Dynamic Worlds

The term gets tossed around a lot in discussions of MMOs. Persistent Worlds. A lot have taken that to mean that the worlds are Static and don't change at all over time. The term doesn't mean that at all, but instead is meant to mean that the game world continues to exist while the player is logged out as opposed to single player games such as Diablo 2 where when a player logs out of their game (when playing on Battle.net), the world stops existing entirely and a new instance of it is created when the player logs back on. The world is fresh and reset, ready for the player to go and kill all of the boss characters again and again.

I'm wondering about Dynamic Persistent worlds as opposed to the Static model most games follow now. They would be worlds where players can change almost everything about them. A world like that would have several qualities to it.

A. Content is not repeatable. Once something dies, it's dead. This only applies to content like dungeons and raids where things must die to beat them. This can be gotten around in several ways depending on how the content is implemented. For example, Virtual and magical recreations can be made in worlds where technology or magic are sufficiently advanced enough. Things like PvP and other forms of competition can be re-staged over and over again.

B. Quests change depending on the nature of the world around them. To take WoW for example, When you do quests in Icecrown, the game often phases to a different state. When you complete the quest line to take the Shadow Vault for the Ebon Blade, the area phases and the Shadow Vault becomes populated with friendly NPCs. In a world where players change the landscape of things, this means that any quests which would have taken players to kill enemies inside the Shadow Vault would become unavailable.

C. Which player factions control different resources has a vast effect on the economies of the game.

D. Almost every action which players take has some meaning and has impact on what other players can do.

E. The amount of content necessary to make all of this into a believable grows exponentially as time goes on.

A monumental task, surely. But I think a world like this is the future of MMOs. This themepark stuff is getting old where you run through the content, and then poof. You hit a wall and are done.

This also allows roleplaying to have some actual meaning. When you show up to play a character, you know that your paladin can actually get revenge on the monsters that killed his family, destroyed his home and country, and then went on to try and rampage the rest of the world and not just stand idly by while some NPCs do it in canon.

On a side note, The post over at That's a Terrible Idea is what got me talking about this particular aspect because meaning is something that is necessary for games in my opinion. The post is an excellent read.

Posted by Glyph, the Architect | at 1/26/2010 12:56:00 AM


Garumoo said...

On your first point (dead things stay dead), there's a subtle detail which many don't realise - not only will the quest not be available for someone else to do when they come along in six months time, but the quest will become impossible for anyone who currently has it in their quest log, and needs to be invalidated in their quest log somehow (perhaps in the same manner that timer quests revert to "Failed").

This is of course a minor instance of your second point (when the world changes).

Your point (E) can be somewhat ameliorated by your point (C). If your faction controls a zone then there would be all manner of quests unlocked for you (mostly of a peaceful nature, or defensive nature). If your faction doesn't control the zone then different quests would be unlocked (espionage, rescue, settlement raids, etc). Content would then become cyclic.

I agree - there are lots of interesting development possibilities to explore inside a dynamic world.

Glyph, the Architect said...

A natural consequence of the story based quest structure like this is that multiple people couldn't have the same quest in their quest logs unless it was something that was meant to be competitive. Bounty quests for example.

Those quests which could be invalidated by external factors could be solved by having objectives be a little more flexible. A "Kill Johnny Evilguy" quest could have the turn in condition requiring you bring proof. His head or even just a photo of the dead body could work. If the player isn't the one to kill Johnny Evilguy and just happens upon him dead, they could still cut his head off and present it as though they killed him.

The point I brought up about enemy factions possibly capturing cities and settlements of the enemies also brings up the possibility of changing the quests just by that virture. Say the Kill Johnny Evilguy quest was given to me by an injured knight in a village. While I'm out looking for it, the neighboring nation invades and takes the village in its campaign. Upon arriving and seeing enemy guards all over the place, the task of returning to the knight would stay the same, but the game would inform you that the situation had change and you know have to somehow get inside the village and ascertain if the knight is even still alive to get your reward. This also opens up other possibilities such as a new quest to help the knight fight off the invaders (if he's recovered enough for the task) or escape from the town and get help.

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