What if you built an MMO that had everything at launch?
I don’t mean every feature, expansion, class, land, etc… I mean literally, it had everything it was ever going to have. Not one thing would be added to the game (except possibly as a resolution to game bugs/problems). What if you built a game world as big as the world and filled it with all of the things?
What would you do with that world?
Personally, I’d fill it with zombies. Seven billion or so of them, scattered around the world based on population data. Then I’d build the most “real” zombie survival game ever. Players would join the game crawling out of their hiding place where they’ve just begun to run low on supplies. Randomly assigned they would be in abandoned fallout shelters or other cramped holes where they gone to ride out the chaos of the apocalypse. That would be there home to start, and they would need to go back there and lock the door when they logged off. They would need to search for food and supplies, and they would need to fight off zombies when they ran into them. The slow kind, walkers, who alone are easily handled but in groups they can overwhelm you faster than you can scream.
Players could choose to move to new locations, either new single survivor hiding spots, or more spacious group homes. And while there is safety in numbers, there is danger in responsibility. Whose turn was it to get food? Why are we out of food?
And with industry gone, so too would be the endless supply of goods. Once the stores and cupboards are bare, you better have secured some land with a fence and started farming. Things don’t respawn. Neither would you, by the way. You get dead, you stay dead. You can roll up a new character, even make it a clone of your original and keep your friend list, but your gear is gone… or rather, it’s on your body, which hopefully your friends have looted or maybe your old character is still carrying it, shambling around the wastes. And your new character might start on another continent, and you’ll need to travel if you want to meet up with your friends again – or just make new friends closer.
Then, someday down the road, when the bulk of the zombies have been laid to rest and the players have made the world a “safe” place again… you reset the server and start all over.
Dig through this blog and you will find a number of posts where I talk about the things that I think would make for a better MMO. These days I’m not playing (m)any MMOs, so I don’t pontificate about them anymore. But recently I got to thinking of an idea that just won’t get out of my head, so I’m going to put it down here in hopes to solidify it and keep it from nagging me.
One of my favorite parts of MMOs is character creation. Right now, most of you, probably nearly all of you, have an image in your mind that matches this screen shot. Selecting skin tones and body part shapes and clothing options. Admittedly, this stuff can be very cool. I absolutely adored the City of Heroes character creator. I probably built a hundred characters that I never actually played, because the idea of them was more grande than playing them would be, especially since I already had a few characters to play – and ultimately, once you start playing and you’ve picked your class, primary and secondary powers, characters play the same no matter what they look like. Still, a robust creator is a lot of fun and can ignite further character developments.
Which leads me to the other half of character creation, and the part that I end up liking more, when it works. As a role player, I love filling out the nooks and crannies of my character. Their back story, their hopes and dreams, and their personality. It is one of the reasons that I still hold the original EverQuest in just high regard. That game rarely ever tried to tell me who my character was, it was always left up to me. Since leveling was kill based and not quest based, I got to pick and choose which quests to do because they are what my character would do. This is completely opposite of what many people seem to desire in games: a constant barrage of “things to do”.
In EverQuest, I got to decide if I wanted to help the citizens of Qeynos with their problems. In World of Warcraft and other games, if I choose not to help the locals, not to do quests, I might as well stop playing because leveling my character without those quests is painfully slow.
Of course, dig through the posts here and you’ll see I actually advocate doing away with levels. Another thing I advocate is the design of EVE Online, because of the dichotomy of its character/skill system. In theory, it is a classless, skill based system. You get books to learn new skills, any skill you have the prerequisites for, and then you choose to learn it. (If you don’t know, EVE is a time based advancement system. You tell the game you want to learn a skill and it tells you how long. When it’s done, you pick another skill. You can do anything you want while training happens, nothing you do effects the speed.) However, in practice, EVE is a class based game. While any character can have any skill, once you leave port in a ship the only skills that matter are the ones that apply to the ship you are flying and the modules you have loaded in it. If you have level 5 in cannons and level 1 in missiles, when flying a ship with only missiles on it your cannons skill is unimportant.
