Monday, October 29, 2007

Beware, Bears: We're Picking Your Pockets, Stealing Your Coins

A guildmate posted this link on our forums. It is a very good read, with a humorous take on many of the more pervasive cliches in RPGs.

One RPG cliche that has always particularly bothered me is the fact that all the monsters in the game drop things like weapons and armor. Even dumb brutes, like bears and rats, that don't have much use for said weapons or armor. When EverQuest II first came out, all mobs in the game dropped coin. (Thankfully, they later restricted that to humanoid monsters only.)

Some people aren't bothered by having animals in fantasy games drop coin, potions, and armor. They shrug it off, figuring, its a magical world with hopping humanoid dragon-slaying frogs, so whats the big deal suspending ones disbelief about a bear with pockets that can be picked?

And maybe that's because my idea of "suspension of disbelief" differs from some. In my opinion, the concept of "suspension of disbelief" should apply only to the environment or the "foundational premise" of the show/book/game.

So, establishing a fantasy world with a character like Superman who can fly is fine (from an artistic standpoint); we suspend our disbelief for that. Even saying he can turn back time by flying around the world so fast it spins backwards is fine (stupid, but fine.) The problem is, he only does it once, and then seemingly forgets he can undo all the evils in the world by seeing what happens, flying back in time one day, and then stopping them all. So, giving him that power ends up being inconsistent with his goody two shoes nature, and therefore, its no longer believable.

Ultimately, these stories are about people and characters. Flying alien people maybe, hopping frog-like people maybe, but still, people, with motivations that shouldn't contradict the environment they are in.

Suspension of disbelief doesn't work as well in the absence of internal consistency. If we are to accept any random event as "if it were real," regardless of internal consistency, the fictional world (or work of art) loses all meaning.

What I wish for is for more "realistic" fantasy worlds to play in. (Realistic within reason... I hardly want to manage my character's bathroom urges... save that for the Sims 2: Dragon-Slayers expansion pack.) And, by that I mean:

Establishing a fictional, fantasy world with humanoid frogs that shop and talk and hop around battling dragons is fine. Having a game world with bells that transport us halfway across the game world is also fine, since we are to understand that, "offscreen," a boat came and took us away. Or that teleportation magic exists.

Saying there are bears in that world is also fine. But saying they are unintelligent bears and yet letting them carry swords and coin is no longer fine, as it is inconsistent with the foundational premise we established. Unless said bears show up in front of the auction house trying to upgrade their armor. In which case it would be fine, because we could then presume they were somewhat intelligent. And who wouldn't like a Teddy Ruxpin MMO???

So, MMO developers take note: bears in future MMOs should either not drop coins, or, at the very least, be seen on occasion shopping.


Largo said...

When bears and rats drop coin I always took as maybe they ate their previous adversary (poor fellow dying to a rat) and happened to swallow a coin to two.

When you get armor I always thought perhaps they were using this armor as part of their lair/nest to make it warmer or whatever.

I think creatures should gain more coin and xp (and get stronger) when they kill adventurers.

Aspendawn said...

I always made the assumption as largo did. And actually I get annoyed when the animals are coded to not drop items as has been done in LOTRO. It makes having to do kill animal quests even more tedious when you know there's no possibility of any decent loot.

I guess what they could do is have them occasionally drop some tuft of fur which sells to vendor for quite a bit. But still not quite as exciting as finding armor you can upgrade to.

Lars said...

@largo: I understand that perspective. But wouldn't it make more sense to find it on the remains of a corpse in its cave? Its not like the bears pick it up and carry it around with them.

@aspendawn: Sure, it makes mindlessly killing them less interesting, but my imaginary "ideal" MMO would focus less on kill quests and use something more like the DDO model, where you are rewarded for the quest for achieving the goals, whether you kill or evade the mobs on the way. And in that model, you could have a cave somewhere where people might discover the remains of previous adventurers who have fallen to the Papa Bear, with some nice loot. It just wouldn't be stuck to the random wandering bear #50.

Largo said...

Persistent dead corpses that are not lootable until the family of bears are vanquished would indeed be neat.

Is DDO still alive and kicking? I played it for some time and the whole xp-on-quest-complete was kind of neat. But is this what the majority of gamers want? I thought DDO was dying (or is dead already)... I probably should go look this up...

Lars said...

I didn't play DDO for long. It suffered from several major problems. One was that you couldn't do anything solo, as there was no crafting, and no quests that you could do by yourself. That was the deal breaker for me; I had no interest in waiting thirty minutes or more for a party. I did that in FFXI and I'm done with that.

The other problem is that quests aren't randomized, so if you group with someone who has done it before, you lose all sense of exploration. I think there are some "spoiler-free" guilds that attempt to cater to players who want to genuinely explore the dungeons instead of simply grinding the quests.

I also didn't like how often magic items dropped. The game didn't seem too balanced; a few groups I was in were taking on mobs way, way than I think was appropriate, because everyone was loaded up with potions and wands and whatever to spam their way through.