8 April

Dev Journal #4: The Chat System

By Caspian

This started out as the second part of a two-part journal post that was going to cover Influence Points. However, I wanted to lead with a status update on the chat system and it ended up being a full journal post all by itself. So in this developer journal I'm going to do a deep dive into the chat system.

Chat Systems of Old

When I think back to my early days playing MUDs one thing I'm always reminded of was how enjoyable the conversation was. Because you spent so much time typing anyways the chat system and the game seemed somehow intertwined. They were inexorably linked by the words in your console window.

On servers that were relatively sparse, the frequent conversation made it feel like there were always players there, walking side-by-side with you in your adventure. On the other hand, because the chat log was also everyone's game window, there was an unspoken (occasionally broadcasted) etiquette that said you didn't chatter unless your comments were highly relevant, targeted, or useful.

For most conversation you would "say" things. This limited visibility to those who were in your immediate area. Because people didn't want their chat log flooded with unsolicited messages while in combat, it was fairly common for you to see where someone was and then walk to their location before sending them a message. This created a sort of intimacy. You'd find the person, check out their equipment, maybe see if they were wearing any medals or had any tattoos, and then if they weren't too busy (in combat) you'd say hello.

In other situations - such as when being chased by something bigger and meaner than you, or when lost in an ancient pyramid - you might yell or shout for some help. While less frequent, the limited range meant there was rarely so much yelling that it was problematic. If it did become a problem, someone would appeal to the gods and they'd sick a plague on you until you shut up.

On my favorite MUD there were also different chat "channels". The channels were the most interesting and diverse part. There were channels for newbies, channels for each race, for each class, for each major zone... you get the point. There was even a channel for when the city was under attack and you needed to coordinate a defense.

Many modern MMOs have attempted to duplicate the above chat model with say/yell abilities that are rarely used and General, Trade, Region/Local, etc... channels that are frequently abused. The sheer number of players on most MMOs causes the signal-to-noise ratio to be so low as to make the channel incomprehensible - something that is only made worse by trolls, spammers, and gold farmers.

Chat System of Chronicles of Elyria

In Chronicles of Elyria, my aim is to mitigate many of the pitfalls of modern MMOs and bring back some of the benefits (or side effects) of older games by enacting a few, relatively small changes to the way the chat system works.

Instead, there will be pre-registered, moderated chat channels for newbies. You can think of these channels like your direct access to the gods (or very helpful people). When you type, your messages will only be visible to the GMs or volunteers approved for responding. Someone will then reply to you with an answer. When that happens, both your request, and their answer will be visible to all in the channel.

When not in a party/raid: whisper only works close range, and only to a single person. Say and Shout will be readable by all those around you and will have increasing range.

When in a normal party: "whisper" will be readable by all those in close proximity who are also in your party. Say and shout continue to be heard by all around you in increasing range.

When in an organized raid group: whisper will be heard by your party only, say will be heard by your party and those in command (at all levels), and shout will be heard by the entire raid.

  1. There will be no trade, general, etc... channels. Most people either ignore them or abuse them. Additionally, each of those channels are attempts at solving separate problems to which there are better solutions.
  2. "Whisper", "Say", and "Shout" have well-defined ranges with specific purposes depending on whether you're in a raid or group (and potentially in combat).
  3. "Tell" only works with people on your friends list and with a second, very special group of people I'll disclose more about in a future developer journal. This is one of the more controversial changes. This change is in part to limit people from sending unsolicited "tells" and partly because in Chronicles of Elyria, you really want to be introduced to the person you're talking to. You want to see them with your own eyes in order to identify them effectively.

  4. There will be chat channels with the added capability to register/reserve and moderate channels. These chat channels will work identically to the way IRC channels work. Additionally, you can choose whether you want each of your channels to show up as separate tabs in the same chat window, or as separate, minimizeable chat windows on the bottom of your screen. If you choose separate, the dialog titles will flash whenever you receive a new message so you'll know to restore them to read the message.

Before you get too excited I should point out a few caveats to the chat channel system. First, the chat channel system is really designed for out-of-character or meta-game conversation. As a result, you will always be identified by (and only by) your player alias - not your character name. If you keep your identity as a player separate from your identity as a character, it's possible to have a conversation in the chat channel while also having a separate conversation in-game with the same person - and never know you're talking to them! This is by design and for reasons we'll explore later.

