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Mob spawning in the text-only days

Posted by Chris Jones
On March 1st, 2006 at 12:02

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Posted in Design Journal, Scenarios

Darniaq’s complaint about immersion-breaking spawns reminded me of how I avoided the problem with a MOO I worked on in college. Text MUDs had it easier to use smoke and mirrors to make the world look consistent. Case in point: I designed a scenario, with the evil wizard tower dominating the valley of peasants. Fields to the east, woods to the west, mountains (with a cave leading to the rest of the game) in the south, and the tower in the north.

In the bottom of the tower, under the dungeons, were caves filled with orcs. When an orc was killed by a player character, it was swapped with a corpse object (with the appropriate treasure, naturally) which had a task to make it decay and disappear over the next 60 seconds. In the meantime, the orc object was reset and dropped into the spawning pits, a room with a one-way door that exited into the dungeon. The orcs would then wander out of the tower gang up, and perform their scripted tasks in the tower and valley (looting, pillaging, attacking) or get stuck in a room flagged as that orc’s home (say, a clearing in the woods).

The one-way door was obviously a locked door when examined, something that a normal player (without a wizard bit, at least) wouldn’t be able to get past. The spawning pit was detailed of course, but the average player would never see it. To help keep players from coming across that barrier to content, “elite” orc guards were positioned within the hallway, making travel through the dungeons and caves progressively more dangerous and difficult–the guards respawned and returned to their posts faster than a typical orc.

Mobs never appeared out of thin air. Player characters who killed the wizard weren’t witness to his triumphant and instaneous reappearance, but would have to wait for him to wander back to the tower from the mountains in the south of the valley. Orcs didn’t simply respawn at their homes, but took time to return to them.

Old Man“Get off my lawn, you damn kids!”
We didn’t have to deal with the current “kill everything-ding-ding-ding” mentality in our playerbase: to use Bartle’s old quotient, our players tended toward a 60% socializer, 30% explorer, 5% achiever, and 5% killer archetype. Instead, we focused on providing an interesting and entertaining experience where the orcs became a semi-random challenge that advanced the player’s heroic storyline instead of bags of xp and loot. And as this was a MOO, our rewards could be more interesting than typical stat bonusing gear: rings of clairaudience (to listen to other rooms), crystal balls (to look in other rooms), telepathy circlets (to have a private chat with one or more other people), medallions of light (to light up dark rooms), and other geegaws were much more useful for exploring the world and enabling better communication with friends.

Although mobs scaled in difficulty (orcs near the mountains and fields were easier than the ones in the woods, or the ones that would raid the village, and orcs in the tower got progressively tougher as you moved up or down levels), player characters quickly gained the skills needed to dispatch them. Character levels weren’t a part of the game design, and stat equipment was almost wholly absent, so every encounter in the game could be won by a sufficiently skilled and well-played character or small group in normal gear–there was no need to grind or camp mobs. Players came to socialize and explore, not to repetitively kill monsters for shinies.

The MOO disappeared sometime after the owner broke up with his girlfriend or somesuch and we developers moved on to other projects.

Lessons learned:

  • Always make backups of the MOO core (although I didn’t have enough quota to do that at the time).
  • Remember to put the compass rose on your maps (“Err…yeah, I really meant for that valley overlap the main house. Eeep!”)
  • Not every player will find completely dark rooms intriguing or want to explore past them.
  • Write your complete design down, even as sketchy prose, before implementing it–the map only provides half the story and won’t serve to jog your brain sufficiently when you try to finish something four months later.
  • Write your scripts in the text editor, save them, and then upload them. Don’t count on being able to successfully and perfectly edit your scripts using the primitive editor no matter how many years you’ve been MOO coding.
  • Hiding clues with clever and descriptive writing is usually better than hiding clues behind skill check blocks in the description text. Both have their places, but the former is more accessible.
  • Other people have really good ideas too. They might make your scenario even better if you let them come play in your sandbox.

2 Responses to “Mob spawning in the text-only days”

  1. Heartless Gamer Says:

    Reminds me of the MUD that got me started. It was played through IRC and found on accident on Xnet. One area was a giant tree that had multiple branches to explore. There was nests that you could go and try to loot eggs from or try and kill the babies, but a mother bird would always swoop down and pwn your ass before you got it done. My brother actually figured it out well before I did that you had to go up top and kill the perching birds and then loot the eggs and kill the babies.

    Another thing about “dark” areas in MUDs. They were actually dark and no amount of increased brightness on the monitor let you see the content in the room. When I started playing Ultima Online after MUDs I never increased my brightness because the game offered night vision (or whatever the name of the spell was) and lamps/candles to light areas. I remember going into dungeons in UO and setting down lanterns and candles to illuminate the area I was fighting in.

    I then changed over to DAoC where I hated the dark because I couldn’t see at all which seemed so much worse than in a MUD where I could type “hitall” to attack everything in reach in a dark room. Then I remember back to the few weeks I had played WWII Online and someone had told me about increasing your screen brightness to see in the dark. Simple fix, but I had never processed the thought in my mind because of MUD darkness and other devices in UO to see in the dark. After that I got a program to macro an autoswitch for brightness (believe it was called Powerstrip). DAoC was never the same as I could always see in the dark 😛

    I never got into hard coding of MUDs, but I wrote room descriptions for a Star Wars MUD I loved. In reward I actually got my own Rodian planet 🙂 Only like 15 rooms, but I got a room for free to live in and an awesome supply merchant right down the road.

    I personally liked making ships. I had graph paper (and I still have that notepad) that I blocked out the rooms by numbers and then wrote the description. I believed heavily that in the gamers mind that they could visualize the shape of the area.

    I also did a Tatooine desert area that was just a maze, but one description listed a small metal box sticking out of a sand dune. If the player actually paid attention and did an examine area they got a secret tunnel into a Hutts private bar. You then ran across an R2 unit that spit out drinks and all sorts of things like nerf bars.

    Even though I mapped the area I would get lost following my map haha.

    MUDs had so much potential and I don’t know how that was all lost in transition to graphi MMORPGs.

  2. Mischiefblog » Blog Archive » Considering the next generation of MMOs Says:

    […] Also consider how gametic it is to create spawn points and camps. The lions will be there because they’re always there, no matter how many times they’re killed off. Removing the lions on death would prohibit later players from accessing the content. The designer’s spawn points can end up breaking the versimilitude that had been fostered by logical placement: after massacring the lions that had threatened the village, the same lions reappear minutes later for someone else to kill to save the village. This isn’t an argument for instancing (because most instances, and I’m looking at you Guild Wars, are just as much groundhog day as a non-instanced game world), but an argument for reexamining how we spawn and place mobs. […]