I always think its a tough job to write about MMOs as there are so many of them and so many hours to invest in these games before wriiting anything. Good read Kevin-V.
In part 2 of ongoing series, multiple online RPG designers give us further insight into the building of a persistent world.
Last week, we initiated our series on massively multiplayer development with a look at world design. Not only did the development teams that participated give us great insight--they gave us more than we could fit into a single entry. This article continues last week's introductory feature.
Eventually, the bits and pieces of a world come together, and regions stop looking less like environments filled with models and light sources, and start looking more like actual places. Games only get so many chances to instill the right kind of emotions in players before they give up and move to something that offers the sense of wonder they come seeking. What do MMO designers want you to feel when you step foot in their digital fantasies?
"I think I want a mix of 'yeah, that's what I thought that looked like' and 'so that's what that looked like,' with a dash of 'holy shit' mixed in now and then," says Chris Pierson at Turbine, regarding The Lord of the Rings Online. "When you're working with a shared or licensed world, you have to get the feel right, and occasionally throw a twist in to your interpretation--not so much that it gets off-putting, but enough to keep people on their toes. Sometimes Tolkien does this for us, inadvertently, by including details that haven't necessarily carried forward in a hugely visible way into other visual interpretations of his work."
Annie VanDermeer Mitsoda had similar aspirations for Guild Wars 2. "I was hoping for a world that seems exciting and thrilling but not punishing or frustrating, one that invites you to do sometimes silly, non-standard things like grab rocks and jump up onto buildings and just talk to every single person you see. And I think we made it! And weirdly enough, the people I see who are adapting best to it are the non-standard players, the non-MMO veterans, who just run in the game and go completely nuts and do everything. Sometimes MMO diehards take a while to get out of their usual habits and rhythms and just start to enjoy a world that is focused on being expansive and reactive and tactile. But once they do, it's a delight to just hop in the game and see people appreciating these little details we put in there with the fervent hope that someone, somewhere will discover them and think it's special. That's catnip to us game devs, we love it entirely."
Or as Mitsoda's colleague, Mike Ferguson, puts it: "I want first-time players in Guild Wars 2 to feel that they are awesome." Ffinch and Fong at Trion Worlds didn't mince words, either: "[We wanted] a sense of wonder and explosion in the brain from visual awesomeness!"
It's not quite that simple for the Rift team, however. "Achieving a sense of wonder and discovery depends a lot on progression and change in scenery. The pacing helps a lot too, you want to hook the audience in early but not show all your cards in the beginning. We lead the player along trying to guide them towards a big reveal for some of our more impressive points of interest. There can be no doubt that Rift is a truly beautiful game, with some amazing view and places to discover."
Given how different it is from most online realms, it's no surprise that Funcom's Ragnar Tornquist had something more mysterious in mind for The Secret World. "I want players to feel there's a whole new world out there, filled with infinite possibility," he says. "I want players to step onto Solomon Island and to feel there's history there, that the place has soul, and that there are vast areas to explore and discover and experience. Mystery is extremely important, and maintaining that mystery is a real challenge, and this is where the attention to detail is important. The more granular your world is, the more there is to discover, and the more players will stay intrigued and engaged for a long, long time."
There are always ways to inject a bit of your own character, style or imagination into anything to make it interesting.
"With The Secret World, we left nothing to chance," Tornquist continues. "There's not a single sign, a single road, a single building, a single asset that hasn't been placed where it is for a reason, and the deeper you dig the more you discover. In that way, the world stays fresh for much longer, and players really learn to appreciate how much the development team has invested in the world."
In a way, Tornquist has the edge over his peers in the industry when it comes to world creation, if only because his team wasn't hamstrung by the tropes we associate with fantasy games. Fantasy worlds consistently present the usual Tolkiensque suspects: enchanted forests, grunting trolls, pointy-eared elves, and so forth. And in Lord of the Rings Online, there's no escaping these familiar conventions. How does Turbine's Chris Pierson make the conventions feel new and fresh, considering their pervasiveness in modern fantasy?
