20 August, 2018
In another kind of cray idea, I wanted to write a bit about Storybricks and what we wanted to do with it. It’s a concept I think still has a place in game development, but it was perhaps a little ahead of its time.
Lets jump in the Wayback Machine!
This relates to the prior post about How MMOs can do stories better. A lot of what we wanted to do with Storybricks was to have the game let players discover their own stories through the game with Storybricks AI driving things.
At the core, Storybricks was about giving a character an emotion or motivation, describing them in some way that fit within the larger world. This worked on multiple levels: in combat, a “striker” NPC with large damage output but low defense would have the motivations to kill things and stay alive. That character would look for ways to inflict maximum damage while taking minimum damage. A tank, on the other hand, would value survival less (but not necessarily ignoring it!). But this went beyond combat: a group of enemies might desire treasure, and would seek villages and trade caravans because treasures are found there.
And further, these motivations could be used to describe characters. A character who does a lot of missions with loot might start being known for having a high desire for treasure; NPCs might exploit this (“There’s extra gold in it for you!”) or even react to a character differently (“You just care about money, not about virtue!” says the paladin.) In some cases players might be able to change their motivations, within reason, maybe treating them like old-school skills in older games like UO or M59: you slowly work toward a cap or a decay limit.
Taking this to another level, you could then have plots that rely on certain desires or motivations. For example, you might have a love triangle plot that has a couple and then a third character with a high lust motivation going after one of the couple. If players or NPCs use the same systems to measure motivation, then either could fit into this plot: an NPC would create more of a feel of a “living world” happening around other players, whereas a player would get to experience a small story, but only if appropriate to the character. The game would also match patterns, so a player hitting on an NPC could trigger a love triangle plot without it being like an “open quest” waiting for the player to come do this.
All these levels would have a common underlying system, the core of Storybricks. The Storybricks themselves were just a nice graphical interface for manipulating the system underneath it all.
So, how does this make for better stories in MMOs? First, stories would be set up indirectly by the designers instead of explicitly laid out as the FFXIV MSQ is. Enemies in the world are given motivations instead of explicit quests, and then the world “figures out” what to do with them. This means that the world is full of examples of how individuals live their life without needing a central story to dominate the player’s attention.
Second, it puts the focus back on individual stories. Players could affect such stories: stopping orcs from looting a village might drive those orcs to another village, for example, which would be determined by the system rather than a phased instance like it is in most current games. The orcs changing their target might mean that another village’s story changes. For example, if a bunch of tribal characters setup a location for their tribe and protect it, that would change the world based on their actions. On the flipside, those Xaela might disrupt the area badly, especially if they look to manipulate the system for their own benefit. It would need to be developed and continuously improved.
Ultimately, this is one of those ideas that kind of went nowhere. The Kickstarter failed and SOE never shipped EverQuest Next as we hoped. But maybe a few of these ideas will live on in other projects.