Saturday, November 28, 2009

We Play Games episode 1: MMO's part 1

Hello and well, welcome to the first episode of We Play Games.

Before we get to business, let me just explain a little what WPG is all about. See, I'm an avid gamer, and I play a whole bunch of games, from the immensely populated MMOs to the most tear jerking RPGs (Aerith, I'm looking at you... and damn to anyone who thinks that was an innuendo... it probably is...) to Sports games and Racing games (although I must say I hate racing games). So I thought one day (that was today) what if I made a games commentary? A sort of, I write what I think about certain games and to hell with it sort of commentary, but with pictures!

Yes, pictures.

But I didn't want to step into the realm of one of my friend's blogs; see, she writes game reviews. That doesn't mean WPG would be devoid of game reviews, it's just that game reviews will not be the meat (bread and butter? whatever food you dig I guess) of WPG. After all, we play games, not review them! (which did not make sense, but meh)

So alright, time for WPG's first ever episode, and for this episode, what better way to kick WPG off than by talking about...


- cue non-existent intro music -

MMOs, or Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG for the savvy ones out there), is a community driven, high population game played by thousands, nay, even millions of individuals fighting, trading, modelling, flirting, living and dieing together in an enormous make-believe world. Each player is given an avatar to mess around with and to interact with various objects in the aforementioned world: NPCs, doodads and of course other players.

World of Warcraft, easily one of the most popular MMOs of all
(picture obviously ripped from gamespy)

So what makes MMOs tick? Instead of pondering on the subject for minutes and to totally rip the fun off of that, let me just tell you why:


That's right! wanna see it again?


And who can blame them? The world can get truly boring, with cycles of activities happening over and over and over in a seemingly endless loop. And as with all endless loops, programmers should know it's bound to crash sometime. And that sometime gave birth to the MMO... Or something like that...

Anyway, the exploitability of the MMO concept derives from MMOs answering one very pertinent and significant human need: living. Yes, MMOs address easily one of the biggest human need of all, perhaps second only to watching Spongebob episodes (and don't tell me otherwise, who can resist the big yellow square... er, rectangle). No wonder it appeals so much to this generation.

In a world that kicks new comers in the butt with all the social structures and hidden caste systems, MMOs provide people a place where everyone has a chance to hit it big. Without any structures and prejudicial checks and balances, people can live as they want to live, without age, gender or any other social limitations. Barring of course the occasional power struggle with guild leaders and such, everyone is free to live as they wish.

And if their make believe world fails them, they can easily leave and search for another, living a completely new existence. Life doesn't allow you to get a completely fresh start but MMOs can and do.

No wonder it appeals so very very much to this generation. Try as we might to deny it, we are in search for a family, a group of people we can go "home" too. With the ever widening generation gap between parents and kids, it gets harder and harder to call our home "home". Coupled with the fact that this generation can't live without computers and the Internet, and won't last a day without them, it's really not that hard to imagine.

And so, after spending minutes pondering all that, let's dive in to what I'd like to talk about: MMO genres.

From my time playing MMOs, I've come to see patterns in how different MMOs operate. Of course, they all work under just basic paradigm: take a multi player concept, scale them up exponentially, add chat and trade support and viola, you've got yourself an MMO. But of course, to each MMO their own, but there are certain, let's call them stereotypes, of MMOs that appear. I, being the generous guy that I am, have generously compiled some of them here. Don't take my words as doctrine though, as I am bound to miss a few and forget a few, I just play games after all.

For the first stereotype, I'd like you to turn your attention to World of Warcraft and Perfect World. These are MMOs that have made their mark as being the most massive of the massive, featuring ever expanding content and thousands upon thousands of users on both retail and private servers. These are MMOs you won't be enjoying all on your lonesome, but will have lots of things to do nonetheless. Quests seem to be the defining attribute of these MMOs, but not just ordinary quests, a million or so of them to be precise.

These MMOs have to some extent became a universal language among all gamers, not just MMO players. These games have defined generations and even eras. These games are what I like to call Mega Massively Multi player Online RPGs, or MMMORPGs (mmmorp-guh) for short, or MMs for shorter. MMs, in my opinion, are probably the exemplars of MMOs, as they provide a completely alternate world where players can just log-in and live as they wish to live. Economy is completely defined by the players, and item values vary widely from server to server, but seem to converge if observed in the bigger picture.

As nice and balanced as these games may seem though, they are prone to the same faults as the real world, most notably "power hogging". Strong players only get stronger and the gap between strong and weak players widen over time. Newbies might find it hard to climb up the ranks, if they are the type who likes to. Fortunately not all wants to hit the top, but for competitive players, MMs might make heads explode. Steps can of course be taken to avoid this, like giving ever expanding content and adjusting player and item power levels to keep things "fair", but power imbalances will and tend to happen still.

The nice thing about MMs though is that they are very skill intensive. Say Ragnarok Online for instance, my very first dip into MMORPGs. After all has been said and done, in a vacuum, if two players have the same character builds, the same weapons, the same items and skill sets, it all boils down to who is the better player per se. There are no active chance based win formulas, no game support boosts: everything boils down to who can press the buttons faster in the best sequence possible. This appeals to a lot of hardcore gamers but it might turn away casual players, if they really do mind.

Another point towards (against? not sure) MMs is that they encapsulate the real world the best, and is the best way to live an alternative life. There are of course many kinds of MMs depending on what the main goal of the game is. The common denominator though is that MMs provide the best alternate world experience, and things that happen in the real world tend to happen in MMs as well, including whatever you are imagining right now (oh, don't play innocent).

Games that fall under this category with the three already mentioned are Rohan, Pirates Online, Angels Online, and perhaps Granado Espada; though the first three mentioned also fall under a different category. Runescape and similar games may also fall in this category, though I have a special category for them as well. There are also sub categories in MMs, depending on the epic-ness of the world. World of Warcraft could arguably be the most epic, with Ragnarok and Perfect World not so far behind and Angels and Pirates Online a little further down in the epic-ness spectrum. Ozworld and Second Life also fall under MMs, but is also of a different category.

I'd like to say more about MMs, but I suppose that would have to be it for the launch episode of WPG. Hey, at least I didn't hold a launch party and asked everybody else to hold one in their own homes as well! Maybe in a different WPG I'd re explore MMs and provide an even more in-depth analysis (I like to do that).

See you next time for part 2, where I explore other MMO genres. Till then, may we all play massive games.