Racial Game Systems

[Still finding it hard to make time to blog, but despite the silence, improvements are happening at a pretty brisk pace. Speaking of which, Aaron from the LoE team (the guys doing the new graphics update) posted some new art on our Facebook page, which you can see here.

Also, you can keep up with the day-to-day development details on my Twitter account @GorgonMMO.]

What makes races in Project Gorgon different from each other?

In most RPGs, the races tend to blend together. Elves are just guys with pointy ears, and they’re often assholes to Humans. Dwarves have beards and tend to be assholes to Humans. Halflings are short, and they tend to be assholes to Humans.

Races traditionally get bonuses in certain skills, or a few unique combat abilities. I may dabble in a bit of that, but I find it frankly boring, and I also worry that new players aren’t going to know what skills they actually want to learn.

Instead, I want races to bring an element of roleplaying and immersion first, and an element of game mechanics second.

Why Be Different?

I want players to get a “gut feel” for each race… to form a few stereotypes about them, in other words. And when I put it that way, it feels kind of sad and kind of silly: I’m encouraging fantasy racism! But I think we have to go there before we can come back from there.

I think races are a great tool to help immerse the player in the game. It can help them role-play. Before you freak out about role-playing, I don’t really mean saying “thee” and “thou” a lot and avoiding out-of-character speech. I mean it as an aspect of immersion: I want players to think of themselves as their character.

But it’s not really reasonable to tell players “you’re a dwarf! Now go be a dwarf!” They need something to work from. Game mechanics can help create a stereotype to get them started. But stat bonuses really don’t do the trick. Nor do most combat abilities. That’s not choosing a way to roleplay, it’s just choosing your preferred stat-block. (Which is fine for some games, and can be fun in a different way, but it’s not what I want to accomplish with Gorgon’s races.)

Sometimes MMOs do end up with notably distinct races. The fairy race in EQ2 feels very distinct from the human race. They can glide around, and that subtly changes how they play the game. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely better than giving them a +5 to Glass Blowing skill. Unfortunately, EQ2 has a couple of very unique races, and a whole lot of samey races.

Can Gorgon do better? I think so. I think the reason that EQ2 (and most games) don’t come up with distinct mechanics is that they are stuck thinking about them in terms of raw power. “What powers does the fairy have compared to the elf?”

But if we approach is slightly differently, we get different results. Gorgon asks, “how does the game change for each race?” It’s almost the same question, but now the power level is unimportant compared to giving each race distinction.

Elves

Gorgon’s elves are supposed to be obsessively clean, so elves will see a special meter on their screen called “Cleanliness”. (You can already find equipment that boosts Hygiene, which is the stat that determines how quickly you lose Cleanliness.) Fighting monsters, running in mud, and gardening would lower Cleanliness, whereas jumping in a lake or using water magic would raise it back up.

Every player actually has a cleanliness meter, but only elves see it. There’ll be a subtle “stink cloud” particle coming off of dirty characters… but again, only elves will be able to see these stink lines.

So keeping clean is a way to keep the stink off your character. It will also have minor game-stat boosts, like maybe giving elves slightly more combat XP, or better interactions with elven NPCs. But really, it shouldn’t be very important. I don’t want to force elves to maintain their Cleanliness Meter if they don’t give a crap… I just want to encourage them to give a crap. (If that makes any sense.)

Humans

Humans in Project Gorgon are extremely social creatures, and maintaining social connections is very important to them. They have a Loneliness meter that goes up if they are too long away from other players. Eventually, (perhaps), the lonely player’s screen starts to drain of color, suggesting that they are becoming slightly depressed. When they spot another player, the world brightens a bit. Spot another, and it brightens more.

There’ll be minor in-game benefits to keeping loneliness low, but again, it’s mostly about presenting a role to players. The game is saying, “your character is lonely,” and you can choose to ignore that information — and probably will, most of the time — but hopefully it’s something that sticks in the back of your mind.

And … Others

I’m still working on the actual mechanics of these, so don’t be surprised if they don’t quite make it into the game like this. But you get the idea: each race will have a special variable that controls a part of the game that only they see.

I don’t want to force all players to fit a stereotype, but I do want to give players a starting point. Then I can eventually let players opt out of these racial mechanics — a Human could learn to be a neat freak and get the Cleanliness meter on their screen, or they could learn to be a hermit and have the Loneliness meter disappear. Maybe that happens automatically if you do certain things. If your Human remains consistently clean, they eventually start seeing the Cleanliness meter. If Elves stay dirty constantly, they eventually stop caring and the meter disappears.

These mechanics are tailored to helping players role-play without really noticing. “I’m lonely,” says the Human, “so I want to get into a hunting group for a bit.” Or “just a minute,” says the Elf. “I’ll be right there, I just need to take a bath.” That’s roleplaying. Or at least steps in that direction.

