I was just reading a blog post about what that person thought would encompass "next-gen" in an MMO, and I disagree that things like Fully Destructible Environments and Weather will be the hallmarks of "next-gen"
We still don't have the things that I considered to be "next gen" waaaay back in 2001. (quoted here for reference)
I was discussing with a friend today what would make the ultimate in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game... We both play Vampire:The Masquerade - Redemption currently. Hardly Massively Multiplayer, but it was a breakthrough in that it was the first game to offer a StoryTeller option. NeverWinterNights is looking to do the same thing. The major difference (genre aside) will be that you'll be able to walk from one GM's NWN game to another GM's NWN game. THAT sounds highly cool, in that it creates the possibility of having a persistent world that one can adventure in, moving from one place to another. It also will allow GM's to create stories that are less combat driven, and more character driven... I'm really looking forward to that.
However, I still believe that the MMORPG scene is in its infancy. I mean, like *hours* old kind of infancy. One of the reasons I think that White Wolf waited so long to produce a VtM game was that they wanted to do it *RIGHT*, which meant waiting patiently until the hardware advanced to the point that they could accomplish the "vision" on a home PC. VtM runs pretty well on a 266, and it looks *great* on my 750. I think there is still a long way to go, and many more advanced to be had... Here are some things I think need to be in a game to make it great.
- Distributed Architecture - Allow individual GMs to host a game that can have "doorways" to other locally hosted games on other machines - Like NWN.
I think NWN is a first step in that direction, but I also think that in order for it to be "complete", there needs to be a server stub that runs on a host machine that does not require a full session of the game be spawned on the GM's machine. The GM can run the server on his own machine, or on a second machine on a home network, etc. He can then log into the game as a GM using the standard game client, just like anyone else. This is one of my biggest gripes about VtM. In order to have a chronicle "active" for people to play in, I need to leave the game itself running. I can't effectively "background" the task. I believe that making it easy for GM's to link to each other should be a trivial task...not significantly more difficult than adding somone to a web-ring is now... (in fact, that would be a good paradigm to work from.)
- A Standardized, Extensible Modeling Schema. Another one of my biggest gripes about VtM is that the modeling seems to be limited to what's available in the boxed version. Sure, anyone can *SKIN* a model, but creating new models is a whole new challenge. The fact of the matter is that there's a whole *hell* of a lot more Creative Talent *outside* a game company, amongst it's fan base, than there is *inside* that game company, and a smart company will take advantage of that fact, use tools that the user base can get their hands on (industry standard tools would be best) and allow it's fans to do development on new models. I think the community has shown that good work is rewarded, and crappy work is forgotten quickly. An interesting development would be to take a standard humanoid model, and release a customization kit that will "stretch" the model to the dimensions input into the program, allowing a completely customized model (that can be sized to fit a real player, or to create a tall, thin elven character, f'rinstance). This would also allow the program to transmit only the model's size data, with a skin to follow, allowing the customization, without increasing network traffic too much.
- Customization - I think that this ties into both the previous item and the next item. Users should be able to customize the look and feel of their characters to a large extent, and those changes should be transmitted across the network to players that can see that character on the fly, without having to stop the game, download the model/skin, install it, and restart. Broadband is becoming more popular every day, and I think that the added immersion created by allowing a player to actually put his/her own face on a model is worth the network hit of having to transfer a model/skin to my machine.
- User Tools - Story Creation, Scripting, Mapping...these should all have reasonably easy to use interfaces, as well as using standard file formats wherever possible. Characters could perhaps use Maya, 3d Studio, Poser, etc. Buildings, trees, etc could use .dxf files, Autocad Native files, 3dStudio files, Poser files, etc...
I think that's it for my first rant on the ultimate MMORPG... :)
Now, almost 6 years later, what on that list would I change, either about the list, or what's on it?
I still believe that Players consume content at a rate substantially greater than Developers can ever hope create it. Above, I talked a little bit about being able to customize an existing model, however, I no longer feel that's enough. Modellers for an MMO Development shop should really be more of QA agents for User Submitted Content. Publish an API, create a User Content Submission process, and let your fanbase do the heavy lifting. Let your Art Directors determine whether a given player's concept fits into the overall Art Direction for the title, then let them release it to the Modellers who do the work necessary to get the assets into the engine. Once the assets are in the engine, then they're available for use in new quests (that players have also written, and the Story Team have integrated into the engine.)
Ultimately, what this would allow in, say, a fantasy setting, would be for a new NPC to move into a location, with an entire storyline attached to them. They could reside there for some time, then, eventually, move on (or, be found in a different location than they started out in - you know...dynamic world and all that). The title's 'replay value' would increase, because the experience that your new character has would/could be VERY different than the one that your (now) level-capped character had, say, a year ago. The courier you saved last year may now be a Lieutenant of the Guard, and the Captain of the Guard may be, well, deceased.
Flying Lab Software is the only company that I'm aware of to date that has implemented a significant level of User Content. They hired Akella to do some period ships for them, then they published guidelines on HOW to create ship models in such a manner that the Developers could get them ready for use in the engine, and then they let users create them (with the requirement that they be historical ship models, not fanciful creations). It worked MARVELLOUSLY. Pirates of the Burning Sea will ship with roughly 4 times the number of ship models in the game than they would have, had they relied on paying Akella for all of the content. Additionally, the shipmodels that are player-created are NOTICEABLY better (more beautiful, more detailed) than those that Akella created, because the players were taking their own skills and talents and applying them to something they were keenly interested in, they were creating Art, and they were doing it on their own timetable, not while watching a timeclock to see if it was time to go home yet, or checking to see whether they were using up too many billable hours on making the handrails historically correct.
User-Created Content is the primary thing that screams "Next Generation" to me.