[I'm still working on bugs, polish, and a bit more content for the next playable pre-alpha. I just got the camera controls fixed! I also added sliders and settings so people can tweak the camera behavior. Next up: redoing the Quest and Crafting GUIs so you can tell what's going on.
But while I work on mundane stuff, let's look far ahead... way ahead by like six months or so... and look at some features I want to add eventually.]
Player-Made Dungeons: Meh
I have mixed feelings about player-generated content in traditional MMOs. Generally, players aren’t very good at making content, so you have lots of trouble sorting wheat from chaff. This is very difficult because players don’t grade based on how awesome content is, they grade based on the difficulty-to-reward ratio of the content.
And when MMO developers think about this idea, what they usually come up with is a full suite of dungeon-creation tools that let players remix existing dungeons in new ways. This is a ton of work, and is generally pretty dull. After a few years of updates, MMO developers have usually already attempted all the obvious things that can be done with these dungeon pieces. So usually all you’re getting is a custom story script. That’s not worthless — I like quests with good stories — but it’s also not worth all the effort it takes to make a dungeon-creation tool!
I have lots of ideas about how to make player-made dungeons more exciting. But… that’s for a different game. Project Gorgon isn’t going to be able to support user-made dungeons. Maybe the next MMO…
But let’s leave aside the creation of entire custom dungeons. There are still some great simple ways to let users create content for other users.
In fact, these features will be very easy to add to almost any MMO. They play “within the rules” of the game, and require only minimal new GUI interfaces and database tables. If you’re reading this and you’re an MMO developer, feel free to use these ideas!
Treasure Maps: Geo-Caching for MMOs
First up is the easiest one to code: treasure maps. All you do is go to a certain spot in the world, “bury” an item in the ground, and receive a “treasure map” for that item. You can now give that treasure map to a friend, and they can go hunt for the treasure you placed.
How do they find it? Well first, you can write a message on the map to give them clues. (It’s a tweet-length message, maybe a riddle or some general info about where it’s hidden.) Second, whenever they activate the map, it will tell them if they are getting “hotter” or “colder” compared to the last time they used the map. Tada! A very simple way to give your friends something to do.
I can implement this in a couple hours. The way it works is that the map actually stores the info about the “treasure” it contains. So internally, the map itself has the treasure “inside” itself all the time, but only gives you the treasure if you’re in the right spot. That way it doesn’t require any special world-state variables… just a couple of extra IDs stored in the item. Easy.
But we can do better…
If we’re willing to spend more than a couple hours on the task, we can make it a lot more interesting. Legendary Treasure works basically the same way: you go some place in the world and “bury” one or more items. But this time you don’t get a treasure map. Instead, you write a “legend” (a tweet-length message).
These legends automatically show up in taverns and message boards around the world. Players can read your legend and see the reward item they’ll get if they go there, along with how many rewards are left in the treasure hoard. When all the treasure has been given out, the legend disappears from the message boards.
Now players can propose simple riddles to the entire server shard, with an automatically-given reward. And again, this is very easy to implement. Maybe two or three days of work for the basics.
Lady of the Lake
Here’s a different riff on the same idea. The Lady of the Lake is an NPC in a special location. High-level players can give her items to give out to others if a certain key item is shown. For instance, “if a player presents a red ruby, give them this hypno-gem.” (The guessing player doesn’t lose their item, so there’s no penalty to guessing wrong.)
You can also create “legends” for these, as above, which gives hints about what item is needed and see how many rewards are left.
And I have a half-dozen other mechanics in the same vein (pseudo-programmable “golems”, “bounties” you can place on specific boss monsters, etc.) By combining these simple systems together, you can create some really interesting content, like multi-step scavenger hunts, or guided tours of rarely-visited dungeons, or complex ciphers for players to decode.
Paying the Price
All these systems require generosity: the person creating the content has to pony up the reward! This way there’s never a problem with balance. It also means the content is always temporary: even if you bury 1000 items in the ground, only 1000 players will ever be able to experience your content. But that’s not such a bad thing. It means you get to create a new better version later.
Does requiring generosity sound like a deal-breaker? I doubt it will be. I remember when I was a high-level AC1 player, creating “quests” for newbies was one of the most fun things I did. (“Bring me Tibri’s Fire Spear and I will give you a Peerless Atlan Claw!”). And if the game helped to manage these quests, I bet there would be a whole lot of high-level people who enjoyed giving away items creatively like this. And think of the guild events!
Bottom line is that players already do this. They just don’t get any support from the game to let them take it to the next level. And there’s no good reason why not.
Easy to Code… and Maybe Even Better Overall
These systems will need a bit of polish and fleshing out: profanity-reporting, a rating system (for content creators, so you can sort legends by most-popular creators), and a way to give feedback to the creator. But this is all pretty easy stuff, and most of it can be added incrementally over time.
Most importantly, because of the transitory and un-abusable game mechanics involved, I won’t need administrators to examine content and see if it’s “fair”. It’s always going to be fair: it’s just players giving each other items. Admin intervention will only be needed in cases of profanity and similar abuse — which I already have to handle for profane chat.
And the crazy thing is that I suspect these simple tools will give us more interesting content than Yet Another Player Made Dungeon Where Every Room Has Bosses In It And The Monsters All Quote My Little Pony.
[Also: thanks to MMO Melting Pot for giving me the 2011 Piggie Award for Most Charming Games Company Employee! Though I do think that category is rigged against big-company employees who have to filter everything they say, and often have to announce commandments from on high which they don't agree with. And sometimes, they just have to be the bad guy. When I was working on AC2, I was always the Bad Cop so that the rest of the team could be the Good Cops. Hmm for Gorgon, I need to remember to hire a Bad Cop. I ain't doing that thankless job again...]
[Sandra says: Not it!]