Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Realistic is Too Realistic?

You should know by now that I advocate an MMORPG where realism is given an important part; not to say that magic or science fiction are bad, on the contrary, but it would be nice if they weren't just mysterious elements tossed in to add a few more classes. When you ask for realism, however, it's a good idea to precise when you want to stop.

Take food, for example. It seems it has become the norm in MMORPGs that food is to restore lost hit points, and perhaps give some small buffs. I don't know about you, but I rarely grow back lost limbs with a sandwich, and the only thing that gets better when I eat is my stomach (But hey, if your game has morale, more power to you!). So in a realistic game, regular, every day food shouldn't restore hit points.

How far do you push realism, however? You want there to be food in your game, because real people eat, but how important is food? In Ultima Online, not eating gave you penalties to your actions, but couldn't kill you directly. But you could make starvation kill, or at least make you take damage; just as you could have players require water, which they have to drink manually every hours to avoid dehydration. You could do these things, but they would just be tedious, especially for newbies, who might end up dying every few hours because they don't know how to get food or water. You want realism, but you also want fun.

Just as magically healing food is unrealistic, so is being able to run all the time; yet I don't see, nor do I want, an MMORPG where running gets you actually tired, because realistic walking speed is boring; walking is for stealthers.

What about sleep? You can't stay up a week playing the game, and neither should your characters be able to stay up for days with their plate mail on, bashing goblins. The sensible thing to do is to give penalties to players who stay up too long (Blizzard tried that, and they got angry explosive letters; so they changed the tiredness penalty to a well-rested bonus, and the fanboys shut up); staying up for days will result in your characters gaining next to no experience, and having heavy penalties on actions. The problem arises when the game world has different time sets than the real world; if your days last only a few hours, then you cannot expect a player to stay up more than a few hours at a time, which will discourage many, and not just the hardcore players. Many players enjoy playing for hours on week-ends without having to worry that their character is tiring. Magic and alts can allow you to game longer, but eventually you'll have to get some rest yourself.

So in short, getting a good balance of realism is hard; you have to decide where to draw the line, and make sure it's before the fun ends. In the end, you just have to make sure you alienate as few people with your decisions.

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