Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 April, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Non-combat gameplay
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:20 AM

So, let’s get back into some concrete design challenges. This one is perhaps a bit broad, but you all are smart enough to handle it.

Here’s your challenge: Describe and define a major gameplay system for an online game that does not (directly) involve combat. My thought below the jump.

The first answer in my mind is Business/Economics. This is already a celebrated part of some games. There are a bunch of offline game that simulate these aspects, and that could provide for some fun gameplay. The danger is that it may be hard to balance in an online game. Of course, I have a mind for this type of thing, even if I don’t particularly find running a business “fun”. But, it could be a good learning experience for some people. I think the important part of this idea is that is still allows for conflict and cooperation just like combat does.

So, what are your thoughts?


  1. I’m personally fascinated by three (somewhat interrelated) gameplay systems: Perception, Deception, and Persuasion.

    Perception gameplay would be about crafting finer player control over what the character sees or senses (or more to the point, what he doesn’t detect). Also, it would be about find ways of simulating concepts like concentration, distraction, and so on, and adjusting results based on those criteria.

    Deception gameplay is kind of the flip side of the same coin, and probably requires a robust perception model to be effective. Not just basic hiding and sneaking, but feints, feats of misdirection, bamboozlement, perhaps even as far as disguise and impersonation. Espionage-themed games would probably rest heavily on this type of gameplay model.

    Persuasion obviously develops somewhat from the Deception concept, but also ties into some of the ideas that Vanguard took a stab at in the Diplomacy subgame. A system which simulates emotional manipulation and control (combat, sort of, I guess) in a royal court or similar setting. It might also be a method of creating a “romance novel” style of game.

    Just some basic ideas…

    Comment by Craig Huber — 21 April, 2007 @ 8:57 AM

  2. The NPCs are the game! I posted this on mud-dev2 a few months back: .

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 21 April, 2007 @ 2:37 PM

  3. Mike is 100% correct.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 21 April, 2007 @ 5:10 PM

  4. “Mike is 100% correct.” – I wouldn’t go that far. :-)

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 21 April, 2007 @ 7:46 PM

  5. I’ve seen stealth (Craig’s “Perception”) mechanics done fairly interestingly in Dragonrealms. They’re in the midst of making very heavy changes to it, or I’d remark on it.

    I’ve also long hoped for building a MUD where names aren’t brazen identifiers, but rather some way that you can change what you look like in a meaningful way.

    But, back to Brian’s question…

    My favorite idea (Diplomacy) has already been mentioned, but I’d also like to see proper magic duels, a la Bartle’s Waving Hands or AD&D 2e Epic.

    A different idea that I’ve tossed around a little but suspect I’ll end up never doing (becoming a game developer isn’t actually my dream of dreams..) is that of civic competition.

    The idea’s pretty simple. Have a number of metrics a city can be rated by, which depends on contributions of players in the city. Thus, people will almost assuredly decide to specialize in becoming the richest city, the most beautiful, the most learned, or the largest number of tributaries, or whatever.

    Comment by Michael Chui — 22 April, 2007 @ 2:35 AM

  6. Mike: 100% correct with regard to PvE ;)

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 22 April, 2007 @ 8:59 AM

  7. What I see as the biggest hurdle to diplomacy gameplay is the unbelieveability of repeated strategies.

    In physical combat, you may lose to an enemy and return, see that enemy repeat roughly the same sequence of actions, and yet not get the feeling that you’re dancing the same steps as before. We expect characters to favor similar strategies and tactics from battle to battle in physical combat.

    Generally, people expect conversations to be considerably less predictable. It would stretch believeability if a character used the exact same lines against me as during our last conversation (some crossover isn’t unheard of, of course) or if one character used the same lines as another. There are far more options available in language than in physical strategy, and there is much greater emphasis on nuance. More importantly, language is more spontaneous and circumstantial.

    Diplomacy gameplay experiences that I’m familiar with have, up to this point, been essentially an attempt to map physical combat mechanics onto verbal combat. Perhaps a good beginning would be to at least attempt a more complete crossover of factors, such as to involve character A.I. as much in verbal combat as in physical combat. If NPCs were smart enough to recognize player tactics, like intimidation or kissing ass, then the strategy expected of the player could be more active and nuanced.

    More environmental awareness might also be encouraged; such as knowing that a particular NPC will want to appear generous when a pretty lady is nearby, or that he will cut off his conversation abruptly if you mention a touchy subject as his superiors approach. In that case, part of the player’s strategy may include comments or offers that entice the NPC toward or away from a particular environment.

    Comment by Aaron — 22 April, 2007 @ 2:44 PM

  8. You have to define combat first, Mr. Green. For example, the original EQ2 crafting system was probably combat by most definitions.

