It might be a good idea to discuss how forced systems affect the game as compared to optional systems. As much as it pains me to say so (I am the biggest believer in allowing players to choose), forced immersion really does make a difference. When there is a standard, all players must abide by it -- no shortcut will do away with it.
So, here are a few games that force a player to immerse himself into a game through a combination of systems, environment, and setting. Of course this might or might not be a good thing, depending on the player. Wurm Online is probably one of the single best examples of forced immersion that I can think of. Remember, when I say forced immersion I mean forced participation in systems that would fit into the Immersion Project ruleset. Wurm does this in many ways. Of course, it doesn't have a million players and is run by one guy and a team of hardworking volunteers -- possibly because of its forced perspective.
One of the easiest ways to encourage immersion is to force travel times. Wurm does this beautifully -- and sometimes painfully -- by literally doing away with almost all instant travel. In fact, the only time I have been instantly teleported anywhere was when I died or transferred servers, but there might be magical means that I am not aware of. Let's be honest, though: long travel times can be boring. It's important to make them something of an event, or players might simply settle down where they are at and rarely explore the greater world. Wurm helps with travel times by making them feel like epic events. If you get stuck at night, for example, you really get stuck at night. Even during the middle of the day it is easy to become lost, so a solid map is always handy. Since the game provides no in-game map, a nice real-life map works wonders. Most players refer to hosted maps, but the effect is still the same -- you can become lost, and dead, in Wurm Online very quickly.
"In other words, as much as I hate to hear some whiny raider talk about losing interest in a game after others achieved what she had -- more easily than she did -- that argument has merit."
However, travel should not be so involved that players cannot step away from the keyboard for a moment or cannot find a stopping point at which to rest. Ryzom travel is epic, for sure, but it's such a mob nightmare that players generally travel by teleport instead. It's a shame, too, since trekking in Ryzom is such a great way to see the sights. While Ryzom does force players to travel directly to the teleports on foot to "unlock" them, once a player has access he or she can just use a magical ticket to be whisked away. To me, this is a very odd hybrid -- just go one way or the other with it. At least Ryzom still maintains some of the most incredible mob prey/predartor AI and game-affecting weather systems out there. If only it were free-to-play!
This would be a good time to discuss whether or not forcing players to do anything makes good sense. Again, I am a fan of choice over everything. I would rather have a varied playerbase of all types of individuals with differing schedules and levels of skill rather than a smaller, hardcore group. But there is something to be said for a player's level of enjoyment and sense of value being influenced directly by the game. In other words, as much as I hate to hear some whiny raider talk about losing interest in a game after others achieved what she had -- more easily than she did -- that argument has merit. Over this last week I had to be really honest with myself and ask, "How would I feel if they put instant teleports into Wurm Online?" My boat rides and epic travel times might feel a little silly then.
There are other ways to encourage players to roleplay or to feel immersed. One look at Lord of the Rings Online's inns is all it takes to see how wonderful design can make players feel truly at home. Players who might never roleplay will often get into the story while inside an inn. At the very least, the warm taverns and cozy fireplaces of LotRO force players to slow down, to talk to each other, and to listen. When you compare the immersive quality of the inns and fireplaces, it makes you wish the game had more forced systems. In the end, though, the game is meant for a certain type of player and fits the job well enough. Now if Turbine could just do something about those character models.
"In practice, however, I prefer games that force some kind of standard on the world. If I can speak only in the local channel, by golly so should everyone else. If I have to use a boat to get across that ocean, so should everyone else."
There is also a delicate balance between a game's forced lore and allowing players to create their own places in the world. Wurm has its lore, for sure, but I stay mostly (and blissfully) unaware of it. I prefer my character to remain as many normal people remain -- ignorant of a good part of the greater goings-on in the world. Yes, I have the internet and books to read in real life, but why would I expect my character to know much more than the local news while stuck on a desert island? It is slightly ironic that I prefer forced immersion systems and free-for-all story settings.
In fact, that brings me to a good closing point for the week. In principle, I prefer choices. Games like World of Warcraft or EverQuest II give players as many choices as possible. They don't want to offend anyone and would hate to scare off a single player. They have systems that can be taken in many ways and offer many ways to get to many different points in the game. This is good for so many reasons, the least of which being that it offers players with literal, physical limits on their time to ascend just like anyone else.
In practice, however, I prefer games that force some kind of standard on the world. If I can speak only in the local channel, by golly so should everyone else. If I have to use a boat to get across that ocean, so should everyone else. At the same time, I want the choice to live in that world how I want to. If I want to be a hermit, so be it. If I want to be the baddest monster-killer in the game, let me go for it. The ideal game, for me, sets a minimal level of suffering for everyone while maintaining a flexibility for weirdos like myself.
Yes, that's a tall order. It can be done, though, as seen in games like Wurm Online or Mabinogi. Simple systems like stamina regeneration, fires or weather effects can work wonder towards helping players feel immersed without having to resort to a system of rules.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!