I am not a tabletop guy. I would be if I had friends who were, but I don't so I am not. I am, however, a big board game lover, so I have at least seen mention of the Pathfinder system in places where board games and tabletops news often mingle. Nevertheless, a lot has me excited for the potential of Pathfinder as a MMORPG. Read on to find out why.
Goblinworks has been running a series of design-oriented blogs for what they would potentially like to do with their Pathfinder Online game. A key element of the game will be its mixing of classic sandbox gameplay with newer theme park elements. For example, dungeons in games like Everquest were heavily camped, often way over crowded, and rarely as exciting as they could be. In the modern MMO, most dungeons are instanced off so that players can experience them without constant yells of "Train!" every five minutes or zone wide arguments over who was where first and for the longest.
Pathfinder Online's approach would marry the two in a surprising way. Unlike the highly static instanced dungeon entrances of games like World of Warcraft, Pathfinder Online's dungeon entrances would spawn in random locations. Upon finding them, explorers can assemble a party and journey into the dungeon, which locks out players and hides the entrance.
Yes, I do understand that this is just instancing with random dungeon entrances. However, part of the problem with how modern MMOs are designed is just how static, boring, and uninteresting they feel. More often than not, the zones are designed to point you down a specific path to a specific hand-designed area which might result in some sort of achievement for your valiant efforts of exploration. In doing so, a lot of the wondering and amazement of just wandering around in a fantasy world gets lost. By randomizing entrances, they effectively promote exploring the world, and they create something that feels like a unique experience.
Runaway Item Lists
Similarly, Goblinworks plans to change how crafting is done. Often in modern MMOs, crafting is simply a means to improving your own character. Though you can use it to make money, that is often a secondary reason why someone picks a specific crafting ability for their character.
In Pathfinder Online, Goblinworks plans for nearly every item that can be used, seen, or touched, to be crafted directly or indirectly players. Using RTS elements, players construct camps around resources which attract NPCs called 'common folks' to work. These raw resources can then be transported to market where they can be bought and sold to others wishing to make them into new items, such as a new sword, a fancy robe, or a sleek chair. This may not seem all that different from what games have already done and are still doing, but the goal here is to create an environment where players can play the market as an alternative to playing the combative roles, rather than a simple side job.
As their own blog puts it, "We know that many players just want to strap on swords, fire off some spells, and get into as much trouble as they can. But the beauty of the MMO experience is that the range of options for characters - and the kinds of people who are attracted to the game - is wide and complex." That sentiment alone, the recognition that a MMO can be and should be about more than just the sum of its violent parts, is probably enough to peak my interests. But wait, there is more ...
Realizing Your Dream to Own a Fantasy Home
Yes, the coup de grace of classic sandbox MMO design: player buildings. Sure, these are just ideas, but Goblinworks has already outlined ideas around building homes, forts, and businesses (such as inns). And while most MMOs struggle to implement the most basic of player buildings, Pathfinder Online seeks to have buildings that can be destroyed.
Without a real game in place to witness any of this, I of course have my doubts. But just hearing about some of their design choices has my mind racing and my heart yearning for more. A particularly interesting choice would be to launch the game not with fully interactive buildings, at least not in the sense of 3D interacting with them on the interior. Instead, using menu based interfaces to indicating what is going on in the inside.
That may sound boring and dull and hardly grandiose, but as a long time MMO fan, I have read more than my weight in articles about design choices and plans that were truly too good to be true (or even possible). Using menu-based interiors actually make the idea of player built and destroyed buildings seem realizable and even reasonable.
I am not suggesting you immediately go and donate to their Kickstarter project. I am just suggesting that this game is definitely one to keep an eye on - especially if you are into sandbox MMOs. Sure, it is another goblins, dragons, and generifantasy adventuring, but at least there seems to be some sort of attempt to push the envelope. And though there massive success in the tabletop realm might not translate perfectly into gaming, it definitely seems like they have some idea of what they want to do and the passion to do it.
If you would like to read more, you can find their regularly blog postings at: https://goblinworks.com/blog/