In the latest of a series of interviews with speakers from this August's GDC Europe, game designer Ernest Adams discusses why "in most persistent worlds, the player cannot change the world permanently" -- and why that needs to change.
Adams has worked in the game industry since 1989, and has worked as a
game developer, professor, and more. He previously served as an audio
and video producer on the Madden NFL franchise for Electronic Arts, and later worked at Bullfrog Productions as a lead producer on the Dungeon Keeper series.
With his GDC Europe talk, "Making MMOGs More Storylike"
drawing ever closer, Adams discussed the flaws of modern online games,
and explained how they should change to make the game world more
dramatic and believable.
With MMOs and similar online games, players share a single,
persistent world. How does this sort of design hinder a developer's
ability to tell a story?
All stories are about change. Either the protagonist changes the
world, or the world changes the protagonist, or both. But in most
persistent worlds, the player cannot change the world permanently. Any
creature you kill respawns in a few minutes, leaving you wondering why
you bothered. This impairs the dramatic impact of events in the world,
because nothing really changes.
How do you suggest online games change to better accommodate an in-game story?
To feel as if they are really part of a story, players need to be
able to make permanent, meaningful changes to the world they inhabit. I
also feel that they need to drop the "Hero's Journey" story form. It
works well for adventure games and single-player RPGs, but it's a bit
ridiculous when hundreds of thousands of people are all trying to have
the same heroic experience.