|4 posts found|
OP 1/31/12 8:26:13 PM#1
OP 1/31/12 8:32:48 PM#2
Of perhaps more interest is a post by the new Anarchy Online Producer, Ilaliya, in a wholly unrelated thread:
In reference to this MMORPG article ('Content Locusts')
Disclaimer: The below is my philosophical meanderings, so please don't read into it too much when it comes to practical applications in AO.
First off, I'm not sure it's correct to say that WoW was the first MMO in the genre where the journey didn't matter; where end-game and max level are the game. WoW was probably the first nakedly theme-park park game, or maybe the first to make the explicit admission that the "real" game started when you hit the level cap. I'll explain this below.
The two MMOs I played immediately before WoW were Shadowbane and Lineage 2. Lineage 2 was a grind, and I never reached endgame - although, I heard it's where all the 'cool' features were and guilds could own castles and whatnot. I stopped playing because it was taking me too long to get there. Shadowbane was fairly quick to level (and in fact we had late night macro parties to reach the level cap), and the end-game which was city sieging and global politics was the entire point of that game. The players all knew that levelling up was pointless a time-sink during which there was nothing to be gained other than a level increase.
The problem with the MMOs of those days was this: It's not as if one would find Excalibur off a level 20 rat. It's not as if any NPC in the game cared that at level 37 you helped Farmer Bob clean out the skeletons in his basement. In an RPG, which by definition the important thing is how the game perceives and reacts to your character, if the game itself does not assign particular importance to an activity why should the player? Compare to Fallout New Vegas where you could find cool unique weapons all over the place AND Farmer Bob's opinion of you could very easily be relevant 23 levels later (also true in Fallout 2). In fact, in my opinion this is what RPGs do.
In WoW, the job of the levelling game-play itself is to funnel you to the end-game. This is internally consistent, and really a logical conclusion. And what I mean by "nakedly theme-park" - in that the game is aware of it's own design premise and the limitations of the genre. Not sure if this has changed much, but at the time players generally didn't macro in WoW simply because it wasn't advantageous; the game got you to max level soon enough. There was no conceit that killing 10 ogres over and over in an open world was in itself fun, or that it particularly mattered in the scheme of things. If reaching end-game is a race, at least in WoW it's a race where the fast-track is what the designers intend. The game says "use this lane" and off you go.
Now this raises some peculiar questions: Why have levels at all? Why not just skip all the boring stuff and have players create a character at end-game or close enough where they play through a several hour single player tutorial and then have at it?
I think what we are seeing is exactly this: that time-to-reach-level-cap is decreasing with each generation of game. So one answer is clearly "let's not have levelling time, other than what convention dictates" Compare to the old-school answer of "the actual game is the journey, so lets spend time making this content matter."
Which leads us to our next question. Why does the MMO industry seem to trend towards answer #1?
Now, allow me to put forth some principles for your consideration:
These principles when taken together, and put in the larger context of the MMO industry, create a unique pressure. Let's examine the issue of grind. I don't think any (western) game designer says You know what? Grind is fun. Lets do that.
Rather, we are acutely aware that grind is filler. The extent to which it exists is generally symptomatic of an overly-aggressive content goal measured in time (which goes to game longevity) coupled with too little features or too little resources. When you see grind in a game it's often because a philosophical decision was made early on that players should spend X hours in the content. But sometime during production, it becomes clear that resources on the project cannot be applied to fleshing out what the player is doing in those hours due to an ever-raising bar of expectations completely unrelated to the "game" part of the game. And thus, grind is born.
The fact is that as the MMO genre matures, more developer resources need to be spent on elements of the game not central to the core fun. This could be anything from photo-realistic graphics and all the rendering features that entails (and the constraints this implies for artists and designers creating content); to more sophisticated rigging and animations; to a massive world which needs to maintain performance with high resolution textures and high-poly meshes; to technical features like no loading times, or instancing, or now phasing; to features such as moving platforms or physics; to even things like voice-over or cinematic content. These are things that players increasingly expect from their shiny new next-gen game, but in a budget sense it "steals" resources from the unique game-design specific elements that make a new MMO different and better than all previous MMOs. Or, what I call the "game" part of the game.
I think what players perceive as a "dumbing down" of MMOs is really just a function of limited resources (in this case, it's money that hires people) which needs to be applied to things which didn't even exist 5 or 10 years ago. For every dollar spent developing volumetric fog and sliders that increase the width of the character's nose is a dollar not spent making a comprehensive open-world system of capturable PvP objectives, destructible terrain, modular auto-generated maps (or pick whatever feature you like here).
And furthermore, because of the increased complexity of MMOs overall (and what this means for the code-base), the exact same design feature gets more costly every year. All the while, the quality bar gets higher.
I remember attending a GDC in 2006 (I believe it was 2006) where Raph Koster had a presentation on the exponential increase of MMO costs. He said then, that within 5 years we'll have our first billion-dollar MMO. Everyone in the crowd laughed. Crazy old Raph talking about the unsustainability of MMO development. And yet here we are. And interestingly enough, the extra man-hours you are afforded from a project measured in the tens, or hundreds of millions, or billions, doesn't really get applied to what gamers consider "design features" and "content." It's all the things I talk about above, and then the corporate structure it takes to manage and organize a several-hundred-person team.
