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Let me tell you a story...

We love telling stories...
We love being told a good story...

Ever since people first gathered around their campfires and began sharing stories we have always loved a good story.

It's a large part of why we play games. Many of the great games, the ones we hold dear, were great not just because they offered a great game experience or had compelling game-play, but because they grabbed us with their story and we just had to know how it ended...

There has been a lot of talk of late about how the ability to tie good storytelling into MMOs might be lacking. A lot had been made about the quotes from Bioware about how MMOs haven't had a good single player narrative to them as yet. Now while I think that in itself is a little contradictory (MMO's haven't had a good single player narrative to them because they inherently aren't single player titles despite sharing many elements), it did get me thinking about something I had been meaning to write a post on for some time, the beauty of story-telling in an MMO, and it also prompted me to want to point out that while MMOs may indeed lack some of the traditional elements of a single player story, the 'hero story' as it is being a complicated challenge for MMO design (more on that in a bit!), they offer a far more powerful element of story telling and that is you, the player.

It is definitely true that few MMOs have offered the same type of individual narrative drive that you see in any of Bioware's previous single player titles, or even your favorite best told stories down the years, whether that is Half-Life, Deus-Ex, System Shock, Bioshock, the Fallout series, Monkey Island, The Longest Journey, or any other of the games down the years that have told fantastic stories.

That might be true...

...but to me MMOs are capable of telling stories that are even more compelling than any of those industry milestones mentioned above. What's more, they already do so every day.

Let me tell you a story of my own as a means of making a point...


Into the Dragon's Lair

Early on in World of Warcraft, my guild had finally gotten everyone together to raid the dragon Onyxia, everyone had done the required quests to get inside her lair and we were good to go. (This is of course in the bygone days of early wow when it was a big deal and yes, they did make us do a long quest chain to get the chance to take her on, anyway, I digress...). As we prepared for the fight and sat around buffing at the entrance one of the members of the guild asked a question in raid chat:

'So who knows why we are here?'

...the answers rather typically went something like this:

'Loot'
'EPICS!'
'Lootz'
'I want my sword!'
'The part for my Hunter epic quest'
'A Paladin drop would be nice but it won't happen'
'Loot'

That resulted in a chat *sigh* from the person who asked the question, 'No guys, why are we here to fight the dragon? What's the reason?'

'Loot'
'Didn't we just say that...'

*sigh*

'I don't think he means loot'

'I meant the quest, you know, the several hours of game-play you just spent earning access to this lair? The story you just played through? Did anyone even notice?'

'...hmmm...a dragonkin thing spawned in Stormwind or something, wasn't really paying attention'

Longer story short, next to no-one on the raid had even paid attention to the story, regardless of how well it was told. So I am telling you MMO players don't always pay attention to quest text, cut-scenes or dialog windows?

...really?

Yes, I can hear the collective 'well D'UH!' from here, thank you very much.

That much anyone who has played an MMO for more than a few minutes already knows. However that wasn't the point I wanted to make, the interesting part is what happened after that conversation. The interesting part is the story we created for ourselves once we started fighting the dragon.

We are the storytellers!

I still remember much of those encounters because of the great characters, wonderful dialog, the challenges, the disasters, the recoveries and the eventual victories. A fantastic story with a great script...a script that was written by us, as gamers, as we played.

I might not remember the dialog or characters in the quest lines I had to complete to get there, but I sure as hell remember the dialog between my guild mates, and the characters within the guild, and the community at large on my server. That goes for every MMO I have played going all the way back to Meridian 59 and Ultima Online. The players themselves are capable of providing a compelling and engaging narrative all on their own.

The characters and stories that the players bring with them is a key part of the fabric of an MMO, and should never be forgotten when considering why people like these games in the first place. Sure, we have progression, levels, skills, items and loot, and for some that is appealing in and of itself (see Farmville or Mafia Wars for proof of that!), but the thing that sets an MMO apart is how you interact with others around you. Whether that interaction is positive or negative doesn't really matter, it means we are all making a story for ourselves (and others) as we go along.

