The people at Goblinworks really speak my language. Every time I read something over there it’s like they’re camped out inside my brain taking notes. Just search for ‘sandbox’ here and you’ll find pages of me talking about qualities in sandboxes lacking in today’s mmorpg’s. I’ve even written a few posts about my ideal sandbox MMO.
Goblinworks has done it again with their most recent blog entry which talks a lot about how sandboxes function at a macro and somewhat micro level.
Players fill many roles. There are the people who love to do nothing but fight, and those who would rather craft, gather, or build. Each of these play-styles supports and relies on the other two. Players create content, or as I like to phrase it a ‘purpose’ or ‘reason for existing’, for every other player.
The way Goblinworks describes Pathfinder as a sandbox game summarizes further how a person will play a themepark vs. a sandbox.
You can think of Pathfinder Online as the inverse of many theme park MMO designs—those usually have sandbox elements, but the overall game is driven by the theme park: You go on quests and clear dungeons to get the loot and character power you need to go on harder quests and clear more dangerous dungeons. In between, you might go fishing or you might buy and sell goods in an auction house, or you might just explore the world. In Pathfinder Online, the inverse is true: while you’re engaged in harvesting, crafting or exploring, you may find yourself plunged into an adventure—interaction with the scripted part of the game.
When I play a sandbox game, I have a different mindset than when I’m in a themepark. Playing becomes entirely about improving my quality of life. I usually do this by seeking to increase my share of the wealth, my piece of the pie, or my stake in the world. That usually makes me a crafter. I think that’s why I don’t mind logging in to a sandbox and doing nothing but gathering resources or making things.
Regardless of the why, everyone in a sandbox ends up ‘living’ in the world rather than progressing through it.
When people think of dynamic content in today’s MMO it’s all about scripted events popping up randomly in a zone and how many of X mob must be slain to make that event go away. When I think of dynamic, the kind I have experienced in years past, I think of a world and community that responds based upon input from the inhabitants. In SWG or UO a player could find an empty space of land, place a house, and forever alter the world.
I was one of the top chefs on my SWG server. I required tons of resources and relied on suppliers because I could not meet the demand of my customers by myself. While I was still building my crafting empire and things were tight, if my suppliers were gone, or there was a resource drought, I would struggle to pay the rent on my shops and harvesters. That was dynamic and very representative of the sandbox ecosystem.
I’ve focused a lot on the interconnectedness of the players in a sandbox, but the Pathfinder Online blog entry has a lot of information about how they plan to work their PvE. It’s a fascinating read.