In my own case, even though I had played MUDs in the early 90s, it was UO which got me hooked on MMOs. For about 10 years, for the most part, I exclusively was an MMO gamer. And I find myself now playing single-player RPGs more and more. Why is that? One day I woke up and realized that everything a next-gen MMO does for me, a single player RPG can do better. I don't need phasing and these complicated systems of client-side tricks to give me the illusion of changing the world. In a single player game I can actually change the world, because the entire game is on my machine and the game literally does revolve around my character. Basically, single player RPGs are supremely superior to MMOs at being single player RPGs. And, they can do it much more cheaply.
In a single player RPG there is no race to end-game (and no pressure to do so). The game has an end and therefore I want to prolong that as long as possible by doing every side-quest and finding every collectible and so forth. I can login and play on my own time and don't have to wait for anybody else. If I find a game-breaking exploit, it's actually counter to my interest to use it because it reduces my own enjoyment.
In fact, the only thing an MMO does better than a single player RPG is user-generated-content (competitive and cooperative PvP/PvE). Providing situations that can only arise by having sandbox elements that encourage player interaction.
The main challenge with themeparks is this inherent conflict. If you want players to always log in and have something to do, you increase solo viability; but then run the risk of making a bad single player game with a robust chat lobby. If you want players to avoid a grind by shortening the journey to end-game and thereby increasing the amount of player-interaction (since everyone is playing at endgame), you run the risk of making a MOBA with a short single-player tutorial instead of an RPG. If you want to make an epic story-driven MMORPG with no grind because it's all content, and an endgame with the longevity of a MOBA, you run the risk of absolutely destroying your projected budgets and time-lines and spending a billion dollars.
Sandboxes have a more straightforward challenge. If predicting player-world interaction is notoriously hard in single player RPGs, predicting player-player interaction is next to impossible in MMOs. It's horribly expensive to develop, and it's very easy fail. At best I think you can make a generic framework with a simple rule-set and clearly defined bounds, and accept the fact that players will do things you never intended. And have fun in ways you never intended. And to be honest, this is largely what designers what to make. I don't think anyone who is an MMO designer at heart would make a game on rails as their dream game. Certainly, nobody I know.
And then we come full circle to the business of MMOs. Let me say it again: Predicting player-player interaction is next to impossible in MMOs. This sounds great as a player, and this sounds equally delightful as a designer. But this doesn't sound so great of you are looking to make a return on investment with 7 or more zeros and a 5 year development cycle. Because what you want out of your investment with 7 or more zeros is a favourable revenue projection, based on the reality of customer behaviour. And here we have the conflict -- the need for predictable customer behaviour which makes good business sense, and the desire for embracing unpredictable player behaviour which makes for appealing game design. See: Minecraft.
Now here's the billion dollar question: what does this mean for the industry?
I think we're seeing a convergence. I think business-wise, MMOs (or, at least persistent online games) actually do make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. They are fairly immune to piracy, ongoing revenue, micro-transactions, etc. There's a lot more financial stability than the single-player-box-sales model, under which a studio is always one failed release away from shutting down. When you ship a single player disc, and you have no regular venue for patching (make players go download something off your site after realizing the game crashes), it's very hard to recover from a shaky launch. MMOs at least give you the tools to do so. So personally, I think we'll see a trend where big-budget games across all genres will more and more start to resemble online themepark games. For better or worse, the industry is already blurring the line between DLC and Booster Packs, what ships on the disc and what you have to unlock. I imagine in the future, more and more single player games will require you to log-in, and everything will have a chat lobby. In the AAA space, a persistent internet connection will become somewhat of an assumption.
By the same token, I think in the sub-AAA space sandbox games will really thrive. With sophisticated middleware and high-level programming languages, the barrier is constantly lowering for indie developers putting something together with a small team on budget with less than seven zeros. Maybe even less than six zeros. It's a lot easier to take risks when failure doesn't mean closing down studio doors.
Not to break my disclaimer at the top, but this is why I'm very excited about AO. There is a great freedom in being a smaller player to be ambitious and take risks, and defy expectations by making those ground-breaking features which change the landscape of the genre. I think in the future, it's projects exactly like AO is now which will drive all the innovation which the big AAA games copy a few years later. I'm a designer at heart (I was a designer and design lead for years and years before becoming a producer), and like all designers I want to be on that cutting, forward-looking, creative edge. Truth be told, this is why when the opportunity presented itself I made the move.
tldr; AO is the future
Last edited by Ilaliya; Today at 19:42:32..
1/31/12 9:28:03 PM#3
woah, long read, but it is really nice to know you guys are putting a good effort on AO!
2/03/12 12:13:27 AM#4
Thanks for the Post gang. I really liked the articale once again I find myself having some kind of hope that Anarchy Online will find some kind of new life. But then I think of the years that I have been waiting for the graphics engine to be done and I am so, so ,so dog tired of hearing that its coming along nicely and that we have some new heads for you to look at.
I think there is a small window here for them to get there act together maybe 6 month 8 at the most, get secret world out then put some love back into AO. But beyond that window the game is dead.
I feel sorry for this gal, her heart seems to be in the right place but she took over a giant mess. It will be a real credit to her if she can bring it back to life. .... I would love nothing more.... I
IF not put this game to bed and build AO2...Please... I will pay.