Star-Fired Beef


NBI Talkback Challenge #1

I’m not very good about community participation, in any field, so I wasn’t planning on contributing much to this year’s Newbie Blogger Initiative. But the first talkback topic, posed by Izlain, has prompted me to think about it enough to want to at least put something down in print. He asked, “How did GamerGate affect you?”

I have written about my views on the terror itself, so I’ll not repeat myself here. Looking back on how the whole thing has affected me, though, I realise that it is mostly indirectly. It’s still personal, but not as personal as it is for many others.

Directly, I have been lucky enough to not be personally affected by this abomination. None of the hate has been aimed my way, despite me participating in some pretty heated discussions on various blogs. But I have realised, after reading a few of the other posts in this Talkback Challenge, that I have been affected, and that I continue to be affected, on a personal level.

I am affected because many of the people in my online community that I admire, and look up to, and even consider friends and all-round great people, are women. And these people, these friends, more often than not are directly affected. People like Liore, and Jasyla, and Aywren, and Eri, they have all been made to feel threatened, afraid, or insecure in their participation in the gaming community. And then there are people like Talarian, who have to deal with the fallout as both an indie developer and a member of the LBGTQ community, and it gets even worse. I hate the fact that these people that I love interacting with (even if I don’t do so enough) are more wary, if not outright scared, nowadays than they were before GamerGate reared its ugly heads.

I am sad, and not a little frightened, for my blogging, and gamer, and IRL friends. That is how GamerGate has affected me.

Phox – Evil




My Favourite Games With Distinctive Art Styles

The art direction in games has waxed and waned in importance over the years. Some games attract a lot of interest based, initially, almost entirely on their art style. Some games have basic, yet serviceable art styles and are lauded on their gameplay alone. In recent years there has been a massive rise in the retro-pixel art style, for better or for worse. I don’t see the attraction of it, myself, but it is not usually a barrier to entry for me.

Here I want to highlight some of the most intriguing and distinctive art styles that I have run across. Most of these I haven’t even played, but the art is what caught my eye, and has driven my interest in (eventually) playing them. Note that my choices do not reflect my opinion on the gameplay or story, just the art direction. I tried ranking my list, but as it is so subjective I couldn’t decide, here are some of my favourites in alphabetical order…

The Banner Saga 

The art direction in The Banner Saga take me back to the cartoon heyday of the ’80’s, with animation and colour palettes inspired by the likes of He-Man. The thing that hooked me, though, was the epic feel of the journey portions of the game, where you lead your families ever onward, trudging through beautifully drawn landscapes. It really captured the mythology of the game, I thought.


Braid has a lush, painterly style that feels like you could take screenshots and make it into a children’s book from the early 20th century. I love the backgrounds, and the character and environmental designs evoke a sense of childlike wonder in me.

The Bridge 

Another hand-drawn art style, I just love the Escher inspiration here. It makes the game feel more…artistic, I think, which adds to the enjoyment of an otherwise straightforward puzzler.

Darkest Dungeon

Initially I dismissed this game, but since it has exploded in popularity in this corner of the blogosphere, and I have seen many more screenshots and videos, I have come to be convinced that Darkest Dungeon is going to be a source of great enjoyment for me. The art style was the only thing that struck me intially, and as I have become more exposed to its dark, gritty, graphic novel atmosphere, I have warmed to it even more.


The most relaxing RTS you will ever play. A large part of this is due to the minimalist art style, with its soft colours and lack of clutter. This is not a busy game, visually. It is a soft, comforting, virtual eye massage.


The lack of colour in this game, along with the soft backlighting, is surprisingly effective in setting and maintaining the bleak ambience that pervades Limbo. It makes you constantly aware that this is a place you are not supposed to be, that finding your way out is a matter of necessity on some deep, primal level.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom 

Another black and white game, this one manages to convey a markedly different vibe, through the use of early silver screen imagery, combined with late 19th/early 20th century comic influences. I love the way it channels a cross between Mary Poppins and Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

Rock of Ages 

I guess it was bound to happen eventually, but I am glad that when a game finally used the Monty Python method of classical art animation, they did it as thoroughly, as faithfully, and as creatively as they did in Rock of Ages. The art direction really emphasizes the fun and silliness of the game, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much with a more “traditional” graphic style.


