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Following the Train Tracks or Plumbing the Depths

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I've been playing RPGs and ARPGs and MMOs for years.  I've always been fascinated by a good story, but as I've grown older, the rails of a story can't kept my interest like it used to.  I think it came with the realization that I'm not really working for the story.  The designers created the game in such a way that it's not really an accomplishment to reach a specific mile marker in the game.  The whole game is setup in such a way as to give the illusion of a challenge, that everything is built around a specific pacing that - unless you grind, run from combats, or don't go out of your way to reach necessary treasures - you will almost automatically be just as powerful as you need to be when you reach any given challenge.  Now, this is an over-simplification of course, but not by much.  

 

It was Skyrim, and the hopes I had for it, that finally broke my desire to play any new games.  In Skyrim, I hoped for a game rich in lore and mystery, but I found a relatively shallow experience.  I didn't just want a group of bandits to have taken over a mine; I wanted to know WHY. Who were they?  Why did they choose this place?  Were they actually doing any BANDITING? More and more, rewards felt like they were GIVEN to me, rather than me having earned them.  Sure, there was combat, but it all felt the same.  None of the monster felt like they had reasons.  None of the lore felt like it went anywhere.  I felt like I was just wandering from place to place, killing whatever showed up for whatever random loot was around.  It just all felt so....shallow.

 

I crave a game where more thought has been put into the HISTORY, the WHY, than the story the devs have laid out before me.  I feel like, with story, most of the time you are the only person who can save the world.  Everything is happening TO you, not BECAUSE of you.  Story makes me feel like I am being PUSHED toward something, rather than advancing willingly.  In most games, nothing really changes in the world unless you advance a story point, but this is a change you are not responsible for.  You are merely a pawn in the game of...well, the game.

 

I believe the next great incarnation of games, especially multiplayer and especially MMO games, lies in the shift away from story, and the shift towards history and lore. Progress will be earned rather than given.  You don't follow a quest line in order to get the key to the Onyx Gates, you study them, search out old books, sages, perform experiments, and finally, open it based only off the information YOU have discovered and the efforts you have put into to perform the right rituals.  Consulting other players with different skill sets will be required; and not just combat skills.  People will play the game JUST to be a blacksmith.  People will STUDY magic, rather than level up and get new spells.  Some zones will have secrets that may NEVER be revealed, and that's fine. 

 

What do you think?  Do you see the value in a game with reasons, for how things got the way they are?  Or do you believe that the idea of a rail-road story will always reign supreme?  What would you like to see in the way of history/story?

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I agree that the railroaded story does get repetative, as does the "your the savior!" theme, but I don't think it's likely to change.

 

The whole "your the worlds last hope" that happens is the same reason movies follow the super-heroes and not the newspaper vender who gets his paper-shack destroyed by the super-hero. The 'camera' chooses to follow the person with the most interesting story. Maybe 1000 people tried to save the world, but they all died or failed. The camera chose to follow the guy that suceeds.                                                                                                                       

 

 

I don't think a lore based game would be very appealing. It sounds like your desribing a wall of text. You also mention 'study' and 'discover'. Now sure how you'd make someone do that when they have google. Procedural worlds can have an interesting discovery mechanic, but they are usually lacking in details or becomes obvious that they're just repetative algorytms and the world feels empty and bland.

Edited by SirWeeble

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I think it all depends on the type of player.  The problem I see with many games, especially MMOs of any sort, is that they tend to only shallowly attempt to cater toward different player motivations - Achievers, Socializers, Explorers, and Killers.  I enjoyed WOW immensely for a time, again until I realize how manipulative the exploration aspect of the world was when I attempted to explore beyond the boundaries of my quest line.  Entire zones bereft of any interaction besides aggression simply because I had no quests there.  And the story within quests had little bearing on the quest itself, outside telling you where to go and what to kill.  There was very little to figure out.  I never really EARNED anything.

 

To answer your point on lore...have you ever played a game so good that you just want to read anything and everything about it?  You keep looking for more and more information and explanations and history because you just can't get enough of the setting?  If not, then you're probably not an Explorer type.  For me, there have been a few games where all I've wanted to do was scour the Internet for theories and lore.  I've continued playing games long past the time when I've beat them because I'm trying better understand the BBEG's motivations or learn more about how the current political climate came about.

