Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Groundhog Day

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day Bill Murray plays a weatherman who due to his evil ways is cursed to repeat the same bad day over and over again. That turns out to be an absolute nightmare, because while the character develops over time, the world around him stays always the same, and any attempts to change it remain futile. As the last open Sunday thread revealed, many of you are stuck in the same nightmare: The MMORPGs we play stay always the same, have no end, and there is no way to change the world. The characters develop, but when we go back to the Barrens, Mankrik is still looking for his lost wife, after 4 years and several million players telling him where she is. By moving through a series of static sceneries, an illusion of progress is created. But if you move back, or play again with a different character, you see that nothing ever changes.

Being stuck in the Groundhog Day of a static world not only affects replayability. It also diminishes the motivation to play through some content even for the first time. Because we are limited to a static world with respawns, our quests are mostly limited to "go somewhere and kill some monsters" or "go somewhere and click on something / someone". There are no decisions to be made, no moral choices to be pondered, no roles to be played. The story of our virtual lives is a sequence of unconnected short stories with no consequences, about as interesting as reading through Thottbot, and giving us no more motivation than when we played the laser cannon in Space Invaders.

So how can we escape from Groundhog Day? In all fairness it must be said that developers are trying out some things. A Tale in the Desert has a world that is to some degree changeable by the players, who can even vote on changing game rules. And it has a beginning and an end, being currently in the third "telling". The Lord of the Ring Online has a series of "book" epic quests, telling a story that spans the whole game, and is related to the saga in the Tolkien books. Age of Conan up to level 20 has an interesting system where you can switch back and forth from multiplayer standard quest gameplay to an epic solo destiny quest (AoC would have been a decent game if it had continued that until the level cap). And even World of Warcraft with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion introduces a kind of destiny quest series in several phases for the new Death Knight class. The same area exists in different phases of the story, which allows the environment to appear changed. Of course the change is scripted, because there is only one possible course of action.

And that leads us to the root of the problem: How do we handle change in a multiplayer game? If the first player to tell Mankrik about his dead wife made Mankrik walk off and arrange the funeral, what would there be left to do for the next player who passes? The most change we can have in a multiplayer game is something like the keeps in Warhammer Online, which permanently switch between two possible states, being controlled by one side or the other. When Order controls the keep, there isn't much to do for an Order player, until Destruction decides to launch a raid and tries to capture it. That principle is something that could be used for PvE quests as well, lets say one faction giving people quests to kill the wolves so that the loggers can harvest wood, and another faction asking players to chase off the loggers so that the trees can grow back and the wildlife regenerate. So players can cause a change in the game world, but that change is reversible, and there is still a good chance that when you play the game again the wood is in the same state as it was when you first saw it.

But if changes to the multiplayer game aren't possible, or limited to reversible changes, we might have more success if we sneakily introduce a singleplayer game into our MMORPG. The "Tortage at night" destiny quest in AoC does exactly that, and the Wrath of the Lich King Death Knight starting area works in a similar way. But we could do even better, because virtual worlds are not subject to the same physical laws as the real world. Two people walking through the same door don't necessarily have to come out in the same room. And the same NPC doesn't necessarily have to be in the same situation when talked to by two different players. This allows us to get rid of that horrible concept of having half a dozen NPCs with unrelated quests standing around in the same village, and the player filling his quest journal with too many stories he can't possibly all remember.

So what I propose would be every player having one, individual, epic quest line, with possible sub-quests and branches. Instead of getting quests by clicking on an NPC with a glowing symbol over his head, the player starts the game with a quest that is the start of an epic saga. Whenever he finishes a main quest, he'll get to the next step. But because the next step is individual, and only visible to him, this allows us to introduce both random factors and choices. Basically we end up with a MMORPG version of the Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy books. If you saved the princess the quest line will continue in one way, but if you used the opportunity and stole the dragon's treasure while he was munching on the damsel, the quest line continues in a different way. And unlike the books, we can even further individualize the story: Random or environmental factors could determine how the quest continues. Few people currently hunting wolves in this zone? Lets send the player on a quest part that asks him to hunt those wolves. Or have a random roll determine whether the next step is hunting wolves, bears, or boars. With both choices and random factors influencing the story line, playing another character will never be the same. And the player would only follow one epic main story, with a few limited side-quests clearly marked as such. That will allow grander stories, being more interesting to the player because they involve him much more. To some extent it would even be possible to replace the training of spells and abilities, or the choosing of talents, by a new mechanic in which you receive your spells and abilities as quest rewards (something already done in the Death Knight starting quest series). Instead of choosing a talent tree, you choose a story tree, and by, lets say, deciding to help the tundra people fight the ice giants get access to new fire spells.

