#3 Ubisoft Montreal
While Sierra On-Line represented the very earliest in adventure gaming, Ubisoft Montreal represents the most modern. Founded in 1997 as a part of the larger Ubisoft family, the Montreal studio has grown into one of the largest and most famous in the world having made such popular titles as: The Tom Clancy series, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Prince of Persia and more.
Games like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia have earned Ubisoft Montreal a reputation for making games that engage their audiences not only in epic combat, but also in story, stealth and character. These are all hallmarks of a good MMO. Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia in particular encouraged players to slow down and engage in a different kind of action. For Assassin’s Creed, it’s all about finding the best way to carry out your assassinations, and other stealthy missions. Prince of Persia works on a similar model, but emphasises jumps and puzzles over hack and slash play. And don’t forget, when they did Assassin’s Creed, they showed that they could make beautiful, interesting open world areas.
The MMO industry is only just starting to more fully embrace hybrid RPG and action games. With games like The Agency and DC Universe Online in development and set to break onto the scene with fast, action oriented combat, the stage is set for one of the big, established players to take a swing at the market. While The Agency and DCUO so far seem to be heavy on the pulse throbbing combat who better than Ubisoft Montreal to offer a striking alternative?
#2 Rockstar Games
Their name oozes self confidence and maybe even a little bit of ego, and why not? Rockstar Games has become one of the most recognizable names in the industry. While they do have a host of other titles under their belts, the one that comes to everyone’s lips and the reason that they’ve made number one on this list is the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
Grand Theft Auto, in particular the games made after 2002 (Vice City, San Andreas and IV), that take place in beautifully rendered fully realized city environments.
Sure, these Grand Theft Auto games have plots, with their own missions and stories that make them engaging for players, but the real value of these games comes in the form of the open world in which virtually anything is possible. When people talk about GTA with their friends, it’s rarely to discuss various plot points and almost always revolves around stories created by the players themselves as they engaged in a kind of free play that few games have been able to accomplish either before or after the release of these games.
In an MMO environment where hardcore players are leaning more and more toward wanting a true sandbox game, who better to bring it to them than the people behind GTA?
They’ve already shown a propensity to break the mould and try random things. Table Tennis anyone?
Why didn’t this studio take the number one spot? It’s simple: Realtime Worlds, founded by the creator of the original GTA David Jones, is currently working on All Points Bulletin, a game that very much captures the essence of the sandbox style that Rockstar would have the potential to bring. Jones, it should be noted, left Rockstar after GTA2. While his pedigree is undeniable, it wasn’t him who brought them into the world of 3D that we all know today.
Rockstar should throw its hat in the ring, the name alone would carry enough weight to get people’s attention.
It’s tough to tell a good story in an MMO. It has been proven time and time again that the traditional methods of using quest and other text dialogue has become old and stale and that many players just skip over written text as quickly as possible in order to get to the “good stuff.” So, to whom do you turn if you want to see a shift in paradigm? Valve has already bridged that gap for the FPS genre, so maybe it’s time they tried MMOs?
Valve’s first release, Half-Life, laughed in the face of conventional FPS storytelling. It made use of scripted events in-game to move their plot along rather than relying heavily on animated cut-scenes. Half Life also broke with the traditional “level” model of gameplay and instead presented advancement through areas as “chapters,” which gave players the feeling that they were moving organically through a cinematic story, rather than just trying to beat the next level. Half-Life 2 then perfected this design philosophy.
While Half-Life is by far Valve’s most famous contribution to the video game world, their knack for unique storytelling is also evident in two of its other titles: Portal and Left 4 Dead. In each of these games, things like story and character are very much a part of the background with the main focus standing alone on gameplay elements.
In Portal, the player finds themselves a part of a beta test for a new device capable of opening stable portals, guided by a sterile-sounding computer voice. As players progress through the game they learn, through dialogue and environment that all is not as it seems, and that the robot voice is more malicious than first thought and what began as a simple test is actually a fight for your life. All of this is done without the benefit of cut scenes or text dialogue. Left 4 Dead works in a similar manner. In the middle of a zombie apocalypse (the cause of which isn’t even a thought in the game), players get to know the game world by paying attention to visual cues in the world around them (graffiti on walls, messages to loved ones, etc.). The four characters are explored through cleverly inserted dialogue.
The world of MMOs could benefit from some new and more subtle means of storytelling and Valve’s ability to tell a story, combined with their ability to design interesting and engaging gameplay elements make them a perfect candidate for a kick at the MMO can.