I will give a shout out to this game’s precursor, Bastion, for they share a lot in the art department. But I think Transistor has the more interesting style, with a subtle anime influence and a dark, cyberpunk atmosphere.

Which games have hooked you with their art direction, either because it stood out as different or because it was so well executed?

Sigur Ros – Svefn-g-englar


What if: Prophecies

I’m currently watching the X-Files (for the first time, yes I know you can pick up your jaw now) and just saw an episode which dealt with prognostication. Lots of stuff involving fortune tellers and psychics, but something clicked in my brain when a throwaway reference to prophecy was made.

I started to wonder: how cool would it be if there were real prophecies in an MMO? If you could find some ancient tablet written in a lost language that, when deciphered, told of some future event that was planned to be implemented by developers? If fortune tellers had vague impressions of some foe that the player will encounter, that will be introduced in the next expansion (or the next one after that)? Cryptic references to deaths, births, creation or destruction, of major NPCs and/or things and/or places?

There would, of course, be false prophecies. Rumours that got out of control. Misinterpreted signs. Deliberately false ones created to protect the secret, true ones. NPCs that are simply high on something and are just spouting nonsense.

Maybe these prophecies could just be teasers included for fun, or maybe they could replace patch notes and PTRs with regard to lore. Datamining is a big problem, of course.

It’s probably a pipe dream itself, but I thought it was fun to think about the “what if?”.

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The One Reason Your Dream MMO Will Never* Be Made

Other people – people who have to want to build it, and people who have to want to pay for it and play it – are not you.


*Perhaps when the Singularity happens, and you can copy your personality a sufficient number of times, you – all copies of you – will be able to design, build, and populate your dream MMO. The ultimate in playing with yourself.

(NSFW – language)


Blizzard is just phoning it in now.

I couldn’t help but get caught up in Aywren’s excitement in January, for the Manderville Gold Saucer in FFXIV. The addition of a new area dedicated to entertainment rather than combat or grinding dailies, as the cornerstone of a major patch, was pretty impressive to me. The one thing that got my attention the most, was the chocobo racing. And breeding. It just felt like a serious effort to add a long-lasting, addictive in-and-of-itself activity that deepens the player experience and enjoyment.

Contrast that to WoW’s latest 6.1 patch, which also added racing. At the one area of the game that is supposedly dedicated to entertainment rather than combat or grinding, the Darkmoon Faire. Yet instead of FFXIV’s intricate, in-depth system that pits players against each other in an exciting race to the end of the race, Blizzard has offered…a solo, time-trial experience. With no progression. No competition. No reason to repeat. No investment for the player. The WoW-chocobo mount is not yours to train, all mounts are exactly the same, and there are no rewards that affect future races (afaik).

When I first got wind of Darkmoon Faire racing, I was actually excited. Sure, it was yet another case of Blizzard trying to rip the wind out of another major MMO’s sails by blatantly copying their ideas, but usually there is a unique spin on it that adds value and makes it worthwhile. This, though…this is disappointing in the extreme. To me, it reeks of a major lack of care and commitment to quality from Blizzard. It feels like they are just throwing in whatever hot new thing they read about, with minimal thought and effort, just so they can point to WoW and say “look, we have it too!”.

It’s just sad.

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Isometric MMOs: Does Perspective Matter?

When MMOs first made a splash with Ultima Online, the graphical experience was similar to that of the great RPGs of the late 1990’s – Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale. Namely, a top-down, isometric viewpoint. Then Everquest and World of Warcraft brought in the over-the-shoulder, third-person view that characterised much of the 3D action games such as Tomb Raider. Ever since the rise of those two MMOs, the genre has settled firmly on their perspective as the standard. Only Runescape has had any real success with the isometric viewpoint.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that a few MMOs are attempting to break into the market with that isometric design. I’m not including ARPGs like Diablo or Path of Exile here, they are not really MMOs in my books. And I wonder: what can this design bring to the genre to help it stand out?

