Game Development Reference
in jeopardy by a dastardly villain; said villain is overcome in a harrowing battle;
next week another even more dastardly foe surfaces to repeat the process. The quest
format established by games like EverQuest II and World of Warcraft moves the player
through a series of small vignettes that often conclude in the defeat of one foe and
lead into a conflict with the next. Expansions to these games throw even bigger bad
guys into ever grander settings, hopefully building upon what has gone before so that
the story arc builds consistency.
While this has proven to be an economically successful model, it isn't necessarily
the most satisfying. Even fans of half-hour sitcoms like to see the stories wrap up
neatly, and MMOs tend to leave a lot of dangling threads. As writers, we can do bet-
ter. While older MMOs had a lot of limitations on technology, newer titles can apply
some of the newer features developed to enhance the methodology of storytelling.
For example, games like Pirates of the Burning Sea and Lord of the Rings Online
use instancing (a method of making unique copies of a given area for each group of
players) to enhance storytelling. Players can journey through a story-driven instance
and achieve their objective (defeat the bad guy, obtain the treasure, etc.). Next time
they enter the instance, the population and setting has changed to reflect their actions
last time through without affecting the experience for players who will be enjoying
that content for the first time.
Though the challenge of telling dynamic stories while maintaining a persistent
shared world remains, techniques like those noted above can be used to tell a good
story without ignoring the desire to keep the game running for many years to come.
Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo371?
The movie Star Wars may have featured multiple characters, but there was only one
Luke Skywalker who went from being a farm boy on Tatooine to becoming a great
Jedi Knight. His was the classic heroic story arc, a journey countless fans would love
A massively multiplayer game allows thousands or millions of players to under-
take a similar heroic journey. The problem is, they all undertake pretty much the
same journey, and they may be doing it at pretty much the same time. Besides those
minor details, the writer won't know the character's name or what sorts of motiva-
tions lurk within the player behind the keyboard. Do the players even really care
about saving the world, or are they only in it for the loot?
While an MMO can strictly guide players along a single path, it is more in tune
with the dynamic and varied richness of the genre to offer players multiple ways to
enjoy the game in the way they want to experience it. This can be accomplished in
a variety of ways, some of which are easy and some of which can be very costly in
terms of time and resources.
One of the easier means of letting the player feel like he has a unique voice is
to offer multiple dialogue options when interacting with an NPC. Give the player
varying options to be polite, rude, helpful, intimidating, neutral, or disinterested.
This will make the players who care about such choices feel like they are taking a