At a very basic level, immersion is not very difficult to create but it is incredibly difficult to maintain in the MMO space; a genre that demands systems and repetition thereof to function effectively.
MMOs in recent times have had a difficult time crafting believable, living worlds. In this article I hope to explore how Carbine can go about overcoming the challenge in WildStar.
It begins with aesthetics, Blizzard has managed to maintain a cohesive theme in World of Warcraft for a number of years with a graphical style that can be preserved indefinitely without gradual updates to the game engine and new art assets breaking their design principles.
Carbine are obviously looking to continue this practice in WildStar with a style that many have, not unfairly, described as a marriage between a Pixar movie and Firefly.
The art team at Carbine is in a unique position in that they are developing an entirely new IP, they have complete freedom to create without being constrained by rulesets of a pre-existing universe, something that SW:TOR, Guild Wars 2 and even World of Warcraft have had to deal with, and they are doing so in a bold new style.
The really difficult part of designing a world in an MMORPG is making the world feel alive.
There are pitfalls here that many dev teams have fallen to; Have too few world events going on and the world feels stale, too may and players begin to see the structure of the world around them as nothing but a set of systems, something that Guild Wars 2 and Warhammer Online fell prey to previously.
Trion actually has demonstrated one of the best approaches to this dilema in recent years, balancing static quest hubs with massive, pseudo-random zone wide events that genuinely affected players zone progression dynamically by breaking the linearity of a zone and by taking quest hubs out of commission entirely until invasions are dealt with.
Carbine are offering a different solution with their Path system by allowing players to interact with the world in a manner of their own choosing.
This is interesting as it will give players and communities real power by granting them tool-sets to change the world around them as Settlers build up towns and quests hubs as they progress with the aid of other players and Soldiers initiate battles that anyone can join.
Another facet of a living world is that it needs deeply engaging history and lore with memorable characters and room to grow.
World of Warcraft has demonstrated a masterclass in this area, with almost 20 years of Warcraft history woven with new ideas, a consant sense of mystery and a stream of remarkable personalities they have created easily the best loved universe in MMO history.
Carbine, again, is in a perfect position to bring WildStar to life with the begginings of their own universe that will concievably extend beyond Nexus one day.
Scientists will be allowed to to unlock snippets of lore as they progress through the world and Explorers but it is critically important that carbine keep some cards to their chest, a huge part of player engagement in this area will come from leaving holes to be filled by their imagination and create community dialogue with lore speculation.
Ultimately, it isn't simply about Carbine creating an immersive world, it is about them creating a lasting legacy by giving their playerbase the tools and the freedom of imagination to make WildStar their own.