That story might be small (like a wipe in a pick-up-group) or it might be huge and effect many thousand of gamers (like a scam or major corporate collapse in EVE), it might be a personal story, like the first time you reached a certain area or level, or it might be a shared story like a guild racing for a server first kill, but it is a story. You can't really deny that. You might forget it, dismiss it, or take it for granted, but I'd wager your game experience would be far poorer without it.

For every quest text you might skip, there is a funny character you met while playing, a strange situation you found yourself in, an inglorious failure, or a heroic recovery from certain doom. Even when playing alone in an MMO, you are still surrounded by other players. You still share those stories. Think about it..how many of the MMO stories you chose to share with your friends are purely about what happened while you were soling a quest, and how many involve the antics, heroics or stupidity of a friend or another player?

Again, I'd wager it's far more likely to be the latter on any given occasion...

...it is also what sets an MMO apart from a single player game. Our experiences in MMOs often resonate with us more, or for longer, because they are inherently a shared experience...

...so while it might be quite right to say that MMOs have yet to develop mechanics capable of delivering the same narrative drive for the individual as a good single player game, it is doing the genre a disservice to forget about the elements unique to the MMO environment that allow for all the great stories we, as players, create for ourselves.


Now, that said, let me also state that I personally think story is possibly one of the most important things in creating an MMO...just maybe not in the way you think. Yes, you need good game-play, solid and meaningful progression, great experiences, systems and encounters for players to enjoy, all those things are vital...

...but to me it is also essential that, your world, your setting, this place that you are going to ask players to effectively live in, for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours, that place, that place has to be believable and immersive, and that is all down to telling a story. A story of this world that you want players to be engaged in.

For me the setting is one of the most important parts of an MMO. It has to be engaging, it has to be well thought through and deep, it has to have believable lore, it has to make the world that you playing in interesting. That is no easy thing. So when I say that an MMO needs great story, I don't necessarily mean that it has to have some kind of dynamic, single player orientated quest-line, or the best voice-over, or killer cinematic sequences (although all those things are cool and great tools for telling parts of your story), they help sure, but they are tools for us to tell parts of the story of our world. In an MMO I don't just want the player engaged in only their story, ideally I want the player engaged in the story of the world, and aware of all the other stories going on around them, in addition to their personal path.

The best MMO worlds are those that you can believe in. That might be because they have a great license that is well treated, or it might be they are well developed and have a specific style or setting that is compelling. It isn't just down to art design or quest storylines, it can often just be about the background and the setting. For example I find the world of EVE online very believable, well established and reasonably well established in game (if you care to notice it), even in a game built up from the start to be purely the proverbial sandbox for players. Being a sandbox and having a great story are also not things that are mutually exclusive of each other!

I fell in love with a certain planet, called Rubi-Ka, years ago that lead me to end up here, doing this job. If it hadn't been for the fact that the world my predecessors had built for Anarchy Online was the realization of a teams great imagination I probably wouldn't be here today. I believed in that world. In the virtual sense at least it was very real. I could relate to it, science fiction or otherwise, it had it's own history, it's own politics, it's own geography, someone, somewhere had made it come to life for me, and many other players to explore.

Little touches like having the different languages in the original Everquest, all those things that exist in order to sell the world to us as players.

'Story' isn't just about quests, quest mechanics, dialog options or cut-scenes. A world can tell a story, because it can provide a rich tapestry against the backdrop of which players can forge their own adventures. All those things are important


So what about me? I wanna be the hero dammit!

It doesn't have to only be about the 'Hero Story'. The narrative of a single player game has but one primary protagonist to consider, the player. There being literally tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of 'heroes' in an MMO is a tremendous challenge. In fact I could easily believe that we will be better off when we try to find the best way to avoid having to shoehorn single player narrative elements where they don't fit, and concentrate on where, and how, they might work in the multi-player setting. We should definitely take the ones that do fit, and try to build the best quest mechanics we can to try and build both personal and shared narratives. That has been on-going for many years as the genre has evolved.

