Hyperspace Beacon: It's against my programming to impersonate a deity

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Hyperspace Beacon: It's against my programming to impersonate a deity
We all know what god-mode means from Doom, right? It pretty much meant that you could mow through all the monsters without blinking an eye, you had every weapon at your disposal, and you could not get hurt. What if we were to take this god-mode idea, move it away from game mechanics, and apply it toward character development in an RPG? To be honest, we would get the main character in most RPGs, right? Taking a look at the main character in my favorite BioWare game, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect 2, we find that she (yes, Shepard was a woman, and you can't tell me otherwise) is the best at what she does and is pretty close to flawless. Wouldn't you agree? She wins every battle, and the galaxy (as noted in the Mass Effect 3 trailer) is counting on her to save it from destruction.

In literary terms, we call this a Mary Sue. It is a situation in which the author exemplifies himself in the main character of the story. These stories tend to be boring or ridiculous because the main character can do no wrong no matter how preposterous or illogical his decisions may be. If you read comic books, Wolverine (in my opinion) is a prime example of this. What happens if we take this concept and put it in a setting where there are thousands of people playing the same game or even competing in some cases? You get a bunch of gods competing for the same throne in a no-win situation. BioWare has said that our character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is not going to be just any Bounty Hunter (or Smuggler or Trooper) but the best Bounty Hunter. How is that going to impact the story and our interactions with other players from an in-character perspective? For a game that is "putting the RP back in the MMORPG," this is dangerous ground.

I know there are some gamers who pay no attention to story, and it's all about having the stats for their gear. I think that's great; I know some really wonderful players who do just that. They are fun to game with, and surprisingly, they are some of the most helpful players in an MMO. However, there is a good chunk of people who like to involve themselves in the story. Even if they don't consider themselves roleplayers, that is exactly what they are doing: roleplaying. There is also a large section of gamers who do consider themselves roleplayers, who hold the story and character development higher than any other part of the game. It is these last two groups that I would like to focus on today.

When I play Star Wars Galaxies, I do it for the roleplay. Starsider and the folks at Starsidergalaxy.com have created an incredible environment to develop and discuss roleplay. Those who have played SWG for a while may remember the guild Have Gun, Will Travel. I remember a discussion I had with some of its members. We talked about god-mode and the fact that everyone does it. One of the members coined the phrase, "Gotta love god-mode." We decided that god-mode was OK if there was a consensus among the participants that it helped propel the story forward, but the main point was that it could not happen all the time. If it did, then the story would become stagnant.

Enter Star Wars: The Old Republic. Remember that everyone is the best at what he does? When laying out the characters for an adventure story, a good writer will find characters who complement each other. In a heist movie, you don't have two expert safe-crackers unless there are two safes to crack. From a story perspective, why would two Bounty Hunters who are the best ever team up, especially since each of these Bounty Hunters has his own crew that complements him already?

BioWare and LucasArts have really pushed the fourth pillar. (For those who have not been paying attention for the last two years, the fourth pillar is story.) They have said that story is the missing piece from MMOs. I totally agree. I can't think how many times I've stopped reading quest text after level 10 in MMO"RPGs" because I've realized that what I was reading was not the important part. The important part was going to point A, clicking on the shiny, then going back to the quest giver -- rinse and repeat.

Back to Have Gun, Will Travel: We also came to the conclusion that the story SWG gave us did not count toward the development of our characters because it was all the same, and within that story, our characters could not fail. We were "the best." Questing was all done out-of-character or vapor-gamed as a type of training simulation. It never became an integral part of our character development. The events that happened in-character were only those that happened with other characters, generally speaking. There were a few of us who liked to roleplay by ourselves, but we won't talk about that here. Basically, the actual gameplay became a tool to get the skills, gear, and look we wanted for portraying our character. Guess what just happened? We just became the players I mentioned at the beginning: the ones who pay no attention to story (at least not the stories the developers made).

If you combine the situation in which there is no reason for two (or more) characters who are "the best" to team up and the way that roleplayers handle a Mary Sue/god-mode storyline, you wind up with yet another group that is going to ignore the fourth pillar -- you know, the part of the game BioWare has pushed so hard.

Let me remind you that this is an opinion piece, and let me also remind you that, despite knowing people who are working on the game and in game testing, I have done my best to avoid getting "insider" information unless I was going to report on it. In short: I know what you know. My hope is that I am way off base. However, if I am not, then SWTOR will have a really good single-player story that has no direct effect on character development.

Have no fear; there are solutions. We know there will be group quests. Perhaps the stories in these quests will be logical enough to repeat over and over. Or maybe, if you can only logically do the quest once, you can do it with your guild or other group of roleplayers and play out the event in-character. Of course, you can handle it the way I will most likely handle the situation. I am not really "the best" despite what all the NPCs say, and the events that happen will be more of a vapor-game -- meaning that the events sort of happened the way I play them out, but the specifics are kind of fuzzy.

Regardless, I still believe SWTOR will be an amazing game with an amazing story. I will enjoy playing out the stories on many, many alts. I will just be disappointed if I cannot apply that great story to my roleplay character. What are your thoughts?

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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