Hollow Earth

The Butterfly Effect


This post would be better titled “What Cyan’s Uru could learn from CCP’s EVE” but the advice isn’t of much use to them currently. It might, however, be of use to the fans who will be the future developers of Uru.

Before I go on about the game, I should point out the source of the title of the post one of the key points I would like to make. Probably best illustrated in CCP’s video of the same name.

Now, I did review EVE Online before, but I don’t think I did it justice– nor hit upon all the right points. Those points being:

1. Actions in Uru need to start having an effect on all players.

If you have seen the video I posted above, you probably have a good idea of where I’m headed with this. One of EVE’s concepts is that player actions have an effect on other players, no matter who the player is, where they are, or how much money/power/guns the player has. Now, does this truly happen the extent CCP advertises in its trailer? Doubtful. Pirate players have a large amount of influence and the most powerful ships have the most powerful effect. However, it’s the concept hat I’m getting at. I can use my small ship to mine an asteroid for ore, which I refine into a mineral used in the game’s manufacturing system. The trailer above romanticizes the idea quite a lot, but the concept holds true here. My small amount of resources go towards huge manufacturing orders which build and stock warships with ammunition. My action has an effect either alone or in combination with actions of others.

Uru never had that. The GZ calibration and the pellets were the closest Cyan was able to accomplish. However, it was discovered that neither had the automation a system like this requires. This hints to me that Cyan does/did not have an easy way to code this type of activity in. Thus this suggests that one of the big tasks the fans need to take on is making it easier to make communal effort easy and automated. In short, Uru needs to have a butterfly effect.

One major problem with this is that Uru is not that traditional MMO EVE is. EVE has all the basic bits an MMO has (a system of money, combat, skills) and those things just aren’t going to suddenly spring into Uru. Uru is attempting to be new in an industry that favors the same junk it’s always sold before. But that doesn’t mean Uru can’t incorporate the idea.

2. Player decisions need to be permanent and effect which line of content they receive.

How can Uru incorporate the butterfly effect? One idea might be to have Ages where a player’s actions open up paths in the world that vary depending on the player’s personality. An injured animal could be helped and take the player to an inaccessible portion of the Age with a hidden book. Alternatively, the player could ignore it and follow another path to a different Age. The key here is this: The player action must irreversibly effect the world. This is something a lot of fans haven’t done. There is a maze or a puzzle with a single solution or one good and one bad ending (the bad ending usually being limited to a panic link and not a blocked off portion of the Age). Obviously this is unpopular with a developer like Cyan since they would have to make two reward ages instead of one. However, this sort of content-by-decision is certain to be interesting to new players as well as being challenging to old players.

The problem with how Uru has been run previously is that it’s too easy to just get everything. You may make a choice (like keeping your Bahro poles) but it’s just delaying the inevitable. It doesn’t close off access to an Age, it doesn’t effect what journeys you receive in the future, hey it doesn’t even lose you points with Yeesha. The only effect is that a Bahro screams randomly in your Relto. Similar to that was the whole “alone or together” idea. It was a great way to make sure skittish single-players weren’t frightened off by social interaction, but it led to no gain or loss.

In some respects, the current effects are purely in the realm of role-play. For example, if I play someone aligned with the old DRC mantra of “Safety First,” I could not visit the unreleased Ages with that avatar and I would appear to have “lost” something through that. But there’s no real effect, and certainly nothing irreversible. Pretty much the only thing permanent with Uru now is that you keep all the Ages you get. Even if you delete your nexus links or your journey Age progress, that can all be re-done. There is no spot in the game where you are told about a choice that will impact your life in Uru, you make a decision, and your content changes for the life of that avatar. Does that mean you never see an Age because you chose a path against it? No. There’s no reason you couldn’t do the other path on another avatar OR travel with others to see the Ages their path gave them. Paths could diverge and converge so you could change your path after a while as competing philosophical outlooks (and, ideally, character personalities) grew stronger or weaker. If the player is forced to choose one piece of content over another, you make  the player unique, teach him/her about the impact of their choices, and encourage them to contact others to see other possibilities. If the player can undo his decision and get both prizes, all you did was add steps to the goal of owning all.

3. Uru needs to keep people busy.

If you want to survive, you make something someone can’t live without. While not literally true for games, a game can be more or less needed by a person. Make it Uru! Many already have a personal bond with the game, a bond which has fueled interest during Until Uru. There is no reason why a person can’t or shouldn’t be able to feel connected to Uru. Reality shows and football games instill stronger feelings with less.

How do you get that connection to the game? Four ways:

1. Ages with re-play value.

This Uru had, but it got to a point in MOUL where people had gotten so unhappy with the story or other small things that this never mattered. For less money than any purchasing plans EVE currently has, the fanbase expected new worlds every time it logged on. As such, many missed the value in re-play.

Cyan, however, also missed the target. The Ages had re-play value, but a lot of story and back story was not in the game. This is a recipe for failure because people would log out of the game to read chatlogs or find out information they should have found in-game. There was no one place people could go to for D’ni history. The Hall of Kings had some, but many king books were missing and many of the other cultural texts were up on the rooftop.

2. Ages with commitment value.

This is what the Great Zero calibration and the lake lighting could have been, but weren’t. The problem was that there was no real feedback for the player. Even when the problem was noticed, Cyan still could have come to the fans and said “We don’t have the resources to make this as good as it should be. We need someone with the time and resources to get it going.” Participants would get NDAs, contracts, or whatever other agreements Cyan needed. Those agreements aren’t trivial, but when there’s an order from the top that this is needed, it gets done. Would it have worked? Maybe. But if it didn’t, it would have shown that Cyan was willing to do something out of the ordinary to preserve its quality.

