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Redefining MMOs: More than lore

There's a self-created paradox in the MMO industry. This genre asks its participants to invest copious amounts of time and people do want to spend a hours and hours within a single, expansive virtual environment. The downside is that videogames tend to spin on a single mechanical axis: conflict.

In the MMO realm, conflict generally means combat. The problem is endless conflict becomes excruciatingly tedious. Crafting, socialization and sometimes even mini-games have been employed to counteract this, yet it remains a substantial issue. Whereas the story and plot development -- our topics this week -- have largely taken a back seat.

With professional MMO development soaring and a whole new generation of promising titles on the way, we stand on the cusp of what could be the next big evolutionary leap for online gaming. In the coming weeks and months, Massively will be examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page two or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL -- we'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Everyone has a story to tell, and so it's only natural that the creative minds who build and participate in massively multiplayer online games have many of their own. This week's installment of our ongoing Redefining MMOs feature focuses on story, it's evolution and potential future.

It came from the MUD

In the beginning, there were MUDs and before long they proliferated. Many of them allowed for storytelling but much like their eventual descendants, they primarily focused on beating the living brain matter out of things.

Story in MMOs has always come in two parts, or flavors, if you will. Half consists of the story a developer deigns to design into their game, while the other half sprouts from those looking and willing to tell their own story. The ratio has traditionally always leaned towards the players' story; greatly depending on the game in question as well as its community. Socializing had to stand in for story, long before story was ready to take over.


Early MMOs

Then there were the early MMO prototypes, like Meridian 59, that were largely experiences focused on the mechanics over the story. Much of the early MMO crop were limited by the technology in certain ways, especially when it pertained to evocative storytelling. Even so, the Ultima RPGs were focused on their stories, giving way to a rich history upon the release of Ultima Online. Although this was the first game with access to a rich lore, the design philosophy of the game and wild west nature of its original community gave way to far more interesting player created stories.

So it was that this era relied on the proactive player to create a memorable story themselves. This was especially true in the early days of EverQuest, where maps were nonexistent unless you broke out a piece of paper and a pencil. Exploration played a big party in people's personal EverQuest stories, as an environment can tell its own type of story. Even still, the developer's story of Norrath and its woes was enthralling at the time, largely because it was told in 3D.
 

At the same time EQ was pulling in -- at the time -- record players, a little game known as Asheron's Call was also doing some interesting things. Specifically, the game was one of the first to release constant updates that added and expanded story content. This was definitely a first in the genre and something that hasn't quite been replicated yet, at least not in the same manner.

Building from the outside-in

As technology became less and less of a barrier, detailed environments grew into a powerful vehicle for storytelling. Final Fantasy XI was one of the early games to premeditate zone design based on the game's projected story to the point of thinking ahead for expansions. Additionally, Final Fantasy is a series with a heavy emphasis on attention capturing cut-scenes and Final Fantasy XI was no different. As players progressed through the primary quests, they were treated with in-game cut-scenes that only became more elaborate and cinematic with time.


Another title that came along and changed the way story was presented was World of Warcraft. Nowadays, the narrated intro detailing your chosen races' recent history are fairly commonplace; not so before Blizzard came into the picture. Novelizations, Japanese manga and comic books were also pioneered here, giving players even more places to find story.

A big evolutionary leap in storytelling was the introduction of phasing into World of Warcraft with last year's Wrath of the Lich King expansion. A surprisingly unknown feature prior to the expansion's launch, phasing essentially allowed players to see different versions of an environment than what other players may have seen. This enabled quests that reshaped the world for each player as they moved through the plot. Players weren't -- and really still aren't -- used to their virtual worlds being altered before their very eyes. It was so very potent a tool that there's no doubt Blizzard and other developers will be using and improving it in the future.

Voice acting killed the text-based storyline star

As with all things evolutionary in videogames, it's the technology that enables a better story to be told. Certainly there are more variables such as writing, setting and expertise but tech remains a barrier which developers are constantly having to bypass with time and creativity.

When time and creativity can no longer forge ahead, money becomes an alternative. Such is the case with BioWare and their disgustingly ambitious Star Wars: The Old Republic.

We're about as curious as you can get when it comes to BioWare's MMO here at Massively. Understandably, when they say that each of their classes will feature a fully fleshed out storyline capable of taking a character from level one to max and that every NPC will feature professional voice work, it causes heads to turn so fast they nearly snap off at the neck.


If you were to make a checklist of all the things an MMO would have to do in order for the story to really matter, BioWare appears to be planning on going above and beyond it: a strong and globally recognizable IP, story-focused leveling for each class, the ability to alter the story through your own choices, professional voiced acting for 100% of the game, oodles of lore pre-launch and a storytelling pedigree that nearly no other existing development studio can match.

Could Star Wars: The Old Republic usher in an era of massively multiplayer online co-op story-based games? It certainly could but the real question is, "Would that be such a bad thing?" In a genre where games like All Points Bulletin can exists alongside Free Realms, variety is the least of our worries. In fact, variety is clearly one of this genre's largest strengths.

It's hard to say what SWTOR and the future of storytelling will be, since it's so far into the future. And there's always other contenders to consider as well, especially when Blizzard is involved. One thing is for sure, though. Everyone can appreciate a good or even great story; whether they play MMOs for it or not 
 
 
Категория: MMOG articles | Добавил: Khazad (28.07.2009) | Автор: by Kyle Horner Jul 9th 2009
Просмотров: 1197 | Комментарии: 5 | Теги: ultima-online, MMO, electronic-arts, everquest | Рейтинг: 0.0/0 |
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