Three, condensed months of mmorpg discussions

You are already used to this, no? Blah, blah, blah and blah.

[i]I have a new principle.

Not only I want the story back. But I also want all the related content soloable from the beginning to end. And absolutely free from time constraints. The game should be enjoyable whether I have ten minutes, an hour or five hours. Duoing should be the norm.[/i]

An handy solution for every problem

I come from a five hours, incessant discussion with a friend about game design and mmorpgs. It was so absolutely useful to talk with someone in my own language. I could elaborate so quickly so many concept and I was able to summarize most of the work in the last three months. All at once.

This discussion was so absolutely useful for me because I was able to make a better synthesis of all I read, thought and wrote along these months. Too often I analyze a problem taken out of the general context, delving in the detail but losing the correct reference. Sometimes I forget how things are interconnected and how each solution to a problem must be coordinated and not contradictory with another one. As I often repeated, I always design starting from problems. I isolate some fundamental problems in the mmorpgs (socialization, pvp balance, narrative, emergent play, healer classes and so on), identify all the traits and then try to derive my own solutions. So all these ideas start from crucial points and I always try to suggest alternatives that I believe are valid and worthwhile. This is design for me. I have a problem and try to figure out effective solutions. Minimizing the side-effects (or “deficiencies” as Raph calls them, see the end of the article).

Recently we touched so many fundamental points. About the limits and accessibility problems of a sandbox, about the linearity and staticity of a narrative, about the unexcused, negative transition from the levels being a way to progress in the story (classic pen&paper RPG) to the story being a way to progress through the levels (classic DikuMUD progression). We have lost the story. Some also said that we lost the possibility to affect and change the world, like branching quests that open up different possibilities.

I wrote my own opinion about all these points and suggested many solutions. But it’s always hard to make a synthesis of all that. It’s hard to have a “one size fits all” answer that is truly satisfactory without those “deficiencies”. I wrote that some of the problems, goals and solutions are antithetic. You cannot find a solution for everything because one will be opposed to the other. I gave up here. I’m not good enough to think something that works so smoothly. A story, to be a very good story, needs identity and authorship. Control. It has a start and an end. It’s more or less linear, even if you can segment it and let the player follow a personal order. But all the pieces would still be there.

At the basic level: a good story has an awful replayability.

After you have spoiled it, part of the fun of the exploration and discovery will go away. Yes, we could chase the myth of of the branching possibilities. So that you can repeat a story and find out different possibilities. But this makes the development time increase exponentially and these games have budgets, and these budgets depend on time. This would also not remove the artificiality of a falsely persistent world where you can go back and repeat something to see it going in a different way. It’s a paradox, a false solution.

Mixing together the needs of a strong narrative, an accessible, deep sandbox and a satisfying character progression (along with an healthy socialization and community cohesion) IS JUST NOT POSSIBLE. They have antithetic requirements. The narrative needs a start an an end, it needs deep characters, stories and myths. And it needs to be accessible without mandatory grouping, without other players asking you to skip reading the text because you are wasting time. Without these other players IMPOSING STANDARDS on how you experience the content. I fucking hate this. I want to play the fucking game at my own pace, in my own way, screwing up the way I like, in the order I like and without hearing a fucking annoying noob getting in my way, getting me killed, criticizing what I’m doing or spoiling me the whole thing.


What’s this? Me going nut? No. These are the requirements of a GOOD narrative. When I read a book I immerse myself into it. The world outside STOPS TO EXIST. Noone can dictate me how to read, what to read. It’s all about me and the book. I isolate myself hermetically from the outside and the same happens when I’m enjoying an old RPG. It’s about me and the world. My exploration, my experience. The Full Immersion. This type of narrative CANNOT require mandatory grouping. It CANNOT require you to play five hours straight, all at once. It CANNOT require you to plan your life around a game. It CANNOT require you to catass to victory. I want a game that is accessible: 1- When I fucking have the time to play 2- Right away without making me dependent on other players. Without forcing me to adapt to other players. I want my own game. At my pace. For my enjoyment. I am the measure of my game and I fucking DON’T CARE if someone out there is advancing way faster than me. I don’t want the competition here. I want the story and me in the story. I want to zone out of that crap. Fuck the socialization, other players suck. I have enough of depending on them, their time, their pace and their classes.

