Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

When Everybody Is a Hero…

Here’s a little quote for those of you that don’t read Tish, Tosh, Tesh as religiously as they should:

“I believe that MMOs should be about the player’s story in a vital virtual world that’s indifferent to them.” – Tesh

Traditionally, computer games make the player into an all-powerful hero that saves the princess, the world, or at least himself in a spectacular way. MMORPGs tend to copy this in their quest design, praising players for slaying the evil overlord or curing a sick child even though millions of other players have completed the same quest before them. (Not a new issue at all. I’ve even mentioned it before.)  Nowadays, World of Warcraft tries to alleviate this problem a little bit by using its phasing technology to make it appear to players as if they had actual impact on the world. They don’t though, and this is a major hurdle in the way of actually interesting storytelling in MMORPGs.

Tesh’s quote above proposes a rather different solution – don’t even try to give players heavy impact on the world. Make them tell their own stories by playing the game (also something I’ve written about before) and just provide them with a world to do that in.

One issue with this approach is of course that many players play games to escape from their real lives in which they don’t have as much impact as they’d like. I can’t say whether “Oh thank you hero for saving our village.” speeches actually help with such escapism, but it is definitely something in mind when remodelling the player characters from heroes to ordinary citizens.

Another issue is that one can’t just take a world like that in WoW, take out the hero references and be done with it. Fighting the Lich King makes very little sense if you take out the story line of a heroic group of players fighting their way through hordes of undead to save Azeroth from total domination. If you take all the quests out ow WoW that refer to dealing with a certain problem, retrieving a certain item, or killing a certain person/monster you won’t be left with much in the way of quests at all.

A game following Tesh’s idea would have to be built from the ground up to support it and would fall heavily into the sandbox category of games. In order for players to live through their own stories in the game, there need to be possibilities for players’ stories to actually be different from each other. Traditional DIKU-style MMOs simply don’t offer enough variety for something like that to be possible.

  • More active NPCs could do the trick. Why do we want to kill the Lich King? As individuals we have no real reasons. We’re sent to do it by NPCs. We are actors in their stories. I’d like to see the Lich King as a character in my story. His Scourge burned down my house, attacked me, interfered with my questing. So when I go to kill him, it isn’t for lore reasons, it’s for personal reasons. In the simplest, and probably worst, implementation this could mean that Scourge who give no loot and no XP randomly show up to attack us, likely killing us, possibly during a boss fight. They become easier to handle as we kill Scourge bosses and stop entirely once we kill the Lich King.

  • Interesting idea. This would be somewhat similar to the rift-events in Rift. If you leave the rifts alone, more and more invasions will spawn from them, take over quest hubs and kill travellers until you remove the rift.

    Rifts spawn over and over again though, that doesn’t really seem to be something you could do with the Lich King without hurting the original idea. And what happens to other players who haen’t killed the Lich king yet? Will they still suffer scourge attacks in their own “phase”?
    scrusi´s last blog post ..When Everybody Is a Hero…

  • I hadn’t really thought it out fully at first, but I wrote up a post expanding on it at my blog.

  • Oh, absolutely yes, you can’t convert WoW into this with a little nip and tuck. It’s just… that’s what I want out of MMO design, and WoW veered in a different direction, dragging the market along for the ride.

    Seems to me that even phasing, as useful as it has been, isn’t the panacea here. That can run into all sorts of narrative shards and decision trees (a nightmare for devs), especially if player choice has any impact at all, and if you’re playing anything other than solo. It will be interesting to see what SWTOR does.

    No, I’d rather have that “vital virtual world” that can run perfectly fine without us silly players running about. Then let us step up and see what happens. Yes, it’s a sandbox, but then, so is the real world in a lot of ways. If I want the possibility of emergent gaming with other people, one of the initial draws of MMO games in my eyes, I want a lot of latitude. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some scripted events or NPCs asking for help, just that the world doesn’t depend on the players for saving.

    Thanks for the link! Thanks also for noting your previous articles; this does seem to be something that pops up every once in a while. Blogging cycles are funny things.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Kibbles and Bits