Now, this might just be my fading gamer memory, but I distinctly remember how it felt to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere in an MMO. While there are a few modern titles like Wurm Online that basically do the same thing, the mystery and immersion of those first few levels in most major MMOs has been replaced by sheer noise. I don't like it.
Good pacing is a wonderful thing. If it's tweaked just right, players feel immediately invested in a world even while feeling completely lost. I'd like to make this week's dream MMO using those older-game designs. It's time to slow down.
I'm not just crying about how MMOs were made "in the old days." I loved a lot about the older games and still do to the point that I will be covering them a lot over the next few months, but there was much to be desired back then. I have never been a fan of bad UI design or confusing systems, and frankly, I'm not convinced that the lovely, sluggish gameplay I am referring to was not the result of inefficient design. Heck, it's possible that those awesome several-hour long treks through dangerous landscapes back then were really the result of massive, empty zones. Either way, the effect was the same: Afterward, I felt as though I achieved something. That something didn't come from conquering a massive dragon or dungeon but from traveling somewhere or discovering a new place.
I've pined for more realistic travel so much that I have actually created my own set of rules to force my characters to walk on foot or horseback. To me, simply getting somewhere should be an adventure, especially in a world that is inhabited by monsters.
Ryzom players, for example, literally use trekking as a social activity. Players can instantly teleport between areas on the map, but they must first unlock teleportation nodes. A new player cannot just walk to each node and hope to survive. Some of the nodes are nested in very dangerous lands, and a higher-level escort is required. I used to join up with dozens of other players just to walk around the world, unlocking teleport nodes along the way for those who needed them. I would spend hours on those treks sometimes, similar to the one in the older video I embedded above. These treks built community... we had to do it together.
EverQuest was notorious for its travel times. I was nowhere near the power-player my wife was, but I knew what it was like just to be able to travel to the next major area of the world. Before the easier travel times that the Planes of Power expansion brought to the game, we spent our time in one zone, leveling up or adventuring until we knew we could make it outside. If you did try to go somewhere, you felt as if you achieved something just by getting to that new place. Once you did, you met up with players and character types that were literally alien to you. It felt like real travel.
"If a game offers an innovative, fun, or immersive crafting system, then players will spend time in crafting areas or gathering materials instead of grinding through scores of monsters just to hit the next level."
Consider Wurm Online once again. I don't play it as much as I used to, and Massively's old deed is a bit painful to look at now that it is rotting, but every time I check back into the world of Wurm Online, I find new textures, tweaks, and gameplay updates that have nothing to do with frenzied leveling. Yes, players do grind through crafting levels or try to raise combat levels as fast as possible, but generally the players I meet busy themselves with crafting a place for a deed, a player owned plot of land. Earlier this week, I wrote about my friend Brian and his labyrinth on the Puzzles deed. It's a truly mind-blowing experience to get lost in the great maze and to realize that something like it would never happpen in most modern AAA MMOs. In most of those titles, I might come across something like a labyrinth, but it would be a scripted event with a single, linear path to take.
"I am only slightly embarrassed when I say this, but I truly enjoy some good old cheesy new-agey music when I am playing in many titles."
Perhaps developers could create systems that would allow players to stay in the moment, quite literally. Meditation is a skill in some MMOs, allowing players to heal their characters by sitting still. Campfires or portable camps are always a wonderful thing, but in current times, most players seem to want nothing to do with stopping for long. At the time of this writing, Guild Wars 2 has been out for less than three weeks and I'm already hearing rumbles of a content shortage. What an odd thing.
We can do better than this. If I ever make this dream MMO, I will be sure to include some of these designs that can make players stop, even for a while. We're burning through content faster than ever, so designers will probably need to start recognizing the need for a slower pace instead of continuing to feed the content frenzy. If we don't stop now, how long can MMOs possibly last in the near future?
I think I'll call this MMO "Ohhhmmmmmmm."
Have you ever wanted to make the perfect MMO, an idealistic compilation of all your favorite game mechanics? MMO Blender aims to do just that. Join the Massively staff every Friday as we put our ideas to the test and create either the ultimate MMO... or a disastrous frankengame!