This is not me going nut (again), this is what other players out there are demanding. The first things everyone wants to know about a new mmorpg, every kind of mmorpg, is if it’s possible to solo or not. Peoples are SICK of depending on other people, of impassable barriers that make content inaccessible. Of mandatory 40-man raids lasting 5+ hours as the only way to progress. Peoples are SICK of that sort of design. Peoples have enough of adapting their life to a game. Peoples are sick (literally) when their houses smell of cat ass. People want games with a value, not excuses to chase carrots-on-a-stick. People want interesting stories, deep characters. An immersive world that simulates different elements and isn’t just combat, combat and more combat. People want broader worlds, good stories, a deeper interactivity. Something that is truly valuable as an experience and not some “fill in” grind because the developers are at loss.

How can you put together all these pieces together? I have no solution. It’s impossible to build a game about other players when these other players are its first problem. You want “x” and “y”, together. But where “x” is the contrary of “y”. Where one breaks the other. I want a mmorpg where I’m not dependent on other players, but then aren’t mmorpgs just about other players? What the hell, go playing a fucking single player then.

Yes, you can try to mingle all these aspects together, trying to discover the games of the future that will do everything right, all at once. You can call this “rich world simulations”. Imho, you are just entering a tunnel that you’ll never exit and risk to break more than you can fix. Maybe it’s possible, but it’s not viable right now. Not even worthwhile. The best solutions are always the simpler ones. Those that make you wonder why you didn’t get the idea before, after someone else had it. Intuitions.

I don’t have intuitions here as I don’t have one solution for every problem. But I can try to do my best with what I have available. My principle from the start has been about reposition each element we have in these games where it is more appropriate. Where it is most valuable and can be used as a resource, instead of a source of problems. So I don’t have one perfect solution, but I have it as collection of parts to place every problem where it belongs, making the game work better and, hopefully, making the players enjoy the game at the best of its possibilities.

My “dream game” is built of three different layers. I’ve tried to simplify and abstract as much as possible here to close all the points I’ve risen above. Offering my own solution:

  • The Sandbox
    The PvP world. Here is “the world in the hand of the players”. A large war map with regions, cities and smaller outposts, with two hardcoded factions (Chaos and Law) at war, with a third (Balance) set as a “pad” between the two (superficially: dedicated crafters, traders and mercenaries). Making temporary alliances with one or the other, keeping the commerce alive and maintaining a delicate equilibre (Chaos needs some resources that only Law can produce and vice versa. The “Balance” is the only way to trade those resources between the two). This is the “satisfying repetable content”, a character progression with a flat levelling curve, where you can unblock different ranks and roles but where one isn’t directly more powerful than the other. Where you aren’t acquiring directly better versions of the same skill, but where you open up different possibilities of interactions in the war. Making the gameplay more varied, with squadrons, different units and different goals for each. Bringing variety and dynamism in the war. All the world is in the hands of the players, all the world can be conquered and managed by the players. There’s an emergence of RTS game, collecting resources, keeping supply lines between the regions, patrols and so on. It’s a system, a world simulated in all its part. It’s the immersion in a “world at war” and where each element has a specific purpose. Nothing is linear here and it’s all about the stories and situations that the players create. Emergent gameplay. Dynamic situations. It’s like the RvR in Dark Age of Camelot. The power differential between each player is minimal to keep the balance. Veteran players play along with young ones, in the same battles. All the goals are shared, you fight for the realm, not to grow your e-peen. PvP is socialization, here you are together with other players. Coordinated with them. Everything has the goal of bringing the players together. And not apart. All the economy and trade happen solely on this level. RMT is technically not possible, I’m sorry (no, I’m not).

