For tonight's post I thought it might be interesting to respond to some reader comments, which have come to me in various forms. Many of these things are quite interesting to me and will probably form the basis of posts to come; consider this a sneak peek.
"I admire your efforts to create your own, personal, perfect MUD [but] fear it may not attract many players if you stick staunchly to your ideas and refuse to compromise."
I think that sometimes it's good to refuse to compromise. You know that when people say a building has been compromised, it means it's been broken into or taken over by the enemy. I don't want my ideas to be compromised. I don't want to compromise my ideas. It's like... I always choose to watch the director's cut of movies. Theatrical versions mean the director compromised. The director's cut is just better. Less people see it, but more people appreciate it. I know that at this point people don't really understand what my vision is, mostly because I haven't tried too hard to communicate exactly what that vision is… but I think the game I make will draw players who like the game it is. Many people I've known through DR may not like it… but I am not making the new game for them, and whether they like it or not doesn't concern me very much. I think a writer, a designer, should be true to her own vision and not compromise to please the masses.
"Do you want to focus on the cooperation, or the competition? Which is more important? Do you cooperate to compete? "
I think the competition is the most important thing. Games are about competition, even if the competition is against yourself or just for fun. Cooperation serves as means to overcome the competition. Teams are more powerful than one person, and teams require cooperation. Therefore cooperation is crucial, but yes, subservient, to competition. I think a mud without competition of any kind is really a chat room with costumes. I think it's great to have that kind of socializing going on, but ultimately, I am not building a fantasy chat setting. I'm building a game, and I want people to compete and have fun.
"If you're looking for a variety [of options for characters such as class], you will either need untold years of fine-tuning or perhaps remove the entire competitive aspect."
There isn't a need for untold years of fine-tuning if there are only a few options to begin with. Balancing just two classes, for example, won't take long at all. Then we will build from there, making sure things are balanced and fine-tuned as we go. Players will have fewer options in the beginning when the game is young, but both options will still be brand new and interesting for gamers to try out, and therefore offer new variety. We will have created the basis of a living game which will grow over time, and it will be brand new and original, with our versions of more familiar classes coming later.
In a way, by starting a new mud we are removing the entire competitive aspect from the game in order to rebuild it in whatever ways we think best. It may be that seasoned mudders are used to PKers being able to beat down anyone who can't fight face-to-face, no matter what other acheivements these non-fighters might have made in the game. It may be that there are seasoned mudders, both fighters and non-fighters alike, who enjoy this system. Fine and good: there are a thousand muds which use it. Find one you like and enjoy: DR itself is a great example of that style. However, this is not how our new game will be. There will be a great pk system for people who like to pk (similar in fact to DR's pk system), but this will not be the only way to compete.
Competition is fun because risk is fun, especially in a game where the setting is real, where the risk feels real, but where none of the consequences have any affect on the real world. I want to make a game where all kinds of players who enjoy all kinds of things (including RP and PK, but also things like exploring or socializing) embrace this. Consider this: in a game where magic is real, real power can come from any source imaginable. Imagine a game where a player aquires power based on how he plays the game... if he pks a lot, he gains pk bonuses... if he explores a lot, he gains exploration bonuses... if he socializes a lot, he gains socialization bonuses... and so on... Any player could achieve any or even all of the bonuses, and doing so would mean having thoroughly played every aspect of a game... at least for that class. We could also use this to deal with behaviour we do or don't want to happen on the game. For instance, if we want people to pk at low levels, then give a bonus suitable for leveling if people are pking at low levels (ditto exploring, socializing, etc etc). Or another example: if we don't want people to habitually pk BRs, we could make it so that people who do so lose their pk bonuses or even are penalized at pk, at least for the duration of the attack on the BR: smething to deter people from attacking BRs. Maybe they will be victims of Sido's Touch, and have their commands randomly use twice as much lag…:) The idea is not to level the playing field between a BR and his attacker, but rather to make attacking BRs require commitment from the player, and a decision to do something which, though possible, will not be quite so easy as shooting newbie fish in a barrel.
"Players who play to win pick a strategy that works and stick to it, only switching if they find a valid counter to it, then again when they find a counter to that counter."
