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On The Virtual Precipice of Design Concepts

This blog will discuss design concepts (or game mechanics) that have yet to be implemented effectively or at all in mmorpgs. I'm not a developer, but I am a long time gamer, and especially online gamer (since 1996).

Author: Antioche

Episode Two: The Worlds We've Dreamed Of

Posted by Antioche Sunday March 1 2009 at 3:22PM
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In my last blog I talked about systems of relationships that exist in the real world as well as the general makeup of a society. Today I am going to discuss the worlds that exist in the imaginations of humans. Fantasy worlds that have been crafted for the purpose of telling a story, or set of stories, are numerous. They exist in literature, film, television, and of course video games. The best ones are full of life, full of conflict, full of scary monster and sadistic villains, and best of all, full of great food. =) One thing they tend to be scarce on are heroes, these seem to come in small quantity so that their acts might be all the more amazing and heroic. (This presents a practical dilemma for people making 'games' around such worlds.)

They are also full of dialogue. At the heart of relationships is the need for communication. Yet the communication in the mmorpgs tends to be stunted, and lacks creativity, or appeal. There's little narrative being told in the conversations between two people in a mmorpg. This presents yet another problem.

As another person who recently blogged on mmorpg.com suggest one of the things we really need is a believable world. We need to create the illusion that there is a certain routine within each day in the virtual world. One where people awaken and eat breakfast, and go to work, or school. Where the sun rises and sets, and rain clouds roll in. Where earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes, and forest fires wreak havoc upon the land. And rebuilding becomes part of life. One where wars take place, not indefinitely, but for a period of time. Which real battles, real objectives to defend a piece of land, and the potential for loss of that land. A place when a character could grow old and learn things, and change things. A place where this alter ego could attain power in this virtual world, whether it be a religious following, or political power, or military might. One might gain followers (real and artificial), and seek to take hold of a nation, or make his/her own. All of this would be possible.

All of these things have occured in books I've read, and much stranger of course. It is the potential for a much more fantastical experience that lures us in. We want something extraordinary as well. Yet I feel that we must tend to the basics. Simply letting everyone be a jedi, or a death knight, or whatever might sound nice from a "Let's please everybody" point of view, but in practice it doesn't make for a convincing virtual world. Especially when the nitty gritty details are left unattended in favor of simply throwing as much magical crap at a player as possible in the hopes they won't mind the shoddy virtual world they live in.

Another thing that wrankles with me is the use of "mob spawns" as a place where players should go to gain experience. With the token grindy quests to assist the player in his/her pursuit of the next level. It seems to me that conflict need not occur everywhere, and certainly it shouldn't simply be expected. While dangers can and will be sought out by the adventurous type, I don't feel that angry badgers and bullfrogs need inhabit the shire (for instance). Why can't the shire be a peaceful place? Tolkein certainly portrayed it as such. And while there were a few places that were dangerous (like the woods with those trees), most were quite harmless and peaceful. In crafting a virtual world it is wise to consider creating beautiful and serene spaces for the inhabitants to enjoy without feeling threatened. While towns and cities are nice for this, places in natural settings are just as good, if not better in some ways. Druids tend to feel this way, as do shamans.

Ok, I think I've rambled enough in this blog. If you have any questions, or suggestions please comment. I enjoy hearing what people have to say, especially if you disagree. =)

In my next episode, which I will write shortly, I am going to discuss two points I brought up here: the need for dialogue, and the need for daily routines of npc mobs in a virtual world.

MMORPG.com writes:
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