Notes from PAX Panels: The Future of Role Playing

The panel was held by Ryan Dancey, David Georgeson,  and Mike Laidlaw, while Greg Tito asked the questions; there quickly emerged a discrepancy between discussion about MMORPGs and single-player RPGs. I was biased towards the single-player side because MMOs have never appealed to me as strongly, but there were significant and interesting points made for both. My own responses to notes are in bold.

  • Holy Grail of RPG: allowing the player to create the story themselves rather than being led through a story that has already been told; the player must have a significant and highly noticeable effect on the world around them.
    – More character uniqueness is always better, because it allows the person to feel like they have a unique game experience, and to become more attached to their character.
    – Good, rewarding games must acknowledge that you have done something, as it teaches the player to make decisions carefully and meaningfully; like in The Walking Dead game, when the smallest dialogue choice in a single conversation can change Clementine’s opinion of you (and it tells you so: “Clementine appreciates your honesty” or something of the like, in the upper-left corner), and thereby change the things that she says and does with you later in the game. You can turn this option off if these little notifications bother you, but I think anybody who does this is missing a significant portion of the game. It can seem silly when you watch Larry pull a disgusted face and scream that you are a son of a bitch and to stay away from his daughter, and then see that the white text reads “Larry doesn’t like you.” But I can attest that even that small, seemingly pointless feedback increased my enjoyment in the game. I knew that what I said specifically, even though I had only four very similar choices, mattered.
    – It is always possible to add more tracked story variables: Dragon Age had over 6000 plot variables, Mass Effect 3 had even more; party member alive? this conversation complete? etc.
    – Yet MMOs are focused on interactions between players, not interactions of the player and the environment/story. Would MMOs be more enjoyable if they responded to the character’s progress in the story as well as they did to player-player experiences? Would this defeat the purpose of the MMO? Star Wars: The Old Republic attempted a fusion of the single and multi-player experience, and my impression is that it takes too long to get from important plot point to plot point, and there is too much grinding between each interesting conversation, to feel like I have as much agency in the world as I would like to while playing what sells itself as an RPG.
  • Next generation of consoles; what can the tech do, and how can you use it?
    – You could always jam in more high res textures – but this idea has diminished return because the differences are unnoticeable unless you spend a disconcerting time zoomed right up into a person’s face.
    – Instead, use processing power to let more stuff go on at once – for greater sense of immersion, have all of the people in a city working all at once. Allow for responses to every choice your character can make; for instance, if you pull out your sword, your characters battle animations must be loaded, as well as the crowd animations, the screaming sounds and the paths they run on when they run away. Resources must be ready for whenever player decides to exert their free will.
    – SOemote is a webcam tool (only released in Everquest II thus far) that tracks your facial expressions and mimics them with your character’s face. It comes with VoIP, which changes your own voice to whatever you want your character’s to be, upping the pitch for a gnome or halfling, lowering it for a troll, etc. The tool is excellent for close-up role play, where before, speaking with a man’s voice through an elven princess character would have removed any immersion in the game. How powerful would it be for you to open the character creation screen, squint at your character-in-progress, and realize that it is squinting back at you?
    –  Before, developers had to build PC games to the limitations of the consoles because PCs had more processing power. You could render 50 guys on PC compared to 5 on console, but you want the experiences of the two groups to be the same, and to change the difficulty level of the guys you’re fighting would make one fight trivial or the other utterly impossible. With the possible advent of cloud processing, or just with improving hardware capabilities for consoles, developing a multi-platform game that includes PC will feel less limited.
  • The progression of role-playing games: d&d -> text-based mud’s -> 2D games -> 3D games -> augmented reality -> entirely virtual reality?
    –  Back in the day, gamers would bring the manual for the game to school to feel like they were engaged in the world even while they weren’t present in it. I myself remember bringing the little booklet for Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town with me in 6th grade so I could look at the pictures and think about the characters and what I would do the next time I could get back to the little, peaceful world. Having that booklet in my hands alone allowed me to daydream that much more powerfully, to keep me in the world I longed for. In the future, mobile tools will allow you to check in with your character and the world. Modular pieces of the game would allow interaction with a minor activity like mining or to check your skill queue.
    – PCs will eventually be just a powerful rendering tool sitting in your closet, and peripheral tech like Google glasses will allow for augmented reality taken with you anywhere. A game like Zombies, Run! could be added to those glasses such that you can turn around and see the zombies while you hear over the earphones that their groans are getting louder.
  • Artificial Intelligence is another possibility for game advancement in the near future.
    – It is easy to program an AI for a fight and make it win every time against the player. The difficult thing is making an AI that loses gracefully and makes the player feel like they have won a hard victory.
    – AI could be programmed as you go, based on past decisions you’ve made with your character as well as their history. Eventually the character could even refuse to make decisions you want it to make, because of its own moral code. The character could act in the world without your presence, and you have to deal with its actions when you get back… The character starts with and is designed by you, but exists separately from you. Would this theoretically decrease the person’s connection with the character because it is something other than an extension/representation of yourself?
    – The Turing Test is conducted through interaction between a person and an AI; if the person cannot tell if they are interacting with a person or computer, the computer is assumed to have some level of human consciousness! A few years from now that level of tech will fit in a cell phone. Converesation bots like Cleverbot and Jabberwacky are very popular even with their relatively simple method of interacting; the most exciting thing about them is their ability to surprise, something which technology, programmed from the bottom up by a person with a specific intent, was thought not to be able to do until recently. People play with Siri, on the iOS, and tell her to sing for them, tell her they love her, tell her to “meet my friend, Sarah,” etc. and hope to receive some kind of human-like response. An app that could provide that real response, such that a person could have a kind of human companionship with them at all times simply because they have a phone, would sell extremely well. The manga, Chobits, presents a world where there are computers that are shaped like people and have very basic personalities, and a conflict arises: can a person love a computer – is it possible? Is that person doing an injustice to humanity if they do? Of course there are millions of other moral dilemmas concerning AI that would take many books to speak of.
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