Shards Online is a good Western-developer example of this. Lost Ark Online is another, Korean-developed one:

I don’t have any answers here, I am merely wondering whether this niggling thought that an isometric MMO could be deeper, bigger, better, has any validity. I guess it stems from the contrast with offline RPGs – for me, listing the great ones has meant almost exclusively listing isometric games. Am I wrong here? I’ve been playing around with Project Zomboid a little (thanks, Eri!), trying to get used to the game, and it struck me just how much more detailed and immersive the experience was, compared to most of the MMOs I’ve played in the last few years.

I can’t quite put my finger on what, exactly, makes me wonder whether there is more potential in the isometric viewpoint. Some wild thoughts have appeared! Revel in their ignorance!

  • It seems to me that art demands are less for an isometric game. Would this allow more development resources to be allocated to mechanics, content and lore?
  • It feels like that the game world could be much, much bigger than in a full 3D game, with less need for load screens or fast travel.
  • I am unsure whether it would mean a more restricted experience. From all accounts, both UO and Runescape have had huge worlds with full freedom of travel. The video of Lost Ark Online, above, seems to indicate a more Diablo-like restricted path structure.
  • Do players identify with tiny, somewhat distant avatars as much as WoW-sized avatars? Would that turn players off?

What do you think?


Sandbox Stories and Immersion in MMOs – Part III

Finally, we have made it to the last post of what turned out to be a series. In Part I, we discussed how MMO narratives affect immersion for different types of game. In Part II, we looked at the ways sandbox MMOs could introduce direction for players by adopting a top-down narrative structure. Now, we will consider ways that narrative immersion can be implemented in sandboxes from a bottom-up perspective.

Bottom-Up Narratives

These narratives provide immersion by surrounding the player with stories that are playing out around them, that they can dive into or ignore at their whim. The stories are generally short, but can domino into epic quest chains in the right circumstances. They are also generally self-contained, but can have effects on larger-level stories. A reminder that a fail state is a valid resolution to these stories, whether because no players take part in time, or because they avoid the “happy ending” that in themepark quests would be called “completion”. Accepting a contract to assassinate an NPC and then choosing not to, is as much a fail state as allowing the monsters to overrun the village.

Somewhat related to the topic of fail states, are the concepts of exclusivity and concurrency. As these are very small-scale narratives, it is likely that one PC can carry it through to resolution. Thus, many of these “quests” must be exclusive. If you’ve asked one adventurer to deliver this very important basket of muffins to the local captain of the guards, then you obviously won’t be needing to ask others to do it as well. Exclusivity provides immersion by making sure that every player’s experience is markedly different. On the other hand, there are some tasks that NPCs would offer to many PCs. The farmer who wants someone to retrieve his livestock from bandits is not going to sit back and relax just because one PC has trundled off to administer justice in his name. Concurrency means that several players could be on the same quest at the same time. They could be friends travelling in a group, or they could be completely unknown to each other, in which case it turns into a race of sorts. This would provide interaction between players, as there are a myriad of ways things could play out. Will the player rock up to find that the bandits are dead, and livestock are gone? Will they encounter other players on the way and team up, or try to sabotage each other? Will they see someone else already there and quietly slink away, abandoning the quest?

A Secret World

My love for The Secret World is no secret. As far as narrative innovation goes, investigation missions are probably the greatest thing to happen to the themepark MMO space in many years. For those unfamiliar with the game, investigation missions are stories told through the player following clues, which usually require specialist knowledge to solve. Given that TSW has a contemporary setting, it is easy to reference various historical events or knowledge, or require real-world skills like the ability to decipher morse code.

