Tag Archives: Star Citizen

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.

Six MMOs to Watch in 2016

A new year — and a shiny new site — are upon us, and now is the perfect time to take a look at what 2016 will offer for MMO gamers everywhere. Today, we’ll be covering the titles most worthy of your attention in the coming year, from exciting new entries in the genre to old favorites with interesting new developments coming down the pipe.

Blade and Soul:

Blade and Soul fight

North American MMO players have had a long wait to get their hands on this title, which has been live in Korea for some time, but after years of waiting, Blade and Soul is finally on its way to the West.

This free to play wuxia-themed MMO promises combo-focused action combat inspired by fighting games, stylized graphics, and competitve one-on-one PvP .

It looks like a pretty exciting title, but Korean games do have a somewhat mixed history in the West, and Blade and Soul’s North American release was delayed long enough that some of the initial hype has died down. We’ll have to wait and see how it does when it launches on January 19th.

If nothing else, the martial arts theme does offer a welcome break from the Tolkien-inspired fantasy settings that have long dominated the Western market.

World of Warcraft:

WoW Legion Suramar previewWorld of Warcraft has had a pretty rough go of things lately. The Warlords of Draenor expansion has been harshly criticized for a lack of content, a bizarre storyline, and several questionable design decisions, such as attempting to disable flying mounts in all new content.

As a result, WoW lost nearly half its players in six months, and subscriber counts are now lower than they have been since before the launch of the first expansion nearly ten years ago.

But even vastly diminished from its once dizzying heights, WoW remains the largest pay to play MMO on the market by a significant margin, and Blizzard isn’t taking its decline lying down.

Later this year, WoW is set to launch its Legion expansion, bringing a return of the Warcraft universe’s most iconic threat, the Burning Legion, and at last adding the oft-requested demon hunter class.

Even if it’s not the titan it once was, WoW remains a pillar of the MMO genre, and if Legion does well, we could perhaps see it reclaim some of its former glory.

Star Citizen:

star-citizenThe MMO community loves controversy, and at this point, Star Citizen may have taken the crown for most controversial title in the industry.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi MMO is either a promising new space sim, a messianic savior coming to deliver the MMO genre from publisher-mandated mediocrity, the poster child for feature creep and unrealistic ambition, or a shameless scam to harvest cash from gullible gamers without ever delivering a finished product.

No matter what perspective you take, Star Citizen is a fascinating game to watch, and even if it doesn’t launch this year — or at all — it’s already providing endless entertainment. Some of the best PvP around can be found in discussions over the crowdfunded title.

Black Desert:

Black_Desert_SceneBlack Desert is an ambitious new buy to play sandbox from Korean developer Pearl Abyss. Already launched in Asia, Black Desert is hoping to launch in North America sometime this year.

Some of Black Desert’s selling features include frenetic action combat, a dynamic weather system that impacts gameplay, gorgeous graphics, extensive support for player housing, a conversation mini-game with NPCs, and deep crafting and trading systems.

Black Desert is another Eastern game that has long been anticipated in the West, and in a lot of ways, its story echoes that of ArcheAge. Both ambitious, visually spectacular Korean sandboxes hoping to find a following in North America.

ArcheAge has suffered more than a few setbacks and controversies — from server instability to questionable cash shop practices — so a lot of the hopes that once rested on it have now been placed squarely on Black Desert’s shoulders. Will it live up to the hype, or fizzle as did ArcheAge? Only time will tell.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:

SWTOR agent 5Star Wars: The Old Republic went through some big changes in 2015. With the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, Bioware radically changed the game’s leveling path, along with a number of other systems, to put the focus squarely on the main storyline, rather than the side quests and other filler content that garnered the game much criticism.

Meanwhile, Knights of the Fallen Empire’s new content has thus far focused almost entirely on single-player story content, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon.

This change in direction is very gutsy, and it puts the focus squarely on Bioware’s strengths — namely personal story — but these changes also amount to an attempt to excise much of the MMO elements from SW:TOR, and that has garnered criticism from some players.

2016 is the year where we’ll learn whether Bioware’s gamble has paid off. It will be very interesting to see if SW:TOR continues this focus on solo story, or backtracks towards a more traditional MMO content model.

EverQuest Next:

EverQuest-Next-Screens-Player-CharacterThe third entry in the EverQuest franchise made a big splash when it was first announced a few years ago with its promises of adaptive NPC AI, unlimited multi-classing, a reboot of EverQuest lore, and a voxel-based world to shape or destroy as you see fit. But since then, there hasn’t been much news. EQN’s spin-off/test bed, Landmark, has languished in early access for some time, while news on EQN itself has been scarce.

A lot of fans have grown concerned, fearing that EverQuest Next will never see the light of day. But Daybreak Games insists work on the title is ongoing, and with Landmark theoretically nearing completion, their focus should now shift to EQN.

2016 is the year we’ll see what Daybreak has been cooking up all this time, and whether EverQuest Next is the transformative game it was thought to be when it was first announced.