Wednesday, November 21, 2007

MMORPG Series: Part I – "The Story"

This component of MMORPG gaming is often overlooked and underdeveloped by the MMO developers and most of the current MMO games have little to no story. Many players view this as more of a role-playing aspect of the game and don’t participate or get involved with it much.

The story of a MMORPG world and how the player characters interact with the story is an important part of any MMORPG. The key to any story is to intertwine the player characters story with that of the world. This feat is difficult to accomplish without appearing too cookie cutter in its presentation. Really how many of the player character’s brothers, sisters, mother, father or some other significant relation died during the “Great War” or were killed by some “Nefarious Entity”?

So for a MMORPG story to work it, needs to be general with respect to the player history. But it needs to draw the player in and cause him to care about the story and what happens to those involved.

Above all else, a players actions need to help drive the story. Does this mean that the players make the story? Perhaps, but the story should have its own outline and direction. A player’s status with major NPC's should be driven by the player’s actions. If a player runs around slaughtering innocent people, good NPC’s should become hostile to that player and the evil NPC’s should view the player more favorably. The NPC’s have an agenda of their own and as long as the player is going along with that agenda, they will assist the player character in any way they can.

In any good story you must have sides. Whether overtly good and evil or more shades of gray, the story often involves conflict between two or more parties, each with conflicting agendas. To me this is what drives the story.

Even the greatest story can be totally ignored by a large portion of the player population. The trick is to forcing the players to participate without them realizing it. The biggest way to make this possible is to make player choices in game mean something. Gaining access to goods, services or areas is a good way to reward players for the choices they have made in game.

In the end any MMORPG with a good story that involves the player characters is on its way to becoming a good game.


Lars said...

Do players really want stories? The last time I checked, most players skip the dialogue entirely. When I played Guild Wars, which was a very story-driven game, I would always be the only one who wanted to watch the cut scenes, even before the game was released when no one had been through the missions yet.

I think "gaining access to goods, services, or areas" actually makes it so that most players care less about the story since they focus more on the achievements and progression.

The bullet points in the quest helper that tell us what to kill next are all the story most players seem to want.

Corwin.EoL said...

I agree that most of the MMORPG players pay little to no attention to what the NPC's say. I've been guilty of this myself.

But is the constant race to get exp, loot, etc. a good thing?

Right now as it stands in most games, you do quests and interact with NPC to get something. They hardly ever affect a story being told.

In EQ2 most quests are just ways to get exp or equipment. One quest I liked in particular was the Fire and Ice and the Deception quests. There was a story behind that, though most are oblivious of it.

A poor example of a quest driving a story is the P1,P2 and P3 quest lines. They seem to go on and on with little to no story development.

Get rid of the bullets, make the player have to read to understand what he needs to do.

The Knights of the Old Republic RPG series did an excellent job at telling a story and getting the player involved in it. Now this wasn't an MMO, but perhaps the gaming industry can take from this experience and add it to MMO's.

Don't get me wrong, "The Story" is just one part of the gaming equation.

Corwin.EoL said...

Sorry P1 is the Fire and Ice/Deception quests. :D

Rushka the Dirge said...

Sorry for necro posting on this one Corwin :)

I agree that MMORPG's should have a good solid story and a nice depth of lore.

I know most players are "click, click, click through the quest and that's okay for them.

I like to read the dialogue and know how it fits into the lore and background of what's going on.

One thing that surprised me about WoW was its depth of lore. I liked that a lot and sometimes feel EQ2 is lacking there.

I hope we don't end up with no lore and just killing for xp etc. Might as well play FPS if that's the case ;-)