Sunday, November 28, 2010

Slow, Harduous Research

What I would like to see in an MMORPG is a system of research for acquirable skills; something that allowed players to spend some time, possibly involving another minigame, and learn a new skill or recipe, or receive a new enhancement, as a passive skill.

On the skill side, this would be akin to intense training, either in general, earning an unknown skill; or in particular, trying to design a skill from scratch. This would be a form of self-teaching, allowing one to gain a skill when no one knows or is willing to teach it. With great effort, a player would discover something new - or possibly understand something they have seen done - and be able to teach it to others. This would allow first-generation players to have something to strive for; and when basic skills have all been discovered and spread, new players will have an easier time catching up to the veterans, making the game more fun for everyone.

For recipes, the system would be similar, but require that the player actually input materials. Experiments using said materials would destroy them, but possibly teach the player some new ways of using them, potentially yielding a working prototype. Again, recipes would eventually spread in the community, if not by teaching, then by reverse-engineering, meaning new players can become useful crafters with less invested time.

As for passive skills, it's all about intense training - one could train themselves to withstand great mental fatigue, for example, hardening them against psychological effects or increasing some related attributes. Even without a precise goal in mind, intense training in their skill in general can yield small but welcome incremental bonuses, something that is always useful to have.

The whole idea here is to allow players to be pioneers in their chosen fields, permanently engraving their names in the history of the world - or perhaps just following the footsteps of heroes of yore, who learned every move people take for granted the hard way.

And darnit, they liked it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Realistic User Interfaces

When you look at the average MMORPG, you sometimes struggle to see the character through all the user interface elements taking up portions of the screen. While they are pretty much essential in creating a decent interactive game, they often take much from the immersive feeling of the game, preventing the players from feeling like they are in a real world instead of a computer game. With the proper elements, however, much of that immersion prevention can be eliminated.

The first step in making the user interface more immersive is not to decorate it with skulls, dragons and fairies, but to make it an actual part of the game. Make the interface something the character sees, a spell of sorts from which everyone benefits. The inventory screen? Part of the spell. Minimap? Spell element. Friend list, character stats, action shortcuts? All part of the character's magical GUI. You can even call the third person camera some sort of hallucination spell that allows a character to see themselves from behind.

With such a complex spell, you can even add new, interesting elements. For example, every character - and event the NPCs - could have their own helper avatar, taking the form of an illusionary butler or maid, or even a playful child; or they could be fairies, skeletons, bunnies, dragons, whatever the player wants. As long as you have the model in the game, you can make it the player's helper; and the helper does more than just help the player around with the GUI. They could act as assistants, reminding players of important events - for example, their own assigned sleep time. They could help the players customize their GUI, perhaps recommending customizations that would fit their needs. They could help players find new things to do - informing them of the best place to go to improve their skills, find mercenary work or go hunting, or any other number of tasks in which the player would like to participate.

Even better, as long as the player is within friendly territories, the helper could stay in touch with local events. They could get the player's magical mail, inform them of new bounties or track down potential party opportunities. With a magical GUI, the possibilities are plenty - and players will no doubt find more themselves, adding to the customization choices; perhaps a market could even develop for customization experts to sell their programming skills for some in-game currency.

With a GUI and avatar, the players can feel immersed, even when looking at a stereotypical game interface. There's nothing to stand in the way of their appreciation of the game, and it actually helps make the players happy, so it's a net win, right?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Game World

An MMORPG is defined first and foremost by the world in which its players are allowed to play. It can be a theme park or a sandbox, of course, but past those labels, there is so much more it can be.

In making a game world, one has to choose how everything will interact and, more importantly, how players will interact with the world. Any type of player one wants to find in their world must find something to do, and even players who defy categorization can be accounted for.

Do you make a game for achievement fans and player-killers? Drop the crafting and appearance differences, and make sure you display their appropriate numbers for all to see. If you want socializers, make sure it's easy for them to find each other and form groups. You want a mix of explorers, achievers and socializers? Make your world complex yet friendly, then, and you will find some of each.

But if one wants their game world to be taken seriously, they have to think further than the four Bartle categories. Which killers do you want in your world? You can pick the action-driven ones, and make mercenary work easily accessible. You can pick the ganker, who likes to prey on weaker players, and encourage the laws of the jungle, where only the strongest survive. And as you ponder your game world, you will no doubt notice that the categories just fill themselves; as if the world had taken a life of its own, so will the players fill the world before you even craft it.

In our game, for example, we had a magic-heavy, skill-based, complex world that encouraged player interaction. You'll find that anyone with some social needs will thrive as long as you make it easy for them to find each other; the merchant-like achievers will likewise do rather well if there is enough complexity to allow some speculation on the side; and the killers will find plenty to do if you make it easy for them to jump into the action for their side and get paid for their accomplishments on the battlefield. But, of course, each of them would do well to be explorers, of the world's geography and its basic rules.

If you craft a decent world, players will come; but if you make a deep, wonderful place in which they can live, they will be sucked into your alternate reality. Your world may be a roller coaster or a city builder, but in the end, if you stay consistent in the design, you will end up with something someone wants to play; and that is really the basic of making a game.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Art and Science of Combat

Although this is not a distinction often used to describe an MMO's gameplay, I feel it is one that deserves some attention. One should know which of the terms best describes their gameplay, which would undoubtedly help them tell if they're headed the right way in term of design decisions.

If gameplay elements tend more towards making the game a science, then people will have to study numbers and come up with the best formulas; characters will be optimized based on the setup of the day and there will be no decisions to take during the action - they will all have been made in advance, during the planning phase.

Should gameplay elements indicate combat as a form of art, then people should not overly worry about optimization - there will be many working setups, and anyone can contribute, no matter how odd their choices, as long as they have an idea of what they're doing. Decisions on the battlefield will matter more, and the initial plan will likely not survive contact with the enemy.

Although both elements can make for good games, they do not interact well; people will expect one and, seeing traces of the other, will likely complain that the game is not exactly how they wanted it. Combat should be thought of as an art or a science; getting both at once only serves to confuse people.