The interview with Raph on The Escapist has some interesting passages:
“I do all this writing to clarify things for myself,” he says. “I put it out there afterwards, figuring maybe it’ll help other folks, but the initial drive comes … because I am banging my head against a design problem. So, the theory is a tool. You write it down so you don’t forget it – it’s like having a toolbox full of screwdrivers, wrenches and whatever.”
In A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Koster defines “fun” as a function of learning and mastery. As we explore a new game, we learn to recognize its challenges and exploit the tools offered to overcome them – that is, to gain mastery over the game environment.
Heh, I wrote again about this recently. I dared to point out something, though: “This is a basic schematization that can help to understand how games essentially work, but that doesn’t really help to make better games.”
Now notice the contrast:
Koster’s current book project is A Grammar of Gameplay, an ambitious attempt to symbolically describe the component “atoms” of games. The grammar would be a tool to reverse-engineer and notate individual game ingredients, such as topology (“the operational space for a given asset”), core mechanics (“ludemes”), depth of recursion, cost of failure and many other abstractions. Using the grammar, a designer could quantifiably assess a game’s difficulty, range of challenges and required feedback mechanisms.
“I really like my [MMOGs] to embody user creativity. I also dislike cliques, so I have tried to design so people who wouldn’t normally hang out together come to realize each other’s importance in the world, the value of their roles in the society, that sort of thing. So I try to have interdependence as a key feature – people relying on each other, not in the moment-to-moment sense, but in the sense that our modern lives would fall apart if there weren’t people in a zillion jobs doing things we never think twice about, from stocking grocery shelves to manufacturing pens.
UO inadvertently popularized several now-familiar online dysfunctions – especially player-versus-player (PvP) griefing.
“A big part of why I fought the PK switch was because it meant we were trading away player self-determination for security – echoes of today’s political situation, in some ways! UO often felt like long days of taking out things we had put into the game because players found ways to hurt each other with the toys we gave them. But the goal was still self-determination and freedom.
If we had gotten to the natural next step, which was player cities with control over PvP within their territory, I think the real nature of PvP in the game could have emerged.
It’s interesting how for a large majority UO was pure experimentation, with the designers having to figure out solutions for those kinds of “dysfunctional” berhaviours. But in the end it’s what made UO unique and deep.
“On the other hand, in terms of what I expected players to do with it, I think [UO] exceeded every wildest expectation. The players don’t care about what you wanted there, about what the dreams were – they only care about what they have in front of them, and then they proceed to do things you never imagined. And in UO’s case, a lot of what they managed to come up with was truly amazing and not at all something I had ever pictured.
I don’t actually like experimentation and lack of control in games (vaguely explained here, I want direction) but I believe that the goals of the game (that “self-determination and freedom”) are something precious that is missing today. So the idea should be about developing a game with them in mind, and not have them happen in the form of exploits and unexpected outcomes.
That last idea about player cities for control over PvP is also very good. But it still has a major flaw: get rid of NPC-only cities. The players should control Britannia or Trinsic, not a bunch of houses crowding the wilderness. No more shantytowns, thank you.
UO and SWG housing (and player cities) sucked, imho. If you want to give the players the control of the towns, then let them. But radically.
I also do not think that “what went wrong with SWG” was the lack of content. The real problems where somewhere else.
Plans for the future?
“I am working on a startup company, but we’re running quiet for a while.
“I really wanted to get back to working hands-on on a game, and I also have firm ideas about the next directions online games are going to take.
His ideas I won’t quote and don’t completely agree with. I don’t believe in any magic “techniques that reduce the costs”. Interesting game design and focus on what matters, yes. But not really believing into “techniques”.
“I don’t doubt the DikuMUD-based game we’re all still playing will have legs as long as there’s people who still haven’t tried it out, but it won’t keep the current players happy forever. That means new sorts of virtual worlds have to come into being, or else all those folks will just flow right back out of the market. It’s way, way past due that we get out of the tank-healer-nuker game I got bored of back in 1993.
Sadly, what we are today will shape the perception of what we will be tomorrow. I just finished to comment this from what Dan wrote: “There’s an ever evolving sense of tastes and ever shifting marketplace”.
This also mean that our expectations are defined by what we play, and our desires will be shaped around what we play. The power of influence. And hegemony.
THERE IS a concrete risk that WoW will have an hegemony on what players are going to *desire* and expect from future games. The power of influence. So beware, because only a small minority of players could develop a refusal of current game mechanics, while a majority risks to adhere so much to them that they won’t accept anything else anymore.
Interesting interview, but I cannot help myself not to think that Raph continued to bail off on projects as things were starting to become interesting. It happened with Ultima Online, it happened with Star Wars Galaxies and it probably happened even with LegendMUD.
It’s too easy to say “I would have chosen a very different way” years later.
*I* can do that because I’m not there with the privilege of doing things concretely. But he had it instead, and he kept fleeing away from those kinds of responsibilities.
(I know that there may be millions of reasons. I’m not judging the person, just the designer)
So people will continue to mock him because SWG wasn’t “fun”, while I’ll continue to criticize him because he refused (for good reasons or not) to commit and take on those responsibilities.