Whereas many people play a single player MMO largely to experience and enjoy a fantastic story, people play an MMO for many different reasons, but that also doesn't mean the two things are mutually exclusive in any way. In a single player RPG it is one of the main elements a user expects to have going into the experience, although rarely at the expense of good game-play. If a game is said to have poor game-play or lacks a good user experience, having a great story rarely tends to save it's sales figures. So the game-play is still the most important thing, and it is the same for an MMO. The story is a very close second, but it is second.

The evolution game...

...now don't get me wrong. This isn't a partisan debate. I am all for the development of the genre, and do not for a minute advocate being satisfied with the status quo. People can, and will, find new ways to move the genre along. It will evolve, and that includes in finding ways to smoothly integrate the more traditional RPG 'Hero story' elements mentioned above, without compromising the community elements. It will happen in many areas, and it will be challenging in many areas. Just as I hope people put imagination and devotion into creating their setting, I likewise hope that we, as a genre, continue to evolve and find new ways to tell stories.

Likewise it is not a 'sandbox' versus 'theme park' debate either, as I have mentioned before I am kind of loathe to use those terms as I believe games can be either, or both, and any combination can work depending on the game and the approach. The best MMO titles have elements of both. You can have an interesting back story and game-world regardless of your chosen style of game-play. You can have interesting stories there whether the quests are integral to a progression of some kind, or part of an open-world dynamic event. We will make better and longer lasting improvements to the genre when we find the ways to incorporate both types of approach into our games.

I am really looking forward to seeing how Bioware, with all their experience at telling single player stories, approach all the challenges I have mentioned here. Likewise games like Guild Wars 2, and our own The Secret World, will also have their own take on how to integrate more storytelling elements. Some of these approaches will succeed, some will fail, some will inspire others in the future, they will be stepping stones and the genre will continue to evolve. One thing I am sure off though, it won't evolve without the input of the players themselves...

The main thing is that the genre will adapt to that need from it's players. This isn't a discussion about absolute opposites or mutually exclusive elements. As explored above I don't feel it's fair to say that the story elements used to tell a great narrative, or create an immersive setting, are something that haven't worked yet in an MMO setting. You can see from the examples above there are already many great examples. While it is true that not many MMOs have focused on the central 'hero story' that drives most single player RPG games, it is also true that they have created stories all of their own, in a variety of different ways.

That is why story is very much one of the most important parts of any MMO game. It is not because we would want to be good single player RPGs, but that we would of like to take the power of a good storytelling and weave it into the fabric of the communal experience found in an MMO environment. Then a good narrative can introduce yet another compelling element for the community to bind together around and share stories about.

As I said at the top, since the days when the earliest people shared myth, legend and stories around a campfire, stories are inherently designed to be shared. Working on an MMO offers a fairly unique opportunity for developers to craft a truly shared experience that relies not just on the storyteller (in this case the developers) but allows for a degree of the drama to come from the actions of the audience itself (the players). To forget that is to lose sight a little of one of the true strengths of the MMO medium.

We will be at our best when we try and do both rather than looking at these elements as separate things that somehow have to compromised to work in an online setting.

That is because in many ways the true power of making an MMO title isn't that we get the opportunity to tell you a wonderful story, in interesting and memorable settings, but more that we give you, the player, the opportunity to share these wonderful stories that we have put effort into creating, and that you, our audience, even get to advance them in ways we never thought possible...

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Post a Comment

32 comments

Pearl said...

Great post! It is so true that our fellow players provide the stories that we love to share. I am looking forward to TOR though. I just hope Bioware remember to also have lots of MMO content alongside what will undoubtedly be great quest content. I want to want to play it for more than one month :p

Anonymous said...

Yes, people like immmersion in a game, especially in a mmorpg.
But this is not the main motivation for a player, just the first impression they got, in my opinion. People want good game mechanics, which allow them to feel they can do something in this "perfect virtual world", that they can create something together and feel usefull.

But, what about AoC?

Everybody agree to said that this is the most beautiful game in the market, where the immersion is really impressive.
But currently, there is a lack of content... well, not really a lack of content but a lack of accessiblity of this content.

But why? the answer is simple: the manner to play.