"That's a fundamental challenge when you're doing Tolkien," says Pierson, "because he was the modern source of a fair number of those tropes. Even radically different fantasy elves are often defined by the ways they're not like Tolkien Elves. So to an extent, unlike a property where designers are trying to carve out a brand-new identity for their world, we have to set the whole 'trope' notion aside and just trust the source. We're not reinventing the troll. To do so would be, to an extent, a violation of the material. In a lot of cases, it's more a matter of concentrating things to their platonic (Tolkienic) ideal, pulling from both his descriptions and the sources that inspired him, like Anglo-Saxon and Norse folklore. You make them interesting in a Tolkien game by doing them well, and by steeping them in as much of the source material as you can. Anything else, and the 'that's it!' reaction you're trying to get out of the player is going to go out the window, and you've messed up."
Other developers aren't beholden to Tolkien's specific vision, though his influence is still keenly felt. With Guild Wars 2, Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda wanted to subvert the tropes, rather than to dismiss them out of hand. "We have ogres in Guild Wars 2, sure; they're big and hulking, but they're actually an ancient race that lives in tribal groups and holds a deep respect for the bond between a hunter and their pet. They're an old fantasy standby that we've folded into the world of Tyria, but they're not a generic 'bad guy' race, they're not there to tick a box or take up space--they have a society that functions with its own unique rhythm. And when you talk to an ogre, even when you fight them, you see how they're different, and the role they have in the world."
The Rift team has similar ideals. "There are always ways to inject a bit of your own character, style or imagination into anything to make it interesting. Having a vast library of ideas and knowing what has been done before helps, but to push beyond this we inject the culture of our inhabitants; we consider the local population and how they might have influenced the look and feel of an area. The trick is to maintain the consistency of whatever you apply throughout the environment. Consistency becomes style."
And style is an element all of these developers are conscious of. You want to establish a mood and a feeling right out of the gate, of course, but there is a lot of room to play within the artistic sandbox. But there's a risk here. If the world doesn't have enough visual variety, players grow weary of gazing at the same repetitive assets; if the world isn't cohesive, on the other hand, it feels disorganized and unfocused. With The Secret World, Funcom utilized two art directors in order to find the right balance, though spreading art design across multiple teams had its challenges.
"This makes it even more challenging to maintain overall consistency of direction, but we also wanted the game to have a slightly different vibe and visual style from zone to zone," says Ragnar Tornquist. "Solomon Island, for example, draws inspiration from gothic horror and zombie movies, with its misty woods and quaint, quiet Maine township. It's an almost drab, dreary reality that is made infinitely creepy by the fact that almost everyone is dead or gone. Egypt is a lot more vibrant and colourful, drawing on adventure and pulp movies, and on ancient Egyptian mythology and architecture. And Transylvania's Shadowy Forest was simply a case of seeing how far we could take the game into fantasy territory and still maintain that TSW vibe."
@WCK619 totally false !
anarchy online, sw-galaxies, star treck online, eve online, global agenda ... i can go on forever.
most famous mmo are on fantasy environment btw. that's true but not alla fantasy games are mmo, and not all mmo are medioeval.
I guess Diablo 3 isn't an MMO, especially without PVP arena... does anybody know why or have a link to the reasoning involved in why PVP would break the Auction House?
@rfalstad is diablo a game? is diablo "massively multiplayed?" yes ! so that ...... ..... that .... stuff ... is an mmo.
that almost answers the question
@rfalstad lol ... almost ?
what have i missed ? :D
ah the auction house ..... i play games for entertainment... auction with real money in a game is nopthing more than second life business model... i have my job and i do not want to start a new 1 inside a game where i'm supposed to have fun and not another job !
I hate second life business model...
Guild Wars 2 is the clear leader. SWTOR has fallen hard, and for good reason. With Patch 1.4 it added a bit, but not enough to stop you from being bored again in a week. WoW is garbage imo, tried it and hated it. .
@SDSkarface I agree. The main reason for Blizzard doing what they did by making content more casual was because only 1% of the total population of WOW was making to the end game content... Killing Lich King etc. This caused a chain reaction and it all filtered down to everything else making it painful for hardcore players who thought it to easy after that.
