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Author Topic: Persistent character worlds.  (Read 10477 times)
Hellinar
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on: May 11, 2008, 09:27:17 AM


Iíve been looking for years for some world building tools that would let me build a persistent character world. That is, when you log off, your character becomes an NPC and carries on without you.

My thinking is that this would be a much more casual player friendly world. Your impact in the world would not be so closely tied to how long you can log on for. The world would also be viable with a much smaller active playerbase, important for an indie project. The deathtrap for most indie worlds I log into is there is no-one around when you log in, its boring, so you leave. If you could wander around and at least see what all your neighbors are up to, it would be much more alive.

The stumbling block is that every world building tool I have looked at so far enforces a huge gulf between PCs and NPCs. In Multiverse there are some people trying to work around this, but they figure it will take another year or so to do it.

Does anyone know of any tools that allow persistent characters? I donít know enough about Metaplace yet to know if that is in their scope. Is it just a conventional game world? Anyone else here even like the idea of persistent characters?
photek
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Reply #1 on: May 11, 2008, 01:14:28 PM

Nothing out of the box will give you that. I work as game designer and have seen this question rise before, the only advice I can give you is go to www.gamedev.net and ask around.
Be warned, this is a very technical thing to implement which Im sure you are aware of, there are so many "what if" questions that will be dependable on great mechanics to work and this is just one of the perks. Example : "What if my NPC/char dies, dies in a place with many mobs around, gets stuck, falls through the world, bugs in a place, abilities stop working, cooldowns won't reset" etc as it is an indie project your Bugzilla will spam you to death.

Thinking more about it, for a non-professional team it seems like a hard thing to code generally and make it work in a matter that makes any sense, I'd try a different approach even if it is a small indie world you are aiming for. Smaller and focused zones, zero-to-little grinding, fun PvE/PvP combat are some things that will get you attention and there is a market for indie MMOs currently. Check out Garagegames.com and the game made with their engine (Minions of Mithril), check out MMO Workshop and other indie MMO sites for some assistance in persistent character worlds.

"I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away"
Hellinar
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Reply #2 on: May 12, 2008, 03:18:32 PM


Be warned, this is a very technical thing to implement which Im sure you are aware of, there are so many "what if" questions that will be dependable on great mechanics to work and this is just one of the perks.

In Multiverse one group is trying to come up with a third party plug-in that would allow persistent characters. They are treating it as mostly an AI problem. As you say, the NPCs would have to work very reliably to be useful. So I think they are headed in the right direction.

I did take a look at the Garage games engine some time ago. Minions of Mirth shows it does work at a level that would be fine for the kind of project Iím thinking of. But it has the typical huge gap between PC and NPC characters thatís hard to bridge. They do give you the source, so in theory you could do it. But it sounds like more than I would take on.

Iím thinking construction and crafting is a better game base for a persistent character world than combat. Modern MMORPG combat would not be interesting to watch, as ten minutes after the fight, everything has re-spawned, and it all looks the same as before. I see having some combat, but more as a hunting and gathering profession.

There is an indie world called WURM which had a good construction game. It was impressive to log on and find someone had built a town across the bay while you were away. But the developers were focussed on PvP combat, which pretty much rules out persistent characters. Any AI would be way too exploitable for that.

tazelbain
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tazelbain


Reply #3 on: May 12, 2008, 04:23:57 PM

Would having the charater still doing stuff but not physically in world a la EvE skills work for you?

Would having a npc clone that spawns as you log out and despawn when you logged in work for you?
« Last Edit: May 13, 2008, 12:11:04 PM by tazelbain »

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Hellinar
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Reply #4 on: May 13, 2008, 09:38:39 AM

Well, I think the EVE setup is a great idea for that game. Makes the game a bit more casual friendly. And makes CCP good money from all the people, like me at times, who are just paying to skill up their character and not actually logging on.

But the critical thing I am looking for is the player characters being in the world and doing stuff. This may work by logging in an NPC when the player logs out. The tricky thing is passing a decent ďchore listĒ to the NPC when the player logs out. If it is just a choice of merchant, farmer or guard script it wonít be too interesting. So I am encouraged that the guys looking at doing it in Multiverse are treating it mostly as an AI problem.