  • The Narrative
    The narrative is a linear path. It must have a start and an end. This is where the quests exist, where you’ll experience interesting stories and discover interesting characters. This is the level of the immersion. You travel in the multiverse, between different planes of (ir)reality. The scenario can shapeshift. You live the story. All the quest and stories are completely detached from a functional power progression. The gameplay focuses on the story itself. Your character isn’t the purpose. You chase the story. You explore. Every advancement you make is about the story, opening up possibilities that cannot be opened in another way. You move through this progression while you live along the NPCs. Your goals are goals that are set by the story, your power is secondary and never directly connected. To move between these regions and the various planes (hubs) you’ll need to progress through this story. Exactly like a single player RPG. There is no “grind” because good stories aren’t excuses to give you experience points. This progress is still mandatory. You cannot skip it if you want to access new zones and progress in the story.

In order to fulfill all those points the content must follow two rules:

1- I must be able to experience this part of the game at my own pace. When I find some time to log in. Whether I have 10 minutes, 1 hour or 5 hours available. The game must be always ready and accessible to make me have fun for the time I have available. Free of time constraints imposed by the game.

2- This content MUST BE SOLOABLE FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE END. I should NEVER depend on other players, or their classes, or their impositions. I must be freed from the competition with other players so that I can play the game at my own pace, the way I choose. Free to immerse myself. Grouping should be never mandatory but it will remain optional. I can still go adventuring with another friend, till a maximum of four players in the group. A duo should be the norm. The instances will be balanced on the fly to adapt themselves to the number of players.

This type of approach also opens the possibilities to PvE expansions. Again, the progress through the story has nothing to do with you achieving more power and loot. There’s no “carrot” to chase. No artificial excuse. You can enjoy your progress through the story or avoid it. So what? I would still LOVE to play a game if the story is interesting and I’m enjoying exploring it. No, I don’t need “carrots-on-a-stick” to motivate me. If I’m having fun that’s enough to keep me involved and immersed in the game world. At the same time this new content remains optional for every players and will never be mandatory to compete.

  • The Communal PvE
    Each plane/hub will have a set of stories and adventures that require larger groups of players to complete. These can go from a 5-man dungeon to epic raids. To unlock all the content on this layer, you still have to progress through the story (“the narrative”) so that you have access to all the different planes. All the content on this layer is optional. You can have competitive dungeons, survival arenas and every kind of different mode. Here you depend on other players, have to build balanced groups and have to organize to succeed. The loot dropping in these instances is not directly more powerful than what you’ll get from the “narrative”, but you’ll get special, rarer items (they look different, have fancier effects, open up secret plots and stories, but will never offer more power). These communal PvE instances are also the only way to summon powerful “artifacts” into the PvP world.

These artifacts make a player near to a demi-god. One player wielding one or more artifacts can fight alone and win against multiple opponents and will be really, really hard to take down without an organized effort from the opposite side. These demi-gods are supposed to become the focus of the PvP in a similar way to how the “heroes” were used in Warcraft 3. They are special and unique. They artifacts aren’t usable in PvE, they lose all their properties if they are brought in a PvE instance. In order to keep them on your character, you need to “feed” them by killing the players on the opposite factions and have a role in the conquest, participating actively in the PvP. Exposing yourself. If you are hiding you won’t be able to fulfill the “feed” requirements and you’ll lose the artifact. When you have an artifact with you your character will change its appearance and you’ll be recognizable in the battlefield. Even graphically you’ll transform into a demi-god. The other faction will also know that one of the artifacts was summoned and will be able to “divinate” your position in the map. They can track you down. you will be hunted. If you die in a PvP battle, your artifact will be dropped on the ground and one of the players in the opposite faction can loot it and use it, acquiring your powers. The artifacts are also limited in number. Each type of artifact can have only a fixed (and really small) nuber of “copies” active in a PvP world. The most powerful artifacts are unique and one and only one copy can exist in the PvP world at once. If an artifact is unique, the instance where it can be summoned will be sealed till the artifact remains in the PvP world. There isn’t a time limit to the persistence of an artifact in the PvP world, just its “feeding” and “active” requirements. If the feeding requirement aren’t met, or if the player with the artifact has been logged out for too long, not meeting the active requirements, the artifact is reset to the original PvE instance that will remain sealed for a set amount of time depending on the type of the artifact.

