Armchair Game Designer

nbilarge

This is my contribution to the Newbie Blogger Initiative Talkback Challenge. I was randomly chosen to talk about which parts I would take from current games to make my dream game.

So without further ado, let’s get cracking! Being an avid MMO player, of course my mash-up will be one of those as well.

Character Class / Skill Design from  Final Fantasy XIV

One of the more crucial decisions to be made. I want something flexible, yet not too complex. There’s very little I dislike more when it comes to games, than to be bombarded with hundreds of skills, having to figure out which combination to use in my build. That immediately makes me search forums or guides for advice. At the same time, being constrained to one single purpose is a put-off to me as well.

Final Fantasy XIV does this well. I can switch between Knight in shining armour, to spell-slinging mage with the press of a button. The different classes are fairly rigid, yet allow for some customization with the use of cross-class skills.

Honourable mention: Rift. The Soul System is very flexible and allows a single character to fill several different roles in a group, depending on setup.

Gathering & Crafting from Everquest 2

Similar to my preferences when it comes to character classes, I want something more complex than “get resources, click button, receive item”. This one’s kind of a toss-up between Everquest 2 and Final Fantasy 14. While the crafting in EQ2 is more active, FF14 feels more strategic. In the end Everquest 2 wins by a small margin to me.

Social Activities from Lord Of The Rings Online

Sadly today’s crop of MMOs offer very little in terms of social (non-combat) activities. Gone are the days where we had a game with a whole profession dedicated to socializing (Entertainers from Star Wars Galaxies). One of the few games that still have something like that is Lord of the Rings Online with its music system.

Honourable mention goes to any game that includes non-combat activities in the form of (seasonal) festivals which don’t require me to just kill stuff.

Player Generated Content from Star Trek Online (and Neverwinter)

As I mentioned before, I am a big proponent of Player Generated Content. And no developer does this better than Cryptic in Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, at least as far as I am concerned. The wealth of missions is incredible and increases my personal enjoyment immensely. I would also keep the Spotlight feature, where every week or so the dev team chooses one mission to promote and make it give increased rewards for players.

Dynamic Events from Rift

Dynamic Content seems to be one of the current things to have in MMOs. From all that I have personally played, the system in Rift feels the most fun for me. The sheer number of different rifts and zone events that can happen make it very varied. Of course, after grinding events for a while it can become stale and boring, but

The little things

Self-mentoring from Rift: It’s just great to easily set my own level whenever I feel like doing lower level content without it being trivial.
Cosmetic Armor System from Everquest 2, Rift, or any other game that does not force me to permanently change the look of a piece of equipment, but rather has extra slots that then override the look of my normal (stat-giving) equipment. Bonus points if I can also change my weapon’s type.

Phew, so there you have it. These parts combined would make my current dream MMO.

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Player Generated Content

STO_Foundry_1

It always puts me in awe when I see what some people can come up with when given creative tools. Case in point: The Foundry in Star Trek Online.

I just finished the User generated mission: “Purity 1” created by the folks at Starbase UGC. And man it was amazing. Very light on combat, but incredibly well written. And I even got to take part in a space battle while on the bridge. I’m not going to write a review, others have done that better than I could ever hope to (like this one).

But playing through it got me thinking about Player Created Content in general. There don’t seem to be very many games that use that kind of system. Apart from the wide-open sandboxes like Eve, where everything is based on the players and their interactions, there’s pretty much only Cryptic that allows its players to create fully fledged missions. Sure, some companies dabble in that regard, like EQ2’s Dungeon Maker, but as far I as I have experienced that one doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Cryptic’s tools can do. Of course I am happy to be corrected, but in my journeys through current MMOs I don’t think I encountered are any rivals.

Why is that? For one thing there’s the obvious juggling of finite development resources. Are they going to be spent on new missions, or on tools for players to create them. Then there’s the hassle of updating those tools, fixing bugs and plugging loopholes and exploits. Also, how are the player made additions going to fit in with the rest of the game, both storywise and in regards to incentives to play them. Like the rewards for Foundry missions in STO have undergone several overhauls, mostly due to excessive farming. You want them to be rewarding, but not too rewarding for players.

Maybe that’s all too much hassle to be widely spread.

Still, I believe the resources spent on Player-made-content tools are well spent. It creates things to do for players wanting to tell their own story, as well as those who like to enjoy more stories. Especially in an expansive IP such as Star Trek, there are many who want to tell their own stories, and the Foundry gives them the option to do that in a video game. Also it helps the other half of the playerbase, simply because there’s more stuff to do.

Even if a player mission is not perfect, the chances that it’s enjoyable is pretty much the same as for developer created content in my experience. During my STO play sessions I think I played through more user-generated missions than the ones delivered by Cryptic. The pace at which a system like the Foundry can churn out new content is way above what any developer can hope to achieve. Yes, there are a lot of bad apples around, but since I usually stick to the higher rated or reviewed ones, the level of quality is very high.

For the future I wish for more games to embrace the players as a source of content. The reason is pretty selfish. I simply want to enjoy and take part in more awesome stories.