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General: Beyond the MMORPG - Story

StraddenStradden Managing EditorMember CommonPosts: 6,696

In this Christmas Eve edition of Beyond the MMORPG, Managing Editor Jon Wood uses Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 to discuss storytelling in MMORPGs.

As a pre-Christmas present to myself this year, I went out and picked up the 2008 addition to the Smackdown vs. Raw franchise. This wasn’t a new and impulsive decision; I’ve played every game in this series, and quite enjoyed it. The thing is, and the reason that I am writing about that particular game today is because I think it highlights some important issues that are present in video games in general and in MMOs in particular.

The reason that this particular title may cause a few heads to turn in confusion is that, in case the name isn’t familiar to you, Smackdown vs. Raw is a game based on professional wrestling. World Wrestling Entertainment if we’re going to get specific. So, what is it exactly that MMORPGs can learn from a game based on a fake and scripted sport?

Wrestling, you see, has often been referred to as “a soap opera for guys” and when you think about it, that’s not far from the mark. Now, I want to remind everyone that I am speaking in generalities here, and I am in no way implying that only men can like wrestling or that all women watch soap operas.

Read it all here.

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

Comments

  • JrodJrod Member Posts: 234

    So you are saying that you want "timed quests" in that if you accept the quest to save the farmer's daughter you must do it in an hour and if you don't she "dies" and you can't complete the quest on the character who failed the quest. Then there are the "grind" quests that you can do two weeks later and have no penalty for taking so long

  • SamhaelSamhael Member RarePosts: 1,291

    Stay on target.... stay on target.... arrrrghhhh.

    And Porkins bites it again.

  • LunaniLunani Member Posts: 15

    there are more points where storytelling fails:

    most quests don't make sense when considering how often that particular quest has been done. let's take your example. do goblins have nothing better to do than kidnapping this poor girl over and over again, is she really that stupid she haven't learned she shouldn't trust goblins? it makes sense to have a rescue mission for her once or twice but when almost every player has done it, it becomes meaningless.

    another example are those "slay the boss" quests. how realistic is it the same mob is getting killed a hundred or thousand times? In todays mmorpgs we are facing an immortal army of mobs. From a storytelling point of view this means players can never win, can never make a change.

    and last but not least, player death. In most games players can never really die, no matter what stupid things they do. death is meaningless, making the whole story meaningless

  • Stuka1000Stuka1000 Member UncommonPosts: 955

     I don't think that the game designers can really be blamed for this.  Sure they could perhaps do a little better job of giving the player the illusion that what they do matters but the bottom line is that the technology at present just isn't capable of creating a truly interactive environment.  Think of all the variables involved in just that one simple 'farmer's daughter' quest mentioned in order to make it unique and truly world changing, at least for the farmer and the player that gets given the quest and it's staggering.

     

    For quests to be truly interactive and world changing they must first and foremost be unique in that only one player or group gets that quest to do, unless they fail and then it would need to be handed on to someone else.  For this level of complexity you would either need a team of quest designers the size of a football crowd working 24/7 just to keep up or a computer with so much power it would make a nuke look tame and have an AI far in advance of anything that is currently available.  Here we enter the realms of the quantum computers ( for those not in the know, machines capable of higher rates of processing than the human brain ).  These machines it is estimated are about 20 - 25 years down the road.  Add another 5 - 10 years or more for the technology to become commonplace, at least common and cheap enough for large developers to consider using them for games servers.  Then add another 5 years or so for the first faltering MMO using this technology to be released.

     

    These timescales are extremely generous btw but even so we are looking at 30 - 35 years perhaps.  More likely it will be longer when all the possible political and military problems with such machines have been ironed out and at least a couple of people have the go ahead to pull the plug should the bugger decide it's better than us :)

  • thirdechelonthirdechelon Member Posts: 110

    i think all multiplayer games, be it MMOs or any other dont need storylines to be fun games. Its about team work and competition.

    Play single player RPGs if you want in-depth storylines, seriously try Mass Effect on XB360, the story telling is great imo. Theres great story arcs in other games already.  Trying to add it into MMOs imo is completely unnessesary.

  • MarchusMarchus Member Posts: 88

    My favorite part of Smackdown vs Raw 2008 is winning those matches where you're outnumbered or injured and getting a cutscene of your guy crawling away as the loser.

    On topic though, I don't think MMO's are a place where you can really tell a story, or really have the players make an impact on the world. You couldn't hire a staff big enough or pay them nearly enough money for something like that. I think Guild Wars and FFXI made some pretty good efforts though. There's a story being told and the world is changing even if it's only in your little cutscene/instance.

  • ElRenmazuoElRenmazuo Member RarePosts: 5,361

    Gamers should be more like readers, have some imagination.

  • FlummoxedFlummoxed Member Posts: 591

    What I am proposing is that a story arc within a game, ..., should rely on the actions of the players within the game between story points

    YES!  This is what a few mmog idealists have been harping on since UO.

    And I'd propose even one step further - that Storylines and Arcs be Constructed by Players Actions, either automatically or by developer intervention. 

    In real life these "storylines", the ongoing interactions between and among people, is called History. 

    A game mechanism needs to be devised whereby player actions can be recorded and integrated into the gameworld and therefore the gameplay of other players.  What your char does in the world should affect my character's options in some way, opening up new arcs, modifying existing arcs, etc.  It doesn't need to be a case where if you save the farmer's daughter that Ends the story.  Somehow this can be handled without causing a feeling of "aw I missed that part of the story". 

    Too bad I don't know how to do that but...

    to the folks who say it can't be done with current technology - all it takes is for that 1st person to figure out how to do it, then everyone will go "OH!  how simple, why didn't I think of that."