    Comment by Mox — 23 April, 2007 @ 1:46 AM

  9. I assume that an idea which meets this challenge has to be part of what a newbie does within the first 10 minutes of playing the game. Otherwise it will just float away to sit on a higher level of abstraction than what combat does and there is already tons of game system at high levels of abstraction within an mmorpg.

    My proposal is then a game system where you climb the status ladder of the NPC population. Think of this as an elaborate type of faction system with similarities to what you did when siding with guilds in Morrowind. But instead of faction reputation levels you have a social bond to each npc, perhaps with a cap at a maximum of 147,6 connections per character? Anyhow the way to play this game will have to be based on resource management, got to think more about the details :P

    In short it will look something like:

    Direct systems: Click buttons and such interface fiddling when interacting with npc.

    Level 1: Gain status with the npc that is being interacted with to meet acceptance treshold. This costs some of the spent resource which may be things such as a connection to another node in your network, money, xp, your promise to side with a particular faction or whatever.

    Level 2: Navigate the social network to where you as player obtain access with specially interesting npc’s such as the king, the master assassin, the pope and so on. Each specially cool npc will be far away enough from most other cool npc’s to make it really tricky for one player to be friendly with more than a small number of the cool npc’s at the same time. But an uber player can spend a lot of fun time floating around the network to access the full population given some time.

    Level 3: Use rewards from the npc connections to further the cause of your carachter and player guild carreers.

    The worst flaw with this idea that I see immediately is negative feedback when you have to dissengage connections with less interesting nodes, or it all becomes a static “collect them all” system which im not so sure about as desired in an mmo.

    Another flaw is that its not going to be easy to sell as usp to casual players. A screenshot of this activity will not describe what the player is doing reasonably well. You can maybe spice it up to where it looks shiny and spiffy but the actions wont look very fun unless you are relatively hardcore.

    Comment by Wolfe — 23 April, 2007 @ 1:57 AM

  10. I’d like to see a fashion gameplay system, where clothing/jewelry crafters compete to get high-profile PCs and NPCs to wear their custom outfits.

    A simple example would be a system where crafters choose a fabric (silk, linen, cotton, wool, etc), a color (red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, white, black, etc) and a cut (doric, ionic, corinthian, etc) for each article of clothing/jewelry they craft. All PC and NPC participants would have an Influence score. Several times a day there would be fashion events (balls, receptions, galas, etc) the game would take note of what each participant wore to their first N events for the week. Every week the system would calculate how much Influence wore each fabric/color/cut combo (where having a relatively small number of high-Influence wearing a piece scores higher than having a large number of high-Influence wearing a piece) and publish a fashion-magazine style report on the hot fashions, the over-exposed fashions, who wore them, who crafted them, who wore the worst outfits, who wore emerging hot fashions, etc. The system then modifies the Designer scores of the crafters and the Influence scores of the participants accordingly. For the following week, all pieces crafted by the very highest Design score crafters would carry a bonus and pieces by any designer that matched the hot fashion color/cut/fabric combos of the previous week would also carry a bonus. High Influence score would affect other social pvp gameplay systems as would high Design score. New colors, cuts and fabrics could be introduced in expansions. Item wear-location (shirt, pants, dress, etc), fashion seasons, item age (“classic” style, “avant-garde”, etc), material costs and many other concepts could be integrated into the crafting, scoring and reporting systems. I’ll augment my simple example above with hard numbers and mechanics in a post on MOGBlog later this week.

    Comment by Phil — 23 April, 2007 @ 8:55 AM

  11. A small idea to chip in:

    Transport! Some people are great drivers, sailors, flyers etc. I imagine a scenario where it becomes an interesting solo-element. NPC wants you to get them somewhere, take something for them. But also an interesting group element: maybe you can hire a driver to get you somewhere faster, or maybe have cargoes where the time it takes to deliver them somewhere affects it’s quality. So the crafters need to give the cargo to a driver who can speed off with it. On a smaller scale, maybe just make things so you have to carry them as group. e.g. two players are needed to carry a log.

    Comment by Jpoku — 24 April, 2007 @ 5:03 AM

  12. Midweek Mash

    [...] … which leads us to the latest weekend challenge from Psychochild: posting ideas for non-combat gameplay systems. Some good ideas in there, I think (leaving aside my hurried comment at the outset there). [...]

    Pingback by Voyages in Eternity — 24 April, 2007 @ 8:22 AM

  13. Non-Combat Game play is one of those areas I’ve been doing quite a bit of exploring about and how we can add in some other ‘elements’ of advancement and freedom in the worlds of massively multiplayer online games.

