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Thinking Virtually

#32: Five Things I Hate About You: Engineering Problems

by Shannon Appelcline
November 19, 2001


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Last week I promised you that I'd be beginning a new series talking about the top ten engineering problems in MCRPGs. That's still mostly my intent, but as you've no doubt noticed from the title, I've decided to limit myself a bit. Five problems, as it turns out, will offer more than sufficient engineering topics.

It wasn't that I didn't have ten problems. Before I started trimming and combining I was closer to twenty. Rather, as I began to outline this article, I came to realize that a good half of my problem were actually administration problems--issues that had to do with live people doing live gamemastering on a live game.

I haven't talked too much about administration thus far in the column. I briefly touched upon it in Thinking Virtually #28: Many Users, Many Plots, but it didn't even make my list of the stages of game design in Thinking Virtually #10: DEaD Again: A Statement of Purpose. In actuality, it's just as important as any part of the pre-launch game design ... and so I decided it deserved its own set of articles at a later time.

Which is my long-winded way of saying you actually are going to be getting ten MCRPG problems in this column, but I'm going to concentrate on five engineering problems for now, and then hit five administration problems a little further down the road.

May the Source Be With You ...

There's a real motherlode of good articles over at the Skotos articles site. I've drawn on them in the past for this column; for this next series I intend to do so even more liberally. There have been great discussions on all five of the major problems I plan to cover, you see, and I'd like to help cull them from the Skotos herd and present them up to the RPGnet community.

So, I'm going to be doing things a little differently in this article series. For each of the five topics I'm covering I'm going to offer my own views, but then, when I can, I'm also going to reprint some other, alternative views, on the same topic.

So as to not keep you in suspense, here's a short summary of the five engineering problems I plan to cover between now and next April.

Problem #1: The Fun Factor

This is actually an issue that straddles topics of design and engineering alike, but I've decided to cover it here because it offers a great foundation for the rest of the engineering problems. The basic question is: how do you create a game people will enjoy?

There are a few factors here. First of all, there's a fairly natural tendency for game designers to design for themselves, rather than players, and that inevitably results in a game that interests a very narrow group of people. However, there's also a related question of how you please players with the systems you engineer. A lot of this is psychological, and has to do with what type of rewards you offer players, and how you do it.

Problem #2: The Realism Rathole

If there's a word that's plagued RPGs of all types from the very start it's this one: realism. The basic question is: how do you balance a game that's realistic with one that's enjoyable?

To solve this issue you have to figure out what realism means exactly, and how realistic you actually should be in a game. I plan to look at a few different mediums, from musicals to movies, and see how they each treat reality. Also, I plan to look at innately unrealistic assumptions that are forced upon game designers by the MCRPG medium.

Problem #3: The Competition Conundrum

This is one of the problems that is fairly unique to MCRPGs and mostly absent from their tabletop RPG brethren. The basic question is: how do you support competition without angering players?

At core, this comes down to the issues of Player versus Player (PvP) gameplay and Player Killing (PK). But, there are other variables too: what other competitive means do you allow players, and how do you support them, and what affect does this all have on your community?

Problem #4: The Balance Bother

Another problem that has plagued all sorts of RPGs for ages is that of game balance. The basic question is: how do you balance different players in a fair way?

In MCRPGs you have to balance different character types or classes, just like you do in tabletop role-playing games, but you also have to try and figure out how to balance entirely different styles of gameplay. How do you make fighters and bakers equally happy? The question of "nerfing" also comes up in MCRPG game balance discussions.

Problem #5: The Dynamic Dilemma

Finally, I'm going to end with one of my personal MCRPG pet peeves--one that actually straddles the line between engineering and administration. The basic question is: how do you keep a perpetual game fresh and new?

This has been one of the biggest, most unique, problems in MCRPGs to date. A limited number of gamemasters have to stay ahead of the hordes of players; without the ability to repeat puzzles, questions, and adventures that they've created, they have no chance of actually entertaining people for extended amounts of time.

Onward to Morning ...

And that is the quick overview of what I plan to do over the next six months. I expect this to run about 25 articles, but some of the topics are pretty big, so I might be off by a little bit. After covering my Top Five Engineering Problems I'll either be moving straight on to the Administrative Top Five or perhaps taking a quick detour to The Elements of Good Characterization, depending on feedback.

If you have any thoughts on comments on any of these topics, now or as I move forward, please don't hesitate to offer them on the forums, as I'd like to have as much grist as possible while I start milling through these issues.

A Brief Plug

As many of you have no doubt noticed, I'm pretty careful in trying to offer closely-tied topical series here in Thinking Virtually. To date, I've offered up three of what I call "seasons":

  • Season One. Introduction to Design - Introducing the column, the idea of MCRPGs, and how to design a game, starting with the story elements. Columns #1-10
  • Season Two. The Elements of Good Design - Expanding upon the design concepts of the first season, rounding out all the most important considerations in designing a game. Columns #11-20
  • Season Three. The Elements of Good Plot - Discussing the question of developing plot, vastly expanding the initial discussion of #6, "Plot Strategies". Columns #21-30

Over at Skotos Tech I maintain a complete, topical index to Thinking Virtually which breaks the series down into their subtopics. Take a look sometime. It'll just link you back to the Thinking Virtually articles here at RPGnet.

In the meantime, I'll see you in 7.


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

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