The other caveat is that unlike in most games, organizations/guilds do not automatically get a private chat channel. If you want to get the player aliases of your guild members and invite them to a private channel you may do so, however it's not automatic. This is done for two reasons. First, it breaks the immersion. If you want to have a guild meeting, then rent/purchase a guild hall, gather, and hash stuff out face-to-face. Being able to manage guild business remotely means guilds can spread out so far as to not be able to travel back to their origin city for meetings. This violates some of the realism of the world I'm striving for. Can players just use a VoIP technology to have guild meetings anyways? Sure. But this gets my point across.

The second, and more important reason, is that guilds serve a specific purpose in Chronicles of Elyria - different than in most MMOs. As a result, you want to ensure you're talking to the people you think you are - but the game leaves room for the possibility that you aren't...

Progress and Why the Chat System First

Progress overall is going well on the chat system. It's nearly complete with only chat channels remaining. I anticipate having the system available to a limited number of people in January.

Per a previous thread, the chat system in Chronicles of Elyria uses XMPP to allow conversation outside the game with people logged into the external chat system with any XMPP client. This is done so that people can be notified of important in-game events as they're happening. Per rule #3 above, you'll only be able to talk to people in/out of game that are on your friends' list. You'll also be able to chat with people in chat channels, but again, only as your player alias, not as a specific character.

As to why I began working on the chat system first - two reasons. First, MMOs are social games. If the chat system doesn't feel complete, feels cumbersome, or doesn't stand on its own as a way to facilitate conversation, then it won't enable good multiplayer experiences.

The second, less obvious reason is that getting the chat system in place requires a good deal of other infrastructure. It requires account registration, login/authentication, network/message handling, encryption, etc... By finishing the chat system first, it puts the server in a good place to be expanded for the rest of the MMO game mechanics.

Up Next

Up next we'll finally get around to talking about Influence Points. I promise.

Discuss

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Graybeard - 11 months ago

Hmmm I see what your getting at and thanks for the source, Just seems some parts would be difficult to type while doing some actions such as you ambush a trader on the road moving from town to town and having to wait while he types out his demands or even anything having to deal with combat etc, not involving your friends, But I do see how the random noise clutter from people around you and trolls would some what take away from it.

VictoriaRachel - 11 months ago

Graybeard there are already very long threads about VOIP and the different opinions on it's addition, such as this one here. While some people agree and think it will be more realistic and easier to communicate with players around you, others feel it is far less realistic and far more distracting with all the background noise that comes with it. So very much split opinion.

What we have heard from the Developers in the past is they are not concentrating on adding it as part of the game and expect players will instead use third party VOIP. There was talk of them integrating some VOIP but it would be limited to players not characters so would not be proximity based [Source].

Graybeard - 11 months ago

Will Voip ever be added or will CoE always be a text chat system? Quite a few benifits to have a Voip system added for a more realistic feel to the game and not floating chat bubbles or chat in a general chat box on screen

Green_Rice - 1 year ago

"it's possible to have a conversation in the chat channel while also having a separate conversation in-game with the same person - and never know you're talking to them!"

"the chat channel system is really designed for out-of-character or meta-game conversation."

So am I correct to assume based on those quotes that there will be a separate system for communicating with people in-character and in-person, using your character name/identity? Because if I want to play as an assassin who uses disguises and fake identities a lot, being identified by my username every time I go up to talk to someone, whether it's accepting an assassination contract or just buying something in town, is going to undermine that whole alias mechanic.

If there will be that separate system, I'm of mixed opinion whether it should be voice-based or not. It would definitely be immersive and realistic, and could allow for skills such as eavesdropping (though I suppose that could be done with text chat, too). On the other hand as Silence Will Fall pointed out, it could also break immersion if you're talking to a 80-year-old female PC with a 20-year-old man's voice.

I also second Wooga's request for contextual actions, whether purely visual or described in text as well, for when you're having a face-to-face conversation. Just having some simple things like waving, leaning forward/back, crossing arms, shaking hands, or giving a high-five would make talking face-to-face with characters much more realistic and immersive. Otherwise you'll be talking to someone with their arms at their sides and a neutral expression the whole time, which is not at all engaging.

Kartysan - 1 year ago

I read the comments for a bit, and I agree with everyone that's talking about voice chat

And I agree with Artaer above me! If voice can be used to do lots of those stuff, I'd really be hyped!

Because who wouldn't want to be like a badass and scream out their favorite skill? I sure as heck would. (Though if that seriously happened, voice command should be optional. I mean, I am as shameless as heck, but even I would be too embarassed whispering my favorite skills if I ever go and play outside my house, haha)

Silence Will Fall - 1 year ago
@Kartysan:

Until you meet a 80 years old in game character who speaks to you with a 15 yo voice... immersion breaking :)

Artaer - 1 year ago

Using voice to text. The possibilities! Just sayin. For spell-casting, for interpersonal communication, speed, ease, immersion. Please consider, if nothing else, support for these functions.

xxpowerofsoundxx - 1 year ago
@Artaer:

i dont think the 5 to 10 people with magic will need voice commands lol.

