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The Death of Story

Author: inwowgold Source:

Last time we began our look at how stories are dying in games. Stories occur on two levels in MMOs, the global and personal. I began our investigation of the global story by arriving at two conclusions about what's necessary for players to feel like they are the part of such a tale. First, players must be able to see and feel changes occur around them. Second, players need to be a source of permanent and long term change. The only aspect of gaming that currently is exploring this concept is PvP. While advances in PvP are promising so far, this focus has neglected the numerous other aspects of MMO gaming. If "war is the continuation of politics by other means" doesn't that suggest deeper potential actions behind the current pre-arranged conflicts? If "the pen is mightier than the sword" then why are players only able to use swords? The answer is that the devs won't let go of the pen.

In establishing a world story, game developers have four roads open to them. The most common is to neglect it altogether, beyond the establishment of a back-story. A second method, as championed by AC and discussed last time, is to have a strong story but have it strictly controlled by the devs. The opposite decision, as employed by EVE is to have no running story at all and leave everything in the hands of the players. This is a courageous choice, because who knows what players are capable of, yet it is still only a thin veil hiding the reality that this is just another means of ignoring a world story. I say this because even EVE can't escape the need for NPCs (albeit in limited roles). Nor do they give full control over to the players in the sense that someone who starts as an Amarr cannot defect from the Amarr Empire and join the Gallente Federation. Nor can the Caldari as a people align with the Amarr or the Brutor tribe rise up against the remainder of Minmater. In a world of true player control, all of these would be possible.

This leads to the final model: a hybrid of shared player and developer control over a living storyline. The story starts with the devs (they created the world history after all), but the events that unfold in the game are not locked in a prearranged sequence. Instead, the chapters ahead are unknown and players can influence what unfolds, even on the highest level. So how can players feel they are gaming in a dynamic world and how can they influence the story of that world? It can occur in many ways, on many levels of complexity and depth.

Remember last time when I referred to events taking place in our real world and our awareness of them, even if we aren't directly involved? This basic concept remains missing from most MMOs. Take, for example, WoW's PvP arena matches. Not being a big PvPer myself, I haven't been directly involved in them. I'm only aware of it when I hear players spamming global chat for partners in the competition. In a way, this is the "sport" of an MMO world. Wouldn't it make sense that there would be billboards in the major cities that could advertise the lead contestants? Why do the NPCs that wander the streets of Stormwind only regurgitate the same meaningless blather over and over when they could serve a more practical and realistic role by saying such things as "Did you see the fight between so-and-so and so-and-so? That troll was butchered like a murloc!" Not only would this put actual game events into the mouths of NPCs, it's also a way to give recognition to the contestants that do well.

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