View From The Road: Flash Frozen

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View From The Road: Flash Frozen

Is The Old Republic's goal of telling a multiplayer story doomed to failure?

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I can feel any sense of immersion disappearing the second some fat 13 year old types "OMG, I JUST TEH FAT LEWTZ!"

Wuew, didn't think about that.

Hmm.. Now I really want to find a good solution to this.

If I figure something out, I'll edit it here!

Interesting question indeed...

Anything about your character that was once permanent is destined to become optional as the game survives. WoW is the perfect example of this, as with the next patch, even the original choice of faction becomes completely decorative. Next to nothing exists in-game as a player choice anymore that can't be changed with money, real or virtual.

The same thing happened in Shadowbane. The start of the game was brutal, with re-rolling from scratch as the ONLY way to address that 4 point mistake in your character build. Eventually, everything but your race, base class, and creation runes was changeable with money. This trend has gone farther with WoW.

To make a conclusion of those points, I'd say that no matter WHAT BW does at the start, if the beginning method dictates irreversibility, it will be increasingly likely as time goes on that reversibility will become the rule.

This is a big problem that I've seen with Dragon Age and with this forthcoming TOR MMORPG. They're porting features from games to other games that don't need them and where, in fact, those features are UNDESIRABLE due to the very nature of the game.

Dragon Age plays like a single-player MMORPG. The loot is based off the MMORPG principle that you need this complex tiers system. You're very restricted in the amount of cash you can pick up. Oh, yes, people do complain that the economy eventually ends up broken in single-player games, but no one REALLY wants to be UNABLE to buy the very coolest stuff for their character(s) at the end of the game. There's no strategy in the game, just tactics (you heal up almost instantly after a fight is over, so there's far less long-term resource juggling than in most single player games). And don't even get me started on the job-board style quests that make up at least 50% of the quests in the entire game.

Now they're proposing to make a MMORPG that they will try to force to play like a single-player game. I was leery of this idea when I first heard about it, long before they had made any mention of the precise mechanic by which they intended to provide this supposedly customizable experience. I could think of a few ways in which it might be implemented whereby it might work out okay.

This "Flash Points" business was not one of them, for PRECISELY the reasons you list. It is little more than a half-assed creativity-less method of trying to shoehorn single-player mechanics onto a game where they have no business going for the very good reason that they DON'T WORK.

A much better method I thought of that would capitalize superbly on the (potentially) spectacularly massive scale of the Star Wars setting would be to enable each and every player to have their own "starting area" (their planet of origin, or even something as small as their particular village/apartment complex/whatever) of origin which is affected by the in-game choices that they make. And those choices would be more along the lines of "which quest lines do you follow" rather than "how do you finish those quests".

That could potentially be a way for the Flash Points to work that you didn't consider, John. Instead of them being an RPG standard like "do you kill the guy", it would be more like "do you *accept* this quest to kill the guy?" then your "party" becomes a pickup group of the people who *did* choose to play the game in the same way you did. It's rather easy to write the resulting quest instance in such a way that it more-or-less comes out with the same result no matter what you do (game writers have been doing this forever, and Bioware in particular--look at how many "dialog options" in Mass Effect and Dragon Age lead to PRECISELY the same response from the NPC), yet you are still given choice over how your character proceeds.

Using an method like this would also provide you a way to go back and do "the same" content while still maintaining some kind of semi-coherent story. You wouldn't be going back and doing EXACTLY the SAME content over and over, it'd be a matter of accepting another similar quest "okay, you assassinated X--now do you want to assassinate Y?", with the added benefit that basically infinite numbers these sorts of fill-in-the-blank similar quests can be generated by the game itself, so if all you want to do is be an assassin, you can get "new" quests to assassinate "new" people FOREVER. Add in the occasional unique quest (you've done 6 standard assassination quests, now you get to do the Boss Assassination quest with some actual unique content attached--but you only do that particular one ONCE) and you're in business.

