Quite a few of the smaller details have yet to be decided, but one thing is clear: I want interactions with characters in AristocracyMUD to be dynamic. I want them to have the emotional depth that brings them the gravity that drives the otherwise uncaring aristocrat players to sit up and take notice, to really think about the impact of their actions.

These characters will be your one and only window into your nation. There will be no status menus. You won’t be able to just click a button and check how the economy is doing. You will have to interact with your citizens in order to find out—and they will have to like you!

There will be two primary times that you will be able to interact with various characters throughout your nation, which are as follows.

When Deciding How to Punish Them

As part of the ongoing kingdom simulation, I want to build a system that automatically determines the chance of someone committing a crime based on their current status and then use that chance of them committing a crime to determine whether they actually do commit said crime. I want certain scenarios to be mock played out in the background to determine the exact nature of the crime. And, once the crime is committed, you will be able to decide how they’re punished.

I ultimately want crimes to be anything from something as simple as insulting the aristocrats to as complex as killing someone for having stolen something from them and gotten away with it. I want the choice to be clear cut in some cases and extremely difficult in others. In the case where someone stole something from someone else and got away with it, and so the person who was robbed killed the thief themselves, would you admit fault?

However, I don’t simply want to build characters that commit crimes. I want to build characters that plead for forgiveness for what they’ve done. I want characters that take their motivations and spin them into a captivating bargain for mercy. I want players to be able to question them, to further build upon their motivations.

I want each interaction with someone who’s committed a crime to feel like it’s its own distinct subplot, something that players have to work their way through rather than just making a snap decision. Perhaps, through that, I can create characters that players actually think hard about sentencing to jail, or even death, as those characters are vibrant digital beings that won’t come back if they do.

In Between Court Sessions

The core of AristocracyMUD’s gameplay will be locked to the weekly sessions in court, but you can still visit the world in between them. I actually rather hope that you will be encouraged to, as you will need to explore the world and talk to people in order to really get a feel for how your nation is doing. The explorable zone will be locked to your nation’s capital city and you won’t be able to talk to literally every citizen, as multiple people in the same category will be condensed into one that represents their distinct career or class, but the intention is that you will be able to get a feel from your entire nation using the cross-section of people that you can stumble across by walking around the capital.

However, while you will be able to talk to them, you won’t be able to influence their lives in any way. They are simply a window into the nation’s well-being. Regardless, I want to make these conversations feel meaningful. I want it to feel like, even though these are conglomerations of like people in your nation and even though they may very well die on your orders, they are still people that live in your nation, people that matter.

To that end, when gathering information, you may find that people are reluctant to talk to you about how things are actually going. This may be due to a number of factors, including the following:

  • How your policies have affected their livelihoods.
  • How much your policies have affected their livelihoods.
  • What you end up punishing people for.
  • How often you end up punishing people for the aforementioned “crimes.”
  • How you speak to them in conversation.
  • How you’ve previously spoken to them in conversation.
  • Whether you’ve simply ignored them in the past.
  • What they’re currently doing.

…and perhaps quite a few more factors.

Ultimately, the goal is to replicate the feeling that you are an aristocrat and you rule the nation, but people don’t have to like it. Your information on how your country is doing is only as good as they feel you treat them and I want it to feel easy to become blind to your nation’s problems if you simply don’t care or don’t treat your citizens well, which is why there will be no menus to do status checks in.

Implementation

The actual implementation of any of this is still a long ways off. At the end of the day, the manner in which it is implemented really comes down to what I can get my hands on, how much what I can get my hands on will cost, and how many of the systems I have to build from scratch myself. Ideally, interactions would be processed by some sort of natural language processing system that then passes them to a narrative engine of some sort.

However, looking at existing technology, I do admittedly have a few concerns.

One of my larger concerns is that the scope of the existing solutions isn’t built for what I want to do. I want dynamically generated characters that have certain traits that are then passed to the narrative engine for handling. I want a dynamic world state that the narrative of each character’s life and what they’re willing to tell you is affected by. Most solutions seem to be built for self-contained narratives that aren’t particularly easy to modify using a dynamic world state.

To put it a different way, it seems that the way I would have to use existing solutions is use the dynamic world state to determine which stories to call, but I want the dynamic world state to be able to parse its way through a story and dynamically call “storylets,” subsequently injecting data from the world state into those storylets. Put simply, when I write a story for a character, I don’t want that story to be beholden to the way I wrote it. I want it to be able to exclude particular parts based on context, but otherwise continue to run through that story, or perhaps dynamically build a story from multiple storylets.

Regardless of how it ends up being implemented, this is just an outline. As I begin writing interactive fiction set in the game world, those works will serve as a blueprint for how I want the interactions in AristocracyMUD to work.

Keep an eye out for more information about AristocracyMUD here.

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