On your individual level that plays much like a single-player RPG, but zoom out and overall there is still a multiplayer game behind it. Because that same tundra and the same ice giants that are involved in the fire spell part of the quest tree of some mage could figure in another role in the quest line of another class. He'd be looking for something different, some other reward, but would still be asked to fight the same monsters, so there would still be an interest in grouping up and forming adventuring parties to go somewhere. Who says that everyone in a group must have exactly the same quests to go to some dungeon? They could be looking for different things in there, and some players might join them just for the fun and loot, without having a quest for the place.

Of course designing epic quest trees for every class, with random branches and sub-quests, is a lot of work. But would that really be prohibitive in a MMORPG development project that already has 300 people working on a game for several years, costing $50 million? Compared to creating fancy graphics, creating better stories is relatively cheap. And in my opinion it would be the better investment, because players completely ignore the sparkly spell effects after having seen them once or twice, while epic destiny quest sagas would last them a long time. And you wouldn't need those thousands of short story quests any more. Because players would stop being errand boys doing favors for everyone they meet, but become heroes on an epic journey to a destiny. And yes, that destiny would have an end, somewhere at the level cap. The end wouldn't delete that character, and he could still walk the land as a grizzled veteran and participate in whatever PvE or PvP endgame the MMORPG has. But maybe there would be a lesser percentage of the player base all huddling in the endgame, because making a new character and following a different destiny now sounds more attractive. Expansions could add new destiny quest lines for new character classes in new zones, instead of just adding 10 more levels to the end. And the MMORPG genre could grow up into a medium telling stories, like books or movies do, instead of repeating the same Groundhog Day over and over. Wouldn't that be great?
That would be more than great, that would be a bliss. Add to that a recurring arch enemy or villain and interaction with the npc's along the quest, that sounds more like a perfect game to me.

Of which I have written once or twice myself, too.


PS. you could start consulting Mythic, Blizzard and Sony as a side job, you know that, don't you?
I'd prefer the first option since if you give each player an individual long-term quest that'd make grouping to do quests even more annoying than it is now.

With the first option you can take the basic idea (doing a quest flips a switch between two different states, for example the "kidnap the princess" quest and the "rescue the princess" flip the state of the princess back and forth) and then ramp up the complexity. Make some quests only be possible when certain things in the world are in the right state(for example the "help the Evil Overlord get a guardian monster to guard the captured princess" quest only fires when the princess has been kidnapped) and how a PC does one quest can impact other quests (if a player gets the evil overlord a guardian ogre or a guardian troll then it impacts what other players fight when they go to rescue the princess).

Put in enough quests that trigger other quests and let the quests affect each other in enough ways and you get a nicely workable illusion of a truly dynamic world.

I'd definately buy any game that did that.
I think this would work on servers which much more limited populations.

10,000 players is soooo many that each area can easily get flooded with characters.

This also reminds me of old Sierra games like Quest for Glory, where the save game files were obscenely large because it had to remember everything you'd ever done.

I have a suspicion that if it is done too well and there is too much story/immersion/individuality it would actually turn into a single player adventure game with optional group activities. I'm not playing $15/month for that.

Changing landscape has been mentioned with Darkfall Online.
e.g. you kill lots of orcs and they gradually migrate out of the area/away from town. You leave them alone and their numbers rebuild and they start raiding the town.

I think there are two options to remove or reduce Groundhog Day feeling.

1. Developers give the game meaning with quests, etc.. that change the individual gamers experience/world

2. Players define the purpose. Usually fighting over territory/money/etc...

Both have limitations. The AQ gate opening was supposed to bring achieve version 1. However only the a relatively small fraction of players were really involved.

Its very controversial to have content evolve for everyone, since those who missed out are likely to complain and those who completed it months ago are desperate and vocal for new content.
Tobold, you're basically describing Guild Wars here.
There is one EPIC chain in WoW - AQ gates opening event. And it does change the env. - opens the gates and triggers 1-time server event. After that you get access to 2 new raid instances.

