Tag Archive for My Perfect MMO

The Ultimate MMO Launch

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.

True Creation of Character

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.

City of Heroes - Character Creator

Kung-Fu Super Hero

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 limited 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 – and determines 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.

The story of my gloves…

One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it.  In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon.  It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes.  I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play.  I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants.  They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.

And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.

In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale.  No more crazy strength of 874.  There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25.  With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact.  Magic items would then be more rare.  In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen.  The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell.  Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes.  More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.

Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.

I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk.  In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons.  Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game.  Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure.  Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued.  Every item I carried was a story.  The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.

I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.

All Running, All the Time

Since I tend to want to approach games with the thought of immersing myself into the world, I tend to do weird stuff.  At least, things other people think are weird.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  There wouldn’t just be walking and running either, there would be varying speeds you could toggle/cycle through.  Walking to fast walking to jogging to running to sprinting, each having an increasing effect on endurance drain.  And players could get bonuses to endurance recovery, and even reductions in endurance drain for special situations.  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.  At least not the same endurance pool anyway.

Infinite Leveling

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”.  And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level.  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.  These levels would be entirely a measure of effort.  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.  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.  A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”.  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.  This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience.  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.  And that is why such a system appeals to me.  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.  All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.