Orion on Emergent Gameplay

While many are still splashing the ripples from the Twixt or Myers or whoever’s attempt to explain sociological emergence in a one-sided, four-colored narrative, Orion – one of the developers for Lord of the Rings Online – put up an excellent post discussing emergent gameplay on his blog.  He discusses how all exploits start with emergent gameplay and uses the Mines of Moria instance, the Grand Stair as an example. It’s well worth a read.

first principles, clarice. simplicity

EDIT: Linked to Orion’s post as originally intended, not my comment.

7 thoughts on “Orion on Emergent Gameplay”

  1. I’m not sure why he used the definitions he did. When we talk about emergence or exploiting it all generally comes down to the same simple and efficient meanings.

    Emergence is using what’s intended in unintended ways. An Exploit is using something unintended to your advantage.

    Of course, the job of design is to show what is, and is not intended, which is why you don’t ban people who report exploits. You just turn around and report that it exists, and is from that point forward considered an exploit while your programmers deal with it.

    Some of the exploits he points out are just absurd things to get mad at players over. If people are attacking the boss from outside the encounter, that isn’t the player’s fault, it’s yours for not designing the encounter such that the players have to be within it. And the one about the throne especially got on my nerves. By definition a background object in the center of the room is NOT a background object. So while you’re getting pissed that the hunter ran around it to fool the boos ai, the hunter is probably thinking, “oh that’s what this is for!” If you put something in the center of a boss fight it’s there to be used in some way, even if just to hide behind. Being mad that people found a way to use an object with a big metaphorical “USE ME” sign on it is just silly.

    Reading your final link, what it sounds like to me is that LOTRO suffers from points of confusing raid design. Primarily from the fact that it is completely impossible to tell what the designers considered an “appropriate” solution other than, “bring a bunch of dpsers and kill ’em all”. Are CC classes supposed to be useful? Are they supposed to be puzzles where once the solution is presented they become infinitely more solvable, or just really long over-world challenges where the entire point is just to kill everything as efficiently as possible.

    The entire point of level design is to understand every possible way a particular configuration can be broken, then build such that it’s strong enough to not break. For instance, if you want people to never be able to pull a single mob, then you attach the targeting ai of the mobs so that mobs without targets automatically use whatever is being targeted by other members of the group. If you intend the solution to be more of a puzzle, then you set out to let the players know that there is a solution, and at least give hints as to it’s nature. If you don’t want people using rez games to avoid stuff, then wall it in, make sure they have to go through there.

    Personally, I think the Portal Developer Commentary collectively make a better article on this subject. Especially since they’ll go into how they dealt with actual level design to achieve their goals.

  2. One subtlety that Orion doesn’t cover is elegant and inelegant solutions to exploits. Although I love LotRO, it seems a lot of their solutions are rather inelegant. Disabling stuns and roots outright is a great example. As the comment you linked to says, there could be some other effect applied if stuns and roots are truly making the encounter trivial. If your character focuses on an effect that is restricted, then it really negatively impacts gameplay.

    I think the nerf to the Champion’s Fervour stance is another inelegant solution. The problem, according to the developers, was Champions tanking in Fervour stance; the change they implemented affects more than just Champions who are tanking in raid or full group situations, despite what the developers said. So, that change is inelegant since it has other effects.

    Of course, elegant balancing is really hard. And, especially on a live game, sometimes it seems that a fix has to happen right now, even if it’s not quite right. (See Eric Heimburg’s latest excellent post for a deeper discussion on that.)

  3. I apologize for linking my comment instead of his article. That’s what I get for posting at bedtime. It was not intended.

    Thank you both for the good discussion, I will check out Heimburg’s post and Portal’s commentary. I love reading and discussing design philosophy like this.

  4. Inelegant is the word I’d use too, but I’m wondering just what flavor is the kool aid down in Turbine (I mean this well).

    -Seems- to me that they’re very focused on getting new content and updates out the door and not much else. I don’t know their resources and their timelines, but that could be one explanation as to why their solutions are inelegant and there’s basic stuff that has been commented from day one still in the live game. And it’s been two years of this (mailing multiple items, for example).

    Maybe their m.o. is inelegant because being elegant is not where their focus and resources are. Gotta solve things and solve them now, so well screw it; disable roots and stuns and be done with it. Not saying it’s done with malice, but it’s inelegant perhaps due to their own constraints and focus. Who knows.

    On a semi-related note, instancing (including raiding) in this game always felt incredibly ‘stiff’ to me, in the sense that there’s this constant impression that the paths are always narrow and the rails very evident. Maybe it’s just me and these are just tones borrowed from the general feeling of the game, which is stiff, but there it is.

  5. I think Psychochild’s link is mot relevant, Julian… it is about WoW, but if you replaced Blizzard with Turbine, a scary amount makes sense… especially post-MoM.

  6. The post that psychochild linked was great.

    There has been a noticeable shift in design philosophy in LoTRO since MoM launched. The most visible culprit being the radiance system. There have also been a lot of odd experiments, some of which worked out well (e.g., letting designers from DDO create new three man instances that feature puzzles) and some of which frankly haven’t (e.g., the first iteration of the Lothlorian gift box system). We are also seeing a lot more bugs creep into patches than we are used too. Finally, we know that Turbine has gotten a lot of outside funding for one or two “secret projects” that they are going full steam ahead on.

    To me all of this points to a new team being in charge of LoTRO. Possibly with some of the more experienced devs from DDO being brought over to LoTRO to try and take up some of the slack from the departure of the A team. The major revamp of DDO that is underway also points to the possibility of fresh blood being in charge of that product.

  7. Unfortunately it looks like only LOTRO players can reply to Orion’s post.

    It seems very strange to me that he’s like, “Oh, here’s five gigantic bugs we didn’t catch during testing, and they make the instance completely broken. Oh, and I didn’t like the way people were using their slow spell on the turtle, so we issued a patch to nerf it.”

    I can respect that he nerfed the slow spell to make the fight more interesting. But it seems very strange that he didn’t fix all the blatant bugs in his instance first.

    (Did he fix the bugs? He talked about all of them in the present tense…)

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