I finally got around to reading the latest SWTOR Dev Blog about The Third Element.Â Â In the post, Damion Schubert talks about his ideas of how themepark and sandbox games are different.Â The big idea of the entry, as alluded to in the title, is that SWTOR will be following a different path and not falling into one of these categories.Â He even references a “middle path” as I have many times when stating that both games have their problems.Â Speaking ideally, I do believe he (and Bioware?) are on the right track with this line of reasoning.Â A pseudo-sandbox with some themepark elements would most definitely be the best design.Â However, I want to address a few things that Damion says that I disagree with as well as some ideas that I see a little differently.
In the second and third paragraphs where he lays out his definitions of the two styles, there is clearly a bias.Â Sandbox games are placed into a negative light with statements like, “players have the ability to use and abuse almost anything around them, including other players.”Â He also states that the actions of players, while creating the depth, have little depth themselves.Â I can not possibly disagree more because of the inaccuracy of that statement.Â In a sandbox game — a GOOD sandbox game, mind you — the actions of the players are supposed to have the most depth of any design element present.Â What the community does, right down to the individual, should carry with it meaning and depth just as much as the depth brought about by their interaction.
In the third paragraph he starts right off by stating themepark games are the opposite and that themepark gamers “favor fun and balance more than anything” …. and sandbox gamers don’t want fun or balance?Â That’s a very ignorant and blindly made statement that I can only assume wasn’t meant to be worded that way. Throughout the paragraph it could have been said that the players are led by the hand and shown how to have fun a specific way, but instead it’s worded such that themepark games are about facilitating fun whereas the depth-lacking sandbox games are something only curmudgeons would enjoy.Â The analysis was simply lopsided.
If I were to stop reading right there, which I almost did, then I would assume immediately that SWTOR is going to be a themepark game.Â After all, we already know that players are going to be led through the game by a story and that the player’s individual experience trumps any group experience or interaction present in the game — this has been stated by the developers already.Â However, Damion states that they’re taking a more middle path.Â So I read on.
This next statement is another indicator that Damion doesn’t understand what a good sandbox is and that he’s only had experience creating (or playing) poor ones.
But I also believe that the game vs. world debate is missing a third element: community.”
Honestly, both themepark and sandbox games of the past and present have had community.Â EQ2 has community.Â EVE has community.Â So what if the biggest of them all has no community (WoW)?Â Community is not inherently missing in all of them or a third element to finish off a three-pronged discussion.Â Even if you break it down to “game vs world”, community should be in both and not some third factor.Â Without community, these are no longer MMORPG’s.Â So yes, community should be present and present to the point that without it you can not have a good sandbox game at all (and present to the fact that it sets apart shallow themeparks from those with depth.)
Nevertheless, community is indeed important regardless of how it is classified or forgotten.Â I like how this one guy, Damion Schubert, at least states he cares, even if it is all a facade like most dev blogs.Â I’m not falling for it one iota, but I like how the ideas are at least being propagated.Â The idea that “…crafters â€“ true dedicated crafters â€“ can make a name for themselves and be important in their community” is something I’ve stated, along with many other community driven ideas, ad nauseam.
So whether or not Bioware pulls off a middle-path approach with emphasis on community or not, it’s still the right way for future MMO’s to steer their design.