CeciliaNightale - 1 year ago
@xxpowerofsoundxx:

Agree to that! Voice chat would be much better to use in many occasions. that and the fact that, at least personaly, I prefer speaking over typing cause I'm afraid of those typos :)

Edulahin - 1 year ago

SO all chat will be made by text? It would be a great adition if eventually we involve a Team Speak like in DayZ

Jbas911 - 1 year ago

I really love how the chat system only identifies your account name instead of character. The personal connection you get by talking Dire try to your friend in game in person is far better and more immersive. Love reading about this game

Kiriam - 1 year ago

Does the chat system will include as well voice-chat? It would be amazing since the chat system design encourages the "get to know the people first" idea.

While reading this Dev. Journal entry, it reminded me of pen-and-paper sessions of character communication "systems".

Woogawoman - 1 year ago

Having grown up on MUSHes more than MUDs, I would love to have additional roleplaying commands available in chat.

in TinyMUSH, you could of course "say" something, which would show '<Character name> says "text."' Shortcut was "

You could also "pose" something, though, which would show your text without quotes, such as '<Character name> smiles shyly at <other character>, with a hint of red creeping up his cheek.' Shortcut was : (or ; to add an 's to the char name, such as <Character name>'s watch beeps.)

There was even an emit pose, which would not prepend the character name at all. Used responsibly, this allowed for much more immersive roleplay. For example: "Leaning over the counter, Taylor took a deep breath and smiled at the aromas wafting from the kitchen." (Used irresponsibly, it allowed for anonymous emits to a room, so I can see why that might be problematic in an MMO.) Shortcut was @

Having the pose options would be wonderful, at least. It allows for so much more creative interactions than just "blank says" "blank says" over and over. Any thoughts on that?

Akrawec - 1 year ago

Glad you are addressing the importance of chat in a mmo. I can't count how many times after a long night of raiding that I find myself just conversing with players. These "spammers and trolls" can ruin a community before it starts, so many of the latest mmo's out have not been able to get the spam under control at release. It can get so bad that I would just turn off all chat functions, lose the sense of community, log out, and generally not log back in. A solid community is what keeps games going through the good and bad times. I'm not going to give examples ;) but a particular mmo title had a great community, and kept my interest for 11+ years, but sadly the community is dying.

Brynjar - 1 year ago

This system looks good for RP and will definitely help immersion. However, it may be difficult to get use to which could cause a lot of frustration. It will be interesting to see how this will turn out.

Sleep - 1 year ago
@Brynjar:

About possibly being frustrating to learn, I was thinking the same thing.

Foxxley - 1 year ago

Voip will definitely be needed for a successful guild, and I only say that because those guilds who do /not/ use Voip, will have to be forced to meet face to face in-game to talk to eachother. Therefore, giving other said guild with voip the upper hand :/

Chunky Skylord - 1 year ago

I've personally never used most chat systems for those exact reasons, I appreciate the time spent on making the best looking one so far. Hope I love it :p

Koronus - 1 year ago

Very good decision. That will bring high immersion and with that the rpler

Amarok - 2 years ago

Will there be the option to use "voice chat"? 

I was playing ARK earlier and i love that you can just talk to people over voice. (also very practical when in combat) 

paco_hojaverde - 2 years ago

Repressed Second Life memories...oh God...

Stormcaller - 2 years ago

Looks very promising! I like the idea of pre-registered newb channels, which reminds me of EVE where a similar approach is used and that worked fine for years now. Especially the feature, that only the Q+A combination gets posted is a huge plus for those. Awesome!

I also like that there will be no general chat whatsoever. Nowadays, most people tend to be in voice comms with their fellow players anyways when playing. And those who don't want that can register chat channels if they feel the need to, if I understood correctly?

One question though: The only cavaet I am seeing are starting areas or frequently visited areas. What would keep a gold seller from just standing there and yelling their malicious offers? Any plans to fight that?

QoE looks awesome so far and I can't wait to get more infos!

ehrid - 2 years ago

I was thinking about this and IMO to fully blend into the game I would abandon chat. To communicate with other player you would have to either write a letter (needs time to arrive and is delivered to specific location [just like in Tibia]) or use voice chat, but to speak with someone you needs to be close to each other, just like speaking in real life.

Sabbicat - 2 years ago

Vary interesting thought process on chat. I like how hopefull we can avoid the whole spammer / gold seller fiasco that goes on in some games.