A sandbox MMO that has a fantastical setting has the potential to offer the same kinds of narrative sleuthing, albeit on a more restricted level. For example, clues that require knowledge of obscure or old lore about a region, an item, a country, a prominent family, etc. You would need to find NPCs who either have such knowledge, or can direct you to others who do. Or you could piece the clues together from environmental cues. A piece of heraldry, or a puppet show being performed in a city street, might point the way to the next clue.

Perhaps there could be an in-game skill or profession that deals with obscure knowledge? Historian? Higher competence would mean more information is provided to you by the clue itself.

Don’t Call Me Junior

In a similar vein, successful tomb raiders should be required to have extensive knowledge of the game’s lore. I think there is potential for a deep archaeological system in an MMO. Imagine being able to specialise in a culture, and apply that cultural knowledge to maps or clues. As you gain a reputation for your skills, you could be hired by powerful people to retrieve precious artifacts, or identify items that they have acquired. And as anyone who has watched an Indiana Jones movie knows, there is always a sinister, shadowy faction intent on getting that precious artifact first, or preventing you from obtaining it. Maybe this shadowy faction has hired other players to retrieve it, in direct competition to you?

Guild War…er, Organisational Conflict…er, Club Fight?

There are so many organisations with narrative potential in an MMO world. Religious orders, thieves’ guilds, merchant guilds, professional organisations, military orders, farmer’s groups, gypsy-equivalent groups, mercenary groups, smuggling networks, pirate groups, all sorts of magical organisations, rebel groups, feudal Houses, the list goes on. Having a relationship with each of these groups is an endless source of narrative potential. You can operate as an agent of them, you can incur the wrath of them, you can become indebted to them or have them indebted to you, you can spy on, or for, them…so many ways to make them a major part of your narrative engine.

A Game of Politics

On a more personal level, you can play the political game, where you gain favour or disfavour with individuals or small cliques within an organisation. These can open or close doors to quests depending on your standings with certain NPCs. Greater trust and intimacy with the more powerful individuals can lead to discovering secret information, such as black ops, covered up scandals, hidden histories, and so on. This information, in turn, can lead to other quests.

Bottom-up narratives have the advantage of being immediately relevant to players. They pull players into the world in a direct way, and players can see the changes to the world that they are making, in a concrete fashion. They make the game world feel more alive in ways that top-down narratives might have trouble doing. Unfortunately, they are also very developer-time-intensive. In a really successful implementation, the developers would be constantly – as in, weekly or even daily – monitoring the status of quests and crafting the next chapter of each little story, depending on what happened beforehand. Not to mention, creating new stories. That likely isn’t viable for any MMO, not until AI has progressed far beyond current capabilities and can write and respond to stories on the fly.

The final step in the bottom-up narrative ideal is integrating player quests with the NPCs in game. Imagine that a (PC) mage needs a certain ingredient for research purposes, and puts up a notice seeking players to source that ingredient for them. If that ingredient is mythical in nature, then we come back to players needing to consult NPC sources in game to try to find out more about where that ingredient might be. Plus, a religious order might wish to prevent that particular ingredient ever seeing the light of day (for religious reasons, naturally) and so might try to do something about this search. And so on.

I suspect that I may have ended up rambling incoherently in this post, so don’t be surprised if this is simultaneously bleedingly obvious and highly confusing. Of course, I would love to hear about any other ideas for inserting narrative into sandbox MMOs without restricting player freedom or being too disjointed.


Sandbox Stories and Immersion in MMOs – Part II

At the end of Part I, I asked: How can we bring more narrative immersion into sandbox worlds, which tend to focus on activity-based and player-interaction immersion? I’m going to look at a few possible ways in this post. The ideas presented are not mutually exclusive, I think it would be cool to have as many different approaches included in the same game as possible, but obviously the more ideas you incorporate the more work it is for the developers, and feature creep is a thing. Also note, that this post is about PvE-generated narrative, which although it may be influenced by PvP interactions, isn’t created by them.

