When developers stop giving roleplayers new content, we -- unlike other gamers -- start to create our own. In fact, the vast majority of us don't rely on the game developers to give us any story content beyond the backdrop of the world our characters are living in, but that's not to say there aren't tools developers can give us that help with our level of immersion. Let's explore what makes a great sandbox for an MMO roleplayer.
The combat in Star Wars Galaxies was full of disappointments. I played the game through the NGE, but to be perfectly honest, I really didn't get involved in the combat side of the game for at least a year after that debacle. However, just because the combat turned out to be a steaming pile of bantha poodoo doesn't mean that the other parts of the game weren't without merit. In fact, I'd say that most of the other parts of this MMO helped define what I consider optimal MMO gameplay. I'm going to lump this all together under the heading "economics."
SWG allowed crafters and gatherers to work interdependently. Even many non-roleplayers admit that this game had the best crafting system out of any MMO ever. Although roleplayers might look for different end products -- like clothing and housing items -- mechanically, we want our crafting system to be complex and tied directly to the other parts of the game.
Unlike many of our non-roleplaying counterparts, we would like to play whole characters that center around crafting. During my time in SWG, we had a sect of RPers who started what was eventually deemed The Uncle Owen Project. Uncle Owen in Star Wars lore was really just a simple man in an extraordinary situation. He was also very staunch about remaining the "every-man." Despite what game designers might think about MMO players, not everyone is looking to be the savior of the galaxy; some of us are content setting up shop and playing socially.
I mentioned Guild Wars 2's dynamic events in a previous MMO Blender, but I don't think I can emphasize enough the importance of seemingly random events in MMOs. Having a world that seems to exist without the interference of the players is important. I believe this gives weight to a player's actions or inactions. If nothing changes in the world around you because you did or didn't do something, did you actually do anything?
Let me take this a step further. We know, for instance, that if you don't stop the centaurs from attacking the fort, the centaurs will take over. But what about centaurs that freely roam the world? Do they attack random humans if the NPCs happen to cross each other? Organic, dynamic events have as much, if not more, impact on roleplaying appeal than do scripted events.
Many MMOs, like City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, and even Star Wars Galaxies, allow the player to create his own quest lines and stories within the game with player-generated content tools. I understand that CoH's Mission Architect and STO's Foundry worked well for the playerbase, but SWG fell short with its Storyteller profession. My favorite version of this system, however, was found in Neverwinter Nights.
I know that NWN was not an MMO, and maybe that's why this content builder worked out so well. Players set up servers with their own virtual worlds. The quest chains could be vastly complicated and dynamic. Player decisions could impact future events along the quest chain. The quest designer for NWN produces such great results that despite the age of the game, BioWare still asks prospective writers to submit a NWN quest to show what they can do.
Roleplayers enjoy having a direct say in what happens in the world around them. Mayors of in-game cities and guild leaders like to create worlds for their friends to play in. It's completely evident that there is no way that even a large team of designers can ever keep up with the constant demand of new content players request of them. The best thing to do is give the players the ability to create their own content. Roleplayers eat that up like candy.
Building off a great quest designer, we have to have a great structure creator. Although I think Star Wars Galaxies certainly had the best housing system in all of MMO gaming, it was weak when it came to designing the area around the house, and cities were little more than rows of houses. So what about the housing featured in The Repopulation?
I cannot think of a single MMO that has wowed me with its building customization. Like I said, SWG was neat, but The Repopulation's customization takes it to the next level. In multiple videos for the game, players are seen designing not only the interiors of the houses but exteriors -- even whole cities. The greatest thing about The Repopulation's city design is that any changes that happen are live in the world for anyone else to see. It's not instanced. I look forward to seeing what comes of this MMO.
Like quest design, structure design is important for the roleplayer, too. It's part of taking ownership of the world that a character lives in. The Repopulation's housing designer literally lets you own a part of the open world, just like roleplayers have always imagined.
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