The thing I like most about this design, and why I would like to see it implemented in a fantasy setting, is that it takes class choice out of the initial character creation. At the point you are making your first character, you don’t know anything about the class you are picking beyond the couple of paragraphs that the developers give you. Well, if you’ve played other MMOs, you probably can pick up on the tank/damage/healer elements of classes, which give you a leg up on the new players. And of course, the truth is, most classes play much differently at level 1 than they do at level 50 and beyond. I like skill based equipment limitedÂ design because it allows me to choose my role in the game as late as possible, and if I decide I don’t like being a tanking warrior, I can just switch and become a damage dealing light healer without having to abandon my whole character. I just get new skills and put on new gear. (And in a design without level based power curves, I could be useful in my new role immediately rather than having to power-level back up to join my friends.)
This got me to thinking. I want freedom, as much as I can get. But in my evolving design I still had new players making choices from limited sets before getting into game.
So, imagine this…
You log into the game and you hit “Create New Character”. You are then given a map of the world with the starting cities highlighted. Selecting a city takes you to a page (or pages) of the history of that city, a description of the land, the typical lives of the NPCs there (common professions, etc). You pick a story you like, this takes you to a more detailed description of the city, largely focusing on the factions within it. These descriptions leave out words like “good” and “evil” but instead rely on giving descriptions of the beliefs of these factions and their role in the history of this city. You have to choose a faction to align yourself with. Once you do, you are taken to the “character creator” where you get to pick the look of your character. On this screen is your character, in silhouette to start. Behind it is a representative selection of NPCs in the city you have chosen. Directly behind you and surrounding you are members of your chosen faction, and at the edges are members of the other factions. You aren’t limited in color palettes or textures based on any of your decisions so far, but the crowd around you gives you an idea of the world you will start in. You can choose to make yourself look like your chosen faction, or perhaps like one of the opposing factions – maybe you are a traitor! Or you can make yourself look entirely different from anything shown to you, a true outsider.
Now we get to the crux of my latest brain bothering idea. On this screen, there are a series of checkboxes and dropdowns and sliders and color selectors, all the familiar tools from every other character creator you’ve seen, but there are some differences. For instance, there is a dropdown called “Pronoun” from which you can choose “he”, “she” or “it” (or any additional pronouns we can come up with). This dropdown selects your character’s gender identity – notice, it doesn’t choose gender – andÂ determinesÂ how NPCs and canned emotes will address you. Other checkboxes exist for “Breasts” and “External Genitals” (or something, it needs a better term). Checking those boxes will enable your character to have those items, no restrictions. Yes, you can have a penis, or breasts, or both, or neither! And all of them will have the appropriate sliding adjusters for shapes and sizes. There could even be an option for having only one breast, left or right – your choice. Are there other options? Any “normal” option that exists, like facial hair or tattoos or scars, would be available to everyone without limit.
Despite knowing that in such a system I would pretty much always choose to create standard built males, but that’s largely because I tend to create myself in games (No joke. Meet up with me in any game and if there is the ability to make a bald white goatee-wearing male that’s what I’ll look like. Meet up with me in real life and you’ll see I’m a bald white goatee-wearing male. I like to project me into other worlds rather than to become someone else. I want to meet other people, not be other people.), this idea that enables people to make any combination they want just seems awesome to me. Oddly enough, it’s because of, not in spite of, my predilection for making myself in games, because I want everyone to be able to do that, even if in real life they are a bearded man with breasts who identifies as asexual.
After building the look of the character, they would finally be taken to the skills area, where they would choose their initial skills. I wouldn’t want there to be classes, but I would want there to be sets of templates illustrating skills that would work well together and why, probably encompassing the traditional game roles for MMOs, with, of course, a Custom option where the player could pick their own initial skills from a list of all skills.
Essentially, I want to put as many decisions as possible into the hands of the players. And I want, as much as can be, those decisions to be informed decisions, and anywhere a player has to make a choices that may be considered less than properly informed I want them to be able to easily change them later without having to start all over again from scratch. I want them to choose what they play and how they play it.
Alright, I guess that’s enough out of me for today. Hopefully this all made sense.
First off, I cannot recall the last time I ever really looked at the face of a character in an MMO while I was playing. Largely this is because every game has gone third person, and with the camera pulled back to get a tactical view of the game the opportunity to even see faces, much less the expression on them, is extremely small.
Second, while I think facial expressions might have a place in role play, most MMOs have forsaken role play for game play so much that you have to essentially stop playing the game to talk to other players. The only people doing any serious role play are the ones sitting in town, not playing the game.
