Thursday, October 30, 2008

Massively Multijedi Online RPG

Over two years ago I ranted about why "Babylon 5" was a bad choice for a MMOG. I haven't changed my mind on that. I am willing to alter my views on "Star Trek" which were implied in that article, but I'm not holding my breath.

And now BioWare announces that they're doing a MMOG based on their popular (wildly popular, I'd even say, based on a very informal survey of old gaming friends) Knights of the Old Republic line of computer RPGs. And I'm thinking this may be a good thing.

So what makes "Star Wars" a better property for MMOGing than "Babylon 5"? Unlike the other popular sci-fi franchises, "Star Wars" is unapologetically focused on swashbuckling action. Even Captain Kirk didn't fire up the phasers at the first sign of trouble. But everyone knows a wookie will gladly rip your arms off just for beating it at holographic chess. Firefights and ship battles were cool parts of both "Babylon 5" and "Star Trek" but they were also rare, and generally saved for the climactic episodes that book-ended a season. Such battles and action are close to the heart of "Star Wars". Heck, the animated "Clone Wars" shorts which aired on the Cartoon Network between the "Clone Wars" and "Revenge of the Sith" movies were little more than wall-to-wall action, a loving recreation of the sorts of things we all did with our action figures, way back when.

That all said, the action in the "Star Wars" movies was rarely pointless. This is a subtle but important point; part of why Sony's attempt at a "Star Wars" MMOG stumbled is because killing five minocs and bringing in their left wings doesn't feel like "Star Wars". And changing it to killing five stormtroopers and turning in their helmets doesn't help matters any. Gratuitous murder and pillage doesn't feel like "Star Wars", because the heroes of that franchise don't act like that. Whenever there's a fight, there's a point to it: rescuing the princess, or escaping Cloud City, or breaking into the deflector shield projection array. Killing droids or stormtroopers might need to happen, but it's never the point. In the same way that City of Heroes couldn't blatantly be about killing and looting, a "Star Wars" MMOG also has a fine line to walk between the competing expectations of their audience.

Which makes this promising:

“As an attempt to appeal to a broader and broader audience, consequence has left gaming,” said BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk to me after unveiling his MMO this week. “Everything is very low impact and there’s no real negative result that can occur. We’re going to start bringing that back but in a rational way, a way that doesn’t punish the player — but puts them on the spot.”

It'll be interesting to see how this is implimented. The honest truth is, there's a vocal cadre of gamers who squeal in agony when forced to endure anything less than a steady, if slow, improvement in all areas of their online persona. Consequences of any sort are just a lesser version of permanent death, and anything that alters your character irrevocably is to be avoided as unfun. And against that, we have the expectations of BioWare's fans, who enjoy making the tough choices in Mass Effect or pursuing the romantic options in Baldur's Gate.

I think this needle can be threaded, and I think the folks at BioWare are more likely than most to do it, with their reputation for integrating story so strongly in their games. The fact that it's so important to them and, more importantly, their fans means they can't just drop that aspect on the cutting-room floor as deadlines approach and release an almost-good-enough bantha hunting game.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where's That Darn Troll At?

I got this honestly heart-warming email the other day:

I have not played a pen and paper RPG since I was 13 or 14. Man those were great times; I especially miss those summers filled with D&D, backyard wiffle ball double-headers, and bike trips to the comic book store.

In any event, your blog site is awesome and I check it daily. Even without your having new posts, I use your site as the jump off spot to other links like Grognardia, another favorite site of mine.

Keep up the good work and keep posting great stuff!


And then I got that cranky post by mxyzplk. ;)

Yeah, I need to start posting again.

Sorry for the extended absence. Life has been a bit more exciting than I like, and it's kinda sucked all the wind out of my sails. The truth is, I haven't even been reading RPG blogs for the last month or so. So it's more than time to get back into it.

And that said, I may still be a bit of a light blogger since I'm giving serious consideration to NaNoWriMo this year. I'm a good way into a novel and that might be the perfect way to power through and finish a first draft.

In other news, the intriguing 56th page of "Outsider" has been posted.