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Eric: On the cusp of online role play

So, Wednesday's back south for a few days, as you know. Which means I'm not having anyone hanging out with me except my cat. So, I did what anyone would do when they get their apartment to themselves again. I watched a RolePlay event being played out on City of Heroes.

This particular RP event was distinctive for two reasons: the presence of Mercedes Lackey as one of the players, and the active assistance by one of the game developers to help pull it off. So, people headed over that way to watch. I dusted off poor Transit -- left fallow these many months -- and had her (yeah, Transit's a female character. I subscribe to the Francis ethos of MMORPG play. Also, I'm a pig. But at least her costume is tasteful. She kind of looks like a 60's era Legionnaire) truck on over to the site. As Transit's a teleportation specialist, I pitched in to help the Paragon Taxibot Service move folks up to watch the show.

And then I watched the show.

I won't go into depth on what they did. Heck, I barely followed along with it myself. I was struck by a couple of things, though. First off, the hardcore RP community is a lot more likely to fill out a full character description and history. Secondly, the technology for posing one's actions is still lagging behind the power of imagination. Once you looked at the characters, it was actually easier to watch the chat window and occasionally glance up at the actual figures than it was to watch the goings on. Because of said limitations, if you watched the characters while they said the dialogue (including descriptions of actions that they couldn't actually model), it looked like actors were doing a dramatic reading for a dinner theater.

And yet, it was fun. And nicely done. And certainly, the players were into the scene. And that's good stuff.

What I really noticed, however, was the difference between doing all of this in a world where at least some control can be extended over the scene by a plotrunner, and a world where everything around the scene in question is uncontrolled. The first 'act' of the scene was as well controlled as a MassMOG Roleplaying scene could be. It was on the top of the Arena in Galaxy City, and everyone there was there to watch the scene, and knew to keep quiet. Also, the random bits and pieces of City of Heroes life didn't interfere.

The second act, however, took place down on the ground, behind the city hall in Atlas Park. So, there was a certain number of random players walking in and loudly demanding to know what was going. But even more than that (I mean, that's just random confused people or assholes), there's the non player characters. See, there's people walking around Paragon City. Despite the fact that hundreds of muggers are mugging people at any given time, they blithely walk through, shoving heroes out of their way.

So, a poignant scene of loss and return, of sacrifice and rebirth... has random police officers and businessmen walking through, waving. And, because we're all super heroes doing marvelous things... the mundane populace loves to sing our praises.

So, as our heroes are reborn, as the Seraphic Flame's heart breaks and an epic tale of sacrifice is played out... there is a chorus all around us of NPCs shouting "Mighty Bob saved the Codex of Da Vinci from the Carnival of Shadows!" "Tina Terrific has the Outcasts on the run!" "Nice Cape, Wonderdude!" You begin missing the autocratic scene setting of the good old fashioned Dungeon Master after a few minutes.

Also, it's a bit odd to watch such a scene and see that just a block away, heroes are continuing to fight crime and have their own adventures, completely without caring about what was happening. In a traditional RPG, the only thing actually happening in the world deals with the PCs. Here, we're all PCs, and the world isn't much paying attention.

But... to the people in the scene itself, none of that mattered. You could tell it was electric for them. At the very end, they opened RP up to the crowds, and the folks who were watching knew the core principle of Yes-And. Despite the fact that we didn't actually know the heroes involved, we all slid into the roles of peers and even starstruck youngsters. Transit herself is an innocent (her origin starts with her being found in the wreckage of a Fifth Column Cobra Knockoff Council laboratory less than a year ago, with her first memories being of the Galaxy Circle rescuing her. Now, most of the time in missions that gives way to "ACK! WARWOLVES AND FREAKSHOW! Neutron Blast! X-Ray Eyebeams! Siphon Power! SPEED BOOST ALLIES!" But out here, I could indulge my own Role Playing instincts.

And despite the fact that Transit wasn't acting depressed, it put things into immediate perspective. Even off to the side, it felt like Transit was a part of the scene -- her lack of understanding of some of the subtleties allowing for exposition on the part of the participants.

And... well, it was fun. Which is the point.

Still, I'm not sure City of Heroes has all the tools it should for scenes like this. We need lots more emotes and lots more capacity for dramatic scenes being borne out before it'll be more about being in character and less about tactical deployment of hero resources.

Still, if someone talks to Transit in character, she'll answer in character. Who am I to harsh the buzz?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at June 22, 2005 10:12 PM


Comment from: Suzanne posted at June 23, 2005 1:37 AM

In today's first OT comment, I found the Lazy Grind today. Have you seen this before --> http://oosterwijk.keenspace.com/lazy.htm ?

Looks like some Keen kiddes want in on the fun. I like the prizes.

Comment from: Tangent posted at June 23, 2005 2:06 AM

Mercedes Lackey?

Damn, I'm jealous...

