14 August, 2011
Back from Gen Con and slowly recovering. I'm gonna punt another week on the Weekend Design Challenge. But, I figured I'd share a few more thoughts about Storybricks, especially what we showed off at Gen Con.
Feedback from Gen Con
We decided to show off an early version of our tool at Gen Con because we wanted to get feedback. It was really rewarding to see the change in people who initially said, "I don't play computer games" but then enthusiastically signed up for more information after seeing our demo. This tells me we're doing something right.
As I posted before, however, there is some worry that people might be too quick to judge based on the surface. We did make a point to say that we've been developing the tool for only about 2.5 months, and that most of the art assets, while not bad looking, aren't necessarily indicative of our final product. But, it seems that most people really did "get" the underlying premise of the tool and could see some of the exciting possibilities.
Coverage from the convention
Justin "Syp" Olivetti wrote an in-depth article about Storybricks for Massively after seeing our demo at Gen Con. I've been a fan of Syp's blog Bio Break for a while, so it was nice to meet him in person. Justin also wrote about a chart we made to show the evolution of MMOs over time. (There is also an updated version of the large chart for your viewing pleasure.) More recently Massively highlighted an interesting comment someone made referring to Storybricks, a metaphor about people wanting more freedom vs. more elaborate games.
The site MMO Sanctuary also saw our demo and talked a bit about it on their site. Glad to see we were able to generate some good interest in the press about this.
Great blogger posts
I'm not what you might call a natural salesperson. But, I'm really excited about what we're doing with Storybricks. So, we've been reaching out to some bloggers, especially ones I've read for a while, and showing them the demo of our tool. It seems other people have been seeing the potential for our work as well.
Other people picked up the story and started running with the possibilities:
Spinksville talks about some possibilities of simulating NPCs.
Too Damn Epic talking about Storybricks in terms of an ideal MMO set in the world of the tabletop RPG Shadowrun.
Elder Game talking about NPCs as content.
If you run a blog or site and would like to see a demo, drop me a line.
Why care about NPCs?
One article was particularly interesting over at I Have Touched The Sky. Referring to Spinks' article, Rowan points out that we just can't care about a large number of people. And, it can be annoying to have NPCs who wander off and "do their own thing" when you're trying to just play the damned game.
I have to agree completely. While it was interesting to watch the NPCs in Ultima 5 go through their daily routine because of the sheer novelty of it all, it was annoying when all you wanted to do was to buy some reagents. Single-player games can get away with this a bit easier since you can telescope time easier. Online games, however, are not quite so flexible with jumping forward in time.
But, our goal isn't simply to simulate NPCs, we also want to give them more depth. Most NPCs in MMOs (and many RPGs of all kinds) are flat: the NPCs in most MMOs might as well be simple billboards with "quest" instructions or vending machines for all the depth they have. It's fast and easy, but it doesn't add to the enjoyment or immersion of the game.
Consider the examples Rowan gives of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who live in nearby towns. You don't have to care about all of them, but you could strike up a conversation with them and find out about their dreams, desires, and fears. Maybe you will have an interesting conversation, maybe you'll waste time, or maybe you'll find a new friend you happen to have a lot in common with. Say you talk to that cashier and find out she loves MMOs, too. What could happen afterward? Lots of possibilities depending on what your goals are. Maybe she's interested enough to chat more. Maybe there's a romantic connection? Maybe she likes WoW while you like RIFT, so you never speak to each other again. But, there are a lot of possible interactions could have if you choose to.
The goal isn't necessarily to get you to treat the NPCs as people (although that'd be mind blowing), but to give them at least as much personality as characters have in books or movies. Given the interactive nature of games, that means they react appropriately to how you treat them. Instead of just being the character standing there asking you to get 10 boar livers, you start to look at the NPC as an honest person who needs help feeding his family. Or as a greedy bastard trying to get you to do the hard work. Or as a student desperate for help completing a task. Whatever the case, the character should be something more than a few lines of skippable quest dialog feebly trying to make the character sound like something more than a thin facade to an exchange of time for advancement.
Ultimately, it leads to a deeper and hopefully more satisfying game world to explore. I'm certainly excited to see the possibilities. What do you think?