    Dynamics Part I: Player vs. Player (non-combat) [Faith Based Systems]

    Say the Faith system is based on zero (agnostic), 1 (Unfaithful) and 1000 (very Faithful). At 500 points of faith, your virtue points are normal, then every 25 points above 500 you gain one virtue point so at 1000 you would gain an extra 20 virtue points, at a faith of one you would have 20 virtue points less than you should normally have. This system could be like the crafters skills, where you can raise you your faith to maximum, but cannot have other faiths at a very high level. Therefore, you need to manage your faith and try to achieve and do things for the faith you wish to follow.

    These religious classes could loose faith points based on resurrections (4-point loss) of other characters of their opposing faith, and 2 points loss of faith for resurrecting players of the same faith. Why do you loose more from resurrecting players of a different faith, well because when you do, you are spreading your faith upon them, and give some of your faith to them while resurrecting them. They will loose 4 points of their own faith or whichever faith they have with the highest regard for, from a resurrection by a Cleric of another faith, while they will gain 1 point of your deity’s faith. They can still choose to work on the faith of their choice, but they can also ‘switch’ faiths too, in the game.

    Dynamics Part II: Player vs. Player (non-combat) [Guild Thief Systems]

    Players should have a chance to join a few different rogue guilds in a city, at least two different ones and possibly up to five different ones for the bigger cities. There would even be some of these rouge guilds in cities that do not allow Rogues as a playable class for that race too. One thing I find all too disturbing is the lack of ‘choices’ or ‘options’ a player has inside the game world, seems like most games since EverQuest II have looked to provide less and less options and choices for characters outside of character customization, which only extends to the creation process.

    Players are given some sabotage and other adventuring sphere quests and some diplomactic quests to prove themselves to the guild. Once they are found worthy and accepted to the guild, the real roguish activities begin. This could be done by building faction with the guild, conducting a series of quests, or paying some gold, it could involve all and even more options.

    Dynamics Part III: Player vs. Player (non-combat) [Arcane Casters System]

    Each class will have their own academy, but when a player is created, they are not affiliated with any academy. They can choose to become a member of any of them. Each academy will focus more on those particular classes main abilities (read spells).

    Players will not only compete against each other for more of the kingdoms funds, but will also compete against each other in their own academy to get those funds in to their particular spell line or element research. This is all based on a faction system, where players try to keep certain members of the academy and the town loyal to them, while other players from other academies are doing the same.

    Dynamics Part V: Player vs. Player (non-combat) [Crafters Systems]

    Remove the taskmasters, and put these quests on the vendors themselves. Where the players will move about the city seeing which vendors have ‘work’ for them to do to gain the experience and the skills to level up to become better crafters. It will make them seem like they are making items for the city to sell while still not creating any purpose to the whole process as we have now.

    I will be putting the full articles of these and will add more to them as I crudely design the systems in my head for different means to gain and play these massively multiplayer online games. So stay tuned for the full articles and many more ideas to come from Boon at

    Comment by Boon — 24 April, 2007 @ 11:38 PM

  14. Just wanted to add something I ran across over at… Mu Online is adding soccer as an activity in the game. An interesting concept that fits into the context of the challenge, I should think…

    Comment by Craig Huber — 25 April, 2007 @ 4:13 PM

  15. One must wonder – are we thinking about systems which are represented in a combative manner, or are intrinsically combative? There’s obviously a big difference between swordfighting in Soul Calibur, swordfighting in WoW and swordfighting in Puzzle Pirates. On the flip side, we have things like the aforementioned EQ2 crafting system, which purportedly maps combat mechanics onto a non-combat representation. (How does it do this, by the way? I’m not familiar with EQ1/2.)

    At the same time, just what is intrinsically combative about timing specific button presses (abilities) so as to reduce one number to zero (or, to flip things around, increase one number to a specified value) whilst ensuring that another number does not reduce to zero? I think it’s a pretty good mapping to e.g. the skill of stonecarving or weaponsmithing, since you want to keep an eye on the structural integrity of the material while pushing towards the “completion” of the item.

    Comment by n.n — 26 April, 2007 @ 1:56 AM

  16. This may be a bit off the direct target of a “major gameplay system”, but I think it’s relevant.

    Let’s build the creature management system such that it can be used as a gameplay option. Allow for creature populations to shift based on interaction with surrounding creatures and player interaction. Also, let species’ attributes change based on fitness and competition. In addition, let creature population chunks be something players can move and create, implying players can “farm” creatures or conduct “breeding” programs. Environmental factors on creature survival can allow for creatures, based on their attribute definitions, to thrive or die in various situations: when in close proximity to a player city, on lonely mountaintops, in grassy fields, during certain times of the year, etc.
    The result could be several things: a simpler map creation process since creature spawn points do not need to be manually “designed” by a designer, since they will move autonomously anyways; greater level of immersion; and players can employ species placement abilities in a myriad of ways- from “farming” high quality hide and creating “wild game parks” they can rent out for high level hunting, to engaging in a sort of biological warfare by planting nasty rat species inside enemy cities.