Most small indie worlds I have logged into seemed to be mostly empty and inactive. Which leads to them staying that way as newbies log in, see nothing happening, and leave. I always thought ďA Tale in the DesertĒ was a good candidate for persistent characters. But it wasnít a direction that interested Teppy (the developer).

Lantyssa
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Reply #5 on: May 13, 2008, 11:28:34 AM

It could be handled in a few different ways:

1) The NPC is purely flavor.  The character gets no benefit from its presence.  The game's NPC AI does what it wants with the character until the player logs back in.  The advantage of this is active players see familiar faces going about a variety of (fake) tasks.

2) The NPC is a 'bot' for the player.  Tasks it performs benefit the character ala Eve's skill training, however it leaves a presence in the world so people see it doing so.  In this case its actions are set by the player's preferences.  There could be stock as well as player defined phrases for it to utter as it interacts with things.  At this point it could be very simple to very complex.  Possibilities:

a) It performs actions, but is just an elaborate decoy.  It has no direct effect on the world.  Benefits to the character depend on whatever algorithms you want off-line characters to receive.

b) It harvests resources, picks up objects, and other non-combat tasks.  This makes things seem realistic, but makes you have to decide how much impact the bot can have on the world and the character.  How many of these can your world support?  At this point why do players need to log in at all?  If in a hostile area, it could 'fight' NPC mobs, but have no actual effect.  (Think groups of mobs in early CoH which pretended to fight until a player triggered their attack AI.)  Can other players let a bot distract NPCs to bypass an area?

c) The bot can fight or do anything a player can.  What about death?  Do you limit what it can acquire?  At this level things are getting impossible to balance or control.  You might as well use the AI to make believable NPCs and not worry so much about player bots.

It depends upon your needs, penalties for failure/dying, and a lot of other things.  A world with a cranked-up Radiant AI which players can tap into might be a lot of fun, or it could be a botter's heaven where few people play and are at the mercy of superior AI.  Just a touch of window dressing could be nice, too, and doesn't have the same problems with balance difficulties.

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K9
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Reply #6 on: May 14, 2008, 07:53:03 AM

One thing I wonder, in the context of an MMO, is how you would prevent clogging? In the sense that MMO poplations grow and rarely decrease, so over the lifetime of the game you'd gradually accumulate NPCs for alts/dead accounts. If you restart the persistance between server resets you'll still have an inflating NPC population between resets that could easily block up public areas.

I amire any efforts to creat gameworlds that feel more natural and alive, however I think there needs to be another paradigm shift that spreads players across multiple regions evenly.

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Lantyssa
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Reply #7 on: May 14, 2008, 10:43:28 AM

First, set a limit to how many characters you want running around.  There can be a check for last login which eliminates old, unused accounts, or only allow for a pool of active subscribers if there is a pay model.  From the valid characters left, randomly pick from them.  Have them come and go from certain spots like an inn, tavern, or apartment complex to switch out with others.

That all works best where the NPC-PCs exist for flavor.  If they can have an impact on the world which also benefits the player, it gets trickier to determine which characters can exist at any given time.

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Hellinar
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Reply #8 on: May 15, 2008, 05:00:31 PM


2) The NPC is a 'bot' for the player.....


b) It harvests resources, picks up objects, and other non-combat tasks.  This makes things seem realistic, but makes you have to decide how much impact the bot can have on the world and the character.  How many of these can your world support?  At this point why do players need to log in at all?  If in a hostile area, it could 'fight' NPC mobs, but have no actual effect.  (Think groups of mobs in early CoH which pretended to fight until a player triggered their attack AI.)  Can other players let a bot distract NPCs to bypass an area?


Nice list. I think Iíd go for 2b in those options. Logged on players would get several times the effectiveness of bots when they were doing stuff themselves. Iíve no real idea what that multiplier would be.  The only example I can think of is ATiTD used a factor of five or so for offline vs online travel.

I think such a world would eventually have to be paid.  Free accounts would be get abused. In that case, you could size your server to support the full paid population. Iíd go for a fantasy setting, so you can have some ďmagicĒ incentives to spreading out. Realistic isnít that feasible. In the real world, the incentives to form dense populations are huge. So you canít have a realistic world and not crash the server.

