Community Systems Overview
MMORPG.com Atlantica Online Correspondent Matt Plourde writes this overview of the community and social aspects and supporting features available in Atlantica Online.
Most MMORPGs have a "social system" built into their game engine - chat, guilds, grouping, mail, etc. Releasing an MMORPG into today's market without those basic building-blocks is akin to selling a car with no seats - it'll make for one bumpy ride! Make no mistake, Atlantica Online's "Community" tab delivers more social punch than some of the mighty commercial MMORPG franchises launched this year.
All MMORPGs develop a community atmosphere as they mature - some more than others, of course. However, few MMORPGs design tangible in-game benefits into their social systems (beyond guild chat/bonuses). Warhammer Online boasts interesting guild bonuses in their banner/standard and guild leveling systems. Many MMORPGs (like City of Heroes) allow guilds to construct their own unique bases or guild halls. Some games (especially the Free-To-Play ones) post leader boards for bragging rights. Advanced crafting systems in other games are heavily social in their interdependency dynamics. While all of these systems are fantastic, Atlantica offers some unique and interesting Community options.
First of all, the basics are there - grouping, chat, mail, and guilds. I'm actually a big fan of how "tells" work in Atlantica. Instead of a "tell/whisper" mixing together with the rest of your chat activity, a separate window appears (minimized, thank -insert deity here-). While this was a tad jarring at first, this system is actually quite flexible and convenient. You can open the window at your leisure and you can even perform most player-to-player interactions right from the window (grouping, mentoring, mailing, and more). I sometimes have several of these chat windows minimized near the top of my screen so I can easily chat with my friends, guildmates and apprentices throughout my session.
Guilds in Atlantica are standard fare with a few whistles. Like Warhammer Online, your guild gains levels as you perform "guildy" things. In Atlantica, you gain Guild Points via guild/town quests, guild crafting, and mere attendance. These Guild Points represent your overall Guild Level (which limits the number of members a guild can have), and the guild leader may spend the points to open guild dungeons or bid for control of the static towns on the map. That's right - you can control a town! From a community perspective, the player-controlled towns are important because you may have to pay higher taxes on your actions in some towns than others - the economy of the town impacts every player passing through. (Towns will get their own article - there's just too much!) My only gripe with guilds is that most of the actions can only be performed by the guild leader. With so much strain on our guild leaders, it's a wonder more of them don't burn-out. (I actually got a call on my home phone over the Star Wars Galaxies city I was the mayor/creator of... yeah, that's when I burnt-out.)
Grouping in Atlantica Online is as fun as a barrel full of happy monkeys (a barrel full of angry monkeys is no fun). You and your ally (or allies) take your turn at the same time which makes for some impressive scenes. Ever since my friend and I passed the controller in Final Fantasy 1, I've been waiting for something like this. Further, you gain experience and loot bonuses when you are part of a group! However, all is not rainbows and lollipops when it comes to grouping in Atlantica Online. Sometimes you will get separated from your group leader and you may each get caught in your own battle - the "follow" command just puts too much distance between you and the person you are following. The other factor holding groups down is the size limit - 3 total players. While that equates to 27 characters on the field of battle, most other MMORPGs allow groups of 5 or 6 players. Given the current battle board mechanics, I don't see how the game could allow larger groups, but it is a somewhat harsh limit in a game which promotes community so well in all other aspects.
While Crafting in MMORPGs usually doesn't fall under the "Community" umbrella (notable exceptions being EVE Online and Star Wars Galaxies, to name a few), Atlantica requires a trainer to advance each crafting skill. So, you must seek out higher level crafters than yourself to raise your crafting skills. Lucky for us, you can seek a trainer with an easy in-game menu which lists all the possible trainers online by crafting profession. When it's time to upgrade your "ring" crafting skill - look up a player teacher and send a "whisper/tell" right from the same interface in the Community tab. To encourage player training, teachers are rewarded with crafting experience in the skills they train! Some players even offer money to have the honor of helping you level your crafting skill - bonus! The system is great (community-wise) and you will find yourself establishing relationships with your various teachers and students.
Speaking of teachers and students, Atlantica boasts a Mentorship program. If your character is below level 30, you are considered a "beginner". As a beginner, you may have one mentor (though a mentor may have several pupils). The nuts-and-bolts are as follows - the mentor gains "mentor points" as his pupil gains levels and the mentor is mailed 200,000 gold from the heavens once the pupil reaches level 30. As of this writing, mentor points cannot be spent on anything, but that feature is on the horizon. Depending on how much of an introverted loner you are, you may ignore or embrace the mentor system. From the community menu, you can get a list of all online beginners and contact the players without mentors. I prefer to send a quick greeting and ask them if they would like to be my pupil - with a short description of the system and a promise of half the gold. Even for powergamers, this system alone could provide countless hours away from grinding and questing - and in the end the new player benefits the most (if they have a helpful mentor).
Another built-in system for helping beginners is the Gifting system. From the aforementioned beginners menu, you may also send out gifts to random beginners. Based on the value of the gift, you gain experience for all your party members. If you hand out enough gifts, you can even don the title of "Santa" for all to see. (All we need is a reindeer mount - where's my milk and cookies?!)
In my preview article, I mentioned the Stamina system. Well, one way to regain stamina is to share monster information with other players. Far from mere fluff, this info allows you to see what loot the monster drops, inspect the monster's stats, and even allows you to auto-move to where the monster is located! Some quests require various monster information, so you'll usually see requests in the general chat. Here's my favorite - gather enough info about a monster, and you will also notice you start to gain more loot from them as well (noted with a +1/+2/etc next to the loot drop info). So, you get to be the school bully - beat someone up enough and eventually you'll get their lunch and field trip money!
Instead of a "Help" chat channel, Atlantica boasts a player moderated help request system. Any player may post a help question, and that question gets offered to several random online players. If you answer the question, and the requester confirms your response, you are rewarded with valuable experience books! While a general help chat channel might be faster in an MMORPG, this little twist connects the players a tad more intimately (or, maybe it's just my inner socialist trying to break loose).
Quizzes are another way to pass the time and break from the treadmill. Any player can setup a quiz room and anyone can join! The quiz master asks a question and hands out rewards for correct answers. This is nothing more than a distraction, but it adds to the overall community feeling which permeates Atlantica Online. Of course, some may argue that a "quiz room" isn't exactly the stuff of High Fantasy…
With so many built-in systems to advance the community atmosphere in Atlantica Online, an active player should quickly find themselves in the middle of something special. So, get off the treadmill and open a quiz room with some sports questions. Put down your sword for the night and mentor some new players. Hop on your steed and convince wandering townsfolk to join your town. Start a guild crafting project.
In short - dedicate a night and contribute to your digital community. Maybe tomorrow night you can go save the world.