After 180 hours /played i still want to complete it even the gates are already opened on my server. But it totally worth just doing it because it FEELS EPIC. I know it because i did a few parts with a person who rang the gong.

Imo there is nothing close to that chain. It has solo/group and raid parts. It was impossible to complete it on lvl 60 w/o server effort and good raiding guild. Still challenging now.

If wow had more quest chains like that i'd consider an option to pay more than $15/mo
I don't know if you have ever tried the game Pirates of the Burning Sea, but that game has a little of what you seem to want.

1/ Each port in the game can be fought over and won by one of 4 nations. The other 3 Nations will then fight to try to take it off you.

2/ The Map of Destiny questline is amazing. The very first thing that happens in the introduction to the game is your captain is attacked. You fight to save him but he dies anyway. The last thing he does is give you a piece of paper with strange writing on it. This starts off a series of quests that take you almost through the whole game as you discover people to help you read the map, and the story unfolds. The quest line even branches off as you discover your new love and various other things. You even have to make real decisions. Do I save the scientist or do I let the evil guys take him and join them. The decision you make changes the path you take and the follow up quests for the rest of the chain.
I think you have some good ideas in your post, Tobold, but you do have a lot of wishful thinking as well.

I found the idea of lumbers and wolves brilliant and a great adaptation of the Conquest Something Theme to single quests. With good quest design there could be more than two options based on character demographics, factions balance and so on.

Up to a certain degree, the extended Destiny quests would also work provided they could tie different quest lines to common objectives. Unfortunately, when in your group happened to be someone on the same destiny quest as you, it would be worse for immersion than the present paradigm where at least a party can believe they were all given the same quest by the quest giver.

As for the wishful thinking, I mean this statement: "Compared to creating fancy graphics, creating better stories is relatively cheap.". I do believe is quite the opposite. Creating great graphics is a challenge and it can add so much to a game, but when a designer is supposed to render a nice visual effect for a healing spell he won't have a huge impact on the gameplay or on the player interaction. Writing stories and adapting them to quest lines in an MMO context is probably much harder for one must promote player interaction, lore coherency among many other things. Also there is always the risk of the MMO on rails feel be worsened making the player feel that there is only one way of progressing. Also you would have replayability to a certain degree for despite some differences you would be doing basically the same thing but with a different flavor.

Nevertheless I do think that Epic quest lines should be implemented more cleverly and you give good suggestions on that. I would add that players would not even need to be on the same or a similar quest line in order to participate. What if any player could be a quest giver as well? Players on the Epic quest line could recruit other players for help and those would have a reward granted by the original quest giver (i mean the NPC) upon completion.
Awesome post Tobold, but thanks for reminding me of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Those were awesome reading when I was a kid.

I understand where you are coming from. After playing WoW for a few years and doing the same quests after level 20, 4 times over, I don't have the stomach for doing it again.

At the same time, if each individual class/race had an option to do a certain quest line with options, it would be too limiting.

With a MMO, the world has to be static, else you get people who like you said, are tired of something, while others yearn for it.

A nice middle ground would be a cross of your ideas. A Choose Your Own Adventure, but with multiple versions of quests so that friends or strangers can pick up where you are at and help you.

To me, one of the worst things about a MMO are quest chains that have to be started at a beginning point and no where else. Allow other people to join you on "epic" quest lines that give options to perform other quests based on your decisions. Not quite as "epic", but also not as limiting.

Otherwise, as someone else said, if the quests are too specific, you end up with a single-player game with a side of MMO.
Just to add that probably MMO worlds tend to be perennial because meaningful change would be too much of an investment.

When you have a game world that is constantly changing you have the risk of not having new players entering the game. Even if the world changes monthly, a new player could have the feeling of "why bother, i missed so much already". And the costs of maintaining constant changes could be astronomical unless these changes would be purely cosmetic with some name-changes on the quests as well.

Just my ...erm... four cents? :)
When you have a game world that is constantly changing you have the risk of not having new players entering the game. Even if the world changes monthly, a new player could have the feeling of "why bother, i missed so much already".

There are players already in WoW who have never been to Black Wing Lair or Black Temple and with the new expansion coming out in a month won't bother going, despite changes only happening every 2 years.

Its silly to suggest if there are monthly changes in a world that they will never experience what has happened before or happen again - as long as dungeons remain, people can organise themselves to go and see them if there is enough demand.

