22 July 2009

Restless thoughts

Some days I just can't concentrate . . .

This is going back to the idea of three separate views in an MMO, each of which presents different information and functions. The social view presents conversations and normal user interface information, as well as abilities setup and all other options available. It emphasizes the display of this information thru the 'UI layer', and presents reduced information in the dynamic game world environment such as not displaying player names floating above their heads in most cases.

The second is the battle view, which also presents a subset of information but in this case selects information that helps a single player make quick decisions in combat. This eliminates chat information from the display and even UI elements such as abilities; a player fighting in this mode would have all abilities keybound and memorized. However, unlike the social view, the battle view shows all friendly and unfriendly names in the gameworld. It might or might not include the status of group members as part of the essential information to display. This view is designed to complement, and not replace the social view in both combat and other situations; however, its other use is for those who are 'following' the viewpoint of a player to be able to understand what they are doing, without distractions such as chat and the placement of buttons that do not influence the instantaneous decisions of the followed character. This would include being able to show the dynamics of any staged battles viewed by a mass audience, in-game or out.

The third is camera, or director, or film-making view. As well as setting up graphical and camera settings for screenshots, it would also give video capture options. More settings are being able to move the camera position independent of the character, prerecorded camera movements in all dimensions and variable speeds (think graphs that show position in a dimension over time, and being able to recall relative or absolute locations), letting the camera stay in one place tracking a moving character or freely moving, as well as other previously mentioned things like camera viewing angle and display of names or the interface. It may be possible to change other settings in this interface, or maybe they would just fall under graphical settings for the game as a whole, such as the amount of 'glare' produced by a simulated light source. All this should be designed not to be exploitable in combat for line-of-sight information etc. Probably by removing saved points when switching to a different view, or at the very least by restricting the camera movement speed at initial switch and in certain situations. If it is still used to view nearby, otherwise unviewable, areas as by thinking of the character going into a 'trance', that may not be a bad use of the system.

Anyway the important one in this discussion is social view. It would be nice to do as previously mentioned and display 'important' names without selecting those entities; however some analysis says that this may not be possible. Battle view would fulfill the most necessary situations, as going into a single-minded state of concentrating on awareness and combat instead of other details; there may be too many contradictions by expanding this into social view, as follows . . .

There are different options. Displaying transparent names with a fuzzy glow, to distinguish from the bright main selection; showing on near-mouseover, and then fading again; doing this with certain subsets of all entities. As regards to hostile targets, this would detract from the single selection that is made by the player. Situations are most interesting when they allow for friendly or unfriendly actions to be reciprocated or to deny that reciprocation, which drives emphasis towards the status of individuals when time and the display allow for this. Even this fuzzy-glow display would also cause overreliance on combat mechanisms that cause names to appear which may speed the decision-making process, leading to cases where 'aggro is good' and so on, where actions are chosen solely for names and not for information; this is what really reduces the chance of being able to do this. But I guess names on near-mouseover is still possible in all cases . . .

For friendly entities, the main problem is which subset to make names appear for. Should group members have their names always displayed, or should friends..? How to differentiate between these two? If similar patterns are used, which is better, a friend or a group member? This last question inevitably arises when both group and friend are supposed to be 'better' than average. Is everyone who does not have their name displayed unimportant, since you have to go to extra effort to recognize them? It's easier to ignore everyone you don't know know or aren't working with. Why bother to memorize the physical appearance of those around you, when the important ones already have their names displayed and you can just memorize those..? These last ones are most troublesome, and since passive name display already creates the discomfort of an easy and unrealistic simulation of the real, it may be better not to have passive name display at all, and maybe not even on near-mouseover as these recent questions could mean that making it more difficult to obtain this information makes the game better.

Anyway, back to friends vs group, "display and value conflict". This is where I start copying notes verbatim. Different display mechanisms for each, but if group display is preserved then preferential and denigrate friends. But group display necessary for awareness when joining a group, etc. for social context and guidance/direction. "Follow the mob'.

Since for separation of known friendly [entities] and social dependencies and hard obligations, only important when non-grouped friendlies are present.
  • not in raids
  • Not in instanced PvP with controlled sides
"Raid group" besides very evocative does not have to be the same as normal group for other tasks. Goal can be different, obligations different, and display different. Possible: raid group is spears + feathers or banners. [Note: more lengthy setup of raid group, need to design banner and so on, or must derive from a guild. Less trivial for raid group to exist, possibly longer existence too..? Task-based, different purpose than a guild, may not be able to exist for long regardless of setup requirements.] Physical tokens within context of game reality are not comparable to game or player-designated relationships and potentials as displayed by name colour, etc. Group could be different but less obvious; "only feathers". Multi-group could include both of these.

Groups in raid vs party buffs, universal benefit?

. . . and that's as far as I got before I ran out of space and had to start thinking again, lol. The traditional 'raid groups' of current PvE MMOs would not correspond to the raid groups in this thinking. That raiding role in a system like this would fall upon groups of various sizes, with more internal organization to encourage modularity and dynamic social groupings to accomplish a task. This third type of group would be the 'multi-group' as mentioned above and also described in previous writings not present in this space, since 'super-group' sounds too much like American comic books and you can't create a more unique and descriptive term unless you have a place for it in the functional language. Would it help to be able to have raids, and not just the normal small group, join into this 'multi-group'? It might depend on how obvious the raid-group physical token designator is . . . otherwise it might be fine. Raid groups might just work as multiple small groups for combat purposes anyway, similar to existing games.

So another open question, besides 'preventing party buffs from breaking raid modularity' and 'whether raid groups can join raids', might be 'whether to design or alter combat mechanics around large groups with no internal structure or organization'.

