[MMO Theory] Simulating a sense of place

TurnpikeLadTurnpikeLad Registered User regular
edited September 2010 in MMO Extravaganza
I've been feeling dissatisfied with what's available in the MMO market for years. While I've had a lot of fun in a few different games, it's fallen short of the kind of imaginative experience that these kind of games should be able to provide. I think a different kind game is not just possible but potentially profitable.

This is a picture of a forest in Virginia.

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In elementary school, I used to spend afternoons with my friends in the forest. We would tear up patches of nettles, build forts, eat berries, have mock battles with sticks, hide and spy on each other. Our play was based on imaginative interaction with the environment. We played in the forest because the forest itself contained opportunities for a lot of interconnected structured activities.

Look at this picture again. Imagine hiking down that path. You would experience the place not simply by walking down the path, but by feeling the ferns brush against your legs; hearing the soft sound of your footsteps; noticing a lone flower down in the ditch to your left; feeling the texture of the bark on the trees. You could reach down and pick a fern or a blade of grass; you could pick up a rock and throw it. Every interaction or possible interaction with a place enhances the sense that you are where you are.

Basically, I feel that current games lack this sense of place. Exploring a new area in LotRO or WoW is fun, but the world feels _thin_. There are not that many objects in the environment (trees, rocks, plants) and there are no possible interactions with any of them. In contrast, the world in the picture feels _dense_ - it's filled with different species and you can interact with every object in multiple ways. In addition, if you pull up a plant it's no longer there; if you chop down a tree, there will be one less tree, until a new one grows to take its place.

Another thing that reduces the sense of place in current MMOs is the blatantly artificial way that the wildlife behaves. Mobs stand around statically every 100 feet, waiting for somebody to come by and attack them. In an actual wilderness, of course, animals live life cycles of their own and must find food and reproduce. If you approach them they are more likely to run away than to attack. The possible interactions with a creature following its own schedule and priorities are much more interesting and numerous than with a mob that sits in its place until aggroed.

Finally, environments in MMOs feel limited because they are usually much smaller than corresponding places in the real world. In an MMO, five minutes of walking down that path is likely to take you to a new biome; certainly not more than ten. But if you were actually on that path, you could walk for hours without leaving the forest. There is a point of critical mass when the size of a place makes that place feel significant, and the interactions you can potentially have with that place become more than you can count. There have been games with giant landscapes, it's true - but usually these games are empty and static, and the number of possible interactions is still small.

It will always be impossible to mimic completely the density of the real world in an online game. Each extra object you add increases the load on the client and the traffic between the client and the server. Plus, designing a world by hand gets harder and harder as the number of things in the world increases. Simulating a world that feels as full as the real world will have to wait until we have highly realistic procedural algorithms, and can run the entire game on a cluster of supercomputers and simply stream video to each client. But it's definitely possible to go far beyond the thin place-ness of most MMOs.

I know it's a single-player game, but check out the landscape in Deer Hunter Tournament. (Sorry for the low quality.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDebHkSd2D8

Even within the limitations of the kind of game this is, the landscape is absolutely epic. It's realistic and filled with objects. The draw distance is insane. When you see that lake shore through the binocs, you know that you can go there, and maybe find some game. Imagine how much more potential there would be in a game where you knew you could set up camp, go fishing, harvest plants, make a raft, etc. etc.

With the goal of nurturing a sense of place that feels real, here are a few features that I think would be possible in a fantasy game using cutting-edge technology.
  • Many interacting species of plants and animals in each biome, each with their own life-cycles (born/sprouted, migrate, reproduce, hunt each other, die) that persist in simulation even when the players aren't around. A place should feel _full_ of living things.

  • Multiple ways to use many of these creatures and plants. For example, you could try to eat a plant, or boil it to make a dye, or try to make a rope out of it.

  • In order for the increased number of ways to interact with the environment to have actual gameplay effects, characters should have more needs than is customary in RPGs - warmth, food, water - with consequences for not meeting them. Also fun would be poison effects that you might get if you eat the wrong thing, and disease effects that you can remedy with the right medicine.

  • Interactions with the environment need to be entertaining - not just click and wait. Free Realms and other casual games are making interesting steps in this direction, turning crafting and gathering into enjoyable minigames in their own right. It should actually be fun to spend the day gathering berries, and you should feel after you're done that your player skill helped you to be more effective at game activities.

  • Players should be able to make at least some semi-permanent impact on their environment. This ranges from simply cutting down trees to making roads and paths to building structures and modifying terrain. (This is a feature in Wurm, a game written by one guy.)