3. Ages with personal value.

Ages that are yours, that you can customize how you want them. This was implemented best obviously in Relto where collectible pages could add things to the Age. However, other ages had limited amounts of customization. Mostly just positioning kickable objects, but also shutting off puzzles to restrict access to other portions of the Age. However, the problem is that none of these were permanent or even immune to the tampering of others. Some changes to the Age need to be locked down so the Age owner gets the final say on who gets to change what. Not realistic, but functional and responsible. Keeping people interested involves making sure there are parts of the game they feel connected to and are “theirs”.

4. Activities that can build the game.

This doesn’t mean just Age building. Ages are one piece of the complex machine that is a competent game. Fans need to be involved in every facet of the game. One thing EVE does nicely is the EVE Chronicles. While, so far as I can tell, these are not written by fans, they do serve as a part of the development of the “characters.” I put characters in quotes because, while the stories have their own characters, the characters which truly develop are the game’s different races. The stories are simple ways to flesh out certain portions of the galactic populace. In short, Uru needs this. This and other openings. Age creation is important, but without other parts they’re just pretty places.

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Filed under: Learning from Others, , , ,

4 Responses

  1. D'nial says:

    Well, yes… and no.

    Although I like the idea of Ages starting to reflect a player’s personality, I don’t agree with permanently blocking off portions of an Age. One of the things I like most about Uru is the freedom to explore nearly anything at any time. Permanent changes to what content can be viewed seem too intrusive in that regard. Even allowing players to get all aspects of content over multiple profiles only amounts to making it more difficult for someone to get and access everything.

    However, I would support permanent aesthetic changes to Ages. Perhaps the atmosphere or weather in an Age may be different, or a structure may be in better or worse condition. An initial customisation of the sorts of objects one would have in his/her neighbourhood would be a good example of this.

    I would approve of blocking certain paths and opening others, if this were done in a temporary and voluntary manner. This would allow people to explore any aspect of Uru at their leisure, but also cause them to ultimately settle on one “branch” of content most of the time, allowing for the individuality that you would like to see.

    Further customisation of the “home base” Age would also be good. The Relto pages that change the feel of the Age as a whole (thunderstorm, rain, and various flora) have always been more interesting to me than the ones that just add objects that nearly everyone will choose to include (clock, bench, wooden platform, etc.) More pages that make these fundamental changes, like a way to choose the time of day, would lead people to carefully consider what they want Relto to be, instead of automatically turning on every page they find.

    However, Uru can take it even further. Someone (Tweek?) once suggested that an explorer’s home Age could be an apartment of sorts in D’ni that one could customise in the same way as Relto. That alone could also change what kind of journeys one would take in the Ages if they choose such a path. I myself would like to see an “advanced” feature in which an explorer could build their own study Age with a library and set that as the default link.

    Um… insert some kind of insightful conclusion to this post here. :P

    • whilyam says:

      The way I see it is that, if a choice is temporary it’s not a real choice, it’s an option. Now, nothing so drastic as “Alone or together” you chose “alone” and the game forces you into single-player instances for the rest of the game. But what if even the existing Ages branched out along the themes carried within them?
      From Teledahn, you might continue to explore the story of the smuggler who owned Teledahn last (I forget his name). From there you might split to either find out more about him or about D’ni smugglers in general through other smuggler Ages. From there, perhaps you can hop “across” to a maintainer “branch” and learn about how the Maintainers dealt with smugglers. Perhaps you like learning about the maintainers and abandon the smuggler branch and learn more along the maintainer branch. The key, though, is that you customize your game rather than a single Age.
      The tendency before was to do all the ages, turn on all the pages, collect all the clothes and then there was nothing else to do but sit around and talk. Talking was great, but there was no real incentive for anyone to say “hey, want to go see this Age?” because everyone had the same Ages. With the content branches I’m talking about, each person would have several Ages which their friends hadn’t explored that they could go to.
      At the game’s start, instead of “alone or together,” we could be prompted to choose between smugglers (focusing on the D’ni underground), Maintainers (focusing on D’ni law enforcement), Writers (focusing on developments the D’ni made in linking), entertainment (focusing on ages with mini-games in them), personal (focusing on individual’s stories and ages), DRC (only Ages the DRC released), and Yeesha (Ages released by Yeesha to tell a story). Some would be specific to one set of Ages (Maintainers, for example), but others might be general and show players ages of that style from many of the specific categories (entertainment, or Yeesha for example).

  2. D'nial says:

    Ah. I understand. The choices are intended to give people incentives to re-explore Ages. (Well, not re-explore, as they would see different places for the first time, but you know what I mean.)

    However, I think people are still more likely to try to get all the content across multiple accounts. So, for this strategy to work, one would need to:
    -Limit the number of avatars one can make
    -Make a large enough array of possibilities that most players wouldn’t try to explore them all single-handedly
    -Somehow “hide” the choices that would dictate the Ages player could reach, thus making one’s assortment of Ages difficult to control
    or
    -Count on people to be interested enough in what a friend chose on their “main” account that this is not an issue.

    Would you agree?

    • whilyam says:

      Personally, I’d count on people to be interested enough in what a friend’s path is like. The branches would expand in time so, while people might be able to do everything through different accounts, it would soon become impractical. Limiting the number of avatars is too draconian for me. And any attempt to hide anything would quickly be discovered by this community!

      This raises the key potential problem, though. As the branches become more complex, the number of Ages required gos up. I’m not sure Cyan (or the fans) can handle making too many Ages. Given long enough, the system would likely look less like a tree with the rare crossing branch, and more like a system of rails. Four or more major lines with small side branches and occasional cross-overs, but limited in diversity. That’s fine with me, but people might be disappointed if their favorite line of history/religion/whatever-based Ages is set aside for a while as Cyan develops the main line more.

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