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MMOWTF: Infamy in MMOs

This week in his MMOWTF column Dan Fortier uses a piece of fiction to punctuate his views on playing an infamous outlaw character in an MMORPG.

Infamy in MMOs

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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Night came quietly to the small village of Homaly. Being only 20 miles from the fair city of Valladria, they had little to fear other than the odd bandit or rabid dog. The crippled moon shone brightly and cast a warm glow over the small valley.

The Stranger walked out of the hills that evening clothed in simple garments. A thick wool cloak covered his upper body, loose threads dragging behind his measured footfalls. The watchmen paid him little mind as he crossed the small wooden bridge and the gate that marked the edge of the town. His path took him straight to the local tavern with the broken sign known to the locals as the Wharf Pub.

Rusted lanterns were hung at intervals across the main room of the tavern and their hinges creaked as they swayed back and forth. The Stranger walked up to the bar and ordered a strong malt. Johann, the jolly bartender studied him carefully before pouring the syrupy mix into a dirty mug.

The Stranger grabbed his mug and headed toward a nearby table. As he turned Johann noticed a strange marking on the Stranger's arm. It resembled a black circle with writing inside. He had heard of others who had worn that mark and his face turned a sickly shade of irovy. He motioned towards the rear of the room and the three figures slowly rose to their feet and moved over to the Stranger's table.

The largest of the three sat opposite the Stranger and the other two moved behind him. A few of the locals who still had their wits about them noticed this and quickly gathered up their meager belongings and stumbled out the door.

"I haven't seen you before Stranger." the large, brutish human began.

"We make a point to know the people who come though Homaly," echoed the lean Elven woman as she casually cleaned her quiver.

The Stranger laughed darkly then replied "You won't have to worry about me soon enough."

"You may speak more of the truth than you know." a hooded Gnome giggled producing a thin knife dripping with viscous fluid.

All at once several things happened: A piercing scream followed by sounds of battle cut the air outside the thin tavern door. The Elf cocked her head towards the door as if to determine the plight of those outside. The Stranger's hand moved down into his cloak and produced a throwing knife and hurled it at the distracted archer.

The blade buried itself hilt deep in her throat and her eyes turned shockingly towards the Stranger. She attempted to raise her bow, but a spasm of pain staggered her and she dropped to the floor like a felled oak. The large man's broadsword cut the air with unbridled fury and smashed one of the tables to splinters as the Stranger nimbly ducked aside at the last moment.

A dart loaded with vile poison sped from the hand of the Gnome to lodge itself in the Stranger's chest. Another swing of the massive blade caught the Stranger across the chest, tearing through the fabric and revealing scale plates of the darkest ebony.

"Brigandine!" Yelled the Barbarian as the bent dart dropped to the floor.

The Stranger drew a curved blade from it's hidden sheath and slashed at the waist of the large man but only managing to sever his thick belt straps.

"By the Gods, I'll crush your skull!!" The man raged, stepping forward to decapitate his opponent with a sweeping blow.

The loose belt strap slid down the warrior's leg as he moved, entangling his lags in mid-stride causing him to stumble forward clumsily. The Stranger stepped backward as the large warrior's bulk crashed into the tavern wall, causing several lanterns to crash to the floor. The Stranger ignored the flames and casually reached over and slit the fallen man's throat. He gasped and clawed backwards as his lifeblood mixed with the burning oil.

The sounds of battle suddenly became clear as the Tavern door opened and another figure in dark armor strode inside. He saw the Stranger and knelt, lowering his eyes from his liege.

"The town is all but secure my Master" he spoke quickly as the battle blood raced though him.

"Excellent" the Stranger nodded "You took your time again I see, I nearly had to fight the entire town myself." He said, gesturing to the carnage inside the Pub.

"What shall we do with him Master?" The acolyte asked looking towards the Innkeeper who was cowering behind the bar as the flames spread across the walls

"Leave him, we have business at the Mayor's house remember?" The Stranger laughed as he walked from the burning Inn.

There are many different ways to enjoy yourself in an MMO. Some players find entertainment and profit in becoming master crafters whose wares are widely sought. Others find fulfilment by systematically defeating every challenge in the game till nothing left remains except to train for the next expansion. Others however revel in the joy of being the villain much like Rainz, Serenity Now, and Cynewulf. These players don't just want the joy of being hated but also long for a life outside of 'normal' society and truly wish to suffer the consequences of their actions. For them it's not good enough to kill weaker players if there is no penalty and enjoy the thrill of leading a virtual life 'on the lam' so to speak.

This week I wanted to muse briefly on the topic of playing an Outlaw in an MMO and the systems that make it rewarding. Grab your bifocals gramps and read along with the grandkids about their newfangled video games!

One of the many reasons I enjoy a game that creates strong Risk vs Reward systems is that it allows for a variety of viable playstyles rather that forcing players to shuttle up the grind ramp on their way to max level with little chance to deviate. Instead of simply forbidding a certain action, it's much more interesting to simply allow it with restrictions to avoid abuse. Killing and stealing are much more fun if there is a chance to get caught and be punished. Obviously players find loopholes in whatever system you design, but you can't create a freeform system without sacrificing complete control over the game. Anything else is muting the best element of MMOs; their dynamic potential.

One of the main aspects of any good Outlaw system is making sure that players who choose the lifestyle are adequately excluded from civilized areas while being given the opportunity to make due on their own, albeit in a much harsher environment. Not only would they be forced to produce their own manufactured goods, but the 'No Honor among Thieves" code would make every day a struggle from survival while never really being sure who your friends are. Not having access to major trading areas and the logistics of transporting valuable items around in the wilderness would mean players would rely on ambushing traders or buying from unsavory traders to get items that they need. While this is level of complexity is rarely seen in MMOs, various versions of this system exist in several games from Runescape's Notoriety system and EVE's security ratings that reward/punish players for breaking the law.

If you have bandits, then you've gotta have bounty hunters and Marshals right? Someone has to track down these scum and bring 'em swift justice and it might as well be the players. Unfortunately, these rewards need to be kept small, since bandits are not above claiming their own bounties should they get too high, although some kind of prema-death system might work for this purpose. All you need to do is give these lawmen and vigilantes a way to find their quarry and some way to prove their job is complete. For every player who loves to live on the edge, there is one who would enjoy pushing him off of it.

Allowing this kind of interaction creates all kind of meta-games that can fuel completely separate aspects of the game by creating new markets and jobs such as trackers and spies who will turn in a friend for the proverbial thirty pieces of silver. Nothing will prevent players from finding ways to grief weaker players, so the best thing you can do is make sure they pay the price for it while providing a new level of immersion for the players while you're at it.

The eyelids are feeling heavy so I'm going to turn in for now. Feel free to play 52 pick up with the random thought contained herein. Keep banging your cup against the bars till next week when I'll bring some fresh bullets for the campfire. Do Svidanja!