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The importance of story in an MMOG is different for every gamer. Some
like feeling as though tales within a game have been custom crafted for
them, while others are content with an overall story encompassing a
race, nation, or world. There are even some gamers out there that
couldn't possibly care any less about a story of any kind as long as
there are plenty of monsters to kill and loot to be had.
For me, the story of a game, and how it relates to me personally is
very important. While I still consider BioWare to be the unchallenged
rulers of this domain in the single player world, there are some games
that have made impressive strides towards making a personalized story
within an MMOG a viable achievement. It's interesting how companies can
strive for the same goal and attain it in completely different ways.
Age of Conan took a unique approach in their efforts to bring an
individualized story to their players. By talking with an innkeeper,
players are able to follow the game's main story line in their own
instanced world. Rather than being a small instance such as those seen
instanced areas of other games, this turns the entire area around the
player into a single player game. Here, players are able to progress
through a class-specific story line by themselves. The full story arc
remains the same for everyone, but the path and missions you'll
complete are different depending on which class you complete them with.
This is both an effective and efficient method to bring the player
further into a company's world.
City of Heroes/Villains took a different, but no less effective method
in their efforts. During the course of your career as a superhero or
super villain, you'll read a number of newspaper stories about your
character. To be sure, they're definitely generic, but getting a note
saying Villain X is getting uppity in the underworld and needs to be
beaten down a few notches certainly has its allure. Given enough time,
civilians around the city will begin to recognize and react to you as
well. Don't be surprised when some enemy decides you've become enough
of a pain and drops in on you while you're out just roaming around.
From the outside, situations like this don't seem difficult to
implement, but they really go a long way towards drawing a player
deeper into the rabbit hole.
Since Cryptic Studios were the initial creators of the CoX titles, it's
no surprise that the team has gone even further with their latest
comic-inspired endeavor, Champions Online. Rather than just being
jumped by some anonymous villain that has a problem with you, you now
get to create your own personal nemesis from scratch. Design their
costume, power build, etc. It's just one more way to further the
player's involvement with their own enjoyment, which companies hope
then translate into longer sustained subscriptions.
Not to be outdone by anyone,
those masters of storytelling I made reference to earlier, BioWare, are
set to bring the role of story within an MMOG to new heights of glory
with the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic. They stated on
numerous occasions that each class will have its own individual
storyline that will keep the player engrossed throughout their journey.
How they plan to accomplish this ambitious task remains to be seen in
full, but if anyone can pull such a feat off, BioWare is that company.
Despite my personal preference, game companies don't need to cater a
storyline to individual players. There are plenty of success stories
that confirm this, with World of Warcraft being chief among them.
Rather than focusing on storylines that revolve around individual
players, the majority of story within the game is centered upon the
various races and nations. Blizzard has taken more of a lore-centric
approach to their story telling and who can argue with almost 12
The story telling in EverQuest II takes yet a different route in that
it attempts to combine the best of both worlds. Most of the lore and
story within the game involves the various capital cities, races, and
the gods of Norrath. The team at SOE has gone one step further though
by making the NPCs of various cities react to your presence in
different ways. This was highlighted best by an incident shortly after
the game went live.
My guild had been concentrating on completing tasks for the Freeport
Militia. At first, the guards would mock you at worst, or completely
ignore you at best. I'll never forget the first time I came tearing up
the ramp with my necromancer, ready to grab another task for them, and
the guards all snapped to attention as I went by. I had to stop and
turn back around to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Like the CoX
newspaper stories, it's a small thing, but it made a profound impact on
my relation with the game.
For me, story plays a very intricate role in my enjoyment or distaste
for a game. As technology advances, more companies are making an effort
to make you feel as though you really are important to the world and
have a distinct role to play. At the same time, there are plenty of
successful games that have felt no need to follow this trend. I want to
know where you fall on the scale. Does a personalized storyline matter
to you and if so, how much? If you think I'm just off my rocker, feel
free to let me know that too!
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