Eden and MMORPGs: Look but don’t touch

29 03 2007

Dear Blog,

After MMORPG-hopping for quite some time (and taking screenshots galore), I think I have figured out what it is that I want out of a game, which is that which consistently eludes me: control. Sure, I have control over my character’s race, gender, and often haircut, and over what type of weapons she will use to slay monsters, when to use healing items, and even which monsters to hunt at a given level. But the thing that intrigued me more than any leveling or partying was always the scenery. I am a very visual person and would stop in the middle of the bleakest of deserts on my way to another continent, spin around in circles, and photograph the landscape from every angle. (I tried to snap my pictures at times when there were the fewest mutant bunnies in the line of sight.) The forests and cities of Final Fantasy XI were especially captivating to me.

And then I left.

I was not getting anywhere levelwise, having plateaued at level 14 on that game for almost a year straight because I so seldom joined parties. As a result of my weakness, I also could not experience new locations like I wanted to. Fly For Fun contains the highest-level character I have ever had, approximately level 24, but I have not played that game in quite some time. (No thanks to globalization homework, of course.) But the thing is, I am growing, so I can see new places. And even if I were not growing, I could always just kind of float around aimlessly on my hoverboard. Why do I lack any kind of attachment to the game?

Well, I think one major thing is that even if I can fly all across the world and see its wonders, it is not as if I can touch them. I can kill monsters and grab the things they drop, but that is about all. Well, I can also have scripted one-way conversations with NPCs. Final Fantasy XI had a material-harvesting system, which I did appreciate to the limited level a novice like me was able to take advantage of it, but that was still not enough control. I saw lovely trees and could not climb them; I saw lovely flowers and could not pick them. Forget planting a vegetable garden in a woodland clearing. The bunnies were both creepy and cute, but I could not take them into my mog house and name them Fluffy. Fly For Fun has some feral catgirl-monsters which are kind of dementedly cute, but they are monsters and I am a figher, thus I cannot feed them or buy them shoes or ask them what it is like being a feral humanoid or anything weird like that. They also will not follow me home and kill mice for me; they will only follow me if they are aggressive-types and want to kill me.

As a counterexample, on Second Life you can do anything. (Except, in my case, reset my password so I can log in. ;_; ) You just have to program it yourself. As a result, the landscape is littered with fragmented realities that are extremely limited in scope. I cannot begin to tell you how messy that world is in visual terms alone: look out across the sea and see the beautiful Viking ships of this landlord, the billboard-skyhome-shopping malls of the closest three neighbors (complete with even more billboards), and some disembodied genital organ sculptures dumped on the land by an obnoxious vagrant (which I probably do not have the ability to remove). Good luck picking up a sandwich you find on a table. Good luck doing anything that the object’s maker did not take the time to program herself. I mean, just because I am carrying around a sphere that I have not written a program for yet does not mean that a plywood ball would be intrinsically unsuitable for hurling at my acquaintances’ heads when they irk me! Bonus points if they fell over, ducked, or threw something back, but one of us would need to code it.

I have heard that when you add things like deformable terrain to MMORPGs, within a short time period your scenery starts to look like the moon. Second Life is proof that control equals chaos. The real-life story of the Garden of Eden tells us that what humans are allowed to do, they will sooner or later screw up. So how do I get a game keeps me engaged–where I can make stuff happen other than momentarily decreasing the bunny population in a certain neck of the woods–which does not deteriorate into absolute chaos? Where is the balance? How would it be implemented?

I want to make my own online game someday for this purpose. I am not sure if my chances of meeting the objective or even making anything at all are very high, but I think that it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

I shall make artificially-intelligent bunnies that can follow you home if you decide not to shoot/stab them. I will make flowers that you can pull out and plant elsewhere, or put in your hair, or make into salad. The eight-year-olds of the world will love me. Power-levelers may be less thrilled. I guess a truly great game would accommodate them as well, though. So…train your stats by killing ferocious dragons, then go home and feed freshly picked herbs to your pet bunny in the house you built right next to your favorite waterfall, then go out and snipe your foes for great justice! Yargh!

Love,
Violet Black

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One response

30 03 2007
Gibbermad

I can see what it is you’re wanting, and I must admit, it would be nice. Sadly, you are going to have to do it yourself in all probability, since there isn’t much of a market for it xD That’s a lot o’ lines of code, I can totally see that at some point you have to decide, “yes, it would be nice, however not enough value added to the game.”

but hey, I’d at least look at it if it came out!

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