I know some players will find this system irritating, but I hope it’s a net positive. If it isn’t, well, then, I’ll take it back out! But I want to keep layering simple ideas like this into the game. It goes with existing mechanics like Voluntary Badges (like choosing to be a vegetarian), and Roleplay Death Penalties (where you come back from the grave slightly wrong, and are asked to do something silly for a while, like pretend to be afraid of crossing bridges.)

Okay I gotta get back to work. Next time I’ll talk about Necromancy in more detail, along with some of the new stuff I’ve been adding!

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9 Responses to Racial Game Systems

  1. Jason says:

    Thats a very good observation and I like the approach. The fairy race in EQ2 was different and that was neat. Istaria had Dragons, they could fly and they were big, which (not even taking into account the different stats and equipment) made a big difference in gameplay from the bipedal races. Istaria also had a lizard race with no gender so they all spoke in a weird sort of third-person. It didn’t do anything for actual game mechanics, but it did create a sense of roleplay and encouraged players of that race to do the same.

    I like the meter idea for those… For Dwarves it could be something as simple as time spent above vs below ground. For a race of Orcs, might be time spent out of battle versus in-battle or the reverse of Humans perhaps – maybe they prefer being loners).

    Neat concept and I like that you aren’t tying game mechanics/stats to it.

  2. Richard Nunes says:

    I love the idea of race-specific meters and badges. It gives players their own vocabulary when they identify like-minded players, creates a sort of clique that outsiders cannot relate to. Being able to swap recipes with other vegetarians (and the little extra buff that can provide) is a nice touch. Of course, a player opting-in to be a loner and perpetually dirty could lead to odd behaviours like standing in a pig pen shooing other players away and complaining about personal space. It would be nice if experienced players could create their own badges, secretly add them to crafted items so that only players who have been given a particular badge can read “point tip away from face” on the blade of their sword. To everyone else, it’s just a sword.

  3. Rolan Storm says:

    “…each race will have a special variable that controls a part of the game that only they see.”

    This. This is great. Every time I compare modern game and games of yore I ask myself: ‘what’s different?’ Those things. First, for different races or faction world was different, especially when you start out. And second:

    “That’s roleplaying. Or at least steps in that direction.”

    Exactly. Who would think to RP in Everquest? Okay, I hear you guys – there were plenty of RP back there. But thing is I had to act my character. I had to consider how things impact him and how world look at him. Not because I want to, but because of game mechanics. The only thing that annoyed some people was no choice over the matter. Well, that’s not the case here, right? And for me more of these ‘simulator hooks’ are in-game – the better. Makes a player think, be creative. It is fun, not just walking around looking elvish.

  4. Ben Overmyer says:

    Huh. That’s actually a brilliant idea. I look forward to seeing how you implement it. Maybe I should try Gorgon…

  5. Gaius says:

    This does sound like a cool idea. Just a subtle nudge to give more the impression of what a race is like.

    Had you thought about doing similar things for those with animal curses? I remember a ways back you liking the weirdness of cows going around asking people to milk them; maybe some kind of meter or something to remind them they’ve gone a while. Pigs could possibly get the inverse of the elven cleanliness meter, something encouraging them to be as filthy as they can,* or some encouragement to gorge themselves often. Given Harry’s description of lycanthropy, maybe werewolves might be nudged toward turning murderous more often than not, or maybe encouraged to join in a howl if other wolves are going at it.

    Rampant speculation!

    Incidentally, an elf turned into a pig is amusing, especially in this context. How would the racial influence factor into ones that might overlap like that?

  6. Rauxis says:

    what’s the special of Rakshazas?
    *ponder*

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

  7. kleer says:

    Gaius says: “Pigs could possibly get the inverse of the elven cleanliness meter, something encouraging them to be as filthy as they can,* or some encouragement to gorge themselves often.”

    Or… ‘these flies buzzing around me are getting annoying, I better go roll around in some mud to deter them for awhile’ *oink*

  8. Gaius says:

    @kleer: Heh. This would work nicely as one factor! It has a bonus of emphasizing a more subtle inconvenience that someone turned into an animal might discover.

  9. Mouse says:

    Elves transformed into Pigs should always display whichever meter is lower. If they go for a swim, Cleanliness soars and their Filthiness meter shows up flashing and sorrowful. Elf-pig goes and rolls in some mud and their Cleanliness meter shows up flashing and sorrowful.

    Same would go for any other race that has carefully groomed their Cleanliness meter.

    Another example would be Hermit-Wolves. Hermit wants Loneliness to be low, but the Wolf wants time howling in a pack.

    You could say that suffering builds Character.