Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Don't Tread Through My Sandbox, Please

Consider the following image:  before you rests a rather large pile of straws, resting violently upon a camels back.  The camel is lame, mostly starved, and ugly to boot. She is ready to buckle under the collective weight of the straw at any moment.

Now, to stretch this worn out metaphor just a little longer, imagine that you are a serious fan of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games -- one that started with the classics (Ultima, Everquest, Dark Age, etc.).  Add to that, you are a member of the minority of the genre's fans that believe that controlling a "unique" hero down a series of heavily defined pathways is about as fun as Facebook games. Finally, you are one of the millions of fans of the Elder Scrolls series, and have had dreams about how it could translate beautifully into the perfect sandbox experience.

Then in a sudden flash, in walks the Elder Scrolls answer to the MMO call, the last straw meets the pile, and your camel's legs shatter and explode like they got shot by any gun from any shooter in the 90's.

This sentiment is not unique.  The best part of the rollercoaster ride that started with the announcement of this new MMO (a very high point in my day, a few days ago) to actually reading some details about it (about as low as Satan's wine cellar), has been the overwhelming sentiment that THIS IS WRONG.  Finally, the stagnation of a genre that once was honestly my favorite of them all, is beginning to be discussed as a problem.

It is too early to damn Elder Scrolls to the trash bin of WoW-likes forever.  But unless this is the Crossroads (the UO one where people were butchered for not avoiding common roadways), I fear it might be too late for the genre.  Despite the glorious arrival of indie gaming and the beginnings of true crowdsourcing with Kickstarter, MMO's are still stuck in the curs'd orbit of their biggest successes.  Every new MMO requires a hotbar, a leveling grind, and wildly different gameplay systems in place for every type of MMO player known.  Everything the average gamer and the average investor expect to be in the newest, greatest MMO just function as deadweight forever burying the dream of presumably once wide-eyed developers under smothering conventions and trammeling traditions.

There needs to be a glorious revolution in MMO design.  Not only do we need to break away from these conventions and traditions, but we need to get back to making games simpler not in the sense of difficulty and accessibility, but in the sense of fun and precision.  Let's build MMO's that focus on competition or focus on cooperation or that fuse the two together as the core of the experience, instead of what we are doing now: building Disney World sized megaparks where every curiosity and fantasy can be visited in its own enclosed space, that have been designed inorganically from the top down, rather than organically from the bottom up.

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