Tag Archives: Chronicles of Elyria

Emergent Storytelling Reigns Supreme

This is a collaborative post debating merits of emergent storytelling vs. static storytelling between yours truly and Roger from Contains Moderate Peril. After reading this, make sure to check out his side of the debate!

When it comes to MMOs, emergent storytelling is king.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good static story. The choice driven narrative in The Witcher series is as compelling as the linear experience of The Last of Us. For a single player game, it’s still the way to go. Emergent storytelling is improving for single player games like future XCOM-like releases, but they still pale compared to a hand-crafted story. The reason for this is single player games lack the human component. We’re still not close to AI that can mimic humans. But if there’s one thing that existing MMOs don’t lack it’s people. It makes the genre what it is.

Think about the most memorable stories in MMORPG history. Lord British’s assassination in Ultima Online. Felling the Sleeper in EverQuest. World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague. Eve Online’s heist (and basically everything else in that game). For MMO-lites, Rust has long been a source of entertaining stories. These events are so special that they transcend the worlds from which they originate. The common denominator between them is players using (perhaps abusing) the game system in unforeseen ways.  You literally can’t make this stuff up. That’s the potential of emergent storytelling.

emergent story eve heist

It’s true that to fully experience emergent stories, you need to be there when the event occurs. For the regular person, that’s not feasible. Gamers also work or go to school and can’t be available for something cool that’s happening in a video game. Fear of missing out affects a lot of people, given how many choices we have for entertainment. Playing a game where that’s a constant threat can be stressful. The flip side is that every login, it’s possible you will experience something memorable and unique. Maybe you’ll even be the one to initiate it. There’s no end to the storytelling in an open-ended system. Contrast that with a static story that will eventually end, and I think it makes the risk of “missing out” completely worth it.

Most of the events also tend to revolve around loss of some kind. Eve Online makes news based on espionage or massive wars, leading to the loss of property for players. Even the family friendly World of Warcraft’s most newsworthy happenings revolved around a nasty plague and disrupting a funeral. These are the things that make headlines – but I think that’s because MMORPGs have largely relied on PvP for emergent gameplay thus far. Non-MMO multiplayer games, like Minecraft, have demonstrated that players can impress us with cooperation as much as with conflict. Unfortunately, MMORPGs in that realm (like Landmark) haven’t made it very far. And in terms of PvE gameplay, public quests in games like Guild Wars 2 and Rift have been too predictable.

Ultimately, there is a lot to be gained by emergent gameplay. The point of the above is to show that thus far developers haven’t gone far enough with it. World of Warcraft blew everything up with its focus on solo play and quests. MMORPGs are expensive to produce so that’s been the blueprint for a decade. Thanks to the beauty of crowdfunding though, developers can now take risks to differentiate. MMORPGs like Star Citizen, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria will (hopefully) deliver some exciting emergent options.

star citizen emergent gameplay

The core element is focusing on freedom of choice. I realize that’s easier said than done. The balancing element that also narrows the scope is consequence. Everything is possible, but everything has a price. It’s from this choice and consequence that people create these memorable narratives. Whether MMORPG developers like it or not, people play pivotal roles in storytelling both by their absence and their presence.

1) Absence – AI is predictable. Predictability does not lead to good stories. Good static stories circumvent this through scripted events to weave their tale. The problem is that these events work in isolation. When players are running around the world, that changes the experience in unseen ways. The absence of real players is usually critical for the storyteller to deliver their goods as intended. But MMORPGs are not solo affairs. Why focus on stories best experienced alone when the medium itself is built around multiplayer?

2) Presence – Humans are anything but predictable, especially when relatively minor consequences and internet anonymity gets thrown into the mix. MMORPGs should use this to their advantage. I’d argue that playing Eve Online is boring at best, but experiencing Eve Online’s multiple PvP systems is thrilling. Give players the tools, and they’ll create history. Again, just look at the massive success that is Minecraft and all of its copycats. Whether it’s building and destroying or cooperating and conflicting, it’s the people that make the MMO genre what it is.

