Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar was announced today. It’s a Multiplayer RPG with a pinch of MMO, and only a pinch. In fact, I’m going to coin another phrase: MIMO (Pronounced M/e/- M/ō/). Massively-Instanced Multiplayer Online Game, or in some cases MIMORPG. This effectively removes the reference of ‘massively’ from the number of players and emphasizes the fact that it’s only a multiplayer game with a lot of instancing. At this point, that’s all we really know about Shroud of the Avatar.
Apparently the only part of the game where you’ll actually have to deal with other players who aren’t your friends is in the big cities where you’ll share real estate with others looking to move into that same city. How that all works out, I don’t know, but I am intrigued by the idea. In fact, so much so that I’ve begun to brainstorm how I would make a game like this, and how it could actually be a lot of fun.
I’m imagining a world like Skyrim where once I leave the city and set out on my own, the only people who come with me are my friends. What makes that different from something like Guild Wars 1 or Dungeons & Dragons Online, you ask? Those aren’t contiguous worlds. You get transported away to a mission area, whereas in a contiguous world it would be like zoning out just like you do in Skyrim from a city with a load bar, but on the other side the entrance to the city is right there. GW2 does this style of zoning. Ideally, I think phasing technology would work the best where there’s no break in the immersion at all.
Pardon the cliche, but if I could have a vast living, breathing, dynamic, RPG world like Elder Scrolls provides, but I could go back to town and do commerce with thousands of other people then I’d be okay with that. Again, this isn’t a MMORPG and one wouldn’t go into it expecting lots of other players around the world. The only issue I can imagine comes from watching the video where Garriott shows buying a shop in the city and says you can be a blacksmith and open a shop; is that shop always in that same spot for every single player on that server? If so, that’s awesome because that’s how I would want it to be done. Think of it like owning one of the shops in Stormwind, and when players go into Stormwind your shop will always be there.
Running across the world and coming upon cities where you’ll meet other real players once phased in could really be a great boost to the social aspect of a traditional single-player RPG. Often times I wish I could bring someone into my Skyrim game with me, and I wish the cities were populated with other real players. I just don’t want them messing with the rest of my game. There’s almost a renewable energy associated with having other real players available on-demand.
Where I see Shroud of the Avatar coming up short is in its single-player design. I’m not a big fan of over-world maps where the world is broken up and you essentially jump into an area that’s instanced. That kills the feeling of a virtual world for me. I think they run the risk of making it feel more like a DDO than a Skyrim — ultimately not what I would shoot for if I made a game like this.
To sum things up, I think Shroud of the Avatar will be a MIMO, and not a phased single-player RPG where you have everyone in the world but can only see each other in cities, villages, and other key locations. I think there’s a fantastic opportunity for someone to make a game where guild members and friends can see each other anywhere in the world, but everyone else only shares phased cities. The Online Single-Player game that bridges the gap into becoming an optional multiplayer experience of sorts could be a really neat innovation.