After some nasty post-GDC sick days (weeks, really), I’m back and working pretty hard on the MMO. The pre-alpha server is still down, which is upsetting, but it will be back up soon with a new newbie experience. Hopefully it will help set the tone a little better.
The Newbie Experience, v1
You start out in a cave after your memory has been wiped. There’s a depressed prisoner with you who doesn’t seem to offer you much help. Skeletal guards keep you from leaving. You find a sword and slash your way through the caves, reaching strange room after strange room, piecing together what’s going on.
I already know t’s not the permanent newbie experience — you can’t really finalize the newbie experience until most of the game is done. That’s why my instinct was to skip it until later. But watching people play the game, I realized they weren’t really “getting it.” Part of that is because there isn’t enough content there to “get” — a problem I still have to work on — and part of it is that the game isn’t setting expectations well. As a result, I don’t think most people who’ve playtested so far were very excited to keep going. (Most didn’t make it to the later area where more skills are unlocked.) So before I inflict the game on any more new people, I’m fixing up the newbie experience.
The key feature of the newbie experience is that it’s linear (of course), but with lots of extra stuff to do. You can learn Alchemy by finding ingredients in various nooks and crannies — which lets you create an antidepressant potion that temporarily makes that morose NPC less glum. You can tame giant rats to fight alongside you, learn to cook some simple recipes, discover how to autopsy corpses, learn basic geology, and hopefully a few more things. But you don’t have to do much of any of it. You can stab things all the way to the door and leave. The point is to let you discover things, not force-feed them to you.
So far the newbie experience is coming along nicely, but it does feel a little bit like an adventure game — you do step A to unlock step B, then step C to unlock step D. But I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, because the full game kind of feels that way anyway. The game will usually involve semi-systemic content: “Give apples to the shy clerk until his friendliness meter is full, so you can buy the clock parts you need for the time machine, so that you can learn chronomancy, so you can…”
From a certain point of view, any game’s an adventure game, granted, but I think this MMO is a little bit more down the adventure path than many.
However, it’s definitely not an actual adventure game. The most important reason? I’m not trying to capture the brain-teaser part of adventure games. You aren’t supposed to beat your head against the wall trying to figure out what to do next.
More Directed GUI Tools
That’s why I really need to have more direction for the game. Traditional quests are part of it, sure, but they’re the baby steps toward bigger goals, and I need to help you understand the bigger picture.
I’ve tried various systems, like shoving goal info into the skill panel: ”Reach the next level to unlock a new research recipe.” That sort of thing. But it still gives too narrow of a view, I think.
So I’m planning out a “guide” GUI that shows you bigger goals that you can accomplish based on your current skills and state. It also gives hints to help you get started.
For instance, it might say that with your current skill level in Lore, you qualify to learn Ice Magic… if you can convince Yabaz in the village of Hammi to teach you. Then it’d be up to you to go learn what the NPC wants, which might be very complex or very easy.
I’m still working on the design, though. I don’t want it to be overwhelming. The mid-game is broad and flat in structure, meaning that you soon have access to tons of different goals at once. If it just listed all of them, there’d be hundreds of entries like “you can ingratiate yourself with Lumak the Hunter to get 10% better deals in his shop.” This is stuff you want to know, maybe… but not in a gigantic list form. I need to find some ways to organize this stuff. (Organizing the GUI is the easier part, really — the tricky part is organizing it internally so that I don’t have to do tons of manual data entry!)
So I’m still brainstorming on that… it’s a ways away. The more immediate goal is this newbie experience. I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but I’m shooting for the weekend.