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Anyone who might have read my previous blogrants on MMO’s will understand that I tend to feel the genre has become as stale and slow to develop as practically every corporate controlled venture in the world, with inevitable pitfalls seemingly embraced and ignored by the majority of MMO’s. Even The Secret World, which embraces not only a new theme and idea and is in fact really enjoyable to play in its early stages, tends in the end to fall back on many of the same issues that its competitors do, though certainly not as bad. World of Warcraft has taken a novel approach to the failings of the genre by seemingly adopting them as a default and steadily making the gaming experience something so dumbed down that you really don’t need to invest your brain at all. There have been are are originals out there, with Eve Online remaining vastly superior when it comes to scope, but lacking a personal feel, the Star Wars MMO looked good but became an empty promise (environmentally this was quite literal) while the ever stumbling project Divergence looks like something so utterly new and groundbreaking that if it isnt snapped up by a major corporation and shelved like the steam powered car, I fear that it will be purposely ignored by major funder’s due to the risk it presents to the MMO industry as a whole. Divergences only hope, besides Kickstarter, is to become a indie created and supported game, but this relies on people (including individuals with superior knowledge, skills and tech) donating their services free for a long term goal of creating something unique, which in a financially biased culture like ours, is a hope, not a certainty.

It was the concept of Divergence that inspired this blog. Divergence, for those who don’t know, and I was one of those people until about 5pm yesterday, is a sandbox MMO, whose environment is almost limitless, where things like resource collection require the player, and hopefully ‘players’, to locate resources and rather than simply clicking on a node, have to build and refine and do the stuff that that mining actually entails, albeit with tech support.

BUT, the problems with big, as the Star Wars MMO showed, is that big quite often actually means empty. No game with such a huge scope will ever have enough players over the first few years to avoid that kinda feeling you get playing Minecraft on your own. So, a an idea…

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CAN’T STOP THE SIGNAL…

I thought of this idea long ago but it seems useful when discussing an MMO with such a huge scale environmentally like Divergence. Its what I called The Feed. This was a permanent radio station, which shifts from zone to zone in the gaming world, with music (that can be muted or filtered, as with all radio content on the channel, defined by the player or ‘user’ from here on), news, real user updates, and also newsflashes of what I called Events or Incidents. These were random game generated events that The Feed would announce to the user populating in that area. A bandit raid for instance, or a chemical leak, of nuclear meltdown, evacuation order by the local government, meteorite approach, forest fire, flood warning, flash event, rave party, official ceremony…in fact anything that will lead the user to make a choice, or have to make a choice to be involved with or avoid. In the case of combat incidents, the game would generate the event with friendly fire off, so the user would have the choice to get involved, say, defend a local mining operation, depending on their faction ratings etc, or get the hell out of the way, or risk getting cut down in the cross fire. Environmental incidents would obviously be best to avoid, as would industrial accidents, such incidents resulting in areas of the zone being hazardous to enter for a given time, and for those with resources inside (or in fact in charge of the resources that caused the incident), the need to clean up the mess and allow zone access again. Obviously, having a game generated event cause the resources of a number of users go toxic without any reason would not be fair, and industry owners would receive updates and warnings of maintenance etc prior to any event happening.

Combat events likewise would not be generated with prior risks being raised. A region know to have an active bandit community or a coastal region prone to sea raiders would be made known, and so users making claims or settlements in the region will have been warned and adjust their strategy accordingly, including defense systems.

This latter aspect would also lead to users being urged to stick together and form groups, for their mutual benefit and safety, each investing to make it all happen and stay under their control or in existence.

The Feed would become an essential part of game life and play, with both negative and positive events being broadcast and letting the play get involved or not. I also loved the idea of a newsflash telling of a mining colony being wiped out or abandoned due to some event, and regional players rushing in their to claim the resources, or linking up with nearby groups and heading in to claim and merge the site into their own.

On the flip side, The Feed would also hail the achievements of users, or let people find a place to socialize and meet other like minded souls, or announce the arrival of traveling traders or arms and tech fairs, available for a brief time only before moving on to another zone. In urban situations it could be robberies or muggings, which the user could have a choice about getting involved in.

In this way, even a game world with a minimal population would feel alive with these approaches, something not stagnant. It would also address one of my favorite MMO niggles….those regions with hostile mobs dotted about at intervals all over the place, just standing there, or ambling about without purpose. Sure some regions will have a permanent population of fauna, but come on, this approach to world encounters is so stale its presence in even new MMO’s is a joke. Random encounters like random events will obviously have a level of warning. Users entering regions not explored by others could have the choice to post their encounters on The Feed, or permanent bulletin boards to warning others aiming to go their. This would promote active exploration, for the purpose of highlighting these warnings, posters might even be rewarded for it, but only if its supported by other explorers, or the return of evidence, like skins etc. The world is a random place at times, why can’t the gaming world be just as random. This could even be expanded to include cartography and mapping regions, again for a reward, if supported and proved accurate.

If your gunna have a huge environment, make it discoverable, explorable and a risk, as it was in human history. This would lead users to form exploration groups, pooling their resources and heading out into regions unknown. What a true adventure.

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