Been a while. I hope that everyone has been doing well.
My current game is down for the day and so I thought I'd pop over here and think out loud about some things that I've been wondering about this morning, namely, "Will there ever be a way to completely immerse a player into an MMORPG game?
Sure, sure, we've all heard the myths. "Skyrim! Skyrim!, Elder Scrolls! Bethesda!!" etc... and I'm sure that those games are both fun to play and immersive, but let me say for starters that...
1. It isn't very hard to immerse yourself into a game when you are the only person playing it.
2. That level of difficulty increases exponentially with the addition of even one other person. And it continues to become more and more difficult to stay immersed with each and every addition afterward.
The reason for this problem being, in my understanding, entirely mechanical.
To support this theory, I give you a few examples to think about.
Everquest (The Original) - A game that's reach clearly exceeded it's grasp, intended to give the player a sandbox environment in which they could stumble around and make their own decisions about the life and future of the character that said player built from almost scratch. It was hard to learn, even harder to master, but in the end (and keep in mind, this game is still live) mastery only resulted in watering down several tens of levels of obtained, and learned attacks and spells, into one or two repetitive functions per class at the end of the game.
In fact, many a tank was it that would either, out of lack of purpose, or pure boredom that would be forced to re-roll their character into something more "needed" as the reality of the cookie cutter raid group began to realize itself.
It was really quite simple to tell the truth, Tanks were there to take the brunt of the damage and so that was your job, taunt! taunt! Do your biggest damage attacks!! Taunt some more! If you were a healer your job was to heal! heal! For the love of the gods HEAL!!! Enchanter? Feed me Seymore!! OOP!! OOP!! (That means out of power by the way).
And then there were the fun classes, thieves and wizards, pure DPS (damage per second for the layman). If the responsibility of the first three classes mentioned was too much to keep our "one value meal at a time please" fast food generation from getting lost in the fray, these folks had even less to worry about, their primary task being to do damage and don't die!! Stop dying!!! Why do you keep stealing freaking aggro?!?! (aggro meaning, the attention of the thing that you are trying to kill).
So that was it. After some 50, then 60, then 70, then 80, then 90 etc.. levels of cultivating a plethora of fighting skills, armors, potions, and specialty items, your level of immersion at end game was reduced to your basic common denominator...
Tanks - Taunt
Healers - Heal
Enchanters - Feed the group power (because that crowd control theory went right out the window, which is an entirely different blog entry).
DPS - DPS
Oh yeah, and Necromancers? HAHA!! there is a term that is sometimes used in the urban community called "arse out" (albeit a bit more vulgar). Necro's were arse out in most of these situations as a large portion of their powers were focused around a pet character that was simply too complicated to integrate into this basic model.
Now I'm sure that things got better over the years....at least I hope they did. But what I know for sure is that this basic model has been followed since it was developed in this game, and to this day it is still the basic model being used by just about every one of the hundreds of different MMO's listed on this very website.
Ok, so I'm not hating. Honestly! In fact I still play a game like this to this day. And I still raid, and I still do my best to do that one thing that I am expected to do during those raids the best I can. And I guess you could say that, in doing that, I am just a little bit immersed in my game...
but understand something.... this is a choice that I make.
Because right beside me, in almost every raid, there is a guy who has not achieved a fraction of what I have achieved in the process of building my character. In fact, he or she, didn't even look at their characters spells or abilities until said character had already hit the maximum level of the game AFTER going through an arduous, but less than immersive, power-leveling session to reach that level.
The point here being, after all is said and done, any attempt at immersion that is is not strictly enforced by the code of the game can, and will be circumvented by the player who simply does not choose to be immersed.
Wow, speaking of immersion, this has become quite an immersive topic. (Just so you know that I know).
So then you say, "Well Jesad? What are we supposed to do? Do you think we are idiots? We have attempted to put things into the game to make them immersive before but each time that we do their is a great uproar from your community in regards to their time and money and etc...in addition to a great sucking sound such as the one heard many years before when a certain OTHER mmo company came out with a game that could only be called "easy-mode Everquest" in comparison!!!"
Well here is where my head is at. (And yes, I know that I ended that sentence with a preposition, made you feel comfortable though didn't it?) I will begin at the end.
To your right you may see, based on whatever add is being displayed on this page right now, an ESRB content rating. Now to keep from going on and on about what that is, basically the ESRB content rating is just like the rating system used at the movie theatres. It lets you know if the content of your video game is appropriate for children or not.
Well here is the first idea. Why not develop a content rating for game immersion? In other words, develop a system that would alert the player, in advance, to the level of difficulty that may be required to play said game.
Returning to Everquest (The Original) as a model, back in the beginning, there were quite a few immersion tools included in that game that really presented a challenge to its players.
Faction - This was a huge mechanical tool that existed in Everquest that not only presented challenges to the PVE player, but to the PVP player as well. Being able to create friendships or enmity with city guards marked one of the biggest game functions ever to be completely minimized from Everquest to Everquest 2.
Faction grinding, which used to consist of proving to the enemy of your enemy that you were their friend through a simple gesture of killing a great deal of their enemies, was reduced to a single, fairly easy quest.
Languages - Again, something that had to be taught by one player to another player in the original Everquest, and which the lack of actually prohibited certain players from completing certain tasks was reduced to a Matrixy kind of merchant deal in the second iteration of the title whereas a player could simply walk up to a merchant and "purchase" the understanding of several different languages all at once.
