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MMO Blender: Game of Thrones, MUDs, and the perfect quest text


Nothing seems to suck me into a game more than a good story. The brilliant thing is that the story doesn't have to be complicated or intense as long as it's original and easy to follow. I want characters to meet, locations to discover. I need to immerse myself into a story more than I need to raise a level or obtain powerful loot. In this edition of MMO Blender, I wanted to use three main games as prime examples of systems that, when combined together in some form, would deliver the best story-driven experience I can imagine.

There are several factors to consider: story, movement, character, and interaction. I want to use War of Dragons as an example of movement in a mostly text environment, Gemstone IV for character and interaction, and Game of Thrones Ascent for story. Hopefully, when I am done, I'll have convinced someone to give me a few million dollars to create this dream MMO.

Gemstone IV screenshot
I'll like to look at Gemstone IV first. There are a lot of MUDs out there that are still active and ongoing, but I have found none as impressive and modern (as modern as a MUD can be) as Gemstone IV. The developers have kept the site relatively modern-looking, and one of the preferred launchers, called StormFront, works perfectly with the text-based world. You can look at creatures and actually see a hand-drawn picture, or you can rely on descriptions of everything to get you what you need. Interacting with the world is a lot of fun. You can type commands in order to do most anything from attacking a creature to moving to the next area.

"Interacting with a standard MMO has been streamlined to such a point that we hardly notice that we are doing it. We grab a quest, make our avatar run to the next point, and then hit a bunch of other buttons."

What I truly love about using text to do almost everything in the game is the fact that it makes me slow down. The StormFront launcher does provide some quick-buttons to speed up certain activities like attacking a creature, but I almost always use typed commands instead. Interacting with a standard MMO has been streamlined to such a point that we hardly notice that we are doing it. We grab a quest, make our avatar run to the next point, and then hit a bunch of other buttons. When we have to literally spell out what we want to do, like "go door" for example, we are directly involved with every action, so the pace of the world slows down. It's possible to take action and slow it down to the point that we can be aware of every swing of the sword or casting of a spell and it still feels like combat. It's like how people describe a fight or car wreck they were involved in: They remember it all as if it had taken place in slow motion, but in fact it was over in seconds. A good MUD like Gemstone IV brings out that same feeling.

Gemstone IV screenshot
Building a character in Gemstone IV is an awesome experience. It takes real time, but eventually can result in a long-loved hero who, upon inspection, can be described to minute detail. I've met players in game who were described to me in such detail that I didn't have time to read everything in their description, but I surely went away with a fantastic idea about how they looked and even smelled. MUDs are all about building a character in depth because they do not have the luxury of presenting players with a literal, three-dimensional avatar. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but MUDs are great evidence as to why those words can often do a better job than the picture.

War of Dragons screenshot
For movement in my semi-MUD-like game, I would like to point to War of Dragons. There are a few interesting systems in the game, but one of my favorites is the one that dictates travel. Your character "moves" through the game by visiting actual paintings. Each painting represents an area that could be described as a zone in other games. If you visit an area and want to move to the next one, you need to wait a certain amount of time. That time can be shortened in a few ways, but a mount is usually the best. A mount essentially shortens the amount of time before you can move on. It's a brilliant mechanic and could be represented by text in a MUD. In fact, I wish Gemstone IV had a similar system because it would fit into the slower pace of the game. I've followed other players in Gemstone IV before and was led around at breakneck speed. It felt unrealistic. If there was a time limit on how fast you could move through each "scene," it would make me feel as if I were really travelling.

Game of Thrones Ascent screenshot
Lastly I would love to point to one of my favorite new social, pseudo-MMOs, Game of Thrones Ascent, to illustrate story. I wish more MMOs would learn from Game of Thrones Ascent and would stop piling walls of text on us while we play. Game of Thrones Ascent introduces us to an intriguing series of stories but does it just enough -- no more, no less. Yet, each one of the parts of the story leads to another part, and the decisions we make open up or close other branches in the story's tree. How many of us can say we actually read the quest text in MMOs anymore? As a sign of the poor state of quest text in most MMOs, many of the quests come with a summary at the bottom, basically a TL;DR for those who want nothing to do with the details. The quests in Game of Thrones Ascent are meaningful and sometimes even moving even though they're rarely more than a small paragraph.

Combine these together and you might have a MUD-like game that makes us slow down to make meaningful decisions that result in a character that we can grow over years and years. We'll be able to describe our characters away from being generic. A real, epic weapon will read as such, custom-designed by us and no one else. I can only wish that the success of a game like Game of Thrones Ascent will influence other developers to make more of the same.

Have you ever wanted to make the perfect MMO, an idealistic compilation of all your favorite game mechanics? MMO Blender aims to do just that. Join the Massively staff every Friday as we put our ideas to the test and create either the ultimate MMO... or a disastrous frankengame!

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