@voldalin you sure about that? I thought WoW players all had max level characters and they just use them to go on raids and stuff, or start up new characters.
The Secret World is the most cool MMO I have ever played but the monthly subscription made me stop playing. I played a lot during the summer but now I have to go to university again.
WoW killed the MMO genre.. i remember back in the days everything was in the open world.. a group was fighting a raid boss and you could go wipe them out, then people started complaiing theyre too casual they dont have enough time,they got kids ant home blah blah then the genre ceased to be hardcore anymore and instances came. casuals killed the MMO, rarely you see anyone putting in work like the old days of 14 hours in a session, After WoW made everything all casual instances became the norm.. death penaltys went away.. world pvp went away, full looting of another player went away. and in its place.. we have the MMO as its known today. Pathetic.
What ever MMO you are describing sounds shit...
@SDSkarface lol yea, Damn all the people with jobs and families. How dare us for not being able to put in a 14 hour session. You should probably go into marketing with that kind of wisdom.
@SDSkarface the mmo genre isnt dead theres actually a lot of decent mmos out right now. GW2 is good, Age of WuShu is in beta and from people that I talked to that played the chinese version they say its pretty good, Rift has a new xpac coming out and MoP is actually decent (its as good as TBC) no matter what the WoW haters now say.
MMOs should be accessible and it shouldnt require you to sacrifice all your time to play. The should reward you for how much you play and what you do defeinitely but making a game where only a few hardcore people actually use all of the content is a failed design too. Like in vanilla WoW only 2-percent of the player base actually went into Naxx before TBC. Naxx is an awesome raid, why spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars designing content that only a few people use?
The problem isnt the developers making the game easy the problem is the progression models that WoW and all the WoW clones use which is the rep grinding, gear sets and the carrot on the stick model. They have kind of changed that in MoP with challenge mode dungeons and scenarios.
Hindsight is 20/20 thru rose-colored glasses regarding MMOs. Becuz I can remember playing UO, EQ, DAoC and FFXI and never being able to get quest mobs and drops because farmers would camp the mobs 24/7 and it made the game unenjoyable.
There are still games that use the hardcore rulesets like EVE Online and there is a an new Darkfall coming as well as ArcheAge and Blade & Soul.
The actual paradigm for mmos needs to shift away from the old eq model and evolve into something else. A game where death has meaning, stats are hidden, levels dont exist and skill beats gear and the players actually drive an actual story in the world thru events and the world actually changes and isnt a theme park.
I am looking for the day when MMOs actually have an interactive world and the game has an actual story with a set start and ending. Like they launch the game with a 3 year lifespan and you have permadeath and the heroes are the people that survive til the end.
I think MMOs are in a good place they are actually started to get out of WoW clone mode finally.
Persistent worlds don't exist in MMOs any more, they're all instanced and zoned up with loading screens that the world part has gone. I wish an MMO made a world like WoWs when it launched where you have to travel in real time, seamless zone transitions and no teleporting around.
The thing I would really like to see MMO developers do is take the minecraft approach to creating the game. The worlds should be a lot larger and require players to actually go out in the world, travel, and interact with other players to survive. One of the best memories I had when first starting to play MMOs was in EQ and meeting other players that actually guided you to other cities. It made the world a lot less on rails and alive.
I would like to see instead of actually making multiple servers of the same world, make each server a different area of the world and the players from that server would be a different race/nation. You would have to travel great distances and actually create trade with other nations. Instead of just farming crafting mats, you might have to go on an adventure to get the spices or gems you need from a far off land a trip that could take days in real time travel.
Another thing that I think MMO developers also dont really utilize as much as they should is actual things from PnP roleplaying games. Examples being alignments and languages as well as things like 'slaying' weapons. i.e. a sword that gives damage to killing orcs or an axe that gives bonus to killing elves. Items that cant be equipped by characters of certain alignments.( I know swtor had this) One of the fun things that WoW had in its early beta was undead actually being undead and immune to polymorph etc but able to be effected by turn evil and holy spells. I know people would QQ but it was a really fun feature and definitely added to the RP element of the game.
