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A new perspective in Online Gaming
Is World of Warcraft an indefinite achievement in online gaming? Was The Old Republic's decision to move forward with cut scenes an absolute benchmark contribution? How are classic design philosophies appropriate in long term online game design?
March 26, 2012
13 Min Read
It's no secret that the most heavily identified, publicized, and thus copied online game of recent memory is World of Warcraft. Despite my opinions leaning to the contrary, there seems to be some recognized perspective that it is an example of a good game. While I believe it does do some things technically appropriate in terms of game design, it's more dated and unsatiable to a wide of a demographic despite what you may think.
World of Warcraft was remarkable as the first majorly successful online game.
Looking at the game as someone who has had a regular exposure to it throughout it's entire lifespan, and as someone who has enjoyed online games both before and after Warcraft, I find it hard to honestly approach the game with the careful consideration that I would give a game I actually identify as unanimously good in terms of game design. In terms of longevity, there is a rudimentary shortness of breath seen constantly resurging throughout it's prolonged development. Having estbalished itself with regular and consistent updates, something I identify as more of a short sighted appropriatism than remarkable game design, World of Warcraft has wallowed in something of an endless stagnation that consistently highlights and tweaks over any sort of progression to speak of. While upon release it was something remarkable I suppose, most of the game's merit came from the fact that it was simply the first online game that many people played. Within it's walls it built an unsatiable hunger that I genuinely believe many of it's players are (and many will agree with me) fundamentally addicted to. It's transparency of what exactly constitutes a positive experience on part of designer and that of the players has been superficially muddled by way of a constant stream of updates. I'm not scared to admit that having known people who have been playing this game for the better part of a decade that it's definitely left at best a bad taste in my mouth, and at worst an alarming perspective on the influence that a game can have on someone's life. I can't consider myself as someone who feels the need to take affirmative action in one way or another, but it has let me doubtless that in a humanist perspective that this game is not exactly the golden cow that many praise it to be, I would even call it harmful.
As a demanding and constant project for many years, World of Warcraft has begun to show it's age indefinitely. While I was not exactly thrilled with it from the outset, it's doubtless that disillusionment has begun to set upon it's players as the wide open eyes players once met with Azeroth have spun to a questioning gaze of anguish and unreciprocated dimension of a demanding urge to move forward inside the game. There are only so many expansion packs you can release before the inconsistency of enjoyment begins a precidence of unappeased detriment upon it's players.
Examing the game mechanically, from a designers perspective it was remarkable for the time. Assigning player values to a definite target of more RTS styled initiation definitely did leagues for keeping latancy down and streamlining the dimension of the game. The combat, while not exactly new, definitely offered many players depth and enjoyment. It's versatility managed to promote a sequencing of events that kept simple engagements simple and more complex encounters like raids and player vs player matches both consequential and intuitive. The graphics utilized a clever art direction evocative of table-top games that managed to evoke memories of a timeless credence of game development we comforatably situated ourselves in in bygone eras of Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1, utilizing ergonomically sensible art design over more technical achievements the game managed to age relatively gracefully. At least to the degree that it's player base certainly had no problem with. Over the years the updates quantified the polygon count into much smoother and more asthetically comforatable design, and it fell into it's own place as something of a comic book archetype of graphic design that bolstered itself as a decent looking game even on dated computers. Subsequently, it's not difficult to imagine how this game found a captivated audience.
However, realizing that WoW is nearly reaching a decade of years old, it's both surprising and unsurprising to me how often it's considered as an examplitory signifigance of accredited design philosophy and direction. While obviously satiable to investor applications and appealing to many as it has definitely exceeded many's wildest ambitions of success (which I believe to be at a hungering fault) but it's undoubtably on the precipece of succession. With the expansion of the market reaching a ridiculous fortitude of diversity, old franchises being remade and revitalized, others being created every day, it is both arrogant and inconsiderate to think that a modern day equivilent of WoW in both fiscal merit and design is realistically appropriate.
