Rando asshat Jessica is right

Meet Jessica Price!

Jessica isn’t a nice person. At all:

nice

Jessica is also unemployed. She reached this status by posting some game development ideas, a youtuber responded extremely politely and she took it as a personal attack on her gender and went on ranting on “man feels”, calling the person “rando asshat” and feeling sorry for herself because men have opinions. Her online presence is full of SJW nonsense and generally she isn’t a person you’d want to be around.

Which is unfortunate, because I find her talented and good in what she was doing. I wish she had some supervisor who could teach her some basic social skills and keep her away from the social justice nonsense by make her focus on her job. This is what she wrote that started the soon derailed discussion:

The dirty secret is I’m not sure if it’s possible to make an MMORPG (or CRPG) character compelling, because people have different expectations about what that character will be, as opposed to a pre-designed character in a single-player game. People booting up Bioshock know they’re playing Jack. People starting Dishonored know they’re playing Corvo. People beginning Tomb Raider know they’re playing Lara Croft. So in those games, you have more wiggle room to make the protagonist an actual character. Whereas in an RPG, where the player chooses all kinds of character options and names their character and designs their face and so on, they feel more ownership over that character. They’re not playing a character YOU designed–they’re playing a character THEY designed. So if Jack or Lara or Corvo says or does something the player doesn’t feel that THEY would say or do, the player’s more forgiving, because they have the expectation that they’re piloting a character someone else created.

N.B. that I’m not talking about overall plot objectives/quests. Players know going in that the game is going to be telling them what to do, and their character is going to do it, and that holds true even when they’ve “created” the character. But the *interpersonal* stuff, the PC’s REACTIONS, players respond strongly to. Some people don’t like it if they think their character’s responding in ways that make them too much of an asshole. Some don’t like it if their character’s responses seem weak. So, basically, most things that you’d do writing-wise to give a character, well, CHARACTER, are going to upset a large contingent, maybe even a majority, of your players.

So – I know I’ve said this before on Twitter, but it’s still going to weird people out, but please bear with me – you have to construct your MMO/RPG’s PC character’s dialogue as if they were Bella Swan from Twilight. To be clear, I don’t think Twilight is good writing. I don’t think Bella Swan’s a well-constructed book character. And I think people who criticize Twilight for the latter are correct but also missing the reason for Twilight’s popularity. Because Twilight isn’t the love story of Bella and Edward. It’s the experience of being loved by Edward. Which is why Bella’s constructed the way she is. Bella Swan is a carefully constructed blank space, with JUST enough personality to function. All of her personality traits are chosen to avoid preventing the reader from inserting themselves into the space she holds in the story. She’s a bit of a klutz, but JUST enough to make her endearing, not enough to prevent her from actually doing anything the story needs her to do. She’s a little bit awkward. JUST enough to be relatable but not enough to actually hinder her. And so on.

And essentially, we have to write the player character in an MMO/RPG the same way. Specifically in GW2, in the Living World, we can write the Commander with a bit of wry exasperation, a hint of impatience, a touch of “okay, I’m done fooling around with this crap and I’m going to take charge,” but most of their lines have to be pretty devoid of personality. Because if we give them too much personality, it might clash with how the player is imagining Their Commander.

So, how do we tell a TV-like season of story with a protagonist who can’t really have a personality? The answer to that, and I dunno, maybe this is too much of how the sausage gets made but whaddaya want from me, any sense of shame I had burned out a long time ago: SLEIGHT OF HAND. We SUGGEST that the Commander has a personality in how the other characters interact with and react to them. Even there, we have to be super-careful. We can’t even have THEM directly characterize the Commander. You’ll rarely hear a character say anything about what the Commander always does or doesn’t do, except when it’s PURELY factual because it’s something the game design FORCED the PC to do. E.g. “the Commander always finds a way!” because literally if you don’t we’ll resurrect you until you do.