    (And as always the heart of the problem is that innovation is stifled by game corporations whose only interest is short term profit, but that's another rant.)

  • FlummoxedFlummoxed Member Posts: 591

    One guy who's been working on a player-directed Storytelling Engine (Storytronics) is Chris Crawford, former Atari 2600 programmer from the goode ole dayes of videogames.

    http://www.storytron.com/index.html

    The product they will release next year isn't directly applicable to mmogs but some of the Ideas are worth looking at.

     

    from the website:

    In interactive storytelling, you get to bring your own personality and imagination into a virtual dramatic storyworld. There, you can interact with incredibly authentic computer-controlled Actors in an adventure that combines the best aspects of traditional stories with the unprecedented experience of controlling the story's flow by being the protagonist.

  • LlamsterLlamster Member Posts: 234

    Four words for you.

    Tabula Rasa ethical parables.

     

    Nice article.

    ____________________

    Have played: RuneScape, EQ2 (free trial), Last Chaos, Silk Road, Dungeon Runners.
    Currently playing: RuneScape, Dungeon Runners.

    The notion that graphics, or anything else for that matter, are anywhere near as important as gameplay/fun is so utterly ridiculous that anyone who shares such a view should be placed in an asylum.

  • I understand what you mean and you are right. For instance in WoW there IS storyline it just doesn't feel important at all as all the story quests are no different than the ones you have done ten thousand times.

    I REALLY enjoyed LOTRO's quest system though as all those grind-quest, usual bring me this amount of that and ill give you some gloves, are sidelines.... other things to do. And then theres this one main quest with better loot and that is harder to complete that you do throughout the whole game... it's like one big endless quest chain with story elements.

    They can't do better than this.... or else it makes no sense because of the lack of sense MMOs have (respawns of bosses and such like goblins kidnapping little girls.... the goblins would COOK then EAT the girl... they don't think maybe humans will give us gold for her!)

    Anyway that's my 2 cents on this... as previously mentionned... you want story?!?! MASS EFFECT.

  • RainStarRainStar Member Posts: 638
    Originally posted by tkreep


    Gamers should be more like readers, have some imagination.



    Funny, you'd think most, if not all, gamers would have some imagination.  I don't understand why they don't.

  • Beatnik59Beatnik59 Member UncommonPosts: 2,408

    Originally posted by Flummoxed


    What I am proposing is that a story arc within a game, ..., should rely on the actions of the players within the game between story points
    YES!  This is what a few mmog idealists have been harping on since UO.
    And I'd propose even one step further - that Storylines and Arcs be Constructed by Players Actions, either automatically or by developer intervention. 
    In real life these "storylines", the ongoing interactions between and among people, is called History. 
    A game mechanism needs to be devised whereby player actions can be recorded and integrated into the gameworld and therefore the gameplay of other players.  What your char does in the world should affect my character's options in some way, opening up new arcs, modifying existing arcs, etc.  It doesn't need to be a case where if you save the farmer's daughter that Ends the story.  Somehow this can be handled without causing a feeling of "aw I missed that part of the story". 
    Too bad I don't know how to do that but...
    to the folks who say it can't be done with current technology - all it takes is for that 1st person to figure out how to do it, then everyone will go "OH!  how simple, why didn't I think of that."
    (And as always the heart of the problem is that innovation is stifled by game corporations whose only interest is short term profit, but that's another rant.)
    You know, back when I was in SWG (the good SWG, not this stuff now), we had storylines.  No, the stories weren't "quests," or the theme parks.  They weren't based around phat lewtz and raids.  They weren't even based on PvP that much.

    We were the stories.  The dancers and the musicians produced stories.  The wandering on Endor with a pick up group produced stories; stories that would be told around the camp.  Going into shops and meeting up with veteran bounty hunters hot on the trail of jedi produced stories.  Waiting at the starport produced stories.

    Content didn't need to be directed along arcs.  It didn't need to go through the game engine and register as some sort of mathematical leverage.  That just makes the story a cheap gimmick; a sham story that actually directs attention away from the only storytelling that MMOs do well: the shared fiction characters weave when playing roles.

    I just played Metal Gear Solid 3.  Man, what a story!  The music, cutscenes, and storyline all come together to make it so the player becomes part of the story.  So frankly, if people are looking for epic storylines, it would seem to me that MMOs just can't do it as well as console action/adventure games.  When MMOs do, they tend to do it badly, making the story into some ePeen thing, a catass festival, or a grind-a-thon.

    What MMOs do well is situational storytelling (as opposed to epic storytelling).  Chance encounters, accidents, BSing, humor, and roleplay.  You know, the sort of stuff you tell stories about at the bar, or at the dorm (except it would be told to virtual friends in a virtual dorm about virtual stuff).  Man, UO, SWG, and Second Life was full of that sort of stuff.  But the "stories" in these cases weren't hard coded by developers, or added by live teams.  They came as a result of players simply living and working as characters in their individual experience, played collaboratively.

    __________________________
    "Its sad when people use religion to feel superior, its even worse to see people using a video game to do it."
    --Arcken

    "...when it comes to pimping EVE I have little restraints."
    --Hellmar, CEO of CCP.

    "It's like they took a gun, put it to their nugget sack and pulled the trigger over and over again, each time telling us how great it was that they were shooting themselves in the balls."
    --Exar_Kun on SWG's NGE

  • Xtremality1Xtremality1 Member Posts: 24

    I just got one thing to say: Bioware to the rescue.

  • piotrsanpiotrsan Member Posts: 58

    There was once a game that was close to achieving the said goals namely Wish Online.It was a skill based UO in 3D.They wanted to hire human storytellers but the game got canceled while still in beta.It was a real shame.

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