Even worse, after said purchase was made, the skill became invisible. NEVER in Everquest 2 is a player required to change languages in order to understand, or speak to anyone. I would venture to say that if you logged into that game right now and asked 20 passerby's how to even perform such a task that they would not be able to tell you.
And even more...
Camping - Yes, the actual WAITING for something to take place. Gone from most modern games it is often one of the most immediate memories that older players have of their lives and times in the games that they now refer to as their favorites.
I could go on and on about the older tools that, instead of being expanded upon, where simply taken away for the sake of earning a more massive appeal, but then I would miss out on discussing what actually think is the biggest block against immersion that currently exists in any MMORPG.
The question comes to mind, when are we going to developed a game in which the basic means that players currently have of communicating with one another doesn't instantly pull you out of your immersive state? Because let me tell you something, there is nothing I hate more than talking to one guy and having him sound like Shakespeare, or Thor, or someone, while another guy is calling another guy a virgin in OOC chat.
Let's face it people, the medieval thing is worn out. So is the fantasy thing, the Star thing, and all of those other things that you are spending oodles of money to develop just so that people can, through their own insecurity, ignore them.
Sure, when it's good it's good. In fact some of the best times I've had in MMO's has been when I could clearly differentiate between players with good intentions and players with bad ones, and like I have mentioned in the past, I have for years played alongside what I believe is one of the greatest evil roleplayers of all times (Varadin), but the honest truth is that people simply aren't that black or white, and when put to the litmus test, most people come out on the darker side of grey. So then, how do we define a genre in which a players actions actually quantify whether they are good or evil or something in between?
Everquest 2 attempted to do this in the beginning by separating good from evil entirely. These were good times. If you were a good player you didn't even understand the language of the evil player. You were not allowed to go into their lands, work on their quests, or anything else.
That lasted less than a year. And I can only assume that it was out of pure laziness that it did not continue. You see, in order to have that kind of separation you have to build not one but TWO different kinds of games. But I ask you, in hindsight, how much cooler would that game have been if they had continued on with that line of thinking?
What I am thinking however is something a bit simpler. A simple rating attached to each quest that lists the quest as being a good action or an evil one, and a player rating that lists the average of what kind of quest the player chooses to complete along with an overall rating that lists whether the player is a quester or not at all? In the end you will come out with something like this...
With the resulting good/evil percentage dictating what quests and rewards become available to the player in the future. Of course, there is no real reason to punish either behavior, this effect would simply open up replayabilty as a player who plays the evil version of the game would not be able to see, or participate in the good version of the game. Other enhancements could be made by assigning particular damage types to one side or another, as well as particular clothing, communication, or decorating functions.
Now again, I understand, all of these things that I am talking about are the enemies of certain terms that all MMO's need to survive, mass appeal being the greatest of them all. But just like a window in a burning building that is too small to allow everyone to escape, I say that every game focusing only on mass appeal is causing the industry to sink into a pit from which many a company can not, and will not return.
Mortal Online is just about the hardest damn game to get into, survive in, and play on the market right now. It is sandboxy, it is segregated, it is broken down into very little pieces, and all of these pieces need to work together in order for the game to work, and yet I know people, ex-everquest players, ex-wow players who swear by it and will never stop hoping that they eventually catch on.
Wow has been around for years, it has become a generational thing, it is easy to learn, easy to play, and I know people who will never play anything else.
Everquest is still running. And this is in spite of there being an Everquest 2 that has been active for over 7 years, and an Everquest Next on the way down the pike, and still, there are people who have been there this entire time, and the same can be said of Everquest 2.
All of these games are different in their level of difficulty, and with that level of difficulty, their immersion, but all of them, from the hardest to the easiest still share one thing in common. If you jump into one of them right now, you will hear people speaking in a voice that is anything but what you would expect a dwarf, or a paladin, or a necromancer to sound like.
When was the last time you heard a dwarf ask out loud what kind of Chinese food they should order for lunch anyway? I don't think that I have ever. But wait, I just heard one do that yesterday.
So both genre and alignment is important. We need to find a way to make our games a little more immersion friendly. APB was a great genre for players to get into, mainly because there was no good or evil in that game, everyone was just a psycopathic serial killer, and yet the one thing that they needed to do in order to make that work was the one thing that they couldn't, or can't seem to get right, the chat system.
So here is the immersion wish list thus far.
1. I want games that support all levels of players from the easiest mode to the hardest, I want to know what these game are BEFORE I buy them, and I want these games to stick to their guns with their innovations.
2. I want genres that support the way that real people communicate and interact with one another.
3. I want tools built into games that document player actions and put those actions into an alignment that would really allow a player to build a character type within the world they are playing in. And I want there to be just benefits and deficits to each alignment in order to cause the player to actually have to make a choice about what kind of player they're going to be, and not just be a glutton for anything that they have the time for, or can invent a bot to, circumvent.
Of course, adhering to any or all of these requests may or may not affect the mass-appeal of whatever games come from this course of action, it is in my understanding that there are still a lot of people out there that only do not play certain mmo's because they haven't found the thing that really suits them yet.
Remember, Sims online was like "Wow!" And who ever thought that so many women would get into EQ2 just because they put decorating into the game?
You have to diversify because orcs are going to be orcs no matter what you do. At least they are in my understanding.