After some technical difficulties caused by the fact that my upstairs computer appeared to have come back in a half alive state after what I can only assume was a power blink caused by last nights storms… aren’t run-on sentences awesome? I am finally sitting down at the computer to write this mornings post. Additionally I am drinking the sweetest cup of coffee ever… because in my half awake state… I dumped the Splenda designated for my wife’s cup into mine. The end result is a cup of coffee with like six packets of sugar in it.
One of the things that has always frustrated me with MMO design is the fact that the higher up in level you are, essentially the fewer options you have for where to spend your in game time. What I mean is that usually games spend a good amount of time to provide alternate starter zone experiences, and then those usually funnel into shared zones for your faction before dumping you out into a ladder of zone progression towards the “end game”. Once you arrive at the end content you experience the same thing… everyone is pushed towards the same few content items.
When an expansion is released the same thing happens again but even more limiting. You are pushed out of the “old world” content and into a much smaller new world with the same very vertical progression path. Everything about the old content becomes completely disposable as it is immediately replaced by the shiny new things from the expansion areas. Not only is the new content separated by distance usually, but it gives players absolutely no incentive to ever return and revisit the older content. As a result each time an expansion is released the players are ultimately throwing more and more content in the dustbin.
A Better Way
Granted some games do a much better job at addressing this problem than others. In Rift when mentoring down you receive xp and rewards as though you were doing content at your level. The same is more or less true with Guild Wars 2 and its always mentored system of scaling the player down to the content level at all times. But in neither system do you really address the problem of lost dungeon and raid content. Ultimately you can get rewards similar to what you could earn at level, but you will never actually be able to progress your characters in the same way unless you are always doing the latest and greatest content.
With the advent of systems like StoryBricks that allow for smarter AI encounters, I keep wondering if this is now the time to have a much better system. Ideally this would work better in a system without hard level ranges, and more a “tiers of gear” approach like The Secret World has in place. What if a mob could perceive you as a greater threat based on your “tier” and ultimately fight “smarter”. This would make the old content scale to whatever level you happen to be at the time. The old encounters would be evergreen in that beating them at Tier 1 would be significantly easier than beating them at Tier 4.
As a result you could continue to “pay out” the best tiers of gear, because all content would essentially scale up to meet the level of the players taking it on. In a mixed level group it would get far more tricky. You would have to do some sort of an average level for the encounter, but ultimately the base idea is that as you level your character you continue opening new doors to experience, rather than constantly closing permanently the doors behind you. I feel in part that this is so enticing as no amount of hard worked content provided by the designers would ever be considered “throw away” or “leveling” content again.
This of course is a massive pipe dream, and I am sure there are all measure of technically limitations to what I propose, but I have always wanted a world that scaled to me that I never outgrew. We can have this concept in single player games like Oblivion, I just think its time that we see a proper implementation in the MMO world. One added benefit is that being able to progress regardless of the content you are doing… incentivizes players to do the right thing socially… and assign their friends and guild members through that “old world” content.
Being one of those players that regularly helps out the “young-ins”, it can be frustrating knowing that you will not actually progress your character while doing this thing that was “socially” the right thing to do. Games like Rift or EQ2 provide alternate advancement paths that make it much more enjoyable, since you know you are ultimately still making your character better in the process. However… would it not be that much cooler if you could provide a system that allowed for both the low tier player and the high tier player to receive the best type of rewards they could get… together in the same group?
It is always awesome watching a new player get their first really awesome item, because you grouped up with them to help them through a challenge. Would it not be equally exciting for them to watch you getting the same because you chose to help them? I have had a mantra for awhile… “anything that prevents me from playing with my friends is bad” and this is exactly the opposite of that. It makes sure that playing with my friends will always benefit me in the same ways it benefits them. Sure the content might be ultimately more difficult when you have 3 tier 1 players and 2 tier 4 and the end difficulty level is something in the middle… but as group you will be able to work through the challenges.
As I sit here to write this post, it feels like it is coming out super esoteric… and as a result I am hoping to place it more firmly on the ground. In my office on the wall are lots and lots of maps, and many of them are from MMOs. There is one above my monitor that came from the Kunark expansion to the original Everquest for example. As I look at the glorious landmasses that are all these games… I am bit sad thinking that so many of those zones I will never have a valid reason to return to. They will never again be truly important to me, the same way they were when I was first leveling through them.
I would just like to see a design scheme that makes it always valid for us to return to the content we know and love and have conquered and find completely new challenges. This goes double for dungeon and raid content. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zone into Blackwing Lair in WoW with a group of friends… and get an encounter tailored to fit YOUR level… and not a “roflstomp” soloable mess? The worst part about the “e-sport-ification” of raid content, is that we are constantly having to throw away fun experiences for whatever the newest tier happens to be. Sure you can always return to the older stuff, but it has been trivialized by the progression you have made since then.
I would just like to see something that fixes this. So that a zone stays epic regardless of when you tackle it, and that there will always be new and more exciting challenges and rewards to be found there. With the construct of scalable AI and encounters… I think that maybe finally this concept is ready to be explored. I have no desire to stay in the starter zone, grind boars, and become amazing like they did in the South Park spoof… but it would be awesome to be able to go back to that low level content and have a reason to be there.
Well I need to wrap up and get on the road. I feel as though I have laid out a huge rambling mess. Hopefully this will make sense to someone. It has been a concept bouncing around in my head for awhile and all the talk of Storybricks and EQ Next and Scaling Mob intelligence has dislodged it enough that I wanted to try and put it down into words. I feel like I am fairly grossly unsuccessful at doing so. I hope you all have a great day, and I hope you can grasp the crux of what I was trying to say.