So I wouldn't say it's impossible, but the implementation of this idea makes a BIG, BIG difference.

The choice to change the decision could be made in game reasonably easily, especially if the game sends players darting around to different planets. Following your Mandalorian/Hutt scenario, the group consensus could be to help the Mandalorians which, say, involves assassinating a Hutt paymaster to steal his Credits but, on the way to turn in the quest, each player could be sent a message individually by the Hutts offering their quest reward if they choose to side with them instead. For the players who accept, they count as siding with the Hutts for the purposes of the storyline.

They then go to another planet and cleanse Naboo of Gungans or something. After a few levels, they go back to the planet which has the Mandalorian/Hutt conflict and find out in the next quest's text that the person they didn't assasinate was killed by another group (maybe even the other side?), and the two sides are deadlocked again, awaiting the group/player's assistance to get the edge again.

Elsewhere, the sole Sith who decided not to kill the incompetent officer (remember kids, WWVD?) finds out that he was killed anyway by a higher up.

It's not pretty, it's cheap as hell, but it means they can preserve the story, make it seem organic, and give the script writers work by coming up with an endless cast of bit-part characters who have to die because there's an option at some point to kill them off.

What about making it so that the only "flash point" moments occur in solo quests, or near the end of a quest chain where the rest of the content is solo?

Okay, I'm down with the idea of giving moral points to apply to talents like Dante's Inferno looks to be doing.

The problem occurs when you have to choose between one moral direction or another, as games tend to make you do, whereas in reality, everyone is a little bit of both. Dante's Inferno, from what preview I've seen, looks to let you choose to go deep into one side of the moral compass, or go shallow with either, which I think would be a much more interesting way to handle moral choices when role playing. In Dante's Inferno, it doesn't look like being good excludes you from having a couple of lesser evil talents.

So if you are going in the "dark" talent tree and you are playing with a group of "light" jedi's, and you reach one of those flash points, hopefully you will have had some discussion about it ahead of time, as so often happens with loot distribution in MMORPGS. Maybe you can leave right before the flash point but after you get the loot. Maybe a couple of lesser "light" abilities wouldn't be so bad and you could use that flash point toward them.

On the one hand, you raise a lot of important issues.
But on the other hand, "Oh No, if we want to role-play our characters together we'll have to come up with personalities that agree with each other" is something table-top gamers have been dealing with for longer than I've been alive. Is it really too much to ask, in a story driven game, that if four people want to play together the entire way through their characters should agree on what to do? It's not like you're only allowed to play through the game once, right?

While it might be going against the grain of general MMORPG group dynamics (you're playing as a group of 4, because the quest/raid needs 4 people to fulfill the various roles, etc), I think it would be fantastic to allow the group to argue over the flash point (Hutt vs. Mandalorian), and barring an eventual consensus, allow the disagreement to follow over into an actual split in the party (whoever sided with the Hutts ends up on the Hutt side of things, whoever sided with the Mandalorians ends up somehow on the Mandalorian side of things). This could work out as playing against each other, alongside the factions that you've each agreed to take out, or in that the person who voted against the majority is given a sabotage option along the path that the majority chose. Preserves player agency, and makes for a larger number of story variations that any individual player can claim to have experienced.

I think most of TOR actually operating in solo mode, negating a few of these problems.

I'm sure Bioware has already thought of this thing, it will be interesting to see how they deal with it.

What if these flash points are at the end of an adventure? Each player can make their own choice, and not be beholden to the other players they've sided with.

stinkypitz:
What about making it so that the only "flash point" moments occur in solo quests, or near the end of a quest chain where the rest of the content is solo?

Not a bad idea in principle

I agree with Geoffrey42. This system could be used to deepen the relationship between the players, and create more realistic interactions. Players could take whatever course of action they found most compelling, and if that led them into conflict with their fellows, then that would be a consequence they would have to be ready to accept.

