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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My thoughts on roleplaying

This is the second post in the series responding to Azariel's questions, defining my view on role-playing in MMO's and in games in general. First one dealt with definitions, this on my thoughts about roleplaying in games.

Total Immersion

The most memorable gaming experiences, both in pen and paper and in computer games, for me have been the ones I can only describe as total immersion to the game. Taking up the story so personally that you really take the place of the avatar/character on screen. This comes up from several factors, but for me the most important is that I'm interacting with the world as the character, not as the player through the character. Thus there should be better tools to interact with the world in character rather than using the game as a social interface tool.

Chance of making change

Another important issue is the possibility of the single character to make difference in the world. It's the small things that make it, like scribbling your signature on the toilet wall... not that I'm encouraging it in real, but the tangible 'mark' you/your character makes to the world. In MMO's currently the issue is relevant because of the fact that the NPC you have to kill will spawn back in few minutes only to be killed again later by another player, the quest giver will be handing out the same bundle of notes to be delivered right after you have acquired yours and so on. 

If the character kill a boss or a quest mob, this mob should be done with: no more encounter, and rest of the game should reflect that.

Which leads to the next one.

Character impact in the world

The standard heroic high fantasy story tells about the stable boy who gets to be the hero saving the world. Naturally the sandbox world would make this harder to acquire, as the stories would rely so much more on the shoulders of the character interactions and the world. However, in a story and quest driven surroundings of EQ2 and WoW, the main storyline, even though coming together from several quests, should be possible and even encouraged. I myself have gotten frustrated over the lost questlines in WoW, namely the Sillithids (the 'chapters' are spread across and without a growing storyline), Burning Hand (the storyline dies too soon, just when the starting Horde character starts to get interested) and so on.

The stories could come up with a story for the character, where this characters actions really make the difference, have an impact in the world as whole. It doesn't matter if this is just an illusion, but it would be very real and personal experience for the player. In WoW the new Phasing technology seems to be capable of creating the illusion that your character is making the difference: My bet is that this will be the main focus of the Blizzards secret MMO project.

All actions have consequences

In the real world you can be an asshole, but the world will treat you like one, too. If you steal, you'll be facing the consequences. Why on earth isn't this viable in the fantasy world? In WoW you are encouraged to kill NPC's not following the consensus, you are asked to steal and murder without any consequences.

However, in single player games like Fable2 and Oblivion your every decision effects the way NPC's tied to certain factions interact with you. Cheat one, and the others will not trust you. Kill someone, and you'll have the guards chasing you. How hard could this be to implement in a MMO? Darkfall has something along the lines, though if the scale goes from -100 to +100 as Syncaine reported, it makes is possible that you kill baddies till you are at +100 and then some of your own without any consequences as far as you don't drop below 0.

Tools of the trade

The current MMO's are more like social playgrounds for the gamers instead of the worlds in which the characters live: the tools of interaction are very limited at best and the game aspect is way too profound. However, you cannot win a MMO, as there are no real winning conditions.

Like I have earlier stated, the social tools should be upgraded. In role-playing side the upgrade should be made so that the interface itself reflects the in character and out of character interactions, making the player-to-player interactions more character-to-character based, and thus creating more immersive surroundings.

If you think of WoW, the role-playing tools are very inadequate and to really role-play your character you have to work the system around to make it work. Instead, IMO it should be the other way around: to be able to interact only out of character should be the harder part.

Recap

Even the earlier single player games have had the technology to make each playing of a game different through the effect of what you as a player decided to do. The persistent world however breaks this illusion by forcing the same experience to every player, regardless of the decisions they make.

I'm not saying that these things are viable for execution with the current technology, but they could be worked towards the end of total immersion.

The reward should be satisfying, immersive experience, in which the decisions you make as a character make the difference in the world. And in the story of the character.

2 comments:

Azariel said...

What kind of friend would I be, If I didnt take the time to comment :p

Anyway, I think I might keep it relatively short today (well, it actually depends on what I come up with while writing this)

Back on topic, As you know C, I tend to think in negatives and from time to time relatively practical, so here goes:

The pen and paper worlds create a very immersive experience (atleast I presume if played right) That is just the thing that your missing in the present game worlds. But the pen and paper world is also different for each of the groups playing it (and most likely different for each of the characters playing in the same game aswell). So how would you translate this to for example the WoW universe without destroying the social tools you also want?

Creating one single world, in which each player would make a difference is just impossible. All worlds would be emptied of mobs within days, making it very boring to walk around doing nothing. "Hey all the Q-givers are dead, and the nice story lines were already completed, so whats the point in playing"

So going back to the pen and paper concept, a new world for each group might do the trick.

True, each group would have a different world, but what would happen if one of your group decides to stop playing? or if you want to solo but you can't ask anybody to help out with that OP-ed mob your class just can't handle? You can't really ask anybody else, because that would destroy the cosmic ballance of your own(and his/hers) world.

I vaguely remember from my days in GuildWars that that was the case in there too...no 'real' people outside of the cities, unless you took them with you in your group. I found it boring as hell. No people to randomly group with for one Q, no people to talk to on the zepp, no opposing faction to make rude gestures to when they keep on harassing you with duel requests.

So in short, the social life, the social activities which were one of the things you want in a game, would be completely destroyed...

So as a practical question, how do you see those two (1: immersive experience with own storyline 2:Social interaction) combined?

(Ow just for the record, I didnt intend it to be this long, but since I started, I had to finish)

Copra said...

I didn't say the ideas so far were technically possible: in fact, I think I mentioned this already.

For the social interactions and player immersion I wouldn't take as strong separation: the 'personal' storyline could be as simple as railroading the character from one quest to another via linking NPC's, lore and/or archvillain to this character. Naturally there would be overlapping with other players experiences and archvillains have the tendency in pissing vast amount of heroes off in fantasy worlds...

The 'effect' of the character into the world would be simply the demise of the archvillains, deceased NPC's and so on, which phasing already makes possible. The Achievements for conquering the Bosses already make it possible to keep up with the head count, so why not (yea, yea, it takes away the end game grind of killing bosses and helping the other players to achieve that. It's technical, won't go into that.)

The social interaction would be best handled by enforcing the 'need to belong' to a guild or similar: in this WoW has currently failed miserably. Tobold posted about this sometime ago and I have scraped the issue earlier, too.

The more I think, I'm finding it pretty strange to find myself talking in terms which point to Darkfall kind of sandbox where the characters cannot survive without a guild to support...

After all, I'm casual of the casuals, no-gamer in MMORPG's...

C