A constant hot topic in the MMO-blogosphere is how we can improve future MMOs. That’s a good thing, it’s a genre that could easily stagnate (even though I am not 100% convinced that it has) if the things that worked in older games keep getting copied until we only have a bunch of different WoW-clones to choose from. But it’s also interesting to see certain points being dragged up again and again, despite there actually being a game that manages to address them to a large degree. It’s not the perfect MMO in any way, but if there would be a new game that would include similar features, I am certain some would herald that new game as “revolutionary”.
Crimson Starfire just summed up some of the points that he (she? Sorry if that’s the case, Crimson) thinks should be addressed before we have a “MMORPG 2.0″. I could go digging after more similar posts, but I like how that post manages to distill a lot of the criticism that’s been flying around for a long time. Here are the points, all copied and pasted from World of Shadow:
- Static worlds: Player actions have very little impact on the world. Kill something and it respawns moments later.
- Everyone is a hero: Everyone follows the same quests and story lines.
- NPC and monster AI: It’s laughable at best. Aggro bubbles? Seriously…
- Balance: How do you make completely different classes equal in strength?
- Grind: These will always exist but the disguises need some work.
- Economy: When you get 10 silver for killing the same rat that respawns every 20 seconds, you know the economy will have issues.
Luckily, Crimson doesn’t just complain – he/she/it (“he” from now on) has a couple of solutions and suggestions for how we could address and solve those six points. And constantly, while reading the post, I am reminded by a small MMO from France. A MMO that a lot of people constantly overlook and that was way before its time when it launched. And, obviously, still is in many ways.
The game I am talking about is Ryzom. Poor underachieving Ryzom, fighting against constant financial trouble instead of getting the praise it deserves. Still going, getting a flurry of patches that includes updates to both game and storyline…yet no one seem to notice (except Massively, when you bug them enough – check the “thanks” at the bottom of that post…). Poor Ryzom, the kid in a classroom filled with fighting bullies, overlooked by both teachers and the other kids in the schoolyard. Yeah, you get my point by now. I think it deserves a lot more publicity and a lot more credit.
So, back to the list, and Crimson’s solutions (some of them paired together when appropriate, quotes in italics, check the original post to get their full context)…
Static Worlds & NPC AI: “This brings me to the ‘world without a player’ scenario, where the world is ever changing on its own. Players should only ever speed up or slow down this process” and “If they can get away with adding an aggro bubble to a monster with a trigger to attack, then they will. There is nothing stopping NPC and monster AI from improving except the game budget“.
Now, Crimson does suggest that “[f]or every player action there needs to be an equal and opposite server reaction in order to maintain a dynamic equilibrium”, which is not present in Ryzom. But the world is certainly alive with or without the player. Ryzom has seasons and the wildlife migrates depending on which is active on the server at the time (every season lasts four days, replacing each other in a 16 day cycle). The creatures also have a primitive AI. Herbivores will react to players passing by, coming to sniff them or in some cases beg for attention. Sometimes they even break off from their herd to check out things, i.e. players, that make them curious. Also, carnivores hunt the herbivores, attacking and trying to kill them.
Depending on the season, certain materials might not be available. Since materials are the blood that keeps Ryzom ticking, players usually spend a lot of time mapping out where they can be found and at what time. Dangerous creatures have set aggro bubbles that does not change depending on player level, which means that you also have to learn how close you can go before being attacked (which can be very important when digging for rare resources). Since the wilderness of Ryzom is filled with dangerous creatures, going from one city to another is not something done without planning ahead – and preferably not alone. All of this creates at least the illusion of a world that exists on its own, without players being around or not.
Everyone is a hero & Balance: “[T]he only thing blocking this from happening is problem number 1: static worlds. Fix that and everyone can follow their own story to heroism” and “The balancing process can be sped up with better tools and analyzing techniques, but essentially it will always be a problem“.
