a plan to fall, but often those we depend upon deem our original goal untenable.  Change is needed, compromise.  Persistent world design is much the same.  I spend an awful lot of time pontificating about the joys of casual design and dynamic worlds.  But is a pure casual/dynamic world something I'll even want?
 
To take dynamic worlds to the extreme, nothing can be taken for granted.   A brand-newbie might spawn into the world for his first time, only to find himself on the end of a goblin spear during a raid.  He might find the town he was to start in smoted, the shopkeepers murdered.  If we try to protect against such problems, we'll find ourselves slowly repealing what is dynamic, and what is static.
 
To take casual design to the extreme, all inconvenience should be removed.  Travel isn't fun, so let's just rip it out, right?  Losing isn't fun, so let's remove 'losses' and instead slowly taper off a monster's effectiveness, so the hero never does lose.  But do we really want that?  Isn't some risk, some inconvenience required?  Not to the extent of forced downtime waiting for progress bars to fill; nor bad UI design which makes tasks unnecessarily cumbersome.  But travel for instance: isn't there something about travel that is required for adventure?  Isn't there something about struggle, and failure, that is necessary for accomplishment?
 
I've recently been battling back and forth in my mind about precisely where in between dynamic and static is 'best'.  Is it enough to protect the newbie experience?  Do we need to protect the viability of the dynamically generated quest by ensuring that certain NPCs never die?  Do we need to protect the target of a quest, to ensure that it will be present when the hero arrives?  And yet, at what point do we wind up with so many static items, that the attempt to create verisimilitude with dynamic populations and resources is lost? 
 
Similarly with inconvenience.  Do we force travel at a constant rate to avoid world shrinkage?  Do we allow re-travel to previous destinations, at an accelerated or instant rate?  At what point do dynamic or local economies lose any benefit with speedy retravel?
 
Nor can we discount the FUN angle.  It may be realistic to have a player-made town destroyable -- but what fun is it, if the siege occurs while everyone sleeps?  What fun is it, if everything the guild has and stands for is in that town?  Does verisimilitude betray fun, does dynamic preclude enjoyable?
 
Then considering the implications we arrive at: allowing any goal to be attainable to the casual player, we must ensure that the process of attaining that goal is enjoyable.  If everyone will be able to defeat king koopa eventually, each chunk of the journey must be enjoyable in and of itself.  Sticking to the extremes of the dynamic world, makes the experience inherently non-casual.   Sticking to the extremes of a static world, we can trivially make the experience entirely casual, but we risk making it unfun by destroying the magic circle, and reducing the game.
 
It seems the designs themselves may not be the stumbling block.  Rather, the design concepts themselves may be as much barriers to intended experience as they are benefits.  Making a dynamic ecology gives life to the world, but it seems at the expense of adventure and accessibility.  Making a world fit for casual play, seems to be completely at odds with making the world dynamic.   The causes I champion on a regular basis, just may be mutually exclusive.  So I'm sent back to the philosophical drawing board, to try to figure out the where in between casual and dynamic provides the most benefit without infringing too far upon each other.
 

 
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