When you start talking about better authenticity in RPGs or MMORPGs, there is always at least one person you will have to convince that there really is such a thing in fantasy games too and then explain exactly what you mean. Because fantasy worlds are all about the impossible of course, y’know magical stuff going on, places and races that zomg DON’T EXIST and – so, what are you talking about anyway with your authenticity…?
I love that part of the conversation. It’s like with the person who tells you how “it’s all just a game” when you’re upset about something, which is another way of telling you to shut up really (which in return gives you every right to /slap them with a large trout in good old IRC style).
Authenticity is a big topic and issue for RPGs of all flavours; to pick just one example –
Even in a magical world of flying islands and ferocious dragons, most players don’t feel it’s authentic that characters should be able to teleport around anytime and from anywhere to any given coordinate. Mage portals or gateways are cool, but all the time? No, not very authentic. Way too imbalanced – too OP to be credible. We might be in wonderland but this ain’t the zoo, there are rules! Also, what about travel and exploration, two very essential parts of this genre? We all know what would have happened to the Lord of the Rings if old Gandalf had possessed such OP powers (yep, no book for you sorry!)
Or much simpler: it’s cool if there are firebolts coming out of that warlock’s hand, but it’s not very realistic if he can wipe out an entire army of foes with a wiggle of his little finger. It doesn’t work that way.
Putting rules into fantasy
So, how does it work? What’s the measure and leeway of fantastic rules and when do we feel that there are too many restrictions in place or not enough? What constitutes authenticity in an RPG?
Now, developers do have some leeway of course, not every MMO handles authenticity and realism in the same way – just think of the “anti-jumping front” in Final Fantasy Online for instance (there were long beta topics about to jump or not to jump before FF14 was released in 2010) vs. WoW, where players can jump around merrily whenever they please. Choices go all the way from there and become more crucial when it comes to a game’s encounter mechanics or ability and stat balance. Should anyone be able to solo a skeleton army? What hitbox should a worm have? For how long should an enemy of same level be able to chase you? Should death come with a penalty – should there be death at all? The answers to these questions are not only in a number or equation. Not for any self-respecting fantasy game.
I don’t know if game development teams have any department which is solely dedicated to “script writing”; meaning working on the theme, content credibility and overall coherence of the world, far beyond the point of lore writing or map concepts. I feel they should have.
To me personally, atmosphere and coherence are everything. I can live with a game that has sub-par graphics, crappy itemization or dodgy class balance (departments being dedicated massive amounts of time and money to), what I absolutely can’t live with is a fantastic world that lacks any atmosphere or credibility. That’s my very personal assessment obviously, I got my Bartle result for a reason; exploration, travel, danger and conflict are crucial aspects for my personal game enjoyment. Can’t care less for achievements, titles or gear (unless shiny) and chitchat and company are great but only as long as the world feels great too.
Even if we disagree on these points, there are things we will all agree on, the overall “framework” so to speak. We might approach RPGs a little differently, but we’re all looking for the full fantasy package. I’m heavily influenced by the so-called high fantasy or sword&sorcery genre which is based on the traditions of Tolkien to D&D or anything with a Wizards of the Coast label on, books, games or concept art. All of them of course going back on much older tradition and lore, medieval times, folk tales and mythology. But for western RPGs at least, it’s that corner of the creative world where many of today’s MMO archetypes, classes, races and even settings were established for a wider, commercial audience (and any alterations thereof). If you read through the profiles and influences of the Sons of the Storm for example, you realize just how big a part that tradition plays.
Too much authenticity or long lost sons?
Lately and ever since leaving WoW, I’ve found myself back to my roots more again. There’s many game features or aspects I haven’t seen in a long time and used to enjoy in classic RPGs. All of them are part of a good fantasy tale; but not everything is necessarily suitable for the online concept – maybe. In any case, three features currently on top of my wish list are:
- Player character age
- Sustenance and sleep
- Injury and status ailments
1) In Fable the Lost Chapters, your character will age through the course of the game and receive permanent battle scars depending on your combat focus. Fable was obviously also somewhat of a breakthrough in terms of player alignment and ethos at the time, offering not only the choice for good or evil but adding impact to that choice in terms of how players could experience the game from there and how they’d look.
I’ve always enjoyed that idea: that my character’s looks (and equipment) tell a story. I think I’m past the wish for eternal youth, too. But if we assume an average playtime of 5 years for the same MMO, how to solve the aging issue? The concept of aging forces the issue of a life-span and inevitably death.
2) Having to feed your character is something I haven’t seen since Dungeon Master on Atari – and oh, how I wish I had the old sound file ready to play (*GULP!*)! I definitely wouldn’t want to worry about breakfast, lunch and dinner in MMORPGs (keeping the fridge stuffed is bad enough in the real world); but I think the aspect of sustenance or at least having to frequent a tavern or innkeeper every now and then, either to eat or sleep, is something worth integrating in a game (certainly makes a lot more sense than all the empty inns all over the world). Maybe add beneficial effects to it, like useful buffs or removing harmful debuffs? Grant bonuses in form of a “revitalized” XP bar or reputation gain (“you are now exalted with iron-dwarf drunkards!”)?
3) I’d like to see battle injuries and/or debuffs that actually require a long time to cure or special services / ointments – and often. In classic RPGs your character will often need to carry a variety of curing and healing items with himself that either work inside or outside of combat only, curing a variety of negative status effects. If we assume a weaker or absent healer role in the same game, such items (or associated services) gain in significance. A lot of added value comes to mind here: how players will deal with their HP bar, combat tactics when facing certain foes, but also how useful a profession will be for example.
But it’s not just about that: an adventurer’s bagpack should carry meaning, not just act as portable bank slot for loot. If you’re out there exploring the world and facing its dangers, surely you would bring a full survival pack, from that trusted elvish rope down to flint and tinder, first aid items and spell ingredients? Yes, I’d like more of this in MMOs.
I’m not a devoted RPer but I still think features such as these can be enjoyable in any online game. The ultimate question is how they add impact to your world and gameplay and whether they create any meaning or choice; added authenticity or just an extra chore? For player aging, the issue is mainly a cosmetic one and yet not easy to solve for a potentially never-ending game. But I have faith in future development teams and that’s why I disagree with the fourth poster in this forum topic: Yes, we all play for entertainment (I hope), but not everyone defines “fun” in the same way. To me personally, rep grinds and daily quests were always a chore in WoW because they added very little. On the other hand, I was sad to see spell ingredients matter so little and disappear entirely in Cataclysm (although the loss wasn’t great with their meaning so small to begin with).
Online adventures shouldn’t simulate everything from the real world, no doubt – but they’re still heavily based on real experiences and concepts, from times past as much as the present. The way how a developer implements and integrates “authentic features” is essential; I’m sure that with proper context, we all gladly bring our rain coat and umbrella along.