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4:30pm on Tuesday, 1st April, 2014:



One of the things that frustrates me regarding the departure of MMOs from the verisimilitude they strove for in the early days is that you lose so much opportunity for creativity that way. This isn't just the diminishment of player creativity from limiting interactions between objects and systems, it's also the diminishment of design creativity.

Consider a typical modern MMO in which you and your group attack a boss in an instance. The boss will have a number of special attacks which the players will have to learn to deal with (the "dance") if they are to win. OK, well the desirability of instances aside, nothing wrong there. However...

So this is a world. For the world to be believable, it has to be consistent. The less consistent it is, the more the players have to work to will themselves into believing the world, and therefore to become immersed in it. What's inconsistent about fighting bosses with special attacks? Well, the special attacks. If there is magic in the world that can shoot beams out of a staff or do a giant poison AOE effect or pop up pools of fire over a large area, well that's magic that anyone should be able to use, surely? OK, so you could argue that some of it is innate, so in the same way that birds can fly because of their built-in flying ability, a demon can dematerialise or give off an aura of debuff. All of their abilities are like this, though? Even the ones that come out of huge staffs? (Aside: whatever happened to magic wands?). Even when the boss is a human just like half the player characters? No, that doesn't make sense.

If designers were to think about the consistency of (in this case) the physics of their world, it would be irritating the hell out of them that the head of the evil wizards can cast mega-fireballs that the players can't. It's immaterial whether they want the players to be able to cast mega-fireballs or not, it's just that logically they should be able to cast them. I remember when I designed my wizard duelling game back in my teens that I made sure all the spells that needed to exist to stage the duels were also available to the duelling wizards, simply because if they weren't then the magic system wasn't complete. It had to be complete, as it was all about the magic, so I added the necessary spells even though I thought they'd be useless. As it turned out, I managed to engineer them so that they were actually occasionally useful in the duels, but even if they'd been pretty well inert I'd still have kept them.

Now in that example, going for consistency helped a little, but it didn't really open up many design options. It doesn't have to be that way, though. For example, suppose that you did allow players to use the same spells that bosses used in MMOs: they'd still have to learn them somehow. Perhaps, then, the way to learn a spell is to survive a fight with a boss that uses the spell. You wouldn't necessarily get it at boss-level strength right away, or even ever, but you might be able to improve it by fighting other bosses that also have the spell. This would make much more sense, while opening up a new gameplay path. Instead of getting XP and going up levels then going to a trainer who instantly implants the knowledge of a new spell in your head, you'd have to fight enemies that had the spell in order that you could learn it yourself. The same would apply to melée and ranged combat. You could even use it in PvP, but I suspect that might be too open to abuse.

The point is, if you start to look at a virtual world in detail, rather than superficially, then new interactions naturally become apparent, which can be leveraged to give different or interesting gameplay — even new systems. You don't even have to implement the deeper physics or economics or whatever, if you're worried that players will find exploits; all you have to do is imagine what the implications would be if you did go for more verisimilitude, then follow the logic where it leads you.

This has been a public service announcement from the League of Prehistoric Designers.

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