Tuesday, April 10, 2007

If Greatness Only Comes Once an Era...

So, continuing with my recent theme of "topics discussed on mudconnector", here's another hot one (and I know it's hot because it kept me awake to write this): what makes MUDs great, players or developers?

Clearly it's highly subjective and depends on why someone plays a game. Also, just as clearly, some degree of development is required by someone at some point, otherwise there is no game to be good, bad or indifferent. As a result, there's no real point in arguing a general case since those are basically indisputable and totally varied for each individual. So, here's a neat segue into what I think, which is what you all wanted to hear, right? Right.

In my mind, both logically and from personal experience, it would totally be players. From a player's perspective, of course. I have played MUDs that are awesome technically, yet I didn't enjoy nearly as much as virtually stock MUDs that had a "better" playerbase. I don't enjoy mechanics in the least, in fact, I'm much more likely to stop playing a game because the mechanical side is too complex. I hate leveling but at the same time I prefer standard "boring" grinding because I would rather zone out and level rather than be forced to think about anything mechanically related in order to advance.

So why don't I just play a MUSH or chat in forums or something? Well, at the root of all of this, the reason I play MUDs generally is in order to achieve. To get somewhere, to be somebody. And in order to do this, there needs to be an independent, unbiased arbiter: the developer who wrote the code that applies to every player in the game. I have no interest in making up my own future without boundaries, because that has no credibility: it would just be unadulterated bragging without any backing whatsoever. I need this fair and unbiased source to tell me that I managed to kill my enemy, rather than just me making the story up.

To draw an analogy from my personal life, I am currently a university student for a couple more months before I graduate. I do not consider myself an "academic", although I have a lot of respect for academics. I am here to get a piece of paper that lets me get a (hopefully better) job in the future. I do not see assignments as something to broaden my horizons nor do they inspire my inner being or anything like that, they are obstacles to overcome to prove that I am worthy of gaining that piece of paper. On the other hand, they are necessary because they are unbiased proof that I actually did something. Much like attending a prestigious institution rather than a party school, it lends credibility and creates something to be proud of. I couldn't gain satisfaction from my achievements otherwise.

Essentially, from where I stand, the code forms a basic layer. It creates the rules, the physics for the world and forms a platform for player interactions. It is necessary for any enjoyment, yet does not especially increase enjoyment once it passes that necessary level of competency. In order to be truly great, in my opinion, a game needs a fitting playerbase, high quality interactions - whether they be roleplay, questing, killing, chatting or anything else. For those who would rebut this by saying that there are many great single-player RPGs out there: potentially, yes, although I have never enjoyed any of them.

How does all of this come together? It's another example of something fundamental yet flexible. Many of you will probably have different opinions, both from me and from each other. I'm willing to bet that if there was some way to plot all of these on a chart, we'd have a scatter similar to the last time I played darts while drunk. Yet we all play and enjoy the same game, that has numerous features yet encourages various interactions. One that includes both tremendous effort on the part of developers, as well as a great amount of loyalty on the part of players who shape the world from the other end.

Is it great? Whichever one you are, let's make it so.

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