As the Worlds Turn: Ramblings of a mad man

In case you missed it while madly dashing about for your festive hat, 2008 has arrived. Since it is the New Year, we have all seen the articles making predictions and projections of what is to come in the following months. Some of these articles are great while others seem lacking. My problem with all of them is that they are too firmly grounded in reality.

That's about to change.

Several hours of sleep depravation, a couple candy bars, and the last few drops of that glorious orange liquid called "Game Fuel" have lead to the following list of wishes that I would like to see granted in the next 12 months. So, game companies, get out your barbed whips and chain your developers to their desks! You've got a lot of work ahead of you.

Ok, Turbine, which one am I?
Lord of the Rings Online gets a good deal of hype these days. Some of it has even come from my fingertips. They even boast their hitching to the Microsoft DirectX 10 wagon. Why is it then, with all this fantastic art direction and the realistic shadows and water effects that are squeezed from my video card, why is it I can't pick my own face out of crowd? Elves would say "All you dwarves look alike" to which the dwarf would reply "All you elves look alike". The human would say "You're both freaks because I can't tell any of you apart!" When your art pallet is shades of brown, this is bound to happen.

I turn off the "Floaty Names", as they call them, so as not to obscure the beautiful countryside. It is indeed beautiful. However, I'm then forced to click on each passerby to identify my friends! No one stands out. Granted nothing glows like the fires of ten thousand suns, but can't something be done? Turbine isn't the only offender either. I don't feel special being just another face in the crowd. I want to feel special.

Half-orc space pirates!
We all know orcs and elves work. Apparently so do aliens and space-marines. You can probably blame Jerry Bruckheimer for pirates being in fashion. Do you see where I'm going? I want, no need, someone to develop a fantasy/sci-fi space-pirates game! Tabula Rasa meets Guild Wars in space developed by Blizzard. That's perfect. Blizzard already has the franchises available. Just land some Protoss in Ironforge and let it play out! Turbine has a foot in the door with Wizards of the Coast. Maybe a Spelljammer MMO could satisfy.

That might not happen but one of the things I did like about 2007 was the entrance of some new genres into the MMO fracas. Tabula Rasa is fun. Pirates of the Burning Sea is cresting the horizon in 2008. A game where you not only get to blow up the uppity English but also allows for excessive drinking and revelry, albeit imaginary, is a gem of human achievement. So, if I can't swashbuckle in the milky way, at least give me someplace interesting to go.

Let me drive for a while.
I've talked about this before but I'll restate my opinion that story does matter in MMOGs. That being said, I'd like to drive the bus for a change. As it works now, we are all slaves to the game, not just the grind. We go where we're told to go, we fetch what we're told to fetch and we kill what we're told to kill. I'd like to see player actions impact this mechanic. The number of successful or failed attempts at a particular quest impacts the writing of the next expansion or update. In WoW, this could be tricky since, last time I checked, Alliance players outnumber the Horde but the people over at Blizzard are pretty smart. They can figure something out.

Another thing I'd like to see in MMOs is morality. It made a big splash this last year in console games, namely Bioshock and Mass Effect. In current MMOs, you can't slay townsfolk willy-nilly, which is probably a good thing. However, you also aren't allowed to make any moral choices either. LotRO has their Deed mechanic where you can gain benefits from helping out certain groups or peoples and WoW has their Reputation system. However, there isn't a negative end to either mechanic. You can either help your allies out or not. There is nothing in place that would put you on your own faction's bad side. In other words, members of your own faction may grow to not like you, but they'll never tar and feather you and run you out of town. The alternative appeals to me. "Do you want to go to Ironforge?" "Whoa! No! I can't go back there, at least not for a while. Those dwarves will roast my arse over the forge!" See? That's fun. Tabula Rasa boasts what they call "Ethical Parables". That's fine but you're still on the same side no matter what your decision. A good start, but I think we can do better. Someone get Molyaneux on that Fable MMO!

A crafting system that lets me craft something? Genius!
A novel idea, don't you think? Ok, hashed once and I'll hash it again. WoW and LotRO are probably too far along to change anything so you future developers out there take notes! Those of you who have made games, explain this: I'm an Artisan Metalsmith, capable of creating beautiful pieces of Gondorian armour and elvish garb. I fashion rivets from raw steel and bend iron to my will. However, I have no idea how to tan leather. I have stacks of it in my backpack and it is a total mystery to me. Does that make sense? Didn't think so. Crafting systems that are dependent on other professions may look good from the outside. You can claim that they encourage player interaction, which is apparently something I want. What they do encourage is my trips to the auction house, or as I like to call it: Hell's eBay.

I know that there is a famous saying about an item being worth what someone will pay for it. What is left out of that ideology is the option of getting it elsewhere. It prohibits gross over-pricing. We have real-world laws to prevent that kind of behavior. However, if the only location I can get the material I need is run by a bunch of mad, money hungry gold farmers, am I going to get an honest price? Buying crafting materials in MMOs is like real-world health insurance: the prices rise simply because they can and we buy it because we have to. After all, I need that leather and I don't want to die.

Is crafting necessary as an "everyone gets it" mechanic? Currently, every player can take a profession in most MMOs. That's fine. However, why do the professions need to be so broad? I want to make weapons. Let me get the ore, make the shaft and make the blade: done. Do I need to able to make components for anyone else? Why? What if I don't like anyone else? What if I'm not friendly? There are plenty of players out there who seriously lack even the most rudimentary social skills. You want me to ask that guy to mix some potions for me? Gee, thanks. Remind me again why I pay you for this?

Well, the sugar-high is starting to wear off and the sleep depravation is giving way to full-blown hallucination. Probably a good time to stop. If I don't see some space orcs with unique pirate lederhosen wielding a custom laser-musket by this time next year, the madman will return.

You've been warned.

This article was originally published on Massively.