Actual Intelligence

I’ve been ranting on (or as I prefer to refer to it, “thoughtfully exploring”) the possibility of truly dynamic virtual worlds that are more than mere scripted amusement park rides (“Oh Boy! Let ride the Deadmines again Mom!”).

I’m torn. I used to play a lot of strategy and RTS games– mostly against human adversaries. A couple of things I liked about them: I got to think and act both tactically and strategically and, if you used a random map, each game, even against the same opponent, was different.

On the flipside, with MMOs, I love the notion of a persistent world and identity and the ability to develop my presence over time.

When I think about how to try to take MMOs to the next generation, a couple of ideas get mentioned in some form: Players need to be able to change the world, and (over simplifying) mobs need to be smarter.

Changing the world is hard, but probably not nearly as hard as creating the illusion of a thinking adversarial force. I think the illusion of a player impacted world isn’t too great a leap from where we are now. If we’re talking about raising crops or deforestation/silviculture that’s pretty “topical”. Irrigation is the same. Dam building starts getting a bit crazy as does road and city building. Still, even with fairly limited choices, the illusion of impact can be created.

The thinking adversary is a bit different. Scripted battles are relatively easy versus orchestrating some overarching story driven activity. Currently implemented “world events” are really not much more than scripted performances or reimplementations of existing mechanics.

So, how about this for complete chaos: Actual Intelligence. Yes, hire peeps to BE the baddies in game. Not each orc or goblin, but imagine if each factional leader or evil uber mob was an actual thinking human (or several to cover hours of operation). Of course, you could make them deities as well, but I kind of like the idea of the evil wizard in the keep actually being an active participant in the world– marshalling forces, harrying the forces of good, guiding and directing baddies in the game.

Too many goodies harvesting valuable lumber on the evil wizard’s lands? He sends orcs and trolls and wargs and what not to harry the players or launch a counter offensive.

Effectively, employees of the game company act much like GMs of old pen and paper RPGs. Each server would be a completely unique gaming experience, and yes, there is the risk that that would suck. But thats what server transfers are for….

The Evil Overlord gets to play the game much like an RTS while players at large are mere adventurers in the world. If a game had many factions, each faction could actually have a real live leader that had the ability to wage campaigns against the other factions and reward players for their participation. Sort of world event meets mega raid. 

Maybe even the uber players on a server would get a chance to take control of the keep (and its evil minions) in a form of the ultimate king of the hill MMO experience…

5 thoughts on “Actual Intelligence”

  1. Interesting idea and it certainly has the potential to solve the usual “One of my comrades is being taken apart six yards away but I’ll just stand here at my post until my turn comes” issue.

    You would have to work out some balance issues though.

    I recall back to my MUD days (everything is a goddamn story of the old days with me, isn’t it?) when they gave conjurers the ability to charm monsters. They had to limit that pretty quickly. You see, to get past the limitations of AI, they simply made mobs much tougher, usually via the “massive hit points” methodology. Suddenly conjurers could control mobs with huge hit point pools that had live healers and buffers in support. The boss mobs came tumbling down.

    So it cannot be just as simple as “Hey, wanna go drive Plaguemaw the Rotting tonight?”

    In fact, the griefing potential is such that I would shy away from direct play control of mobs. Perhaps something more along the lines of “Instance Control Officer” who can direct defenses and redeploy the troops within certain limits? (Because I know I’d just put everybody behind the front door so they could jump out and slay people as they zoned in. And I would laugh while I did it.)

    Again, interesting, but it leads to design challenges to keep it from being abused.

  2. I think the idea of having actual employees as specific mobs is a good idea, but not a new one as far as I know. Persistently played mobs would be attractive from the adventuring POV, but how long could they keep it up?

    Would it be some type of queue if it was an instanced boss? If it was a mob in the world at large, ala Lord Bamf Kya in Vanguard, It would be great. You could cycle respawns on their working days lol.

    Lots to think of on this one. What would you pay someone to play the same mob(s) all year long?

  3. I like the idea of an instance director role, but in an MMO context. Sort of like the old game Dungeon Keeper (

    Two ways to staff it. Either have the community management folks cycle through the role of the boss or make it the ultimate PvP king of the hill challenge–achieve some status or goal the reward of which would be to get to control the instance until defeated.

    To make it completely neutral and player driven, you could have a limited number of instances, either initially a PvE which you would have to beat to become the master, or spend some kind of reward currency to basically buy the ticket to do so.

    I think it would be cool and (a great incentive) to award the controlling player some loot based on player character’s deaths, etc.

  4. Dungeon Keeper was hilarious and did have some decent controls, I understand what you are getting at.

    I like the staffed version of this idea. Regular live events are missing from the games I play and I want that random interaction between the players and GM’s. Everyone I have talked to would love to see either a GM-controlled Boss or random attacks/raids by mobs in populated areas. Of course you would have those that would freak out about being killed by GM’s but come on! Most of these worlds are strife ridden and you should expect stuff like this to happen.

  5. Customer service is expensive. Back in my old guide days, the server GMs used to do this sort of thing all the time, but then they got rid of one GM per server, then they made all GMs floating, and now I believe the whole thing is just outsourced.

    And it wouldn’t work in the context of current MMOs. Onyxia is only killable because she follows a precise, and stupid, script, and doesn’t use her hatchlings. Overlord Mata Muram should properly fire his all-too-charmable lieutenants, remove the mirror masks from the inventories of all creatures in Anguish, and set his hounds on the healers while he one-shots all the casters. Current encounters all rely on people following the script as much as the boss does, and in the end, people are best rewarded by how closely they followed the script.

    You can’t have the progression where player starts -> gets uber -> learns to follow instructions (ie, raids) -> kills boss -> one zillion times — and also expect some new gameplay element.

    There’s people who want every game to be the same. These are the people that go to a new MMO, choose whatever they call thief or wizard or druid in the game, and don’t rest until they are maximum level. They can do this because they can rely upon MMO devs to produce the same game, again and again, which rewards doing just what you did before.

    Just gotta tear it all down, and stop thinking that the elements of MMOs must include “levels”, “bosses”, “raids”, and “quests”. You’d have to be pretty ashamed to call yourself a game developer, imo, if all you could do was regurgitate what every other game does.

    I’m sure there are people lining up to get to max level and raid in WAR and AoC, and I am sure the devs will happily spoon that tapioca pudding to them. And those players will feel they have accomplished something (but what?) by being able to follow the script the devs gave them so faithfully and well.

    Games that follow the formula have their place. Just like sitcoms about loving families with stupid husbands and clever wives and laughtracks using the laughter of people who have been dead twenty years have their place. I don’t see value in spending any more time of my life in mindless entertainment, either on the tube or on the monitor. EQ2 is the last game of that genre I plan to play.

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