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sunandshadow

A Linear MMO

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(Disclaimer: I have a cold and am writing this on 3 hours of fractured sleep and cold medicine. So if it's insane or spelled very badly, that's why.) This past few months I've been taking a tour of some MMOs. I had already played Neopets and Gaia Online, then I tried A Tale In the Desert, Flyff, Maple Story, and Dofus. I have never liked free-roam RPGs, and the more MMOs I played the more I realized that they are all free-roam, except that you keep finding players of the same level in the same area of the game anyway - because those are the highest-level monsters they can kill, or because that is what they have to do for the quest that just became available when they attained that level. ATItD, Maple Story, and Dofus all had a quest check list, (rather similar to a honey-do list of chores IMHO) which acted as the players guide through the game in the same way story objectives act as the player's guide through the game in a linear RPG. (I am using 'Linear' here to include branching, modular, and any other kind of game where the plot progresses toward some climax/ending. Actually that's a terrible way to use that word - so let's call it a Teleological RPG instead.) Since the level grind which males up the fabric of the average MMO can be considered to move in lock-step with these quests which are a (poor) substitute for plot, it occurred to me that a 'level' of an MMO could be considered equivalent to a 'chapter' of story, and also equivalent to the older gaming sense of 'level', a room or group of rooms in which play occurred until the player progressed to the next room. Chapters of a story often take place in the same physical location but a different time. In a free roam game you often end up coming back to the same area levels later and seeing it in a different light because of your different relation to it. Linear RPGs like Final Fantasy have often represented this progression in time by changing NPC dialogue and position/existence of NPCs, and also changes in music. MMOs generally fail to do this because they are attempting to have one consistent version of the location for players of every level, resulting in the infamous reaction "WTF I worked hard to do what this NPC said would fix a problem, they said the problem is fixed, but it doesn't look fixed at all to me." Talk about breaking immersion and sense of disbelief! So, I was thinking about how one would build an MMO around a teleological progression through chapters of a story which equated to physical levels. An immediate and interesting effect of this would be that players would be surrounded by other players who were at the same place in the story, the same level. This would encourage more discussion about how to do things in that particular level, and limit spoilers by people who were farther ahead in the story. This could also be used to balance the economy between new characters and high-level characters, because there could be resources which were only available in the early levels of the game which new players could sell through a world-wide market to high-level players, as well as the normal opposite flow of hand-me-downs and crafted products from higher-level players to lower-level players. As I was getting at above, players progressing to a new chapter of the story might find themselves revisiting an earlier location but with small changes made to show the passage of time and completion of earlier quests - this helps the game not need an impossibly large amount of art assets to be created for a long progression of new locations, and also fits nicely with avoiding the heavily cliched "hero's journey" type story which is the only kind which makes sense with continually traveling to new locations. In a game with a limited number of locations it would even be possible to fake the feel of a free-roam game by allowing players to travel freely between level-appropriate versions of all the locations they had been to. At these locations they could do freely-repeatable crafting or mini-game playing including party quests, or repeatable quests unconnected to the story such as a time challenge to 'tag' each NPC in the location as quickly as possible. Now the question I am pondering is, how to make it equally possible to progress through the story by combat only, or by avoiding combat and doing crafting instead, or by a mix of the two. Probably the world-market could again be used to balance this - monster drops would be crafting supplies, crafting results would be combat equips, and fighters and crafters would sell the fruits of their labors to each other. All monsters would thus have to be avoidable, and PvP contained to specific areas where non-combatants would not need to go. The story would be like harvest moon in that the plot progression would end but that max-level character would remain available to play minigames, craft, and fight with. It would also be like a new game+ in that the player would be encouraged to create a new character and use the abilities of their maxed-out character to help the new one achieve a different/better path through the branching story to a new ending. These paths through the story would basically replace classes/races as descriptive rather than prescriptive classifications; although there might also be bonus races or weapon types which were only available to a player who had already completed the game with one avatar. So, thoughts...? Would you want to play a game like this, would you want to make a game like this?

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Question: If it is highly linear, what is the point of playing with other players if everything is basically the same?

What impact will other players have on this?

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I think Guild Wars is MMO game fitting most to your description... you have a progressing, but it isn't rushed, you meet mostly players of your own level etc.

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Quote:
Original post by Talroth
Question: If it is highly linear, what is the point of playing with other players if everything is basically the same?

What impact will other players have on this?


There will be cooperative mini-games such as party quests, and diceless roleplaying between players will be encouraged along with other social interaction. Seeing other players take different paths through a branching story than you are taking could be quite interesting, as could discussing whatever bit of story has just happened with them. Perhaps the community could be organized around a messageboard open to all levels of players, as is the case with Gaia Online, and the topics of discussion restricted to exclude spoilers for future parts of the story.

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But so much of the interest in story-writing comes from changes in the world, in addition to changes in the character. If players at different points in the story had to be able to interract, you could never kill any NPCs, never change any political boundaries and never alter the landscape in the course of the story. What fun is that?

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As a prelude, I think if you are seriously going to put a lot of thought into MMORPG development (and it seems like you are), you HAVE to play some of the big ones. Honestly, I feel like anyone who is legitimately going to try to develop an MMO should have played WoW for long enough to understand what the genre is about, and what some of its common pitfalls and successes are. Reading about WoW is not going to cut it; you need to experience a game genre firsthand before you can try to outdo it.

