**Disclaimer** The following blog is a parody. For avoidance of doubt, Otto von Quarzis is NOT a prophet and his former Rules Firm is NOT a law firm, does not provide legal advice, and, you know... isn't real. Carry on.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Action or Story - Can Flavor Text Compete

So, a good friend of mine, check out his blog here, posted a reply to a comment I made on one of his posts which set me off thinking.  He said "I have a hard time wrapping my head around any  role playing game that is not trying to create some lasting story from the get go..."

Now, he was talking about paper and pencil RPGs.  However, I want to bring this concept to the CRPG world.  "Create some lasting story..."  A lot of single/co-op games have this.  In fact, it is typical that you have a good story to your game.  However, what about MMOs/MUDs?

To create a story you need typical story telling building blocks.  In a graphic intensive game, you can use fantastic visuals to tell a story - interspersed with cut-scenes.  All the AAA titles have them.  They do a great job - and not much I can say about them.  So, I am going to focus my attention more on the hobbyist realm.  Why do people play MUDs?  Why do they create them?

I've played my fair share of MUDs back in the day.  I have experimented with these new fangled MMOs - these graphical monstrosities (DDO, Neverwinter, Guild Wars, Age of Conan, etc.)  You know what - I like them.  But, they are very similar to their text-based ancestors.  Sure, there are players that take the RPG seriously - but, frankly... not many.  There are the ones that quest for story, but many more that quest for the power boost.  Kill, xp, gold, level... repeat bigger and badder.

In a graphical MMO, it is easy to have awesome "flavor text" in terms of stunning visuals.  The players can oooh and ahhh them - but do they pay attention?  Do players actually care about flavor text? I know many a MUD that has attempted to try and make "flavor text" an integral part of the game.  In other words, you need to read carefully (ala the old Infocom games) to get the treasure, solve the quest, not get killed...

The problem I see is that most players don't really care for those types of games.  Sure, you'll get a few that play it for the challenge - but how many actually RP it.  In my experience, very few do.  They want to bash things; take their gold; level up; chat with their friends (not necessarily in that order).  Is there anything wrong with that style of play - I say "hell no."  Sometimes, after a looooong day's work - you just want to bash things and take their gold.  But, it does leave a game designer with a quandary - what do you do about flavor text?

In my old table top RPG games, I used to use "generic dungeon material" - a lot.  I have to say, I brought that into MUD/CRPG building as well.  People don't want to read flavor text for the most part.  They want action - they want excitement.  It is, I am convinced, why shooters are such a popular genre.  So, what to do? Does the "smart" designer just leave it out? Or do you say f'it - I'm designing for me?

I posit the answer is not so black and white.  Flavor text can be very engaging.  As Skyrim taught me - sometimes you just want to stop and visually take in the roses (or cascading waterfalls, mountains, what have you...).  Designers need to make flavor text (and I use this generically to include pretty background visuals) more a part of the game.  Don't force your viewpoint on the player - instead create a living world that interacts with the player.

Case in point - Skyrim has messengers scurrying around as you walk down the path.  Flavor text - certainly - but also sometimes those messengers are for you.  Why not a pretty flower - just standing there... that ends up attacking the player.  The idea is not to "penalize" them for not paying attention.  Rather, the idea is to engage the player.  The player gets what they want (a fight and gold) - and you get the satisfaction of a well placed encounter.

I guess what I am getting at is - don't do "flavor text" - do real story telling.  Engage your players.  After all, they're playing the game as a sort of escape.  They want the rush - they want the stress relief.  Wrap it in a story and it become the type of game they can't put down.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on flavor text, building engaging encounters, keeping a player hooked in a developing plot line, game building in general and, heck, even counter-arguments.

Until next time, MUDs aren't dead... they're just rebooting.