Monday, March 28, 2011

MMO, What Are You Good For?

It's in everybody's mind, lately. What exactly do we want out of these games? What would make us all line up across the block to purchase a game, makes us antsy at work to play it, make us laugh manically to see happen? Ok, maybe that last one is just me.

I've been thinking about and discussing this a lot (I care about this alot *snicker*). You can blame this fellow. It's been a common topic at the dinner table and that's where my mind wanders on the daily commute.

I've spent a lot of time playing Bioware RPGs lately and I've enjoyed them. A lot of what they did there is what I needed to spend my time with. The battle and progression systems are just challenging enough to keep me playing but not so easy that I just don't care. But what really makes me play them is the story. And not the story in itself but the protagonists of such story. It's the connection I've made with them.

I was watching Mike finish up DA:O during the weekend. 'I can't believe you just told that poor woman to kill her own baby!' I said all flustered. He sneered and, without turning to meet my gaze, he answered: 'You do realize that there is no baby. There is no woman. There's just code.' Of course, he would say that. He's a software developer by trade. But, to me, there was a woman and she did have a baby and he had just killed it by proxy. Ultimately, I know it's just code but what they did with it made me love and hate, happy and sad.

Humans are drama whores by design. We crave emotional connections to things. It is how we find our mates and subsequently reproduce. We need to feel something. And this feeling thing releases endorphins that make us giddy. It is what we live for. Ok, it might not be the meaning of life itself but it's a pretty good thing. It is, if nothing else, a driving force.

I was in the shower thinking "how can I feel this emotional connection with an MMO?" Although I do not doubt that one day the entire spectrum and complexity of human emotion can be expressed in a coding language to then be reproduced by any common household computer, we're still a bit of a ways to go yet. So how can a setting that is massive by definition and must cater to the needs and desires of a multitude of players make me feel connected to it?

I then started thinking what could be taken out of a single-player RPG and be applied to an MMO. Like the concept of party. Although there usually is a main character in a s-p, they usually throw a few more controlable characters in the mix. 'What if you could control a whole bunch of characters and you went out like a mercenary bunch?' I said, jumping out the shower. 'The koreans did it,' was the answer I got. 'Ok but, what if you could, you know, start a business, like a gambling house! And then you could take your mercenary bunch and hunt down people who didn't pay!' Oh, I was on a roll! 'I did it,' he said. 'In Ultima Online. It was called Head Hunting. There was a player run gambling hall callled Salty Dog and they'd post bounties on people who didn't pay.' I then got lectured on how UO was the best game ever, with the possible exception of DAOC. 'If they revamped DAOC,' he went on to say, 'as in, gave it a complete makeover, that's what I'd be playing right now'.

As for me, I don't know. I never played either of those two games when they were hip, I can't see myself playing them now. Anyways, my idea with the mercenary bunch was along the lines of having characters you got to know and love/hate that didn't necessarily have to be other players. Lord knows there must've been many marriages concocted and ruined over MMOs and even in roleplaying servers it must be kind of awkward for, say, two straight men, one playing a girl char the other a boy char, to be all lovey-dovey to each other.

There once was this JRPG called Suikoden, the main focus of which was to gather 108 possible party members. Yes, that's right. You went around the world recruiting people to put in your castle to build your army. Each of them had a story (even if not a very deep one) as each of them was a "Star of Destiny". What if you could do something like that? And then you could pit your forces agains other people's recruits and friends and maybe even kill their love interest Oh, the drama. Nowadays, nothing in an MMO is lasting. No end-game redefines the game itself. And what's the point of getting to the end of the game if your efforts are worth jack shit? I wish we could change these worlds.

Or maybe not, I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm not very good at making things up. But the fact remains that I don't feel a connection with that guy that tells me to go kill five Goblins and then return to him with their trinkets. I feel, at best, annoyed. Get your own fucking trinkets. Why would anyone need creepy Goblin trinkets anyway? What sick dark rituals are you trying to make me an accomplice of?? Maybe I would know if I deigned to read the quests but I don't because I don't like you. I don't even know you. Why do I "grow as a person" (read gain experience) by collecting Goblin body parts and accessories for you? The more I think about it, the more all of this seems weird to me. I don't yet know what I really want from an MMO but what they are today is not it.


  1. First off, thanks for linking my blog.

    Probably the biggest satisfaction of writing a post for me is to see it spark discussion and thinking. The post I did on MMORPGs was especially aimed at that, which it seems to have accomplished in a few readers. Joy. :)

    I love how you are able to define what makes an immersive game for you. I reckon you hit the nail on the head, since I'm fairly sure that an emotional link with the characters, setting, music, art,... is what makes a game immersive for most players. And successful immersion is a huge part of what makes players regard a game as good.

    I might be reading too much into your post, but it seems that you are craving for an MMO in which you could create your own adventure. Running a gambling house, a band of mercenaries, would you be satisfied with games that were building on that concept? Such an MMO would be a one-trick pony, just like WoW or Rift with it's themepark design. It seems that what you are asking for is a sandbox game, where you could create any adventure you would want, share it with the world and play through it.

    There are beginnings of such games out there, but the problem is that they are very much in their infancy (development and design-wise) and that they are very very hard to get into, since the accessibility factor doesn't mesh well with MMO sandboxiness (it's hard to cater to everyone's needs, as you note, and have a world flexible enough to be a true sandbox). In a few years time though, who knows...

    Sorry if I'm thinking to much on this, but I can't help it. :P And thanks again for providing discussion and further food for thought. :)

  2. Hmmm, maybe I am craving for something, as you call it, sanboxish. The very concept of that, though somewhat eludes me. We don't have sandboxes here. Combining small children with sand just doesn't seem right, somehow, infants being prone to shove whatever they get their mits on in a multitude of bodily orifices.

    The fact that these games do exist but are in their infancy might mean that I am ahead of my time. How awesome is that! Doesn't change the fact that what I'm looking for is not in what I've been seeing. One-trick pony or no, it would be a welcomed change.

  3. Maybe I'm harping on it too much, to too many people, in too many places, but as Blaq said, you seem to want a sandbox. There are a couple options CURRENTLY available.

    EVE, is my choice du jour. It's great for players too if you can get over the learning curve. Which is easier if you have a friendly blogger who plays regularly you can pester with questions.

    Darfkall. When I did the trial for this, I really, really liked it. Mostly. I enjoy fantasy, but prefer sci-fi. Also, it felt constantly laggy, even on the NA server for me. And that's a big hurdle to over-come. However, the best part about it, was that it felt like a WORLD again.

    Perpetuum. Another sci-fi sandbox, that is heavily influenced stylistically by EVE. It's like EVE, only you get giant robots instead of spaceships. Battletech FTW.

    An upcoming game that a reader (and fellow blogger) clued me into, that looks different and interesting is Xsyon. Post-apocalyptic set in the NW of the States, in lake Tahoe area.

    Lots more upcoming as well. I sincerely believe that sandboxes are the best current choice for those who are in search of virtual worlds as opposed to MMO games.