Tag Archives: Rust

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.

Das Tal’s Alpha is a Story of Sabotaging Greatness

Over the past few days I’ve been sinking my teeth into the Das Tal alpha test. And it’s been fantastic – not because the game is anywhere near launch ready but because the groundwork is laid for an incredible and innovative MMORPG. This is a game that turns combat, player interaction, and leveling on its head. It resembles multiplayer survival games like Rust and ARK: Survival Evolved combined with a two dimensional combat mashup of League of Leagues and Guild Wars. Unfortunately, while Das Tal evokes a refreshing blend of many successful multiplayer games, it falls short of delivering a great multiplayer experience. But it’s just an alpha test, and after playing it I’m excited to see where this game ends up next year. Believe me, that’s not something I say very often about alpha tests.

Das Tal aiming

Das Tal advertises itself as the MMO where MOBA meets sandbox. Character movement is controlled via WASD instead of a mouse typically used in top-down MOBAs like League of Legends. At first I wasn’t a fan, but combat turned out to be slower paced than expected. The WASD controls allowed for more precise attacks, which is critical for oh so many reasons.

First, there are no auto attacks in Das Tal. Every attack must be manually aimed. Lining up an attack, especially a ranged shot, can be difficult between all of the character movements. Second, all abilities hit all targets in an area whether foe, friend, or self. This really takes positioning to the next level. One of my favorite PvP fights was against a mage channeling a healing aura. I blinked into his aura, stayed close, and let him drain his energy on healing both of us. Without any remaining energy for abilities, my opponent fell easily. All of the positioning and manual aiming makes combat rather challenging in a group. Or at least, I assume it would. Das Tal’s group support is absolutely abysmal at this stage and is one of the game’s biggest flaws.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to actually form a group with other players. You can’t trade directly with them either. Really, the only way you can interact with another player is to attack them. It’s incredibly frustrating to find players willing to cooperate who simply can’t because the game doesn’t allow for it.

Das Tal ingredients map

Throughout the game world, resource points spawn which can be claimed and contested by players. These points, along with enemy drops, are the only source for materials needed to level up, craft new gear, increase abilities, and advance your character in any way. Thus, one might feel that grouping up to secure these resources would be a smart survival strategy. In Das Tal, the only way to facilitate that is to let one person claim the points, split the loot manually, and then drop it on the ground. This isn’t 1998. These features are simply not optional for an MMORPG of any kind. Das Tal must create mechanics that not only encourage grouping, but actually allow it. History has shown that everyone is a target in an open, survival PvP MMO. If players can’t band together to survive then it’s going to be a sad, lonely road to /uninstall.

Clans are supposed to serve as the primary social interaction. Events seem to run frequently and territories lay in wait to be conquered, all of which serve as endgame content. While that’s great, I ascribe to the belief that the core gameplay elements must first and foremost be enjoyable, clan or no. It’s also worth noting that individuals in a clan will conquer resource points for their clan instead of themselves. I believe this allows anyone in the clan access to the resource point’s loot. So that’s sort of a way to group, but it’s like asking me to get married on the first date.

Where resource spawns succeed is in creating dynamic focus points to engage players with one another and/or against local mobs. Every few minutes, messages display alerting the player of a nearby resource spawn, with each unique area providing distinct resources. So if multiple players want obsidian to craft a better staff, the scarcity of spawns will create natural conflict. The winner after five minutes of this king of the hill battle will earn solo access to loot the resource point. Of course, Das Tal offers full looting of player’s corpses so sometimes the real danger doesn’t begin until trying to store one’s glittering prizes. The player’s stash is the only place safe from antagonistic interference.

Das Tal resource control

Speaking of which, the stash is a very strange device. There are many potential stashes littered throughout the world’s makeshift towns, but a player can only store items in one of them at a time. This gives off a nomadic vibe, as players must constantly seek new homes in search of higher quality resources and better skill trainers. And the full risk of a nomadic lifestyle comes with it as players can lose all of their items transporting them to a new stash. You can imagine my surprise when I first found this out, trying to drop off some loot in a place far away from my home base. Luckily, I didn’t encounter any aggressive players on the road to town. In town was a different story.

While trying to stow away my inventory (the managing of which is rather cumbersome), I discovered that absolutely nowhere is safe in Das Tal. Another player, hidden in a bush, assaulted me. I managed to dance around long enough to store everything, but the writing on the wall was clear for such a feature. I’m not looking forward to the griefers’ inevitable camping of stash spots if the current system remains in place. Small safe zones simply must exist for players to craft, manage items, and talk without fearing death. I love the tension that Das Tal’s open rule set creates, but tension is only fun with an even ebb and flow. Constant tension does not make good game design.

My other complaints were pretty minor. Some resources spawned in inaccessible points. Level notifications took up too much real estate when they popped up in battle. Players were oddly split between two servers, despite relatively low populations. The insane frequency of mob spawning often frustrated when simply trying to loot the last five dead mobs. The benefits of each increased ability level are completely unclear. Visuals, sound effects, and animations reminded me frequently that I was testing an alpha product. But despite all of that, Das Tal exhibits a certain charm that many of today’s top MMOs lack.

Das Tal inventory stash management

Player levels don’t matter that much and only serve as a maximum power mark. What really matters is the ability levels of the selected weapons and armor skills, which combined act as the player’s class. Like Guild Wars, players are limited to equipping only a select number of abilities (up to 10). This creates no shortage of decision making when building a synergistic skill set. I spent most of my time wielding a staff and switching armor between robes and leather. Both armor types felt different, fun, and viable. It’s the perfect trinity. Learning and advancing skills requires particular resources but never felt like a grind because of the skill based combat, player threat, and frequency of drops. The best thing I can say about my experience during Das Tal’s alpha is that it felt rewarding.

Das Tal is not going to be a mega popular hit. Its hardcore, open world PvP will appeal to a niche audience. But that’s not something MMORPGs should shy away from. The days of a one size fits all MMORPG are long gone, with nearly every online title including some form of MMO gameplay. Das Tal realizes this and never tries to misrepresent itself as something it’s not. The only question is whether they can create a system that is still fun for weaker, newer, or clanless players.

Those interested in the game can still try it out for a few more days. Registered users can get a free Das Tal alpha key from mmorpg.com. The alpha test runs through the end of the week. If you’re reading this too late for that, first you should follow us on Twitter. Second, you can visit the Das Tal website to sign up for future alpha tests.