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The Free Fall

Random thoughts on MMORPG's and gaming in general from a long time player, fan, and hater. I've spent my time tasting porridge, and have yet to find the one that is 'just right.'

Author: Sovereign797

Dynamic Questing, the Future of MMO's

Posted by Sovereign797 Sunday March 22 2009 at 4:42PM
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I want to talk a little bit about quests.  I'm definitely not the first, so I won't harp on the obvious failings of the typical MMO quest.

There are so many better ways to do things, and of course, I'm here to tell you how.  For one thing, you all have to just accept that static questing is sick and wrong and should be quarantined and if it cannot be healed, put down with a spear through the chest.  Good. 

An MMO should behave as a somewhat natural, living, breathing, world.  The NPC inhabitants will have problems ranging from the very small to the very big and everything in between, all set off by their interactions with each other, with players, and with the environment.  If the environment itself is dynamic, the NPCs are able to react to it dynamically, then players will be able to have varied, original, and purposeful quests that affect their surroundings and maybe the whole world.

Example time:  A pack of wolves has gotten very large from overbreeding and a lack of larger predators (presumably those were killed by skilled adventurers).  They need more food and are starting to roam into the village to get it, endangering the citizens.  Citizen A now has problem 1 attached to him and if someone is so inclined to speak with him about what troubles him, he will offer a quest.  Now Citizen A has given a quest for problem 1 and will not give another to anyone else unless the person he gave it to fails to return after a few days.  The player kills as many female wolves as he can find and the population settles back in and retreats to the wilderness.

Citizen B has different ideas on handling the situation, so when the player goes to him, he gets a different quest entirely that should have the same desired effect.  He thinks they should just build a wall around the village, thereby keeping wolves from ever getting in.  You spend some time helping villagers collect wood, hire some laborers and help build the pallisade.  Problem solved, you get some money, fame, and you personally changed an NPC town.

All interactions can be flagged and tracked, and held in an NPCs memory for a length of time determined by how important it should be to the NPC.  If Tom Jones happens upon someone he doesn't know that was robbed by Player C, it wouldn't be as important to him as if he himself was robbed.  So Tom Jones may hold on to the story and retell it to the next few people he meets, the man who was robbed will likely tell it for a very long time. 

Given enough word spreading, a player may get a quest from an NPC to deal with another player, either by getting back what was theirs or just exacting revenge. 

This dynamic world scales as well.  When the King declares war on another nation, the whole world will spring up with possible quests for either side and for no side.  It will be possible to get quests from the king's men themselves with special jobs for mercenaries, or to join the army.  Some quest givers may be spies for the opposing nation or counterspies looking to root out spies.  Someone may just want the escort of a trustworthy adventurer in dangerous times. 

The possibilities are endless and only limited to how much a developer can think of and put into a dynamic quest generator.

Why does gear define the character, and yet it's all the same?

Posted by Sovereign797 Saturday March 21 2009 at 10:02PM
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At the risk of burning myself out on writing, I wanted to make another post today since I had a lot of time to develop some thoughts at work.

Someone made a comment in my first post about the hypothetical dragon dropping the good loot and therefore getting farmed so the hypothetical guild could get all of its members geared out.  I've already mentioned that I think once a creature dies it should be dead and stay dead, so that leaves out farming anything but I didn't really address how I feel about aforementioned 'good loot.' 

To be perfectly honest I hate the way loot is handled in MMO's.  You'll find I hate a lot of very specific things in MMO's today even if I don't necessarily hate all the games.  Typically, you can math out the perfect gear for your chosen class and then its just a matter of grinding the right raid dungeons to get it.  You could also just get your set pieces and then of course, everyone has the same gear and everyone has the same stats'ish.  Sure, some people invest more time and end up having the better gear first, and for a little longer than everyone else.. but we're all working for the same thing.  I think that is one of the strengths of the diablo series and games like it, dungeon siege, hellgate, etc.  They have randomized loot which is a good start and excellent for that kind of game. 

I ask why a lot, and there's no difference here.  Why does it have to be that way?  Why does gear have to play such a role that a green'd out level 80 fighting a purple'd out level 80 will get stomped every time.  Well, skill does play a role in games like WoW but I'm going to go ahead and say that gear plays a bigger one.  I think that some of the fantasy games could learn a thing or two from a game like EVE Online, where the modules you put on your ship do not play as big a role as other factors.  Sure, you can get officer mods in EVE, and spend billions on your ship's gear, but if you don't know what you're doing, your ship is still going to get blown up, and probably by someone with named and tech 2 gear.  Why? Because they live and breathe combat, overloaded their mods, kept you at range and kept their transversal velocity up so you had a hard time hitting them.  Because they knew how to fight you, not necessarily how to get the best gear to fight you, and now you're in your pod and they have roughly half of your expensive stuff.

EVE gets away with this because all modules will eventually explode.  Oh sure, leave them in your hangar or never take your ship into space and they'll be fine.. but take it out and get involved in the universe, and your ship is going to become space junk, give it time.  Because stuff blows up, and crafters can craft good items, there is always a market for them.  Because you can lose your officer mods, your epics, it's not everyone's goal in life to get the next one, it's their goal to get better at what they like to do.

So we've got destructible gear and minimal enhancement from good gear to great gear.  Garbage gear should be passable as well and available cheaply in large quantities.  It is my opinion that every single usable item in the game should be craftable by players, however, I believe that there can be room for some select unique pieces with lore surrounding them.  These pieces would be very difficult to destroy, but nothing is permanent, even the one ring was finally melted. 

