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My Ultimate MMORPG

Editorial By Jeremy Star on July 19, 2005

The Sims Online
Shadowbane
World of WarCraft
World of WarCraft
City of Heroes
Neocron 2
Neocron 2
"My Ultimate MMORPG" (Page 2 of 2)

Player Housing and Cities: What do you mean I do not have a house? Where am I to hang my cloak and display my trophies?

Player housing is another key factor in the modern MMORPG, albeit another debated one. Is it really necessary to have a virtual house for your virtual self to live in? Judging by the immense popularity of games like The Sims and The Sims Online, I am going to go out on a limb and say that a good percentage of players like having a virtual place for their characters to hang out.

Housing for characters gives us a place to display items that we have collected, store things that we don’t want to carry with us all the time, and hang out with our guild mates and friends. Player cities give us the ability to form communities based on our housing, and give us a centralized place to base our guilds and crafting activities.

Two games pop into my head as having outstanding player housing and cities. The first is, of course, Star Wars Galaxies. SWG had a great variety of player house styles, depending on which planet you built on. There was also an excellent variety of decorations for your home. Topping off the personal housing was the ability for players to form entire cities complete with cantinas, parks, and shuttle ports. All this, and you could essentially build your city wherever you wanted to, barring physical barriers and proximity to NPC cities.

The second game is Shadowbane. While the housing and cities were not as noteworthy as Star Wars Galaxies’s, the ability to attack another player built city and raze it to the ground added a new level of game play. NPC guards patrolled your city walls and entrances, and enemy thieves could slink over your walls at night and create a stir.

Unfortunately, games like World of Warcraft and City of Heroes offer no options for player housing at all, and Everquest II – while it contains an inn room to place decorations – has no option to allow you to build your own house or city.

Player housing is another example of something that – like character customization – seems like such a small thing, but including it just makes me a happier customer. It is sort of like the real world, in that people tend to be more comfortable if they have a place to put their things and call home. Also, I always like to display trophies of my adventures, and I need a house to do it in. Now, if I can just get that dragon skull to stop tilting to the left…

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Quests and Spawns: Of Pests and Yawns

It’s an age old problem. There is always some princess in a kingdom long ago and far away that is forever being kidnapped by ogres. No matter how many times this princess is rescued, she is always recaptured and in need of rescue. I shudder to think what her ransom is doing to the kingdom’s coffers, since it is being paid over and over indefinitely.

Quests are a key issue in MMORPGs, since they are a staple activity in this type of game. Quite a few games have problems in this area, though. Because the quests are repeated by a high percentage of all the players of the game, the challenge is often ruined by a quick “Googling” of the quest title. This leads to developers trying to artificially extend the length and challenge of the quests by imposing timers on the spawning of certain NPCs or monsters. This leads to player boredom.

World of Warcraft has a decent quest system. Spawns are either dynamic – meaning the NPC you need spawns when you need him so as to allow you to further your quest – or on very short timers, so you don’t have to wait more than a few minutes for the necessary NPC to show up.

Unfortunately, WoW suffers from the same repeating quests that every other MMORPG to date has. Some sort of random quest generator for some of the quest giving NPCs would be ideal for future games, allowing players to do quests that only a certain percentage of other players have received.

Star Wars Galaxies suffers from a distinct lack of quests, and Everquest II suffers from an extreme number of quests that require you to wait for NPCs that are on ridiculously long spawn timers. Meanwhile, in Paragon City, City of Heroes fell into the trap of making every quest exactly the same (Beat up some peons, then beat up their boss).

Character Skills and Class: Why can my mage not swing a sword? Gandalf did it!

My final topic for this article is your character himself. Not how he looks, but what he does. Most MMORPGs go for the tried and true character class, which stems from the RPG part of our gaming history. Ever since Dungeons and Dragons, people have been trying to pigeon-hole characters into a specific class. This method of character growth is not only very limiting, it also leads to all high level characters of each class being clones. Sure, modern MMORPGs have tried some small methods to alleviate this, but in the end, you still feel like a clone of the guy next to you.

The answer is to let characters develop free from classes and restrictions. Let people call themselves whatever they want, and let them earn the skills to back up their chosen title. Do you want to be a swordsman? You had better start swinging your long sword around and gaining skill with it.

Neocron is closest to this ideal. While you are required to pick a class, you can learn skills and abilities outside your class as well. They base your skill with an object on your experience using it, so the more you fire that assault rifle, the better you become with it.

Star Wars Galaxies also gets good marks for allowing you to pick up skill trees from any profession, provided you have enough points to learn it. They fall a little short though, as you cannot earn skill with a weapon or tool just by using it, you have to advance in the skill tree to get better.

World of Warcraft and Everquest II receive low marks in this category. Both games have strictly limited classes that gain skills and abilities based on level. Every mage of the same level has roughly the same skills and abilities. Granted, both games have adopted some limited differentiating devices, such as WoW’s talent points, and EverQuest II’s level traits, but these do not make up for the extreme lack of variety in characters.

I would like to see a game where you could be anything you could dream of. I would like to be able to play a rogue who, finding his lock picking abilities inadequate, blasts a lock off of a door with a small spell. Or perhaps a mage who wields a glowing sword of ancient elven design. (Wait…I already used this joke, didn’t I?) The whole point is to limit me based on what technology will allow me to do, rather than limit me based on character classes designed for a pen and paper game over three decades ago.

The Future

These are, of course, not all of the features that make a MMORPG great, but they are some obviously important ones, and many developers overlook quite a few of them. Other features, such as player vs. player, public transportation, and a thousand other tiny jewels all come together to help define a MMORPG as well. In fact, all the features must ultimately combine to create the one feature that any MMORPG must have to survive: Fun. After all, we already have jobs, school, and real life responsibilities that we must endure daily, so why play a game that does not entertain us and let us have fun?

I have scanned the horizon, and many shining stars lay just over its precipice. Perhaps one of these stars will indeed arrive in our sky with the perfect mix of all the elements that would make our “ultimate” MMORPG, but that depends on the developers. Let us hope that they pay attention to the elements that make our current games fun, and incorporate them into their own games.


You now know what Jeremy thinks, what about you? Tell us about your ideal MMORPG in this discussion thread.

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