There is a gap between hardcore gamer and casual gamer, especially in pvp. For instance, mini-games mechanics, I like it but I wanna play without being farmed by a premade lvl 7-10 pvp whereas I join a random group composed of new players or alt characters with blue gear.

Another exemple, Shrines of Bori, a really good principle on the paper but what can we do with my guild which have maximum 25 people connected? against more than 40+ people farming the zone (for just 1 big guild)? there's the same issue with battlekeep.

So, do you know what will happen when this gap will still widen?

There will remain only 3/4 big guilds per server because all new player / casual people will be tired about this unbalance.
And when hardcore gamer will not have casual players to farm them and get imba epic loots, they will also leave the game.

So, in my opinion, your main focus at the moment should be the accessibility to the content, not this fucking game immersion (you already got it), change some mechanics or give us some tools to change this current unbalance game to the better mmorpg.

Anonymous said...

Oh jeez please... we all know that the pvpers are not perfectly happy. Keep the comments ontopic. This pvp thing has been used by the same people in every second thread on the forums. Its really starting to get old, that you cry for attention everywhere. This is not an Aoc blog. If you want to complain and discuss ontopic go to the aoc forums, but stop bugging craig on his private blog

Anonymous said...

Hehe I enjoyed to read this story and it is TRUE! My first MMO game Age of Conan. I have been playing it all the time. And the funny thing is, that I know the whole story about that server. Guilds that was imba and other way around :) It is we players that make story for an MMO to be honest. Ofc there is a general story for every MMO, but when it come to servers. Then the players have made it :D

BrightEYE said...

Wonderful post, should be obvious to people but appears to not be. I find single player games very shallow and short lived now that I play mmos. It just is not the same when you dont share the world with other people (including the odd asshat :p)

Anonymous said...

A well-written post, though slightly contradictory. I recently left Age of Conan because after too many hours in there, I felt unsatisfied with where the story took my characters. I felt I was still waiting for something and not being taken where I wanted to be in the game.

Ever wondered why Tortage is everyone's favourite part of AoC? It's because it feels complete and exciting. It is well paced and drives every story element forward to a great climax after which the game moves on naturally to a new chapter. But the rest of the game has no such climax, unfortunately.

At the same time I had played (and still play) a certain Bioware game that satisfied my story needs and so much more. Not only did I get to experience a story, but it allowed me to shape it in surprising, and sometimes shocking ways by letting me choose how to proceed.

So while AOC had been reduced to a repetitive hunt for epic loot, which I don't care about, this other game came in and quite simply offered me what I had wished AOC would. I don't know if it's due to the limitations of an MMO, but I'm now looking very much forward to Bioware's attempt at the genre to see whether that's true or not.

So why is your post contradictory? Well, because you claim MMO's richest story elements are found in what the players themselves make and share with others, and at the same time you quote an experience from WOW that is reflective of the only multiplayer experiences I had from AOC. Most players do only care about the loot and epics. Probably because it's eventually all they can care about.

When my guild was ready to start doing T2 raids, it was universally agreed to be a Good Thing. Not because of the story that would now progress a little more, but because we'd get better epics... It was all anyone talked about, and while I tried to immerse myself in the continued story, I found it quite impossible in the company of that perspective offered by my fellow guildies.

So if Bioware can fix that annoyance I now feel about the MMO genre (and from the sound of it they certainly will try), then hats off to them.

Craig Morrison said...

@13:12

I never claim that our game is the perfect example of the design theories I mention here on the blog. No game has managed to achieve what I mention above...at least not yet...but it is always worth aspiring towards!

Sometimes it is the technology that thwarts us, sometimes the needs of players, sometimes the inherent challenges of presenting a story at all, when some players are driven purely by progression. Neither part is 'bad' they are just a challenge to combine smoothly on occasion.

As I mentioned in the article, like you, I hope Bioware move the genre forward, as I hope Guild Wars 2 dynamic quests do, as I hope our own team will who are working on The Secret World...because I hope that people don't ever forget to include a story to give meaning and a backdrop to the progression.

