In my basic point blank statements I've been posting on the Champions forums the past day or so, I made a comment about this and it struck a nerve with someone, and I found it ironic. Namely, I basically stated that Star Trek fans have low expectations of their franchise. And it's true, Star Trek fans do have exceptionally low expectations of their franchise. I use to be a Trek fan, and it shows regularly, especially when people are trying to say things like Deep Space 9 was the pinnacle of Star Trek, or that First Contact was the best Trek movie ever. Hint: No they weren't.
This goes into the main topic of tonight's blog. Expectations and reasonable deliveries. To be blunt, Star Trek fans, for the most part, expectations are so low that the only way to actually go lower is to dig a trench. Thought he show has inspired many great thinkers, anyone that believes that the science of Star Trek is even real is going to be in for a rude disappointment when they actually bother to do some studying on that. Needless to say, having been a former Trekkie and use to be all into the Treknobabble (official word many scientist use to explain the bullshit science of Star Trek) I could tell you what a phase coil was or a Heissenburg Compensator or any of that other made up non-sense that couldn't even possibly exist within real science.
Now before the nerd rage, glasses wearing, dork patrol of Trekkers (they hate being called Trekkies as they think being called a Trekker somehow makes them smarter) comes and beats down my door, I do understand there is quite a bit of realistic science in Star Trek. But not as much as many people might believe, and Star Trek never had a team of scientist to make sure the science was correct. That was an old wives tale because as William Shatner himself stated "We made it up." And the age old excuse of "we just haven't developed the technology yet" is a copout bullshit excuse that only those desperate dreams continue to do. But this is a rant for another time, and I guess I should just be talking about expectations.
Anyways on expectations. After that little bit I noticed one thing from several prominent posters across several forums I visit. Many people seem to have set their expectations rather low. And I must admit after looking back on myself, I rather had low expectations for a lot of games I use to play. This has sense been corrected and I have a very basic list of expectations that have to be involved before I give a game a pass into the it's decent territory now, and for a game to be great, well, they pretty much have to stop making a theme park rail shooter line and go back to the age of sandbox games with sandbox game play. But who are we kidding. To get to that level, developers would have to be able to convince investors that the money and cost to develop such a game would be justified, but honestly, most investors will never see that even though it's almost universally accepted that many gamers look fondly back on old sandbox titles like UO and SWG before Sony bent that franchise over and screwed it horribly.
Maybe it's the beer goggle or rose tinted glasses aspect, but considering a theme park game let's you have practically no control over the development of your character, no matter how they disguise it, it just makes all the new games rather mediocre when it boils down to it. Yea some offer these little talent trees disguised with various names, and a few actually give choices between various powers, but when you get down to it, it's still a rail shooter, you are still stuck in tunnel vision when it boils down to the basics, and no matter what you want to do or try, you still have to accept that you will never, officially, be allowed to deviate from the invisible rail that you were set on and you will never be able to deviate from the forced path you have to follow.
So what are my expectations for just a good MMO these days? Well the basics are this right now;
- Character customization actually has be decent and somewhat involving. Now I don't expect say, APB level customization, though I love that. But for me to even begin to start being interested, character customization actually has to include multiple choices I can actually control and not just a smattering of hair dos, skin colors and face choices and call it a day. I think EVE's character creator is an awesome one as well, the new one they've just released, but EVE is too far up the alley for me to care about. The basics on face control and height and weight adjustment are a must. If it's WoW level or DCUO level retarded, its' already got a big negative against it on my chance to interest me list. The closer I can get to actually making my character in my mind, the better it has at succeeding to.
- I must have freedom to wear whatever the hell I want in game. I don't give a shit what world you are creating if I can't distinguish myself from someone else don't bother me. That will turn me off just as fast if I am going to end up, regardless of the creator, of looking like everyone else because of the stupid armor or weapons I have to wield and eventually everyone else will have. This is honestly where TOR is getting a big hit on the negative side from me. I want my Sith and/or Jedi character to look unique, not be Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker clone 3,741. But many modern MMOs suffer from this incompetent bit of brain fart and just are so lazy to do anything about it that it is revolting. And it's just as sad as the older sandbox titles went this route as well.
- I want to have choice on what I am doing. I think many MMOs miss this by a landslide. They develop tunnel vision and force you to follow that one set path and pretend you actually have a choice. Really, I don't care how many times you tell me starting a new class is different from another class, if I am back on the same stupid path as the last class after level 10 then your whole point fell apart. If you are promising multiple paths to get to your destination, then deliver that. And games that claim to have replay value, you don't unless you supply those multiple paths, because quite frankly, you guys are so afraid to think outside of the established box, you're afraid you will catch crotch rot or something.
- Crafting must have value and be of important in your game. This is a big one and absolutely no MMO in the past decade has gotten right. There is one extreme which is EVE and that's too far where there is nothing to actually strive for in the universe as a whole except the stuff to make other stuff. Then there is the opposite which is WoW where crafted junk is just there to give you a fake, but otherwise useless number and has no value or use on the game play, what so ever, unless you are a specific set of skills. And anyone saying otherwise is lying out their ass, hard. Crafting has to matter, it should not be something everyone can do, and the rewards for those who dedicate themselves to crafting have to be nearly equal to what can be gleaned. They also should be tradable. This non-sense of only the crafter can benefit from the items created is stupid, it fails and it shows how little you actually care about those people that love to craft.
