Friday, July 03, 2009
The illusion of impact
The discussion in the last open Sunday thread was about making MMOs more dynamic, less static, with the players having an impact on changes in the world. In the current situation, players feel more like stuck in Groundhog Day, with them evolving every day, but the world around them always remaining the same. Why is that so?
The main reason why having a real impact on a virtual world is hard to implement is that it would affect other players. Imagine Hogger or Onyxia or Kel'Thuzad being permanently dead after the first players killed them, or mobs generally not respawning; after a few days the virtual world would be void of monsters. Game over. Imagine *players* not respawning after being killed in PvP. Game over. Imagine an RvR game in which one realm wins, there is no reset, and due to having control of everything the winning side keeps getting stronger and at some point can't be overthrown any more. Game over. Everything resets in order that the next player can still play the same game.
What we are left with the possibility to create an illusion of impact. In its most simple form that is created by the player moving through content and not coming back. You got the quest to kill Hogger, you go there and do the deed, you see Hogger lying on the ground and loot him, you go back and get your quest reward. As there is no real reason for you to go back to the little peninsula Hogger roams, you have the illusion of having killed Hogger, when in reality of course he respawned 5 minutes later.
The more advanced method of creating the illusion of impact is by using copies of parts of the game. If you killed Onyxia or Kel'Thuzad today, they will still be dead tomorrow. Unless it's Wednesday, and the raid dungeon reset and they are all back. This was much expanded in Wrath of the Lich King, so if you do the quest series in Conquest Hold in Grizzly Hills that leads to a different chieftain becoming the boss there, or if you do the Wrathgate event in Dragonblight, you will see these places permanently changed every time you go there. What you can't do is go there with a friend and show him "look what I have done", because your friend will see those places as they were before the quest, until he does the quest himself. In some cases that can also lead to two players being unable to cooperate on a quest, because they are in different phases, and see different things.
Another illusion of impact is a location that exists in two (usually) states, and alternates between those states based on player actions. In PvP that is places like Halaa in Nagrand, or keep battles in WAR. You conquer the keep, and it is yours! Then nothing happens. You get bored and log off. Then the other side comes and conquers the keep and it is theirs! And so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. That could theoretically be done for PvE too, for example questing for the villagers to chase away the wild animals from the forest, so the lumberjacks can log wood there; and other players later questing for the druids to chase away the lumberjacks from the forest to restore natural balance. I just can't think of any game that does this right now.
Thus the best possible case of a dynamic world is one where everything exists in several states, which are in some sort of dynamic equilibrium that can be influenced by the players. Fight a lot of orcs, and the village prospers. No players doing those quests for a while and the orcs burn down the village, opening up new quests to reconquer the place. Moving frontlines in PvP, with some balancing factors that prevent one side permanently dominating. We could have player run cities, that evolve with the actions of the players, but following certain rules. We could even have unique events planned by the devs in which the world is permanently changed, but following a script balanced by the developers. What we can do is to make the illusion of impact very good, very convincing. The question is whether players will be happy with that illusion.