Do you side with the Sith, and murder a box of puppies for profit?
Or do you sacrifice loot in order to retain your integrity?
Or, take a third option, go along with his plan, and wait for the opportunity to backstab him?

This way, a persistent world is maintained, interesting roleplaying chances are generated, and human interaction is taken to another level, and you must not only ensure the competence of your teammates, but their dedication to the same ends as you.

My suggestion would be that Bioware should take a hard line on this, and say that all the choices are individual, but those consequences must be understood and accepted, no takebacks.

In the hypothetical situation here, the answer would be, one goes with the Hutts, the others go with the Mandalorians, but the consequences of their actions must be faced in-game. Why should the one who sided with the Hutts be let back in? He must make his case, or prove his worth, or just choose to go it alone from then on.

That would create a whole new experience, one in which you really do shape your own story, since your actions are permanent, and they can even break up a group or smash an in-game friendship.

Besides, it means you'd end up with solo travellors, ostracised from their groups because they made the good choice when everyone else went bad, and they could reenact their very own vengeance storyline further down the line.

The solution I had in mind with this was similar, but slightly different than the one outlined in the article.

They way I'd like to see it, is you just go through the quest or dungeon or whatever as normal. At the flash point, you get to choose as a group - majority vote would be the most fair (or rather least unfair) option here - and you continue the quest with that choice. At the end of the quest, the game asks you if that's your final answer.

So far nothing new. But at this point, in stead of being able to choose the way you want the encounter to have happened, effectively retconning it, you simply answer yes or no. If you choose "yes", then the choice becomes locked, and you'll encounter the consequences of that choice later on. If you vote "no", however, the game treats that choice as if it has never been made in the first place.

Assuming that every quest/dungeon/instance/whatever is repeatable, this also solves that problem. The choice you locked by saying it was your final choice is the only one that counts, but you'll still be able to go through the whole thing again and make other choices just to see how they play out, or maybe get a different quest reward or whatever. You can play a mission as many times as you want, and make as many different decisions as you want, but only the one you choose as your 'final answer' will affect your character's story.

I had assumed that the team play would take place before the flash point, or team play would not involve flash points. So you'd fight the immediate threats, the boss, and then perhaps you would get to choose the flash point in solo play to finish the 'Instance'. Like you have both the wounded Mandalorian and Hutt at your mercy, and one bullet could send the universe either way. Your teamates are cut off, you can't get to them or converse with them, so you unsling your gun and take aim...

Assuming that Flash points will need to be encountered as a group produces problems, so why encounter them as a group?

And for the record, I've settled on an Imperial Agent. Now, I wonder if they have RP servers...

Jaredin:

stinkypitz:
What about making it so that the only "flash point" moments occur in solo quests, or near the end of a quest chain where the rest of the content is solo?

Not a bad idea in principle

The only problem is that they went out of their way to explicitly show that the "flash point" is meant to be part of the group experience in the 20-minute demo. Reversing course is possible, but the very integrety of the system would be called into question.

MelasZepheos:
My suggestion would be that Bioware should take a hard line on this, and say that all the choices are individual, but those consequences must be understood and accepted, no takebacks.

As a general rule: hard-lining a game mechanic in a MMO is a great way to lose players. WoW has shown that the more flexible that the game is, the more people will be willing to stay on and pay the monthly fee.

MelasZepheos:
In the hypothetical situation here, the answer would be, one goes with the Hutts, the others go with the Mandalorians, but the consequences of their actions must be faced in-game. Why should the one who sided with the Hutts be let back in? He must make his case, or prove his worth, or just choose to go it alone from then on.

That would create a whole new experience, one in which you really do shape your own story, since your actions are permanent, and they can even break up a group or smash an in-game friendship.

Besides, it means you'd end up with solo travellors, ostracised from their groups because they made the good choice when everyone else went bad, and they could reenact their very own vengeance storyline further down the line.

Again, great idea in concept. Terrible in practice.