Glory & Consequence

Before we get started on the ideas themselves, I want to address a common foundation that underlies all of these scenarios. I believe that one very, very important distinction separates themepark narratives and sandbox narratives: a fail state. In themepark narratives, the story is already written. You are simply playing through it. If you fail a certain challenge (“boss” fight, finding your way to the next questgiver, locating a lost item, etc) then you simply cannot proceed any further until you go back and do it successfully. You aren’t technically stuck in the game, since you can go and do other MMO-ish things, but most themeparks won’t allow you to access a lot of content without following the story. On the other hand, there is no true fail state either. The story remains there, unchanged, eternally available, until you complete it.

A sandbox narrative will need a fail state. Not only individual storylines, but the grand narrative – the game as a whole – as well. I think the developers (and players too!) need to be willing to see their server world be destroyed or otherwise unplayable. They need to be willing to say, “We’re closing this server down in a week, you lost the game. A new world/server will start in two weeks.” And this fail state needs to be a real possibility, without being too hard to avert. On a smaller scale, individual storylines must be able to end in a fail state, or tragedy, if they are not completed in time or if the player reacts inappropriately. In other words, let that farmer and his family die to the band of roving monsters if nobody helps them. Let the treasure you’re searching for, be found by someone else first if you take too long getting there. If your escort quest fails because your charge dies due to your incompetence, then they stay dead and you reap the consequences of that. None of this “going back and starting again” business that you have in themepark narratives.

My view of sandbox MMOs, of “living worlds”, is that they are defined by glory and consequence. And as far as I am concerned, there can be no glory without consequence. Any narrative structure introduced into such a world must incorporate and reflect that ideal.

Top-Down Narratives

There are two main ways that I can see narrative becoming a part of a sandbox world. A top-down approach, and a bottom-up approach. The top-down approach will keep the world- or regional-level events as the focus of developer effort, and players are enabled or restricted in their play by those events. This approach isn’t concerned so much with individual stories, but with grand, sweeping narratives.

The External Threat

One way that sandbox MMOs can add more direction for players is to develop a high-level, existential threat to the game world. This can be done to various degrees of subtlety and visibility, but the end goal is to make players think about their choices in a larger context. The presence of this external threat means that if enough players either ignore it or actively aid it – directly or indirectly by hindering those who are dealing with it – then this threat could become dangerous enough to bring on a fail state (destroy the world, the galaxy, the civilisation, etc).

Firefall has made attempts to implement this kind of external threat to a limited degree. The Chosen are able to push into areas and capture bases which affect players in those areas, and the devs even run events where they take control of some Chosen as part of an invasion. This is a good direction to be heading, but it remains the case that if everyone ignored the Chosen incursions, the game world would not be overrun. There is no fail state at the moment.

An example that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is in EVE. The majority of the narrative there is player-driven, yet there are some small tidbits of lore that are sprinkled throughout the game and in the newsletters. I remember reading a snippet somewhere that mentioned the possibility of the Sleepers being a remnant of a race that originated in another galaxy. What if the Sleepers started to wake, and become active? Rather than sitting passively in their inert bases, only responding to direct intrusion, what if they began to send out recon? Attack player-owned stations (POS)? Intercept fleets? Destroy moon bases and planetary industries? What would that do to the current nullsec balance of power? What if there were hints that this was the prelude to a return of the creators, an invasion that the players are going to have to deal with? It wouldn’t have to be an overwhelmingly powerful force to make major waves in the alliance political scene. And yet, if those alliances went on a backstabbing spree and overextended themselves, they might just let the Sleepers grow into a major threat.