I don't know who you mean by "players who play to win"… I think everyone plays to win… though now that you say it, I suppose it's not too hard to imagine certain people doing that sort of thing. Clearly, this is how someone who likes face-to-face combat prepares and trains. In a way it's good, because I think a great mud requires skilled PKers who like to compete. It's an extremely fun form of competition. But this is also exactly why I think that people who spend their time doing things which are productive for the game in other ways should also gain power which they can actually use, so that people who choose to focus only on PK don't completely dominate anyone they choose. Conflict should be a challenge… a challenge thrown down and a challenge risen to… Everyone should be able to create conflict and respond to conflict, and conflicts should end in death for the loser. High stakes, good times, and many ways to win. However, there should be more than one way of becoming powerful in a competition like this. PK should not be the only way. It should be one way.
"[Suppose w]e have an excellent PKer who has struck terror into the hearts of villains and friends alike. Meanwhile, we have an excellent RPer who has researched his way to amazing power. Why should the RPer get these edges in PK, when he's hardly even good at it?"
To me, that answer is obvious. The RPer has "researched his way to amazing power". Therefore he should have "amazing power" at his disposal to use however he wants -- including PK, if that is what he wants. Someone on TMC stated an opinion quite similar to yours: "if you're going to start a conflict with someone, or do something that someone else wants to kill you over, having a big sword, knowing someone with a big sword, or being able to run really fast should be your only choices for recourse. " I just don't think this is realistic at all. I hear that and I try to imagine Gandolf fleeing in terror from someone with a big sword, or sending Aragorn into danger while staying in safety himself. No; Gandolf has an esoteric power, of immense strength which few possess. He -also- happens to be a kickass battlemage, charging into PK headlong, but consider Sauruman from the same book -- he couldn't fight at all, but he was powerful enough to subdue Gandolf and an army of fighters, by staying secure in a place of power and attacking from afar.
I think if a player really does "research his way to amazing power" (and by this I mean he does actual work in the actual game... such as research and create a spell...or research and find an ancient artifact of power...or research and document all the flora and fauna in the game...etc), then he should have a way to use that power over other people. Conflict resulting in death shouldn't always require skill with weapons or a face-to-face fight. It should just require skill. The game should be flexible enough to allow people with many different skills and interests to compete, to gain power, to have influence. It should be flexible enough to allow for many different types of heroes... or villains... and still be fun and engaging for players who are just interested in fun, casual gaming.
I have been cautioned by obviously well-respected coders (?are they coders?) on TMC to keep my plans small and not to think on too grand a scale. But I think we all need to start thinking bigger. My coder and I have been limited by the constraints of our past mud, but we no longer are. There is now only one constraint: the limit of what we can imagine.
My mud will be about competition. I am removing the rule about no roleless pk (I have been planning to write more about this, and I will, so please wait to hear more before arguing that I shouldn't do that). There will be risk, there will be reward, there will be loss. But the game itself will respect the idea that there are many 'right' ways to play the game, and all of these ways will allow the character to gain power over his own life... and potential power over the lives of others. I don't think everyone should have to spend all their time PKing, but I do think it's realistic to have mages study spells to gain power...and not have to engage in close contact to learn powerful moves.
I want my mud to be realistic, in the sense that Dickens and even Faulkner are realistic, or that Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post paintings are realistic: all the characters, varied and unique as they are, live in the one cohesive world created by the writer. I invite people to come and be characters in my mud, and ask them to be aware of the parameters of the mud. Think about it: a dopey painted mailman from Saturday Night Post could not exist in Yoknapatawpha, the deep tension in the deep south. (Wow. I think almost he would get lynched.) Anyway, the point is that in order for a story to become great, it has to be consistent. A lack of consistency makes a work of art fail. This doesn't mean people can't be original or unique -- no two Rockwell characters are the same, and there are hundreds if not thousands of them. His people are all the same, but all different. Each one is unique. Rockwell painted no two faces alike, and he was incredibly prolific: he created more than 4000 works, no two alike. His Saturday Evening Post work, published once a week for four decades, was like he took snapshots of society for four decades, and made them jollier, kindlier, sillier, goofier, gentler. Each character is unique, and yet they are all consistent. He created a world. I want to create a world too, but I want its characters to be more than paintings... I want them to be real. I want them to be you, beloved gamers.