The main thing to remember is that the only time that you are perminantly segregated from any other group in a standard MMO is at the character creation, where you pick your side (Alliance/Horde, Sith/Republic, etc.). After this point, it is assumed that you'll be able to play with allied members for the rest of the game, so long as they are willing to take you into their group. If you have continued moments where the possible population of players dwindles, then you get frustration due to the lack of necessary availible classes for your path.

I can, however, see one way around this, which is to not have a branching system, but rather a spectrum system where you can make up for past deeds/kill that box o' kittens that you spared a few levels back. As noted in the article, this has problems with continuity issues, but at the same time closely resembles that final act of Darth Vader killing the Chouncilor. I can also see the ability to possibly change your alliance based on your spectrum position, and wouldn't it be cool to have a Jedi fight for the Sith?

is the morality and the story more or less important than the players you play with? would it be completely out of the question to force a group of unsuspecting mumorpergerers to come out with a group desision or have to settle it with a fight or by expelling a group member? of course players that get killed by their team would have to replay it later, in the same way as someone that got eaten by a gundark

This game is going to be such an undertaking for Bioware. So many things could end up sucking...

I honestly would love to play where your choices mattered and could cause inter-player conflict. For instance lets say you are with a guy and he decides to kill the dude. You don't want too. You have several options from here. Let the other guy have his way and let the dude die, split letting the guy die but not partaking, or fighting your party member over it. That would become very immerse. Imagine you are both Jedi's faced with slaying a Sith you have battled. The sith is at your mercy. One of you might want to be a pure Jedi but the other a little dark. If it is important enough to you you could fight each other over it. This is how a lot of the conflicts within the Jedi happened in the real thing

I don't think it's at all possible to have a deep immersive storyline in an MMO. I know I criticize other people and how they interfere with gaming, but yeah, you're not going to have immersion with thousands of other people running and jumping around, typing in innate dribble.

The Gentleman:

MelasZepheos:
In the hypothetical situation here, the answer would be, one goes with the Hutts, the others go with the Mandalorians, but the consequences of their actions must be faced in-game. Why should the one who sided with the Hutts be let back in? He must make his case, or prove his worth, or just choose to go it alone from then on.

That would create a whole new experience, one in which you really do shape your own story, since your actions are permanent, and they can even break up a group or smash an in-game friendship.

Besides, it means you'd end up with solo travellors, ostracised from their groups because they made the good choice when everyone else went bad, and they could reenact their very own vengeance storyline further down the line.

Again, great idea in concept. Terrible in practice.

The main thing to remember is that the only time that you are perminantly segregated from any other group in a standard MMO is at the character creation, where you pick your side (Alliance/Horde, Sith/Republic, etc.). After this point, it is assumed that you'll be able to play with allied members for the rest of the game, so long as they are willing to take you into their group. If you have continued moments where the possible population of players dwindles, then you get frustration due to the lack of necessary availible classes for your path.

I can, however, see one way around this, which is to not have a branching system, but rather a spectrum system where you can make up for past deeds/kill that box o' kittens that you spared a few levels back. As noted in the article, this has problems with continuity issues, but at the same time closely resembles that final act of Darth Vader killing the Chouncilor. I can also see the ability to possibly change your alliance based on your spectrum position, and wouldn't it be cool to have a Jedi fight for the Sith?

This was more what I was envisaging (and probably not describing very well). A system by which it is assumed you will role play the class you chose, jedi or sith, but if you consistently act outside the boundaries (trying to be a good sith or a bad jedi) you will affect some sort of in-built morality meter, and shift sides. It would be possible to shift back and forth indeterminately, which would lead to a constantly changing game experience. If you got bored of being nice, you know you're able to change sides by kicking a few puppies, then when that gets boring, you can claw your way back to the light side.