Maybe PvP raid group vs PvE raid group might be better short-term descriptions. o_O Anyway that's all I can think of for now, and hopefully soon . . . as in today >_< . . . I can go back to studying.

UPDATE: 23 July, 12:13 a.m.

It may be very sad, but I have lots of pictures and movies from an old game on my hard drive. Due to issues, I know I can't concentrate so I escape to the unseen world. Things I noticed regarding names:
- raid instances look great with no names, at least for someone not actively playing and making decisions. Note: glowy armor looks stupid, properly done non-glowy armor can look totally awesome especially when the scene is properly presented.
- the one named Mantrid had friendly names off at least for one point in his (first?) PvP video
- generally, having names off means that the name display for the selected entity is the concession to gameplay, and no names is actually the 'reality'
- camera angle and height is still essential to taking characters seriously, instead of having them trivialized by distance and smallness

Screenshots, of course, look much better with no names. However in order for the meme 'identity is somewhat hidden' be successful, it must also apply to Player-vs-Environment scenarios, aka aggro and other artificial intelligence concepts. Take a screenshot of an underground university turned into a house of death and horror by undead perversions: the players have been turned into diseased gnomes and skeletons by various potions, and off in the distance are several groups of necromancers chatting. The only name appearing in the screenshot is that of one of the necromancers who was selected at the time. Not displaying friendly names can cause confusion about who is and who is not, but under current systems an artificial opponent would have no such confusion. Extending the assumptions of this scenario, the diseased gnomes and skeletons in this screenshot should be able to walk past the necromancers in a casual way, and not attract their attention.

Approaching too close or otherwise acting unusually might of course trigger a question or other challenge, which may or may not have a suitable response to avoid conflict. This actually is another example of 'group dynamics instead of solo', since a large group of players would not only be more suspicious but would also require uniform behavior from all group members to prevent an escalation.

Other pictures... hum...

Ninjaing a chest with pirates standing scant yards away... taunting guards of a fanatical and militant religious order while disguised as a paladin of said order, in turn disguised as a pirate of the wrong gender too... also one of the opening of a keystone in an archaeological site which is interesting because it's one of the situations I thought you WOULD need names, but it actually works out quite well from the screenshot... one of the movies which I shamefully watched had the character's own name displayed, which mostly works because their identity is relevant so it isn't a distraction. For presentation of situation however, identity is not important and name colour as action-potentials is distracting as usually involves losses and gains that do not concern the viewer. Identity information can be provided in metadata or descriptions accompanying the screenshot, and there would always be the option of selecting oneself as the named entity being emphasized in a screenshot.

Another one of the same corrupted school... this one with interface on, but names still off and it looks great. But I don't think I did the fight that way >_<.. if someone is in trouble, it's hard to tell where they are without being able to examine a situation for friendly entities, and verify that someone who seems to be in trouble is the one that actually is by looking at their name display in the gameworld. On the other hand it's somewhat difficult to tell who may be in trouble even with names on unless you are paying attention.

However, this can can be countered by having predictable damage. The 'assist' hotkey, to find target of target is an essential tool in dynamic situations, and in the confusion of many opponents, 1-vs-many damage mechanics and aggro mechanics will contribute to this relative predictability. Just as essential tho is communication. Even if it's not an important subject, when someone says something in chat and you can't associate their name with a specific nearby entity in the gameworld, this is confusing and distracting, because there are social considerations too and remembering who said what, not just the immediate impact of this communication on the game world.

What about this..? Complicated because not all communication takes place with range of voice, so the analogy is not perfect. If someone speaks in any communication channel and within 'voice range' (which might not be same as visible range), they give physical indications of speaking and a voice bubble shows up that gives an abbreviation of the communication channel and the beginning of what they say. The purpose of this is not to be able to follow a conversation by just looking at the game world, but to allow quick identification of who is saying what. However, 'mousing over' any chat bubble could easily show the full text. Their name could be included, but leaving it out as well as abbreviating the communication channel is to avoid repetition of information and screen clutter. The chat bubble doesn't have to be always over their head; it would be better if it were dynamic and tried to fill screen space that was not already occupied by something interesting like a character.

For example of this, suppose the following dialogue:
[Group][Holymackerel]: pally power!
[Group][Lavicus]: im nervous :P lol
[Group][Jerdren]: lol
[Group][Taemojitsu]: ought to have gone x5 pallies XD
[Group][Holymackerel]: is this a long fight?

might show up as something like,
"[G] pally power!"
"[G] im nervous ..."
"[G] lol"
"[G] ought to ..."
"[G] is this ..."

in speech bubbles in the game world.

More screenshots: siiigh, lots of totally iconic imagery of a free-for-all arena in a jungle. For example one partial shot has at least 72 bodies on the floor and entrance to the arena of players who have died and not resurrected; another shows at least 64. Neither of these count all the skeletons that remain after a player has resurrected, nor do they count ongoing player-vs-player engagements with flashy explosions and healing and moonlasers coming down from the sky. If I included images in this blog this post would have too many. Other images include groups from classic opposing factions mustering their courage at the entrance and making preparations to enter the arena floor, with lighting from time of day highlighting the differences between them... interspersed in each case with several players of the wrong faction. A lineup of trolls on raptors with a hulking tauren on same walking down the line, faced by a lone female and the occasional dead body or skeleton on the floor. Four identically-dressed assassins attempting to molest a player by intrusion on their personal space as she sits near a wall. Another screenshot demonstrating the hilarity and social reactions when a many-vs-1 gank fails. None of these with names displayed, the interface displayed only if conversation or health/debuffs are relevant; and it all looks great! siiiigh. ^_^ the memories... sorry!


As regards to free-for-all PvP, this highlights how useful the 'physical token' approach to marking groups would be, as this makes groups visible to players who are not in one.

(healers PvP, making it interesting/dynamic and using group heals)

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