As cplusplus said, Guild Wars is the main linear-story MMORPG on the market, and it creates some problems. I think you had an earlier thread on this where I brought it up, but:

-The more you segregate your players into time-specific areas, stopping them from being able to go "back in time", the more you stop older players from being able to interact with younger players. You are perceiving this as a good thing because you think it will stop twinking and balance the economy, but I would mark it as a very bad thing. MMO's are first and foremost social games; the primary influx of new players is when Johnny convinces Timmy to join his guild so they can play together. If Johnny has to tell Timmy, "Oh, but you won't actually be able to interact with me at all until you get through 30 hours of story, assuming I just completely stop playing for all that time", then you will have a problem. You would have a lot of trouble having a concept of "guilds" at all in the majority of the game, since it is very hard for people of different levels to meet up or support eachother in any way.

-The more you DO allow your players to jump back and forth "in time" and/or rebranch the story, the more your world loses any sense of immersion. You claim to be more brought out of versimillitude by boring or unimportant quests, but if you haven't played Guild Wars or another game that does allow repetition of "dramatic" quests, I'm not sure I believe you. I, for one, can not roleplay much at all in an environment where the laws of causality and linear time are so broken. I can't stay in character talking to someone saying something like "So, the other day, I found out that I was the last remaining Jedi, and then I blew up the death star. Did you find out that you were the last remaining Jedi yet? Oh, you will within a day or two. And let me know how it goes when you blow up the death star. I was talking with a strange man in the tavern who told me that next week we'll both find out we're actually Darth Vader's only son." If you use branching, it's bad too: "Woo! I just burned the entire city of Stormwind to the ground." "Oh really? Cool, I just saved it from being burned to the ground; I'm going to head over there in a minute, want to come?" Now, this isn't so bad; I play a lot of RPG's where I don't roleplay at all. But I really think it's a stretch to claim that a non-shared world would encourageroleplaying.

-As a consequence of the first paragraph, the problem with not being able to maintain contact with your friends unless you both purposely play through each section together by appointment, you will have a similarly hard time meeting any actual friends at all. You will be left with something like Guild Wars, where everyone is constantly rushing through each mission to try to catch up to their friends, and is standing around in the closest social spot, using it like a Gamespy lobby to get a pick-up group going for the next mission. Guild Wars DOES let you go "back in time" and redo most missions, so your friends can go back and help you, but the fact that they usually get nothing out of it and that repeating a linear quest can be more boring than nonlinearity for a lot of people means it doesn't happen much. As soon as the one nice person you meet turns on his computer and starts playing the game a few hours before you, he's now permanently a few quests ahead of you, and you aren't going to run into him at all that day. This is somewhat of an issue even in nonlinear RPG's; in WoW if your friends play over the weekend without you, they'll be a higher level, and there's less incentive for them to hang out with you now, so you'll need to rush to catch up with them. But at least in WoW you can still see them; you can still hang out with your entire guild or give them items or help them with their other quests. If you're purposely being segregated to maintain world verisimilitude then you'll never see them again.

So, in conclusion:
I like MMORPGs. I like single-player (sometimes with LAN-multiplayer) linear story-driven RPG's. But I would not like a linear story-driven MMORPG. I liked Guild Wars somewhat, but it is because it succeeded despite its weird use of linear story. It only succeeded because it completely gave up an attempt to preserve its linearity or plot making sense at all to ensure fun, and because the game is primarily about plowing through the story part to unlock cool skills and use them to PvP with your guild.

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I also wanted to add one last thing; because I think you're missing the primary draw of MMO's for most people. For most people, it has nothing to do with watching an interesting story written by some developers. The draw is "Live another life, in another world." They want to feel like they "are" their character, interacting with a bunch of other people (real people, not NPC's) in a world that's actually "real".

When people talk about a game like WoW, they imagine Azeroth as a real place; they imagine themselves running around and meeting other people in that world. You seem to want to purposely break down that facade, and present the game to encourage everyone thinking of themselves not as actually "being there", but as being a player who is playing a massively server-linked single-player story-driven RPG who also has access to other players if he wants to team up for certain quests.

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Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
But so much of the interest in story-writing comes from changes in the world, in addition to changes in the character. If players at different points in the story had to be able to interract, you could never kill any NPCs, never change any political boundaries and never alter the landscape in the course of the story. What fun is that?


The player could kill an NPC resulting in a different political side taking over by the end of the story. I personally hate it when other players screw up my game world, especially when the story has started without me when the MMO started 2 or 3 years ago, and when world events are always decided by the few highest-lvl characters and are not affected at all by little lvl 20 me.

As a writer, I'm more interested in personal growth/transformation and romance, not particularly interested in world politics.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
But so much of the interest in story-writing comes from changes in the world, in addition to changes in the character. If players at different points in the story had to be able to interract, you could never kill any NPCs, never change any political boundaries and never alter the landscape in the course of the story. What fun is that?


The player could kill an NPC resulting in a different political side taking over by the end of the story. I personally hate it when other players screw up my game world, especially when the story has started without me when the MMO started 2 or 3 years ago, and when world events are always decided by the few highest-lvl characters and are not affected at all by little lvl 20 me.

As a writer, I'm more interested in personal growth/transformation and romance, not particularly interested in world politics.


but then why do you insist on it being a MMO if you dont want other players to have any interaction at all in your game

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