Personally, I would like monthly storylines. Scourge attacks precursing the expansion, Nerubians sighted in Eastern Plaguelands, Naxx suddenly disappearing along with Daleran and the players sent to discover why, etc.

So players could either do the "changing monthly" storyline, the standard solo quests, the instance/raid runs, the dailies, the PvP BGs or a combination of any or all of the above.

Monthly chapters with a series of quests can be done (like the Shattered Sun dailies) that have absolutely no impact upon the long-standing features of the world, it just requires a lot more work in a shorter time frame.
Since nobody has said it yet in this thread ;) : EVE's 0.0 Sovereignty system, Alliance wars, and (for a hint of genuine permanence) Outpost construction.

The game's PVE is the usual largely unchanging vapid nonsense, of course.
There is a huge problem - designing game around quest chains basically removes the MMO feeling. For once, you can hardly impact game in any significant way because there is other 5000 ppl doing the same changes. Another problem is that quest chains basically destroy friend grouping - you only can do the quests with friends who play only together all the time, otherwise you end up doing certain quests several times (DDO comes on mind). The same problem like levels BTW, but... meh.

In my opinion only sandbox game can succeed in people shaping the world, but these are usually less "carefree" by nature and usually have PvP with consequences, thereby are not ideal for the Tobold-type players.
WoW is introducing the new phasing system throughout northrend - not just in the Archerus/Scarlet Enclave area - would be wise to bear this in mind.
i would be happy to just see npcs wandering around more dynamically.

lets take a zone in wow, multiply the number of (quest-)npcs by 5 and let each one wander from place to place, waiting at each place until someone did his current quest(s).
i doesnt have to be every npc - a good mixture of static quests and dynamic ones is propably better.

you could let questgivers die and spawn a new one which runs around similarily with a similar set of quests (maybe changing some names, features, etc).

i wouldnt expect a implementation of features like this to be that hard.
"Its silly to suggest if there are monthly changes in a world that they will never experience what has happened before or happen again - as long as dungeons remain, people can organise themselves to go and see them if there is enough demand.

I meant permanent changes, not events. For example, when Azeroth suffered a Scourge invasion it was fun and all. But when it was over nothing really changed. And undead invasion, corpses everywhere, destruction and ruin and not a single dent in the landscape?

And remember: Lady Prestor is still there. Didn't we kill Ony over and over and over and over and (...) again?

Nevertheless events are great indeed and it should be more of them. :)
You have convinced me Tobold. I would buy that game.

I would avoid having too many procedurally generated quests. Far better to use clever writing and the mathematics of permutations to generate a unique trail through a selection of high quality quests for every player. A possible model to look at might be the excellent single player game Sacrifice. It has five main paths to the end goal each having ten steps. Players can mix and match steps from different main paths giving a large number of unique paths through the game. In sacrifice your final skill set depends on the path you took. Imagine if that feature was included in an mmo.

@ross smith: Tobold's proposal differs from Guild Wars because it it not instanced but is a true mmo. So much of Guild Wars is instanced that it feels like a single player game PVEwise.
Some great ideas here, game theory-wise. However, I believe that the biggest hindering factor will be.... the players.

Players seldomly accept things that are slowing them down, or prohibiting them from doing something. Wolves and lumbers... Soon, people will start complaining why they cannot move on with their quest and have to kill 200 ...(insert wolves/lumbers/etc. here)... to change the current reality. In particular if you only have so many hours per week to play and have to spend x% of it to do things BEFORE you can actually play what you want.

Instanced quests, like in LOTRO are a great way to tell an individual story line, but the more choice you have in how to move through this line, the more dependent you become on other players who chose the exact same quest branches. IMHO, a quest line has to require group quests at one point to allow bigger challenges. If, during the single player quest line, you have a lot of choice (great!) you may end up with a group quest at a branch that nobody else found interesting and you are stuck (bad!)

One example is Book 14 in LOTRO. You need groups to do chapter 9 and continue to the end (I forgot how many chapters). Usually you can find PUGs for the epic quest line quite soon. However, many groups do chapter 9, and the rest in one go. Now, when you didn't have the chance, for whatever reason, to complete chapter 10 and further in one go as well, you may be stuck for a long while, because not many players are looking for groups for the later chapters anymore. I am not saying this is always the case and everywhere, but I know from my server that often people complain that they cannot find a group due to exactly what I described before.

