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A living story and world in a MMORPG: is it possible?


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#1 theoxygenthief

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 12:14 PM

I have long had a soft spot for story telling in games. I unashamedly use cheats in single player games as I am more interested in seeing where the story goes than in the gameplay "challenges" and I just want to "read faster". Therefor I was very excited when I heard about GW2's approach to story and the living world originally, I think games are a unique and powerful medium for storytelling: it is the only medium I know that could truly involve the viewer/player in the story and where the player affects where the story ends up at the end of the day. Make no mistake, allowing player action to affect the world offers some huge challenges in a MMORPG setting specifically, and I was excited as I believed that Arenanet could pull it off. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

It seems to me that Arenanet decided there should be two worlds: A personal story world that is static and a Living Story and world that is dynamic. The problem with this is that the timelines make no sense. Where does the Living Story and events in the living world take place in time? After, before or during the conclusion of the personal story? I finished the personal story before the Living story content, thus theoretically that is after. Yet, it takes place in locations that have not changed since the theoretically monumental events of the conclusion of the personal story albeit there is no sign of this. This in itself is a bit of a frustration for me, but does only contribute slightly to the cognitive dissonance. I can still pretend places like Southsun exist in complete isolation to the main story (not so much with the Flame and Frost content though).

The cyclical event chains in the living world are also very shallow, predictable and without any permanence, contributing further to this cognitive dissonance.

The biggest cognitive dissonance for me though is caused by map travel: after the PS (personal story) conclusion I travel to Orr and everything is still exactly as it was before the PS ended: implying the events I just witnessed did not happen. Was I dreaming? Yet my character is walking around with the spoils of the final battle so it DID happen. What's going on here? In Fort Trinity I trigger an instance that makes it clear I did just win and it is happily ever after, but then the instance ends and back outside it's again as if that was a dream?

How do we solve this?
The first big challenge is that there can be no living world without permanence. Arenanet decided to have their cake and eat it and that is impossible. Either have permanence, or don't have a "living world", you have to choose. If the centaurs in Harathi get defeated over and over, have this reflect. No Imaginary centaur mother can pop them out as fast as we kill them. At some point the threat needs to diminish, and sooner rather than later. This doesn't mean the world has to end up in a boring happily after state, they can offset this by introducing new threats, as per the flame and frost content perhaps (Although those were centaurs again). The landscape also has to change over time.

The second big challenge is a consistent timeline. I'm still a bit undecided about how you solve this. I can conceive solving this in the existing framework by not allowing travelling back to map instances prior to the concluded personal story instances. Obviously this makes the game world less populated though and they don't want that. Another possibility is having two world states: One pre-PS end, and one after. Once you have concluded the PS you get moved to a new version of the world that reflects this. It's still the same world map, but it properly reflects the impact of the PS-ending events. You can then never go back to the previous version (you can create a new char of course and do it again).

The other methods I consider workable do not fit in the existing framework at all unfortunately. Some of the most fun ideas fall under this category though. If a lot of players choose Maguma Jungle as their character's birthplace this is reflected through more towns popping up throughout the region. If a lot of players spend time in Queensdale and merch their stuff there the people become better dressed, the buildings fancier, the roads busier and more bandits flood the area. Players could build homes, pledge allegiances, Establish guild houses (this is Guild Wars after all), expand the borders of the map, work the lands, whatever.  

I'm not saying that they should try and implement any of the above in GW2 as it stands, it's obviously too late for that. I'm just hoping they learn from GW2 that they can't have their cake and eat it and that empty promises are empty promises. Hopefully Guild Wars 3 will be a better game then and I might enter the realms of Guild Wars once more.

#2 Desild

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 12:28 PM

Deep down, I kinda know what ArenaNet is trying to pull with the Living World business. They are updating certain areas to match a continuous story that is progressing after Zhaitan's defeat (which began with Halloween).