We have NPCs react to you with affection, or irritation, or leeriness, or whatever, to suggest that your character has regular habits and ways of interacting that build these relationships. But for the most part, they don’t. The PC is who you imagine them to be, and the NPCs react in ways that have to FEEL personal, and build a story, while not conflicting with whatever you’re imagining your character’s personality to be. We WANT you to project. Which makes writing the NPCs’ relationships with the PC basically like writing horoscopes. It has to feel specific and personal while actually being universal. So:
A) VERY delicate sketches of non-objectionable personality traits (like a hint of wryness or world-weariness)
B) NPCs that behave as if your character has a distinct personality while not doing so in ways that actually identify what it is
C) one-sided relationship-building

Voila. An MMO/RPG character. Needless to say, a lot of the color comes from NPCs’ relationships with EACH OTHER, even though we try to keep it centered on the PC as much as possible. It is a constant, very fragile calibration. We don’t always get it right. Incidentally, if you’ve played Ep 3 of this season of GW2’s Living World, you’ve seen this sort of writing taken to an extreme in Joko’s final monologue. Almost everything he says is about actions the game has forced you to take, not your own character traits, and he’s clearly projecting when he talks about what you were thinking, but it’s – hopefully! – constructed in a way that feels personal, like he’s twisting the knife.

Then comes the polite person and offers the obvious idea of giving branching discussion options (like the ones we seen in Baldurs Gate or Fallout). She got irritated and things got bad from there.

I think she is right that creating “blank” characters is the only way with current MMO design. Branching dialogs don’t work for the same reason as roleplaying doesn’t really get off in MMOs: because the talk contradicts the act. In MMOs you perform pre-defined quests. In old MMOs they did nothing, the mob just respawned. Recently it gets phased out. But everyone eventually does the same things. You don’t have options to change the World in any other way than it was pre-written. You can’t choose to align other faction. You can’t choose to leave the wolves alone when you are told to kill them (you can skip the questline at best, losing all rewards on the way). You can’t do diplomacy (other than pre-written in the questline) and you can’t do … anything that isn’t pre-defined.

I don’t think it’s the lack of technology, it’s rather the fear that the World created by the actions of players would not appeal to the other players. There would be griefers who modify the World for the single purpose of annoying other players. There would be overcompetitive players who would optimize everything, removing magic from the World. Finally there would be artists who just wish to use the game world as canvas for their message about the depth of their souls:
EVE

Compared to that, forcing players to take part in a pre-written story is safer and appeal to more people, even if it annoys them sometimes. I still remember how genuinely upset my girlfriend was when the Klaxis were turned into evil raidbosses while they were her favorite outdoors faction. She was also upset when Zandalaris were turned evil, though far less than with Klaxis.

Because of that, you can’t give players chat options outside of irrelevant idle chat. Because if they say something meaningful, they cannot act upon it, creating cognitive dissonance. Pre-determined stories demand pre-determined speech.

.

PS: whatever you think of Jessica, she has the ability to see the future:
future

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Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

13 thoughts on “Rando asshat Jessica is right”

  1. She wasn’t fired for being a feminist. She was fired for being sexist and rude to the paying customers.

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  2. @nightgerbil: but her rudeness came from being a feminist. She genuinely believed that the criticism is not for the ideas but herself and responded accordingly. Why? Because feminists train people to see sexist microaggressions everywhere.

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  3. @Gevlon: I read about this a few days ago and was baffled to see her extremely aggressive reaction to that rather polite constructive criticism. To me it seemed more a case of “You don’t completely agree with me so you must be the worst villain possible” than something caused by feminism. But then I’m a social recluse and have been wrong about people before many times.

    Also I have to agree that branching decisions wouldn’t do that much good in an mmo. Bioware did these a lot in their games and while they often have a pretty good story, they still get criticised for not giving enough branching options or characters not acting like expected (e.g. Mass Effect series). In an mmo-setting, this would cause a ton of additional work without much payoff in the end.

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  4. Well, the owners of the brand had to react very quickly before anybody accused them of promoting feminism, aka man-hating. It’s a very dirty word these days and a great way to drop your sales by 90%.

