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  Mechanic #049 - Entertainers

Category: Mmorpg
Posted: 06/26/07

A more deliberate attempt at MMORPG Entertainer classes than what was found in Star Wars Galaxies.


The following is an old blog. A really old blog. From 2005, actually. It was written about the time Star Wars Galaxies had that big revamp that pissed off their entire player base. I wrote a series of blogs on a few game systems from the game before that change, what I liked about them, what I didn't, and what I would change. It was my intention to revisit this idea at some point in the future, but do to circumstances, reposting this old blog is all I can offer at the moment. I still think there's some cool ideas here, and hopefully, they are still cool two years later.


05.11.05 - SWG: Cantinas and Med Centers

The SWG of old had a rather curiously poor design decision. When combat players were hurt, they'd acrue Battle Fatigue and Wounds. Wounds reduced the max size of your bars (mind, action, health) slowly over time - if you died, then significantly reduced. Doctors could heal your wounds (but only in med centers), but the efficiency of their healing was affected by how much battle fatigue you had. The only way to reduce battle fatigue was to watch entertainers, who could only operate in the various cantinas and hotels around the cities. The end result was that when you were significantly damaged, you'd have to go watch some people dance and then find a doctor to cure you - and you were expected to tip them for it.

The problems are obvious. The one feature that entertainers performed was extraneous - and extra step that served no greater purpose than to be an extra step. They could only operate in cantinas, and only got experience and tips when they were watched, leading to most entertainers packing themselves into on of the few large cantinas, leaving every other city on the planet a ghost town (same with docs). The tips were entirely optional, and as far as a player is concerned, "optionally" giving away hard earned money was stupid - so only rich people could afford the tips, and just like real life, better "healthcare" (or at least were higher priority).

The heart was in the right place. SWG wanted to make players do more than go out and hunt monsters, and wanted to foster a strong community by coordinating players into specific areas and forcing them to interact. Of course, it did this by appealing to things like common decency, morals, and social standards which may exist in the real world but don't exist and can't exist in a game world. It also did this by forcing players to be social (not just here either - you were also forced to train other people to get apprentice xp needed to master a profession). You can't force people to be social who don't want to be, which leads to the final problem. All these functions could be performed by an AFK macro, showing that player interaction, though forced, did not require any individuality, skill, or attention.

So, how was this eventually changed? Medics became combat classes, only earning xp when healing during a fight, making med centers absolutely worthless. You've still got wounds, but the best way to get them healed is to head to a popular location (most recently, Mustafar) and wait around for some Jedi to heal your wounds instead. They removed battle fatigue completely, and now entertainers simply give out crafting buffs and a +10% xp buff for up to three hours. They also gave entertainers a cover charge ability to allow the entertainer to decide if tips were optional, but there were so many AFK grinders that the only time you'd see it used was on Kashyyyk or Mustafar where there was one dancer and it was a pain in the ass to travel somewhere else and back.

In this newest revamp, they've combined Combat Medic and Doctor, making medic far more combat orientated (since they removed medic xp, I assume they just have combat xp now too - which is actually a positive change). All the entertainer classes have been rolled up into one class, but it is still unclear whether they've actually fixed the fundamental problems in the ideology behind the class, or if we'll still be sitting down for three minutes watching AFK grinders for three hours of +10% xp without tipping for it (you don't tip someone who is AFK). First of all, the problem with cantinas is that they are very poor community hubs. There's nothing to do in them, they are far too small for the number of players that cram inside, and they have no individuality to them making them more a place that you are forced to hang out in rather than a place you'd want to. When there's a dozen people in there, it's impossible for conversations to go on.

I'd make it so that each table had it's own spatial chat with options that the people can set. For instance, you can tune out people not at the table or opt to listen to external conversations, and you can likewise decide whether or not your table chat is listenable by anyone standing around. Just because I have a wacky sense of humor, I'd allow certain players (ie spies or smugglers) to "evesdrop" on a table, with the table having a chance of being alerted to that fact depending on their perception skills or level or something. Then, they can choose some sort of response, like have everyone on the table give the eversdropper a menacing glare, talk quieter, or even challenge the spy to a duel if he was PvP enabled.

We've got the ability for groups of people the share the same space and decide whether or not they share the same conversation. Let's give them something to do. I'd give the tables certain little low-attention games to play, like a trivia game or something like checkers or even a simple text adventure game. It needs to be something that everyone at the table can participate in, yet doesn't require undo attention, detracting from the community atmosphere. It's like how you can play solitaire while talking on the phone. Something to do if you need it. Gambling may be an option for certain types of cantinas, though SWG does currently feature some gambling games that would work fine (lugjack and stuff) if made into a privacy table. Let's also give rewards for playing these games, like buffs, items, status, or credits, so that people have a reason to go to cantinas regardless of whether an entertainer is there.

Let's give the different cantinas some variety at least. The big cities, like Theed, Coronet, or Mos Eisley require large cantinas - possibly multifloor or at least multiroom (like a karaoke bar). There should also be some sort of theme to these. For instance, one could be a casino, while one could be a strip club (though nothing more adult than some Twiliks dancing around in metal bikinis - nothing worse than already is in the game), while yet another one could be themed to be an explorer's club, with animal head tropies on the walls, and perhaps a dance club, with strobe lights and a larger dance floor for people to jump in on, or even a comedy club. It seems kind of excessive to do this, but themes help with roleplaying, and different decor will attract different entertainers, allowing them to create their niche. I'm not saying that there won't be underwear dancers in the explorer's club, but given their dancing preference, they'd probably prefer to be in the strip club setting. Perhaps even tie some of the types of entertainment to the type of cantina (sexy dances only in strip clubs, only jazzy music in the ballrooms, etc).