- The game has to present a fun and challenging experience. This is a big one because most developers do not understand how these two intermingle. Oh sure you can have fun for a little bit knocking over duckies, but eventually it just becomes old hat. That's where the challenge comes in and it requires a bit of finesse. One shot kill codes are not fun. Get it through your head developers. The "you're a fucking idiot" light or sound effect that results in a one shot kill is not fun or challenging, it's frustrating. Challenging is a boss that is not predictable but can be managed. Challenging is an encounter that requires a bit of strategy to start hurting it and the meanwhile you can be killed in the process. Fights that are fun require a bit of challenge and require people to think, not become automatons in the fight. These scripted, predictable fights are not fun. Stop trying to sell them on people as if they are. But bosses should not be push over's. Unfortunately this results in some monumental levels of health for added challenge so players aren't one shotting the big stuff, but I think a fine line in a boss that actually acts and moves tactically instead of lumbering around like a retard will work out and you won't need bosses that have 5 billion hit points.
- I must have a reason to do your stuff. After you get past the first few hurdles there, here comes the clincher. Do I have an actual reason to do anything you created? Or is it just there to be there like most of the stupid in WoW because that's how they did it? Think about what the most memorable experience for a lot of players in original WoW was and I bet most will say Deadmines because it had purpose and a reason to be there. You also need to come to the realization devs, if you made a theme park MMO, regardless of what your false philosophy is, loot is very important in that type of game. You can't ignore it, you can't get away from it. Plain and simple. But that's only part of the equation. Believe it or not, you will actually get a lot of people enthused if there is an actual reason things are there. Molten Core and crap like that, things that had no reason, it was just another loot run for people and it got boring. There was no real reason to go down there for the fight, except the loot. On the flip side you also have to realize locking people out of things for extended periods is also ridiculous to, and as such if the people choose to save at points then let them but if they choose to reset let them redo it, stop trying to slow their fun and progression down, you should be focusing more on providing that content in spades to your players, not trying to find ways to slow them down from doing it.
- And finally, a very big one that will make me not give one goddamn iota about your game, does it feel open. If I feel like I am walking down one corridor from another, don't bother even trying to sell it to me. If I can't at least go out and do a bit of exploring, don't bother even trying to pitch it to me. This is an instant turn off and will make me want to go elsewhere. And this is the thing that has been lost majorly in the MMO industry in favor of this theme park non-sense. MMOs were about freedom to explore and to live the life you wanted to, not follow a rail and be done with it once you reach the end. This is why so many of you are failing because you think WoW was right, which they weren't. The only thing WoW had was a name and a reputation but now it's so forever tarnished I am still shocked people bend over and take it up the ass for them. People don't want to feel like they are on a rail shooter and the more you do that the less they feel inclined to actually play your "masterpiece".
Again, these are only things that will get you up to being an okay to good game in my book. If you really want to impress me, you need to realize I want a sandbox game. I am sick to death of theme parks, especially fantasy episode 2 billion 86 we are now. Get over it, fantasy is dead stop making them. Start trying to exercise the ingenuity and making games like western style, modern or even somewhat futuristic games. But stop with the goddamn fantasy. The market is over saturated and 99% of the reason your game fails right out of the gate because everyone's seen dragons and elves before.
And what constitutes a sandbox? Believe it or not, no theme park elements at all. Players are free to build, go and do whatever they want. Oh you can have theme park areas specifically and quests even, I would never dissuade from quests, but players need that freedom .They also want to feel they can own a bit of the world and thus a major step up is player housing and the ability to customize that housing. Something that will dip into the old pocketbook for sure. And one of the major things to consider for the sandbox experience, the world has to be dynamic, IE scripted, repeatable events just can't happen. Oh sure a GM or whatever you call them can create stuff for people to do, but what happens on one shard should be unique from what happens on another.
You can put big bad raids and if done right even include loot to go after but that loot should be on par if only slightly better than what the players can make. The crafting has to really matter and the players need the freedom to form their communities. This is what made UO so popular back in its day before WoW. That freedom. I can almost guarantee you, the first sandbox MMO to get released for the modern MMO market, will probably be a landslide hit. And I will say straight up, it will probably require some booku backing and a team dedicated to delivering an experience that allows for people to choose to be whatever they want. It can't be skimped on, the world will have to be very open and seamless.
That means the first step will be forget naming everyone the chosen one, not everyone can be a hero and not everyone should be. That already puts out the wrong expectations for players that start these games. So if someone wants to be a tailor and never pick up a sword, that's a good thing developers. Let them be a tailor let them buy the materials from other players and such. Or let them take the risk of going out into the world. Do not force people to be something they don't want to be let them be whatever it is they want to be.
This type of game is sorely needed in the MMO space and quite frankly, there isn't one that exists right now. Some will say EVE, but even that game still requires some rudimentary combat skills, and even then it's too much of a real life simulator for many players tastes. But I still guarantee any development company or investors, a good and well developed sandbox title these days will go a long way.