I had intended to write about combat this week but it turns out that all my writing time is being taken up by the game itself, so I’ll keep this really brief!
Basically, my story flopped on me. I’d borrowed the elaborate back-story from the previous MMO incarnation, code-named Frontier, because the target audience is much the same: it’s aimed at systems explorers; people who like complexity in their world; people who want to be invested and involved in the world.
But the Frontier storyline is an onion-skin design: you start out with a very typical fantasy world, and then you discover things aren’t quite as they seem. And as you dig deeper and deeper, your view of the world — and who is “good” and who is “bad” — changes repeatedly in interesting ways.
I’m proud of the Frontier world-building I’ve done, but I can’t use it here. The problem is it’s too hard to get invested in a world where nothing is as it seems. Imagine, just as an example, that it turns out the moon is really a space vessel for an alien race. That takes a lot of the magic out of being a werewolf, with their strong ties to the moon. Or suppose it turns out that the land was created artificially just a few hundred years ago… that takes the excitement out of the Geology profession, doesn’t it?
There’s a constant struggle in a traditional MMO: you want players to invest in your world quickly and easily so that they can have fun and get into it. But at the same time, you want surprises around every corner. In my game, because it’s exploration-based, the surprises need to come from the world and its environment, not from e.g. a warring tribe that betrays the players or a dragon that shows up and destroys cities. Most of the story needs to be revealed through discoveries players make at their own pace, not via a “story event.”
To achieve this, Frontier used the “not really” story technique: “The mountain is the home of the dwarves. NOT REALLY! It’s a weapon of mass destruction aimed at the moon!” (None of these are real examples, BTW, they’re too silly even for me.)
Instead of “not really”, I’m now relying heavily on the “and also” technique: “The mountain is the home of the dwarves. AND ALSO it’s the ancient prison of a demon!” This gives me the surprises I need but lets the world stay “real.” The surprises aren’t as impressive, but hopefully they’re still interesting enough.
I’ve done some fiction writing before, and I enjoy it, but I do admit that my strength is in systems design, not story design. So if you have suggestions on how to create an MMO story, or what you like to see in an MMO story, I’m all ears! (Just post quick, ‘cuz I’m knee-deep in story elements as I write this…)