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MMO or MM oh no?

I have to admit to being completely underwhelmed by most of the massively multiplayer online (MMO) games currently on the market. I have fought Kobolds in World Of Warcraft, killed more rats in Everquest 1 and 2 than I can care to count, had my lightspeeder in Star Wars Galaxies and killed galactic rats but I find myself always wanting more.

My first involvement in the roleplay genre was way back in the late 80s with the development of a series of titles called "Midwinter" (anyone remember them?) with my friend Mike Singleton (the great "Singo" who singlehandely brought us one of the first RPGs to grace a domestic computer with his landmark Lords Of Midnight game). In Midwinter and its followup titles we had interactions with game characters who spawned a series of quests and tasks. If you add the quality of todays graphics, add other players and hey presto you have just about every MMORPG on the market.

Therein is my big problem, all these online games that offer us adventure beyond our wildest dreams (well according to the box blurb anyway) are generally offering us the opportunity to stand in front of a rat variant and hit the kill button. Kill 50 and bring back the King Rat's head, take a short break and repeat with another target character that has exactly the same program code and a different visual mesh.

Yep, for me all these games are not so much massively multiplayer, but massively dumbed down! I want to go out and adventure, I want to explore and solve puzzles. I really do not mind if I have to kill something all evening or not. Yes, I want Tomb Raider style puzzles and the type of puzzles we used to put in the old text adventures importing into the MMO genre so it is an adventure and not just a "kill and collect" fest.

Who is to blame for this malaise in gaming, the developer or consumer. In reality a vicious circle of both. A new generation of gamers have sprung up who only know this game mechanic. To them adventuring is about getting the next level or some uber item in a dashing frenzy of online homicide. There are those who try and break this trend, for example Dungeons And Dragons Online (and yes, I am well aware of its flaws and pitfalls) but they have hardly made a dent in revenues compared to the WoW and Everquests, quite simply now because many gamers think that is what gaming is all about, the industry has shepherded them into that mindset. So now, if the industry wants to actually add a real depth of gameplay and do something different we face resistance from those with a gameplay mentality we have created. So the industry churns out more grinding kill fests to satisfy that demand and the vicious circle continues.

In a recent personal chat with one of the senior executives responsible for a major MMO that is a massive hit, he confided to me that gameplay came second to being an online chatroom, where killing the creatures was just a focal point, almost an excuse for what in reality is a big social event.

Call me a traditionalist, but I really want a huge MMO world where I can actually feel part of the environment, where I can actually think my way through various puzzles and follow a solid plot where I am not just an online ratcatcher, the Pied Piper of the Internet. I still enjoy the old text adventures (thank heavens for emulators)!. Maybe I am just growing old :)

Until next time

Asheron's Call

Asheron's Call is probably the only game I've played that comes close the puzzles formula. The way they did this was to update with new content every month (a major commitment from a company). It would (and still does) progress the storyline and give people new things to try to discover. Yes, spoilers cropped up once someone figured it out, but just because someone put up spoilers didn't mean you had to read them. Of course, they also had one-time quests and items that the first person to get it was the only person to ever get it. That created a whole different set of issues, but also truly created the concept of heroes on the individual servers.

There were riddles and assorted puzzles in Asheron's Call though, maybe that's why I loved it so. It is very possible to do within the confines of an MMO, but only if a company is willing to make the commitment Turbine does with AC, with monthly updates to progress story and add content.

Killer Betties
Proud Mother of 2 little boys, Nicky and Z

Interesting read.

So, read that. And I can agree with you, at least to an extent.

While some of the early-MMO game is the kill-fest you mention, the high end game is a totally different beast. There is a surprising amount of depth of gameplay in pioneering new territory and taking down monsters without using other people's strategies -- there is even if you do.

For example, in World of Warcraft, my raid alliance is working on Nefarian. The execution on this fight is huge and we're still having a hard time with it -- we're getting there, though, and have a solid group of people.

Sadly, I don't think the idea of a classic RPG would translate well into the MMO world. See, there'd be a ton of spoiler sites out there to solve all these puzzles (I assume they'd all be instanced as, if they weren't, there'd be another whole can of worms to open up). The game would essentially be ruined.

As for plot, Guild Wars actually came pretty close to having one. the story was moderately enjoyable. Not the greatest, but not bad either. WoW has a plot if you try to find it, though a lot of details are going to be vague if you haven't read up on the back story of the world.

And not all MMOs have to be grinding kill fests. WoW actually does a good job of giving gamers a chance to play through the game without ever grinding -- you can quest the whole way through the game if you look hard enough for the quests and explore. SWG was a game more centered around roleplay than the grinding killfest, at least in the beginning.

And, from what I remember, most of the regular CRPGs I've played had quests that were just variants of the "kill a rat, loot a corpse" too. Sure, they were disguised under "Go talk to this NPC, find out what his problem is" type deals, but they generally ended up with "go kill these rats". It just took awhile to get to the point.

So what am I trying to say? I guess you could say that I feel MMOs are really here to stay. An old-school RPG simply wouldn't translate well into an MMORPG -- once you finish the story, what are you supposed to do? That's the big issue -- MMORPGs have staying power because of the way they're crafted. A regular single-player RPG lasts only until you've gone through all the puzzles and seen the story -- nothing to keep you paying $15 a month.

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