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Completely random ideas and thoughts about MMO games, design, theory, and the industry itself.

Author: Coldren

Tell Me A Story

Posted by Coldren Friday January 30 2009 at 3:32PM
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The art of storytelling is one that is vastly underscored in modern society, particularly in America from my point of view. I can’t speak for other cultures, as I am not a world-weary traveler, but certainly in the good ole US of A, it seems to me that a good story teller is hard to come by.

With the evolution of the printed press leading up to the current digital age, the art has degraded from one of nuance, context, and finesse, to bite-sized snippets of supposedly factual statements linked together in an easily digestible form for the voracious masses to consume, and almost ultimately forget, with little effort to make this knowledge memorable. The depth, differentiation, and culture which used to be so important to a story’s legacy has given way to brevity, homogenization, and sterilization so as not to offend our highly evolved and delicate political sensibilities, and to ensure it can be digested within the limited time frames our “busy” life-styles can support.

Long gone are the days of elders gathering children around the camp fire, regaling them with a tale of an ancestor’s great battles, achievements, or simply their own heritage with the tone and inflection that would inspire, frighten, and awe them, creating a memorable experience so that the knowledge bequeathed to them might be passed down from generation to generation. Weather the stories were factual or fictional, for thousands of years this was mankind’s primary source of knowledge.

In its stead, we now have television, movies, Google, Wikipedia, comic books, and the occasional archaic volume of printed text which fewer and fewer individuals can be bothered to trouble themselves with. Fast-paced mediums for a fast-paced world

Now there are many perfectly valid arguments one could make at the behest of these “new technologies”, and they would not be wrong. Certainly, there are many advantages to the rapid and structured rendition of knowledge, and there are certainly advantages to sterility in the name of accuracy. But am I alone in thinking that the more we sacrifice at the altar of accelerated learning, the less memorable and more insignificant it all seems?

I find the more I play modern games, MMO and single player, the more I pine for a memorable story. This is not to say that there is an absence of good stories to be told, but it always as if the method in which they are structured and delivered seems to lend itself to being easily forgettable.

With MMO’s in particular, maybe it’s because the players are more or less relegated to spectators – There participation is inconsequential, their influence absent. You could state that virtual persistent worlds (i.e., Sandbox MMO’s) allow for players to influence the world far more than theme parks (Linear MMO’s such as World of Warcraft), but to date, does anyone really feel they can make a significant contribution to their virtual world?

If you were to ask me where the future of the modern MMO lies, it’s in storytelling. The first MMO to really give its players a persistent world where their impact is tangible will tap into a thus far unappreciated and relatively ignored market. When it gives each player the ability to tell their own story, and another the ability to be a part of it, static, development-directed content will be far less necessary in the right conditions.

What’s a good story worth? To paraphrase a quote from the end of The Kingdom of Heaven: “Nothing…Everything.”

The MMO Industry: Coding, Ideas, and Reality

Posted by Coldren Tuesday January 13 2009 at 3:56PM
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Greetings, everyone, and welcome to my first blog post.

As someone who has played MMO’s for almost the entirety of my adult life, it is a hobby and topic that I and many others are passionate about. I do what I can to keep up with the latest trends, ideas, and news from the MMO community at large. What follows is no doubt commonplace, but hopefully, answers I couldn’t find before, someone who knows more can help me find.

Like many others for whom this hobby is a passion, I have “an idea” for an MMO, or at least certain systems that make up an MMO. I know, I know, hundreds of thousands of others do, and few if none of them have ever been adopted, considered, or even looked at by professionals - Especially if they can’t provide proof-of-concept code. In my limited view, I find this rather odd, and peculiar about the MMO industry.

As an anecdotal example, I remember reading an article about someone who developed a cheap water purification system for third-world countries in an arid or desert climate. The design was very simple. It consisted of two pieces. The first was a clear, plastic cone with a curved base and a stopper or plug at the top. This plastic cone sat on top of a wider, black plastic curved base. What they would do is pour the dirty water into the black base, and set the clear, plastic cone on top with the plug in it, and let it sit. As the sun evaporated the water that was placed in the black base, the condensation would then drip down the side of the clear plastic cone, collecting in the curves at the base. When enough condensation had collected, they simply pick up the cone, flip it over, undo the plug, and out came the cleaner water that had condensed at its base.

It was a simple idea, but it was well thought-out. I doubt the man had any knowledge of plastics, or the machinery needed to mold the plastic, or the expertise to determine the costs involved. These aspects were all likely followed through by the people who adopted the design idea.

So why is it that in the MMO industry, an industry which faces constant accusations from its own user base of stagnation, is it commonly accepted that no matter how good your idea is, no one will ever adopt it unless you yourself can code it?

Some of these reasons seem rather intuitive, of course. Clearly someone who has NO knowledge of the complexity of an MMO, from the implementation and development of ideas, to the extreme complexity of its code and technology, to the infrastructure and resources and marketing efforts required to support it, may not understand why their ideas aren’t possible. But does this mean that all ideas from outside the industry, from someone who is just merely an end-user, are fundamentally unadoptable? That no one should ever even bother to try to think of them unless they are already in the industry, or have the vast technical knowledge required to demonstrate it?

Another example, take FedEx or UPS (I don’t recall which): Someone had the idea that they should try to schedule the delivery routes so that the trucks take as many right-turns as possible. The idea behind it was it would save them time, and therefore money, by reducing the need to cross lanes or traverse through apposing traffic. Did the person who came up with this idea have to have intimate knowledge of their navigation software, or GPS? Likely, the answer is no. They simply had the idea, and left it to professionals to make it possible.

So I ask this question, and hopefully people who are in the industry, professionals, or simply have a greater insight that I do not have, can provide some meaningful answers:

Is it possible, even if by the smallest chance of probability, that a really good idea that is well thought-out and documented with a strong logic behind it would ever get a second glance from a development studio that has the resources to make the idea a reality? That someone who can’t code software can still provide unique, creative ideas that can be harvested and brought to market?

I know it’s a general question, so I expect general answers. For some people, the thought and effort they put into their ideas isn’t for the money, or the notoriety - it’s in pursuit of their passion. It’s in the hopes that someone somewhere will see this idea, and say, “Hey, that’s a good idea. We should do that!”, and that an idea they thought up could be realized and enjoyed by others.

Is it all a pipe dream? Are we all just wasting our collective efforts?

Thank you for reading this far.