  • It should not be so easy to just go through a place. Players should have to deal with traversing a mountain range or making a path through a jungle if they want to pass through those areas, and should have options (cut down trees, climbing gear) that allow them to engage with the place in order to do so. This would make the place feel more real.

  • The game should not require you to go everywhere in the world in order to succeed. Because each individual place holds more interest and potential interaction, you should be able to have a rewarding play experience simply remaining in one area, or migrating once or twice over the course of the game. Think Harvest Moon, or the Unreal World.

  • The game should ideally restrict communication ingame to local /say, /shout, and /whisper, each with limiting ranges. This might not be feasible, but would definitely force players to inhabit the place they are in more thoroughly - perhaps going to a tavern to find adventurers instead of simply spamming a channel.


I don't know if I would even call this game an RPG. But it's a beginning on the path to realizing the kind of experience that should be possible in MMORPGs, and the kind of stories that we should be able to tell.

TurnpikeLad on

Posts

  • reVersereVerse Attack and Dethrone God Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Well, the reason realistic virtual environments don't exist in MMOs, or most singleplayer games for that matter, is that they would be ridiculously expensive to create. Also:
    In order for the increased number of ways to interact with the environment to have actual gameplay effects, characters should have more needs than is customary in RPGs - warmth, food, water - with consequences for not meeting them.

    This is exactly the kind of thing games don't need. Arbitrary "hunger" gauges aren't fun.

    reVerse on
  • 815165815165 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    reVerse wrote: »
    Well, the reason realistic virtual environments don't exist in MMOs, or most singleplayer games for that matter, is that they would be ridiculously expensive to create. Also:
    In order for the increased number of ways to interact with the environment to have actual gameplay effects, characters should have more needs than is customary in RPGs - warmth, food, water - with consequences for not meeting them.

    This is exactly the kind of thing games don't need. Arbitrary "hunger" gauges aren't fun.
    The only way I could ever see things like that being genuinely interesting would be in a setting where water was incredibly rare and a serious resource for players to consider, while also having your "thirst" increase at a super slow rate. You could kill someone to steal their water, etc. but the thirst mechanic would have to be super forgiving yet still compelling which is a pretty crazy feat of balance to achieve.

    edit:
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    815165 on
  • reVersereVerse Attack and Dethrone God Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    815165 wrote: »
    reVerse wrote: »
    Well, the reason realistic virtual environments don't exist in MMOs, or most singleplayer games for that matter, is that they would be ridiculously expensive to create. Also:
    In order for the increased number of ways to interact with the environment to have actual gameplay effects, characters should have more needs than is customary in RPGs - warmth, food, water - with consequences for not meeting them.

    This is exactly the kind of thing games don't need. Arbitrary "hunger" gauges aren't fun.
    The only way I could ever see things like that being genuinely interesting would be in a setting where water was incredibly rare and a serious resource for players to consider, while also having your "thirst" increase at a super slow rate. You could kill someone to steal their water, etc. but the thirst mechanic would have to be super forgiving yet still compelling which is a pretty crazy feat of balance to achieve.

    Yeah, you could make it so that your character can cast spells, but those spells require something called "mana" and the only way to replenish this "mana" is by sitting down to drink water. Sounds exciting and innovative already.

    reVerse on
  • 815165815165 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Because if it isn't an EQ/WoW setting it isn't an MMO, rite. :(

    815165 on
  • reVersereVerse Attack and Dethrone God Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Well, that's what the vast majority of the people making MMOs seem to think.

    reVerse on
  • 815165815165 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    We should make our own MMO, with blackjack and hookers.

    815165 on
  • reVersereVerse Attack and Dethrone God Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    815165 wrote: »
    We should make our own MMO, with blackjack and hookers.

    Not sure if there's a market for that considering what a failure APB was.

    Which brings us back on-topic: the reason there isn't a realistic nature exploration MMO is because there isn't a market for that. People want to kill orcs and dragons in their video games, not cut wood and eat berries. The ones who do want to cut wood and eat berries can go outside to do that, they don't need a video game for it.

    reVerse on
  • DarkewolfeDarkewolfe Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Every game that doesn't allow me to sit down in the local tavern/inn/police station/spaceport and gamble my in-game money on poker is an abject failure.

    Darkewolfe on
    What is this I don't even.
  • CorehealerCorehealer The Apothecary The softer edge of the universe.Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    815165 wrote: »
    We should make our own MMO, with blackjack and hookers.

