Okay, so I know I alluded to writing about using contexts for change outside games last week, but right now, I'd kind'a rather put this out there, so here't goes.
Very Brief Intro: Why Cafe-Style play needs to matter
One of the places I've played was the Chat-based games, first the White Wolf Official chat, then later in on called Wanton Wicked. (A shout out from ST Crowl if anyone reading happened to play there). I had a lot of fun watching people build interesting characters, and in WW, I loved what they did with neo-feudalism in Detroit, but something always seemed to be missing. Namely, the sharp division between ST-run scenes and ST'less hanging out in Elysium or the like. When there wasn't an ST around, my experience was that players mostly just sat around, sharing gossip and role-playing. There was nothing wrong with that, in itself, but it seemed to miss the "Game" part of Role-playing. Stories require conflict, and when there are few things to win or lose (other than the attention of other players), it's really hard to maintain a sense of tension needed for drama. It happened, but not often. The Cafe has been hinted-at as being where CCP wants to draw in new players, or at least offer the casual players something to do. How do we make this something worthwhile in itself, before players invest the time to build Domains (sandbox) or risk their skins (theme park)? Actually, I don't know for sure, since players will all start out Mortal. Still, since I'm wildly speculating here, here's one way I thought they might build some game mechanics for an MMO to give the feeling of the political games of Elysium. It's definitely a challenge to map the dynamics of social interactions, gossip, frames of references and Status into a game, but here's one way it might just work...
In the below sections, I've tried to describe the scene in story/interface terms first, then break out some of the mechanics happening in the background, and finally talk about the meta-game component and how we're modeling real-life social plays. Feel free to read or skip whatever you like. This article ended up a lot longer and crunchier than I expected, though I'd certainly welcome any feedback you could offer.
Your first night swimming with the sharks
You arrive at Elysium with instructions from your Sire: "Find Victoria. Talk with her. She'll show you the ropes." You understand her to be a fairly well-established Kindred who's agreed to help you get your feet wet. Back at your Haven, you'd check your Prestige rating. As a newly-Embraced Fledgling, it hovers around zero, indicating you've not made any kind of name for yourself. You know you won't be able to see your total until you return to your Haven (for reasons you'll see later). You limber up your fingers and get ready to role-play.
Finding Victoria doesn't take long, as you can see a graphical representation of her Prestige around/over her when you enter the club. Because you're talking to another character for the first time, an icon pops up on your interface called "First Impression." You click it, triggering a roll (or whatever) that comes up well, adding a small amount to your Prestige, for making a good introduction. The two of you talk for a few minutes when another icon appears, called something like "Enjoy," indicating that you're enjoying the conversation. You click it, politely, causing it to vanish for a few minutes as it "cools down." After a time, she says she has other things to which to attend and leaves with your thanks. As you've other things in the real world, you return to your Haven to check your Prestige before logging off. Sure enough, the time you've spent with her has built-up your total sufficiently to improve the effects of your Enjoy Ability, and unlocks a new ability "Insult."
In Mechanical Terms: Your character gained Prestige points by talking with another, more powerful character. She gained a bit as well, but she was clearly doing you a favor, or, more likely, for your Sire. Clicking on "Enjoy" gives Victoria a bit of Prestige and by clicking it every once in a while when it comes up, you're giving her some social capital. At the same time, while talking with you, her player's seeing similar icons pop up, only hers carry considerably more heft (larger impact and/or shorter cool-down.) By spending her time talking with you and clicking on positive icons, she's granting you some Prestige, indicating she's enjoying the conversation.
Note, however, that you don't see this at the time. That's intentional. This allows a player to smile and nod to your face, and either ignore you (not giving you any Prestige), or even offer veiled insults or the like to undercut it. Hence only being able to check your Prestige when you're in your Haven. (More on this in the next section.)
In meta-game terms: Here, we're modeling the most basic aspects of social approval. By showing her approval for you, Victoria adds clout to your interactions with other characters. Similarly, by offering her some in turn, you're reinforcing hers. As a virtual no-name, you can only offer a tiny bit of support for her. An insult from you, or a rumor started wouldn't have any real backing, as no one really cares about you right now, while one from her would cut your own Prestige to ribbons. Note again that you won't necessarily know that you've gotten approval or scorn from a conversation. Just like in real life, you can't be sure whether you're making a good impression with someone while you're making it.
In Deeper Waters
As you progress as a player, you build connections with other characters and learn which ones to avoid. You learn to use the "Insult" command sparingly, as it hurts the target's Prestige at the same time as it overtly alerts him you're using it. Still, it comes in handy now and then, for certain situations. That horrible wretch who keeps showing up to social functions in a speedo, calling everyone a "Newb," for example. Similarly, you suspect someone's used the "Gossip" command on you in recent nights, as you've returned to your Haven with less Prestige than you had in the beginning, even though you received no notification. Still, over time, you've built yourself up to a respectable level of Prestige, allowing you to at least hold your own. Bumping into Victoria one night, you openly declare your appreciation for her, for helping you get your start. Though she doesn't turn to watch others look on as you do so, she gives you the faintest of smiles, and quietly thanks you for kind words.
