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Should Do

My friends and I are once again in our go-to game: Minecraft. We have a server up and running on Feed the Beast Monster which contains like 100+ different mods and all sorts of crazy addons. The biggest problem I run into with modded Minecraft, especially with so many mods, is an overwhelming sense of having no idea what to do. I feel like there’s so much to do, and so many options, that I spin my wheels and almost do nothing because I can’t decide what I want.

I said to my friends, “I don’t know what I should do first,” to which one replied, “There is no “should do” in a sandbox.” Fascinating concept, and at first I felt like that was totally true and chastised myself. Now the more I think about it, sandboxes or every game for that matter need a ‘should do’ even if it’s a loose direction. Sometimes that ‘should do’ is a little hard to identify — that’s okay. Thinking over Minecraft, my ‘should do’ is gather resources and accumulate resources like electricity and power. In a MMO the should do is advance my character (whether a prescribed way or however I choose).

There’s a balance in there somewhere. Too much and it becomes a themepark leading you by the nose to every objective. Too little and it ceases to be gamelike. All of that said, I’ll err on the side of less ‘should do’ and more freedom any day. For me it’s all about having something to constantly work toward and achieve. Once I identify what that is, or I can create my own objective and it’s truly meaningful, I’ll play for years. As soon as that objective seems pointless, like a stopping point, or too easy to obtain, I’ll put it in the ‘why bother’ category and move on.

How about a Medieval Survival Game?

Being sick for the last 4 days gave me a lot of time to do nothing but sit and watch streams on Twitch (which was just acquired by Amazon for 970 million… pretty cool it’s Amazon and not Google!). I watched a lot of open-world survival games and mods for  Arma III where people take on the role of cops and … everyone else.  It’s was fascinating to watch the dynamic nature of those games and how much more the players, rather than the game mechanics, influence everything.

All of that got me thinking about how much fun and easy it is to jump in and have a unique experience in games like this, and be able to do so at one’s leisure. There are elements of persistence, but very little permanence. That sense of ‘starting fresh’ adds something special and unique. What I’m most fascinated by, and wanting to explore further, is the idea of setting. They all seem to be either modern or post-apoc. What about a medieval setting?

Imagine a game like H1Z1, DayZ, or Arma III mods, but in a setting matching something out of Robin Hood or King Arthur. The quasi-persistent open-world could be a lot of fun in a setting with rolling hills, large forests, townships, and keeps. The idea of vehicles could easily carry over to horses, and the rest transfers just as easily.

We’re seeing a lot of copycat designs and not a whole lot being done to expand or develop the emerging genre. I’m thinking there’s still a lot that can be done to make it better. Just a thought.

Time Frames

This world we live in — the real one, not your virtual world of choice — is one in which we value time over anything else.  We’re constantly trying to make things faster because faster is ‘better’. The same principle appears to apply to MMOs.

Time frames for just about everything used to be very different in MMOs.  Leveling used to take years, then it went to months, now it’s as low as weeks or even days. Finding a group used to take days or hours, and now it’s instantaneous.  Obtaining the gear you wanted could take months and months, but now if you take longer than a few weeks or even days to gear up you must be a filthy casual who clearly isn’t as good as the guys getting their gear to drop on the first run.

Everything is speeding up, and as a result everything is getting more shallow. People care less about the moment, less about the experience, and more about getting to the next activity as quickly as possible. Developers are spending less time building quality experiences and focusing more on quantity.

So the question now becomes how do you slow things down, or should you slow things down?  I am clearly in the camp of people who believe MMOs shouldn’t be about ‘racing through’ but ‘living in’ the world. So with that said, I’m going to focus on the how. Some of these ideas work well together, and others do not. I’m just going to take inventory of the first 4 or so ideas that come to mind as I write this out.

Remove levels
Leveling creates a virtual finish line. There’s a desire to push toward reaching level 50 because that’s the perceived point of victory.  If that’s gone, you’ll take a vertical environment and almost flatline it completely from the start.  People will look around and say, “well, what do I do?” That’s when you can turn their attention to other activities meant to cultivate a virtual world. You actually want that moment to occur where they pause and think.

Increase the scope of character development
Characters have devolved into three things: (1) Levels, (2) Ability, and (3) Gear.  There are so many other opportunities available for customization. Characters should be able to develop social identities and/or a role in their virtual society. I can remember an experience I had in SWG where I had tapped a resource node and was harvesting amazing resources. I supplied those resources to dozens of other crafters and become a supplier. I spent a week doing nothing but trading commodities.  I had other activities I could do, but I put them off to take advantage of this opportunity.

Expand the world
Easy one. Make the dang world a whole lot bigger. I want the world to be so big that I can’t even possible comprehend its magnitude.  That feeling of not even realizing how big the world is and how far I have to travel, or how far others players are from me, is such an amazing sensation. It will eventually fade, but it should take months, not says, to have that illusion at least come into perspective. Traveling should take time and players should be spread out.

Increase the difficulty
I won’t soap box this topic or wax poetic about the old days, but realistically things just aren’t dangerous anymore.  I’m not saying you should die every time you walk outside a town or that you should lose your gear or experience. I’m also not saying fights should take longer or that combat should be twitch based.  I’m simply remembering a day when danger existed and how danger made me think before acting. That pause was important and slowed everyone down.