Iíd be looking to attract people who like planning and delayed goals. The current MMOGs have become focussed on instant gratification, so I think there is a market opening there. I donít know if the ďavatar as a botĒ thing will attract or repel people. In some ways, itís a bit like an online Sims. Maybe that is the way TSO should have gone.

tazelbain
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tazelbain


Reply #9 on: May 15, 2008, 06:05:35 PM

A server of active bots would annoy the hell out of me.

I'd much have lifestyle screen where I could choose sleep,eating,training,work habits while I am away.  You could do all neat stuff with it.  Tie in cities for some options.  Like a mage guild in city to train magic.  Have unlockable badges for other option.  Once you kill the Evil Druid of forest, you can hunt monster in the forest while away.  Labor could be set with queue so you work on many things.  Like if you are helping your city by giving your labor to build walls, the granary and the armory.  Throw some random events in there.  All this would all be recorded in a log for you to review the next time you log in.

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Venkman
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Reply #10 on: May 15, 2008, 08:49:03 PM

I think this idea has merit personally. But only if the bot-replacement for your live character is doing something that requires interaction of some form. While the idea of having a populated world when people are not online is good, a bot is not so different from the NPCs that stand around, to the observer. So if your bot is only doing automated tasks any NPC could be programmed to do anyway, the observer sees no difference.

While you've mentioned that this would work in a crafting game, what specific actions would your bot be taking while your offline that would require interaction with live players or other bots in a way that enhances the game instead of just holding it down? That to me is the question to answer first: the ultimate "why".

Secondarily, I wouldn't restrict this to crafting. Imagine your bot becomes something like a GW henchman. Say you've got a well-equipped character that only needs to do a specific thing or two in combat. Nothing complex like healing the main tank or CCing, but something more rudimentary like the occasional spot heal or DPSing. Could a bot fill the role of you in simpler group-required combat situations? Basically, could you let your friends "hire" your bot so they can play at hours different from you?

Ultimately, I think the problem you cite (empty worlds) becomes more pronounced due to time-shifting. Even WoW has some sparsely-populated servers during off times. Having a programmable bot that can fill some actual roles relevant to other players could in theory create a server that has less of a peak and valley of activity. That itself would prevent other problems like servers relegated to time zones, and players relegated to downtime during their peak time because they can't do anything.
Hellinar
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Reply #11 on: May 18, 2008, 02:46:31 AM

While you've mentioned that this would work in a crafting game, what specific actions would your bot be taking while your offline that would require interaction with live players or other bots in a way that enhances the game instead of just holding it down? That to me is the question to answer first: the ultimate "why".

Some of the actions Iím thinking of:

a) Traveling. Building easily pathed roads would be one important player activity. Your offline bot would travel around gathering and trading while you were offline.

b) Chat. You could ask any bot ďWhat are you doing?Ē to get an update on their activities. Bots could also give messages to specific people when they see them, or take messages. Even if you never meet the other player, you could build some feeling of community. As happens on active discussion boards.

c) Merchant. Your bot could sell your production, either out on the road or back at your house. Perhaps travel to a regular market on your behalf.

As to the ďWhy?Ē. Mostly to weaken the link between your power in the world and the time you have to put into being there. Obviously, people who put more time in are always going to do better. But the link is too strong in the current MMOGs. At least if you want playing the game to a part time activity.

Also to shift the gameplay more towards planning and delayed reward. Which is a playstyle I like. Most MMOGs have shifted more and more towards instant gratification, leaving a gap in the market I think.
Lantyssa
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Reply #12 on: May 18, 2008, 07:27:12 AM

That is an interesting way to look at it.  Your bot is kind of a walking message board post.  f13: The MMO.

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Hellinar
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Reply #13 on: May 18, 2008, 06:29:07 PM

That is an interesting way to look at it.  Your bot is kind of a walking message board post.  f13: The MMO.

Well, MMORPGs have long been accused of being just chat rooms with graphics. Time for a message board with graphics? It could work...
WindupAtheist
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Reply #14 on: May 24, 2008, 05:20:46 AM

This sounds like a mega-fuckload of work just so someone can go "That NPC has the name of a guy I know over his head!  He must be logged out!"