Sounds like it was a spectacular event. Maybe someone will have a log of it or something and be able to write it up... that would be rather nifty, no?

Rob H.

Comment from: College Zoo posted at June 23, 2005 2:41 AM

As a member of the Virtue and (to a lesser degree) Pinnacle Taxibots, I thank you for the link and the mention. I'll be sure back link this via the Taxibot Live Journal Community.

You have made me feel even more spoiled Mr. Burn. First, we get mention in the fan fiction Mercedes Lackey wrote in the back of this month's comic and now a group that I am apart of gets snarked.

My life as a geek is good.

Comment from: Misha Grin posted at June 23, 2005 2:58 AM

And I always heard it as "harsh the mellow." Can a buzz BE harshed? Killed, certainly, but I don't know about harshed. We REALLY need to figure this one out, people...

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at June 23, 2005 3:42 AM

Meh... the *one* evening I decide to go to bed early instead of trying to cram as much game time as possible into my 14 free days...

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at June 23, 2005 7:51 AM

Tangent, the event is being fictionalized by the people who put it on, and posted to their website, www.cccpgroup.us. The backstory to the event is there, too.

I took a demo of it, but it's just raw footage and, includes things like private messages, random passer-by comments, and the occasional MST I made on team chat. Plus, since demos don't get the chat box, it would be hard to tell what person said what. So I'm not sure what good it will do. I'm hoping someone who knows how to edit demo files will volunteer to clean it up. :)

Comment from: Ununnilium posted at June 23, 2005 11:53 AM

Sounds fun. ~~

(Also, as to other crime-fighting scenes happening just off-screen - sounds pretty accurate to its comic-book origins to me. ``)

Comment from: Kirath posted at June 23, 2005 2:42 PM

It's true, there has yet to be a game that truly allows roleplayers to set the scene. The instanced houseing in EQ2 is fair, and makes for a good place to hold guild events and such, true, but still. The closest, I think, is Star Wars, Galaxies, which allows the greatest freedom ever as far as setting the stage. The customization and interaction in that game still astounds me.

But yeah... the character description and history are the best way to find roleplayers. Some of them come up with some really awesome stuff.

And - Mercedes Lackey? Dude.

Comment from: KJToo posted at June 23, 2005 4:09 PM

Ack! I missed it! I've still got a character on Pinnacle, too. This is what I get for not reading the CoH forums.

Comment from: Jenny Rowland posted at June 23, 2005 7:45 PM

> The closest, I think, is Star Wars, Galaxies, which allows the greatest freedom ever as far as setting the stage.

...until you're sitting there trying to roleplay and suddenly a lair of mereks spawns ten meters from where you are.

Boy did I hate it when they finally instituted decay-upon-death.

Comment from: deepfried posted at June 23, 2005 9:15 PM

I joined a Roleplaying guild in Shadowbane a bit over two years ago, and to this day I think it was the best environment (it's a shame the game itself barely worked). What made Shadowbane so condusive to Roleplaying was its player created world (having your own city helps quite a bit), the myriad of factions, and, probably most importantly, the no-limits PvP. You could attack and kill anyone. It's that mentality, when you really can be killed at any moment by almost anyone, that makes the immersion incredible.

Roleplaying really improves gameplay, if the game can support it. It's a shame not many games out there can.

Comment from: Karacan posted at June 25, 2005 8:31 AM

Current MMOs should really strive to bring the RPG back into it... however, it's very difficult to pull of the confinement in a computer roleplaying game.

In the old MUD-days, this was different - first of all, it was a lot easier to offer multiple solutions to a quest, and second, the lack of graphics actually helped immersiveness.

Also, quite a few MUSHs and MUSEs were freeform anyway, where you could create items, rooms and stories on the fly.

Today, it's all about eyecandy and technology, but both are limiting. Also, the multiplayer aspects of the games don't allow the kind of freedom to solve quests like my favourite example, Planescape: Torment, where dialog options really made a difference.

Ah, just my rambling. As soon as someone finds a game that offers some eyecandy *and* solid gameplay, as well as a solid base for roleplaying, please tell me. I tried going back to MUDs earlier this year... I just don't feel the magic anymore.

Comment from: nothings posted at June 27, 2005 4:19 AM

Not that it matters, but the philosophy isn't at all original to Francis. (I don't see any point in critiquing the comic on this, but let's at least not use it as the touchstone henceforth.) The original Tomb Raider game was released in 1996. Everything2.com has the quote I was looking for:

While the gameplay of Tomb Raider was no revolution, her appearance, combined with careful promotion, made Lara Croft a popular phenomenon. Core originally designed Lara with as a beautiful woman simply because she would be easier on the eyes; the lead designer was attributed in Next Generation magazine as saying, what with the camera behind the main character for so long, it was "more pleasing to look at a woman's bum than a man's."

Yes, reality trumps webcomic humor by ten years.

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at July 1, 2005 11:30 AM

The event has now been prosified by Mercedes Lackey.

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