Hope feeds nostalgia

Apparently it was never really feasible to have an ever-REALLY-changing world as proposed by Atriarch (which, while technically still in development, I don’t expect to see anytime soon?). It’s not a huge surprise — the maintenance and attention that kind of thing would require, let alone the over-arching, constantly-amended plan for how the game would progress and how you’d keep newbies and oldies happy… Probably not something anyone wants to take on, not when they can make another static WoW-clone and do much better than if they wept blood and actually created something a little different.

Still, several games have had some measure of change in the game world, and I don’t mean simply the addition of new zones or the “many many years have passed, the world looks like this now” you get in EQ2. One town in Asheron’s Call was nuked to oblivion not long after the game launched… and a few years later, was in the process of being rebuilt. Another quiet, bucolic, mostly ignored town got nuked later on. There were bad guys, and they were serious about their nuking.

It wasn’t really a world in which what the players do change much of anything — the same monsters would keep spawning in the same dungeons and drop the same quest loot, but at least it wasn’t entirely frozen in amber. Adding wreaths and baubles for holiday-weeks doesn’t count as “change” by the way — that’s the MMO equivalent of getting a Glade plug-in: it’s not fresh, it just vaguely smells like it.

I’m not sure it’s possible to have an MMO world where player actions continuously and forever impact the world in major ways, since that could mean having to make content for almost every player individually, and not even Warren Buffet could pay for the legions of staff that kind of thing would need. Hell, my friends and I had a hard enough time coordinating a couple of tabletop campaigns with at most a dozen players that we decided to set in the same world — small actions, butterflies, DMs freaking out as their side of the world collapses around them, and so on. Not good.

Another thing Turbine did a few times in Asheron’s Call, however, was smaller events. Big enough to draw lots of players — “Quick, the Clantons have ridden into town! Asheron commands you!” — but small enough to have a rapidly diminishing impact-ripple. Fun if you were there, no big deal if you missed it.

That, I admit, I would like to see a lot more of, even though that also implies a great deal more on-the-spot work from the game staff. Which makes me realise — back in the day, we’d see Devs (or their non-player-side ilk) in game on a fairly regular basis. Sure, they were like Visitations from God, but you did occasionally get to see them and even *gasp* talk to them, or get stomped by them, or both. Maybe I’m just not playing the right games, but in my experience the only time you get that kind of interaction anymore is during betas (not counting QA-interaction on test servers, which is usually pretty consistent).

My point isn’t that I want to be visitationed by Devs, but rather that the reaching in of the Hand of God in the form of mini- (or mega-) events is something you won’t usually see players complaining about. Yes, it would have to be carefully designed. Yes, it would have to be carefully carried out, too, because one bad thing that tends to happen at these is that Joe McGratify-Me starts whining that Ben AverageGamer is getting all the Dev attention, that he’s a filthy teacher’s pet, and that these events are just little clique gatherings for the select few (from which the whiners are excluded or, presumably, they would be less busy whining and more busy trying to prevent anyone else from getting in the clique).

Yes, it’s probably utterly unrealistic in the current day and age of MMOs. What, have staff actually interact with players? Who am I kidding? Most MMO companies seem to want less and less player interaction, unless it’s through the much safer (and still combustible) medium of forums or some such. Lots of us crustier gamers remember the various “scandals” involving volunteer and/or paid in-game staff, as though one juicy (and possibly entirely made up) tidbit could cancel out all the GREAT community work and help those people provided. I guess the feeling these days is that any direct interaction with players is only asking for some kind of lawsuit, or at least a giant 187-page whine-fest thread.

Which is a shame. MMOs were a lot more fun and surprising (hence, you know, fun) when the membrane between players and makers in-game was a little more permeable.

(Thanks to Spinks for inspiring the thoughts that led to this. I may steal, but hey, I credit. 😉 )

7 thoughts on “Hope feeds nostalgia

  1. This is something I’ve thought A LOT about in my quest to design the end-all be-all MMO and frankly, it’s really tough. The game has to be built to be dynamic from the start, but as you stated you must ALWAYS be vigilante of what people can / will do and that’s pretty impossible.

