Discussing the barest minimum of Mass Effect 3 details with m’colleague, lest either of us introduce the other to a spoiler and spontaneously combust as a result, we realised that our games had diverged over the course of the trilogy, and that having a meaningful discussion without spoilers was precluded by the fact that the foundations of our ‘universes in peril’ had surprisingly little common ground, outside of the main plotline at least.
Of course it quickly brought to mind the old topic of ‘static versus dynamic worlds’ with respect to the multiplayer experience, such as in MMOs, where games such as Ultima Online and EVE Online took the fine decision to make their game a framework of tools, tools which enable the most dynamic of all possible content –the players– to be the content for one another.
NPCs in my game, whom I love and indeed have loved, are entirely absent from m’colleague’s parallel sphere of existence, a situation over which my Shepard would give his Shepard a stern rebuke, if only she could find a way to travel between parallel universes. Alas, it’s in yet another universe entirely that humanity has discovered how to travel between different universes. And anyway, as soon as you leave your universe, that universe ceases to exist because an intrinsic part of it has been removed, meaning it could never have existed in the first place. Of course when *that* happens, *you* cease to exist, because your originating universe never existed, and thus you could never have existed. Which of course means that your universe could exist, because you never existed to leave it, so it pops back into existence. Along with you. Whereupon you find yourself on the point of leaving the universe and… oh dear.
And so without dynamically generated content, it’s quite the conundrum as to how to let different players experience the same content, within the same world, without introducing a paradox, or at least people getting into terrible fights.
Player 1: “Have you met NPC Geoff? This is NPC Geoff, one of my most loyal followers.”
Player 2: “How can that be? NPC Geoff is DEAD, I sacrificed him in order to save NPC Foxabella”
Player 1: “NPC Geoff is NOT dead!”
Player 2: “Yes. He is.”
NPC Geoff: “I, uh, I’m not. Right here.”
Player 2: “Yes you ARE [stabs]”
NPC Geoff: “Okay, now I am. Urk…”
Player 1: “No you’re NOT [casts Resurrect]”
NPC Geoff: “Well fi…”
Player 2: “ARE! [stabs]”
NPC Geoff: “Ow…”
Player 1: “ARE NOT! [casts Resurrect]”
And as for the ‘which NPC slept with which PC and when’ situation… awkwarrrrd. I mean, giving another playing character an accidental rogering due to an entangled NPC paradox causing your two timelines to intersect momentarily (and my what an intersection!), is the stuff that really bad fan fiction is made of.
This is what I was talking about in my too-long comment on yesterday’s post, the divergent worlds that make up different players’ ME3 experiences. The concept of “spoilers” becomes almost irrelevant at this point, as players no longer have continuously convergent experiences, and the races one attempts to make contact with will vary widely based on what choices the player has made in the past 2 games, if any such choices were made at all, and not pre-selected by BioWare.
The concept of a dynamically-generated world is an interesting one, and one that has been tried in Skyrim. Of course, Skyrim is a wonderful game and all, but there are more than a few issues with its dynamic world, namely quests bugging out because I’d unfortunately slaughtered a named NPC whilst out adventuring. Now take that type of programming nightmare, scale it up to an MMO with millions of players, and watch as the forums fill up with players ranting about broken questlines and NPCs and logs filling up with hundreds of incomplete quests.
Yeah, it’d be quite the nightmare to make an MMO of that sort. But it would be remarkably satisfying if it worked, wouldn’t it? Imagine, a world with thousands of characters who went about their daily lives, had families, jobs…
That sounds familiar.
You know, sometimes the limitations of programming aren’t such a bad thing…in the pursuit of ever-increasing realism and immersion, sometimes we forget what we were looking for in the beginning. A simple past-time where one could escape to his own fantasy world and listen to the birdsong in the trees, weaving a story where his character is the hero. That’s what role-playing games will always be to me, and as long as there are games like that, I’ll be a contented gamer.
I think scale is an important idea too. Those millions of players all packed into relatively small worlds means that everyone will always bump into NPC Geoff. For me, half the joy of Skyrim was the feeling of expansiveness and space which the game instilled – the fact that I could play for 130-odd hours and still be told by friends about places in the game that I had yet to discover.
Again, I think EVE probably gets this right, where players can and do converge for huge fights, but there is also a lot of space for people to lose themselves in as well. I think Vanguard had this ambition too, and that game’s world is indeed huge; alas, it was perhaps too great an ambition at the time, and the game suffered for it.
Perhaps technology has moved on significantly enough for someone to try again, and today there are rumours of an Elder Scrolls MMO…