The term "WoW-Killer" has generally been something of a curse on developers, historically delegating design to strict imitation and sheltered concept.
Having to bolster itself with constant updates and a rigid unsituated foundation walking out from under itself every step it takes just to be franctically jumped on every month or so, World of Warcarft has built a market on it's userbase's own dependance. Far be it to question an incumbant design philosophy as it is by nature of myself to indefinitely support creative vision, but with a surmounting influx of compettition and alienation of what defines the blockbuster "triple-a" title, it seems more like an unrealistic impediment of comitment than it is a realistically appropriate motivation to take in of itself.
But with social gaming gaining a bolder and brighter future each day, where can developers look for reasonable success within itself?
From my perspective, there's not so much reason to develop an MMO game at this point. Going on previous ventures (i.e all of them) it's a definably unrealistic expectation to have that any game is going to capture the same brand of definitive monopoly on the market that it had. So why bother? There's plenty of other games with a much safer line of success to emulate, such as every successful online game in recent memory. They have managed to provide a great experience (relatively) inexpensively and undemandingly by merit of design the same way that every other game that has ever succeeded has: being recognized as a good game.
Role-playing itself shouldn't be discredited or even definitely attributed to MMOs itself. Blizzard's previous successful online game, Diablo, was a popular multiplayer action RPG with consistent character progression and a persistent market trade system utilizing the battle.net service. In itself Diablo did not achieve any remarkable precidence the same way WoW did, but by virtue of itself being a good game it allowed itself to be played repeatedly and by way of it's community did it have an indefinite replay value that bolstered it's longevity.
Children are an untouched demogrpahic in regards to online games. The only game I can think of that effectively targeted children as an online game was Toontown, a Disney game that enjoyed relatively moderate success. This year will see the release of Dragon Quest 10, a game that also hopes to capture a similar audience through gameplay methods.
Dragon Quest 10 seeks to allign the archetypical single player experience of Dragon Quest with a new online credence.
But why stop there? Children have strangely become alienated in video games as of late... To my confusion. Having a background in developmental psycology in addition to game design, I will argue to the death that video games can be academically appropriate and beneficial to a child's development. Even going as far as to say experiences proposed in these games can have a multi-tiered confidence that reaches older gamers as well as young ones. Primarily, I advocate classic game development as a dimension of applicable reason within the child. Amoung many things like simple asthetic perception and ease of access, challenge is good for building a sense of independance, and I believe that many games today can reach these goals in interesting and thought provoking ways.
Consider Chrono Trigger, a classic Super Nintendo RPG with a cult classic status of respect. Remarkable for it's time was the fact that Chrono Trigger does not feature random battles in a traditional sense of randomized generation per tile, but actually has enemies that are predetermined to enclose you in defined positions on the map. They even have accordanced entrances as they come in. Very interesting for immersion and streamlined nature, especiallly considering the dimension of this actually works atypically to difficulty of battle or other factors.
With the standard rubric of online game design such encounters are at worst not possible, and at best sterile and unremarkable. Cameras in online games are often permanently fixiated behind the players back, a point I will address shortly. But in regards to overall design, I blame this mostly on an overexpungent consideration for uncontrolled initive in western game design, while not a bad thing it does not lend itself to well situated enviormental pacing. I believe a tender hand is useful in any creation, and the expungent sporadic placement of enemies is not in accordance with this.
Chrono Trigger implemented an interesting method of pacing henceforth untypical of JRPGS.
I also feel that cinematic consideration is missing from online games. Onimusha, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil are all games that managed to have a streamlined gameplay effectivism in conjunction with more natural considerations for atmosphere and depth by way of camera angles and more regulated background articulation. Onimusha is really the only one that managed to have applicable controls for this dimension, but so applicable are they that I propose an entire game designed with this outlook would be a remarkable success.
Silent Hill emphatized cinematic dictation to synymize atmosphere as an element of gameplay as well as an asthetic.