This is also how I expect to create interesting patterns in PvP. These demi-gods players will remain truly rare and not mandatory to play the game because the number of artifacts that can exist in the world is strictly limited. Only very few players will be active, using them. This makes them exceptions. The demi-gods are supposed to create gameplay for everyone. They become targets. They are recognizeable in the battlefield and will make the war feel more “epic”. They will become “hotspots” themselves, leaders of armies to siege other regions. A demi-god can be a strong advantage in a battle in the exact same way it happens in Warcraft 3. At the same time, these powers are transitory. Once you are fighting (and you are required to) you are also vulnerable and if you cannot survive a battle you’ll lose your powers and someone in the opposite faction will inherit them, overthrowing the previous situation. During a battle there isn’t a limit to how many times the artifact can switch from a faction to the other, till the “feed” requirements are met. Again, these tools are PvP tools and are meaningful only when actively used. The artifact loses all its properties outside the PvP world, becoming just a dead envelop till it is brought back to the PvP. Finally, a demi-god cannot use any fast travel option (teleports and such) while in the PvP world.

This idea of a game has no levels and is based on percent skills. The power curve remains flat but the character advancements is deep and is inherited by other statistics, like plane affinity, magic items progression and so on. The skills increase with the use, whether you are progressing in the narrative, or participating in the PvP. Both patterns are viable and balanced to be equally desirable. As I explained, the progress in the story is detached from functional XP rewards. Most of the game content (both PvP and PvE) is already accessible right out of the box. The aim is to bring the players together instead of building artificial barriers between them.

(character advancement as a result rather than motivation)

From Raph:

The challenge at the end of the article stands, which is to come up with a systems that does satisfy all the things you want. What would it play like? How would it feel? If it has deficiencies (it will), are they easily remedied?

(I didn’t know there was a characters limit)


So, you’re say you’re not going nuts, but then you say you’re not going nuts (again). But if you didn’t go nuts the first time then you’re not going nuts at all!

I’m just sayin’

It’s actually a double negative, which means he’s quite loony.

“These demi-gods players will remain truly rare and not mandatory to play the game because the number of artifacts that can exist in the world is strictly limited.”

You critcize WoW’s PvP rewards because they are set up so that only a limited number of players can reach the top tier, yet you think that “demi-god” players being limited to a few is a good thing?

The whole point of an MMORPG is to play with other players. What you’re looking for is, I think, an RPG that can be played multiplayer.

I for one like MMORPGs for the multiplayer aspect. But I’m female, and I like socialization.

But I’m female, and I like socialization

there’s very little that is social about playing a computer game with someone you can’t see. if you really do like socialisation, turn the computer off and then go visit your friends or family. if its possible.

And don’t bother calling people on the phone or writing letters either, 'cause you can’t see them that way either.

Woah there. She might just be talking about the aspects of playing games she likes the most.

You should also probably e-mail those guys at Valve. They’re spending an awful lot of time developping a virtual world. What are they thinking, when there’s a perfectly rendered world already?

Always good to start the day with a laugh.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

No, that’s not what I criticize in WoW’s PvP. The rarity is a solid concept if it can be maintained consistently.

