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ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?

So a bunch of new MMOs released a lot of information publically. And I’ve been playing Suikoden III again. My wife calls it my pixel person fascination, from the days when I played Final Fantasy on the 8-bits to excess and they really WERE pixel people.

Suikoden III is a very Japanese RPG – to the point that it didn’t sell very well, I don’t think (they didn’t even publish a strategy guide here). But it has all sorts of plot, in fact a sort of Pulp Fiction-esque storytelling conceit where you bob and weave through the same tale through multiple viewpoints, including that of a small cute puppy. How can this be wrong?

Well, it’s boring. You run around and level. Then you watch more plot. Then you run around and level. Then you watch more plot. Then you run around and whoops, you’re dead, and it’s been two hours since you last saved, and you get to go through all that levelling and plot again and oh, yeah, that’s why you never actually finished this game the first time.

MMOs are trying, very very hard, to get to the point where they are as boring as Suikoden III.

And that I think is key here. I think a lot of people are expecting a lot of great things and are going to be, yet again, disappointed. Because the craft of game making isn’t equal to, say, that of movie-making. The infrastructure – the tiny frisson of realizing you’re online with 10,000 other people, 3 of whom you might be able to actually stand – yeah, that part is pretty cool. Revolutionary, even. So everything else should be revolutionary too! Right?

Except that they’re not. They follow patterns. You follow patterns. The game ends. Whee! If it’s a good game, maybe other people are involved. Who also follow patterns. Or maybe break those patterns. Isn’t THAT fun, you think to yourself. A dupe, an exploit, another form of stepping off of the pattern. And that act of breaking the pattern is what you talk about the most, because, well, it’s unpredictable. The most famous act of UO was when Lord British forgot to activate his invulnerability flag and someone killed him. A bug. They didn’t talk about the ecology simulator or the mining model or how each dungeon had different elementals – they talked about the guy who killed the king.

At that point, UO was revolutionary. Right at that point. Because it was less of a computer game.

And now we come back to MMOs, where their particular form of pattern involves other people being involved. If you ask any dozen MMO enthusiasts which MMO they prefer the most (or, depending on how jaded, despise the least) and you will get a dozen different answers. Because the dirty little secret that designers don’t want to admit is that the actual game is completely irrelevant! No one cares, really, how well the pattern is crafted. Because what brings people back to MMOs isn’t the game, but the people within. No computer can come up with AI unpredictable enough to emulate your average bazaar shopper. Which is why, if you ask those dozen people which MMO they prefer, you get a dozen different answers. Because it’s where they are from.

So what does all this have to do with anything? Well, reading the links I started with, I read a great deal about the minutae of design theory. Gamers want their games to be hard! No, they want them to be easier! More casual friendly! More aimed at the core!

No, gamers are going to be bored. Because these things run on computers, and no matter how many pixels you cram into the pixel people, they’re still just pixels. Now, the community behind the games – they’re not quite as pixilated. And maybe perhaps that’s where we should be focusing.

Or maybe I should just finish Suikoden III. Hey, it could have a really cool ending movie!