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  Mechanic #028 - Sim-MMORPG

Category: Simulation
Posted: 06/05/07

A simulation game in which a game is simulated. You play the game designer and make the best multiplayer RPG for your sim-players.



This is a sim game, like SimCity, Rollercoaster Tycoon, or the Sims - except rather than designing houses, cities, or amusment parks, you are designing a game. You are building a MMORPG and your goal is to creatively design the world why still working within a simulated work environment and trying to attract the attention, affection, and money of simulated players.

At the most basic level, a SimMMORPG world is made up of various zones. Each zone should be thought of as an independent entity, not unlike houses in the Sims 2. These zones begin with a specific theme (swamp, desert, snowy, forest, etc) and a level range. Ideally, you'll want to cover the whole range of themes and level ranges, such that the sims feel there is plenty of variety and that they can play continuously to the end level.

Within these zones you can place attractions (which are themed areas that may also include a dungeon or two) and towns (usually just one major town and perhaps a few smaller outposts). After that, you put down roads to connect these things, perhaps draw some travel paths between the towns in each zone, and then open the SimMMORPG to the public.

The sim players will then go in, creating characters, and will march around in the world fighting monsters, exploring, and so on. You'll want to keep them happy by having enough content, meeting their individual needs, making them feel like they are getting their money's worth, and generally just producing a quality game that the sim players enjoy.

However, nothing in life is free. To do all this, you've got to maintain a staff of different employees, each with their own jobs to do. If you don't hire enough tech support people, then the programmers won't have computers to work on. No server guys and the server outage times grow long (and anger players). Not enough game masters and players will get frustrated with not being helped. Not enough programmers and it takes too long to make quests, not enough artists and you can't create new buildings or monsters.

To make matters worse, changes are not instant. Instead, you've got the production server and the test server. You can make changes all you want to production, but to push those changes to live requires server downtime. So you've got to decide if you want to fix a bug now or push a bunch of fixes to live simultaneously (assuming QA didn't find any bugs... but hey, this is MMORPG-dom. QA never finds any bugs!)



An attraction is a small tract of land which contains a small themed area. For instance, in a desert zone you might have a small oasis. After you generate a nice little bit of land with a watering hole and some grass, you place down an Attraction Marker. This is the center of the attraction and everything within its radius will be considered part of the attraction. There can only be so many attractions in a zone, and they can't be that close to each other.

From the flag, you can set specific attraction details, like the name of the attraction ("The Squid King's Oasis... of DOOM!"), the level range (a subset of the zone's level range), and stuff like that.


Then you place down terrain doodads, like trees, rocks, whatever. The attraction's aesthetic value will be greatly increase by these things. How this is valued has always been a mystery to me in other sim games, but I'm thinking that it would be judged based on color cohesiveness, theme cohesiveness, how dense or sparse it is, and a bunch of judgements like that. Coming up with a halfway decent aesthetics function would probably be a pretty fun exercise.


Finally, you can place your enemy spawn points. They can be specific enemy types or there can be a table of potential spawns. The difficulty of the zone will be dependent on what enemies are placed and how densely they are packed. Then you can do stuff like place treasure chests or resource nodes and their respawn time. And, if you'd like, you can place a dungeon in the zone. The dungeons are just little buildings that sims go in for a while and eventually come out from with treasure and stuff, though I guess it wouldn't hurt to be able to design them as well (like designing pre-built rollercoasters in Rollercoaster Tycoon).

All these factors together will contribute to how attractive a zone is to the sim players. Statistics will also be taken as the sims try to play through the zone, which will lead to a more realistic model of the zone's value and cost to the player.

  Towns and Quests


Towns work similarly. You build some terrain, place a town marker, set the town information, place some buildings, and then NPCs. Sims will spend time going to shops and min-maxing their gear, talking with other sims, duel, and so on. Towns should exhibit a lot of sort of "down-time" sim behavior (one of the needs a Sim has).

You can create quests on NPCs. However, you don't really design quests individually. Instead, you simply just link a quest to an attraction and give it a difficulty (solo, level 20). The attraction itself keeps track of what the possible quests are within its borders. The attraction will go, hey, I've got this content that is geared for level 20, of which this, that, and the other thing are already being used for quests, so I can pick A or B for this quest. Since the Sims play the quests and you don't, the details aren't really that important. However, you do get to select the reward, which may affect even whether or not a sim will try the quest (be careful, don't give good rewards to bad quests in bad areas because sims resent being forced through content).

What is important is that they will put that quest in their log book, and it will keep track of their experience while doing the quest. For instance, it will keep track of travel time to the attraction, how many times they died, how much loot they got, the relative challege, and so on. Each quest experience will build up to an overall impression of the MMORPG and how much fun the sim is having on it (also factored in are things like how many other people they see playing, the general MMORPG aesthetic, how many quests they can do in a play session, etc).


Originally, I was thinking about making this into a multi-entry idea. I wanted to do one on the business aspect and another one on how the sim players would think and operate (and this one one world building). I ultimately decided against it because I didn't want a bunch of consecutive entries without illustrations. I think that the idea is presented - a sim-mmorpg - and a mechanic for defining the world, and how the business sim part works and what the sim players think can be left up to an exercise for the reader. That's the thing about simulation games. It's not so much about making something new up as it is emulating how something old works at an abstract level. I'm not sure that I have anything unique to add that someone just playing a mmorpg couldn't see just as obviously.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.