Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Flow of the Story

As I wrote in my previous post, MMORPGs try to translate some of the old pen and paper tropes into the digital medium, to varying degrees of success and failure. However, it is not the purpose of online games to mimic pen and paper playstyles, they are only mildly influenced by them.

That said, there are some things that could work better in online games if more pen and paper tropes were utilized.

For instance, I brought up the campaign modules from the old Dungeon and Dragons table games. Even the modern version of the game still follows some of the old standards. The developers release a "core" book (expansion) of rules for a new setting, then they release periodic modules (content patches) that adventurers will follow from a low range of levels (68-70) to a higher range of levels (78-80). The main difference being that online games tend to do all of the levels in one "module" and then the rest of the modules is for leveling up gear.

So, what about the flow of a story throughout all of this?

In the pen and paper games, the story is very linear. You never go back to an older module, but a new module might expand an older environment. Even if a high-level module placed the god-like characters into cosmic planes for their adventures, they might still have a role to play in the "old world".

This is exactly what Blizzard is doing with the Cataclysm expansion. Player characters have become like gods, and they are going home.

Currently it might seem as though Blizzard has created a problem with their story flow. I found part of a discussion at World of Raids where Blizzard admits to a "lurch" of sorts. But really, the only thing missing in the Burning Crusade is some sort of reference.

Imagine being in the midst of troubled world. You have done some heroic deeds and see hints of a god-like presence that needs sorting out. Along the way you come across an opportunity to "leave" this troubled world to give aide to another. From there you are thrust back into your original world but find yourself on a continent that you have not been to. And here is where the story actually breaks just a little bit.

You see, Blizzard has opted to place Cataclysm into a world without the Lich King. Yet adventurers must "defeat" the Lich King before coming "home". That is how the expansions have been placed.

Post Lich King--> Alien world--> Ongoing Lich King--> Post Lich King.

If this were a pen and paper game, the designers would have presented changes to everything that has come before, within the most recent module, to bring the "world" up to speed on what the players have done, and to let them "see" the effects of their efforts.

But in online games, content costs a lot more money (and time) to make then pen and paper experiences.

So, in theory, the flow of the story never needs to be broken or awkward, but the design constraints of money and time are harsh mistresses.

Blizzard might one day place some story fixes into the Lich King expansion, but they might also just decide to push forward instead. As fiction writers know all too well, sometimes you just have to kill your children and let the story go its own way.

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