Friday, October 07, 2005

Generated Content?

I've been thinking about player-generated content. I really can't imagine releasing a game these days - of ANY kind - without allowing for player-generated content. Even the 2D shoot-em-up I'm building in my copious free time will allow for player-generated content in the form of scripting your own levels, enemies, plots, and graphics.

One-player games with player-generated content are comparitively easy. There's no real problem if they put in porn, there's no huge problem with a dominant strategy. It's just one player. His preferences and his victories really mean nothing to anyone else.

Long-term multiplayer games. Persistant world games. Massively multiplayer games. Whatever name you call them by. They are a bit of a holy grail and more than a bit of a mess.

A little player-generated content goes quite a long way, both in terms of keeping players occupied and creating totally inappropriate content. That inappropriate content could be simply porn, but the starship Pamela's Nipple is a sight which is inappropriate not just because it is porn. It is intended to be a starship, so whether it's Pamela's Nipple or Barney's Head, it's inappropriate.

Similarly, inappropriate content includes content which irritates and interferes with other players. This, too, happens with even the smallest of player freedoms.

But it goes deeper than that. Players can only generate the content you let them generate. In most MMORPGs, this is their name and their tiny piece of the economy. Even in more open titles, such as Eve, few players are actually satisfied with the level of customizability. You cannot invent a new weapon in Eve, for example. Your generated content is primarily social, political, and economic.

Honestly, social, political, and economic content is good. It's good because those are three things which, when recombined with other people, will never really get old to people who are interested in them.

Unfortunately, I'm not interested in them. In fact, the idea of them bores me to tears.

Here I discussed a game idea, and I haven't really stopped thinking about it yet. I've got a design pretty much hammered out. All I need (snicker) is suitable massively multiplayer middleware and some free time.

The only real problem remaining in my mind is recombination.

SecondLife is a game which allows any player to build anything. There are some limitations - a limited number of prims if you're building on a plot of land - but if I sign in, ten minutes later I could build a two hundred foot tall bong.

What my game (codenamed Spider Space) would do is allow players to perform similarly open-ended works... but restricted by time and framework. For example, Joe's character might be a botanist. He can grow plants. He can grow plants which spit acid at anyone who enters. He can grow plants that look exactly like Snake Pliskin. Heck, he could grow plants that act exactly like Snake, if the player is a good enough scripter/programmer.

But building those plants would take time. And I haven't quite figured out how to put limitations on. I want players to be able to do an unlimited variety of things, but only within specific time/skill/energy limits. And I want those limits to be able to combine.

For example, someone who is an interior decorator AND a botanist is a pretty fruity character. But he could create objects which are a synthesis of plant and furniture. A tree that grows chairs. A chair that grows it's own chilly beverage in its own cupholder as you sit there.

And this needs to happen flawlessly and naturally for every possible combination of skills.

How the heck do I do it?


If you have a suggestion, I'll be glad to hear it.


Dugan said...

You need a thorough verb set at the macro level in relation to object creation and behaviors. If you have a general verb like spawn(x) then spawn(chair) could be part of the script the botanist player writes to make that tree. Likewise for the Pliskin plant, the script would involve a recreation of basic verbs in a pattern befitting Pliskin's character. Regardless of what you think of Erasmatron's internal mechanics, Crawford's idea of building up a libraby or entirely re-usable, general purpose verbs is a damn good one. If you can provide a verb editor for the users to come up with their own verbs, then you've got the kernal.

Craig Perko said...

I understand that. The hard part is limiting it and balancing it.

Well, I've got some time to figure it out.