Anti-Aliased: History of the world, part one

Seraphina Brennan
S. Brennan|02.26.10

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Anti-Aliased: History of the world, part one
So, besides the Mel Brooks reference in the title, what do I have in store for you this time? Well, in short, I have an idea. Nay, I have an inspiration. Plus, I have a story to boot, so it's really a two for one deal this week in my column. You better read fast, for this deal won't last long!

The one thing that many MMORPGs completely miss is making the player character feel triumphant and heroic. When making the conversion from roleplaying game to online roleplaying game, we frequently miss out on the one thing that makes pen and paper RPGs so unique: a history.

This week in Anti-Aliased, I really want to cover the concept of history as it pertains to MMORPGs, and make the appeal that more MMOs need to invest in a persistent storyline in addition to the standard canned quests that we already utilize in every game under the sun.

Dynamic events: The downsides

"Live events hold a great appeal for one strong reason -- they are unique, non-repeatable content."

Right off the bat, I feel as if I need to cover the downside of running a dynamic event inside of your MMO. A limited audience, a limited run time, and the chance of having your community not accept the event are all possible downsides of running a dynamic event.

As much as we like having a real live actor come into our game, they can only reach out to so many people. Even if they take the role of a god, there's only so many people online in the server at one time and you're going to miss out on meeting part of your player base. If you make a grand change to the storyline of your game in your event, many of your players are going to miss out on it and feel cheated. They're going to wish they would have been there to experience it, and you'll probably hear on your forums that you suck because X player couldn't make it to your event at a certain time.

And that does suck -- trust me, I've been there. Missing out on an event in your favorite game, especially if it turns out to be an amazing event, is like missing out on your favorite TV show and not owning a DVR. You're going to wish you had been there to witness it first hand.

But, does it really suck?

But, like I said above, many companies focus on all of the downsides of running these dynamic events. We don't look at the many upsides that live events can have on the playing population, especially when they focus on player actions and provide context of the world for players.

Live events hold a great appeal for one strong reason -- they are unique, non-repeatable content. In games where we make sure that everyone can do everything all the time forever and ever, we take away a measure of uniqueness in our own content. Now I'm not saying that repeatable content is bad, on the contrary. Repeatable content is necessary to keep a player interested when they're not playing these events.

But live events are unique, and that uniqueness can be utilized to give the illusion of a changing, evolving world, even if you alter none of the coding and add in no new content. Adding in, then, a string of live events to document a story arc leading up to your next big content release, however, gives your world a history. And it gives more than a history -- it gives players a reason to give a damn about how their own actions may affect the world and the non-player characters around them. It gives them context for their heroic deeds.

Newer games don't let you get to know your character. You're just a pre-defined schmuck who wears the same clothing as everyone else, kills the same monsters as everyone else, and solves absolutely nothing in the world -- just like everyone else. The developer believes that their amazing content is making you feel heroic. Well, surprise surprise, it doesn't make you feel heroic at all. Because, as the Pixar move "The Incredibles" teaches us, "When everyone is heroic, no one is." Heroism is the default choice, and that makes it non-heroic.

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