    I think the most we can hope for is dynamic content that’s pushed along by the players, but implemented and coordinated by the devs. It will take a massive staff, or a massive amount of content dev before the game is even released, but I think it’s possible; especially with the advanced in storage capacity and whatnot.

    One of the many tricks of a lot of professions, game design included, is giving the player the illusion that they have an impact in the world, when in actuality they’re playing right into the hands of the devs. What I mean by that is if you have a story you’re telling and that story contains a war that the player can fight in, you WANT the player to believe they can make a difference by showing up on the battlefield, pushing back the minions of evil and persevering. Regardless of what happens, if you’ve written your story so the player’s side loses, it will lose no matter what, but it doesn’t have to be on the massive battle front. You watch and choose your battles and pick the places where players are NOT (as long as it makes sense in the story) and move the story there.

    Consequently, you also have to accept the fact that with it being dynamic content, the player could very well win as well. So what do you do? Make 2 versions. Version A:, NPCs win. Version B: Players win.

    We had an idea about this for our game where, in certain instances much like the Opening of the Gates of Ahn’Quiraj event that happened in WoW, everyone on the server would take part, but only if they wanted to.

    The difference is that the Gates of Ahn’Quiraj opened after a set time for everyone anyway (for servers with low populations or new servers) so everyone had access. Our event would actually allow the minions of Ahn’Quiraj to win and either keep their gates closed, or open in such a way that they actually take over that part of the land, changing it to suit their needs.

    In both instances the player would receive new content, new dungeons, etc, but the content of those dungeons would be different. So if you have fire dragons invading the happy peaceful meadow of solitude that belongs to the nature goddess, on Server A: if you defeat the invaders, you’d have the happy peaceful meadow of solitude that has had a temple opened by the goddess of nature that you can now explore and be transported to the fallback spot of the defeated fire dragons, but on Server B: if the invading fire dragons actually won, then they take over the happy peaceful meadow of solitude, desecrating it, charring it and making it their own, forever changing the physical appearance, where you can now come in and raid them directly.

    So it can be different per server, but of course you’d still offer the same types of loot stat-wise, it may just look different or whatever. That of course, depends on how you do loot, but that’s another discussion.

  2. Horizons had some pretty world-changing player driven events. There were areas no one could get to until a huge project (I remember a bridge and a mineshaft, there were probably others) was completed. Those really helped build a sense of community.

    Wiqd mentioned unlocks in WoW and I believe there has been at least one similar event in LOTRO. I know that the Froglok race in EQ2 was unlocked by players doing a big event. Likewise the gryphon towers and wizard spires in the lands of EQ2 were built by players.

    As to devs interacting with players, you might just be playing the wrong games. I’ve helped fight off attacks from epic ogres in LOTRO (the ogre being controlled by a dev) and GM/Guide Events happen in EQ2 with some regularity. Going all the way back to UO, I can remember having to fight off ettin attacks in normally “safe” towns.

    The problem is, there’re a lot of minutes in a week, and these events might take up 30-60 of them, in one specific area, and the chance of you being there is pretty slim. If, OTOH, the events are announced in advance, *everyone* shows up in 1 spot and the lag gets awful and/or the server crashes.

    And of course if you come to a game after these unlock events have taken place, you’d never know they happened.

    All of THAT said, I sure would like to see more of this kind of thing because, as I said, big events that require lots of players helping do tend to build community, even with the inevitable Joe McGratify-Me’s whining that the events happened in the wrong time zone, or that his class couldn’t contribute, or whatever.

  3. I’m definitely with you. This is what I envisaged when I first heard about monthly subscription games. I already knew it was possible to play AAA online games with lots of people for free (hello Diablo) – then when I encountered sub-based games, I automatically assumed the money would be going towards the payment of a team of people creating content for the players.

    Instead the money goes towards… the drain, for most companies. They keep copying WoW, then failing.

  4. *concurs, especially with Melf*

    When I first heard of these MMO things, I figured they would be brilliant ever-changing worlds, justifying the recurring cost, packed with potential. The reality has been somewhat… underwhelming.

  5. Ixo, that was more about expectations conflicting with reality. If the game were about unique, dynamic experiences from the outset, the zombie invasion wouldn’t have been a blip on the radar.

    It’s precisely because WoW is so static that it was notable, for good or for ill.

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