Our Writer Theorizes About "His" Game (Page 1 of 2)
Right now it is the age of the “next generation” MMORPG - or so we are told. Of course, from now until eternity it will, in fact, be the age of the next generation of our beloved games. There will always be newer, better games just over the horizon, taunting us with promises of better graphics, newer features, and more immersion than ever before.
What I want to know: where is the “ultimate” MMORPG? I have read about the new games on the horizon, and they seem to all have one thing in common: They focus on a few key features, and leave out brilliant concepts that have already made it in to modern games. That means that in order for the players to get all the features they enjoy in a game, they would have to play more than one MMORPG, if not many MMORPGs. I do not know about you, but I struggle with playing one at a time.
What we need is for one bright young developer to sit down and take the best concepts from all games, and put them in to one game. No one will ever agree on what features are the most important in an MMORPG, but if one game had all the features, then it would make sense that that one game would have a great majority of the market.
What features should the “ultimate” MMORPG game include? Well, I’m glad you asked. (You didn’t ask? Well, let’s pretend that you did.)
Character Customization: Oh, WoW, why dost thou deny me mine uniqueness?
Our first feature of importance is one that starts the minute you begin to play the game: Character customization. This is a personal favorite feature of mine, as I love to spend an hour tweaking my character to look just right.
Star Wars Galaxies, to this date, is the best example of a game that got this feature right. You can tweak just about every physical feature of your character until you have the exact avatar that you want. They even implemented further tweaking as an in-game feature, allowing the Image Designer class to style your hair, give you a tan, or give you the MMORPG version of liposuction.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when Everquest II launched with such limited character customization options; especially since they built the game on the same base engine that Star Wars Galaxies uses... and do not even get me started on World of Warcraft. While I like the game, the avatar options come to us from the decade of grunge music and Starbucks.
Character customization is so high on so many peoples lists for a reason: People want their characters to appear unique. The better the customization scheme is, the more unique I can make my character. The more unique I can make my character, the happier I am right at the start of the game. What better way to draw in customers than to start them off happy?
The second feature of importance is also one of the most controversial: Combat. How do you make an interesting combat system without alienating half the players? Some people are good at “twitch” based games, and so they would love to see this type of combat system, but others don’t have the reflexes or desire for that type of combat, and prefer something based on character skill that puts everyone on even ground.
The problem is, most MMORPGs use the common “auto attack key” method, which is dated and – to put it bluntly – boring. The solution? Combine twitch and character skill based systems.
A little post-apocalyptic MMORPG called Neocron has a great combat system. You are required to aim your weapon using the mouse, just like a classic First Person Shooter, but your character’s skill with the weapon determines its accuracy and damage. You can be dead on with the cursor, but miss by a mile if you have low skill in the weapon you are using. Every mouse click is a shot fired, but your character skill determines the rate of fire.
Almost every other modern MMORPG I have played uses a variation of the auto-attack key. Now, instead of just pressing that key, I also get to wait for special attack keys to light up so I can press them as well. Not only is it just as boring as before, but now I also feel like Pavlov’s dog.
Crafting: Honey, I thought you were playing your game. Why are you watching Magnum reruns on TV?
Ah, crafting. Some people love it, some people hate it. Regardless of your personal feelings on crafting, there is no doubt that player crafted items and the economy they generate play a major role in the modern MMORPG. So, if they play such a huge role in the game, why do most developers find a way to make it an exceedingly boring time sink?
Again, I turn to Star Wars Galaxies for an example of a good crafting system. An automated gathering system turned getting resources from a chore to a quest. All one had to do was find out where the resource they needed was located, seek out a good concentration of it, and place an automated gatherer on it. You were then free to adventure or do other things while your resources were being sucked out of the ground.
The actual act of crafting was just as liberating. While you were free to craft each item by hand (And, indeed, things like clothing required you to if you wanted to style each piece differently), you could also create a blueprint of your item and have a factory crank out several hundred of them automatically. Again, this freed you up to do other things.
One other thing I feel I need to mention was the level of customization for items in SWG crafting. Not only did the game let you learn to make hundreds of different items based on your crafting class, you could also customize a large amount of them using colors. Variety in crafting is key, and Star Wars Galaxies has very good variety.
Some would argue that while automated crafting makes sense in a sci-fi setting, fantasy is quite a different animal. Not so. Just use a little imagination, and you come up with dwarven diggers instead of a mining machine, elven botanists instead of plant harvesters, and a smithy run by Minotaur cranking out your weapons instead of a factory.
Seeing as how Star Wars Galaxies was such a crafting gem, it makes no sense that another game using the same engine has such a tedious system. Everquest II takes crafting and makes it the whole of a character’s existence. Not only does the game force you to run around and manually extract resources repeatedly for hours on end, but then you must also hand craft each item. Handcrafting would not be so bad if it was not for the fact that each item takes minutes to prepare, and you end up spending your entire night stuck in a crafting instance.