The problem is, as you mentioned, permanence. While it is understandable for things to cycle regularly and repeat from time to time as to give people the chance to experience this content at their leisure. With the alternative being the three day long Lost Shores event, that enraged people to no end, you can't be in no right mind suggesting they repeat that whole affair? I mean, the lag, the rage, the disconnection, the server instability. Those sort of things don't justify a single one time event and the time invested in making it happen.

But then ArenaNet is dishing out content and removing it afterwards, with no permanence. Sure we beat the Fused Army, but we also beat Zhaitan and I don't see his forces moving out. Leaving Flame and Frost content as it was might have been too abrasive for new players, but it left the rest of us poorer. We could sure have used a new dungeon, with new tokens and loot. My only hope is that they reinstall that content permanently, and keep dishing out more permanent and "fun" content. My idea of fun is quite twisted anyway, so meh.

While the story of the Secrets of Southsun Cove was quite frankly weak, it gave the whole area a new breath of fresh air. And Blooming Passiflora, which are awesome.

Overall their heart is in the right place (even if a bit too close to my wallet). Then everything gets tainted by the cashshop and yaddayadda ArenaNet is evil and all the jazz... You heard it all before.

Edited by Desild, 11 June 2013 - 12:33 PM.


#3 theoxygenthief

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 12:42 PM

View PostDesild, on 11 June 2013 - 12:28 PM, said:

The problem is, as you mentioned, permanence. While it is understandable for things to cycle regularly and repeat from time to time as to give people the chance to experience this content at their leisure. With the alternative being the three day long Lost Shores event, that enraged people to no end, you can't be in no right mind suggesting they repeat that whole affair? I mean, the lag, the rage, the disconnection, the server instability. Those sort of things don't justify a single one time event and the time invested in making it happen.

There were a few problems with that event: a weekend is too short, they handed out free passes, overall bad planning. That said I think they learned a lot from that mistake.

#4 Desild

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 01:04 PM

View Posttheoxygenthief, on 11 June 2013 - 12:42 PM, said:

There were a few problems with that event: a weekend is too short, they handed out free passes, overall bad planning. That said I think they learned a lot from that mistake.

They sure did. My concern is that perhaps ArenaNet is a slow learner...

#5 Featherman

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 01:46 PM

I think there's far too much emphasis being put on the term "living," when all that a good story or story-driven content needs is sensible structuring. Furthermore, truly organic and living stories can only be delivered if the game's content and systems are mutable with respect the players' decisions, and this is something sandbox games are aiming to achieve.

GW2, however, follows the themepark mentality of content through and though so it can't very well react to the players. What players are given with the living story are fairly static setpiece storylines. The devs attempt make the content life-like by making it impermanent and impractically so. I think everyone, including ANet- especially ANet now that I think about it- should drop the "living" term. It is not feasible for GW2 to ever live up to everything the term implies, and this is made evident by how the game falls flat whenever it tries to simulate a "living" world.

#6 Leyana

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 01:27 AM

Yes a living story and world is possible and has been done before. Look up Asheron's Call. They did a living story really well and sadly at a level that hasn't been seen since. The problem was it required a large investment of human resources to run.

The best part of the AC system was that players could affect the outcome of the stories. Here is one of the instances where this happened:

The story was to prevent the coming of some evil, players had to go around smashing shards which were the source of its power. A group of players decided to help the evil and actively protected the last shard. They kept up a 24 hour guard and sacrificed themselves to level the shard up to unbeatable levels. They kept this up all through the story arc and since the following update hinged on the evil not being unleashed, these players were holding up the update for the whole game. So, the admins got directly involved. Took them three tries to beat their way past the guardians with help from the rest of the server. That server got a unique monument dedicated to them for their efforts.

That friends, is how I think a living story should be done. ANet could take a few hints from Turbine.

#7 Millimidget

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 08:56 AM

View PostLeyana, on 12 June 2013 - 01:27 AM, said:

Yes a living story and world is possible and has been done before. Look up Asheron's Call. They did a living story really well and sadly at a level that hasn't been seen since. The problem was it required a large investment of human resources to run.

