by Scatter ///\oo/\\\
Many of today's muds seem to be striving for realism. Mud advertisements
like to mention a 'realistic combat system', 'realistic trade', 'realistic
medieval theme' or even 'realistic magic system'. However realism is not
always a good thing - sometimes it can be positively dangerous as far as
enjoyment of the game is concerned.
What kind of realism?
When someone talks about realism with respect to a mud they usually mean
one of two kinds of realism. The first kind is true to the dictionary
definition, meaning 'like the real world'. If something in a mud is
realistic in this sense then it works exactly the same way you'd expect
it to work in the real world.
The other kind of realism is probably better called 'believability'. In
this sense, realism means that the mud world is consistant and plausable -
that you can easily believe it to be a true place, somewhere else.
This distinction is not always realised and as a result people end up
striving for the latter by chasing the former. The consequence is that the
mud world ends up a jarring combination of real world detail and fantasy
or sci-fi setting.
One common problem that happens as muds are made more 'realistic' is that
the implementors start chasing detail. This tends to lead to muds where
the game becomes more and more cluttered with bits and pieces from the
real world, which often don't really add any value to the game.
Deadly realism at its best.
For example, take food and drink. A believable world with believable living
creatures almost always needs to have food and drink, and a way for people
to eat and drink it. Congregating in a pub is a lot more fun if you can eat,
drink and get merry. Some muds go further, though, and require people
to eat and drink or suffer consequences like reduced stats, reduced healing
rates, or even eventual death. This, they argue, makes the game more
Well, it makes life in the game more like life in the real world, granted.
However, many people find this makes the game less fun. It's a level of
detail that doesn't add to enjoyment of the game, but rather detracts from
it - it makes a player do more work for no gain. It also encourages people
to treat the mud as a game to play rather than a world in which to roleplay
by effectively rewarding those who set up triggers. The eat/drink requirement
often leads to triggers that watch for 'You are hungry' or 'You are thirsty'
and send commands like 'cast create food; eat food' or 'get bottle from
backpack; open bottle; drink bottle; close bottle; put bottle in backpack' -
I've seen variations of both of these on several muds.
Somewhere a line has to be drawn as to how much 'realistic' detail is put
into the game. This line is always arbitrary and every mud draws it in a
different place. At one end of the scale is the mud that requires you to
head to the toilet after drinking too much (or risk wetting yourself and
having your armour rust), at the other is one that doesn't care if you
never eat or drink.
It's not a straight line though. It's a curve that can rapidly become a
slippery slope of detail down which a mud can slide - each addition of a
detail leading to comments that another related detail ought to be added
Another danger of making things realistic is that they become too complicated
to be fun. A realistic trade and economics system is worthless if there are
too many aspects to take in and analyse before you can do any trading. The
more complicated something is to learn, the fewer people will bother to learn
it - after all they are playing, aiming for enjoyment rather than study.
There are exceptions of course, who love to master the intractible, but these
are usually a small minority.
The crux of the problem with realism is that it tends to clash with enjoyment.
Adding features with the intent of adding realism needs to be done with care
to make sure enjoyment of the game is not reduced - especially important when
adding to a mud with an existing player-base. At best a new feature should
always increase the fun of playing, at worst the ideal is not to make it
less fun. Almost always increased realism means increased work for the
players, so it is important to make sure that there is an increased payoff
Adding dexterity penalties to large weapons is realistic, but is it going
to seriously penalise existing players who decided their stats before this
change came along? Adding sizes to doors is realistic, but is it going to
unfairly keep certain races out of certain places and make those races less
fun to play? Adding a new combat system with body-part based hits is more
realistic, but is it going to mean players trapped in the forest with their
legs chopped off and no way to get help, or having their arms chopped off
causing them to lose all the items they can no longer carry?
In some cases the dilemma becomes whether the added realism going to attract
enough new players to outweigh the existing ones who've left in disgust.
The bigger the new feature, the higher the risk becomes.
Believe in the world
A lot of the time these problems can be avoided by tackling the second form
of realism - believability. No one will expect a mud to model everything,
down to the tiniest detail. Always it is understood that past a certain
point, detail must be assumed rather than implemented. So players will often
forgive lapses in real-world realism providing the game world is believable.
For example, magic as represented in most muds is impossible in the real
world, yet how many players complain that having magic is unrealistic? None
- or only a few being deliberately obtuse anyway. The key is that magic can
be believable in a mud world, despite being totally implausible in real life.
Dangers like those outlined above are usually a result of trying to put too
much of the real world into a mud. Features that improve the believability
of the world are likely to attract more new players and make existing players
happier. Usually they expand the things that can be done in the game rather
than imposing restrictions them.
So why not make the world immersive and believable - and let the realism
look after itself?
January 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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