Far, far away, and longer ago than the movies… we have this:
As noted in other blogs, this is hardly a surprise, nor is it unwelcome. Bioware does good work, and has proven to be good with the Star Wars license. Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) was a fantastic game. I’ve not played the sequel, but I hear it was good as well, if a bit shy of what it could have been.
So… what of an Old Republic MMO? I’m intrigued… but wary.
Tobold mentions one of the “innovations” of SWTOR here, and it got me thinking. I replied to his post, but wanted to expand a little on that comment over here.
SWTOR will have a strong story in it, by design. Sure, WoW and Atlantica Online have stories, but they are somewhat secondary to the game itself. That’s just the nature of an MMO, where it’s literally not possible for everyone to be the world-changing hero. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t belabor the point.
To be clear, I love story in games. That’s part of my Explorer bent. I really liked KOTOR, so I tend to trust Bioware with the Star Wars IP. (On the other hand, anyone who drove the New Jedi Order part of the Star Wars Extended Universe is currently on my blacklist.) And yet, I don’t think of an MMO as the best place for a strong narrative. It’s just the nature of the beast.
WoW is apparently toying with narrative in the Death Knight starting areas and a “personal storyline” mechanic they are calling “phasing”. Age of Conan had a very personalized intro, with “destiny quests”. Guild Wars has a story that is almost completely told via instanced zones. Stories are possible, but by their nature, they are best for single player (or maybe small group) play. The stronger the narrative, and the greater impact it has on the world, the more it should be separated from the main MMO mechanics of the typical DIKU style game, which thrives on static worlds and powerless players.
What bugs me most about this is that Bioware will have to bend their storytelling to shoehorn it into the MMO genre. What could have been an absolutely fantastic single player game with a great story will be compromised to incorporate MMO mechanics. They might pull it off, but I think it’s more likely that by trying to mash a strong narrative into a core game design that isn’t made for it, they will either break the MMO experience, screw up the story, or perhaps even both.
Even though I expect to mourn the wasted potential, I do reserve the right to be pleasantly surprised.
More insidious is the message that a success will send to the game industry. MMOs are not the epitome of game design, but they are where an unholy amount of industry development money is going. The genre is inherently limited. All genres are, whether it’s an FPS, RPG, Brawler, whatever. Thing is, if the industry as a whole shifts heavily to the MMO side of things, we could very well lose the chance to see what really should have been excellent single player games. I was concerned that Square was going that way with FF11, though, and since then, the single player game hasn’t died out. (Though I never did play FF12… the MMO mechanics, Viera bunny and “partial nudity” on the box rating were deal killers for me.)
I just wish that game devs would realize that MMOs are unique monsters, and would design to the genre strengths, rather than everyone and their dog taking a stab at being the next Blizzard. Companies like Bioware should design to their strengths, in this case storytelling, rather than jump on the MMO bandwagon. Companies who want to make great MMOs need to get off the DIKU treadmill and try to really harness the multiplayer and persistent world potential. Could Bioware do that? Sure… but I can’t shake the feeling of them trying to put a round peg into a square hole.