What doesn’t work in the honor system is that:
1- The great majority of the players are excluded
2- The absolute grind of the mechanic to reach the higher ranks (call it “catassing”, don’t call it “honor”)

So the problems I criticize aren’t in the rarity itself. Beside this, WoW’s system creates requirements. Not rarity. After a player reached the maximum “catass” rank, they drop out of the ladder and let other players achieve the same position. So each rank starts to become a requirement for PvP.

  • Or you get epic items because you are catassing the PvP honor ladder.
  • Or you get epic items because you are catassing rep.
  • Or you get epic items because you are catassing the PvE raids.

All these are requirements to compete and remain on par. If you cannot keep the pace. You are out.

Where’s the rarity? I only see mudfation and endless power creep. Not rarity.

My idea is based on a flat levelling curve and PvP ranks that unlock different roles in the battlefield. Roles as different types of interaction, different gameplay offered, not directly as more powerful version of the same skills. Also, all these ranks you unblock aren’t cumulative. You can unblock all of them, but you can use only one at time, so the abilities you unlock aren’t stacking up (think to Planetside).

This is why there isn’t a big gap between a new player and a veteran player. The power differential will remain really narrow and all the players will play together. One by the other, instead of putting barriers and levels between them.

In this model you are supposed to be ALWAYS able to join and play with your friends. You won’t be left behind or excluded. This is also why this model encourages the socialization, contrarily to some of the comments on this thread.

HRose, armchair designer at work!

Come back to us when you are actually doing something with all these ideas of yours.

An idea sans implementation is useless or something?

One thing that seems strange to me is that on one hand, you want balance for all players in PvP, yet at the same time you have this idea of allowing a select few players to become demigods.

Maybe that’s all fine and dandy in large, epic battles, but sometimes a small impromptu exchange can make for the most compelling fight, and I’ll-be-damned if I’m going to have “fun” getting my ass smacked around by a trash-talking, 13 year old “demigod.”

Two years since the mysterious disappearances of koster, mcquaid, jennings, and jacobs. Two christmases of their families sitting by the phone, tears hidden in their eyes, the horrible pain of not knowing. Not knowing if their loved ones are alive or dead. They started out hoping for a phonecall saying “come to the station, he’s all right, just a misunderstanding!”, but now… now they just want to know. Know that their fathers, husbands, brothers, sons are dead. Know so they can move on.

Late summer 2012. The general public will discover links from hrose’s blog to this post. Certain words in common, oddly mangled english that seems almost… too mangled. Intentionally mangled. Two steps ahead of the FBI and interpol, they will parse hrose’s posts and through the use of sophisticated heuristic distributed AI, decipher several crucial clues as to the whereabouts of his victims’ heads.

When the interpol agents burst into his italian villa, HRose is found playing Worlds of Starcraft surrounded by cats. A normal mmorpg player scene, except for the smell. That smell… not the cats’ asses, well not just the cats’ asses. It came from the wine cellar. A cavaclade of horrors awaited the investigators that day. A bounty, a luxury, a smorgasboard of horrors. Enough to put HRose to death ten times over. Reasonable doubt? There is no doubt. This monster must be put to death. Removed from the world.

For the full duration of his trial, HRose is oddly silent. His victims’ families stand up and denounce him, demand his death. He just smiles slightly, relaxed, almost bored. For his closing statement he is uncharacteristically brief.

“It was in my blog 10 years ago. You fools should have taken me seriously!”

Nobody laughs. HRose is no longer funny. But he is also no longer silent, as he is led out of the courtroom his words echo over and over and we all realize… we should have read his blog. We should have printed his blog like a holy work, pored over it at bus stops, taught it in school. Such tragedy could have been averted. Such horrors could have been set aside. And so I beg of you, dear reader… read HRose’s blog. It may save your life, some day.

Not entirely useless. Just mostly useless.

The idea creator/writer doesn’t need to be the same person that acts on it. Sometimes that is up to others to read and carry the charge. Making it, in my mind, very useful.