MMOs are definitely getting better, but MMOs are kinda stuck in the 'themepark' wow model when theres a lot of stufff dealing with the actual RPG part of MMORPG that gets overlooked.
I'm looking forward to Neverwinter's Foundry and also age of wushu's classless system both a step in the right direction. If more developers used the foundry approach instead of the themepark approach, they could easily make the worlds a lot bigger by letting players create the world content while they concentrate on raids and world events. There are a ton of dedicated fans that would make excellent content (just take the modding community and the major fansites as examples) and it would open up to make the community much more invested in the game instead of just complaining about what the developers do. (you dont like it design one and submit it)
Finally, I think another thing that developers should consider is instead of actually having capped systems, create a system where the players themselves can become so powerful they they themselves can become the 'raid bosses' or villains in the world. I know this would be a challenge to work out, but it would be the ultimate system to let players feel powerful without just running them on the carrot on a stick gear treadmill. Let them build keeps and build a legion of minions that become the dungeons and would reward the most dedicated players with a feeling of real accomplishment.
We need a mmorpg in Ivalice. Yes Ivalice, you know from ffxii. just think at how amazing would it be to chose between archadia and rozarria then go to cities like rabanastre, balfohein, mt bur omisace. Races are very well desingned and interesting, we have humes, viera, moogles, bangaa and a few others.
so i mean, we have an interesting world that millions of players around the world want to explore and see in future games just like azeroth after warcraft 3, we have interesting races as warcraft did, we have a politic conflict between two major factions(rozarria and achadia) like alliance and horde. we have everything to get a mmo as interesting to old fans as wow.why is square enix rebuilding ffxiv?
@marceleleco FFXIV gave me that exact impression that you describe in your first paragraph. I am looking forward to the "Realm Reborn".
My suggestions for future MMORPG developers:
1.) DO NOT attempt to make another WOW clone. People want something different, or they will stick with WOW. You cannot hope to steal WOW customers for any sustained length of time if you offer them little more than a chance to give up what they've invested in for a fresh start to a game that isn't fresh but familiar and deeply derivative of in it's core.
2.) Try and grab at least one thing from each of the better MMORPG's because they pretty much all had something or another new to add that set themselves apart by at least a litt.e
3.) Follow the original EverQuest as a primary source of inspiration. It was the best and ultimately fell because of outdated graphics, the selling out to instances movement, and the main dagger of them all was the uninspired EverQuest 2 which by it's own nature implies that it should be the next step forward, but in fact was technologically shinier at best, fubar'ed to the end of both itself and it's predecessor.
4.) Find a good franchise to build from. Dragonlance Online, Game of Thrones Online, Forgotten Realms Online, Krull Online, the Princess Bride Online, Beowulf Online..... Anything is better than some unknown start up franchise unless it somehow can show itself as something really strong and original a creation.
5.) Destroy basic quests, leaving only long and crazy quests like EQ1 had, some travel courrier quests, and quests to develop a path towards a certain profession or career such as knighthood and what not. Nobody wants to go kill so many rats or collect 40 snail balls and it's basically because nobody wants to feel like they are going to move a lot slower if they just go out and hunt what they want to.
6.) Really force each race and each class into it's unique possibilities, creating both strengths and weaknesses, encouraging more thought to battle.
7.) Get rid of Fast Travel, single out limited teleportation class options, stretch binding points and make the world a hostile and dangerous place to explore far beyond your starting point, making each exodus from one land to another a big thing and a potentially costly ordeal.
8.) Create a better use of voice and sound within the game's framework.
9.) Make it possible for a level 1 to kill a level 40 with the right experience, skill advantages and a little luck. Nobody should be given power beyond what their added experience and skill development can give them, minus the added powers and abilities that experience would justify an explanation for. You wouldn't grow a billion more hitpoints and the strength to kill a newb in one hit, though you might develop enough talent to pull off such a kill. Make the players skills define them.