What is this damn dragon going to drop then, why would anyone bother killing him?  For one thing, this dragon has a story of his own, and killing him would be important to the game world.  That's usually not enough though, so dragons always have treasure.  Why shouldn't he be sitting on a collection of loot that he's gathered.  Everyone who ever fought and died to the dragon would leave behind a portion of loot.  When someone finally kills it, there may be crafted armor left behind that Joe Armorsmith made for Jon Dragonslayer 3 months ago before Jon was turned into ashes.  So yeah, you should get loot, and if you're lucky, that dragon also had one of those unique pieces we were talking about.

Craftable everything I say, and people will pay top dollar for a well made sword, they always have.  Some of what SWG did originally with its crafting system was really great.  The varied stats on gear was great, getting that absolute perfect piece was very hard or very expensive.

And crafting it should be different too.. just wait till I write something about how I'd like to see crafting done. 

I've followed a lot of MMO's in development since I discovered the genre, and played many more.  They range from the completely worthless wastes of internet space to the very good wastes of internet space.   I guess I don't  really hate all MMO's, I have gotten many hours of entertainment out of quite a few of them before the developers destroy what was good about them or I have a chance to sit back and think about what I'm doing.

There are good points about WoW, surely as many as there are bad, just as there have been good points in many games over the years, EQ, UO, SWG, EvE, and even WAR and AoC.  By no means an exhaustive list of games I have played, in fact, not even close, but these are some of the more mainstream titles that I think missed the mark, yet each had aspects I enjoyed. 

WoW is a great example of a game you cannot say they messed up.  Blizzard is brilliant and they are making more money in a year than I could even begin to fathom.  Their game isn't the first to do what they've done, just the best at it.  It is not the MMO I would like to see, yet it still had elements that I enjoyed that no other MMO has been able to duplicate.  Raiding could be outrageously fun with the right group of people and an imposing challenge with others.  In that regard, they are a success.  They have their design, and it works for millions of people, so I say great job.

Too many companies now are trying to cash in on what Blizzard has already cashed in on.  You can't tap the same keg and hope for the same results.  They already ran that keg dry and moved on to the brewery.  All you developers out there, realize this, you do not want to be on the same pie chart as Blizzard.  You are not trying to attract their customers.  If you do, they will try your game, find you cannot do it as well as Blizzard, and go back to them.

I don't see the MMO as a genre by itself, but a series of genres.  Perhaps it is an industry all its own, as we've been calling it for years.  There are MMOFPS's, MMORPG's, MMOSIMs, Puzzles, historical, you name it.  The only problem is, every designer thinks it has to be done just like every other game, and specifically just like WoW.

I have thought they've been doing it wrong for years.  When I realized the potential of the MMO I had a lot of my own ideas on what you could do with such a game.  EQ 1 proved to me that the mainstream MMO's would not touch what I thought was the best aspect of this industry. 

Why are developers wasting so much time with content, quests, endgame, repeatable 'unique' bosses?  They are still making what should be single player and small scale multiplayer experiences and thrusting them into a massive world.  There's no difference between a heroic dungeon and meeting 5 people on battle.net to fight diablo.  I could get most of this kind of gameplay from a multiplayer session of neverwinter nights. 

They've missed the most important aspect of the MMO, the persistent world setting.  Stop crafting single player worlds when you could instead craft a living world.  Stop trying to make each player feel like a hero and appear they're making a difference in the game world.  They're not.  Everyone has done that quest a hundred times.  Build the world, give it a backstory, give it interesting lore to uncover, give it several conflict points, such as opposing views, races, resources, land, and let the players go.  They will create their own stories, they will be heroes or villains, crafters, leaders or followers.  Sprinkle in GM events to keeps things fresh and if the players are going to defeat a named boss, it either disappears and didn't die or if it dies, kill it, forever.

PvE content does not have to be instanced, ever.  Instances don't make sense.  How is my party and 5 other parties doing the same thing at the same time?  Build the content around a living breathing world.  If there's a dragon cave with a dragon in it, and some players go kill it, it should die.  Now there's a cave in the mountains that is uninhabited, to be taken up by wildlife, the undead, a troll. 

PvP should have meaning.  There should be a limited amount of permanent structures that guilds can fight over, with a very difficult and involved process for taking one over, the advantage going to who owns it.  If I get 10 of my guild together and I go fight and win against another guild I expect it to at least be the topic of some conversation the next day.  And given the proper game mechanics, I expect that over time, I will gain something in the way of that guild's lands or eventually one of their outposts, forts, castles, whatever.  

In addition to these things there should be something that drives the overall story, a villain or plague on the land that everyone can rally against, has no choice but to rally against.  It could be an extremely powerful world boss that is GM controlled or as little as a constant threat from a specific monster race.  The Wheel of Time series provides a perfect example here.  An MMO set in this world could take advantage of every one of these points.  In this universe, the lands are always under threat of Trollocs which can attack anywhere at any time, but have a constant presence in the north.  This is the perfect opposition for most players to fight and it can be set up to spawn randomly as well as be used with GM guidance to provide a more intense threat.

All of these things would provide a world that constantly changes through player actions and interactions with each other.  It would never be stale and never be repetitve.  Overall it should make for a more lasting experience without the need for adjusting level caps and adding endgame. 

This should be one of my longest entries, as it gives everyone an idea of where I stand with what I am actually looking for.  To date some games have touched on some of these ideas but never mastered or used all of them.  One day, this game will exist, if I have to make it myself, and when it does, a new genre will be born.