Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Developing Character Backstories in MMORPGs

Thank you to Steve "Slurms" Lichtsinn over at Multiplaying for letting me guest post on their blog. Here is the article I wrote, with minor modifications:

So, you just started your new character in World of Warcraft (or one of those other, lesser, MMORPGs ;) ). You immediately get a quest or mission or whatever they call it in this game, go kill/collect/deliver whatever or whoever and report back. So off you go, continuing through quests and increasing in experience/level/skill. How exciting! But you may come to the point where you ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" I don't mean playing the game, hopefully you're doing that because it's fun. More like, "Why would my character agree to accomplish this task for someone?" As actors of the Method school might say, "What is my motivation?"
A Motivational Speech
This is when the "Role-Playing" in MMORPG becomes important. I am not talking about sitting around Cantrips and Crows in Dalaran or The Prancing Pony in Bree and saying "thee, thou, and forsooth." Though if that's your thing, more power to you; I am glad you enjoy it. I don't generally do much of that in my own game play. What I am talking about is increasing the depth of your character. In real life, we make decisions every day based on our values--how we were brought up--and current circumstances and necessities. You may work because you need the money, and that is an excellent motivation in-game and in RL. But I bet you chose how you earn your RL money based on a completely different set of not-primarily-financial reasons. By the same token, your character may take a quest for the money, but why is your character a rogue, or a barbarian, or a science officer? You have a background, does your avatar?

Most of the characters I create for the MMORPGs that I play have some sort of backstory, even if it is only in my own imagination. I think of them as having come from somewhere. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what to name them. In World of Warcraft, this is complicated by the need to have a unique name. Having a good name, and not just some random Elvish or Caldari sounding mix of letters, is vital to the background of your avatar. Of course, that random jumble may be a good jumping off point. My first Bridge Officer, Tarah,  in Star Trek Online still has her original random name as a "short name," though I did a little research and developed a full (though non-canon) Andorian name for her as part of her background. Her captain, Rowan Starblanket, has a middle name culled from an online Vulcan dictionary.
You'll probably want to know where your character is from in the game world. This can lead to other motivations based on the history of their homeland or homeworld. My twins in WoW, Rowanblaze and Hollyhammer, lost their home and family to an Orc incursion in the Redridge Mountains, and their upbringing in the shadow of the Cathedral of Light as orphans plays into their classes (priest and paladin) and their talent specializations. In EVE online, to have an Amarrian character means a natural inclination toward a certain set of religious values, perhaps even fanaticism. Or your character may rebel against that background and be a heretic. Gallentes would be perhaps more mercenary or at least mercantile in their outlook on life.

As your characters progress through the game, the tasks they complete and places they go become part of the background of the character. Different locales and situations have a greater or lesser impact on their motivations. These things don't even have to occur in-game. My aforementioned paladin, Hollyhammer, spent time with the the Scarlet Crusade before recognizing the fanatic cult for what it was, and escaping. Of course, in-game it is not really possible to join the Scarlet Crusade. But Holly's mildly fanatical attitude made that a logical thing to include in her story.
Your character doesn't have to have your own personality. You may be Mother Teresa in real life, but your avatar is a nefarious assassin, or a brutal warrior. The opposite may also be true. I would not surprised, however, if your toons are a reflection of you to some degree. Now you may want to to write down an elaborate summary of your character's life so far. You may even end up writing stories about your character's adventures. Or you may want to just have it in the back of your mind as you play. Either way, I would guess your avatar will become more of a living, breathing character instead of just pixels on the screen.

Oh, and READ the mission/quest/task before accepting it. Otherwise killing those Kobolds or Tusken Raiders serves no real purpose, and you might as well be playing Street Fighter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

