Friday, December 3, 2010

Telepresence: Never Split your Party Again!

    One of the omnipresent banes of a GM's existence is having a group of Players who assume, simply because there are more than one of them, they somehow have the right to try to do more than one thing at the same time.  I am of course talking about splitting up the party.  While this seems like a good idea at the time, it almost never is from the Game Master's perspective.

   It's not that the typical GM wants to ruin the Player's fun (well...).  It's that the game flow and mechanics problems with splitting the party up are numerous and tedious.   For one thing, the GM's duties as far as NPC interaction, die rolling, and rules arbitration double for every time the Player's split up.  In addition to that, every pre-generated encounter created for that particular adventure session has to be hastily re-calculated to account for the fact that there are less Players in the encounter than originally planned (either that, or the Players are gonna have a real bad day...).  What usually happens in these cases is that the Game Master becomes quite stressed trying to essentially run two games at the same time, the Players complain about how long it takes for the GM to come back to them, and the whole process takes at least three times as long as it would have if the PCs had stayed together and taken the encounter on one at a time.  I know that, every GM since the Great Gygax knows that, and even worse, every Player knows that.  Yet, I will even find myself suggesting, when playing in games, that the party split up.  It's some bizarre quirk of the gamer's consciousness that even fellow GMs must make the current GM's life Hell...

     As the title above suggests, I have a potential solution.  Telepresence.

     In the context of The Black Desert, Telepresence is listed as a General Skill on the Skill List and includes both virtual communication (the actual telepresence part), teleoperation, which is the remote control of stuff through virtual means, and telexistance, a la The Matrix. The first two of these definition are what will help GMs breathe easier.

      First off, let us understand just how prevalent technology will be two hundred years from now. Augmented Reality will be such a constant presence in people's everyday lives that the boundary between virtual worlds and the real one will be not only blurred, but actively debated in philosophical circles.  It'll kinda be like this:

      ...Which is actually fairly scary and overwhelming and stuff.  But that's another post.

      What AR means to Players of The Black Desert is that, by using this kind of total immersion technology, PCs in different locations will no longer be completely separated.  They will not only be able to communicate instantaneously but will be able to literally see with each other's eyes.  The problem of one group of PCs not hearing or seeing something and the whole Player knowledge/Character knowledge dilemma can be eliminated in most circumstances.
      While AR will solve the communication problem between split parties, it doesn't help with the interaction problem.  You know the one; One group of Players is sighing and whining and trying to get the GM to listen to their spontaneous actions and stuff while the GM is trying to run a combat with the other Players.  This kind of situation drives me personally up the wall when I am GMing.  As a sooper-kool-indie-game-designer, I still haven't found a reasonable solution that will work for all games, but I've got a honey of one for The Black Desert...teleoperated robots!

       One of the virtues of using robots in this capacity is that it's already a reality.  This isn't science fiction anymore; it's simply an extrapolation of current tech into the mid-future.  While my final designs are probably going to be too conservative the truly reflect the twenty-third century state-of-the-art, they will serve the in-game purposes required of them and have sufficient cool factor.

      How cool?  In The Black Desert, the PC party can split up and still keep their numbers the same by adding a couple of robots from the rocket.  Maintenance bots will be the most common, while combat robots will be expensive, restricted, and therefore good treasure and/or goals for PCs. The 'bots are can be used autonomously, which lets them interact with the intelligence of a trained dog or so.  They can also be controlled by the rocket's on-board AI (instant NPC!), or be teleoperated by an absent PC during combats (maintenance robots aren't that great at tactics, after all) and then left alone the rest of the time.  In this way, a PC party could be split up but each Player can participate in every combat encounter no matter which group the PC is in.

     An example of this can be seen in the forgettable Lost in Space reboot from back in '98.  Click on the link below to see a video clip of the whole scene:

I don't care what you think about the movie; this part was cool.
     Below is a little teaser of the Robinson's real-life counterpart:

      Anyway, that's all for today, RocketFans.  Enjoy and I'll see you Monday!

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