I personally think it would be best done by starting with the majority vote concept. In the sequence the rest of the party will kinda peer pressure the fourth into doing what they want. If this is a choice that isn't going to effect your entire journey from then on in some sort of large way it will leave it at that and the fourth will go through with what the party decided on. But, if it is something that will have a major effect on the story it will again start by going with the majority vote, but at the end of whatever the party is doing the person that wanted to go against the majority will get an additional story element. This additional story will allow the odd players out rectify their mistakes, or make some sort of repayment to the faction or person they went against with their party through a solo quest. After they've done whatever was asked of them through this optional solo quest they can then continue the story from then on as if they had initially made the other choice.

This will allow the party gameplay to remain intact, but will also allow the players that wanted something else to make their own choices. The story concept will also remain unbroken because the game will make it apparent that the party forcing the one player into following them, with the single player then doing something separate from the party to go with side he was initially forced to go against WAS in fact part of the character's intended story. The only apparent weakness I see with this concept would be that the player wouldn't be able to do the party quest the way he/she wanted to. But wouldn't having to comply as part of a party make since gameplay and story-wise anyways?

I like the idea of the simple majority vote, friends or group members will typically go with the larger opinion anyway, and why should the game cater to their very specific needs? I mean, it's one thing for a game to be "friendly to all users" but joining a group and voting against that group's interests is just balls out contradictory behavior, it's like asking the dev's to make a pleasing pancake for a guy who hates pancakes, it's too difficult to be worth it.

Needless to say, that would obviously deter some players but I think the choice should either come down to a vote or branch the dissenter away from his comrades, allowing him to continue the story his way. Or the game could offer players a choice at the end of a quest, allowing them to cement their choices in stone, or go back and repeat the quest making different choices, but retaining loot and xp.

Has anyone played America's Army? It is a first person shooter where /both/ sides play the side they want to play (American military), and against the bad guys (generic terrorist).

If flash points are to be as simple as choosing sides in conflicts, then this would work equally well in TOR:
My 3 friends side with the Mandalorians, and so they see Mandalorian allies, and Hutt enemies.
I side with the Hutts, and so I see Hutt allies and Mandalorian enemies.

Do I have to know what my friends chose? No; the important parts of what I see is mirrored for them. Note that the type of weapons used and graphics need not be the same for both versions, only the actual effects must be the same.

I.e.: If my Hutt allies put a debuff on the Mandalorian enemies, then my friend's Mandalorian allies must put the same debuff on their Hutt enemies; same goes for area of effect things.

In the end, I am playing my story, and my friends are playing theirs; that we have different stories matters not, because through slight of hand we can still play together.

I have a felling flashpoints are the small-scale "raid" content. Designed to be multiplayer, but at the same time roughly independent of a character's "Main" quest line.

One idea to keep people from "Gaming" the rewards is to essentially offer roughly the same rewards for Light and Dark side choices removing the short-term "loot"-incentive. Besides, only the Jedi/Sith should have items that are "Alignment"-specific if they have such items at all.

To keep the flashpoint "fair" to the group it could track how each person in the group responded when given an option to speak in the flashpoint. For the PAX demo it seems like the control of the conversation seemed fairly "round robin" with each player participating equally. However they could tie the "key" choices to the specific player rather than the whole group. So if the Sith Warrior and the Bounty Hunter do the flashpoint and the Sith Warrior kills the ship captain, the family of the ship captain isn't going to be looking for the bounty hunter, they'll be after the Sith warrior.

There are ways it could be handled, and it will be interesting to see what BioWare comes up with.

I do have a feeling that MMOs are changing socially, you're less likely to socialize in the game unless you know of the people outside of the game, like message boards for instance.

Isn't a flash-point in the game tied to a particular character's storyline? I was under the impression that only the CHARACTER WHOS STORY YOU ARE PLAYING gets to make the decisions. The other members of the party get to chime in on non-essential dialogue bits.

And Mr Funk has officially displayed why this shouldn't have been an MMO.

Everything I read about this game just screams "Single Player RPG"

I haven't read a single thing about it that says "This is an MMO", other then BIoware SAYING that it is one.