    Fuck the MMO, just blackjack and hookers.

    I'm all for more in depth and environmentally dense MMO design with all these bells and whistles, but it's not going to happen for a while because of technological, economical and design problems. A massive game like this MMO would need to be would murder your average computer, and even if you could get it running, a lot of people would be at a loss as to what to do with the environment without some kind of guidance to help them ease into it. Bandwidth and servers, design and development costs, and payment types and god knows what else factors into this as well. It's just not practical at this time. It wouldn't be fun.

    And no, arbitrary meter filling mechanics are a throwback and in a game as you describe, although realistic, are annoying. I appreciate the thought that went into this post though, and it's something MMO game designers should consider, at least in part, as best they can. And in a way, a few of the newer titles such as TOR and GW2 will be innovating on level design and quantity as well as quality, perhaps they will have better environments for us to plume in the future which will be vaster then WoW. TOR's planets already have rumoured sizes rivalling an entire WoW old world continent like Kalimdor. The possibility is there.

    The expectations need to be lowered but should remain, because MMOs should be better then what they are now.

    Corehealer on
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  • citizen059citizen059 hello my name is citizen I'm from the InternetRegistered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Well implementing hunger/thirst in a way that would be less punishing would be to provide bonuses for the use of food items; your character operates at his base skill level when the "hunger meter" is low, but has a percentile bonus to his abilities when properly nourished. This provides incentive to participate in the food & water portion of the game without making it a potentially game-ending requirement for survival.

    It's been a long time since I played WoW but I believe this was how it worked there, and it could apply to any of the systems you might come up with (rest, warmth, etc).

    I spent years in Asheron's Call and the cooking system there, while fun, was less useful except in a few situations. My melee warrior kept cooking as a skill just for the creation of stamina rations while out in the wild; they were easy to make & carry and did a better job than potions.

    A "living world" MMO is understandably hard to pull off but something I'd love to see accomplished. A game where you and others have to carve out your existence in the wild could be a success but I don't even know where you'd begin on doing it "right" (meaning a commercial success).

    I learned from my time in AC that a sense of community is an important factor that makes a game worth playing. People spent a lot of time analyzing the gradual downfall of the AC population, blaming any number of things from combat-macro'd bots to experience exploits, but for me things took a sharp downward turn when player housing was introduced.

    Before, individuals and groups would gather in the various towns scattered across the map, and it did create a sense of "life" knowing that you could travel to certain places and almost always be assured that someone was there.

    But after housing was implemented, people scattered. Instead of gathering at towns, people would either go to their own home or hang out at the guild mansion. The towns became barren and lifeless, save for a portal or trade bot here and there. A lot of people I knew began to lose interest at that point. Sure, the entire population was still there, but seeing a population number on a login page is a lot different than seeing those people in the game, and it contributed to a sense that things were on a decline.

    A sense of place is a great idea but the social aspect can't be ignored: the game won't feel "alive" if you're out in that wilderness alone.

    Now, if a game came along where people were able to build villages, towns, cities, etc...and had to rely on those places for their "needs"...then it could serve to bring people together. Wurm is an example that comes really close, but it's lacking a lot and there's a ton of grind involved (not that civilization building should be a two or three click process, mind you).

    citizen059 on
  • Eat it You Nasty Pig.Eat it You Nasty Pig. tell homeland security 'we are the bomb'Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Err, "the food and water portion of the game?"

    Resource management makes sense when resources like they are scarce. It's kind of interesting in single player games that are designed with it in mind. So you'd have to make food and water scarce, else getting them just becomes another timesink without being compelling.

    And making food and water scarce just doesn't seem like a very good idea in an MMO, since you'd wind up with people operating water cartels in games with markets, or just camping whatever mob dropped water.

    Eat it You Nasty Pig. on
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  • citizen059citizen059 hello my name is citizen I'm from the InternetRegistered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Err, "the food and water portion of the game?"

    Resource management makes sense when resources like they are scarce. It's kind of interesting in single player games that are designed with it in mind. So you'd have to make food and water scarce, else getting them just becomes another timesink without being compelling.

    And making food and water scarce just doesn't seem like a very good idea in an MMO, since you'd wind up with people operating water cartels in games with markets, or just camping whatever mob dropped water.

    Best phrase I could think of to describe it. :P

    Making a food system entertaining when it's a small part of a larger game is difficult. Making it compulsory makes it anything but fun.

