Personality and Immersion in Guild Wars 2
MMOG worlds are often dry, lacking personality, and seem rather autonomous as NPCs rarely deviate from their assigned roles or pathing. In fact, most tend to simply stand there and say the same things over and over not unlike a broken record. While this is often a necessary evil of game design, it also doesnt lend itself to a very high replayability factor.
Thankfully, ArenaNet has been promising something a bit different with each of the blog posts revealing more about upcoming Guild Wars 2. This time around were hearing about a livelier world with personality and a realistic soundscape to keep you immersed in the game. Of course, weve grown so accustomed to the fact that MMOGs are normally designed a certain way that we often dont even think of things such as background sounds, dialogue, or voice acting. But should gamers simply accept the status quo, or should we start expecting more out of our MMOGs?
A Living and Breathing World
Were often introduced to large overwhelming worlds where youll view a mountain in the distance and actually be able to walk there and explore. Yet, we often dont take the time to examine the world up close and instead just focus on the vastness of it all. We ignore the background noises, the voices coming from the NPCs, and often skip over the dialogue because it doesnt matter when there are foes to slay and a world to explore. Why should we not take a look up close at the world though? You rarely hear comments about the background sounds or NPC dialogue, but in light of the most recent blog post for Guild Wars 2 I think we today should take a look at it.
The standard in voice acting in MMOGs typically amounts to clicking an NPC and maybe hearing a phrase or two. Voice acting is often concentrated to a few phrases at most for each race. Games with voice acting will often only have it in select areas. One game comes to mind where only the starting area has voice acting and once you leave youre introduced back to a silent world that we have all come to expect. We expect it so much that there are very few reviews out there that even make a comment about how a game would be better if the lines were spoken instead of read all of the time.
Of course, there is more than just voice acting that can help keep you immersed within a game. Game worlds are often silent with only music looping to keep your ears stimulated. Background noises are usually classified into two areas. The first is a loop of noise that youll hear entering a random building and the second is the noise from battle when youre inside of a fight. The noise you hear when you enter a random building isnt very immersive because it ends as abruptly as it starts when you enter and exit the building.
Lastly, NPCs are autonomous and will say their lines to you no matter what your character may be. You may think of yourself as the most ruthless villain in the world but Sir Paladin of Awesome will still scream at you to help hold the line when the non-descript enemy #138 is making its final charge. There is never any option to build your character up within a world as what you want it to be perceived as.
All of these things are part of creating an immersive experience but are rarely seen or poorly implemented, at least within MMOGs. However, it appears that Guild Wars 2 may be changing that soon.
A New Way of Thinking
There is a lot of new information coming out about Guild Wars 2 in a recent spree of blog posts over at ArenaNet. The most recent are about three very interesting topics: personality, voice acting, and background sounds. Something that we dont see mentioned about a lot in MMOGs.
Playable characters are often defined personality wise by a paragraph or two of fluff on a website giving them a flimsy reason for fighting. Occasionally this will then be further refined by a series of quests you do at the start that try to give you an idea of why youre all of a sudden equipped with a rusty sword and are ready to launch out into the world. MMOGs pretty much stop character background or story development there and lead you out on a grind fest while single player RPGs continue development on a linear path from there. A few games, like Mass Effect, Fallout, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and other similar titles do something a bit different and allow you to choose your own story.
We already have talked about your personal story before but now it seems that Guild Wars 2 will have a personality system allowing you to build up your character through dialogue options. Want people to perceive you as ruthless? Then take the most ruthless path when talking with NPCs and your reputation will reflect that. Want to be a champion of the light? Then take the nicest path through conversations.
This is something that I find to be exciting because were also going to be given a world full of voice acting. Combining the two and were introduced to a truly immersive experience. An NPC will talk and youll be given options, choose the one that fits you and be on your way instead of just spamming the accept button and running off to farm some bear ears.
This could be one of the greatest features of GW2, especially for those who like to read NPC text. Something to break up the monotony and make NPCs more interesting than just another NPC standing there while building your character up to be what you want it to be.
Of course, my only concern is for those who dont care about talking to NPCs and just want to move through the world as quickly as possible. Hopefully the choices presented are simple enough that you could click the first one that sounds about right and move on for those who dont want to stand around and listen. At the same time, I hope that choices you make dont take too long to fix if you want to go down a different path. The reveal mentions the ability to change within a day, but I hope I wont have to grind NPC dialogues to get from being nice to being evil or vice-versa.
One additional thing mentioned is the background sounds within the game. Like I mentioned previously, I am really happy to hear that theyll be a bit more immersive. I dislike it a lot to walk into a building and hear a standard loop that plays for all buildings of that type begin to play. So it should make for a pretty interesting experience.
Overall, I continue to enjoy the direction that GW2 is heading and cant wait to see all of this in action. Speaking of seeing it in action, did you know that GW2 will be playable at Gamescon? Be sure to stay tuned here to Ten Ton Hammer as we provide coverage of Gamescon 2010.
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