Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Steeped in Lore, or Heroes and Dragons

Syl, the MMO Gypsy, held forth last week on the proper place for storytelling, and that MMOs aren't it. I was all set to disagree, but she's right on this one. But it's a matter of semantics. There's a difference between story, narrative, and lore. Stories that don't end are problems in other media, like television, where for the sake of making more money, producers drag out a story until it feels stretched as thin as a ship on the edge of a singularity. Stories necessarily come to an end, something that is detrimental to the persistent world of an MMO. Lore on the other hand, is something that can be discovered, something that determines the architecture of a city, the costume of a people, the music of a tavern, the gossip of an innkeeper.

An MMO should be steeped in lore, and scant on overarching story. Vanilla WoW felt perfect in that what was going on at endgame wasn't necessarily world shattering or saving. Sure there was some palace intrigue, but then you went off to kill the dragon in her lair, and that was that. Although there are some that say even that didn't work because the Dragon was still in the palace in Human form, poisoning the minds of the Regent and the Prince.
Adventuring in Elwynn
I could be wrong, maybe all those endgame raids and the quests leading up to them were epic in the sense of being World Changing Events—that didn't change the world at all. I liked the little "stories" in Dun Morogh and Elwynn Forest, back when I was just an adventurer and not a Hero. Get you some boar ribs and you'll teach me to cook stuff? Sure thing! Help a Juliet meet with her Romeo? No problem, sounds romantic. Blizzard painted themselves into a corner with all the epicness of WotLK and beyond, and I haven't really enjoyed since it just before Cataclysm. (Stopped playing long ago.)
She's an Engineer, what's with the magic glow?
I would much prefer a game where I am simply an adventurer that may help out the locals with a gang problem or a nasty ogre. GW2 does an OK job of this outside the personal story, though the first act is pretty good with the PC helping get friends out of trouble, winning a competition, or going on a spiritual journey. Only later when it turns all epic, and we defeat the BIG Dragon at the End of the World, does it get kind of flat. Tyria definitely has a sense of history though. Even if I never played the original Guild Wars, I can still see the effects of that history in the ruins of Ascalon and other areas of that world, much like Azeroth bears the scars of previous incarnations of the RTS Warcraft.
U.S.S. Templar, escort for the U.S.S. Peregrine
STO did pretty well, too I think. Even though my "stature" as a Starship Captain was a little higher in that universe, I still was only one of many. My superior officer gave me assignments, and I fulfilled them, much like Captains Kirk, Picard, et al. This may change a bit in the upper ranks, but I don't think it does. But talk about lore! STO is definitely steeped in it.
Sneaky, sneaky
I think TSW does this, too, though YMMV. :) As you may know, most of the missions start out with cutscenes. Most of these though, offer a little background by way of conversation with an NPC without directly saying, "I need you to go kill 10 rats and bring back their tails." My favorite set-ups have been those where my character eavesdrops on a conversation and then acts to counter the intentions of the bad guys.

My lovely bride and I made it into Milosh's camp of Draculești last night in the Shadowy Forest. He mockingly greeted each of us with:
You're not that special, but we appreciate your help.
"Hah! At last the Chosen One is here. . . You aren't the first to come here seeking glory and riches, and you will not be the last."
TSW is full of reminders that the player character is simply an agent of their faction, one of many. I'm OK with that.


  1. MMOs fail at telling the Hero's Journey, which most traditional CRPGs have been telling since the dawn of CRPGs. GW2 and TOR follow suit, attempting to make each character The Chosen One, some big world-saving Hero. And largely failing at doing so; everyone can't be the One True Hero. It's another example of the adage "if everyone is special, then no one is." I do appreciate that TSW does not go down that route; it isn't "your" story, it's "your faction's" story at best, and usually the story of "the secret world" that affects all the factions.

    Now, as for making one's own story, that sounds great but it's also very difficult in the traditional themepark game because everyone gets to consume the exact same content in the same way. The only difference would be maybe you did such-and-such quests in a different order than I did. But we both performed the same actions for the same NPC story and received the same rewards.

    One concept I've had for awhile now is for an MMO to use each NPC as an individual "reputation" but *never* show the number to the player. Each NPC has a relation with others so increasing your rep with one NPC means getting more and better content and rewards but also automatically losing content from other NPCs who do not like the first NPC, as well as getting more hostile or negative "story" text from them. But this means tripling the amount of content the devs have to create as well as drastically increasing the database usage, so I don't see anyone trying this for awhile.

    1. You're right, Single player CRPGs can tell the Hero's Journey, but no one expect to play them for years on end. Which is exactly Syl's point (and mine). I know you like the sandbox style more than themepark; I guess I would too, if it didn't seem to involve so much backstabbing "emergent" PvP.

      I do wonder where along the line RPGs became the heroes' journey. Not that I played much at all, but old-school AD&D seemed to be about dungeon crawling and adventuring, not about Saving the World. More Conan and less Aragorn. Maybe most PnPs still are like that. I wish more MMOs were.

  2. The griefing PvP is why I don't play sandbox MMOs -- there aren't any that don't push PvP to the forefront. I think my opinion of RPGPvP is known well enough by now. :) That and today's sandboxes are by and large big piles of fail anyway.

    Now, if Richard Garriott and Raph Koster teamed up on a worldy MMO (Raph's term) that can be independently developed (ie. no publisher input) then maybe I'd be drooling. Actually, no maybe, I'd need a full-on Geek Bib.

    That said, RPGPvP or not, I do think PvP should be an important part of the world design but the world needs to be built with that in mind first. Territorial conquest, and what happens both pro and con if your side takes or loses a given territory? More importantly, how do you get ardent PvE-only players to actively enthusiastically participate in the overarching war without participating in the battle itself which those players don't enjoy? That needs to be one of the first questions answered in the design process. PvP needs to be meaningful not just a scoreboard, and the PvP and PvE spheres of play need to be linked synergistically rather than separated by an impenetrable wall.

    1. That does sound interesting, a way to contribute to a PvP effort without actually competing if you don't want to.

  3. I'm in complete agreement. Being The One Hero in an MMO is neither feasible nor desirable and a million shards of story are far more compelling than a single Story. And when it comes down to it, *everything* is a matter of semantics.

    1. Hehe, I find that most arguments I have on the internet are over definitions rather than concepts.

      I knew you'd agree, since a chunk of this post is taken my comment on MMO Gypsy where I agreed with you.