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  5. @Stawek: and even better, they could do it without actually rallying against feminism and losing the other 10%. They could just fire her for “rando asshat”, which isn’t a feminist term, but simple asshattery.

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  6. I don’t think he wanted to propose branching plot, rather several ways to express your personal take on some situation without actually branching story. The system is already in place since the beginning of the game and is called personality system, they just don’t use it lately.

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  7. @Asparagus

    “Also I have to agree that branching decisions wouldn’t do that much good in an mmo. Bioware did these a lot in their games and while they often have a pretty good story, they still get criticised for not giving enough branching options or characters not acting like expected (e.g. Mass Effect series). In an mmo-setting, this would cause a ton of additional work without much payoff in the end.”

    And yet SWotOR did it just fine, with the Agent and Jedi Knight story lines being hailed as some of the best stories in MMOs, and even video games in general. The downside is, it takes a huge budget to even attempt this. The ‘blank slate’ character also works, and is much cheaper, and if done properly can also provide an amazing experience. The Secret World proved this; in that game you don’t have a single line of dialogue, and yet people praise the game as a storytelling masterpiece.

    The thing that makes both of these tick is not the hero itself, but the extensive world building of both games; NPCs are fleshed out, things happen (regardless of intentions) and the plots move at a good pace, and in ways fitting the setting. In GW2 the main hero seems like an idiot mostly because he lacks personality AND everyone around him is a trope on legs in a generic fantasy setting, hence the player cannot be distracted by the fact that the main character is Bella from Twillight. The main story of the expansions is actually salvageable in GW2, but the Living Story seasons… cripes… the writing is essentially fan fiction level. And if she was responsible for that ‘amazing’ writing, I’m not exactly sure the game will suffer with her departure.

    Even in the games she mentioned, the fact that you play as Jack or Lara or whatever is largely irrelevant to the story. The main draw of Bioshock is Rapture (the city) and the villain. The main draw in Tomb Raider games was the exploration and the tomb-pillaging parts. FF7 is not the story of Cloud, but primarily that of the main antagonist (Seph) etc. etc. This also goes beyond video games; in the first couple of Harry Potter books, a lot of people were hooked because they wanted to explore the world that JK Rowling created, not because they identified with a spectacled pre-teen.

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  8. @Moongy: because it’s a fake and worse than nothing. Imagine a nature-loving personality with the option “I love wolves like any other creatures, but [insert bullshit reason] still bring you 10 wolf pelts”. This would be a mockery.

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  9. I remember playing The Walking Dead adventure game, which is based on the show and comic about the zombie apocalypse. There was lots of dialogue, lots of what you would call branching paths, and on replaying, I tried to answer as differently as I could in some cases, but found I was railroaded to the same scenarios anyway. A few things made a difference, like which NPC would join you, but I could tell it was stuff that would require the minimum amount of work to script.

    So my suspicion from the developer side is it is an issue of work. And taken logically, with a branch after a branch after a branch, the tree grows exponentially and it becomes an impossible task to code in meaningful choices. Maybe it could be done with some kind of weight system, where you are flagged “evil” after a while.

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  10. They’re not playing a character YOU designed–they’re playing a character THEY designed.
    THIS. meaning make fucking sandboxed with tools so people can express this ownership of their story, char and whatnot. and don’t make fucking themeparks and ship them as a RPG.

    Bella Swan is a carefully constructed blank space
    twillight is a old archetypical correct display of female pornography. “shirtless male cover” is the only thing really missing here to fit the instant cliche. so yes obviously she is a blank for anything that has vagina and tits (or currently: identifies as female)

    Because if we give them too much personality, it might clash with how the player is imagining Their Commander.
    your game your rules. “identify” … jesus fucking christ. how about emotes? why the fuck did everquest and swg had more emotes from the getgo (release!) than really anything else. afraid of expressing to much feeling, personality and character.

