Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bioware's The Old Republic and storytelling in an MMO.

In an MMO, everybody shares the same gameworld, there can be no definitive change. Not only does the environment have to stay the same, the storyline and quests have to remain the same aswell. It's pretty much a one way street, from the gameworld to the player.
So in the past, MMO's haven't bothered much with story. Which leads to fetch quests and "kill x-amount of this or that"-quests. I think we can all agree that it's time to pull the MMO genre out of the hunter gatherer stage of it's evolution.

Bioware is next up to have a go at pulling the blade from the stone Blizzard put there.
They will inject the element story to the MMO genre to enthrall the player. I hope they do this at the expense of the tedious grind quests mentioned above. It goes without saying that yours truly won't be having with those. Grinding reminds me of the sound of time slipping through the hourglass, reminding that my life is getting shorter by the millisecond.
A meaninfull story on the other hand, might have some merit.

Some proof of the importance of story can be found, for instance, on 1up where Anthony Gallegos did an interview with Bioware founders Dr. Ray Muzyka, Dr. Greg Zeschuk, principal lead writer Daniel Erickson and studio creative director James Ohlen.

Some people have been scratching their heads about how they will let players progress along their own "unique" storyline.
Fear not my loyal readers, all two of you, for I have stared deeply into this cup of coffee and have come up with a satisfying and likely solution to this mystery.

Every player will choose their own path of quests through a series of actions and choices.
These choices will string together the many quests that will shape the story of each player. Some quests will be shared, and so will some story elements. But as a whole, the experience will be quite unique.
Proof in favor of this statement is Greg Zeschuk saying there will be real concequences for players in SW:TOR.
Players will encounter less and less players "sharing" their quests because with every fork in the road, the available players will be cut in half.
Given the fact that this is Star Wars there is a basic division between Light and Dark side. Unique quests could be available to each seperate character class. Choices in the quests themselves could further influence future quests.
Companions have long been a staple of bioware RPG's, so I think we can count on some companion related quests as seen in Baldurs Gate, Mass Effect...

The character creation will set up the basic game, the big picture.
Proof of earlier signs of this development, we can find in, again, Mass Effect, where players select a personal history and a psychiological profile for their character. These choices eventually introduce their own sidequests into the main story.

So there you have it, the cat's out of the bag.
Fortunatly for Bioware it's not easely copied, since you need good writing in the first place to make this work well. This isn't a problem since Bioware is leading the pack when it comes to storytelling.
It also staggers the mind how much quests and dialogs will have to be written. The pitfall here is that quests could become really isolated or rather, really stand-alone. Opportunity exists however, to reward players with unique skills tied to said quests.
Bioware has licenced the HeroEngine, which is said to allow for easy updating and modification. Which could suggest that TOR might be rather short when it's first released, but constantly updated with new content and new quests. Like reading a book while it's still being written.
This might also be in line with the business model they plan to use. No monthly fees, but micro-payment for unique items. Players might let the "lack of content" slide just because there are no monthly fees - and thus no pressure or obligation ( "why else did I pay for this?" ) to play.

We might also come to expect personalised instancing of parts of the ingame world. Just like Blizzard has done with WOW. They call it "phazing". A simple and elegant solution. An evolution that is likely here to stay. Frankly, it's a mystery why no MMO developer has thought of it before.

Next post will not be related to Star Wars. And less speculative.
Unless I'm lying.

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