And that second point brings me to the one subset of players who will likely make the most use of a technology like this: ERP. If you don’t know what that is, it’s Erotic Role Play. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across it before, maybe wandering into a random empty building in town or through some little played alley (for WoW players, Iron Forge is full of “empty” buildings, and the tunnel the tram uses to go back and forth to Stormwind is one of those “alleys”). Or maybe you’ve been slapped in the face with it (for WoW players, go onto pretty much any of the RP servers, create a human character in Stormwind, and then run down the road to Goldshire – or as some people call it: Pornshire). The simple fact is that beyond a person taking screenshots of themselves in various poses to post on Facebook and other places, the people who will get the most use from facial expressions are the people who sit really really close to each other talking in hushed tones.
Does EQ2 really need this? No, not really. It’s a neat toy, but isn’t going to add very much to the game. But now that it exists and can be in the design of a future MMO in the early stages (for example, EverQuest Next, coming from SOE), perhaps it could be very cool.
That said, the guys over at Second Life are probably already looking into licensing this technology. Now there is a game that would get a ton of use out of the ability to show the world your O face.
Playing around with EverQuest again, I’m reminded how much I love First Person view for MMOs. I play Star Trek Online in “mostly First Person” because you can’t actually go all the way in, but you can get the camera right up behind the character’s shoulder and eliminate the ability to see behind yourself, and immediately the game gains ten times moreÂ immersion. I assume my fascination and love for First Person comes from my love of shooters, especially team based shooters.
However, if the world is going to continue to insist on 3rd person view (probably because retention studies show that people stick around longer when they can constantly see how awesome they look in their latest gear) and that games be playable solo (which I’m not going to get into an argument about), I’d love to see an MMO go full on Party Mode like the old SSI and other RPG games.
And I’m not talking about playing one character and having AI controlled mercenaries. No, I mean the player creates and controls a party of 4 to 6 characters.
Assuming that each character would fill a role in the group, the UI really wouldn’t be much different from today. Instead of playing a single tank character who has a couple dozen abilities for tanking you’d have a character in your group who has a handful of tanking skills. Each character, as far as combat is concerned, is really just 3 to 6 abilities on hot-keys. And you could macro so that you can chain abilities from different group members to execute combo moves.
When traveling, you’d control the lead character and choose a formation for the others to follow.
The game wouldn’t be entirely solo (just solo in a way that makes sense), but you could still group up with another player. You’d join your groups together into raids. An odd advantage to this is that since each group is likely to be fully functional (having their own tanking, healing, DPS and other skills) it simplifies the raid interface by accident. Each player manages their own people and the game really only needs to maintain the players in a raid for chat and loot distribution purposes.
Suddenly a “5 man” raid is actually 20 to 30 characters. The raid events can feel more epic while keeping the people-complexity low – it’s easier to herd 5 people than 25 people. This would also allow events themselves to be more complex yet easier, in that the raid can involve fighting multiple targets or doing synchronous goals (2 or 3 players fight a boss while other players solve puzzles or do other tasks) but without needing to manage entire groups of players for each item.
The more I think about it, and if the MMO trend is going to continue in third person views, the more I like this idea. It definitely needs more thought, but I like the direction it is going very much.
I have long said that I think EVE Online is one of the best MMO game designs out there. Being able to train skills while offline and the entire game being of the “you are what you wear” style where you can take a character with all the skills in the world but if you put him in the shittiest new player frigate, he’s not much better than a new player in the shittiest new player frigate – aside from game knowledge and actual skill at playing. The one thing that always irked me about EVE though is that, essentially, you play a ship.
Yeah, you get to make a picture for yourself, and with the newer expansions you can now walk around in your captain’s quarters. Did they add space station ambulation yet? But for most of the game, you are a ship. A ship with no crew but you.
Two years ago, Cryptic launched Star Trek Online. I had played in the beta, but it hadn’t impressed me enough to be worth $15 a month. But now it’s gone “Free to Play” and I’ve gone back in. They’ve made some updates and I like what I’m seeing.
I am the Captain
The major element that makes STO good, for me, is that I am just the guy in charge. I’m not the ship. Yes, when I do ship combat the difference between Star Trek and EVE are fairly trivial, but to me they are important. The graphics lend themselves to the idea that I’m not actually in a 3rd person view of the ship, but that I’m at the helm looking at a simulation of what all my sensors are telling me. There are pictures of my crew at the bottom of the screen, on whom I can call to use their special abilities to assist in the battle.
