Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Trust is a Tricky Thing

So, Raph Koster asked people about what they wanted in MMOs. Well, I hate MMOs, so I decided to think up an idea for one.

So, Trust is a Tricky Thing.
(AKA, "The Sound of A Link Unclicked.")
(BKA, Crazy game idea by someone unimportant, so you can ignore this post. I just got bored a few days ago and felt like thinking.)

My game is about trust. And the name of my game is 'The TRUST'. Catchy, huh? Let me give you the narrative set up: It's set in 2020, a bit of a nod to the Roaring '20s, full of nice suits and lavish style. The near-future is an extension of our current day paranoia, and in a world where security promises win elections, many larger cities have continued to change their police forces into military-esque organizations complete with surveillance cameras on every street corner. With these rigid social lines drawn has come a ban on private ownership of guns, and just recently, even a rebirth of prohibition in a political attempt to stop causes of violence. Crime is at an all time low, and what we call organized crime syndicates have been been labeled terrorist organizations. And to combat the last remaining vestiges of crime, the Police Force has began a new campaign, T.R.U.S.T., Tactics to Remove Urban Societal Terrorists. Using undercover agents, they hope to infiltrate and gain control of top crime organizations to get information on all involved.

Seeing as I'm designing this for fun rather than actual production, I have the luxury of being able to do things like say "This game is AO," and not have to worry about the fact that it wouldn't sell gangbusters. And even crazier than that, I can say "The player must use their own credit card to pay, and their real name will be used in-game." Yes, as you no doubt assumed by the title alone, this game will deal with the sharing of your avatar's (and to a small degree, your) private information in the course of gameplay. Like I said, bless the luxury of not having to be realistic. You also get a nickname, a fake address, a semi-fake email/chat address, and a voice chat contact. Why? So people can listen in, tap your email/chat, and plan hits on your house. Oh yes, this will get dirty.

If I'm playing I'd go by the same name I use all over the net, Jeffool. So I'm Jeff “Jeffool” Bridges, living at 119 3rd Avenue, Apt A. My cousin would be Thomas “HotDogCart” Warren, (don't ask,) and be my neighbor at 119 3rd Avenue, Apt B.

As Jeff Bridges I am part of the TRUST Task Force, a guild if you will. But as Jeffool, I've joined the Wallace Crime Syndicate. I'm an undercover agent. My cousin? As Thomas Warren he's with the Schibetta Crime Family, and as HotDogCart he's a cop. This makes him a crooked cop. Our missions are the same. To work our way up the ladder of enemy 'guilds' and as one of the 'second-in-command', you try to be voted in as leader. As the leader of a guild, a player has new options open to him such as changing the ranks of other members, or over the period of a few weeks, disbanding the guild.

Most MMOs show players names above their head as if you were omniscient or recognized every single player as a personal pal of yours. I propose that you never see a players name over them unless they properly introduce themselves, at which point you see their name and their 'secondary alliance'. In WoW-terms, introducing yourself would be akin to highlighting a player that you want to introduce yourself to, and clicking on an 'introduce' button. So now I, Jeffool, and my cousin, HotDogCart, see the others nickname above their head any time we see each other. We recognize each other. Everyone you have introduced yourself to recognizes you by your nickname until you die. And if you change your nickname (which you can do on a whim,) friends still see the old one unless you re-'introduce' yourself. And, you can also share contacts (one at a time,) to see others nicknames (like you're telling someone “That guy? He's HotDogCart, with the Wallace Syndicate.”) And if you know someones real name, you can also point that out. Of course, knowledge like that is information.

While in a guild, PvE is as you'd imagine. Cops fight AI crooks, go on PvE sting missions, report to gang fights, and generally try to arrest these people. Crooks rob NPCs, intimidate people into giving them 'protection money', and do break-ins. PvP comes in when when a player finds out the real identity of an enemy, and reports them up to the proper level of their guild. That mid-level guild member can then put a 'hit' on the real identity of the enemy. And if you give that information you get major money, or perform the hit, you get major skill points (assuming they're a higher level than you. Otherwise you're just wiping out noobs and that's no challenge.)