Even language itself changes in unintended ways thanks to the players. MMO first timers might be overwhelmed by all of the genre’s jargon. It can feel practically like a foreign language. What’s cool is how this language naturally evolves to create terms or abbreviations that didn’t exist prior. Language may not be flashy, but altering the way we communicate fascinates me. And we have MMO players to thank for that.

I’ll close saying that games like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: The Old Republic offer good stories, but I’ve never seen them talked up besides from those who have experienced them. By contrast, I do see single player stories talked up. That’s all because it’s a strength of that focused medium. I say leave static storytelling to those single player games and push MMOs to invest in systems that allow players to tell their own stories and build their own legends. MMOs were built for emergent storytelling.

Like any good debate though, there’s always another side to the story. Check out Roger’s discussion in favor of static storytelling at Contains Moderate Peril.

2016’s Crowdfunded MMOs

More than any subset of gamers, MMO players fall in love with a game’s potential. We’ve also been burned the hardest, making for a oddly cynical yet idealistic crowd. These two facets of our identity make for an interesting reaction to crowdfunding campaigns on places like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. As potential backers, it’s fair to question the practicality in backing an MMO’s campaign. Crowdfunded MMOs in 2016 weren’t quite as exciting as some years’ past, but this article didn’t get to 1,400+ words with nothing to show.

How did the below campaigns perform? Is the money that people requested even enough to fulfill their design goals? Are the timelines for delivery remotely reasonable? Is there enough experience on the team to even deliver the technical challenge that is an MMO?

Despite these questions and more, five games were able to meet their funding requirements in 2016:

Chronicles of Elyria

Chronicles of Elyria crowdfunding

Raised: $1,361,435 on Kickstarter

None of the 2016 crowdfunded MMORPGs promised a more unique experience than Chronicles of Elyria. Hell, it might be more ambitious than anything else on the horizon outside of Star Citizen. Players will see their characters age, die, and even perform activities when offline. NPC quests will be replaced by player mission and contracts. Combat will be twitch based so the team is also effectively promising low latency, even in large battles. The development team wants to create a truly living world and all of CoE’s features come back to that core idea.

The pricing model is fairly unique too. When a character dies (living on average one real year), players will need to pony up $30 to transfer their soul to a new host. Other factors can improve or reduce one’s lifespan, but basically this is a $30/year subscription fee. Seems pretty reasonable to me if Soulbound Studios actually delivers on their promises. And I Kickstarted CoE, so I hope it does! The biggest concern is that developing a complex sandbox like the Elyria team envisions involves a lot of upfront work. Creating an offline NPC system that won’t induce massive player rage isn’t a breeze either. A million bucks seems like a lot, but that’s really just a stepping stone for a game changing MMORPG like this one. The feature at greatest risk is the twitch based combat. I expect some regression to a hybrid model like in Elder Scrolls Online.

Dual Universe

Dual Universe crowdfunding

Raised: €565,983 (approx. $600,000) on Kickstarter

Dual Universe promises a sandbox in one centralized, persistent universe where economy, politics, trade, and warfare are all player-run. Sound familiar? The game creators seek to create a single monolithic server where players can live out their roleplaying desires in space. Any type of character is possible, and tons of possibilities abound for how players can impact the world. Skills even train in real-time. The Kickstarter reads like a bullet point feature list for Eve Online.

The key differences are direct planetary interaction, voxel-based building and construction for immense freedom, and combat seems to be more planet than space driven. Delivering everything they state on their Kickstarter page by launch in 2018 is ambitious, to say the least. It’s taken Eve Online over a decade to get where they are now. While technology certainly makes “catching up” faster and easier, planetary combat is significantly more complicated than space combat. I’m also concerned about the audience size, given that Eve Online has never been a behemoth in the genre. Visualization of characters and voxel building will attract new crowds on their own though. The chance to start on even footing vs. Eve’s decade plus vets is also attractive for new and veteran MMORPG gamers alike.


Edengard crowdfunding

Raised: £41,535 (approx.  $51,000) on Kickstarter

Edengard is a yet another sandbox MMORPG, this time styled in a post apocalyptic world similar to Fallout and Mad Max. The core gameplay revolves around rebuilding civilization. Players will be able to build their own towns from scratch, fight other players for territory, and build characters with 17 unique skill trees, all with procedurally generated content in a persistent game world. This is an ambitious project, one many others have promised before. We’re basically talking about upgrading Rust into a fully functional MMORPG, and that game has sold roughly 5 million copies at $20/pop. To say I’m skeptical would be an understatement.