Every bit of this game makes me feel like I am leading a team, as opposed to that I’m controlling a single unit. And it feels good.
When we get to ground combat, I have my Away Team, which other games would call henchmen. Except I get to train them and equipment. I get to build, to raise a team to get the job done. I know their names, and when I get new gear or they earn experience, I get excited to help them be better crew members.
Aside from the senior officers, there are also duty officers. Not originally part of the game, they are probably one of my favorite bits of it now. I find tasks that need doing, either on board the ship or away, and I assign my crew to do them. Picking the right crew is important as it affects the outcomes, and when they succeed they bring in experience, credits, items and more. Critical successes can result in double rewards or even buffs for me and our ship. Most importantly, it is another thing that makes me feel like a captain. (I also earned a couple of levels on my character just by logging in a few minutes a day and using my Duty Officers during a week or so when I couldn’t play for real.)
Until the Next Episode
Recently, the MMO world has been abuzz with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and mostly for their focus on story. By this, people really mean that you get to choose answers to dialog trees that lead you toward either the dark or the light. For me, that is completely uninteresting because I would probably 99% of the time pick the light side answer. In general, I just don’t play games to be the bad guy. I like being the hero, and face it, the Sith side aren’t the heroes.
For me, good story simply means it’s told well enough that I become engaged to the story. And one thing Star Trek Online does well is tell engaging stories – if you read them, that is. Although, some missions do have voice overs. But another thing they do that I like is that their “accept” answers are simple, matter of fact “Accept this mission” and “Beam down to planet” and not more involved, essentially putting words in my mouth. I like it when my MMO lets me be me, instead of trying to tell me who I am (I’m looking directly at you, Cataclysm Goblin Starter Area).
Even more, while the game does have its share of random and daily quests (we’ll come back to those in a second), there are chunks of content that are doled out in episodic form. I sit down, startÂ the next episode, and in a half hour to an hour, I’ve played out a whole plot. Very much like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. I love it!
The Non-RepetitiveÂ Dailies
Some games have implemented a form of Daily Quest, things you can do once a day, every day. In a few games it is literally the same quest over and over. In other games, it’s a selection of quests that rotate through on a schedule – it looks random at first, but every one is getting the same random quest, so what’s really happening is that the server is cycling through a list of quests.
STOs Daily Quests are more along the lines of what you would expect from a foundation of a continuing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. You are asked to go to a cluster or sector of space, seek out random spawning anomalies and systems, and complete three adventures. Sometimes you are just scanning unusual formations. Sometimes you deliver supplied to people in need. Other times you defend outposts under attack. Just the other day, I had to beam down to the surface of a planet that was only in the Stone Age level of technology and retrieve a fallen probe before they discovered it, without being detected myself.
Sure, I get repeats now and then, but there appear to be enough of them, a few dozen at least, that it doesn’t happen often. Oh, and there is a daily to do three player created missions.
That’s right. Players have the ability to create content in The Foundry.
Free to Play Pay
I still find the “Free to Play” moniker to be a bit troublesome. Yes, you can play for free, but there are, as always, limitations. Though these may be some of the mostÂ lenientÂ limits I’ve seen. Some of them are even lifted by simply buying something, once from the store. I already bought one thing, and I can see myself buying access to certain ships or other things in the future.
I’m enjoying it. Here are a few screen shots of my current ship.
It’s August and that means it’s time to start the final prep work for Dragon*Con. Â I’ll be working staff again this year. Â If you are going, drop by the MMO Track (we own the Sheraton and can always be found in the Savannah room, but at other times will be in the various ballrooms of that hotel) and say “Hi!”
Speaking of the MMO Track, one of about a dozen reasons I haven’t been posting here lately is because I’ve been working on a series of posts for the track website all about what we have in store for the big weekend. Â The first post is up, six more will follow.
Going along with my last post, I was reminded that the Atlanta Radio Theater Company performs at the con each year. Â I’ve been having lots of fun listening to other radio shows recently, so I think I’m going to make an effort to see them.
In any event, last year I was sort ofÂ a deer in headlights. Â While I had gone to con for many years, however my first year working it I had lots of fun but I felt like I was always hyper-vigilant, trying extra hard to make sure I didn’t screw up too badly. Â This year, I know what to expect, so I can relax a little bit. Â I’m also incredibly excited about our line up. Â The Darkmoon Faire looks to be awesome, and we’ve got a couple of panels for The Guild (and a marathon viewing of all 4 -maybe 5- seasons). Â I can hardly wait!