 

As for Google...you are ALWAYS going to have people who aren't interested in figuring it out for themselves, but you also have to have the people that DID.  Also, a lot of the problem with puzzle solving or figuring out tricks to monsters has to do with the fact that they are inherently game constructs, rather than lore constructs; in other words, they were designed simply as a way to change things up for the player, rather than something that appears to grow forth from lore or environment.  I think many players have grown to expect this from a game, especially early on when the game proves it to be that way, so instead of looking for answers within the game to solve the problem, they turn to Google. 

 

Imagine instead, if players were given the ability to pen instructional manuals within the game itself.  This would take some of the strain off of developers by placing some of the responsibility of filling out the lore into player hands.  How To's and Walkthroughs will still get made, but they will be written as part of the game rather than a separate entity.  It's also another way for players to get famous, providing another draw for the Achiever type.  It would give a good outlet for the Explorer type, now that information is even more valuable.  Some lore would require adept Killers and Achievers in order to survive the areas where the information lies, and a good social network would be necessary to provide access to the each of these types.  To be honest, giving incentives to keep info in-game would only make the game itself and the networks within it more valuable and interesting.

Edited by Theis_Bane

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I do think that MMOs are moving away from story, but I think that's a bad thing.  I have pretty much zero interest in playing storyless sandbox games no matter how flexible or deep their simulation of a virtual world is.  I quite liked how story was presented in Skyrim, despite the fact that I dislike high fantasy and horror stories in general.  As far as single-player game go, a game that combined the best features of Skyrim, Assassin's Creed, Fable, and Grand Theft Auto would be one of the two project types I'd be really interested in working on.  The other would be a more linear-except-for-new-game-plus-changes JRPG, taking inspiration from Final Fantasy 7 and 8, Vagrant Story, and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter.  But as far as MMO design, I don't think either open-world sandboxes or linear themepark structures work all that well; to me a sandpark that carefully hybridizes the sim gameplay of sandboxes with a more story-rich precreated themepark world is where MMOs should be going (but aren't).

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For at least a potential solution to the shallowness and shooting gallery paradigm most/all MMORPGs have degenerated to, you might want to read what I wrote in the bottom half of this posting :

 

http://www.gamedev.net/topic/678733-what-is-the-top-factor-for-mmo-engines-limiting-world-size/page-2

 

 

Ive talked about this years ago (probably in the Game Design forum) but I cant seem to find those postings.

 

 

 

 

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You are interested in something that would be valid and cool in it's own way, but you are totally outnumbered by the people who just want to be told that 'they are Hero! Yay!'. Pretty much all the big publishers focus exclusively on the biggest market they can find, so it's tough for them to make something along the lines of what you want.

 

Certainly something like what you want will come along eventually. My guess is that a well-funded Indie game studio (which is almost not a thing) could do it, if they had the right talent. Ultimately, coming up with lore costs much less money than creating AAA art assets etc, so their is some logic to creating something very lore-intensive. Also, there is no real shortage of people who could come up with cool lore, although coming up with enough for a 'world' would take a team of writers (or a single writer spending years and years on the task). 

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"Ultimately, coming up with lore costs much less money than creating AAA art assets etc"

 

Yes writing is very cheap and very easy. This is why Hollywood doesn't both trying to save on that workload by filling up with sequels and remakes...

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To be fair, Polychrome never said lore was "very cheap and very easy", they said it "costs much less" than art assets - which is true. Obviously you can't compare them directly but even the cost of getting a good writer to produce the equivalent of a screenplay's amount of text is typically going to cost less than paying 1 3D artist for a year.

Going back to the previous comments though, the problem is that although lore - if by "lore", we mean "text you can read" - is cheaper to produce, it's also far quicker to consume. Even a massive George R. R. Martin type of tome is 'used' up in a week's reading. This kind of work is not reusable and doesn't lend itself to replayability or player retention. And worse, if it's just there to provide background, it doesn't change the gameplay at all in any meaningful way. That's hard to justify in terms of expense.

I used to work for a company that attempted to bridge the gap here, by having procedurally generated storylines. The characters would have background motivations that you could work to understand, and which you could exploit as part of the gameplay. That sort of sidestepped the lore issue by making it implicit in actions rather than written down as flavour text. Anyway, that company didn't get very far for various reasons, including the fact that although players say they want "sandbox" games, their money has always flowed towards "theme park" games.

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