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Reader Comments (9)

Posted: Dec 29th 2007 10:39AM Twinkle Tits said

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Hmmm...fallout pic, fallout story but no tag and no mention of fallout ?

Posted: Dec 29th 2007 10:55AM (Unverified) said

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That's what I was thinking. Maybe it's in one of the links?
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Posted: Dec 29th 2007 11:11AM Krystalle Voecks said

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The image was linked to Fallout's site, but per our image policies, I've gone back and added in proper image credit showing the domain from whence it came. I apologize for the oversight on image credit.
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Posted: Dec 29th 2007 11:00AM Ghen said

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Fantasy also solves a normal problem in MMOs.. how to handle death. "Magic!"

Kinda a little harder to do death in post-apocalyptic or sci-fi and near impossible to write the story behind resurrection in WWII.

Posted: Dec 29th 2007 11:25AM Krystalle Voecks said

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Well, there's always cloning. After all, you couldn't have a good game of Paranoia without clones. ;)

The computer is your friend!
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Posted: Dec 29th 2007 7:12PM (Unverified) said

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My apologies on the Fallout error, it was late when I finished this all up.

Magic is a really big crutch for fantasy since it can be an explanation for any sort of in-game strangeness. Figuring out how to explain things without magic is certainly a challenge. A modern or sci-fi MMO with an original setting will probably have the easiest time coming up with explanations for different issues. On the flip side, a game like Star Trek is probably going to struggle a bit with the player death as a mechanic.

I suppose if you wanted to be lazy you could create a world where the science is so advanced it nearly is like magic. Although at that point you're treading a line between fantasy and sci-fi, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Posted: Jan 1st 2008 1:42AM (Unverified) said

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"All the more reason to evolve beyond fantasy."

If I understand correctly, you are saying that one of the main reasons for the domination of the fantasy genre is its familiarity, and that is also the reason to move to something else?

Or are there other answers to the "Why fantasy?" question that you also feel are also justifications for doing something other than fantasy?

I understand that you also mentioned the character-centric aspect of fantasy's heroic arc as being tired, but you went on to say that the character-centric aspect of fantasy could be achieved with a different genre.

As I see the heroic arc being central to the value of fantasy's focus on individuals, I'm getting what I think you meant to be two separate points all muddled together.

That is, altogether it's not really an argument against it so much as an argument against fantasy being necessary to do it... which is fine... but if it's old and busted, then wouldn't the argument against "fantasy for the sake of the focus on individual characters" more reasonably be, "You shouldn't be doing the heroic arc thing again anyway."

I'm not presenting the above as a strawman tactic, but just to explain my confusion. That is, I don't think that's actually what you are saying, but I'm just reading it wrong.

Can you elaborate more on the distinction between heroic-arc and being character-centered?

On a different note: I think it's important to point out that Bartle's "why fantasy?" question was really addressing a more specific genre than "fantasy". He's really speaking specifically of the "swords and sorcery" genre - medieval European knights and wizards-type fantasy.

No fair appealing to Star Wars - it is fantasy. And though that approach to moving beyond fantasy (dressing up the swords-and-sorcery genre in sci-fi drag) worked great for the Star Wars movies, it's been harshly criticized by MMO fans.

Random thought: One of the best things to come of this discussion, I think, would be the identification of the critical elements of the fantasy genre that have lead to it being the predominant genre - so that anyone who does attempt to colonize some new territory will know what they need to replace or take with them.

Another random thought: Once upon a time, almost all the movies made and the vast majority of the big hits were Westerns. The breadth and duration of that genre's dominance on motion pictures absolutely dwarfs the predominance of fantasy in MMOs... Without anyone really feeling any particular need to combat that fact, eventually things changed.

A "Why Westerns?" discussion in which the assumption being challenged is that westerns will forever dominate the motion picture industry would seem pretty silly to us now.

Could be that challenging the current assumption about fantasy turns out to be funny, if the assumption itself winds-up being silly.

Posted: Jan 1st 2008 6:29AM (Unverified) said

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Hey Jeff,

Before I address your inquiries I'd like to start off by saying thanks for the comment! I always love a good discussion.

What I was getting at with the fantasy familiarity is this:

Everyone knows fantasy quite well because it's an old concept in human culture (as opposed to sci-fi). I imagine that in time -- just as was with westerns -- fantasy games will thin down greatly and another genre will become popularized. Maybe "Why fantasy?" will seem silly and instead "Why sci-fi?" will become the new question in ten years.