To go along with these themes should be a number of characters and quests to go along with it. For instance, in the strip bar, you should be able to sit at a table with a gangster NPC who sends you on some "dirty" jobs, while the explorer's club will have Mon Calamari in pith helmets telling you of their time in the wild and rewarding you for hunting wild peko peko. Each cantina should have accompanied theme'd items and services to buy. For instance, the drink menu (and associated buffs or effects) should be in line with the theme. Drinking wine out of a monkey skull or nothing but hard liquor. You should also be able to buy a pith helmet, because by golly, those things kick ass. And, of course, player cantinas should be possible to theme as well by deciding what the menus are, the decor, and what kinds of games are available.

Now we turn to the question of entertainers. Cantinas are now mini-theme parks, well worth even the most unsocial player's time, filled with entertainment, quests, and games. But how do you fit a player into that - I mean, these guys aren't going to see anything but the inside of a cantina. How do we make them anything but an AFK grinder? Well, the first thing I think should be done is to make the acts of entertainment (dancing, music making) something that isn't done 24/7 through a macro. Instead, let's reduce how often entertainment happens but reward it better.

I'm thinking each cantina has a stage, where only one act can be on it at a time and only for a specified duration (ie no longer than five minutes) - though strip clubs would have dancing posts, I guess in addition to a feature stage. Entertainers can sign up for the queue as long as they remain in the cantina, and get their time in the sun every once in a while. At the end of their set, they get some xp for just dancing or making music or whatever, but players who were watching give more xp and they can /clap or /standingOvation at the end to give even more xp (unlike tipping, clapping is free, so more people would voluntarily do it). At this point, you don't even need to just dance or do gameplay-based things. You could get up and read poetry, tell jokes, act out plays, or whatever - so long as the players clap at the end, you'll receive social xp. There should even be an NPC moderator and a curtain that opens and closes.

It would be nice if entertainers could reserve future slots (if they are more than 10 minutes late, it goes back to first come first serve), as well as purchase advertising around the club on posters or a little hologram that comes up at each table every once in a while to tell you about it. Perhaps even a tour of specific cantinas on specific dates, even requiring people to buy tickets or something. Maybe reserve a longer specific timeslot every week for some show - a variety show where different people perform, a talk show, a news show, etc.

Obviously, this type of thing can be faked with a guild, but any social contact can be faked with any sort of gameplay reward. My intent is to make such a stage thing to prevent people from just sitting there AFK grinding by requiring not just their active participation, but the participation of the audience as well (regardless of what your privacy table is set at, the entertainer's music or words will be heard). You just can't reward social behavior because people will manipulate each other and the system to minmax it - leading to AFK grinding or other unsavory behavior that destroys the class.

Instead, we make it so people only get so long to shine every once in a while, so they have to make it count. I'm thinking that rather than a general purpose social xp, they earn status with the cantina, allowing them to buy or earn new outfits, dances, or songs over time that are unique to each one (there might be four explorer's clubs, and each one has a different part of a vegas-style explorer dancer outfit). By forcing people to move between cantinas to get it all, there's a lower chance of them organizing for each player the whole way. Also, I think people will just be willing to go up there and have amateur nights just because they can. And if people try to stand up there doing nothing to gain xp, you can /boo them offstage, /throwTomatos, or even /hitGong. These options will be dependant on the type of entertainment of course (ie if you bought a ticket to someone's tour, you couldn't gong them off stage).

What do entertainers do when in a cantina, waiting to go on stage? I'm thinking some sort of geisha type deal. They can join any table out there as a designated entertainer. You can chat with folks, set up games that need a moderator (wouldn't it be cool to play Dungeons and Dragons pen and paper while sitting in a Star Wars cantina?), do image design, or help new players. I'm thinking that each table can set up a Looking-For-Entertainer flag to indicate they want some entertainer-enhanced stuff.

But what do entertainers contribute to the game beyond... well, entertainment? I'm thinking nothing. For some people, being social is a reward unto itself. If you start rewarding it, then people who have no interest in the social aspects will do it to get the reward. Instead, we let the entertainers do what they do and reward them for it, but not actually reward the players who watch them. I'm thinking that just being in the cantina would slowly increase an XP bonus or some other theme-specific buff (causing people to seek out specific cantinas). Watching the entertainers would make it go faster, but they are entirely optional and more like background color than an integral part of every player's gameplay.

We just need to make the cantinas someplace where people spend their down time (which means increasing down time in some ways, like buffs gained from cantinas take longer to max out), give them a good place to socialize in the way they want, and give them something to watch and cheer for while they do it. Let's not just cram a whole bunch of robots into a tiny, tiny little room.

I firmly believe that the idea behind entertainers is good. MMORPGs aren't just multiplayer games. There is a community there, and unfortunately, SWG was one of the first ones to realize this. I say unfortunately, because it screwed up so badly that it has irrevocably turned the community against it. People created these bonds that they were intended to, and then when the game didn't work, those bonds kept them well past the comfort point. If you are going to do something like entertainer, you really need to go all the way. Make it something that entertains people from level 1 to level 90, that requires individuality and interest in playing. I'm not a social person, but I swear I would play an entertainer if I could, for example, write a script for a play that others would act out(there'd need to be some sort of costume function though), or do bad star wars stand up. Something that allows me to express creativity that makes each entertainer the sum of their own abilities and not some grinding robot or something where I was forced into direct social contact just to earn a little xp that didn't make any difference.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.