    The trick is to find a way to make it worth someone's time. One of the things AC did right that I think WoW did wrong was allowing you to experiment to discover recipes rather than being required to buy the recipe on paper first.

    Basic foods were easy to figure out (flour + water = dough, dough + baking pan = bread) but the more complex ones required time and experimentation...and cooking itself is a creative process that is most enjoyable when you are working on your own rather than from a cookbook.

    Having the cooking skill for the stamina rations as mentioned before was a good utility skill, but I will also admit that I held onto any food items I found during my adventures for use in cooking later. Sure, the items I produced might not have had a lot of use, but it was still a good way to pass the time.

    And I think that's what stops MMO developers from really putting more into crafting systems than "gather items, click recipe, done". How exactly do you make a system like "cooking" in a video game have depth? How do you make it something a player can enjoy and at the same time feel like they're doing something useful?

    citizen059 on
  • Commander 598Commander 598 Registered User
    edited September 2010
    since you'd wind up with people operating water cartels in games with markets

    Maybe I've been playing/pretending to play EVE for too long but I fail to see the problem here.

    Commander 598 on
  • citizen059citizen059 hello my name is citizen I'm from the InternetRegistered User regular
    edited September 2010
    since you'd wind up with people operating water cartels in games with markets

    Maybe I've been playing/pretending to play EVE for too long but I fail to see the problem here.

    Down with Big Water! D:

    citizen059 on
  • -SPI--SPI- Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Wurm online? It's certainly not the most technically amazing game and I found it a bit overly grindy with how long everything took to do but goddamn it had the sense of place down, and the epic journey part. Making my way from the starter town to the area where the PA village was being built was incredible, doing it with a bunch of people and some getting lost or being eaten by bears, and the journey took maybe an hour and a half of long ass terrifying and bewildering walking through wilderness.

    The only bullet point it doesn't hit is the interactions one. You can do some really really awesome stuff but it takes a long time and it kind of too faithfully recreates the feeling of hard labour. Once you spend half an hour digging a hole and moving the dirt and you barely made a dent it kind of loses the charm.

    -SPI- on
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    MMOs have moved away from this kind of design. Instead of being open worlds they are now massive sandbox games that are partitioned into leveling areas. Sure in the old school MMOs the mobs in different zones had level ranges but you could still explore and get by fine. And sometimes this lead to wonderous discoveries. In EQ Verant insisted before Kunark was released that only a small number of quests had been discovered and/or finished. This was a direct result of the population that ended up playing MMOs. The population started shifting from exploration to camping mobs to become uber rich. This could also be related to the consequences in that game. People got into comfort zones because of the pentalites.

    As of a result of this shift MMOs started designing new areas as content and not as part of the world. The map was broken up into 1-10, 10-20 etc and you basically traverse the whole area while questing. This is why I am not playing EQ2. It moved into this mindset. The names of the areas are familiar but the zones themselves are not so in the least. There is no exploration anymore. The MMO world revolves around filling up your quest log at a hub and going to a point marked on your map and moving on to the next. It is almost as if the MMORPG has been dropped and replaced with MMOCSPAG (Console Single Player Action Game).

    Sadly the population for game designed as stated in the OP would be small and as others have said the development costs would be large so we will not see a game like this.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    The fact of the matter is, most people don't want a game like what's described in the OP. I deal with shit like putting food on the table in real life. When I log in to an MMO, or hell any game, I just want to kill orcs/dragons/robots/zombies/robot-zombies and get phat lewtz. Does this make me a shallow gamer? Perhaps.

    I don't mind the "make a permanent mark" stuff, but there are already games that fill this niche (EVE being the one I play). There are several games in the last few years that have tried this ultra-realistic, everything is a struggle, and the world is huge and unapproachable, game play....they've all been abject failures. It's not what the market as a whole wants.

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Indeed. People are lazy.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I dunno, I think that's a pretty blanket way to put it. I think it has less to do with lazy, and more to do with the fact that video games are entertainment for the vast majority of us. A small minority of people may find replicating real life struggles for food, shelter and clothing entertainment....the large majority do not, because we already do that every day in the real world.

    Part of the fun of video games is the escapism aspect of them. If I come home form a hard days work to login to Realistic MMO, only to have to struggle to feed myself by hunting bears and picking berries, I'm going to go find another game to play where I can login and slice orc heads off instead.

