This week’s update is a new developer blog from Principal Lead Systems Designer Damion Schubert, who opens up by discussing the often controversial topic of MMO design philosophies: i.e. designing a “game” vs. a “world”:
Massively multiplayer games are not new. The first true massively multiplayer game was a text-only virtual world called MUD, put together by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw in 1978. This little window of dizzying text descriptions was a far cry visually from the seductively lush 3D virtual worlds of today, but it was enough. Enough to get the genre started, and enough to get armchair designers across the world to imagine the possibilities, and debate philosophical matters of game design. One of these questions, still asked today, is whether or not massively multiplayer environments should strive to be games or to be worlds.
Advocates of the world philosophy see the space as a simulation or a sandbox. Fans of this viewpoint favor freedom and realism above all else â€“ players have the ability to use and abuse almost anything around them, including other players. In â€˜worldâ€™ MMOs, players tend to have a wide range of possible actions, most of which have relatively little depth. The depth of the world MMO comes from the interactions â€“ players are urged to explore the world, and to find their own fun. The world MMO hates artificial constraints like classes or level requirements.
The game philosophy is quite the opposite, of course. Advocates of this view favor fun and balance more than anything. The game MMO is often described as being more like a theme park than a virtual world â€“ player activity is tightly controlled, in such a way to help maximize the chance the player will have a fun, balanced and interesting combat experience and, in general, not be nasty to each other. The game MMO has no problem with introducing arbitrary rules to provide a tight, visceral gaming experience. Players can perform fewer actions, but these actions tend to have greater depth (such as a deeper, more balanced combat game).
In the end, Damion takes issue with both philosophies.With worlds, Damion finds these games can be much more harsh, less forgiving, and hard for newer players to get into. They are only as “good as the people who arrived before you.” This makes designers nervous. On the other hand, MMORPGs designed as “games” also have issues, mainly the lack of freedom, which is really the hallmark of MMOs.
So how does Star Wars: The Old Republic fall with regards to these two design philosophies? According to Damion, the game will be in the middle of the road, with the aim of utilizing the strength of both design philosophies, more specifically, providing “a directed and balanced game experience inside a lush, free-form Star Wars world.”
This is where Damion gets into that whole “Community” bit, something he feels has been missing in the game vs. world debate, and he goes on to describe how BioWare will be addressing this key third element with Star Wars: The Old Republic:
Community is the crazy notion that massively multiplayer games are more interesting when other players matter. Advocates of this viewpoint savor competition and cooperation above all else. Community-driven players want, above all else, to be able to interact and gather with other players, in a civil way. They share ideals with the other schools of thought: community-driven players tend to value balance and fairness, but they also want the freedom to express themselves and interact with others.
To me, as an MMO designer, community is the whole ball of wax. Letâ€™s face it, if you wanted to play just a â€˜gameâ€™, youâ€™d be off playing a single player roleplaying game. If you wanted a â€˜worldâ€™, maybe youâ€™d play a life-simulation game. But community â€“ well, thatâ€™s the whole â€˜massively multiplayerâ€™ part of MMO. When you look at it this way, â€˜communityâ€™ is at least as important as â€˜gameâ€™ or â€˜worldâ€™ in this debate.
And probably more so.
Consider our multiplayer dialogue system. The Old Republic is in every way shape and form an MMO, though if a player desires to, they can solo all the way to max level â€“ they’ll be missing some great content, but we donâ€™t want players to feel they have to group. But we really want them to want to. As such, this has been an area of ripe experimentation for us, and has led us down some fruitful paths. Multiplayer conversations, where players can cooperate or compete to respond, has proven to be fun (and often hilariously so), in our playtesting (and no, another player cannot jack your dark side score with his response). But weâ€™re not satisfied with just extrinsic rewards â€“ weâ€™re now experimenting with rewards that are unlocked for helping party members with class quest objectives, and weâ€™re generally pleased with how itâ€™s playing.
Damion also discusses community even with regards to crafting, he admits that the team has been unhappy with their various crafting implementations as they found players would be crafting almost exclusively for themselves. The intention is for dedicated crafters to be able to carve out a niche in their particular community and make a name for themselves. Such words bring up happy memories of my favorite crafters in Star Wars Galaxies to mind, unfortunately we’ll have to wait for a future letter to hear more about BioWare’s crafting plans.
Damion closes out the letter by promising that we’ll be hearing tons more from the various game designers in the coming months as they lockdown features and become comfortable talking about them. BioWare has stated they do not talk about things they aren’t 100% sure are in, and this could explain the limited scope of coverage we’ve seen thus far. Perhaps now that the game is further along, and continues to chug further along, we’ll be hearing more and more about the game’s features