10.) Have some advantage available for purchase and/or for longterm dedication if you must, but make them pale in comparison to things earned through a difficult quest or a perma-death threatened gamble that skill and talent as a player earned you such as an all or nothing gladiator pvp tournament held by gaming administrators.
11.) Create 2nd class race options with added advantages balanced by added expense, but the class is only unlocked as an option after leveling out other races. For example: Make a half-elf for those who maxed out a human and elf both, and give the half elf all of the best racial traits of each to make a stronger character, but give him a woeful faction hit in return making everything harder in their process.
12.) Create many dungeons, but ZERO instances.
13.) Create the old dungeon boss loot of a key to get you into an even greater dungeon, like in EQ with Kaesora's boss dropping an item you can trade alongside another item for the key allowing you to enter.
14.) Take away the ability to see text from any distance far away except maybe in town, and delete the whole numbers text of damage dealing. Make everything more of a mystery. Also take out any simple way of character classification other than looking and determining it yourself
15.) Develop ongoing world developement rather than static consistancy.
16.) Keep players in line or at least open to stating their alignment by inserting a system of religious factions offering some type of Jihad or wrath-of-god punishment for those who would take advantage of an unsportsmanlike method of annoying and bullying newbies unfairly in certain areas.
17.) Create an online society where players quest for gold by helping other players who pay them, in a way that works itself into an ongoing balance, tapped and prodded here and there a little by the serverside moderators so that it can work itself out in a fine balanced world.
18.) Greatly reduce weight and item capacity to a seemingly realistic amound of incumberance, making each kill less of looting moment unless there is true value in the loot itself.
19.) Create a creature class that allows a plyer to achieve a goal and leveling system that goes from bug to rat to dog to bea to monste to tough monster to mean as hell monster to boss monster to dragon and so on..... A fun alternate role to add chaos in the world.
20.) Try as hard as you possibly can to incorporate Demon's Souls and Dark Souls into every aspect of combat as well as anything else such glorious masterpieces like those two can have to offer.
@shadgrindk some of your ideas are good some are bad. I'll just comment on the bad:
getting rid of fast travel is a bad idea. making everything all fast travel is bad (cataclysm) but making long trips or flights that you've done a 100 times is just tedious and time consuming. A better alternative is give players incentives or penalties for each so you have an option.
Incorporating Demon/Dark Souls is also a bad idea. Most younger gamers dont remember how games used to be back in the days, but all demon/dark souls did was bring back the concept that existed back in the early 80s of having to get a pattern exactly right or you die. Those games arent necessarily harder they are just frustrating like the old games back in the day when you had three men and if you died you started back at the beginning. I'm not saying the unlimited lives auto repawn at the checkpoint system is better but artificial difficulty isnt fun and its why games moved away from that.
Getting rid of instanced dungeons is also a bad idea. Yes MMOs should be more about the open world, but the reason MMOs went to instances is because of gold farmers and spawn campers. Without instances the quest mob you need to kill or the crafting mat you need to gather from a mob would be camped 24/7 just like it was in EQ & FFXI. WoW actually implemented scenarios in MoP which kinda of is the best of both worlds.
liked a lot of your ideas though. I personally tthink that MMOs should get rid of levels all together. I personally think the actual goal in an MMO should be skill aquisition not levels or gear. Basically you become more powerful by having more available skills. Skills would allow you to unlock the ability to craft powerful items or build powerful armies, fortresses etc. Skills should not only be abilities but they shold also be based on things like Charisma, the ability to recruit an army or lead a city/gather an army. Just throwing that out there.
Yes, it's a really bad idea to make a MMO game too challenging--especially w/ the difficulty that Demon/Dark Souls brought, or they won't keep a strong player base. Not everyone has the vast time sink to put into any MMO games out there, and not everyone has the vast network of guildies and friends to tackle the harder challenges of a major quest or dungeon. The finite time sink is what keeps me away from grinder-themed MMO's.
@oflow - There is a more recent MMO that doesn't uses levels for exp; but a system that gives you skill & action points to pool or put into a wide array of skills of your choice. That game is The Secret World.