ANet could take a few hints from Turbine.
I remember their end-of-beta event being pretty awesome. It's worth remembering, though, that AC didn't rely on the elaborate quest leveling systems todays MMOs use; they weren't wasting resources on content that was effectively single player.

#8 theoxygenthief

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 05:11 PM

Asheron's Call sounds awesome to me!

#9 Zhaitan

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 05:20 PM

View PostLeyana, on 12 June 2013 - 01:27 AM, said:

Yes a living story and world is possible and has been done before. Look up Asheron's Call. They did a living story really well and sadly at a level that hasn't been seen since. The problem was it required a large investment of human resources to run.

The best part of the AC system was that players could affect the outcome of the stories. Here is one of the instances where this happened:

The story was to prevent the coming of some evil, players had to go around smashing shards which were the source of its power. A group of players decided to help the evil and actively protected the last shard. They kept up a 24 hour guard and sacrificed themselves to level the shard up to unbeatable levels. They kept this up all through the story arc and since the following update hinged on the evil not being unleashed, these players were holding up the update for the whole game. So, the admins got directly involved. Took them three tries to beat their way past the guardians with help from the rest of the server. That server got a unique monument dedicated to them for their efforts.

That friends, is how I think a living story should be done. ANet could take a few hints from Turbine.

Did Asheron's call have a cash shop/gem store?
Did Asheron's call have a monetization group?
Did Asheron's call plan for a revenue generation model that is based solely on microtransaction?

Answers to these questions will help everyone understand why the quality of games in this genre is actually degrading over time.

This is what I guess happened between Manifesto days and launch. The pitch ANET made to NCSoft to make a case for GW2 started to prove to be unattainable. So, NC Execs called for a "Come to Jesus" type of meeting w/ ANET bigshots and pretty much told them to "fu@k off!' and steamrolled their vision with NCSoft's usual vision of how an MMORPG should be. It must have RNG, a cash shop full of stupid stuff, some mechanism to extract money from addicts (with some essence of gambling). Every single NC Korean grinder goes with this same philosophy - from Lineage to AION. It's a proven model. They tried to shove that on ANET's vision of GW2. That's the hodgepodge you see today.

I will not believe if suddenly ANET employees became uncreative, stupid and inefficient. I don't think with this current model you will get Asheron's call anymore. GW2 desperately needs content that is replayable and offers variety at the same time. There should be a lot more player to player interaction than what exists in game today. Living world with no interaction among players does not really work. They should have continued expanding personal storyline into the living story instead of doing random things. After the bogus end mission of personal story, ANET/NC owes its customer that much. lol.

#10 Leyana

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 12:27 AM

True, AC relied on a $10 sub to support their living story. Like I said in my post, it requires a large amount of human resources to effectively run. Which costs a whole bunch of money. But there should be a way to somehow have the living story be more meaningful. Have the players be part of the story. Don't be afraid to recognise the achievements of a few. I enjoy following the happenings of EVE online because of the heroes and villans (mostly villans though) that pop up.

Not gonna turn this into a microtransation rant thread though so I'm gonna pass on discussing the rest.

#11 Millimidget

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 12:55 AM

View PostZhaitan, on 12 June 2013 - 05:20 PM, said:

Did Asheron's call have a cash shop/gem store?
Did Asheron's call have a monetization group?
Did Asheron's call plan for a revenue generation model that is based solely on microtransaction?

Answers to these questions will help everyone understand why the quality of games in this genre is actually degrading over time.
Not at the time, but a quick search last night suggested that AC is still running, still receiving updates, still having events (how elaborate I'm unsure), and possibly (probably) converted to or picked up some elements of a cash shop.

EDIT: It's apparently still subscription based (~$13/month).

Edited by Millimidget, 13 June 2013 - 01:43 AM.





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