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[Project: Gorgon Official News] Racial Game Systems

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[Still finding it hard to make time to blog, but despite the silence, improvements are happening at a pretty brisk pace. Speaking of which, Aaron from the LoE team (the guys doing the new graphics update) posted some new art on our Facebook page, which you can see here.
And remember, you can always catch the very latest game details on my Twitter account @GorgonMMO.]
What makes races in Project Gorgon different from each other?

In most RPGs, the races tend to blend together. Elves are just guys with pointy ears, and they’re often *******s to Humans. Dwarves have beards and tend to be *******s to Humans. Halflings are short, and they tend to be *******s to Humans.
Races traditionally get bonuses in certain skills, or a few unique combat abilities. I may dabble in a bit of that, but I find it frankly boring, and I also worry that new players aren’t going to know what skills they actually want to learn.
Instead, I want races to bring an element of roleplaying and immersion first, and an element of game mechanics second.
Why Be Different?

I want players to get a “gut feel” for each race… to form a few stereotypes about them, in other words. And when I put it that way, it feels kind of sad and kind of silly: I’m encouraging fantasy racism! But I think we have to go there before we can come back from there.
I think races are a great tool to help immerse the player in the game. It can help them role-play. Before you freak out about role-playing, I don’t really mean saying “thee” and “thou” a lot and avoiding out-of-character speech. I mean it as an aspect of immersion: I want players to think of themselves as their character.
But it’s not really reasonable to tell players “you’re a dwarf! Now go be a dwarf!” They need something to work from. Game mechanics can help create a stereotype to get them started. But stat bonuses really don’t do the trick. Nor do most combat abilities. That’s not choosing a way to roleplay, it’s just choosing your preferred stat-block. (Which is fine for some games, and can be fun in a different way, but it’s not what I want to accomplish with Gorgon’s races.)
Sometimes MMOs do end up with notably distinct races. The fairy race in EQ2 feels very distinct from the human race. They can glide around, and that subtly changes how they play the game. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely better than giving them a +5 to Glass Blowing skill. Unfortunately, EQ2 has a couple of very unique races, and a whole lot of samey races.
Can Gorgon do better? I think so. I think the reason that EQ2 (and most games) don’t come up with distinct mechanics is that they are stuck thinking about them in terms of raw power. “What powers does the fairy have compared to the elf?”
But if we approach is slightly differently, we get different results. Gorgon asks, “how does the game change for each race?” It’s almost the same question, but now the power level is unimportant compared to giving each race distinction.

Gorgon’s elves are supposed to be obsessively clean, so elves will see a special meter on their screen called “Cleanliness”. (You can already find equipment that boosts Hygiene, which is the stat that determines how quickly you lose Cleanliness.) Fighting monsters, running in mud, and gardening would lower Cleanliness, whereas jumping in a lake or using water magic would raise it back up.
Every player actually has a cleanliness meter, but only elves see it. There’ll be a subtle “stink cloud” particle coming off of dirty characters… but again, only elves will be able to see these stink lines.
So keeping clean is a way to keep the stink off your character. It will also have minor game-stat boosts, like maybe giving elves slightly more combat XP, or better interactions with elven NPCs. But really, it shouldn’t be very important. I don’t want to force elves to maintain their Cleanliness Meter if they don’t give a crap… I just want to encourage them to give a crap. (If that makes any sense.)

Humans in Project Gorgon are extremely social creatures, and maintaining social connections is very important to them. They have a Loneliness meter that goes up if they are too long away from other players. Eventually, (perhaps), the lonely player’s screen starts to drain of color, suggesting that they are becoming slightly depressed. When they spot another player, the world brightens a bit. Spot another, and it brightens more.
There’ll be minor in-game benefits to keeping loneliness low, but again, it’s mostly about presenting a role to players. The game is saying, “your character is lonely,” and you can choose to ignore that information — and probably will, most of the time — but hopefully it’s something that sticks in the back of your mind.
And … Others

I’m still working on the actual mechanics of these, so don’t be surprised if they don’t quite make it into the game like this. But you get the idea: each race will have a special variable that controls a part of the game that only they see.
I don’t want to force all players to fit a stereotype, but I do want to give players a starting point. Then I can eventually let players opt out of these racial mechanics — a Human could learn to be a neat freak and get the Cleanliness meter on their screen, or they could learn to be a hermit and have the Loneliness meter disappear. Maybe that happens automatically if you do certain things. If your Human remains consistently clean, they eventually start seeing the Cleanliness meter. If Elves stay dirty constantly, they eventually stop caring and the meter disappears.
These mechanics are tailored to helping players role-play without really noticing. “I’m lonely,” says the Human, “so I want to get into a hunting group for a bit.” Or “just a minute,” says the Elf. “I’ll be right there, I just need to take a bath.” That’s roleplaying. Or at least steps in that direction.
I know some players will find this system irritating, but I hope it’s a net positive. If it isn’t, well, then, I’ll take it back out! But I want to keep layering simple ideas like this into the game. It goes with existing mechanics like Voluntary Badges (like choosing to be a vegetarian), and Roleplay Death Penalties (where you come back from the grave slightly wrong, and are asked to do something silly for a while, like pretend to be afraid of crossing bridges.)
Okay I gotta get back to work. Next time I’ll talk about Necromancy in more detail, along with some of the new stuff I’ve been adding!
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