Tuesday, April 17, 2007

We Don't Need Another Herrrrroooo

...blah blah blah...Thunder Dome.....

So a friend of mine left an interesting comment on in my blog posting "Careful what we wish for...". He essentially has two things he wants me to comment on, so I'll handle them one at a time with different posts. OK, so the first part of his comment was this:

"I'd love to see your thoughts (and maybe those of Brent, Cuppy, and others) on the topic of "Everyone Wants to be a Hero".

To me that's one of the biggest challenges MMOs face. In single player games, you ARE the hero. You feel special, you are driving the story, it's all about you. You get all the "stuff". Most adventure/action/fantasy novels and movies have a hero, or maybe a small band at most. But in an MMO, everyone wants to be a hero - powerful, cool stuff, and slaying the dragon at the end.

Just thinking about things like removing gear, stats, attributes, etc. That's the hard part - how then do you define a character? How do you know you're the hero in the MMO and the guy who just logged into today for the first time is the village peasant by comparison? Is that even important?

I'm not sure a world can be created where only a few rise to a true hero status while the rest of us take up occupations like the town smith, a merchant, a scholar or a mercenary. But in books and movies that's typically how it is. Would we, as a community, be o.k. with playing a game where we have fun, we contribute, we have a place in the society of the MMO, but are not the uber hero in the uber gear? I guess SWG initially took a stab at that kind of concept by making it realy hard to become a Jedi. ..."

OK, so we all need to feel like a hero in an MMO....no doubt about it. Like he said, in single player games, movies and books, the hero is a special character that drives the story. He/She is given this large task that is usually larger than himself. Obstacles are thrown in the way. Badguys are killed/beaten up/smacked around/humiliated etc and in the end we get the girl, the white picked fence and the 2.5 kids. Why...why...why don't I feel like that in an MMO?

As I thought about his question, the more I thought that if a player does not feel like a hero, then maybe its a failure of imagination to put yourself in that role. Of course, it's harder to put yourself in that role if you are not made to feel unique...which is, again, very hard to do when the guy next to you has the exact same outfit as you do. To be made to feel unique within an MMO with 5-6000 other players on a server is not an easy design problem to overcome. Can you imagine the amount of money and resources it would take to create the assets needed to make it so that 5000 characters are not the same....in any way? That would mean differing skills, powers, weapons, armour, quests, crafting for everyone...jeepers. From a software point of view, it just can't be done. So, designers do what they do now...they create a handful of classes and other skill and equipment sets. From there, permutations and combinations fall out to give the illusion of uniqueness. So, I doubt that the feeling of a hero will not be had from a design standpoint...if you're looking for uniqueness.

So, what else can we offer? A story. We can give the player a story to throw themselves into. You know, save the princess, fight off the evil Duke and his minions...ummmm, collect 10 rat pelts because of some fetish that Zergub the Gnome Tinker has. But, that really isn't unique because everyone else will do those quests as well. If we're all experiencing the same story/quests, how are we to be made to feel the hero? Simple, you imagine that you are. You put yourself into that role and pretend that this story is unique to your character...and when you think about it, it is unique. You're level 40 Tauren has not experienced saving the princess yet, or defeated the Duke even though you or other players might have already. We just have to give our imaginations permission to bring us to that "hero place" we bring ourselves to for single player games and PnP sessions.

MMO's are a different animal from single player games because you're not brought into the story right away. An MMO just presents the world to you and says, "Here you go...make your mark". It's up to us as players to make our own story in these worlds. I know, we're kind of trained to expect visual media to tell the story for us...but I really do think that we need to take up some of the slack if we really want to feel the hero.

D out


Anonymous said...

"OK, so we all need to feel like a hero in an MMO....no doubt about it."

I disagree. That vast majority of MMORPG (as a subset of RPG) players may want, or need, to be the hero but it's still a generalization.

Many single player games are more "interactive stories" than "roleplaying" experiences. I enjoy many games where I'm more or less just along for the ride and make few actual character decisions. Console and FPS type games exemplify this.

I don't believe the "storyline" problem in current MMOGs is something which can be overcome. Eventually, MMOGs will become a hybrid of Second Life, EVE, Puzzle Pirates, and Ryzom Ring where players won't log into a single "storyline" and play the hero but will enter a virtual world where people can gather to play whatever game suits their fancy, sell products and services, chat, or even create their own "content" or experiences.

Akely said...

I totally agree with the thought that it is an imagination thing. For me I feel heroic when I shift the balance. Perhaps being the group member that saved the day, perhaps figuring out how to solve a problem. Perhaps just by being there. Much of tose things is in my own mind.

Often I think people confuse Being Important with Being a Hero. Like for me (above) being the only Healer in a group makes me more important than heroic. (But in MY mind I'm still a Hero :D )Being a Hero es going 'above and beyond' and perhaps high level characters helping newbies is the best example of that.

Aspendawn said...

Only a couple games come to mind where I felt that heroic feeling with my character. Not to say I didn't have fun in other games, but my character certainly was not a hero in them. For me personally, I feel like a hero when I look at my character now in relation to those 1-10 levels. So when I am playing a game where I just keep higher level versions of the exact same abilities as I level, and I "feel" exactly the same at 40 as I did at 10, then I have not grown into a hero. EQ2 was an example of this. While it was neat to have guards salute you as you leveled, I never felt my character had grown any.

That's just part of the equation though. Another aspect that contributed to my feeling heroic was accomplishing what seemed impossible. I recall doing certain missions in EQ with 2 other friends that others had trouble with in full groups. Everything just clicked together and we all knew we had each others' backs and knew what to do. I felt like we were a group of heroes when we came out victorious. In DAOC I recall countless times my husband and I being told something was impossible to do with two, which only made us more determined to succeed. We may have died a couple times before successful, but we learned from the deaths and made it work. Proudly placing that trophy head in home....yeah I felt like a hero :)

So while I agree that part of what makes you a hero in game are your own actions and own perceptions, there also needs to be factors in place to help you along the path. But is it necessary to be a hero to enjoy a game? No, I don't believe so. But it's frosting on the cake.

yunk said...

But even in FPS or other types of solo games, not even RPGs, you are the hero, even if we say "I don't feel heroic or make decisions", would we pick up a game were we played the ingenue? I can't see a game like that taking off.

Even if you play a scrawny kid like in a previous post, you're still the scrawny kid that stands up to evil and defeats it, not the sidekick.

That is one reason I don't like raiding vs small groups in MMOs, in a raid I'm a cog, I'm a victim of circumstance and of other players' mistakes. I think part of that might be to the nature of MMO fighting: the tank gets the hits, the healers heal, the dps dpsses. Real life combat is nothing like this. Maybe that is something that needs to change.

Anonymous said...

EVE online, planetside. nuff said. Both succesfull games, if not as much as the designers would have hoped.