John Funk:
View From The Road: Flash Frozen

Is The Old Republic's goal of telling a multiplayer story doomed to failure?

Read Full Article

Another option (and the one I thought they were going with, at least from some of the videos) - one player calls the shots on each flashpoint. The choices are made by that player for that player. The others will get their choice on subsequent runs.

Yet another option (an extension of your 4th option) - Either the leader calls the shots or it's popular vote, but at the end the player is asked if he wants to accept the choice(s) made during the flashpoint. If yes, then great. If no, he can make the choices again when attempting the flashpoint the next time. I dislike the idea of changing it post facto since you'll miss on the gameplay. This would allow players to try each fork in the road and see how it plays out before finalizing their choice...

Good writeup - I've been thinking about the same thing since I saw the video where the Sith Warrior and Bounty Hunter did the Flash Point where they had to bring in a rebellious ship captain. The dialog in that scenario jumped from player to player, and the warrior was the one who got to choose to kill the captain or not, and he did so. The Bounty Hunter had no say in it, and while I sincerely hope that that's not the final model they choose to go forward with in-game, it seems like it will be. I'll live with it, but I think a lot of players are going to be upset when they have it happen in-game.

lumenadducere:
Good writeup - I've been thinking about the same thing since I saw the video where the Sith Warrior and Bounty Hunter did the Flash Point where they had to bring in a rebellious ship captain. The dialog in that scenario jumped from player to player, and the warrior was the one who got to choose to kill the captain or not, and he did so. The Bounty Hunter had no say in it, and while I sincerely hope that that's not the final model they choose to go forward with in-game, it seems like it will be. I'll live with it, but I think a lot of players are going to be upset when they have it happen in-game.

That's because that story/mission was the Sith Warrior's, not the Bounty Hunter's. Which is why I think that John Funk is missing the point entirely when he is assuming that other players can mess with your Flash-Point.

I don't understand why this is a problem. It sounds to me like this is a novel opportunity to make a game that is different from its main competitor. TOR won't succeed by being "WoW, but in a galaxy far, far away"; it will succeed by being a unique experience for those who decide to play it. WoW has made us used to MMOs where everything is repeatable, all content is available to all players, and no choice is ever permanent.

I've only watched the demo so far, so I'm not sure if anything about the specific consequences of Flash Points has been mentioned. I know that the quest itself will run differently, but--as shown in the case of the disobedient captain--that amounts to minor differences in the end (I can't imagine that the quest itself would end up being fundamentally different. And as an aside, perhaps it's best to stop thinking of these as quests and more as story points? We'll see). But a consequence I can see would be different available missions and story points down the line. If you kill the captain, maybe you don't get a special mission from him or something, but on the other hand, specific new quests open up for you, a whole new chain of events that branches away from the let-the-captain-live chain of events.

This is where it becomes a matter of "six one way, half-dozen another" because in WoW, not every quest is played in every zone and not every opportunity will be taken advantage of by the player. It simply won't happen. What's the difference if TOR simply turns that inevitability into a story structure? Those excess quests aren't simply "things-you-don't do", they're another branch of a flash point that you will have to experience another time on another character. People used to the WoW formula may see that as restricting or something, but the reality is that you're character will still progress at the same rate, still be competitive with other players who made different choices.

The particular example in the video showed the Sith making the big choice, so perhaps not all Flash Points will be up to the entire group (but some or many might). There's no reason to be troubled by that. Ultimately it means that each play-through is different and unique in its own way. The thought of leveling new characters the WoW way is sickening sometimes, but this could extend the initial novelty of the game experience beyond what WoW ever had. Quest-lines that differ based on class, faction, AND player choice? Sign me up!

This is a problem because almost no-one seems to have paid any attention to how Bioware has said to be dealing with the situation and are assuming they are as bad at games design as John Funk is.

The problem is solved, JaredXE explained why. You only get these big choices when it's your quest, other people get inconsequential choices and their own storylines aren't affected by what their compatriots chose to do in their own quests.

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