Leopold said...

I am glad to hear you recognize your own game isn't perfect in this regard. I find the current generation of MMO titles very lacking in this regard. I understand that MMO games are social spaces and we, as players, make much of the drama, but I do like that you acknowledge that the developer should provide story too. That has to improve for MMO games to last the course.

AmandaP said...

I think Bioware will do the story part well, but I also wonder what we will want to do in TOR after the first free month. It is an interesting subject though and I think even those who hate story elements will agree that it could be a good addition to the genre if done well, and not done at the cost of longevity.

Thats the key for me. If Bioware spend a good chunk of the 100 million they are reportedly spending on this game on providing the first hundred hours of gameplay thats all well and good, but for me, thats no more than maybe two months play. I want to be able to play that game for years! So they will need great systems alongside the great story or we will get a very short lived experience.

Sirrox said...

I hold out more hope for Guild Wars 2 than I do TOR, at least with their dynamic quest system it sounds like they have a clue about how MMO communities actually interact, rather than Bioware who appear to want to make their MMO more like their single player games. (While that isn't a bad thing it would be better if, as you said in this article, it would be better if they were looking for ways to make the story work best for an MMO rather than the other way around)

Colonel Carebear said...

I agree with the sentiment. 'Story' is much, much more than just quest mechanics, in particular in an MMO. Persoanlly I think Bioware will nail it and are fully aware they are making an MMO. I have faith in them getting it right!

Anonymous said...

enjoyed the read. It is a subject I dont think will go away when it comes to MMO games. For me, quests, whether they use text or cutscenes, are not really why I play an MMO. I play for the encounters, raids and progression.

So for me it wont really matter if Bioware (or anyone else) add in great single player elements, and all I will care about is that they have good group content, raids and end-level progression. I will get through their scripted quest content within the first month of owning the game, but I want to play it for months, maybe years! Some extra hours of voiceover wont help there!

Balthar said...

The argument here sounds a lot like 'sandbox' vs 'themepark' to me, despite the denial. I for one love sandbox games but realise that the all the marketing departments out there must hate them as we are probably just a niche. I dislike the likes of WOW (minority there I know :p) and will equally dislike TOR I am sure. Give me a EVE or even a Darkfall any day of the week (I just wish someone would make a better sandbox game!)

bandytaz said...

Hm...I remember that my adventure with WoW started, because I was all into Warcraft lore. When I was waiting for my box I went through W3 and its expansion and I was literally turned on next Warcraft game. I was excited about plot about whats going to happen, than...Well...I joined that "epics, loot, experience, grind" madness. And than I just quit - nowadays I would say most players have no idea whats WoW was really about few years ago and that makes me sad.

With for example AoC my adventure was completly diffrent - I fall in love when I saw it first time. I bought, started playing, than I started looking for something about lore. And voila now I read some books, watched some Conan films and I m happy! ;)

I would love to see gms running around and creating events, making some quests, asking for help random players etc. That would be just simply awesome.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading this post. It forced me to make some thoughts. And I still feel that I need to think about it more.

Adamo said...

Basicly I think it is less what it it, but much more HOW it is. They way of a "perfect" realisation should be primary target.


If a company like fc is not using cinematic trailers enough to UNDERLINE the story and make it a bit more "visual" for the player, lots of aspects of "storytelling" of course gets lost.

So, it's more just a simple question of completeness at gamedeveloping than anything else, sometimes.

Same is to say about animations and other basic environemental aspects.

Looking in the past, in time without computergames there also good and bad stories existed.
The difference is easy to find out, "better" stories simply have more abillity to fascinate readers (players), give them more possibilities to identify, and bears a little bit of "essence" in itself.

I would conclude that the old "problem" about finding good stories ist just the result of lack of reading books and literature these days - and it comes hand in hand with the problem that our youths just growing up with less or no "values".

In the 80'ies we were talking about the famous "Generation X" - Nowadays sadly the "X" has turned out into a certain value...

for Example: In age of conan a quest story is about to burn a maid (yes, burn her, done). And I couldn't trust my eyes when I did that quest: standing here and lookin on a burning maid; entertaining - or just bad taste?