Although, personally, I would like to have influence on the game world as a whole, too much of individual choice may not always be the best for a Massively Multiplayer type of game.
I would like NPCs to recognise that I killed a particular mob; hence when said beast is despatched, they should no longer spamming me with "oh no, that nasty pig is eating all the vegetables; if only someone would kill it" chat.
Surely it can't be that hard to make it so that I no longer receive such chat if I have completed the quest.
While a nice idea in theory, I think this is a generally flawed idea. The problem is, very few people really /care/ about story. Look at all the people in WoW, I would guess less than 50% of the players care or even pay attention to the story. Probably even lower than 25%.

Different chains will just irritate people. If there are three different paths, a quest chain can split to at random, players will only one that is fastest and when they don't get it, they'll be pissed.

Then there are people like me, who want to be able to do everything. I like having my quest log filled willed a bunch of different storylines and side quests. If I only had one main questline and a couple quests here or there, I'd not enjoy that so much.

Also, what would you do for people who wanted to level up side by side from level 1-cap. For instance, my girlfriend just started playing WoW, I'm playing a warlock and she's playing a hunter. Under your system we'd each have a myriad of different questlines. We want to be able to be on the same quests at all times so we can just run everywhere together.

As for changing the world, when I play the game, I want to be the hero. See it as selfish but I want to be the one to change the world, not anyone else. That's why I've been enjoying the world phasing in the WotLK beta because although everyone is doing the same questline, everyone feels like they are the one changing the world by themselves or with a buddy or two.
I think worlds players could impact would be possible if games got away from linear quest lines where everyone has to be the hero. Think about it--if there were some sort of "random event generator" rather than the same static quest givers and the same repeatable dungeons, things would be much more interesting. Think in terms of how a game like Diablo II randomly generates dungeons, but a game could do this with NPCs and actual events rather than physical places.

Sure, not everyone would get the SAME "epic" opportunity to conquer the same "epic" instance, but what's epic about something that 10%-40% of your server population are doing on a nightly basis?

Such a process would probably take some tweaking from content managers and writers to make sure the randomly generated events don't feel hollow and are in sink with lure and such, but it could work. How much more organic would it feel if one day, an orc is looking for his wife, the next week a village is being plagued by a gang of bandits, and the next week a dragon is eating a farmer's cattle and burning his crops?

And how much more "epic" would that feel because everyone and their best friend is not doing the EXACT same thing?

And a physical world players can impact is a MUST that's been neglected too long. Think of how different each "world" would be server-to-server. Each would have their own distinctive feel and environment. Perhaps on one server, players created a utopian society with gleaming, industrious cities, while on another, there's constant war and power struggles where civilization has crumbled and players run around destroying buildings and razing crops?

It's gotta come soon because the tired old MMORPG formula is stale and just getting worse.
Good post, if a bit late.

Problem is, this side of the paradigm shift, world persistence isn't going to gain much traction. We need too many intervening steps before you can even have a serious discussion of this. Good social spaces, content design outside of O(n) time, internally consistent worlds and major AI improvements are all probably in the pipe before a successful implementation of dynamic worlds/storylines.

The biggest problem holding it back though is really cost. While one quest is cheaper than a pretty healing effect, as you build art assets they efficiently scale upwards, taking progressively less to make as more is already made. Writing on the other hand takes about the same amount of time and money for any pieces of similar length, so while you save time and money on the hundredth piece of armor over the first, the hundredth piece of writing took roughly as long and roughly as much money as the first.

Some solutions to O(n) time content is to create reusable quests, as we see now. As a variant, have quests exist as separate entities, jumping from NPC to NPC, gaining their noun sets from their current host, in such a way as to most likely provide the same experience across many players while reducing the likelyhood of their being seen by any one player. This is all just a stop gap however, the ability for the game to create good content procedurally is the El Dorado here but faces some major hurdles, mostly around the "good" part.

Of course if the world is going to change, we need the players to engage each other as collections of communities within the community. We see some of this in the current guild system, but we need much more in terms of how we deal with the spaces that the players or designers set aside for socializing. Right now most games have major cities that become player metropolis, but few really seem to embrace that role. Almost none have been designed to work as community centers, and some are even designed to be "bad places" since they want the players out of them and back in the leveling grind.

