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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

Creative Vanity: What SWTOR Needs To Know

Posted by OddjobXL Monday July 25 2011 at 7:59AM
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Back when I started this rodeo back in February of 2009, I talked about the keys to immersion.  How to create MMOs that help roleplayers enjoy the illusion that this world, and their characters, are more real than not.

SWTOR appears to get as almost much right as wrong but that's a column for another day.   What I'd like to focus on now is the importance of customization and cosmetic elements.  In the terms of my "On Immersion" entry we're looking at an important subset of Control (being able to do things you should be able to do).

Bioware hasn't quite caught on to the idea that player characters belong to players.  Some of this, I'm sure, is part of their fairly aggressive "fourth pillar" approach to MMO design.  They want everything to be perfect so nothing disrupts the stories they want to tell about their, not your, characters.  One gets the sense that SWTOR might well be MMOdom's answer to Auntie Lydia's living room where nothing is ever to be touched or played with.  Only to be gazed upon and admired.

For roleplayers this can present a bit of a problem.  We're fairly aggressive ourselves about wanting our characters to be our own creations, to have their own unique stories play out dynamically, and we tend to be very proud of our own creativity when it comes to achieving those goals.

Among us are those who want to be able to creatively express themselves in music or dance (SWG and LoTRO), to decorate sets/locations to suit our characters or some other personal story related end (SWG), to design adventures using the game mechanics to create story arcs for friends (SWG, CoH, STO and Ryzom).  Roleplayers, at least once they've got a little experience under their belts, are first and foremost creative talents.  We've been spoiled just enough to believe some developers care about our needs and aren't quite as appeased, anymore, by merely sitting around and making with the text chat.

While there are many issues here the basic one, the bellweather, is the need for cosmetic clothing or an Appearance Tab.  This is fundamental.  Roleplayers need to be able to design a unique look for their characters and it can't be dependant on statted items.  It doesn't matter that we can swap out some mechanically good items for some substandard but aesthetically pleasing ones by hand.  We need to be able to establish and define a consistant look.  It needs to be available 24/7.   Ideally we'd have even more than one cosmetic look available as in LoTRO and STO.

Right up there with being able to define the features of a character is being able to describe how he looks on your own terms.  If we're running around in crap we have to wear because it's effective, even part of the time, that's part of the time we're seriously not happy with our characters.  Making us love our characters seems to be Bioware's goal but their error is thinking that only they know best.  That they should define our character's, and companion's, looks and stories from top to bottom.

Actually, my friends, the customer is always right.  We're not all drooling idiots and most of us have been around long enough to know how to ignore the drooling idiots without the oversight of an authoritarian storyteller.  Just don't let people run around in underwear.  Don't make chef's hats.  We'll take it from there.

whilan writes:

I can understand and relate with the blog post about customization. I'm all for customization and i agree with that last line the most. That is a problem with appearance tabs it creates an oddity.

Quite often i've run across someone in Pjs or underwear that simply could kick my butt because he was really wearing epic gear he found in awesome end-game dungeon number 3 and had the appearance tab on to fool people.

As for customization of your character itself, they have stated that you have i think it was 3 body types and a decent amount of hair, faces and marks to make your character unique.

They also stated that you would have multiple armors for each "level" that you can use to define your character along with social clothing to help in conversations. Wether that one element helps or hinders i don't know yet.

The questing system at least for themepark MMOs has allowed nothing in the way of defining your character, you do the same thing as the gnome next to you just did, unless he decided not to take the quest.  But if he did, you both killed the same set of golbins, both burned down the same house, both got the same item and both slew the big bad boss.  While theres a chance of that happening here as well. Theres a very good chance (higher then most) that the gnome (for example purposes, there are no gnomes in SW:TOR as of now) next to you might have taken the same quest but his actions in those quest might have been very different, where you killed the leader he may have helped the leader because he wanted to.  It's not your own story granted but it at least allows for more customization in questing then it did before.

I'm not so sure CoH is a good game to place the make your own story idea. Most of those "stories" revolve around this guy caused some trouble, beat him for massive rewards.  It was a massive idea but they need to learn how to make it so the player can't just abuse the system to essentially break the game.

As for companions while you can't change their body type, face or name, you can most certainly change their skin color, hair, markings, even change if they lean to the dark or light side of the force and if they are a tank/dps/healer role if you so choose.

Just some tidbits that might have gotten missed.

Mon Jul 25 2011 11:45AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I don't know if you're familiar with CoH's Architect (and like all superpowers it can be used for good or evil - often both) but RP Supergroups often design missions mainly for themselves and centering on storyarcs and characters that are part of the saga they've invented.  So it really is more like traditional RP in the sense of someone acting as a gamemaster and interacting with players to create an adventure - that's unique to that group and those individual characters. 

Some Fleets in Star Trek Online are making use of The Foundry in the same way.  Storyteller in Star Wars Galaxies was even more powerful, for live roleplaying, as it allowed the player-GM and his assistants to interact with the props and players in real time and wasn't script dependent.  There were no real scripts.

Player generated content is an important trend.  The implimentations of the tools so far are fairly crude but each one offers some useful ideas.  Looking forward to the next interation.

SWG's appearance tabs aren't any trouble for PvP types, pretty much the only one's who should have any issue with them, because they can be toggled off by the viewer.  I just go into options, click off cosmetics, and suddenly I see exactly what everyone is really wearing.  I believe it's the same in LoTRO and STO.  Never tried to turn it off there.  I'm not sure how Age of Conan handles cosmetic costumes.  I haven't been back there in ages. 

