For the uninitiated, let's try to answer the most basic of questions: What is Storybricks? Is it a game-building toolset? Is it a storytelling medium? Is it a game in and of itself? Or is it somewhere in-between all of those things? The answer is "yes." Storybricks is a unique endeavor in the MMO space that puts the power of content creation in the hands of its players, but not in the way you might think. While many current MMO titles focus on achievement-centric gameplay, Storybricks is attempting to put emphasis back on the narrative by giving players the tools to craft a unique story using a modular toolset made up of the eponymous storybricks. For example, one brick may focus on a single character in the game, such as a corrupt noble. Using the various available storybricks, players can define numerous aspects of that noble's personality ranging from his general demeanor to his relationships with other characters in the world. The character's wants, needs, likes, dislikes, dialogue, interactions, and so on are all in the hands of the story's creator.
But where will all of these carefully laid bricks ultimately lead the ambitious project?
As of right now, Storybricks has only one available setting in which players can craft their tales: the suitably named Kingdom of Default. The generic fairy-tale-fantasy setting isn't a sign of a lack of creativity on the part of the developers but is in fact a conscious decision to help get players accustomed to the myriad possibilities of the toolkit itself. Rather than putting the focus immediately on creating a full, "proper" game, the developers want to shine the spotlight on the Storybricks toolbox in a setting that most MMO players should be immediately familiar with. After all, who among us isn't familiar with a world of chivalrous knights, corrupt nobles, shady thieves, and fair maidens?
The toolkit itself, though, is just the beginning. I was told that, in the future, Namaste intends to create a full-fledged MMO utilizing the Storybricks construction kit, ultimately resulting in a vast virtual world where the available content isn't defined by official patches and expansions but by the creativity of its players. World of Warcraft players, how many times have you put Illidan Stormrage to the sword? How many times has Arthas met his demise at the hands of a plucky raid group? Countless times, to be sure. But the next time you set foot in the Black Temple, you'd better believe Illidan will be waiting on you.
Storybricks aims to change that sense of stagnancy by allowing players to create content that isn't focused around killing bosses and hoarding loot but instead is dependent on interaction between the game's players and the NPCs that inhabit the world. One particular example given was the idea of factions and reputation. In most titles, reputation is little more than a bar you fill by completing quest after quest for certain members of the organization in question, and there's often little-to-no variation. A faction either hates you or loves you without any exception. With Storybricks, however, you could end up on the wrong side of the city guard faction, but what if you did a favor for one of those guards? While the faction as a whole would continue to view you distastefully, that single guard would remember your good deed and treat you with respect and gratitude. These are the kinds of meaningful interactions that Storybricks aims to put in the hands of the players.
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But what about more game-centric mechanics, such as combat or crafting? Right now, the studio says it hasn't come to a decision on how to handle those features. For instance, will players be able to create weapons and armor with stats of their choosing? The developers say that they're not quite sure, but they added that the future of such additions is dependent on fan feedback. "If that's the direction [the fans] want to go," they say, "that's the direction we'll take it."
And ultimately, that's the vibe I got from the entire project. In a game driven largely by player-generated content, the community is obviously an incredibly important facet of the whole. Beyond the basics of the Storybricks toolkit (though, considering the depth of those tools, I feel strange calling it "basic"), the title seems to be in a state of flux. Namaste clearly has a solid foundation upon which to lay its (story)bricks, but as far as the end result is concerned, we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds.