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MMORPG.com 2008 Reader's Choice Awards: Most Innovative Feature

Innovation is the key to the long-term success of any genre. Innovation keeps things interesting and fun, giving us new and interesting features. How a game builds upon and changes the ideas put forward in the games that came before it can mean the difference between a long-term hit and "just another copy".

With the introduction of this category, we want you to vote, not necessarily for your favorite game, but for the feature that you felt added the most to the MMORPG genre in terms of both gameplay and fun as well as the potential for adaptations by others that could lead to more innovation down the line.

The Council of Stellar Management

While not necessarily a gameplay feature, the Council of Stellar Management re-implemented by CCP’s Eve Online in 2008 is certainly one of the most innovative ideas to come out of an MMO studio this year.

For those who might not be aware of just what exactly the Council of Stellar Management is, and why it would have a place amongst our most innovative features nominees, The CSM is an out-of-game system designed to democratically give players a voice in how their game is developed.

A council of nine payers is elected by the player base through an official, democratic election. Those representatives are then expected to gather community feedback and suggestions so that when they meet officially with the dev team for a three day meeting (a total of 20 hours) where they are able to share their concerns and suggestions. The company in turn considers the suggestions, assesses them and, where appropriate, integrates them into the game.

The CSM appears on our nominees list for most innovative feature because it both introduces democracy into the MMO genre and provides players an official advisory role within the game’s development.

For more information on how the CSM is set up, please see the official source.

Combo Combat in Age of Conan

Whether you loved it, hated it, or fell somewhere in between, there is little arguing that the combat system in Funcom’s Age of Conan is one of the most unique and innovative designs released in 2008.

For those who might not be aware, Age of Conan employs a combat system that requires players to enter a directional sequence in order successfully complete many of their abilities. This means that while most MMOs on the market require a single button to activate any attack, AoC attempts to simulate some of the chaos and attention to detail required in real combat.

The system itself was met with mixed reviews from players, some of whom felt that it added a new and exciting element to the game and others who felt that the system was too bulky and was more reminiscent of a button-mashing fighting game like Mortal Kombat than an MMO.

The innovative nature of the feature itself has meant that it has been in an almost constant state of revision. A re-tooling of the system was at least partially to blame for a delay in the game’s original release and even recently with update 3.0 further changes were made that saw some of the longer combos reduced in length.

Regardless of how you feel about the success of the system or of the game itself, it is safe to say that the combat system in Funcom’s Age of Conan is among the most innovative features of 2008.

Public Quests in Warhammer Online

Public Quests, which give players the ability to work together toward a common goal without the necessity of grouping is certainly one of the most innovative features that the MMO stage has seen this past year.

Introduced by Mythic Entertainment in the recent release of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, these open quests are scattered throughout the world (usually grouped in threes within chapers of the game). Divided into three increasingly difficult stages, players work together (whether solo or in groups) to complete each stage. They are rewarded with XP, Influence (a kind of XP that is only awarded in PQs and can be traded for phat lewts), and the possibility of PQ treasure.

Recently, the design has come under some criticism as the completion of all three stages of the Public Quest requires a larger number of players than are sometimes available in each of the zones. Mythic has pointed out, however, that while completing all three stages of a PQ is a nice bonus, the feature was designed to be played in a number of different ways, including single stage completion.

While quests are certainly nothing new to the MMO genre, Mythic’s introduction of the PQ has made a number of player re-think the way that they quest in our genre. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the industry will adopt similar variations on the time tested questing RPG staple, but it would be difficult to argue that Mythic’s Public Quests weren’t one of the most innovative features of 2008.

Ship Combat in Pirates of the Burning Sea

When we first started hearing about Flying Lab Software’s Pirates of the Burning Sea, we all wondered how ship to ship combat would be handled. While many expected to see a slight variation on sci-fi ship to ship combat, the developers at Flying Lab had other ideas and wanted to better be able to simulate real nautical combat. The result? A combat system that we felt was innovative and interesting enough to earn the feature a spot on our 2008 nominees list.

So, what’s so special about ship combat in PotBS?

Well, to start with, the wind is either your best friend or your worst enemy in PotBS, much as it would have been on the open seas in the age of sail. Players have to be aware of and properly use the direction of the wind in order to move and manoeuvre into firing or defensive positions. This is all represented by a circular UI that is wrapped around a players’ ship with different colors indicating the “best wind”.

On top of that, players can board enemy ships, find just the right range for their cannons, pick just the right ship for your play style, engage in PvP battles, and more.

Because this game tries to be a close simulation of real piratey combat, tactics in all of a players’ choices, from which ship to choose to which wind to use, end up playing a major role in the game’s combat. Players who try to come at the ship combat in PotBS as though it were a standard WoW or WAR battle are going to be sunk every time by the player who takes the time to consider the full range of the tactics made available to him.

Ship combat on the open seas, in a time when ships didn’t turn all that fast and cannons were lobbed from deck to deck isn’t an easy design concept to master. By choosing to go with a more simulation-oriented and tactical design, the developers at Flying Lab have earned themselves a nomination for Most Innovative feature of 2008.

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