I think this is a very good example about the low level "values" of our youths and society, reflecting at entertainings (not only games) when actually every Generation has to begin from zero doing their work and lives...

Thats because the old people try to tell the young that reading DOES educate - this is nothing that hurts but:

If you actually want to develope a good story for a game one day, literature would help you very much.
That gain is something you cannot pay back for any money later...and it may help to create a successful story


All the best.

Lightspeed said...

I think a good MMO needs both, great, single player driven story quests and a great and immersive world.

The problem for developers, from the outside looking in, is that they seem incapable of making enough story content to satisfy the massed. Thirty plus hours is HUGE for a single player game, but barely satisfies the requirement for the first month of an MMO. So anyone who makes their game be about story quests might be in trouble because they won't possibly keep up with the demand for content. (let alone if the standards for that content is set really high - like with lots of cutscenes ad full voice)

Anonymous said...

Need more audio in story driven game , not only text which i always pass.

Anonymous said...

I'de like to point out that you really seem to be using the word "story" as though it were the word "event" they are not the same thing and have 2 very different meanings. All of your anecdotes and references to things you've done with other players are single events and do not a story make. Try re-reading your blog interposing the word "event" where you have the word "story" and you'll find it a very different read....

Anonymous said...

I can see how the "sandbox" vs. "theme park" arguments can get pulled into a discussion like this, but I think there is a way to provide for good storytelling in each. AoC Tortage IS an excellent example of story in the game. It remains one of my favorite MMO experiences. Another interesting thing that stands out regarding "theme park" story telling is in LoTRO when you run the beginning story line. The starter town looks one way initially and then gets burned to the ground when you complete another part of the story. That was a real shocker and stands out in my experience. Because in "sandbox" games, the story is supposed to evolve out of the player base, the quality and dynamic of the story is more in flux. In these environments, having GM run events is exciting and can drive a purposeful storyline, but I would think that would be too staff-intensive to implement.

Perhaps something along the line of an "event engine" is in order. It would be some kind of interface that would allow one or two GMs to spawn a wide range of original self-running storyline events in different parts of the world for different skill range populations. These storyline events might link in with the regional storyline concepts and either enhance them or provide additional side stories relating to them. Such an "event engine" could really be usable for both "sandbox" and "theme park" games.

Ultimately, though, the ancient pen-and-paper gamer in me leads me to believe that the real future lies in using company resources to create unique environments with a variety interaction options and funneling the power of players and "sandbox" games to allow stories to unfold themselves. EvE Online is really the best example I can point to as a game where this is already happening. I realize it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's really what a role-playing audience is looking for.

I'm sure Bioware will make a compelling game but I think they have also created such a resource-hungry content beast for themselves, I don't see them as being able to continue feeding it for long.

Craig Morrison said...

@skydragonn That depends on your definition of 'event'. In this article I was speaking specifically about story in terms of quest and lore content, and not 'live events' at all.

The pros and cons of a live event system are a completely different subject, maybe one for a later post...because it is a subject all to itself, with a lot of different factors that tie in there, not all of which are straight-forward.

REaperRush said...

Interesting read, place me in the camp of 'skeptical but hopeful' to Bioware's approach. As someone posted above I think they run the risk of putting themselves into a corner with an expectation for content they can't possible keep pace with.

Personally I hope they have kick-ass PVP to go alongside the questing

Tarka said...

Craig I'm glad to see that you place emphasis on story telling in MMO's. To be honest its about time.

Its strange that AOC, STO, SWG and other MMO's are based on pre-written lore and background and yet, they don't actually emcompass much of that lore (maybe due to copyright reasons I don't know). The Conan, Star Trek and Star Wars IP's all have a mountain of stories which could be adapted to the game, the copyrights to which are owned by the very organisations who were involved in the development of their respective MMO's. And whilst all 3 have the superfiscial graphic representations of locations and individuals from their IP's, the atmosphere / immersive feeling is missing. It's like the difference between looking at a picture of C3PO and R2D2, compared to watching the Deathstar destruction scene in 3D.