In Mechanical terms: Increasing your Prestige rating unlocks new social abilities and strengthens the ones you've got. (And/or it might allow you to purchase or upgrade skills. Whatever). As stated, "Insult" presents a direct assault in front of all gathered. It's for use when you want to metaphorically slap someone in the face. "Gossip" saps your target's Prestige without letting her know, for more indirect, quiet undermining. "Adulation" is a special skill. It carries a twelve-hour cool-down and costs a willpower point, but gives the target a sizable boost in Prestige. In this case, you used it to appreciate Victoria, and in return, she offered you a small gesture of approval as well.
In meta-game terms: As your character builds her clout, people care more about what she says and does in the social arena. When she insults someone, people take notice. When she starts a rumor, people care. When she draws openly pays someone a great compliment, heads turn and even nod a bit. These options weren't available earlier because, again, no one really cared what your character thinks. Similarly, if your character loses enough Prestige, she may find some of these abilities locked again and/or weakened, as she's "yesterday's news," "an disreputable sort" or the like. Prestige might also wane over time, requiring periodic infusions from others to maintain at a certain level, lest her public admiration fade and she find herself relegated to the back page, so to speak.
Political Actions: Referenda (Borrowed a bit from V:tES)
One night, you enter Elysium and see HUD notification that "Simply everyone's been talking about a call to censure the Tremere, and publicly chastise the Clan." You then find a few new icons available to you, "Aye," "Nay," "Pass," and a few others like "Furtive Support," "Quietly Denounce," and such, each indicating whether you'll throw your weight behind or against the proposal, and just how publicly. You also notice a number of Kindred gathered around Marcus, a Brujah Ancilla as he speak passionately on the subject. As his Awe power gives you a Willpower Point back for standing close enough to listen, you figure you might as well hear him out. He speaks of the Clan's corruption and the danger posed by their growing influence in the city. He denounces the Warlocks in positions of power and charges all assembled to stand against them. When he's done, a glow surrounds the "Aye" button, and when you mouse over it, you see that you'll be rewarded for putting your support in favor.
At that moment, though, Tom, one of Victoria's Childer, taps you on the shoulder and asks for a word. Without explanation, he suggests Victoria would be displeased if this proposal passed, and suggests against your supporting it. "Call it a favor," he says. And so, reluctantly, you click "Nay." Two nights later, when the vote fails, Marcus loses considerable Prestige. When Victoria seizes one of his Domain holdings shortly after, you understand why she wanted him off-balance in the first place...
In Mechanical terms: In this case (based on Consanguineous Condemnation for the V:tES fans out there), if Marcus had gotten enough support, all Tremere would have lost Prestige (for the condemnation), and he would have gained some (for successfully getting his Referendum through). When it fails, he loses a fair chunk of Prestige, leaving him more vulnerable when Victoria makes her own move on his holdings. The Tremere, in this case, would lose nothing. To call a Referendum, a player would clearly need to have earned a sizable sum of Prestige, representing enough social clout to get a critical mass of Kindred talking about something, and run the risk of losing face if it doesn't work.
In Meta-Game Terms: A Referendum, in this system isn't technically a vote, nor is it technically democratic. In story-terms, it represents a player character urging others one way or another toward some formal or informal shift in political framework. Players only put their support (read: Prestige) behind or against it, and players with insufficient Prestige don't get a vote at all. It gives players who've reached a certain level of Prestige something to do with it on a higher level of play. It could also give a framework for determining who will hold the title of Prince, and whatever other offices are built into the game.
And then it all goes wrong...
Victoria set you up. All the favors, all the support, even suggesting you try to seize the seat of Primogen, was all a sham. When you fell, you fell hard, and all the people you hurt on the way up came out of the woodwork. Logging in in your Haven, you've watched your Prestige slip and fall, inch by inch. That little incident with the Masquerade last week took a chunk out of your Prestige as well. Soon, you'll reach the negative values, at which the Prince can call a Blood Hunt upon you, and given the voices against you, it would only be a matter of time. Perhaps it's time you leave this city, hit the road and start some place new. Your Prestige rating may follow you, but unless your persecutors do as well, at least you'll get a clean slate. Now, can you scrape together enough favors to get safe passage out of the city in time? And is that Tom out there, casing your territory for Victoria's expansion? That would explain so very many things...
