The Community-Driven Game

Imagine you are driving a car, and you have three of your misanthropic friends in the back. Suddenly they lean forwards and ask if they can help steer. You think this might be a bad idea, but before you can react they clamber forwards and put their hands on the wheel. Most people would at this point judge the situation as “not a good idea”.

Replace your annoying friends with the Internet (uh oh), and replace the car with an indie game. Congratulations, you have just created the perfect environment for a terrible game to develop. Actually, often times the situation only gets as far as the Internet playing backseat driver, yelling out confusing and contradicting directions that are both useless and hard to ignore. But for a game like KSP, the community has leapt into the passenger seat and nearly wrested controls from the developer.

The developers of KSP are driving towards a cliff of not-fun. They could probably make a good game that stood on it’s own and appealed to a certain audience if left to their own devices. However, because the early prototypes of the game drew such a diverse crowd, the fans want the game to head in a couple of conflicting directions. Few people share a common vision for the game, and a lot of people like to play armchair game designer.

I honestly think some of the more prolific modders in the community have been taking the game in a more suitable direction. Meanwhile, the community quibbles over what should be included in the stock game and what shouldn’t. I want to take one of my biggest peeves as a case study:

One of the most touted arguments against certain large features is that the feature merely adds another level of complexity without adding any “true gameplay”. For example,

  • Life Support would just mean another thing to worry about, and it would reduce the amount of shenanigans you can do (stranding Kerbals on planets for years, etc).
  • Living Room/Sanity mechanics? Nope, it would just be a hassle. You have to bring up bigger habitats any time you want to send a mission to somewhere far away. It doesn’t add any gameplay during the mission.
  • Reentry heating? That just restricts craft designs, making people conform to certain designs and plan around reentry.
  • Different fuel types? Too complex, requires a lot of learning and planning before hand, and only restricts your options during a mission (again, restricting shenanigans).
  • Realistic reaction wheels that don’t provide overwhelming amounts of torque and require angular momentum to be bled off with a reaction system periodically? Could prove to be annoying during a critical part of a mission if you hit max angular momentum. Requires you to put in a reaction system even if you only want to rotate your craft (not translate).

Do you see the problem with these arguments? You are arguing that something shouldn’t be added to the game because it adds gameplay that isn’t in the game right now. See how circular and pointless the argument is? The worst part is that it could be extended to basically any part of the game that exists right now.

  • Electric charge? What if you run out of charge during a critical maneuver, or go behind the dark side of the planet. It’s A GAME, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the craft is receiving light. Just assume they have large batteries.
  • Different engine types? That would add too much planning, and just limits the performance of the craft. What if I need to take off, but my thrust is too low to get off the ground? That wouldn’t be very fun.
  • Taking different scientific readings? That sounds like it would be pretty tedious. You shouldn’t add something that is just going to be grinding. The game doesn’t have to be realistic, just fun.
  • A tech tree? Why restrict players from using certain parts? What if they want to use those parts? You shouldn’t restrict parts of the game just so the player has to play to unlock them. That doesn’t accomplish anything.

Hell, why even have a game in the first place? It sounds like a lot of thinking and planning and micromanagement and grinding.

Of course, this could be considered reductio ad absurdum, but the problem is that it actually isn’t. The arguments against Life Support or different fuel types or reentry heating just don’t hold any water. Yet people hate against them, so the developers are less likely to put them in the game. Since I started with a metaphor, I’ll end with one:

The developers of KSP are driving towards a cliff because the community told them to. Fortunately, they realized it and are now putting on the brakes. In response, the community is shouting “why are you putting on the brakes? That only slows the car down!” To which I reply, “yes, yes it does.”


Minecraft Servers

I was once an innocent Minecraft player. I played a couple of single player worlds, back in Alpha. Then I looked into multiplayer. I joined a server. The server was called Age of Chaos. That was a fateful day; at the same time I discovered both the magic of SMP and the wonder of role-playing. AoC was a medieval RP server, and it was extremely fun, although looking back on it now I can see that it wasn’t that great. Alas, I joined it during its dying days. After the server went down, I was despondent. That was when I had a brilliant idea. I would create my own server.I had been thinking about concepts for a Minecraft server. I ended up setting up a server that would host a group of people from my school.

It was an RP server, and at first there were only 3 people. I set up a forum, and more people began to join. Some of them were from AoC, some from my school. Some found the server through the scattered ads we tossed out on online forums. TJRP was born (TJ is the common abbrevation for our school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology). The original iteration of the server thrived. The idea behind it was that there were three cities which would have varying diplomatic relations. As it ended up, one city became populated, and the other two fell off the face of the map (one managed to struggle along with one or two residents). Then another city popped up in the backyard of Elysia, the great walled city in the center of the map. Seralotta was the scientific center of the New World. Elysia was a neutral super-power, and Arboris, the half-dead tree city, suddenly revived as the magical city. Things were going just fine. Sure, we had a few disputes. Maybe more than usual. However, those were the days in which the seeds of doom were planted; a group of friends joined.