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Good Point. By lazy I would like to state I mean prone to want/stay in comfort zone. Imagine if, for example, on top of durability loss they added in XP penalty on death in WoW for april fools week. I beat some serious raiding would get done that week ;). I just dislike the no penalty single player existance current MMOs have become.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Since I've never seen this explained really well, what exactly does a severe death penalty add to game a like WoW? For a game like EVE, a severe death penalty (lose your ship and possibly your implants) is a very natural, elegant part of the game rules. Adding an arbitrary XP penalty on death in WoW wouldn't be a natural or elegant part of the game rules, it would be an arbitrary way to annoy people and slow them down.

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Well for me WoW has gotten to the point everyone can experience all content. This is an ok design element for content but I am old school. I feel there should be a division in what your skill level in the game allows you to do. Like SC2 ladders. Wow bastardized this concept with hard modes which is nice for the masses but kicks the skilled, hard core players in the balls. It relates to the whole "I beat LK hard mode and all I got was this lousy mount" teeshirt. Death penalty one of the concepts to implement to do this. But it has its own drawbacks as well.

    To me there is no earned feeling with my 80s or with the gear they have. It is was all done with just a matter of time and I look like everyone else.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    But you're trying to shoe horn WoW in to a game it's not. Obviously the market has spoken, because WoW is far and away the most successful MMO of all time, and shows no signs of slowing down.

    WoW is not a game meant for the skill hardcore players, that niche is filled elsewhere. It's a game for people who want to escape in to a fantasy world and slice up orcs. Again, the dollars and wallets have spoken, and the vast majority of gamers want THAT game, not EVE or Mortal Online or Darkfall or whatever. There is obviously a niche place for those games (and again, I play one of them), but they are just that...a niche.

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    GnomeTank wrote: »
    But you're trying to shoe horn WoW in to a game it's not. Obviously the market has spoken, because WoW is far and away the most successful MMO of all time, and shows no signs of slowing down.

    WoW is not a game meant for the skill hardcore players, that niche is filled elsewhere. It's a game for people who want to escape in to a fantasy world and slice up orcs. Again, the dollars and wallets have spoken, and the vast majority of gamers want THAT game, not EVE or Mortal Online or Darkfall or whatever. There is obviously a niche place for those games (and again, I play one of them), but they are just that...a niche.

    Well duh. Doesnt mean I have to like it.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Very true. Though, I guess my question would be: Why don't you play one of those games that fills the niche?

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    GnomeTank wrote: »
    Very true. Though, I guess my question would be: Why don't you play one of those games that fills the niche?

    Because I am lazy too :). I don't have the time I had when I was in my 20s. That and from what I have played of the niche games none have gotten it quite right yet. I do play LOTRO when I make the time for it which could be considered a niche game in terms of lore and exploration and I love that game. If there was a game out there that had a good implementation I would definatly give it a good shot. I most likely wouldnt progress far into it because of time constraints. Those game usually involve playing non stop.

    Jubal77 on
  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Not EVE...you can literally never play EVE and still advance, as the skill training system is real time.

    GnomeTank on
    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh SFV: Brainling
  • Jubal77Jubal77 Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    It was the skill progression that drove me away from eve. While the concept was good there were times when I logged in and had nothing to do because I was skilling up as a newbie. If I set aside time there was no way to speed the process up. At least that is what it seemed to me I may be wrong. It ended up with myself exploring and doing basic trade route stuff. The exploring itself didnt lend itself to much gain other than that because you cant do shit as a newbie :)

    Jubal77 on
  • TurnpikeLadTurnpikeLad Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Wurm Online is a great example of the kind of game I'm talking about, but it should be seen as an extremely bare-bones product. The game is made almost entirely by a single programmer to run in Java. When we think of what kinds of mechanics are actually possible with current hardware, Wurm's feature set is what we have to _start_ with. It's surprisingly deep, especially with dynamic, deformable terrain, trees and bushes you can cut down, and a whole variety of crunchy craft skills - but it's necessarily empty compared to what a whole team of content creators could make.

    What Wurm demonstrates is that a rich environment need not be a prohibitive development cost. Also there are ways to design a gigantic world without making the whole thing by hand; procedural algorithms are great for populating a world, and were used to great effect in Oblivion.

    The other issue, whether anybody would actually want to play such a game, depends totally on how the game is made. Most games that try to be a living world (and there are very few) have this kind of hardcore mentality that says, basically, you're going to suffer and you're going to like it. I don't think that's necessary at all. The whole point of a dynamic environment is that there are more ways to have fun; ideally the game doesn't say "You have to go out and do X and X and X every day or else you're at a disadvantage," it says "You have the option of doing X, or X, or X, each with their own rewards."