The Poland based Huckleberry Games is apparently towards the tail end of development and thus only needed a relatively small capital infusion. That explains why $50,000 could get Edengard into a playable state. Hitting that amount with 128 backers is worrisome though, as it doesn’t signal a wide audience. They’ll also be launching on Steam Early Access within the next few months. On the plus side, Edengard has been in the works for over four years now so there are some videos that showcase what could be a solid game. Based on previous launches of similar concepts by similarly sized studios though, I expect this to linger in Early Access for at least a few years. Hopefully the team will stick around until then to fulfill their vision.

Dragon of Legends

Dragon of Legends crowdfunding

Raised: CA$ 20,380 (approx. $15,500) on Kickstarter

Prior to this Kickstarter, the developers cut their planned persistent world MMORPG features. So why is it on this list? They still plan to deliver something similar to Guild Wars or Destiny, which generally qualify as MMOs. I’d also rather be overly inclusive than exclusive. There will be a hub to interact with a bunch of players and instanced based areas to play through primary content with a group of up to twenty players.

Combat is ARPG hack and slash style with several different abilities depending on faction and class. Similar to many MMORPGs, players can also gather resources to craft complex goods. These can then be used by the player or sold for a nice a profit. It’s unclear whether the team can deliver all of the planned online features with such a small budget (even if they find venture capital or Canadian grant money as planned). I’d guess Dragon of Legends ends up being launched as a single player game, with multiplayer to come later down the pipe. That’s assuming the single player game is reasonably successful to begin with. We might end up with something like player hosted games accessible from a general lobby like in Grim Dawn. That would drop it out of the MMO space but at least deliver promised multiplayer.


Screeps crowdfunding

Raised: $11,493 on Indiegogo

Despite its budget, Screeps is by far the coolest MMORTS I’ve ever read about. Players control their own colony using JavaScript to issue commands. They’re also limited by their CPU usage. Essentially to play Screeps well, one will need to program well. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of options by normal MMO standards. The fact that players gain an immense level of freedom through programming their own actions more than offsets the minimally apparent scope.  Unlike other MMOs that need to raise hundreds of thousands in order to succeed, Screeps has already launched on Steam (NOT Early Access). The reviews are pretty great too. If you’re an MMO fan looking to brush up on your JavaScript skills, look no further than Screeps.

Kickstarter Continuations

And some MMORPGs ran continued crowdfunding campaigns in 2016. Project Gorgon raised almost $20,000 on Indiegogo to supplement their $75,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. Crowfall launched an investment based campaign that is set to close in a few days. Instead of simply paying for a future product, investors in the MicroVentures campaign actually purchase a (minuscule) amount of the revenue generating pie. It’s raised almost half a mil, putting Crowfall’s total funds at over $10 million. Some may take this as a worrying sign that Crowfall is running out of money. On the contrary, there is just a lot that goes into making an MMORPG that promises as much as Crowfall. Whereas I expect every other game on this list to cut features, I expect Crowfall to launch with the vast majority of their stated list.

Failed MMO Kickstarters

A number of other MMOs attempted Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns in 2016. Most were run by rather clueless developers. No screenshots, no videos, no history, and no experience means no money. People aren’t going to support a developer or team, without anything on the table, that expects to make an MMORPG from scratch for some paltry figure like $25,000.

The only notable failure is Hero’s Song. Headlined by Daybreak Game’s former president, John Smedly, Hero’s Song promised some interesting features. Basically, players could randomize their world based on a number of unique factors and open it up to “MMO mode”. Patrick Rothfuss was also on board to create the backstory. For those unfamiliar with him, he’s basically one of the heir apparents to “George RR Martin” in the fantasy world. Unfortunately, they only met half of their funding goal and closed down shop earlier this month. It should just go to show that if these veterans can’t deliver an MMO-lite experience for $100,000, you should be wary about someone offering five times the features at the same price.