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January 01, 2011

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I was working on an FPS, about five years ago, and we were grappling with the typical multi-player issues of griefing, cheating, skill matching, kicking, banning and a limited player base.

One of my ideas was that in FFA mode players should be allowed to ignore other players. Not just their chats, not just avoiding their matches, but being able to play in the same match while still ignoring that specific player completely; the ignored player and their actions would simply cease to exist in the game for the one who ignored him. But, crucially, the ignored player would not be ignored by the rest of the players in the same match.

Essentially, all players at a given time could play on the same level, in the same match, but they could carve out a subset of the player-set for themselves; and each player's player-set need not match any other's. Or put another way, they could each subscribe to their own private list of players they wished to play with, so that Alice could play with both Bob and Carol at the same time, while the latter two would only play with Alice.

Needless to say this idea was tossed out as completely ludicrous and never implemented, but I still think that it elegantly solves all of the issues with only the cost of a potentially incoherent game space.

"I’d way rather have a dozen friends playing Mass Effect 3, all playing different characters, and be able to click on their tweets to populate my crew with their leveled up characters and all the relationship history that was developed by them over time than have cleverly authored characters filling out my roster in a branching narrative."

That's a really interesting idea. Your crew is suddenly populated with a variety of people who are loved and hated by various parts of the galaxy. And maybe your friends neglect to tell you they just pissed off the entire Ansari race, so when you pop into an Ansari-held system to have a chat, things go very poorly. And maybe your love interest is unfortunately already much more interested in another friend's character-- but no worries, you can arrange for his death in an upcoming firefight.

Needless to say, it would require a much more robust system for NPC interactions, and resolving conflicts (hey wait-- X is hated because he killed Y... but Y is in your party!), than ME2 had. But it would be a very fun design to pursue, no question. That single conceit-- your friends' characters come into your party, relationships and all-- launches several potentially interesting designs.

Reading this I first thought, "Really? We wouldn't accept the L4D style drop-in/out loose hold on fiction a mere 10 years ago?" But then I thought about it for a while and realised that I have no idea. I literally cannot remember or imagine how I thought ten years ago. That fact gives me pause to think that you're probably right on that front. Ten years is a long time.

Inevitably, contensions will arise that say authored stories have their place. The truth behind that really doesn't matter though. It's that attitude that prevents more Left 4 Deads and Demon's Souls from finding home.

Matt, I find myself looking in the other direction. To design a game where the supporting cast roles are filled by other people's characters, I would start by ensuring that the game allows players to adopt all those roles for themselves. The example I have mind here is Mount & Blade, where virtually every NPC in the world is doing things you can do yourself- the bandits who roam about and raid villages, the bounty hunters who pursue them, the merchants who carry goods between cities and sell them at a profit, the nobles who lead their armies under the flag of a nation, even the king who commands them.

Mind you, this creates a very different type of story- one that rarely manifests via dialogue trees, and usually consists of your actions in and of themselves. How you raided a noble lord's village, or defeated him in battle but chose to release him once you had him at your mercy.

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