The Internal Conflict

In a different kind of MMO, one where there are established political entities that are in conflict with each other, there is always opportunity for devs to manage an ongoing narrative at a high level. The players cannot be forced into any one faction, but they could choose to ally themselves with, or serve, one or more of them. Warring city-states, or rival countries, or even race-based conflict are easy enough to fit into this mould. Changes to the high-level narrative would affect players in both direct and indirect ways. They may be refused entry to certain towns or areas, they may be attacked on sight by members of another faction, they may be able to earn commendations and other rewards and recognition for acts that are hostile to their faction’s enemies. Indirectly, they may see a shortage of certain goods in markets they frequent, or they may be able to profit from trade routes being closed. If they own property, they may see taxes or rents go up in wartime. All these things can change as the political landscape changes, though. The devs could keep total control over how and when these changes occur, or they could allow players to influence things to a greater or lesser degree.

These top-down narratives are not really supposed to be followed closely. They aren’t detailed, must-read-every-word lore depositories. They are supposed to bring a sense of direction to an otherwise mostly directionless gaming space. The key here is that they reward players for following the narrative attentively, but they don’t punish players for ignoring it. They can be scaled to fit whatever percentage of the game world the developers like, and they can be ended or modified whenever the mood strikes. I like the flexibility of top-down narratives, and of course, they can be supplemented with bottom-up narratives too.

That discussion will have to wait until Part III, unfortunately, as this part is already fairly long. I would love to hear any further ideas for top-down narratives in the comments!



Sandbox Stories and Immersion in MMORPGs – Part I

I am a big fan of story in my games.

In single-player games, or multiplayer co-op or lobby-based games, there is obviously a huge amount of room for titles that have little or no story or lore. World of Tanks, FPS like Doom or Duke Nukem, and RTS like Total Annihilation all provide awesome gameplay experiences with mere lip service to a story. Puzzlers like Bejeweled or SpaceChem, grand strategy like Civ or Europa Universalis, and most sports and racing games rely on their mechanics rather than the supporting background story and lore to provide a lasting impression.

RPGs are heavily reliant on story. And that applies to MMORPGs just as much as single-player ones. Whether we are talking about the most linear of linear themeparks, or the sandboxiest of sandboxes, story matters. The main variable – besides quality of writing, of course – is how much control over the story the developers have. Themeparks normally shepherd you through a very structured, very player-focused story experience. You are The Hero, whether you want to be or not. It is not your story, per se, it is The Hero’s story, and each player takes on that role simultaneously and separately. Players cannot permanently affect the world outside of the scripted storyline events.

Sandboxes, on the other hand, tend to shy away from player-centric storylines. The tales they tell are typically small and self-contained, with little impact on the world at large. They exist to be discovered or sought out, rather than shepherded through on the way to a grand destiny. In themeparks they’d be called “side quests”. They are there to provide flavour, a backdrop for the player-driven activities that the game is built around (PvP, building, survival, etc).

Both these approaches have their pros and cons. The more control over the story the developers have, the better they can tell it. They can make sure that players never miss vital plot points, are always introduced to important characters, and generally deliver the narrative goods as completely and effectively as they are capable of doing. This approach, however, does take agency away from the player, and can be very detrimental to any attempts at creating a “living world”. There are few, if any, consequences of player actions. You are stuck with the story in its current form until the developers progress it, and that story puts you at its centre whilst simultaneously failing to care what you have or have not done.

With less control, comes less structure. You can’t have core content that is also optional or has to be stumbled upon (although that does give me an idea about how one might try to do that…). This means that you can’t have stories that play out over multiple quests or missions, if one stage relies on having completed another in order to make sense. I think the consequence of that is that developers can only control the story at a micro or a macro level. They can put in lots of flavour, lots of worldbuilding tidbits that aren’t necessarily all that important to the game, but bring a kind of backdrop to the player activities at large. They can also place very broad, very general story elements about the game world, that give some context to what the players are doing, but don’t really have any impact on the players or what they are allowed to do. In ArcheAge, for example, this is the role of the opening credits and some of the history that you learn about in the personal story – the discovery of some wellspring of power by a band of mortals that made them into demigods, the falling out of that band of heroes and the subsequent civil war, and the resultant exile into the current game world. In EVE, the Sleeper sites tell a story of an alien civilisation that used to inhabit that portion of the galaxy.