The heroic-arc is something that is quite essential to the MMO (unless you can figure out a new tactical mechanic for players to progress evenly through a game in solo or team-based settings.) and that's why I said, "A better idea would be to find other ways to give players that feeling of heroism bit by bit." The concept I choose to spotlight was more choice or interactivity for the player in regards to their world and character within that world. Because this mechanic is the bread and butter of any MMO, it really has to be evolved one step at a time. So yes, while what I suggested isn't a huge departure from what fantasy games do now, it would at least give players something somewhat new to experience.

Lets see if I can explain this part without things getting too convoluted. I like to think of the heroic arc as it exists right now as a stairway. Some games have a pretty good progression to that stairway, letting you fight bigger, meaner and generally more awe-inspiring opponents. Instead of just that one stairway, I was suggesting that it would be a good idea to offer the player a few meaningful detours along their climb to the upper echelons. Little branches that can either drop a player down into quests where they're fighting weaker opponents but gaining something from that quest (This actually fills the need for some players who want to occasionally feel like they're that big strong hero who pummels the weak villains troubling innocents.) or a branch that twists quests into moral choices that the player gets to make. Ideally this choice would have some kind of meaningful impact on that player. Tabula Rasa sort of tried that second part, but from what I've seen it really didn't do too much with it. I could be wrong on that, though.

The character-driven side -- to me -- is more about the characters that inhabit the world that the player is within instead of the player's actual character. I suppose the terminology is just a bit confusing more than anything else. My point here is that sci-fi and fantasy both are character-driven as well as idea-driven. Lord of the Rings was about fighting for your home and freedom as much as it was about Gandalf, Frodo and crew. Any fan of Serenity or Star Wars can tell you their absolute favorite characters. It was a claim made during a round-table on the topic that Zen of Design had posted a long while back. It just seemed incredibly incorrect to me.

I don't think it's unfair to point to Star Wars. SWG was highly criticized by fans not for the fact that it was Star Wars but for the way in which Jedi were handled canonically as well as the NGE. Also, the Star Wars movie wasn't a movement beyond fantasy. It was borrowing concepts from fantasy, to be sure. Aside from borrowing from fantasy Star Wars also has a lot of influence from Akira Kurosawa Samurai flicks, westerns (Han Solo anyone?) and of course the dramatic opera. Anyhow, Star Wars is full of life, characters, intrigue, and adventure. It's the perfect IP for a starting point in the evolution beyond pure fantasy.

What I'm trying to say is that all these things a fantasy MMO can do can be done by other genres as well. The harder hurdle to pass is the concept of the "magic pass" fantasy gets to use for the more challenging concepts such as perma-death or explaining why wizards can shoot fire and ice around like it's no big deal.

Also, I fully agree with you that identifying the critical elements that work for fantasy and discussing what to keep and what to drop would be a wonderful thing to put together. In fact it's an idea that is already underway for my next post. :)

Posted: Jan 5th 2008 9:55PM (Unverified) said

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I don't think it's unfair to point to Star Wars. SWG was highly criticized by fans not for the fact that it was Star Wars [snip!]

Heh. I'm talking about Star Wars as an IP, rather than about SWG (or any SW game) specifically.

What I mean by "no fair" is that SW is fantasy, so using it as an example of a non-fantasy genre is... less than ideal. :)

I'm seeing the potential for a couple different statements:

1) Everything that makes fantasy great can be done with another genre.

2) Everything that makes fantasy great has been done to death, but other things could be done with a different genre.

I find the 2nd more compelling, presonally... I tend to think if you're going to do everything just as you'd do with the fantasy genre, then what's the real point of using any other genre?

I also find the statements to be somewhat at odds.

My feeling is that different genres are better and worse at delivering different things, and so the point of using a different genre would be to deliver something different.

If any genre can do what fantasy can do, then can't fantasy do what any other genre can do, too?

I guess I'm looking for just the opposite: "This is what sci-fi does well, which fantasy does poorly... so even though vice versa with that, it's worthwhile, because that has been done to death."

On a semi-related note: (I'd post a link, but my internet is being slow and stupid at the moment), you should check out David Brin's blog for a somewhat recent post in which he asks, "Is the era of sci-fi over?" He's a sci-fi author (just in case you didn't already know that), speaking of sci-fi in film, but I found it strangely relevant to this discussion, and very interesting.

And un-related: Also in that same post, he asks for market-size estimates on virtual worlds, etc... That's gotta make you curious what he's up to, eh? :)


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