Of mice and MUD clients. Part 1 of some number.
I'm writing this series in part due to a response from Richter to my call for ideas. See, I wasn't joking. In this article I'm writing about the reasons for introducing scripted visual elements into your game experience. In the next one, I'll talk about the existing ways that you can overcome various deficiencies in the game experience by constructing windows into the game world. In yet another, I'll cover how to set up specific clients for the best user experience.
What follows is dedicated to all the fools who can but still don't script the overhead maps. Yes, I'm calling you out.
Your world has physical dimensions. If you're not blind, you can see things. If you're not deaf, you can hear things. If you're not injured in some severe way, you can probably touch things. You as a human are used to, and evolved for, interacting with the world in these terms. The game too has an internal representation that attempts to mimic to some degree the physical ideas that underly our understanding of the way reality works. When you go "east", you typically find yourself one coordinate unit away from where you were before in the desired direction. The game world has a virtual structure in the same way that the real world has a physical one. Events that take place in either universe must follow the rules of that universe. That structure may not always be easy to interpret visually (e.g. most current uses of one-way exits in the game), but it is there nonetheless. This is why it is possible to produce, among other things, maps of the game world.
The fundamental problem of interaction between you, the human, and the game world is that the game can only communicate with you via text. I don't care how much you want to lie to yourself about how text is superior because it frees the imagination to create the world more vividly than any graphics. That's self deceiving bullshit, and it's hurting you. Stop it. Text introduces the need for mental filters. Words go in, mental images come out. The more filters that you need to constantly process, the more apart you are from the game world and the more energy you must constantly expend to interact with it. They are a barrier to connection with the game world. You have to constantly parse and process the game output in a way that is completely alien to how you interact with the real world. Game designers understand that. The trend towards graphical games has not happened just because they can be done. It's because graphical interfaces reduce the need for some of these many mental The point is immersion.filters that are barriers to immersion.
Here I must make a special comment to blind people. Much of what I'm going to talk about hinges upon the ability to see, because it really does matter. A person who has the ability to interact with the world visually does so. A person who does not have that ability cannot do so. It clearly does a blind person no good to have graphical elements that go unseen. However, the same is not true for a person who can and does see. As just one strong example, a sighted person has a significantly better sense of personal location while his or her eyes are open than when they are closed. Thus the MUD experience can be improved by extending this sight to the virtual world.
The most comfortable experience is the best one. The game world should feel like a natural extension of the self, putting the player in place of the avatar. Clearly this is not completely possible due to technological limitations, but there are ways to get closer. For example, consider the most natural way to experience your physical surroundings. You open your eyes and look. You do not need to process paragraphs of description to experience that there is a building to your left. You do not need to parse a listing of the directions of roads meeting at the intersection in front of you. You just look and see and the experience becomes part of you. That is most natural.
The goal, from the moment you install your MUD client, should be to reduce the number of mental filters necessary to interact with the game world so that you can more completely experience it. A text description of a room can not compete at any level with seeing the room. A text description of your status or your party members' statuses cannot compete with seeing them in a relative-to-normal visual depiction.
Most importantly, the world state representations need to be consistent and spatially stable. Just like it doesn't make sense to only open your eyes every few hundred paces, it likewise doesn't make sense to not watch the game world around you constantly. Furthermore, it doesn't make sense to have information bouncing around all the time, just like it wouldn't make sense for you to try to read this page while moving the window around the screen randomly. Things that don't make sense are barriers to immersion.
Next time I'll cover what can be done to broaden the player experience and how to do it best in your client.
Questions? Comments? Want me to take this in a specific direction? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Head back for more!