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The Death of Story

Author: inwowgold Source:

Assuming you actually have a game that changes over time, this concept could be expanded. AC used town criers to advertise new events. That worked for dev changes and was a good idea. It should work for player changes too. To use another WoW example, why don't the NPCs at Refugee Point talk about who is winning on the Arathi Basin battleground? Warhammer Online uses a slide bar to show regional Realm control. While practical, it isn't particularly immersive. Couldn't NPC dialogue be driven in part by who is winning?

Another level of reality can be gained by adding geographical locations that emphasize the changing face of the world. Most games do this to some degree already. In WoW, I got a kick out of visiting Grom Hellscream's Tomb not to mention dozens of other scenes of destruction from the previous three RTS games. LOTRO has its stone trolls, the famous Prancing Pony Inn, along with a myriad of other sites from Tolkien's novels. These are nice touches, but again I've got to say that AC has the best examples. This isn't because of some obsession with AC, but rather because it is a prime example of a game that has no previous IP. The reason for this potency in the storytelling sense is that the locations you encounter in AC you don't necessarily understand. If you've played the previous Warcraft games, you don't wonder who Grom Hellscream was. Nor do you wonder why the three stone trolls in LOTRO are standing in the forest near the road to Rivendell. But when you wander past the long straight line of statues in the middle of the AC desert near Tufa, you wonder what they are, how they got there, and why they were built. When you see the thousands of skeletons lying around the Hill of Pines, you wonder what battle happened there. These aren't just encounters with history, but with the unknown and that makes the world real and mysterious. Games which build off of old IP will have a much harder time achieving the sense that there are new things for players to discover.

A big area of storytelling that is already being explored as a subset of PvP is city building. This is a great idea, but so far is only scratching the surface. Why can't there be buildings in non-conflicted regions? Of course with building schemes, a measure of control is necessary. Housing on Star Wars Galaxies is a prime example of a real-estate market gone crazy. On AC, even though housing was developer controlled, it still went bonkers. Within a year, you could hardly run five feet without crashing into a housing settlement. But players should be able to influence and even partake in controlled building projects. Take, for example, the Arathi Plains in WoW. As a predominantly Alliance player, I'm annoyed that I have to run all the way to Menethil or Southshore to find an inn or a mailbox. Why shouldn't I be able to get a group of people and/or guilds together and petition an NPC stoneworking guild at Ironforge (aka dev oversight) for building permits? Of course there may be a hefty outpouring of gold for the project, players may be required to perform some serious resource collecting, and it wouldn't happen overnight, but in the end a community effort could result in a new inn.

This leads to my final and largest example of ways for world stories to exist and for players to influence them: the use of NPCs and factions. In most MMOs, players have no expectation of being the ruler of a realm, the general of an army, or the leader of a faction (not that it wouldn't be a bad idea for any of these to be possible). The highest a person can generally aspire to is leadership of a guild or the highest rank in PvP. The role of king and general and chancellor are held by NPCs and in those MMOs with world stories, the plot generally evolves around these figures. In games without a story, if these roles exist they serve no purpose at all. Similarly, many games have NPC factions for whom players can earn a reputation but not true membership. Why not?

The closest influence I've ever seen for players on world events occurred a few years into the AC storyline. A certain NPC by the name of Nuhmudira had been dabbling in ancient dark magic and was caught and put on trial. Players could complete a small dungeon and at the end were levers. Pull one to vote that she should be forgiven; pull another to have her executed. Gamers actually got to decide on what happened next. This is a brilliant idea. Players should be involved in NPC factions and influence what that faction is going to do in the future. In a broad sense, the devs can steer a storyline through the use of powerful NPCs while the players can influence the outcome through the collaborative (and combative) use of factions. The current Realms idea is a good building block for this, but the roles and rivalries are too set in stone. In WoW, why must the Blood Elves and Tauren always be allied? Can't they have a falling out and one side become independent or chose to join the Alliance? Or looking within a single race, why can't Stormwind and Theramore go to war? Even existing factions seem to be de facto realm based. Those who are not are always outsiders who help or hate both equally. Why can't the neutral factions actually have members from both warring realms? That's how the real world works: history is replete with people that follow money and power and play both sides against each other, even if it conflicts with their own national loyalties. Players and/or guilds could influence faction behavior through earning "shares" in the faction and then voting for certain alignments and behaviors for the faction to take, either independently or in response to unfolding story events.

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