Diku-based MMOs, I’ve had it with your crap.
I’m serious here. The first cRPG I can remember playing was a venerable Commodore-era classic: The Bard’s Tale. Guess what the gameplay was like. Yep, you guessed it — grinding out levels and gear until you could handle the massively badass endgame. In 1985. Sure, there were a bunch of quests thrown in for flavor, but you spent the vast majority of your time grinding cash, levels, and clearing endless trash mobs. Shit, you Diku-MMOs have sure innovated since then. I mean, now I spend the vast majority of my time grinding cash, levels, and clearing endless trash mobs… but in 3D!
So really, here… We have, literally, decades of games based on a single model. And the most successful games are the ones that change this model the least… I mean, World of Warcraft (which I admittedly enjoyed straight through level 70) takes this Diku model online — and then turns it into the “Massively Single-Player Online RPG!” Lord of the Rings Online is even worse, making it actively difficult to play profitably with your friends, unless you all play in 100% lockstep.
We need some new ideas. Here’s a few, my treat.
But I Thought Ideas Were Cheap…
Sure. They are. Everyone has ’em. Raph Koster has a whole Theory of Fun for videogames, and despite the fact that I love taking jabs at ivory-tower “Damn, I’m so cool” game design (boy, does that make me picture Chris Crocker. LEAVE RAPH KOSTER ALONE!), he’s had some nifty thoughts that break the plain old game molds.
There has to be a way to interact meaningfully with other players to build something cool. tiles.ice.org managed some cool collaborative artwork pieces, and gives a place to start with. I know I’ve harped on this, but even if you restrict your game to a Diku-esque RPG, use collaborative sites like this to build models for community interaction. Digg, Slashdot, Wikipedia — they all show that a self-policing group of users has a chance at elevating signal-to-noise (at least until it grows out of hand). So, community-generated content is IN.
It’s got to have an economy. Arguably, Star Wars Galaxies boiled down almost exclusively to the player economy. There’s two components I think are needed here. There have to be commodities that players can gather, and relatively easy-to-use, open markets for the barter and sale of these commodities. Forcing players to be involved (a la early SWG crafting) lets players who enjoy building, build.
What’s the obsession with pseudo-turn-based-D&D-rehash-combat? Puzzle Crack… er Quest abstracts combat into a Bejeweled-style “match-three” puzzle game. Sure, there’s an RPG and levels and items, but it’s all about your l33t Bejeweled skillz. Even if you need to keep combat-style conflict motifs in the game, there’s nothing wrong with abstracting them away and presenting new playtypes. Puzzles are fun. Twitchy skill-based games could also be fun, although lag becomes more of a factor. I’d still love to see an arcade-oriented game where ripostes and counterattacks are important. And don’t even get me going about specialized fire weaponry… I mean magic systems.
Open-ended growth systems… Somebody needs to give this a try. It’s still balanceable — add “critical success/failure” mechanics, and a large number of nooblets can swarm down the most venerated oldbie. Mix this with a “building” based system instead of “combat and death” and it could be quite fun. Everybody wins!
While I’m being Shiny Happy People, what about REAL collaboration? Hell, even Jedi always had Masters and Apprentices. Group people together in more meaningful ways than shared-chat-channels and group-of-convenience-for-some-quest. Require training of newer players for true “high-level” advancement. Make training an easier path for some kinds of early advancement. Or hell, make it a more difficult (but more rewarding) method. OK, let’s look at the contra — let people develop longterm nemeses. Archenemies. Foster the growth of true hatred and rivalry. These are the storytelling tricks that work for young adult novels. I’m sure a bunch of seasoned coders can come up with something to approximate them…
Notice none of these ideas involve real specifics. I think many aspects could be implemented in any game — even a tired old Diku. I certainly hope to someday work towards a few of these myself. Now, industry, take these gems of wisdom and make them happen! I’ll buy them back… and I’ve got a couple whole guilds who’ll come with me.