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While measuring the player "skills" and "effort" is usually easy, adding some "less objective" statistics can give the player supplementary goals, especially in a MUD/RPG context.

What I mean is that apart from counting how many orcs were killed, and gems collected, it would be interesting to have something along the line of the traditional Good/Evil, Lawful/Chaotic ranking of paper-based RPG, to add "dimension" to the game.

But computers cannot differentiate good/evil effectively (nor can humans in many cases), and if you have a set of "laws" which are precise enough that you can tell exactly when the player breaks them, then it generally makes more sense to actually prevent them from doing that action in the first place.

One example could be the creation/destruction axis (if players are at all allowed to create/build things), possibly in the form of the general effect of the player actions on "ecology".

So what else is there left that can be effectively measured and would provide a sense of "moral" for the player? The more axis I have to measure, the more goals the player can have, and therefore the longer the game can last. This also gives the players more ways of "differentiating" themselves among hordes of other players of the same "class" and similar "kit".

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"then it generally makes more sense to actually prevent them from doing that action in the first place." Absolutly not. Players love to get the feeling bending and breaking the system, even if you intended it. Many games are build around doing evil. Baldur's Gate, GTA, Fallout, Infamous. –  Psykocyber Nov 25 '11 at 12:45
    
I didn't actually play any of those, but I think I get the point. That sounds like a good idea. +1 –  Sebastien Diot Nov 26 '11 at 8:33

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I think this needs to be progressive - you can't instantly judge an action. Take these two examples:

  • I could place a steel barrel in the middle of a road; which is technically creation - however it may land up killing the passengers in a car.
  • I could go and kill an entire Orc camp; which is technically destruction - however it would bring an end to the raping and pillaging they have been doing.

Your actions should be both immediate and outcome-based. You would see an immediate increase in "good" because of the barrel you have placed; however at such a point it causes a disaster you would see a larger change toward "evil".

This means that you would need to be able to store 'interaction attributes' with everything in the game world. "The player has interacted with this barrel", "the barrel has resulted in evil", "the player is evil." - or - "The Orc has interacted with this village", "the Orc is evil", "the player has killed the Orc", "the player is good."

At the end of the day you need a set of basic outcomes that ultimately determine the good/evil of an action: create vs. destroy, heal vs. damage, assist vs. hinder etc.

When correctly designed this would be entirely emergent behaviour; for example if, during the second play, the player went and killed the Orcs before they had committed any evil it would count as evil - you can't kill someone on the premise that they will do evil: some other condition might arise that would prevent them from performing said evil.

Remember that "good" and "evil" are relational to your upbringing/faction/religion - therefore as an Orc partaking in their raids would be counted as "good" - however you could spin this as "Orcs tend toward evil, as such your standing is higher as an evil entity."

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The game Uplink does something similar to this. You have a Neuromancer rating, which represents your good/bad standing in the hacker community. Taking part in a "Trace a hacker" or "Destroy someone's life" mission reduces your Neuromancer rating, whereas the more complex standard hacks increase your rating. The storyline also allows you to work for the good guys or the bad guys, which affects your rating too. –  Polynomial Nov 25 '11 at 13:02
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EVE Online deals with this in an interesting way too. There are three races, split into factions. Each faction has a standing level with other factions. Negative standing means dislike, positive standing means like. When you gain or lose standing with a faction, you automatically bleed a small amount of that to other factions that have strong standings with them. For example, if faction A has +10 standing with B and -10 standing with C, and you gain 0.5 standing with A, you get +0.005 standing with B and -0.005 standing with C (values are approx). Standings are two way, so A->B != B->A. –  Polynomial Nov 25 '11 at 13:08
    
@Polynomial thanks for the great feedback; I tried to generalize and include it. –  Jonathan Dickinson Nov 25 '11 at 13:23
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Yeah, I like your generalized description of it all, as well as your analogy with the barrel. One thing I would note is that I think the "good vs evil" thing is too clear cut in some games (mostly AAA titles). There's always a grey area in real life - it's rarely clear cut. If you take the standard 3-race route in an RPG, don't have your character's actions only affect one. The enemies of your enemies are your friends, so a positive action for one should be a negative action for the other. –  Polynomial Nov 25 '11 at 13:43

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