I could probably go much further, but I think I'm starting to get into lecture mode here. Point is, glad you thought of it, but there is just too much to do between points a and k here. None of these hurdles are particularly small here either, but hopefully we'll be seeing some major progress here in the next little bit.

A lot of what I've been seeing out of the press surrounding recent conferences sounds like people are really trying to make some good progress on these fronts. We'll just have to wait a few years and see what projects begin to surface.
Wyrm really hit the nail on the head.

You do Jailbreak and reveal Lady Prestor to be the dragon Onyxia, so she summons in her personal guard then flees Stormwind Keep. An Epic battle (of sorts) between guards and dragons occurs, and five minutes later...Lady Prestor is back???

At the very least there should be something saved to that particular Toon's file which says, "Make Lady Prestor invisible."

You'll still see her Dragons and be able to help friends kill them, but for you, Lady Prestor will have flown the coop...keep.
I remember reading a post a year or more ago about an MMO that was being developed that was based around something similar to this. The ideas seemed a bit too progressive and I doubt that it would ever make it to launch.

Basically you would have a village with a cave nearby. At first the cave would have some goblins in it that would sort of keep to themselves. The NPCs in the village would give out quests to go in and clear them out. If enough players ran this quest then the goblins would be kept under control. If players moved on and the goblins were left on their own then they would slowly develop. The number would increase over time. Gradually they would get more tougher and even have "hero" named goblins spawn at certain points and they would now be moving out from the cave with a little town at the mouth.

Throughout this entire chain of events the villagers would be giving out quests to players to deal with the increasing threat from the goblins in the cave. Eventually if not taken care of a boss level (raid/lord whatever) would spawn deep within the cave and begin launching attacks against the village. Soon the players would come in and kill the boss for the loot and clear out all of the goblins. Then the next day zombies move into the cave and the whole process would start again.

The concept sounds great on paper but I doubt I would see anything this dynamic making it to launch in a main stream large scale MMO.
The part of this post I liked the most was the comment about having too many quests in my log to remember any kind of storyline. Boy that is true! In wow, I (1) hit a new area (2) run as fast as possible to get all quests (3) don't read anything because lets face it, even if I am interested there is just too much to keep track of (4) move to next area.

I like the story lines, but there are so many that you never know if this quest you are about to pick up is a kill 10 rats and nothing more, or a kill 10 orcs, and then start something involved and epic. So why pay attention?

Tobold always seems to help me see the way I play these games and what it is that I enjoy and don't when it isn't always clear to even me.
My hope lies with the Bioware KOTORO.
If they stick to what they know, and allow players to pick their paths in life like Mass Effect, KOTOR or Jade Empire, then this could break the cycle.

I agree with Copras choice of an Arch Nemesis, or various "chapters" of story released as content (like LOTRO).

We cannot get rid of the replayability issues I think, but we could have a beginning and an end, and multiple ways to approach the game that gives us a different adventure based on our choices.

As to AoC, the story does continue...just they decided to pad it out with questing and force the player to get to level 30 before you continue, then it goes until 50 before you do more of YOUR story...

Bad mistake.

As I have stated redundantly...AoC would have been perfect for 40 levels, and then have raids and PvP mini-games to wile away the time.
Then introduce FFA PvP with Sieges after 3 months of polish.

Bet the gripes would have been cut in half for that game, and they would have kept 300-400k players...all running the Destiny Quests 3 times to see each races story.
WoW is introducing the new phasing system throughout northrend - not just in the Archerus/Scarlet Enclave area - would be wise to bear this in mind.

Yes, it will be shown this weekend and its just the start of things to come.
I think a game with instanced cinematic single player content, combined with group "world" content would be amazing. That way each player would get their own evolving "story" while players who wanted to do solely group content could do so. . .
This article looks... familiar.

Of course, you went in a different direction than I did. Still, the level/loot treadmill is wearing thin. MMOs are already pretty mindless single-player RPGs mashed into a bit of optional multiplayer and a semi-persistent (static) world.

I'd like to see devs go in both directions; on the one side, the Guild Wars/WoW Phasing model akin to a "choose your own adventure" ethos, and on the other side, a very malleable world that players can have real power to change.

The two don't really play nice, and I think it's a bit of a "lowest common denominator" to try to crossbreed the two. We wind up with something that is tantalizingly full of promise, but because of diametrically opposed game design goals, the game winds up schizophrenic and unsatisfying.

