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Thinking Virtually

#20: From Design to Development: An Epilogue

by Shannon Appelcline
August 6, 2001  

This week, folks, is what we call a turning point. Who lives? Who dies? Who ends up in the shower with Bobbie Ewing? That type of thing. Or, to use the lingo of one of my other favorite mediums: "After this issue, nothing will be the same".

You see, I've been talking for 18 of the last 19 columns about design. It's one of three important phases in creating a game, as I outlined that mystery 19th column:

First you design a game--figuring out how it's going to work. Then you develop the game--working out all of the storytelling aspects. And then you engineer a game--programming all of the algorithmic aspects.

And now, I'm done with design.

There's lots more to talk about on the topic, and I'm certain that I'll return to it at some time in the future, but for now I'm ready to saddle up my virtual horsey and move on to the next issue: Development.

But, before I move on, I want to take a final look back and say what I said. I've tried to order and arrange this column as much as I can, but it's a fluid and dynamic process, and thus related material on occasion has been separated by many weeks. So, let me run back through the last 19 columns and see what sense it all makes--what overarcing memes I've examined.

After that I'm going to talk a little bit more about development and engineering and the gameplan that I have for the next ten weeks of this column--from August to October. Summarizing Design

So, how do you design an multiplayer computer roleplaying game(MCRPG)? If I've offered one piece of crucial advice, I hope it's the following: you must first know what type of game you're designing.

To start off, you really have to know what an MCRPG is, and what type of MCRPG games there are out there.

More than that, however, you need to understand how MCRPGs differ from those other games that are out there--most specifically tabletop RPGs and single-player computer games.

There are two other very high-level meta questions that you need to ask yourself before you can really finish defining the shape of your game. First, what type of gameplay do you want to encourage?

Second, what type of audience do you want to attract?

The above questions and topics cover the mechanical part of the design process. But, that's only half of the battle. You also need to design the storytelling aspect of the game. In other words, though you may have designed an excellent shell, you need to figure out what wondrous worlds to fill it with.

And, to get that whole process started, you need ideas.

But ideas are only the start. Beginning with your ideas as a foundation, you then need to build a whole game, and you do that with a whole collections of writer's tools.

Two of these tools, character and setting, help define the background of a game.

Two other tools, plot and backstory, help define the active elements of a game.

And when you're doing all of this design, there's one more important thing that you should keep in mind: be original.

And those, in summary, are my thoughts on how you design an MCRPG .... or at least my thoughts so for. With special thanks to Jessica Mulligan, Travis Casey, and my wife Kimberly Appelcline, who all helped me along the way. Separating Development & Engineering

I've said that I'm next moving on to development--in other words expanding the storytelling elements that you've designed. But, I should note, that I actually see that as part of a continuum that ends on the other side with engineering--or expanding the mechanical elements that you've designed.

Thus, in the months to come, I'm going to freely mix those two elements, talking about everything that I haven't talked about yet, all together.

When discussing development I intend to talk mostly about expanding the Elements of Good Storytelling: plot, backstory, character, and setting.

When discussing engineering I intend to cover a myriad of topics that I've barely hinted at, such as how you keep a world dynamic, how you keep players happy over an extended amount of time, and how you continue to build and expand without alienating your current base of users.

My next series of articles, however, is going to be clearly on the development side of things. I'm going to talk about plot and I've got ten (!) articles scheduled on the topic:

  • How to use movie plot structure to create individual stories (three weeks)
  • How to use episodic plot structure to create story arcs (four weeks)
  • How to tell stories for multiple players (one week)
  • How to tell stories with multiple storytellers (one week)
  • Whether plots are good or bad (one week)

You'll note that I'll be ending the discussion by questioning the whole idea of plot. As I've learned from the forums here at RPGnet, some storytellers consider plots to be constraining and unnatural in a game. Though I plan to argue my side--that plots are good--I hope to be able to include feedback from plot naysayers as well.

It's still ten weeks away, but if you'd like to offer some comments about why plot is bad in an RPG, for possible inclusion in column #30, send me mail at ShannonA@skotos.net with the subject "RPGnet: Plot is Bad!"

I'll remind you all again when we get closer to the date.

And with that, I'd like to bring this week's column to a close. I hope the first twenty installments have provided you all with a good foundation for how to create MCRPGs and I hope the next ten will do an equally good job discussing plot.

See you in seven.

Shannon regularly writes the column Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities for Skotos Tech, an online gaming company. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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