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Venkman
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Reply #15 on: May 24, 2008, 10:17:17 PM

Does sound like a lot of work, but I think it could add to the world if done right.

But I think an intermediate step would need to be taken first.

Way the hell back in Ultima IV you had day/night cycles, NPCs that closed up shop, guard rotations, thievery, ambushes, and truly-interactive Faction-ratings that mattered in a game that we've been slowly crawling back towards until WoW knocked us back to Ultima II.

Some could call that market forces, but I just call it game at the expense of immersion when such compromises aren't needed.

Why can't my quest NPC, say, a shopkeeper, be at shop part of the day, tavern another part, and at home after that, inaccessible. On accelerated gametime, there might be a whole 30 minutes of a day I can't do a turn in. Boo hoo. You just design the system in such a way that you can always turn in quests somewhere, it just depends on which ones.

I bring this up because I consider that the intermediate step: NPCs that are programmed to have something resembling a life. Why the heck not? AoC experiments with day/night cycle, which is cool, but too turnkey to be anything but a tiny babystep (ie, can't buy gear because the shops are closed? Quickly flip over to daytime by talking to an NPC).

I would like to know if a world like Ultima IV but built with modern XP, spells/abilities, and graphics would work. Would players accept a world they don't completely control? Would they appreciate the immersion or be annoyed that the whole thing doesn't pander to them with silver spoons?

If it could work, then having programmable offline versions of oneself would make a lot of sense as the next step beyond.
Hellinar
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Reply #16 on: May 25, 2008, 07:04:31 PM


I would like to know if a world like Ultima IV but built with modern XP, spells/abilities, and graphics would work. Would players accept a world they don't completely control? Would they appreciate the immersion or be annoyed that the whole thing doesn't pander to them with silver spoons?

I would think such a world would need to tie in to another favorite topic of mine, severely capping the rate of experience and loot gain. Thus making it clear leveling and loot gain are background activities in that world.

As long as you allow leveling and looting to happen as fast as possible, you implicitly say that this is the point of the game. Then putting random time constraints on when you can loot or level is giving a badly mixed message, and just annoying. If leveling and looting are background activities, that are a relatively small part of your game experience, then not being able to turn in a quest one night is not a big deal.
Venkman
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Reply #17 on: May 26, 2008, 07:22:34 AM

As soon as you limit the rate of advancement, you make the game more about advancement. People will discuss it, try to get around it, fool it, hack it. The key, imho, is to make advancement irrelevant to enjoyment, or at best, a byproduct of playing the game.

Eve does that more forcibly, but it's a start. UO's system I liked too, skill-gain by skill-use alone, meaning you didn't need to kill the mob just to advance.
Hellinar
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Reply #18 on: May 26, 2008, 03:23:57 PM

As soon as you limit the rate of advancement, you make the game more about advancement. People will discuss it, try to get around it, fool it, hack it. The key, imho, is to make advancement irrelevant to enjoyment, or at best, a byproduct of playing the game.

Iím skeptical of that assertion. Do you have an example in mind?

Iím thinking the server on boot up would enforce some sort of hard coded check.  Such as:

a) is the character level x?
b) is the character younger than y days
c) if character is too young, set level to appropriate level.

I think that would be hard to hack. Its kind of similar to the EVE skill setting. Anyone know if that has been hacked?

I think people who saw such a limit as a positive would flock to the game. Those that donít, would say ďthis game suxĒ, and go play one of the 99% of other MMORPGs that allow unlimited advancement. Since I donít know of any game with that kind of hard coded limit, its only speculation though.
Lightstalker
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Reply #19 on: May 26, 2008, 03:52:31 PM

I am eagerly anticipating Waiting In Line Online.

Venkman
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Reply #20 on: May 26, 2008, 07:21:33 PM

As soon as you limit the rate of advancement, you make the game more about advancement. People will discuss it, try to get around it, fool it, hack it. The key, imho, is to make advancement irrelevant to enjoyment, or at best, a byproduct of playing the game.

Iím skeptical of that assertion. Do you have an example in mind?

Iím thinking the server on boot up would enforce some sort of hard coded check.  Such as:

a) is the character level x?
b) is the character younger than y days
c) if character is too young, set level to appropriate level.

