Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

A MMORPG Should Be Like A Vacation

Posted by Stropp on May 10, 2012

Yesterday when I wrote about what I think Bioware is doing wrong, I made the following statement:

If SW:TOR has been released five years ago it might have been the WoW killer everyone has been dreaming of, but instead it has been released at a time when there appears to be a growing disatisfaction with the subscription themepark model.

I said this, in part, because I’m a part of the group feeling that disatisfaction with the themepark model.

The problem I find is that I also enjoy the direction inherent in a themepark. You go to a location, do a bunch of quests that when complete direct you to the next area. It’s a big step up from having no direction and having to kill a ton of mobs in order to get to the level where you can go to the next area that defined games like Everquest.

But this model has the problem that it can get a bit tedious after a while. After all, the quests all blend in to one. And when a game is entirely based on the quest-to-level-cap model it ends up being limited.

On the other hand, a pure sandbox has its problems too. New players starting up may find the lack of direction quite daunting, especially coming from a traditional themepark like WoW. Sometimes too many choices without any direction can be as bad as a completely directed experience.

That’s why I think that MMORPGs should be like a vacation (or holiday as we say here in Oz.)

When you go on a vacation you get to choose what you want to do. You can stay in a national park and go hiking one day. The next day you can visit Disneyland. The third day you can ride a tour bus, and the fourth day you can get into the car and spend more time at the spots you visited in the bus the day before. The fifth day you can visit a waterpark. There are themeparks sure, but you can spend as much or as little time in them as you want.

So why can’t a MMO be like this? A big game with lots of sandbox features, but with individual unconnected themeparks

To make a MMORPG more like a vacation you need:

  1. A game with a lot of sandbox features, where the players have a lot of autonomy to play and interact with the world, like Eve for example, lots of crafting, trading, PvP… everything like that.
  2. Some direction for players who are not sure what they can do. Missions perhaps. Not necessarily story based. These are like the bus tours showing a general overview of places you can go back to later to explore in more depth.
  3. Some areas in the game that offer a quest chain with a decent story. Disneyland anyone?

The difference is that the themepark areas are not the focus of progression, they are just things that a player can do and spend as much or as little time as they want. When a player gets bored of the quest areas they can leave and do something else in the game. Or they can never set foot in them, and not be disadvantaged.

So, with the rising disatisfaction in themepark design, and the still somewhat niche status of the sandbox game, perhaps it’s time to see some games that combine the two models. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

Been There, Done That, Let’s Go Back

Posted by Stropp on November 15, 2011

I haven’t been playing Skyrim. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that all this wheeling dealing businessy stuff is taking up my time at the moment and Skyrim deserves a level of monogamy I cannot promise. That still doesn’t stop me from looking askance at this gorgeous supermodel of a game, and occassionally wondering if it’s okay to cheat on my business commitment a little.

And just to be clear, because so many take things the wrong way, by looking askance I mean reading reviews and blogs about Skyrim, and by cheat I mean spending money I don’t have to buy the game and play it for many many hours while I should be working. I’m not a cad. Honest.

Anyway, back on track eh? Keen at Keen and Graev’s makes the statement today, MMO worlds should be like Skyrim. He wants a MMO world to be spacious, and adventuresome, with players (or should I say inhabitants?) feeling a connection with a certain area and hanging around these places.

I agree.

But it’s been done.

Asheron’s Call 1 was like that. Huge open spaces where you could walk for ages and not see another player. Turn in any direction and you could follow your nose across the map and not come across any contrived barriers. Sporadic towns and villages dotted the map. And players, many of them, formed attachments to certain towns and would return after venturing across the map.

There are a couple of other games like that too. Eve Online falls under that category, giving players quite a lot of freedom in both highsec and losec space. Anarchy Online I remember, while it had artificial barriers in places, gave adventurers lots of room to move. And of couse there is ATITD where you can barely sneeze without encountering a player built town around some resource.

Unfortunately however players have gradually fallen victim to the curse of the zone. Everquest 1 was the first game to artificially restrict players to entering and exiting zones from certain locations by using contrived barriers like impassable mountains to restrict player movement. At the time, this was certainly due to technical restrictions, but over the years other games like WoW have continued this tradition even though they had no technological need to do so.