Instead of logging in and thinking I need to gain ten levels to feel accomplished, I just want to log in and have moved the mark ahead a tiny bit or had a fun enough experience that it doesn’t matter — perhaps I even lost progress. That mindset can still be present in today’s burn ‘n’ churn MMO, but it’s not at all supported by the game.

I want MMO time frames to once again be months rather than days. I want the experiences to last and the scope of every day activities to grow. I want a richer, fuller, and … I want MMOs to present an opportunity to build a ‘life’ once again.

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m developing this idea of a Darkness Falls type dungeon based entirely around PvE factions instead of how player realms are doing in some PvP/RvR/AvA type system.  First, I think a quick primer on what I mean by factions is required.

In this MMORPG I’m concocting in my head there are no predetermined sides.  You’re not joining the Alliance or the Horde or the Good guys vs bad guys. My world’s factions functions much in the same way the original EverQuest worked.  Every race has its own faction, and relationships are fluid based on actions taken by the player. If you are a Dark Elf and you kill Dark Elf NPCs you are going to be hated by your own people, but the Humans might start to like you more.  Killing certain monsters can bring faction hits or gains. An Ogre could work for a real year to gain enough faction to enter the Elven City.

Some of the work associated with factions can be done quickly. Depending on the race someone chooses, there will be predetermined dispositions. For example, Humans will have an easier time accepting a Dark Elf than an Ogre in their city. Some faction changes can be seen in a day, some a week, some might even take the player over a real year to accomplish.

Darkness Falls

Are you familiar with Darkness Falls? It was a dungeon in Dark Age of Camelot that would be unlocked for the realm (group of pre-determined allied races) who owned the most keeps in the realm vs. realm war going on in the frontier.  As soon as another group was winning, the dungeon entrance would lock for those who had it, and unlock for the other realm.  The other realm could then enter and kill the other players.

Darkness Falls in DAoC was an awesome PvE zone.  Great loot, great places to group, great PvP when purging the enemy, and all around a great place to be. It encouraged people to PvP.  People wanted this place.

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m still figuring out the entire idea, but I want to work a version of this type of open-world dungeon into my world.  I’m thinking about making it a dynamic dungeon that adapts to how various NPC factions are being treated by the players.  Imagine if the dungeon was centralized in an area where the orcs and the kobolds were naturally having a dispute — these would be NPCs.  If players in the area were killing more orcs than kobolds then the dungeon may be infested with Kobolds. If players were working especially hard to vanquish both of these NPC factions then another type of faction might actually move on and lay claim to the area.

What I don’t want is for the idea to devolve into some stupid public quest type feeling. I actually hate public quests and events because of how developers now rely on them to fake a dynamic and “changing” world. Bull crap people.  Take those lies to someone who believes them because they ain’t workin’ over here.

If this is ever going to work then the change has to be gradual, and the players almost have to be unable to perceive the change.  I don’t know, thoughts? I’m trying to work this faction system into impacting the world and I think this is one potential opportunity.  Whichever faction controls the dungeon would determine the mobs.  Think about how that can impact people based on what I said previous.

If I’m working really hard on my faction with the Elves and suddenly a faction of Fairies takes over the dungeon… I’m not going to hunt those fairies and take a faction hit.  In a sense I’ll have to work to influence the world in some other way to decrease the power the fairies have in the world.  If I can’t do that by killing fairies, I’ll probably have to kill the enemy of their enemy so that their enemy can overtake them.  It can add an interesting dynamic to how players thinking about factions.

As always your thoughts are wanted.

We Will Revolutionize MMO Mining

Two days ago I made a post about the MMO I want to make one day. From that post a ton of ideas have started to pour in about how certain features would work. I have been frantically taking notes as you guys expand upon my thoughts and even take the simple notes I posted and run with them in the exact direction I was wanting to go in-game.

One of our readers named Gringar hit the nail on the head with how I want mining to work.  I mentioned that I want miners to actually have to go into caves and mine, and he already jumped to where my mind was going: Vast cave networks!  Imagine if mining was done in massive mountains with tunnels and the deeper you go the better the resources you can find.  I started thinking more on the idea.

I’m not big into the idea of this voxel stuff where the world itself actually breaks. I don’t like WoW’s (and all modern themeparks’) style of nodes either. I think I would stick to something a little more like UO where you you can interact with various surfaces of the cave and resources can dry up and randomly replenish and rotate.  If you didn’t play UO, think like SWG.

These caves would be glorious to behold. I’m talking massive caverns, crystals, rare metals, super rare artifacts to uncover to be used by crafters to enhance weapons, etc.  The better your mining skills the deeper in the caverns you’ll be able to go.

Here’s where it can get interesting. Imagine how deep these caves can go… in the words of Saruman: “You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum… shadow and flame. “

Yep! I want there to be awesome enemies to stand in the way, traps and obstacles to overcome, and other horrors to frighten even the strongest miners away. What if certain areas of the cave could randomly be uncovered as a certain amount of ore or stone was withdrawn from deep enough in the caverns.  Imagine after a few weeks the caves have been mined deep enough that suddenly a door appears at the bottom with glowing runes.

The miners open the door and a massive winged abomination comes crashing through.  Adventurers would have to come and save the miners, or else the miners would have to retreat to a less deep and less rewarding tier of the cave.  That might be a neat way to get both gatherers and miners working together since the adventurers want what the demon guards, and the miners want the resources.

So many awesome ways to take simple systems like gathering and make them into a huge features. Keep the ideas coming  guys, this is great!