However, at least Age Of Conan did go some lengths to create atmosphere and immersion in Tortage, I don't think anyone can dispute that. Its just a shame that the rest of the quest hubs feel "cold" and don't actually provide the necessary immersion. Perhaps its a result of the player progressing too quickly through the zones, or maybe its because the locations themselves didn't impress themselves enough on the players (e.g. libraries containing the lore, npcs talking amoungst themselves about different subjects, etc, etc).

Craig, if you are REALLY enthusiastic about involving more stories in your MMO, then consider the following:

Compelling "world story arcs"
-----------------------------
This is one thing that is lacking in many MMO's and in all likelihood Bioware will get right. Individual quest story arcs are good for short term immersion, but a player can only be truely immersed if there is a compelling "world" story arc. Just having a background story about 1 unknown bad guy isn't enough. Such an antagonist has to have a background story too. Just look at how Blizzard created the Lich King, all the while there is a raging battle between the races. WoW even has books inside the game that the players can read that provides the background story. Quests make references to both the Lich King and the tensions between the races. AOC doesn't have an engaging world story like that. There is the odd reference to Toth Amon in the Destiny quests, but beyond that the game world feels as if it has no/little knowledge of the man. Lore is kept localised to the quest hubs. And I feel that's what let it down. Whilst the characters in Tortage were connected to what Toth Amon was up to, those in the rest of the game feel disconnected.

Furthermore, the characters in Tortage were memorable, whilst those outside it aren't so much so. Perhaps re-using some of the Tortage characters in locations outside of Tortage would help? Memorable characters help create immersion. To be honest, Conan himself seems like a cowardly ass hiding in his throne room, compared to what many think he should be.

Consider random extra dialogue for the npcs in the towns. Imagine two npcs which are seemingly talking between themselves about what at first seems to be meaningless stuff, but is in fact snippets of information for quests or loot locations. Had the player not enquired with the npc about that information, then they won't be able to find the location. Perhaps those locations could only be accessible at certain times.

Suilebhain said...

I would be a lot more impressed with Mr. Morrison's words if his company had bothered to allow for an official North American RP-PvE server in AoC. It is extremely hard to find people to buy into the idea of a player-driven story when the lolzers are not discouraged by name and open chat enforcement from setting up on a server and then not being able to do it because, according to the lolzers themselves, well, this might be the "unofficial" RP server, but...AoC could have been fixed in a big way by making a few concessions to roleplayers, those folk who ask, "Why ARE we doing this?"

Suilebhain said...

When I said "not being able to do it" what I meant was "not being able to do anything about it". I waited four years for AoC to come out and canceled when I saw that hoping for a world that played as nicely as it looked was not going to happen because IMMERSION is what is required for the world to play well.

Vahe said...

Your whole premise is flawed because it relies on the fact that the story is told through quest text, and not cinematic voice-acted dialogue.

Ben said...
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Ben said...

Wow. It seems that most of the comments here come from folks who read a different article than I did.

I am glad to read the thoughts of a designer who believes that the most meaningful stories in an MMO originate from the players themselves. Progression is great and has it's place as connecting tissue between the juicy memory-making moments (I like my Skinner boxes as much as the next chemically bound creature).

In your WoW story of loot-obsession you pointed to one of the chief hurtles that the MMO genre has to make before it can progress. That is the disconnect between what a player derives meaning from in the world and what I true denizen of that world would derive meaning from. The heroes who had risked life and limb to come to the lair of Onyxia would not be very concerned by what lay in her treasure hoard; they would be teetering on the knife's edge of exhileration and panic at the prospect of confronting one of the most destructive and malicious beings in their world, hoping with all their souls that they could defeat her in order that she would never destroy anything that they loved again.

WoW(great game; enjoyed it for years) and several(most) of the MMOs that have been released since, by their DIKU MUD design direct players into this counter-immersive loot-centric value system. I'd say that this is not the fault of the usual suspect: player selfishness. How can the players be expected to value these static worlds? The quest text and supposed trials and tribulations of all the npcs lose their luster as soon as the player realizes that their actions do not effect the world. The player can effect change on their character; their character and their friends' characters are not static, lifeless and unchanging.

