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Guild Wars 2 Column: Dynamic Content

By Jon Wood on November 15, 2010

I know that a lot of you out there are waiting with bated breath to get your hands on a copy of Guild Wars 2. For some of you, it’s because you played and loved the original game, which was one of the most popular MMOs of its time. For others, it’s the innovative design that we’ve been hearing about for the last few months. Having only tooled around in the original game for a very short time, I fit into the latter category.

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Now, there are lots of innovative elements going into Guild Wars 2. In fact, if I had to choose the most innovative upcoming MMO, this one would be it. That being said, I think those have been covered nicely with some of the other GW2 columns we’ve hosted on the site, so today I’m going to talk about what I think is the feature that’s going to make this game stand out from the rest: Dynamic content.

We’ve been hearing the term “dynamic content” for a while now, from many other game companies, and each and every time the words of an old friend of mine keep ringing in my ears, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

To me, dynamic content should speak to game elements that actually make the persistent world feel “alive”. In today’s “traditional” MMORPG , it isn’t the world that the developers try to make feel alive so much as it is your particular character. Somewhere along the line, someone at some point decided that MMOs needed to make each and every character feel like they were the star of the show, the only one capable of growing strong enough to defeat the big what’s-it-called-of-great-EVIL, often multiple times, grinding for one particular piece of uber loot... but I digress. The bottom line is that most MMORPGs are designed so that, while the character’s (and by extension the player’s) experiences change as they progress through the game, the world itself remains static.

Now, the way I see it, the absolute ideal fix to this problem is a game completely populated by “live content”, with GMs controlling the major action and entertaining the players the same way that a Dungeon Master would do in pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons. The problem is that when you get into the large scope of the sheer number of people who need to be entertained, doing that level of live content can become a huge problem.

So what’s the middle ground and the most reasonable solution to this issue given current technology? The Guild Wars 2 dynamic content system. As players complete quests and group quests the dynamic content system reacts to it, setting off another chain of events, which in turn might set off a number of other events and so on and so on, within the world.

In this way, the Guild Wars 2 development team is taking the 100% focus off of each individual player and making them a cog in a much larger machine. It’s perfect for an MMORPG that’s supposed to be simulating a living, breathing world.

I’ve always felt like this should be the line between an MMORPG and a single or small multiplayer RPG. RPGs can and should be all about individual players. After all, in those games, it’s not going to be a case of, “Oh Player X, you’re the only one who can save the world... except that guy, and that guy, oh and that guy over there”. Instead, the world really CAN revolve around one single hero.

MMORPGs, on the other hand, should be all about being a part of a world and making honest-to-God contributions to it. Why else would you populate it with thousands of other players? How else do you make an individual player feel like a special snowflake while providing a fun and dynamic escape into a virtual world?

With all of the talk lately and hype surrounding story-based MMORPGs, I think that one of our users said it best when they said that they were looking for setting, not story in their MMORPGs. Some players just aren’t satisfied with the deep storytelling methods of a game like single player RPG, Dragon Age when it comes to their MMO experience. They want to tell their own stories, or at least contribute in meaningful ways to their game world. They don’t want the developers to dictate who their character is so much as they want them to define WHERE their character is. Give them a deep and interesting world to live in, and players will come.

That, my friends, is why I’m looking forward to this game, even though i haven’t actually played it yet.

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