Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

22 August, 2019

Designing for better RP
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:55 PM

In addition to better tools, there are some design considerations in an MMO that can be made to help facilitate RP. These design decisions can seem pretty small, but they can have a pretty big impact on how people interact with the game. With these considerations, RP could be enhanced in a game, even if RP isn’t the focus of the game.

Let’s take a look at a few ideas to improve RP, shall we?

This is mostly focusing on design decisions that would help RP. I’ll look at lore decisions that can help RP tomorrow.

Deal with other design decision

I think one of the trickiest things about designing for RP is a truism about any design for an MMO: things are often connected. Making a change in one area has an affect in other areas. And if you’re not even considering RP then you can make some decisions that harm RP inadvertently.

My example of the limited search info space in FFXIV is a good example of this. It’s sufficient size for Japanese text or a witty quote, but it’s hard to include much RP information in it. If the original design had allowed for more characters in the search info, that would enhance RP by letting people be more detailed about what they like.

But there are also other design decisions beyond the game, such as monetization. To draw from another FFXIV example, you get free items to let you change your character, but most races in the game have naming conventions for the race that are important to RPers. It can be a bit jarring to see that catgirl running around with a name that you recognize as a male Roegadyn in the game. The fantasia that allows you to change your appearance doesn’t let you change your name… that costs extra. Of course, you don’t want to make name changes too easy as that can be used by people to avoid responsibility.. it’s a tough thing to balance.

Players want to feel special

This is kind of a no-brainer when you think about it, but a lot of games seem to fail at this. Games cater to Achievers, who want to be recognized for their mastery of the game by other people. This desire can be see in RP as well. People want to be recognized for their character, and often people will RP their character in such a way that makes them stand out.

In FFXIV, the main storyline focuses on the mythical “Warrior of Light”, a singular person who breaks the rules and saves the world; sometimes twice before breakfast. But, again, this is supposed to be a singular character. Outside of the storyline, not everyone around you can be the Warrior of Light… even if the game’s story tells them as much. It’s as they said in The Incredibles, “When everyone is special, nobody is.” But this gets into some lore issues I’ll look at tomorrow.

You can also see this in FFXIV in the concept of “void magic”. It’s a bad, awful, evil thing that nobody should ever use.. except for plot purposes in the game. But, of course, some people see that and they want to be special snowflakes as well. They want to have access to that power, and of course they happily RP away the supposed downsides. Or they just create a series of characters who dabble in void magic, get corrupted, and then the next void magic user arises from the ashes of the prior one. As an RPer, it’s usually

You don’t need to include conflict

And this ties nicely into my last point: there’s no need to include conflict. Void magic doesn’t need to exist to create conflict between players… even if it’s a nice tool to make bad guys really bad in the storyline. Players will find their own conflict.

I’ll also look to Meridian 59 to explain a bit of this. The game had plenty of systems that were intended to create conflict between players. Factions, the token game, and the necromancer/hunter scenario. The idea was that two players on opposite sides would have a reason to go at it hammer and tongs. But the reality is… people didn’t need those reasons. In the case of the hunter/necromancer scenario, players found it more beneficial to work together, actually, and gain power that deprived other players of that power. In the end, people were eager to fight in a PvP game without having a reason designed in! And even though this isn’t RP, I think creative RPers don’t need to be divided into teams to create such conflict.

I think these three things can help make RP more interesting in the game without necessarily compromising other parts of the game.

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