Old School Rules for New School Views

I read a recent blog post somewhere recently (sorry I don’t remember where) that talked about the original vision of what MMOs were intended to be and the disappointment of where they are now. At heart of this dilemma are the constant need to do mind-numbing quests, the staticness of the world, and the never-ending grind. MMO design today relies upon these things and offers little to no innovation on a game to game basis. To me, the last big innovation in the MMO genre came with City of Heroes’ introduction of the mentoring system. Something that still hasn’t gotten widespread attention in MMOs.

But this design topic has gotten me thinking of the olden days. There used to be a great deal of hardships that we had to endure back in the olden days that in reality really grew the community, and the dynamics of the games that just aren’t there anymore.

A simple example of this can be found in Ultima Online’s early days, as well as most of the other MMOs before it. In these games, you did not find global chat channels or private tells. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to get within the screen range of them. If you wanted privacy, you got away from everyone else to talk to them. Later Ultima Online added private chat due to pressure, and because most players used outside programs like ICQ to speak privately to people anyway.

Asheron’s Call never had global chat rooms either and EQ players coming over always complained that the communication sucked. Yet after playing within games that had global chat for several years now. I feel they have much to be desired. And truth be told, I, as well as many other people that I have known over the years have generally turned off said global channels save for the global guild channel which seems to hold more relevance to most players.

Now imagine a game in which we turn back the clock on these game designs. We see a world in which players must once again gather in order to converse. Instead of the current system of dispersing themselves. To familiarize themselves with each other in a much more personal way. And a world in which guild halls and what not hold some importance. I am not entirely against allowing basic forms of communication such as group chat and private tells. But why not take away the bane of server trash and flaming entirely and be gone with that annoying global channel? Despite the fact that you are actually making communication more difficult, somehow I think we would end up with a world in which players decided to communicate with each other more openly and more casually which to me seems to be the point.

Final Fantasy XI actually came up with a rather novel idea on allowing players to talk to each other. Players could buy what essentially were chat stones which allowed the player to create channels. I think you could only subscribe to so many at a time, I can’t entirely remember this concept but I thought the concept was great. It allowed for a happy medium between the strictness of no global chat, with global chat, all while brining in story and an explanation for the chat in the first place into the game. I’ve always been a huge fan of finding a way to explain game elements in the story and this did a great job.

Why not bring this a step further though? Yes restricting it a bit, but still making it work… What if every player began with some sort of communication stone. And in order to communicate with other players directly they must first bind their stones together. Afterwhich these two players can chat privately whenever they want. In addition, a player could go ahead and buy “generator” stones which could serve to create global channels. The players would just need to go to whereever this generator stone was and bind to it in order to be able to talk in the channel. This would allow guilds to be able to chat with each other while online, but would require an initial connection at the very least. Further, you could add an additional enhancement to the generator stones of distance limitations, which could then bring back bouncing stones to further the broadcast range of any particular stone. Sort of how wifi works just with magic.

The idea holds some sway in my mind. The minimal would be fine for most, but guilds and towns may want to have a channelw hich would require an investment. Only sucessful alliances would really go for the routers which would require additional costs and maintenance. All the while, you could use this as a basis for some sort of storyline in the game.

Just one of many ideas that the older generation brought to us that isn’t around anymore. At one point in time, there seemed to be a neverending pit of game design ideas that all seem to have been flushed down the toilet since then. I’m not entirely sure what happened. Another one of these ideas is that of Dynamic Content. A buzzword in the industry about 5 or 10 years ago before WoW came around. Now that WoW is around, the buzz is about simplicity which I don’t particularly favor.