Sandbox games tend to do a better job of alligning the concerns of the player and the concerns of the world. In EVE the player wants to make their corporation rich and powerful, exactly as the lore of the world suggests the people living there would want. In Darkfall the player wants their guild to have the best land and the strongest military to protect it, just as someone living in that world would want. Where the sandbox fails is in the lack of developer contribution to the story. A sandbox (like, a real sandbox) is great because it allows a child to craft the environment into a story built from their own imagination, but with what leaps and bounds does it improve when there are toys (trucks, soldiers, shovels) which have been provided to enrich the experience.

I propose a sort of gardenbox in which the developer recognizes that it is the story of the players that carries the experience, but tends to the environment to make it furtile ground for those stories to grow. I think that's what you were talking about.

Tarka said...

I can appreciate Bens suggestion to a degree. But even so, I don't think it has to be so "black and white". The likes of Pre-CU SWG / Darkfall / Eve don't appeal to those who like to be TOLD good stories, as opposed to writing them themselves. But such stories don't have to encompass every conceivable action that participants in the gameworld take (e.g. like you would find in a linear game). Neither does the premise of the gameworld need to be completely centred around the players own stories.

Why not have an amalgamation of players AND npc actions that form the entire history / background / lore of the gameworld?

To give a simplistic example: Imagine a democratic ruler of a land that is being co-erced by one of his Advisors into doing some questionable actions. And imagine that there are two factions for players (call them black and white).

Now the white faction is always trying to keep the ruler in power but erradicate the actions of the Advisor in question. Whereas the black faction wants to see that the Advisors suggestions are put into force (e.g. conquest of a particular neighbouring land).

Now, what would happen if that Advisor was assassinated? Or the ruler was replaced with a Dictator who was more in favour of the Advisors suggestions? Suddenly the storyline shifts.

Just as Ben says, in order for there to be better stories in MMO's, the dev company has to be involved more in moulding them. Making them dynamic to some degree (perhaps even swapping out npcs from time to time). Then you begin to realise that this isn't as simple as it first appears, the MMO needs someone in control of the storyline, who alters it periodically. Now the MMO begins to take on certain similarities with tv series.

Blizzards use of "phasing" is a step in the right direction for providing alterations to a storyline, but in the end even WoW's world storyline remains static. And it has to, for if it was to change then that would have profound impact on many of the individual static quests in the game.

So rather than view quests as individual storylines, perhaps devs should consider them as collections of quests which are tied to ther respective npcs, which can be swapped out as the world story requires (perhaps even used elsewhere in the game world).

I believe that implementing a dynamic world story IS possible with some clever story writing. But it needs an MMO dev company who is committed to such an endeavour. Is Bioware that company? Probably not. Their overall "world" storyline will probably remain static whilst the individuals experience of the game may be a little more fluidic due to the choices they make.

Blizen said...

I am torn. On one hand Bioware make some great games, on the other hand I have yet to hear one thing about TOR that makes me think it will be a good MMO. I also hope they dont forget all the elements mentioned in your post.

Anonymous said...

I agree as well. After 10 years of personal play in MMO's the vast majority of people are NOT into lore. They read it, but most don't follow it and few are up on the details.

Something else; ask most people what they remember about prior MMO's and in some way, shape or form, their memories are tied into interactions with other players through the experience. They remember the encounters, the difficulties and most of all, what other people experienced along with it.

Bioware's game seems more like a play online game, not an MMO. It doesn't mean it won't do well, it means it might not give people what they hoped to re-experience from prior multiplayer games.

Cantra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cantra said...

I see your blog admins are as ruthless as your Funcom moderators Craig.

No room for anything resembling the first amendment in the world of Funcom.

Fair enough, it's your blog. I respect that. We will not however go quietly into the shadows. We shall continue via YouTube and other means to speak the truth regarding Funcom's deceit and false advertising. Close on a quarter of a million views on my channel Craig. Think about that.

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