On the other hand, with less control and structure, comes more freedom for players to affect the world in meaningful ways. This is crucial for the feeling of a “living world”. It also means less development time is allocated to story and lore, which can be good for the developers in the sense that they can devote more time to other issues like mechanics, bugs, and art. It can offer greater flexibility to writers when story elements are added, since there are way less existing plot points to work around or incorporate, and less risk of holes or contradictions. Perhaps more importantly, many players have viscerally negative reactions to poor storytelling, which can actually harm your game. I have no investment in Guild Wars 2, for instance, because the lore was not easily accessible to me, and the personal story was both poorly written and extremely badly presented. Avoiding more than a token story can help retain those types of players.

A Story of Immersion

For an MMORPG to be truly successful, it needs to provide immersion. I believe that there are two forms of immersion at work here. In themeparks, where a decent focus is on the story, the goal is for the game to be story-driven, even if it turns out that many players don’t care about it and skip through as much as possible. The quests, the dungeons, the raids, all of these elements are designed to immerse the player in a story – The Hero’s story. A well-written story has the ability to draw and keep players hooked despite bad or mediocre (or just bland) gameplay mechanics. SW:TOR, LOTRO, and TSW all rely very heavily on the story and lore to keep players immersed in their worlds. Without that narrative immersion, I doubt that most players would stay with the game as long as they do.

The sandboxier your MMO, the more you have to rely on a “living world” type of immersion. You have to have the reassurances that your efforts are making an impact on other players, that you have the ability to change the world in meaningful ways, and/or that the world will change around you in unexpected and unusual ways. EVE and Wurm Online are examples of extremely player-driven immersion, where most of what changes is due to other players. I’m really looking forward to what EQNext will bring to a living world model that is more AI-driven, and as AI advances are made I expect to see more and more MMOs become…almost like a tabletop RPG, I guess, with an AI GM overseeing the world and adjusting things on the fly.

For me, obviously, the absolute ideal would be for an MMO to rate very highly on both types of immersion. A kickarse story and deep lore, with plenty of player-driven changes to the world that in turn inspire the developers to modify their story plans to reflect that activity. But for that to happen, we’d need to figure out ways for sandboxes to include immersive stories. How do we do that? I’ll propose some ideas in Part II.

Ultimately, we all want to feel like this in our MMOs, don’t we?


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Raiding Is Too Greedy

I wrote a while back about one of the negative consequences of raiding as the primary endgame activity in MMOs. The reasons I gave were social in nature, and not really aimed at the structure of raiding itself, more the attitude of players in general.

This past week there was a series of articles on Massively about the structure of raiding and how it should become a less monolithic part of MMO endgames.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I happen to agree with them entirely. The articles argue, for various reasons, that raiding is too greedy in terms of developer resources. It alienates far too much of the playerbase for frivolous reasons, it promotes social drama (in different ways than I talked about in my post), it actively takes away resources from developing fun and interesting and accessible new features (e.g. faction systems, pet or mount events, new combat systems, new crafting professions, etc) or expanding current ones (e.g. racial Garrison structures, new holiday events, more clothing or pet or mount or collectibles options, new crafting recipes).

I’m a little torn. I don’t mind raids existing, because there is definitely an exclusive rush you get from completing huge battles with a large group of friends. But they should be rare at best. They should be an option that people can participate in, but not something that offers objectively better gear than all other activities. There are many ways that small group and solo play can be just as difficult, just as rewarding to complete, and just as long-lasting as raids are. It’s time that more MMOs realise that and start offering more variety in their ‘endgame’ activities.

Guild Wars 2 and EVE have not been hurt by a lack of raids, The Secret World only has one currently, and will add its second sometime next year I believe, and MMOs in development – such as Star Citizen, EverQuest Next, Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, still months or years away from release, and Elite: Dangerous and The Crew, which are due for release in December – are either avoiding raids altogether or making it a small part of the game. I hope that current raid-driven MMOs see the sense in making the switch to that deprioritisation of raiding.