    The hunger and thirst thing works into this. Players shouldn't have to jump through arbitrary hoops, and if that's what a hunger and thirst system is, then it's worthless. But without some very useful benefit from eating and drinking, then there just isn't any reward to tasks involving finding or making food, which make up such a large portion of the ways we interact with the environment in the real world. You shouldn't die if you don't eat; punishing the player is the opposite of what I want to achieve. There are many ways to make a hunger system make sense and not just be another bar to fill. Some suggestions off the top of my head are:

    1)perhaps basic food items are ubiquitous and easy to find, but other higher-quality foods give more benefit and are harder to make;

    2)perhaps food tasks create large stacks of items that take a long time to go through, so you can feed yourself at a baseline level with just minimal effort once in a while;

    3)perhaps food isn't necessary just to live from day to day but instead helps you complete tasks, so chopping a tree for example would yield better wood if you were well fed;

    4)perhaps there are reasons to be hungry and reasons to be full; for example, MP recovery could be boosted when you're fasting, and HP recovery could be boosted when you're eating.

    5)perhaps like in Harvest Moon, there's an increased chance of getting sick if you don't eat. Harvest moon is a fun, casual game with a hunger system that's a natural extension of its gameplay.

    Just because a system can be implemented in a stupid way, doesn't mean that any implementation of that system is a hindrance.

    Finally, if all you want to do in an RPG is fight mobs and complete quests, then I think you've got a problem of compressed horizons. The reason why we all are attracted to the traditional kind of fantasy gameplay is that other ways of interacting with the world have always been done rather crappily. Imagine if combat consisted just of clicking on a mob and waiting for ten seconds. Then it would seem pretty much like work too, right? Combat is what people want because combat is what every game spends most of their resources on. You get dozens of abilities (with pretty visuals) to apply strategically in different ways, you get a rush from completing something that was actually kind of a challenge to you as a player, you feel a sense of character advancement and progress in the game. These are all things that can be incorporated into non-combat activities.

    What it comes down to is that the more alive and place-y the world feels, the more significant your actions in it become, both in how you feel as a player and actually in the effect your character has on the world. Virtual world games have been maligned both because they're usually attempted by first-time developers who have limited experience and resources, and thus turn out crappy; and because they're all trying to be some kind of UO pre-Trammel paradise, where a small core of hardcore PvPers end up driving everyone else out of the game. But in actuality the trend in MMOs toward static, homogeneous zones filled with patrolling mobs with aggro radii, toward a level treadmill where the real point of the game is to win the item roulette in endgame raids, is the result of excessive caution and groupthink among game developers, not any inherent limitation on technology. There's potential there for a competent studio to go in the other direction and make a truly great game.

    TurnpikeLad on
  • MelksterMelkster Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I think this is a really interesting discussion.

    Ten years ago, I remember marketing campaigns for Asheron's Call that emphasized how huge the game was. Specifically, they mentioned how it was about the size of Rhode Island -- massive for an MMO at that time. Back then, MMOs were supposed to feel like virtual worlds with emergent, persistent, player-driven gameplay. I think most of us think of those MMOs as "sandbox" games.

    But then World of Warcraft came out. And suddenly, the game wasn't so much about being a emergent, virtual world, it became more like a theme park. As WoW continues to evolve, it's become more and more like a theme park. Obviously, WoW's model has been very successful -- but because of that success, I think other MMOs have tried to follow suit.

    Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, the new Star Wars: The Old Republic, and other big name MMOs have all gone down the pure theme park route, moving away from the original idea of MMOs as virtual, emergent worlds.

    The curious thing, though, is that I'm not convinced this dichotomy between sandbox and theme park MMOs needs to exist. I don't understand why someone couldn't create a game that combines the essence of a theme park with the essence of a sandbox.

    Why can't someone make another WoW clone, but creatures have realistic life cycles? Why couldn't enemy NPCs actually go about their daily routine? Why can't interactions with the environment be more complex and interesting? Why can't crafting be much more interesting?

    Those are not difficult things to implement, and just those things would make a massive impact on the "sense of place" in the game.

    Some of the other suggestions might be more difficult, like players being able to make a semi-permanent impact on their world. That might need to be restricted to specific places in the world away from the carefully-designed "theme park" side of the game. In a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic, I see no reason why they couldn't designate a few special planets as totally player-malleable, while the rest of the worlds stay static.

    But my point is that it still can be done without compromising on what made WoW a really great game.

    Melkster on
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