I very much agree on the “everyone is a hero”-issue. I shall return to that in the near future, since I have a whole post about it planned. But it is a problem, but it’s far from happening in all MMOs. EVE Online is a perfect example where everyone is a super-human pod pilot. In City of Heroes everyone is a hero (it’s in the title!). And in Ryzom we are all refugees, we are all trying to re-build Atys and our society, while protecting what we’re building against the wildlife and the Kitin invaders. There is no raid boss to kill in order to save the world which we, and hundreds if not thousands just like us, will be back to kill again next week. There are world bosses, and named creatures walking around, but I always felt like they were more part of the world than in almost any game I’ve played before.
That does not mean that everyone is equal, though. Crafters especially can gain quite a lot of fame if they have self-discovered recipes (not drops, recipes they’ve researched themselves by putting together various pieces of materials to see what stats the equipment they are making will get). Guilds become famous through their deeds, through warfare against other guilds and for their trading or generosity. Since server population in Ryzom is still quite small it doesn’t take long before you start to recognize most guild names and what kind of play style or faction you associate them with.
The balance issue in Ryzom is, just like in EVE Online, quite easy to deal with. Certain skills might be better than others (even seen ranged DPS in Ryzom PvP? Ouch.), but everyone is able to learn all skills. It will take a long, long time, but it is theoretically possible. And, just like in EVE, a player can only reach a certain level in a skill, which means everyone is always able to catch up. All this while still allowing players to customize their characters and their builds as they see fit. The variety in looks, builds and equipment can be simply stunning. A game does not need classes to allow players to explore different ways to play. Classes are inherently restrictive and I for one would be happy to see them go.
Grind & Economy: “If you give the player a different experience each time, the grind with be less prevalent” and “[t]he solution lies with getting a balance of currency generated with currency destroyed“.
I’m not going to go on record saying that there is no grind in Ryzom. Hell, there is a ton of grinding in Ryzom. It can be made a lot better, and a lot more fun, in groups – even resource gathering can be done by groups, where one player digs while the other is trying to keep the resource from blowing up in their faces (called “careplanning”). But the grind is quite prevalent at times, there’s no denying that. Hopefully, as time goes by, the developers will be able to address this part of the game.
Ryzom does take a whole new angle when it comes to economy though. Dappers, the “gold” of Ryzom, is more or less worthless. Sure, there are things that only dappers can buy (including mounts, banking animals and apartments), but when you have all that there’s nothing for you to spend more on. The “economy” of Ryzom is more or less based on trading and quid pro quo – you do me a favor, or get me a piece of armor that you can craft, I’ll help you in the future. Guilds trade constantly and anything from rare materials to experience catalysts gained from outposts change hands every day. The system, all built on trust and the concept of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”, works. No economical back end that the developers need to keep constant track off.
Of course, that kind of economy does not fit into every MMO, even though I would love to see what would happen in World of Warcraft if you took out the AH and all the gold sinks (mounts, bank space, the Dalaran rings, etc). It’s very interesting to see in action though. It might not have been what the developers intended from the start, but if not it makes it so much more interesting.
As I said before, Ryzom is not the perfect MMO. It has a lot of issues, including the fact that it was never fully developed, that needs to be dealt with – hopefully it has a big enough paying community these days to at least make some of the old goals reality. We shall see. But what it does have can be amazing at times. Play it for a while and you will never play another MMO the same way again. You will miss the freedom, the community. You will curse at animals that just wanders around aimlessly and ignores you despite you jumping in a circle around them. You will miss the way the economy works, how players seem to help their friends in the knowledge that it will benefit everyone in the end.
Most of all, you will realise what a small revolution Ryzom was and, in many ways, still is. And it all happened back in 2004, when we all were busy staring blindly at Azeroth…
(Did I mention that Ryzom has a free trial? It does. Go download it and give it a try. I also didn’t mention the Ryzom Ring, which preceded CoH’s Mission Architecht with 5 years.)