WoW, I Actually Choked Up a Little

So my GF went and got World of Warcraft and the first two expansions, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, and installed them on her computer. So we've been playing together online for a few sessions. We did the the Recruit-a-Friend thing to tie our accounts together, and it has been cool to get the extra XP. GeeCee was right though: we seem to be leveling ourselves right out of the zones we're supposed to be playing in. Which is good neither for learning lore nor for learning how to control your character, if you're new to the game and to MMORPGs in general. I decided it didn't matter, we'll continue on the lore path and not worry about the XP, because it does make the World a little safer when you're overpowered for the zone you're in.
DGF does have some problems steering, even with a conventional mouse. She has a tendency to push the mouse forward as she runs, which causes the camera angle to climb until she is looking at the sky. We both figure this is something she'll get used to correcting until it becomes automatic for her. I need to look at her video settings, too, to see what can be sacrificed so she can have a decent frame rate.
I have also been playing a new Troll Druid on Silvermoon, named Pawpaw Legba. It was interesting to talk to the druid trainer and find out the lore behind the new ability of the Trolls to become druids. The tutorial quest line started a little different than some of the other noob areas I have been playing, and ended up a little more epic, I think, (spoiler) as Pawpaw Legba was called upon to assist in consolidating the Troll foothold on the Echo Isles. Maybe the other noob quest lines have stuff like it, but I haven't seen it. I got to see the reason for Vol'jin's departure from Orgrimmar, and I wonder if it occurred before or after Cairne Bloodhoof's death at the hands of Garrosh Hellscream. Oh! and talk about "on rails," there were a couple times that I was told to get on a raptor mount and was taken straight to the location of the next quest. No getting lost here. From the beginning, there was an NPC noob that I would encounter here and there throughout the quest line. Unfortunately, he was killed in the climactic battle on the Islands before I was sent to the mainland. I was actually a little shocked and saddened by it. I guess I got a little too involved, lol.
I have also enjoyed the changes to the Forsaken noob zone at Deathknell (playing as Bleeding Lily) but I have not gotten as far there, again playing with my lovely GF. :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Project WoW Noob: Rowan's GF Edition

So I had my own Project WoW Noob on Saturday, and thought I might post about it here, so as not to steal thunder from Jarira. I probably won't be continuing this as a series like GeeCee, though.
Having played D&D as a teen, my GF expressed some interest in checking out World of Warcraft. So I jumped on the Silvermoon realm and had her create a character on my account to try it out. She chose a Blood Elf Paladin. I had hoped she would pick a different race that had seen more changes to their noob quests, but the BElfs are so pretty. She had some fun with the customization screen before hitting the "That Name is unavailable" roadblock. We got over it as this was only going to be a trial toon anyway, and she entered the World.  The race intro started and we learned about the glorious past of the Blood Elf Pe--her phone rang. It was her daughter, so she had to take it. I logged her toon out and started a dummy toon just so she could see the intro in full. I personally love the sense of story I get when listening to these; plus the fly-throughs of areas long familiar to me, but which will brand new to her.

Logging her back in, I directed her to talk to the first quest-giver. She had a hard time using my Logitech M570 to steer, as she rarely uses a mouse at all, thanks to her iPhone and netbook. Plus, the mouse controls steering and camera angle at the same time, which can be tough for a noob. So she ended up using the arrow keys, which made me dizzy as the world spun around her. Also, being a pally meant that she had no ranged ability to start with, so she had to be right on top of the target to whack at it the first time. And those darn mana wyrms wouldn't sit still.
Still, she rapidly improved, using a combination of arrow keys and the mouse to target and attack her prey on the various quests. I have a few addons (OK, a ton), but I really like the relatively new WoW map and quest guide, so I have dropped Questhelper. She misunderstood a couple quests, (spoiler) like the first one from the trainer in which you are supposed to learn a new ability and use it on the target dummies. My GF thought that the ability had already been learned and proceeded to find a target dummy, to no avail.

She spent the better part of the morning wandering around Sunstrider Isle with me sitting beside her on the couch giving tips and advice. I tried to avoid giving to much advice, letting her stumble though mistakes but helping when she asked. We didn't have some of gaffes encountered by GeeCee and Jarira, who are not playing in the same room. Heh, I wasn't playing at all actually. The one thing that I did do for her was jump off the top of the Falthrien Academy into the water below, greatly shortening the trip, but not a move for novices.
We had fun laughing at her noobish blunders, but in the end she had done pretty well. It was interesting for me to see things that I normally take for granted through the eyes of a new player, like how to equip new armor, how to decide what weapon to equip, etc. She had enough fun that she wants to play more, though we haven't decided whether we're going to use a dormant second account of mine, or if she will get an independent one. Plus, she's not sure if her current computer can handle the game client. I may be buying RAM for Christmas.