Thursday, October 11, 2007

Escaping the Causal Loop

Sam and Max is about to start its second season. In case you haven't heard about it (what, have you been living under a rock?), its an adventure game series thats released in an episodic fashion, about a dog and a hyperkinetic hyperviolent rabbit crime fighting duo. Its funny.

It also got me wondering why MMOs don't utilize an episodic format. A Tale in the Desert kind of does, in the sense that its unique among MMOs because it actually ends. And then it reboots. But it would be nice to see a story-driven MMO that started up, had a static goal that you could fight for and achieve, and once that was accomplished, the server shut down until the next episode was ready. It would neatly solve the problem that MMOs have with their so-called end game content. Most MMOs have lousy end game content because the worlds don't change; the only thing that CAN change is the players, and when you run out of levels to advance, they have to give you something else to advance with, with better loot or castles to conquer or whatever. And then more (and possibly better) loot or land or whatever gets thrown in the ever-growing game and the treadmill continues forever.

With an episodic format, the MMO would have REAL end game content because it really WOULD end. (Temporarily, of course, and then start up again with a new story.)

Its like the difference between X-Files and Heroes. X-Files strung us along forever, for like what? eighty years?, adding new conspiracies on top of the old but never really resolving anything, until towards the end you didn't even have the main characters anymore, just a bunch of people looking for the people who were looking for the people who were looking for Mulder or Scully or who the hell cares anymore, I stopped watching. Heroes, on the other hand, well, they saved the cheerleader, and saved the world. The End. For a while. And now we're on to a new story, apparently about a boogie monster. That is much more interesting.

I know, I know, I'm repeating myself. I said this before, on my other blog. But it would seem to me to be a cost effective way to put the story back into our MMOs (... did I say "back?" Well, maybe not "back"... as it was never really there to begin with.) Each episode or story progression could reuse a lot of the same sets (maps, artwork, even some quests) and just rework the quests and mob placement to fit the new evolved lore as the story progresses.

I suppose many people, particularly Achiever type players (in the Bartle Four) wouldn't like this, as they tend to be attracted to MMOs because of the ability to advance their characters numbers endlessly (and meaninglessly) until the end of time or the servers shut down, whichever comes first. Though perhaps not? Perhaps the opportunity to take a leading role and actually make a real difference would attract them? Who knows.

Instead of watching TV, and enjoying our characters as they go from one story to the next, why can't we live them? MMOs would be the perfect medium to allow us to take the roles in an ongoing story. Right now, the only kind of story MMOs seem to capture is the kind of bad fiction that makes us rewatch the same events over and over again (albeit with slightly different window dressing at each "tier") until the hero finally figures out how to escape the causal loop (unsubscribing.)

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