So how would this be applicable in an online world? Well, there's two ways I can see it happening. One is simply that it wouldn't. A game designed like this would need to simply not be a massively multiplayer game and simply emulate something like Diablo and work with lobbying systems and matchmaking services. The other would be a more massive consideration of carefully formulated dictation of enviorment in miopic perspective in respect to a diplomacy of a massive world. A massive undertaking I'm sure, but would it be worth it? I believe so. The seclusive narrative could initate instancing or "phasing" as it was used in World of Warcraft as a rule of thumb over chance of effect. It owuld also marginally reduce server costs and scale of the game. Amoung many other tangible benefits I could present.
The Fable series overworld functions on a series of smaller enviorments that spin the webbish landscape of it's world.
It could also greatly impact the combat of the games as well.
Children love Legend of Zelda.
I repeat this for the sake of insurmountable posterity.
Children. Love. Legend. Of. Zelda.
The main reason I propose this is the combat. They love it. It speaks to them. The breath of impact that their character has in terms of gameplay whilst situated within the engagement of challenging and imposing adversaries collides within them to demonstrate an unspoken effectiveness of presence that leaves them breathless, unquestioning, stimulated, and most importantly remarkably entertained. My comfoundment is as to why relatively few games have made any effort to even come close to emulating this combat style at all.
The Legend of Zelda touches us with a credible sense of place in regards to it's world of natural disposition of fantasy and effectiveness of challenge.
I believe it is the archaic dictation of regulatory considerations of outdated principal on what makes an online RPG that games like World of Warcraft have presented as unmoving realities that keep us from considering perspectives such as this. Why is it that real time games are unappropriate in online modes? Why is it that targeting a player is the baseline of attack rather than an individual consideration for attack formulation? It's more sincere in regards to actual fighting. Why doesn't it translate to the online world?
Online games need to evolve. Sometimes this means taking a step back and considering certian fallacies.
In regards to something of an evolution, I find it funny that online games seem to be moving less in a more social outlook as time goes on. MMOs are surprisingly anti social games as of late. Currently the only game I can think of that really captures a definitive sociological implicaiton is Ultima Online, the father of the modern MMO. Ultima Online features player housing and touts it's social aspect as the forefront of it's game design. Forthcoming in regards to this is World of Darkness, which features permanent death. Which I believe will proove remarkable in inherit longevity and design competence, in addition to social elements and community.
By nature of design, Realm of the Mad God manages to have an infinitely changing world due to constant unstable affliction of design and permanent death providing rotational diplomacy to it's playerbase.
Star Wars: The Old Republic presented itself as an evolution of the online market, and it was met with much anamosity for that claim. While I can't exactly claim any strong feelings either way, I do have much first hand consideration for why exactly one might feel that way. Inherit alienation from the established lore is one principal, and subjecting an unnerved player to cutscenes is definitely offputting to those with low patience, which the streamlined dictation of World of Warcraft seems to enamor with it's pacing. I also disagree with it's fact that story itself means that players need to stay subject to intensive narration or even cutscenes at all.
Players met Star Wars with a discouraged reception due to it's over similarity with other online games overshadowing it's innovation.
Falling back on the Chrono Trigger outlook, who's to say that an oncoming enemy couldn't simply boldly announce it's intentions in a descriptive formulation? In the concept of a children's game, attitude is often much more important than any sort of regard for anything else. They succeed through emotion before reason, and I guarentee you that giving a child a reason to be angry at his adversary is going to stimulate an enjoyable pretense for the fight that will leave him fulfiled at the end of it. A trio could run on stage (this being the emphatic word) and say something like "You better run you little brat!" and the player is going to be initiated in the fight immediately.
Children's games do not need to be concered as failsafe Nick Jr type escapades with fluffly clouds and soft trees ever again. Especially considering the rest of the market's disregard for conductive pretense. Nor should children's games.
Why haven't online games captured this sensibility?
Perhaps in coming years this will change.
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