The core group of 5 people from TJ began to bicker, mostly because they knew each other. As the server spiraled downwards, complaints became more common. Suddenly I decided to reboot the universe. An apocalypse destroyed the New World and the inhabitants fled to another dimension. In the new iteration of the server, we introduced the idea of plugin-supported races. Each race had a different set of abilities. We decided on a two-city structure this time, with humans living in the two cities. The shaman-like Animists were traders, and lived mainly in caravans and in the great forest that dominated the center of the map. Ancients were the natives of the land, possessing great magical abilities but keeping to themselves. Crimsons were masters of Redstone, who also kept to themselves. The Emergents were the antagonists. A zombie-like telepathic race of infected individuals, they were the enemies to all in the first “season”.

The design was flawed, though. I don’t really want to discuss the events leading up to the fall of TJRP, for although it was months ago, it is still a sore subject. I become depressed merely thinking about it. I can relate, however, the fundamental errors I believe I made in creating the server, starting with the most axiomatic errors. The greatest problem was imbalance. Minecraft gameplay is inherently imbalanced. Imposing either behavioral or mechanical restrictions, such as through plugins, only stands to make the game less exciting and pleasurable. There is no way to balance Minecraft and keep a fun RP environment. The races merely exacerbated the problem by creating reasons for mutual jealousy. The second problem was isolation. This is correlative to imbalance. We didn’t have the members to support five races, especially the way we separated the races. We should have put all the players within close proximity of each other. That is what eventually happened, of course. After cities were razed by the Emergents, people naturally migrated to a quaint village built on a mountain. The last major problem was that we tried to induce story. We created “events”, in which a rough structure would provide some excitement and conflict into the world. It was executed in all the wrong ways, however. Instead of waiting for natural conflict to occur and then encouraging it into a full-fledged story, we tried to mould people into how we though the world should be. The story of the server ends with the inmates running the asylum.

TJRP Forums | TJRP Wikia

As bad an idea as it may seem, I am thinking of starting a new server. This time, however, I will make it the most perfect Minecraft RP server possible. With my knowledge, I can resolve all the problems that plagued TJRP. This is how:

Good Members

In the end, its the players who are playing on the server. If the players are going to have fun, they need to get along with each other. Otherwise their wouldn’t be any RP. The idea is that members would be handpicked from known people. Anybody joining from the outside would go through a rigorous grooming process, including perhaps some time on the server in which their personality is judged. TJRP’s selection process was far to tolerant. Player responsibility also needs to be high for my idea to work. Players would have an active desire to work towards an entertaining plot, rather than “winning”, such as building the biggest buildings, collecting the most resources, or having the most powerful character. They would also realize that other people are working towards the same ends, and would deal with any disagreements in a reasonable way.

Eradication of Imbalance

Minecraft is inherently unbalanced. Therefore, why try to balance it? I say that the best way to combat imbalance is to embrace it. If you give everything to everybody, there can be no gradient, since everybody has equal abilities and does not have to work to get resources. Players would all have moderator-level powers. They could utilize WorldEdit and enter Creative mode. Since players would be trying to craft a story, they would use these abilities responsibly. They wouldn’t overbuild, they wouldn’t overuse creative, and they certainly wouldn’t grief. Building powers would only be used for time-saving reasons. It would represent many hours of work sped up, so that players can focus on the juicy RP, rather than the dull work required to upkeep the world. Players could also use the powers to represent in-character powers, such as if a powerful villain were to make an entire building disappear.

Tons of Discussion

The players would be actively discussing the direction of the plot, both in-game and on the forums. Players would converse out-of-character during a scene to make sure their characters are cool and that the story stays interesting. Use of an application like Ventrilo or Teamspeak would facilitate such discussion. It would not only help players debate points faster, but it would encourage a sense of camaraderie and even be used for fluid delivery of in-character dialogue. Due to a common sense of the plot, arguments would rarely, if ever, occur. Hopefully epic stories would also be produced. The stories could then even be recorded and/or dramatized. Having a record of past story arcs would be fascinating and help recruit more valuable players.

You may call me a Utopian or a Romantic, but I truly believe that, if pulled off correctly, this kind of server would be the most entertaining ever made. The only thing that holds me back is fear of another catastrophic failure like TJRP. That server was almost like my child. I had helped it along since infancy. It matured, grew out of control, and then abandoned me and died, spawning another server whose members mock me. It was heart-wrenching, and even the sight of a former member at school reminds me of that horrible experience of a creation spiraling out of control.

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