I think that would be hard to hack. Its kind of similar to the EVE skill setting. Anyone know if that has been hacked.

Hmm, I hadn't considered the game auto-leveling the character. And I therefore didn't connect that to the idea of limiting character advancement. From your prior post, I inferred merely a UO-style Power Hour, where a player could most efficiently advance a character during their PH, but any further advancement would be hindered down to minimal. This is also how the Chinese government has dictated games over there should be limited, but of course, their reasons are different.

Anyway, that was my misunderstanding. Based on your subsequent post, it sounds like you really don't think the players should level at all, but rather, have the game dispense advancement based on an aggregate of factors (including some you mentioned). This is similar to Eve, though as you know, that game is mostly skill/templating building without the clean power rating a numerated Level conveys.

I like the Eve system, because it does make "leveling" something separate from the conducting activities within the game itself. At the same time, I find Eve's skill-building more of a time sink than your average diku. But that's probably just my personality. I'm the guy that ran EVEmon in the background all day at work and would either alt-tab in to start a new skill or launch at periodic times between meetings to do it. I had to back away, slowly  Oh ho ho ho. Reallllly?

Rolling that together with configurable AI representations of your avatar, programmed to conduct rote activities to continually populate a world alongside true NPCs could add some very interesting elements to an experience.

What would be the overall experience for the player though? For example, are you seeing both of the above something you could strap to a diku like WoW? Or are there other parts of you've already considered in the total experience?
Hellinar
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Reply #21 on: May 27, 2008, 10:49:00 AM


Hmm, I hadn't considered the game auto-leveling the character.

ÖÖ

What would be the overall experience for the player though? For example, are you seeing both of the above something you could strap to a diku like WoW? Or are there other parts of you've already considered in the total experience?


My ideal on leveling would be that you would still have to level your character. But you would hit the level cap fairly easily. So keeping up to the current cap would be a background quest rather than the forefront activity. If you make the max level dependent on the month you started in, players would tend to group into monthly generations that stayed at comparable levels throughout their careers. That I think would help community for casual players. You may not cross paths with someone for several months, but when you did meet again, he would be at the same level as you, and available for the same quests.

That kind of leveling cap I could see as a good addition to a standard diku. Persistent characters however I see as a very poor fit with a combat oriented diku. Watching someone elseís bot whacking constantly respawning Mobs would be very boring.

The game Iíve played where I thought persistent characters would be a good fit is ďA Tale in the DesertĒ. In that world, you could get some idea of what your neighbors had been up to, even if they werenít logged on, by checking out the latest additions to their camp. If their characters had been wandering around doing stuff, that sense of progress would have been enhanced. ATiTD did in fact have offline chores you could give to your character. They just werenít seen doing it in the world.

Add in the ability to trade with your offline neighbors, and give and receive ingame messages, and I think you would be enhancing community. Only makes sense in a construction game though. Pointless in a destruction game with endless respawns.
rk47
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Reply #22 on: May 30, 2008, 11:09:44 PM

Logoff at a training hall. Have your char just whacking the dummy with NPC instructor screaming 'HIT HARDER FASTER GOOD !' etc. Simple and elegant.

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WindupAtheist
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Reply #23 on: June 09, 2008, 09:52:32 PM

Not to be a dick, but really, why is this worth more than five minutes effort again?  Why should anyone developing an MMO with a non-infinite budget worry about this more than adding another dungeon or something?

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stray
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Reply #24 on: June 10, 2008, 12:59:45 AM

Well, he did say it was indie, and that one problem with indie mmo's is that they were unpopulated. This solution, in his mind, would at least provide the illusion that you weren't in a dead game.

That, and your status/progression wouldn't be tied into how much you logged into a game. Sort of like Eve allowing you to keep on leveling/training skills during off-hours, except in a more extreme way.

[edit] Come to think of it, very few indie games care about dungeons to begin with.  tongue
« Last Edit: June 10, 2008, 01:01:51 AM by Stray »
WindupAtheist
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Badicalthon


Reply #25 on: June 10, 2008, 07:08:26 AM

It would seem like social/travel tools and appropriate world design would be better ways to deal with low population.  I mean an NPC that looks like a player is still an NPC.

"You're just a dick who quotes himself in his sig."  --  Schild
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