Mon Jul 25 2011 12:08PM Report
Kothoses writes:

Giving this a bump, as a former NWN Rp/PW server admin and head DM I hear you on the need for Roleplayers to be able to make their mark.  In a setting such as starwars it would be fantastic to have gear dyes the ability to tweak certain hardpoints of gear and keep an appearance over the collected gear.  


I understand though that in these kind of MMOs there is a need for the "wow he looks badass" factor when it comes to endgame gear, and nothing drives people to end game more than E-peen envy which is I think the root of the issue you are describing.


I hope Bioware do include something like this though, as I very much want to make an imperial agent who looks like Columbo as my second Char!

Mon Jul 25 2011 11:19PM Report
ellis1138 writes: Thank you for writing this. I look at everything in SWToR in the panels and trailers, and it disappoints me. They even give my character a voiceover of scripted words. If this trend of MMO keeps up, I'll be heading back to MUSHing. I don't want to look like every other Jedi or Bounty Hunter, and have a companion who looks like everyone else's. And in this day and age, there's no excuse to not consider the social aspects (outfits, dancing, player houses). Too many MMO devs these days are leaning towards the FPS type of "You're in OUR story", rather than the roleplaying that some of us are used to. Just make us an immersive world with a backstory, good game mechanics and social tools. We'll fill in the character stories. Tue Jul 26 2011 12:50AM Report
Drakxii writes:

"One gets the sense that SWTOR might well be MMOdom's answer to Auntie Lydia's living room where nothing is ever to be touched or played with.  Only to be gazed upon and admired." 


Honestly this is what I feel like when I hear/read some of the DEVs talk about the game.  


Not to mention that the one voice per character is really going to kill immerison for alot of people.

Tue Jul 26 2011 1:03AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Hang in there guys.  MMOs aren't quite cooked yet.  I do think they could learn a huge amount from NWN, RP MUDs and MUSHes.  In time, SWTOR might decide they need to keep roleplayers around.  At launch we're a secondary concern at best but if enough of us survive the launch circus we'll be able to form a strong community and roleplayer's are the cockroaches of the MMO world.  Once we've dug in it takes a good deal to get rid of us.  We love our IPs and our social networks in-game and the corporate culture we forge over time.

Over time we may become the dominant element in the game if we're not all driven off by the intial poor choices in SWTOR.  Then we'll start seeing more of the tools we need.  I've seen that happen in MMOs before.

And there's life after SWTOR for that matter.  From a creative roleplayer aspect I'm keeping a weather eye on World of Darkness Online.  We have to see if CCP understands that a game about a roleplaying IP isn't the same thing as a mosh pit for PvPers.  Hopefully some of the seasoned White Wolf folks and fans will put the kabosh on the worst of those inclinations.

Tue Jul 26 2011 6:41AM Report
Dengar writes:

I'm in the same boat as you, Oddjob. I'll still end up playing TOR with some of my guildies, but as a single player MMO with a nice lobby. From the start, the "fourth pillar" BS stood out, since I've played some good MMOs that had story with more meaning than anything Bioware's brought up in TOR; game changing decisions made by players that effect important NPCs, player towns, the very landscape, etc. I'm not seeing any of that in TOR so far, so "story" via their perspective seems quite limited.

Tue Jul 26 2011 5:30PM Report
bellatrixed writes:

From my perspective, it's understandable that right now RPers are a secondary concern and they want to just flesh out the game and make sure it plays smoothly before launch. However... after the game has some time to get on its feet, I really hope they give us some features to enhance RP. Right now, my primary RP concerns are appearance gear, and ease of RPing cross faction. All the social stuff other games have--decorating, entertaining, storyteller, etc--is nice, but not needed for a world as immersive as SWTOR's looks to be.

I just love being able to dress my character appropriately while questing. In Age of Conan, now that they have a vanity tab, I will dress my character up in ways that make sense while questing. Going to a snowy area? Put on the cloak and furs. Desert area? Light clothes are key. That helps my immersion and builds my attachment to my character from an OOC perspective as well as IC. At this point, since many MMOs have spoiled us with the luxury of being able to dress our character however we want, there's no excuse, IMO, to go back in time and be forced to dress for stats only while questing.

Is it a game breaker to be forced to dress for stats? No... but it is a game enhancer to be able to dress however we want.

Wed Jul 27 2011 12:42PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Actually, the Apperance Tab is something I consider very fundamental to the creative drive roleplayers have.  The character is the basic embodiment of ourselves in the game and it's important to have control over appearance of that character at the very least.

But keep in mind I also noted alternate forms of expression like entertainer classes and functions as well as, and perhaps more importantly, player generated content engines.  Foundry, Storyteller and Architect all have valuable lessons for developers interested in keeping content generating roleplayers engaged.  This stuff is what we do for fun!

Tue Sep 20 2011 10:52PM Report
wystlin writes:

Orange gear for most outfits are available to the crafters. I already have the jedi knight look alike to the outfit you are wearing when you leave tython.  These orange outfits can use mods that make them any level as it is dependant on the mods. Thus no appearance slots -nessisary-. Yeah I would like several outfits, but I got by in wow for years.

Yes we need more looks/eye colors so on, but we have more than wow gave us at launch even if we have less than say city of or eq2.


The only thing the orange gear does not beat (proper mods installed) is purples. We shall see how that boils down in the long run. (wil they give us purple look alikes? so on)


Mon Dec 19 2011 10:16AM Report writes:
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