    In MMOs you perform per-defined quests. In old MMOs they did nothing, the mob just respawned. Recently it gets phased out.
    In old MMOs you played make believe like kids. you know. bunch of kids playing together? I was even way to old back then and one of the early force sensitives in SWG but didn’t had the truly nolive time-invest like others. I had make believe orders, apprentices, masters, rivals, alliances, enemies. SWG had enough tools, was sandbox and (in the beginning) bare enough for the community to just do their thing. OK StarWars IP gives this a easy frame. But I did make believe quests and errands and it was something else. (Bio, Forum, Mailing system with HTML able color-coding and links … was great to build and interact)
    But impossible in today MMO age.

    story
    they all suck. I really miss eccentric chars that are so out of place and hold their own and obviously are as cringe af. the more cringe it gets the better for me. SJW snowflakes lack the imagination to even fathom what a great story could be. instead they push socialist marxist propaganda give the chars some emo haircuts and hair painting and call it a day. that’s just lazy!

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  11. If people want a compromise between themepark and sandbox, having a bunch of quests that toggle the state of the game world for everyone could work.

    At its simplest level it would be the Dark Lord giving people a “kidnap the princess” quest and then if someone succeeds at that quest then the princess is imprisoned in the Dark Lord’s castle and the king starts giving people a “rescue the princess” quest.

    Now having the princess constantly commute between home and prison is pretty weak by itself but you can layer a lot of complexity on top of that.

    For example you could have PVP enabled between people who choose opposite quests. For example the “bandits raidong the caravan” quest people and the “guards defending the caravan” players could attack each other. Then if the caravan gets through prices in the destination decrease but if the bandits succeed then prices in the destination rise and caravan guard pay (contingent upon success) rises.

    Or you can have quests that branch off from the simple toggles. For example if the Dark Lord has kidnapped the princess he’d start spawning quests for players to bring him monsters to help guard his dungeon which would make it harder to rescue the princess.

    Then layer on the complexity on top of that. Have certain quests thst only fire if certain combinations of toggles are switched by people doing quests. Then have the world change permanently if certain quests chains are completed. For example if a whole slew of quests in the “Dark Lord kidnaps the princess” quest chain are completed without anyone successfully rescuing the princess then the Dark Lord marries her and they stay married and the quest to rescue her gets replaced with something else.

    It’d be easy to start with something small and stupid like toggling control of zones between two/three factions which existed in Dark Age of Camelot a long long long time ago and slowly ramp up the complexity from there.

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  12. @Bosh: then the achievement completionists will whine that they can’t have the save and kidnap questline and the noobs would complain that they can’t have anything because they always fail the PvP at the caravan.

    Don’t get me wrong, the idea isn’t bad. But it’s not a mainstream themepark compatible.

    @Retsep: the link automatically collapses and replaced every day unless mutually stabilized. Maybe give it a middle state when one side stabilizes it it lives another day but only the other player can use it, for extra time for negotiations without abuse.

    Griefing can only be stopped by boredom (griefer finds link, enters kingdom, owner hides and refuses to give him kills) and not retaliation because the griefer by definition doesn’t care about the progression of his character and you can retaliate only on the character, not the player. The dev can help by offering defensive upgrades to the base that alert players about villains (player characters with lot of player kills) entering their domain.

    @howeportfolio: griefers doesn’t care about social consequences. They actually want them (see “miner tears”). Griefers don’t play the game for scores or character progression but use it as a tool to annoy other players. The problem is that it’s hard to distinguish them without human reading their chats from competitive players who just PvP to get resources or scores.

    @Noguff: I can quickly offer two solutions for “liking” behind chat. Official killboard, so you can look up the other player and if you see him with lot of kills outside of his own kingdom, you can strongly assume that he’ll try to kill you too. When you are not logged in, the other player can’t kill you (your base is always unattackable), so all he can do is farm your rare resources and carry them away on the link. If the links provide logs of what items passed, you can check if your partner is a thief or not.

    @cathfaern: it can be used in mobile games for sure, but the game I imagined (of course the mechanic can be used anywhere) is an AAA MMO where the main goal is building the “perfect” kingdom via terraforming and building features which of course need all kinds of resources from other kingdoms.

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