Haven’t Got a Clue

As I established in my inaugural post, I’m a hobby game design nerd.  So given the opportunity to attend the Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers game this weekend at Ralph Wilson Stadium, what do I look forward to?  That’s right…how the experience can apply to the browser-based game I’m working on.    Forget that I’ll be in club seating.  Forget that I’ll have a Fanvision on me.  Forget that I’ll probably drink enough beer to forget everything anyway…

I won’t bore you with my analytical break down of how the game of football could apply to the design of an MMO.  Instead, I wanted to talk about the design of my favorite game and get some feedback on yours…


My all-time favorite game design model is the board game Clue. I just think it is one of the most entertaining games I’ve played to this day.  It has a number of aspects that I find indicative of any successful game.

  1. With a very small learning curve, it is easy to set up and play.
  2. There is a cast of in-game characters in addition to the players.
  3. There is a known set of possible outcomes with a set of random outcomes.
  4. It has a sandbox-like play space.
  5. There are defined rules and reasons for movement.
  6. There is a decent amount of player skill involved.
  7. There is resolution to each game with a huge re-playability factor.

The part I like most about Clue is the mystery of who dun it, with what and where?  Well, yeah Makkaio, that’s pretty much the whole reason the game was popular.  Sure.  But I think a lot of what is missed in game design today is the true feel of a living, breathing environment.  Part of me still believes the answer to fixing that lies somewhere in the design of Clue.

I don’t mean to rip the game off directly.  But hey, there is a certain dynamic that well-used randomization can create in a game.  It’s been tried, but not perfected in games like Matrix Online, City of Heroes/Villains, and, to a lesser extent, D&D Online.  But I think the players saw through the thin veil of work that was put into randomizing content and instances.  There was so much more the developers could have done with those systems.

A game that I anticipate will use the “Clue Model” in an interesting way will be Rift: Planes of Telara.  They may not know they are using that model, but they are when it comes to the “rift” system they’re putting in place.  Random generated “rift” with a set of random goals picked from a set of possible outcomes with a different but familiar puzzle to solve each time an instance is played.  Sound familiar?

Since I don’t like to create walls of text…I will leave it there and look forward to thoughts and discussion…

13 thoughts on “Haven’t Got a Clue”

  1. I like the use of randomized environments, but I always worry when I hear that a new title will be using them. I think it’s a bit too easy to rely on them as a crutch to “cut corners”.

    Anarchy Online was one of the first MMOs to use randomly generated missions, where you could affect the parameters using sliders on the mission console. The downside was that all the missions ended up being the same, with different objectives. Same with CoX: same building-blocks, slightly different parmeters.

    Contrast that to something like Diablo or Torchlight, where the world is randomized each playthrough. Yeah, they’re mostly single player games, but because you exist in the zone for a longer period of time, you don’t necessarily notice or care that one level is using a lot of the same tiles as another. There’s no jump in, jump out, jump back in to bring that kind of revelation to mind.

    1. You mention one of the ONLY MMOs I never played – AO. Never even really researched it. LOL

      But yes…cutting corners and rehashing models, textures, AI, etc. is always a trap that devs could and have fallen into.

      Since it is a huge premise of Rift, I’m hoping they don’t drop the ball, too.

      1. Scopique might be a little too hard on AO’s random dungeons. There were certain categories of assignments – assassination, search and rescue, item recovery, sabotage etc – and then categories of tilesets – chemical plants, subways, caves of various rock-strata – and when you dragged the sliders around you’d get some combination of mission and map types. The tilesets were largely prefab sections, like Morrowind or Oblivion, and the mission descriptions were generic and repeated incessantly with the differences being cosmetic, like the target’s name.

  2. Did you know that EverQuest 2 has a Clue-style murder mystery dungeon in the Sentinel’s Fate expansion? Enter the Erudin Library and get the quest “The Mystery of the Slain Scholar”.

    As you progress through the zone you will find a corpse (in a variable location), and one of five murder weapons (candlestick, dagger, spanner, staff, or wand). Talking to characters and picking up clues through the zone will give you clues to the identify of the murderer (which again is variable and changes each time through).

    At the end, you hail the Custodian NPC and identify the weapon, location, and murderer. The person you accuse of being the murderer will attack you; if you correctly identified the real murderer the loot is better.

    This seems exactly what you’re asking for!

    1. Yes, Fangstarm, I have played through that a couple times and am remiss for not mentioning it in my post. I’d love to get some sort of indication on how well the players received it.

      You also remind me that I should hop into EQ2 on a 3-day subscription just to see what’s up.

  3. The only problem with randomness you would encounter is that sometimes, it isn’t what is needed.

    Take, for example, Star Trek Online. Part of Star Trek is the exploration of space and the feeling that you’ve been there first and nobody has ever seen what you’re seeing now. To go where no one has gone before. Space is random. Its the great equalizer and anything can happen. Literally anything. So (lets ignore the problems with the rest of the game), they instituted purely “random” instanced exploration missions. They come down to random locations from a list, random enemies from a list, random scenarios from a list and then you work your way through it. They even created as much random story as possible to go along with it… but in the end, it didn’t work. Its not random. You do a few exploration missions, and it doesn’t feel random. It all feels the same. Its the same over and over… now that could just be due to the mechanics of the game in that all ground combat feels the same and all space combat feels the same, and thats about it… but the “random” occurences and “random” outcomes end up not being “random” at all.

    1. That’s a great point. We players like to have some kind of impact on the game world. In this case, if our interaction with a random portion of the universe doesn’t have some lasting impact other than to gain XP or random garbage…that’s no fun. It’s just POOF!

      A good example would be bounty hunter missions in SWG. Aspects of Clue are definitely there…but high end loot and bounty hunter armor plans definitely made them fun. There is an impact factor there in the sense that you could ultimately contribute armor to your PA or through the market. That was my motivation to do those missions night in and night out.

      But then…ultimately…everyone had that armor and the loot became mostly trash. It was a good try, though.

    2. Exactly. Seems like a great point to make here is that exactly what Mak explains makes Clue a great game, and what you point out in contrast is what makes it NOT a great hobby.

  4. The term of art I hear not quite being said in the “randomness” comments is “procedural content.” Star Trek exploration, City of Heroes missions, and LotRO skirmishes can pall once you see past the randomness to the template beneath.

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