    Comment by capnjosh — 27 April, 2007 @ 4:36 AM

  17. I’d like to see a game based on making people happy. Replace “reduce monster’s hit points” with “reduce monster’s misery.” Replace “hit monsters with sticks” with “give monsters presents and hug monsters.” Replace “kill” with “befriend.”

    I think that, with a little thought, such a game can have the same tactical breadth as a traditional PvE combat game. At the same time, it would have subject matter that appealed to kids. That is, it could be fun for adults as well as younger kids.

    Comment by Adam Dray — 27 April, 2007 @ 10:42 AM

  18. I’d also like to see a game that had an engineering component. Not a mindless reagent system like most MMOs, but a game that let you combine widgets and gears and gadgets in interesting ways and required you to assemble machines to solve problems.

    For example, a quest might be to get a cat out of a tree. Without climbing abilities, your character has to resort to his cleverness and his box of spare parts. Take a trip to the junk yard, buy some parts, then use various skills in your skill tree to assemble and modify them into, perhaps, a mechanical ladder bucket. Some combinations of stuff might fall apart or fail. The game should support multiple “answers” to the quest.

    Comment by Adam Dray — 27 April, 2007 @ 10:45 AM

  19. I think it has been skirted around here, but I’m gonna go ahead and throw one out there, and keep in mind I admit that this idea is something I ripped off of oblivion:-P

    That pie-ish talking circle mini game was neat. I’d like to see it implemented and fine tuned for PvP. I’m not sure if that falls under your definition of combat, but I’ll go ahead and elaborate anyways.

    Basically, you’d set a starting price for an item and then begin the bartering process with another player. Through a bunch of super neat skill v skill checks, which I’d leave up to the programmers to implement, the difficulty for a player to “win” the barter session would increase or decrease and then the user input session would begin.

    Max + or – on agreed upon price would have to be capped and the cap would probably go down as the item price went up.

    Additionally, there would have to be ways to completely circumvent this mechanic so people wouldn’t have to do it if they didn’t want to, such as an auction house that takes a decent cut of the sell price to encourage, but not pigeon hole, people to use the mechanic.

    There would be neat ways to use this system, such as buying items off of the AH and using your uber barter skills to make some money even with a market-standard initial price.

    I think that how much your barter skill impacts the ease of encounter would have to be really examined, though, and if you had a keen eye for catching under-priced items you could still make out like a bandit without any aptitude for the barter game.

    Comment by Dan C — 29 April, 2007 @ 1:53 AM

  20. I have a system here:

    Imagine another world /planet. The game starts at the bottom of a rocky immense pit. The pit is located on a planet which is part of a tri sol system. The player starts as a simple life form. He has a certain size that is defined by the starting attributes the player chooses like strenght, endurance, intelligence (simple). There are different attributes that rise over time and depending on what he is doing like absorbation rate for vitamines, absorbation for protein etc…

    on the bottom of the pit grow plants, fungi which the player can harvest and depending his organism he creates other nurritions he can use for himself or by trade with other players. also he needs sun light, 3 different suns, 3x different type of light/neutron raise what ever. not in every area there is light…also he needs to interact with others to be able to get the nurrition he needs to develop his organism. Every player has different kind of needs depending on the “stats” he chose on creation and depending on how he played and where he played his character. THere might be areas too dark for others to enter and find something, while other players developed the ability to glow. This ability could be “teached” to others for a reward . the next step would be to be able to find a way to get a out of the pit. But the pit is zoned into different levels, so if a player grows a tentacle, he might be able to get on the next level /ring which is above the orginal pit. but first he needs a tail (wings what ever) and he needs to find the right place. That might be beside a white smoker, so the organism would need the ability to be able to survive this heat and the poison gases…etc.

    Now by reaching the next rings/levels, the organism grows and the player finds out what he needs to eat/trade/do/where (environement) to advance in the direction he wants to go. On the different rings are different ressources, more sun light, but more radiations, more things like a frozen lake what ever. There should still be a dependance on nurition from past rings or even the bottom of the pit. The player could go back down and hire other simpler organisms (npc/players) to get him more ressources which he could transform (by consuming them and altering them with other nurition or by using the environemnt -gamma rays on ring 3) or sell them raw to other players on other rings. At the same time he rewards the simpler players whit items/material/resources or DNA (a professional planed way of twinking with a learning curve). He could build empires on different rings, allainces could be crafted etc. The environment would have to be large and very creative.

    As you see, this is just a small idea, but there is no combat, but still there is a huge dependance on each other in a very creative way :)

    Now you just need players who want to play amobes.

    Take care

    Comment by Azram — 30 April, 2007 @ 7:53 AM

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