In Mechanical & Meta-Game Terms: There are risks to losing face. It leaves you vulnerable to your enemies (and they'll almost certainly design things so you're likely to make enemies), and a major slip could cost you dearly. Perhaps the Player playing as Prince can Blood Hunt anyone she pleases, but suffers that player's Prestige as a strike against her own. Perhaps, on the other hand, when she calls a hunt on someone with negative Prestige, she adds that to her own (giving her a reason to hunt down the unpopular). It creates consequences for failure to "play well with others," act abusively, and so forth. Either way, when things get too bad, it gives players a reason to cut and run, heading to other cities, or at least go to ground to let things calm down a bit.
Thanks, as always, for reading, everyone! Cheers!!
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1 years 9 days ago
If I have a few beers, there better be some hot buttons for those glowing commands. If a really loquacious mood strikes me, I may need one like EQ1's auto attack.
1 years 10 days ago
An intriguing system, and it helps to solve the problem of how you make social content with mechanical backing. ---- I don't think we need to make it QUITE so mechanical, and you shouldn't be able to check your Prestige (the "social currency", it looks like. Perhaps Status, in terms of Backgrounds?) even so often as that. My recommendation would be that you don't even know your own level of Prestige - a behind-the-scenes counter - so that you have to be social to see whether the world likes you or not. Everybody can smile to your face right up to the point the Prince calls the Blood Hunt down upon you. ---- I also like the possibilities for integrating this with social rules, where you can, say, select a Specialty in Charisma called "First Impressions", and you get +10% Prestige the first time a new player Likes you. I'm also thinking there could be things like "Party Liner", where when you vote according to your Primogen's selection, you give an extra +5% Prestige. I'm thinking the bonuses given by other players should be dependent on a percentage, so the more Prestige a player has, the more their word "counts". (I.e., if your character has 100 Prestige, and Victoria has 1,000 Prestige, when she smiles at you you get a bonus of 1% of her total Prestige, which translates into +10 Prestige for you - a significant bonus for a new character. I'm wondering if Prestige would be "stolen" - one player loses Prestige while the other absorbs it - or whether it will just be generated. How would we end up losing face - and thus Prestige - if it's only generated?) And of course there are the Disciplines. ---- This seems like a bit more of an elegant solution to either pure social play (no mechanics) or a dry popularity meter. I love the political background you put in first - this Prestige system is a reflection of that background, instead of the system creating the background. ("I need your Prestige lower so I can move in on your territory", instead of "I need to move in on your territory so I can steal Prestige".) ---- How do we make the UI for it a little more "poetic" than glowing buttons, though?
1 years 9 days ago
Truth told, Rick, I've got no idea what they mean by "a poetic interface." Could be prescripted word-commands, but that might make it hard to allow for the dynamic flow they were talking about. I do think giving players certain action icons when they're relevant might help with the flow, rather than a constant "here're all my kewl powerz" bars in WoW, et al. And you know, I do like that "never actually seeing your actual score" thing. It'd take some of the numbers-crunch out of keeping track of game-play. I do think players should get to see something to at least hint at their present standing, though. I'd suggested an icon over or graphic around other players in Elysium, for instance. Perhaps everyone else can "see" what people are saying about you, but you'll have to trust someone else to let you know, never being completely sure. Thanks again, Rick.
1 years 9 days ago
I'm guessing by "poetic", they mean "ultra-minimalist". They've also called it "cinematic", and that they want the game to feel like you're playing a movie, so I'm guess that means things like no health bars, no blood bars, no rows of ability icons, and when you're affected by something, there are more visual and audible changes than a simple icon and minus sign floating around. I'm imagining frenzy, for example, as your screen dimming closer to red, and you start hearing louder and louder growls the closer you come, instead of a yellow bar filling up and then suddenly your character starts spasming out of your control. Other than this, I'm thinking lots i the way of radial menus and executable commands. ---- For the purposes of this interface, though, I'm betting you could use a certain series of emoticons and commands to execute Prestige gains and losses. From your example, a "/smilegenerously" command would give some Prestige, while the "/insult" command would publicly drain some. They could make it so that you have to target the person to give them Prestige, so there would be an important political difference between "Victoria smiles generously" and "Victoria smiles generously AT JOHN". ---- I think you should still be able to measure your Prestige by what commands and social movements you can instigate, but you'll never know by how much exactly. For example, if you need broad public support to censure the Tremere, then if you can do it, you have high Prestige, but if you can't, then you don't. I think a list of executable commands would be appropriate, but we don't need to see the meter that unlocks those commands. I'm thinking that part of the social skills set will allow us to do things like start instigating Clan Censure at a much lower rating if, for example, we have the Flaw of "Clan Enemy: Tremere" or something. The permutations are endless! ---- As a last thing, I think we have to limit out much Prestige you can lose or gain in a certain period of time from certain players. Otherwise, somebody will just go around spamming "/insult", and everybody will gradually lose all their hard-earned Prestige, even if the spammer is a rank neonate.