If anyone's read this far, I realize that this is a lot of info, and may be impossible to comprehend in one reading. (Assuming I've written it in a manner that is readable. Here's hoping.) But the idea is to make people have to expect their fellow guildies of being enemies, and at the same time be reluctant to prove that they are not. Would you follow a guild leader who could rat you out and have you bumped off (completely losing all skill points you had built up,) if you didn't trust them?

And why do it? As guilds are disbanded, the final guild “wins.” That server is over. A new one opens up, but each server has a different city name. Everyone on that server in the winning guild for a period longer than X months gets a free novelization of their server from opening to end-state. No matter if the cops or robbers win, the story should be told using the real players names and actions. And the head of the guild should get to open a new guild on any server they choose.

So, you get to actually affect the world in which you're playing. And to remember it, a novel chronicling the history that you lived, of which you may even be a part. I think that's a pretty cool bonus for beating a game. No to mention that the only way to win is to find trustworthy people and 'game the system' together.

Well, at least I like the idea.


Blogger Duncan said...

For the record, I managed to make it through the whole post. And I like the shape of the idea. There are definite narrative elements that can be enacted by script, or DM. There is also a lot of room for player controlled experience.

I think that the idea of being able to limit the "alt-syndrome" through nicknames is very flexible. Assuming that you do away with a traditional class model, there would be little need for alts. Allow the players to change their appearance (perhaps limit more extreme changes to a high price category - a la plastic surgery). Allow skill sets to be replaced and re-trained from scratch.

People could literally change character mid-game with even weirder repercussions than jumping into an alt. If you changed your look drastically enough, only close friends and contacts would recognize you. With a change of tag, you could virtually disappear into a new identity. This could even have in-game reasoning (undercover work, or witness relocation).

With the server lifetime being theoretically limited, the ability to re-craft a character and play strategy would be universally present. Perhaps even force the server to a 9-month reset (or whatever... this kind of thing was discussed over on Terra Nova just the other week - http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/03/purging.html).

There would have to be a much more solid dynamic for creating a syndicate or organization. By force, there would be designer made ones (like newbie corps in Eve), but players would be allowed to create their own. Perhaps include a robust system for mergers, splits, and even rivalry.

And I like the dystopia setting. I think that this idea is double-plus-good!

1:53 PM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Jeffool said...

I'm definitely for allowing people to change their looks along with their nickname at any time (given they have the money.) Though I toy with saying that changing 'guilds' really wrecks havoc with your 'skills' too, unless you're moving to a rival organization to which your skills could easily apply.

But I'm not too sure about players starting new guilds. I think that having your own should be a reward for people who 'win'. Though I guess that may create stale long drawn-out wars between just two sides after the others are taken out. Maybe, as per that Terra Nova article, every few months, if there are only three or fewer gangs, a new gang is injected into the city. First it's NPCs showing allegiance to them, putting up graffiti, etc. Then slowly they court underbosses from other groups by giving them cash, power, etc. Then those underbosses recruit other players (or give the word to allow it to happen and make the gang 'open'.)

And while I'm pro-player-led-merger, I think splits should be handled by the developers furthering narrative. Otherwise you're back at having an open gang-creation system where everyone has their own gang.

Oh, and thanks for reading! I knew there were bound to be some masochists out there! :D

4:10 PM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Corvus said...

Jeff, you address some really crucial issues in this post. The removal of the class model is one. Avatars which are more customizable in-game than mere clothing changes would allow is another.

The gameplay stemming strictly from player interactions based upon an overarching narrative guideline is exactly the sort of thing I plan on implementing in our engine.

And perhaps most importantly, the lack of data transparency allows for a level of masquerade that no current game allows (something else we've been planning on for our games as well).

Brilliant post. Thanks for writing it.

5:54 AM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Jeffool said...

Thanks man. I long for a game in which player ingenuity is as high a relevance as statistics when it comes to action. And can't wait to see some Honeycomb either. Get to it!

1:26 PM, March 22, 2006  

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