@oflow - It took me awhile to get used to the combat system in TSW, and this was in between the time I was regularly playing TERA, and when I beta-tested and now regularly play GW2. At least TSW make some of the quests interesting, especially the investigation missions where you have to do a bit of research to solve puzzles to progress.I haven't heard about Age of Wushu myself.
@LordDeArnise ya i played TSW beta it was decent but the non-action oriented combat system is kinda outdated. The upcoming Age of Wushu looks to use this same system and be a little better than TSW.
I am curious about the other end of the world. On how Asian developers, especially Korean ones, view the creation of their MMO worlds. Things like sword of the new world, Maple Story, Dream of Mirror Online, Ragnorok online, Perfect World online. These were games that came before TSW, WOW, and SWTOR, and still have thriving communities. Many of which some people may even consider a grindfest.
It would be interesting to compare how differently or similarly things are between the east and west.
A valid point there, but most, if not all of the Asian MMO's--at least the ones I've tried (i.e. DOMO, 12 Sky 1 & 2, Last Chaos, Shaiya, Rappelz, & 7 Souls)--all have a chief theme to them....grindfest.
Still, they make their worlds to fit the group of players that want them, so their views would be somewhat similar to the five Western developers in question on this series of articles.
@377988 I imagine they value new and innovative ways of creating outrageous hairstyles in unrealistic colors and uncomfortably short skirts for suspiciously young looking female NPCs
This article didn't tell me anything that I hadn't known or at least hadn't imagined about game creation. Everyone knows that worlds must be made in such a way to attract and itrigue players. How much you have imagination for that it is already other thing. So why ideas are valued higher than theitr implementation.
This is why I have alot of appreciation for exploring the worlds that I did with the various MMO's I've played in 2012, whether it was The Exalted Realms of Arborrea (TERA), the alternative Earth brought upon by The Secret World, or exploring Tyria all over again in Guild Wars 2, 2 centuries after the events brought by the first GW. If ArenaNet eventually does any expansions for GW2, then I'd be the first to look forward to exploring a new Cantha, or a new Elona.
@KENNYKENNEDY - I know that feeling when it comes to finding time to sink into MMO's, especially as a 33-year old gamer w/ a 9-to-5 dayjob, and play a mix of PC & X360 games. Feeling that I've gotten the most into a 3 or 4-hour session on weeknights in a MMO game brings as much satisfaction to me as a weekend marathon session. Doing it w/ friends or other players regularly is definitely a plus.
The world building perspective on MMOs is pretty interesting. One some level it makes me want to try out all of them. Too bad Blizzard didn't want to chip in. They better be busy with Project Titan.
Exploring and appreciating the worlds that developers create is one of my favourite things about gaming, It is even better with friends. Unfortunately I don't really have enough free time to sink into a MMO these days, so I stick with single player games I can start and stop at any time.
Its nice to see the developer's mind set when creating MMOs. I love MMOs and have played many over the years but it seems like gamers now are spoiled at times and we do not appreciate the work and creativity put into these worlds. A lot of times people see games like TSW, GW2, Rift, Aion, etc. and say something like oh that is a WoW clone. This article is a good example of how that is not true and how the developers spend time and effort building the world they want to see come to life.
It's funny that you didn't mention Mist of Pandaria. I know that many people hate WoW, but its latest expansion is brimmed with interesting and varied world design.
@Ravenshout I asked Blizzard to participate, and they declined.
@Kevin-V I am surprised. Being mentioned in an article like this is exactly what they need with the game's slow death and what not. Egos, I suppose, egos.
@vishisluv7 I personally enjoyed D3 immensely, so I can't complain much. It's not perfect, but it's a well-executed game. You may fault Blizzard for not taking enough risk and many other things, but execution you may not.
@Ravenshout Blizzard excels at creating places you want to be. I expect that Titan will be interesting, but that's pure speculation based on the developer's track record, as opposed to inside knowledge!
@Kevin-V That said, what do you think Titan will be? Will it have interesting and distinct world? I hope so.