Of course, games more focused on story just eventually takes us back to offline RPGs (maybe with optional multiplayer). That doesn't bother me. MMOs aren't the epitome of game design, and they shouldn't try to be everything to everyone.

I'd like to see more MMOs truly focused on the unique aspects that a persistent world with a large population can offer, rather than just another pretty treadmill with a chat channel. Dynamic player driven content is one such direction.
I like the idea of flip state quests. Probably make them repeatable. (flip state PQs as a variation on competitive PQs?) Kidnap the princess vs rescue the princess would be hilarious.

I also like the idea of epic personal chain quests with a choice tree for the leveling game. (loved "Choose Your Own Adventure" when I was a kid.) It would take a lot of design time but otherwise shouldn't be difficult to impliment. Might not create permanant changes for anyone other than the one person but I think you are right that would get more people trying alts which helps to keep the lower tiers populated. Your own personalized epic story/quest line complete with a recuring villan you dispatch shortly after hitting the level cap would be a great thing to have recorded in a diary like section of the Tome of Knowledge. I also like the idea of certain side quests opening up depending on choices made and perhaps also tying some special abilities or items to it. Perhaps, also, a special title at the end of the chain depending on the branch chosen. This could also be woven together with other permanent character choices to join certain npc organizations. Kind of like scryer/aldor but not necessarily with the built in opposition. Perhaps something more like choosing to be associated with a certain Knightly order within the empire, that simply gave you access to certain quests, items, and locations. Sort of like a side-guild that is run by the game.

Making the world permanently changeable is also accomplished in some games with non-instanced housing, guild halls and towns. That was what I liked the most about SWG way back when. Never tried EVE but probably will some day for that very feature. Perhaps the nature of space MMOs naturally lend themselves to that sort of thing. Most fantasy MMO don't pull it off well due to the need for insanely large open empty spaces, difficult balance to maintain. Perhaps shared but otherwise isolated side zones that could essentially be built from the ground up by players at player/guild expense. Buildable guild keeps along a parallel series of contestable tier 4 zones?
Sorry Tesh, hadn't seen your article on the subject. Guess I should add you to my Google Reader. :)
Well there is not much to add to this. :)

Unfortunally the masses seem to prefer easy gaming. At least the producers think they do... :(
Nothing to apologize for, Tobold. ;) It just struck me as funny that the movie spurred pretty much the same thoughts, and that we have the same title for posts. Wolfshead has apparently thought much the same thing.

If anything, that's good that we've come up with it separately, since it tends to underline that the problems exists and is easily observed. Perhaps even more interestingly, we each have a different take on the solution, which speaks to me of good potential for the future.
Thanks for the link to the Fighting Fantasy Wiki, that brought back many memories!
I wouldn't mind if Blizzard (or any other MMO developer for that matter) ripped off some parts of what City of Heroes/Villains have... there you have civilian NPC's running around commenting on certain "big feats" you have done in the game world.

such as when you kill one of the arch villains or the hero counterparts and stuff.

kinda adds something to it when u run around and "get noticed" by the NPC's.

Indeed, events that have no discernable impact upon the world is a pretty poor way of telling the story.


I think that MMO was the initial version of WAR made by Climax Online, back in 2004.
marry me, you savage!
Ha, wrote about this very thing a few days ago-

except far less eloquently, and you actually proposed solutions that I like. It's freaky that I also used Mankrik as my case study...
I'd like to see a lot more clever AIs on the factions and NPCs of online games. Imagine a gameworld centered around a big city. From the start there is a handful of factions. In each faction there are a handful of central NPCs that have agendas, and that wants to hire the PCs to further their cause. As each faction gain more success, they gain access to more resources, move on to new plans and start caring about other stuff. The factions that loose out successively diminish away. New low level factions are created by upstart factions. To make sure the game does not cement at higher levels the bigger factions should have a routine for splitting up into subfactions to force the players to choose wich of the two directions they want to support.

Players get to choose the destiny of the realm by choosing what factions to support by doing quests, killing opposing players etc. They can commit to a single faction or spread their graces. Factions they oppose will gradually be more opposed to the player and might eventually offer hit contracts to other players.

This would create a very dynamic gameworld that would evolve very differently on separate servers. And with the quests being driven by what the NPCs/factions needs, they would be ever changing.
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