Over at the Ancient Gaming Noob, Wilhelm discusses briefly his need for a flight sim MMO and then posts about World of Warplanes. Â He asks in the title and at the end, “What else do we need?”
I’ll tell you what we need: World of Submarines.
The best part of this idea is that it wouldn’t need a high-end gaming system because I wouldn’t want to have a vehicle shooter where you drive around in your sub, strafing as you launch torpedoes at other players. Â No, I’m talking about 688 Attack Sub type play, sticking closer to reality. Â The player gets the deck of his sub, from which he can get status readouts of his hull and other systems, sonar screens, maps. Â The only time “real” graphics would come into play would be through the periscope and if the game is restricted almost entirely to submerged play then all the periscope would get you is a view of other periscopes. Â In fact, you could even remove it altogether and include “periscope depth” as just a place to go to get communications and other elements.
Taken a step further, without a new for huge graphic worlds, you might be able to have multiplayer subs, with people connecting together to run various stations. Â Sure, you can run a boat on your own, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to have a sonar tech giving you the readings, a driver taking your directions and someone else loading and firing your torpedoes? Â Damn right it would!
Someone, somewhere needs to get on this immediately!
Since I tend to want to approach games with the thought of immersing myself into the world, I tend to do weird stuff. Â At least, things other people think are weird. Â Like, while playing the game Red Dead Redemption, I never used the camping method of fast travel until after I’d completed the story and was just chasing achievements. Â I used the wagons, and I even did the thing there you hit the button, John says “I’m going to sleep” and you skip the travel parts, because, you know, that made sense. Â But setting up a campfire and a tent, and suddenly being halfway across the game world… immersion breaking.
With that in mind, you can imagine how I feel about logging into an MMO and finding a world where everyone is running, full speed, all the time. Â The funny things is, back in my days of EverQuest, people were more apt to switch over to walking, at least while in town and perhaps a little more pliable to role-playing as opposed to when they were sitting in a group on a wall whacking mobs for experience and loot. Â In World of Warcraft, however, I don’t think I ever saw a person walk until I went to the RP labeled servers.
In my perfect MMO, walking would be the norm, and every player would have an endurance bar. Â There wouldn’t just be walking and running either, there would be varying speeds you could toggle/cycle through. Â Walking to fast walking to jogging to running to sprinting, each having an increasing effect on endurance drain. Â And players could get bonuses to endurance recovery, and even reductions in endurance drain for special situations. Â Like, if you just switch over to sprinting for no reason at all, endurance would drain at X rate, but if you enter into combat and your adrenaline is now pumping, sprinting would drain endurance at, perhaps, X/2 rate, allowing you to sprint longer to flee an overpowered NPC foe.
I’ve yet to decide if this endurance would be used in other places, like fighting for example, but I’m leaning toward not. Â At least not the same endurance pool anyway.
Here begins a series of posts, when I remember to do them, in which I will discuss the elements that would make up the perfect MMO for me.
One of the things I hate most in games is levels that “matter”. Â And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level. Â However, I do understand the desire to have a constantly rising metric by which players can compare themselves or show some aspect of their selves to others.
In my perfect MMO, there would be levels and there would be experience gained through killing, questing, crafting and any number of other things. Â These levels would be entirely a measure of effort. Â If you kill 8,000,000 rats earning 10 exp per rat, your level will be higher than someone who has killed only 1 ogre for 1,000 exp. Â However, if the two of you were to face off in combat, how you played, what abilities you used and other factors would determine the outcome, not level.
Level would simply be… well… experience. Â A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”. Â As that person played the game and did things they would become a “Novice” or “Neophyte” and progress up through different titles until they eventually reached something like “Extraordinarily Experienced Grand Master” or some such. Â This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience. Â If you did so through a majority of exploration you might be “Worldly Grand Master”, or if you did so by crafting you might be a “Grand Master of Labors”.
Looking at a person’s “level” (which would not be expressed by a number, at least not a single number) would actually tell you a bit of the story of their lives. Â And that is why such a system appeals to me. Â It also appeals because unless you plan so poorly that you exhaust the entire English language by allowing people to gain ten or twenty levels per session, you could literally have infinite leveling. Â All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.