Friday, May 29, 2009
Taking the best features for the next generation
Tipa of West Karana muses how SOE could use the Free Realms engine for Everquest 3. That might or might not happen, but it reveals an often overlooked truth: Even games you hate might contain some great features.
The problem is that we judge games as a whole. Some people have a short look at a game like Free Realms, see pre-teen graphics and microtransactions, and decide that this game isn't for them. Which might well be true, but in the process of quickly dismissing the game, they failed to notice the features of Free Realms that are innovative and independent of the actual game. Free Realms is streamed to your computer via a browser, which means you can start creating a character and even start playing without having to download or install several gigabyte of data first. It is totally possible, even likely, that we'll see completely different games using that technology in the future. Free Realms has multiple servers, but you character is *not* bound to a single server. If your usual server is down, you can simply keep playing with your same character on a different server. And if you happen to have friends on different servers, you can play with all of them, or persuade them all to move to the same server. World of Warcraft charges you $20 for moving even just one character from one server to another, with loads of restrictions.
The same thing is true for Luminary. There are good reasons why this might not be the game for you, with the graphics being 2D, and the combat even less tactical than the already not very tactical combat of World of Warcraft and similar games. But then you log on and see a list of people lining up to become your mentor and help you over the first couple of levels (not because they are so nice, but because they get advantages too from it), and you wonder why WoW doesn't have that feature. You take a quest in Luminary, kill the 10 foozles you are asked to kill, and your quest giver pops up, and gives you the reward and the follow-up quest without you having to run back to him. Why doesn't every game with quests have that? And the biggest feature of Luminary for me is the Game Info, where you can look up every item and monster in the game, complete with location and loot table. Why do I have to alt-tab to some database site for all the other MMORPGs to get that sort of info?
I so hope that when game developers start planning their next game, they look at *all* games for a list of the best features they could use for the next generation, and not just World of Warcraft. It is well possible that WoW is the best overall game (or at least the most successful one), but that doesn't mean that every single feature in WoW is the best possible implementation. Crafting in WoW is boring, the auction house is seriously missing buy orders and a sales history, and some quests can't be solved without using an addon like QuestHelper or a site like Thottbot or Wowhead. Lots of smaller games have single features that are better than the WoW implementation. It's just that nobody notices them, because the rest of the game isn't as good and successful as WoW.