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Friday, June 17, 2011

Repopulating the Ghost Towns

This post is a continuation of a previous post where I commented on the problems related to game design in MMORPG’s that often left zones empty of players. If you haven’t read the post yet I urge you to give it a look over here.

            First I would like to state that the following ideas are my opinion on fixing a common problem associated with MMORPG’s today. Now with that out of the way I would like to make a few suggestions on possible ways to eliminate the creation and the subsequent ignoring of whole regions of game content.

            Common game design dictates that players gather experience from completing various tasks in game and then utilizing the experience to gain rank. Although each game is different, the general premise is that a player becomes more powerful via new abilities and improved stats. Once a player reaches max level they then improve their character via gear upgrades. The problem with this classic design is in order to maintain a challenging environment for players; Developers will create “level” appropriate areas geared towards progressing them along. As players advance they leave behind them an empty barren land of no interaction and fading memories. Great locations once adored by many are left to remain unwanted and unused.

            If we eliminate a players Level then we can eliminate the need for “level” related areas. Now many will say that if we go this route then what’s the point of playing a game without progress? Why log into a game if I can’t grow as a character? My solution to this is to have characters become more powerful with two different mechanics. I would keep the ability to improve a player’s equipment or gear as this makes sense, but I would eliminate a player’s ability to become more powerful in abilities. Instead a player would learn new abilities not normally associated with their class.

            Imagine if you will a Warrior that has filled up his knowledge bar on how to swing a sword and has in essence become an expert, he receives minor improvements to his skills like, +5 to hit and such, but his base stats of health, Wisdom or whatever remain unchanged. His weapons will improve and offer their own modifiers for things like chance to hit or total damage, but nothing to dramatic. Armor can improve resistance and such forth, but the overlying theme is increases in abilities are minor. However once a player has mastered the arts of his own abilities he can begin studying arts in other fields. For instance he could be a warrior/mage with some lesser abilities than a full mage like adding fire damage to his sword attacks or creating a shield. This will allow the player to still have something to aim for without creating a demigod which forces the Developers to keep upping the anti.

            Now you may have noticed two problems with my suggestion and are presently wondering what I am ranting about as I am not really fixing anything. Problem one – Players are still “leveling” in a way and therefore will become more powerful than other players and/or mobs in an area. Problem two – once players over power a regions mobs they will not wish to return if it is not providing them a way to improve themselves. Both are valid questions that require answers themselves.

            As to players leveling the biggest difference is that players in my world would not have extreme advances and therefore would not be overly powerful beings, instead they would be marginally improved over others. Now I do believe a well seasoned warrior should be better than a rookie new to the lands of strife, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. Instead it should provide a tactical edge found in better gear and knowledge and force the newer player to overcome the better equipped and trained opponent.

            To combat the problem of out-leveling content, zones would have to be constantly updated to introduce new things to do. Now I am not suggesting an earth shattering change as we saw in Cataclysm, but a more mild change from time to time to alter the landscape slightly. Lands should be fluid in nature and constantly evolving in an unknown manner. This will create a need to explore old covered grounds to see what’s new. Also I would layer content in each region with some mobs being more powerful than others. This is more realistic as each type of enemy would not be of the same health and level just because they share the same area. 

            A player may stumble upon a group of beings that he has no business facing and might die, but she can then mark that as an area to return later or to bring back friends to help. Quests can also help keep players in the right area of a zone, but that involvement should be limited and only “aid” the player in places to avoid. Lastly I would create non combat related things to do in each area no matter how well adapted a player is. A more robust crafting and gathering system is a possible idea to implement among others to give players a reason to return.

   This is the beginning of my idea and there is much that I have left uncovered, bit I have gone on long enough for now and will introduce other ideas in a later post. I am curious to know what you think on this subject and welcome any ideas.

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