The MMO-dev blog topic of the moment is WYSIWYG loot.  This one started at Nerfbat, and spread over time to Psychochild, Raph, Sara Jensen, Darniaq, and probably a dozen other places I haven’t found yet.

Most of the commentary has been pretty solid from my point of view, both positive and negative.  Instead of getting into the specifics of that particular concept, much of which has already been well covered, I’d rather take some time and just do some blue-sky thinking on what could be done with this concept and related items under other circumstances. Word to the wise: that’s Damiano-speak for “detail the h*** out of it”.

There are four potential factors that largely get abstracted into oblivion in the current crop of MMOs (and frankly, have been since the beginning of the genre as far as I’m aware): detection of loot, removal of loot, encumbrance and bulk of loot, and the possibility of loot not directly attached to a (new) corpse.  Some random thoughts related to “un-abstracting” each of these elements after the jump…

Detection of Loot

The prototypical looting experience is to click on the freshly created corpse in the main game display and a nicely formatted list of potential items is instantly presented for interaction.  For games in which the primary gameplay revolves around combat, that is likely the optimal implementation… players are really only there to beat on the pinatas,  after all. (I do so love the pinata characterization Raph came up with… so very apt.)  Even the minor pleasure of sifting through the collected “candy” can wait til later.

The actual process of “rifling a corpse” could be a bit more involved under different circumstances, however.  I would propose that it could become a gameplay activity in and of itself, in a game where activities other than combat were given some attention.

For example: I am currently noodling around with a design in which there is a status measure termed “Awareness”.  This status is directly controlled by the player through the use of various techniques/powers/abilities, and is used to determine what elements of the setting the character is (or is not) aware of.  Hidden/invisible opponents, secret doors, trap detection, etc. are all tied to this player-controlled measure.

I could see also putting this measure into service to support a “looting” sub-game.  Each corpse would be “stocked” with a variety of items.  The WYSIWYG style items, such as weapons wielded, clothing/armor worn, and the like would all have extremely low Awareness threshholds, meaning that all but the truly blind or utterly distracted would be told of them upon first entering the looting subgame.

Other items of a less obvious nature, such as rings, items in pouches or pockets, and the like, would have correspondingly higher Awareness threshholds that would need to be achieved to be told of them.  Focussing on specific locations would grant a higher effective Awareness for an item keyed to that location, but lower Awareness on all locations.  Players in groups could even work together to build a shared Awareness score perhaps to find truly hidden items, such as coins sewn into linings, or camouflaged pockets.  Tie it all to a player-controlled process of skill/technique selection where they are also fighting to control pseudo-random fluctuations, and it could be made into a little sub-game all it’s own.

(Yes, I know, such a system is not going to appeal to everyone.  No offense, but that’s hardly an excuse… after all, existing systems don’t appeal to everyone either.)

Removal of Loot

Not to be excessively mundane, but have you ever tried to remove a snowsuit and boots from a distracted toddler?  I have, on occasion… it is never a simple maneuver.  I don’t imagine removing plate mail from a corpse would be all that much simpler… although the corpse would probably not be actively working against your efforts, I must admit.

There are certain items typically presented as loot that often could and really should take significant time and effort to remove: clothing and armor being the obvious examples.  Simply applying such a delay will help keep some of the problem areas re: massive overlooting in check: it automatically makes certain items less desirable to attempt to obtain, while not eliminating them from consideration for those who might truly want or need them.

Definitely mundane… but it could help.

Encumbrance and Bulk

As a dedicated pack-rat-style player for well over 2 decades, I well understand the player frustration that can be generated by strict adherence to the concepts of encumbrance and bulkiness. 

As a GM in pen-and-paper gaming for well over 2 decades, I also understand the massive importance of those concepts in preventing equally massive inflation in a campaign/setting.  Players would carry off and sell entire continents, if they were allowed to.  (I know I would.)  I had players in one campaign that tried to use Shrink spells to somehow appropriate the entirety of an immense mithril-gilded statue (think Statue of Liberty scale) in one pen-and-paper campaign.  (They eventually settled for simply stripping all the metal off the thing… persistant cusses.)

The point is, in a scenario where encumbrance is ignored or downplayed, the only consideration worth the player’s attention is raw monetary value, which is a path that leads directly to the “adventurer/hoarder/warehouser multi-class” syndrome.  Encumbrance doesn’t solve the problem all by itself, but it is a logical (and often accepted) first step in the right direction.

I should probably note that my concept of encumbrance would include penalties to all activities, not just the somewhat typical movement speed degradation.  If you are attempting swordplay while lugging enough stuff to stock a small convenience store around on your back, you’re probably going to notice a wee bit of a decline in your overall performance.

Loot not attached to a corpse

Once upon a time, there was an old man who was tired of carrying the entirety of his worldly possessions on his back. 

He first tried just setting some of them down on the ground beside him… but a young fiend ran up, grabbed them, and ran off.

The old man then tried setting some of them down in the corner of an unlocked room, out of sight of casual passers-by, but the young ruffian was following him around as an easy mark, spotted the unguarded material, and stole it as well.

The old man then placed his remaining possessions in a locked chest in a locked room.  The youngster waited for him to leave and tried to steal the chest, but the traps the old man had cunningly concealed to protect his wealth slew the young thief instead.  Upon his return, the wise old man retrieved all his original wealth and more from the young thief’s corpse (since the youngster also carried all his worldly possessions on his back), and lived happily ever after.

This is pretty far afield from the original WYSIWYG loot question, but it still plays into the same basic system: i.e. the acquisition of material wealth through “adventurous” means.  A more sophisticated reward system in a game that was less combat-centric could include a higher concentration of loot unattached to any specific mob/pinata.  This creates potential opportunities for gameplay outside of kill-loot-repeat… if the concept of a rogue/thief role that isn’t simply a “high-damage/low-hit-point” fighter alternative has any value to you, this kind of separation of loot from the corpse creation process is going to be a central aspect of the solution.

Conclusion

The point of all the above is to try to illustrate some ways in which avoiding the typical abstractions might actually create new opportunities for play and new situations for players to deal with.  It’s all rough, blue-sky type brainstorming, and may not pan out for any specific target audience… but if pursued further, it might lead to something that would work, given the right foundation.

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