So when Keen laments that Worlds should be like Skyrim, I certainly agree. I’d love to see less restrictions on how players travel across the world, and what they can do while there. Certainly server tech is now powerful enough to overcome many limitations of zoneless servers, and the software technology to implement such a server is at least understood, and very likely solves the problems that zoneless worlds have.

The themepark however has other ideas. They work best by funneling players from ride to ride, and zone to zone, and by at best giving the illusion of freedom. It’s a thin illusion though, easily shattered.

The big open world has been done. Let’s go back.

In Defence Of Themepark MMORPGs

Posted by Stropp on April 11, 2011

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… oh wait. Let me begin again. A long time ago, early in my gaming career, I bought a little game called Warcraft 2. It was my first Real Time Strategy game. I played through both campaigns, then went out and bought the expansion pack. After that I looked around for other RTS games, and over time found and played Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Starcraft, and other several other RTSes. I simply loved the whole resource gathering, base building gameplay style. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Then one day I went out and bought another Real Time Strategy game, I can’t remember what it was called, but it thoroughly disgusted me. There was no resource gathering. There was no base building. The player was provided with a fixed number of units and had to complete the mission with just those. I didn’t complete the first mission. I felt conned because I didn’t get what I expected to get.

All of a sudden, there were heaps of these kinds of games on the market, and they were replacing the old-style RTS. At least it seemed that way. The commentators were proclaiming that these games improved the RTS concept by getting rid of the resource gathering design. I didn’t feel that way. In my mind, these games weren’t Real Time Strategy games because they lacked the basic functionality. Namely, resource gathering and base building.

Now I see it a little differently.

These two styles of RTS are completely different. The only real similarity between them is that the player controls units on a map and sends them against an opponent. But the basic style is that of a strategy game, and since the action occurs in ‘real time’ rather than turn based, it’s appropriate to consider both styles as sub-genres of Real Time Strategy.

So these days when I hear criticism that the MMORPG genre is stagnant and how games like Rift aren’t different enough from WoW I find myself wondering if many of these commentators aren’t missing a fundamental point.

 

Games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest 2, Aion, and others that many disparagingly refer to as ‘Theme Parks’ are a single variety of MMORPG. Others like Eve, Perpetuum, and Darkfall fall into a second variety of MMORPG, mostly refered to as ‘Sandbox’ games. Simply put, the MMORPG genre has at least two sub-genres: themepark and sandbox.

Some players will prefer one type of game over another. Just as I prefered base building resource gathering RTSes and couldn’t stand the other kind, (I even hated those types of missions in WarcraftC&CRed Alert) there will be people who prefer themepark over sandbox, or vice versa. Some players will enjoy both styles of gameplay. However, most people will prefer one over the other, even if they enjoy both.

To state that Rift doesn’t change the style of gameplay that was developed in WoW sufficiently enough and then complain about it, is akin to complaining that Starcraft is not sufficiently different from Command and Conquer. Both games are themepark style MMOs with no real sandbox elements, to get upset about that doesn’t make sense. What is being suggested, by these complaints, is that developers should not be making new themepark games.

The simple fact of the matter is that Rift, Aion, and World of Warcraft all implement a style of game that people want to play. Complaining about it doesn’t change that fact that if a themepark MMORPG is made and doesn’t botch up the launch, then people will want to play it. It also appears that more people want to play a themepark MMO, than a sandbox MMO.

Unfortunately, big companies are only interested in developing MMORPGs that will provide a decent return on investment. Coupled with the huge investment required to develop a AAA MMORPG, these companies are only willing to invest in gameplay styles proven to generate that ROI. That means, for the foreseeable future, the predominant development of MMORPGs will be of the Themepark variety.

So when someone complains that Rift is too much like WoW (for example) they are simply saying that they would have prefered the developer create their MMORPG under a different sub-genre. That’s like suggesting that “When Harry Met Sally” should have been a wartime action movie, rather than a romantic comedy. (Although, I suggest any romantic comedy would be better as any other type of movie genre!)

Tell me what you think.

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