Many would argue that the golden age of online games has already elapsed. The peaking success of Guild Wars, Everquest, and World of Warcraft cannot and will not be replicated. Most definitely, online games nowadays offer high definition graphics, dynamic and sophisticated storylines, and excellent customer support. However, they somehow feel different. This article offers some insights into what the reasons may be. However, the author is merely giving the perspective of an MMO enthusiast and hobbyist, with over 15 years of gaming experience. The author aims at exploring the issue through the lens of an everyday gamer, rather than providing professional advice.
THE GAME WORLD
The ‘World’ is the keynote and foundation to any online game. A successful game generates and absorbs the player into a brand new world of its own. This world turns the playing experience into a transformative and surreal experience. Bluntly put, this is the central ingredient for dependency or even game ‘addiction’–the player makes sense, and accordingly ‘life’, out of the game. Yet, in contrary to popular belief, the graphics of a game is not the sole determinant of the quality of this world. Graphics undeniably plays a strong role, in emphasising the realism of the game, but there are also other important facilitators in the game design mix. AION and RIFT, two extremely popular MMORPGs with crazy high definition and detailed graphics, illustrate the importance of graphics.
CONSISTENCY – THE KEY
Instead, the core in creating the ‘World’ is through the concept of consistency. This is defined as the relationships between each element of the game –whether or not they are inline with each other. It also relates to the interactions between each individual element, and how they complement each other. A game with a high level of consistency would appear to be holistic, and would facilitate an appealing game world. So long as a game world is consistent, it can get easily get away with subpar graphics.
Kingdom of Loathing (aka ‘KOL’) is the best example in showing an MMORPG with literally stick figure graphics, yet with maximum consistency, has strived to be the most successful title of its genre. The KOL team endorsed the innovative concept of turning a tabletop ‘choose your own adventure’ story/game into a MMORPG. This quirky idea is further infused with a sense of humor and the constant breaking of the fourth wall. Having said these, the stylized ‘bad’ graphics are appropriate, being across to all corners of the game, including items, characters, quests, maps, areas, monsters, and even the entire website layout. All these elements blend together to create a consistent World, and providing the basis for the success of KOL.
(To be continued…)