Theory of MMORPG Design – Themeparks and Impossible Games

Two great links have cropped up today, both focussing heavily on the theory of MMORPG design. But fear not – while some MMORPG design discussion can get a bit dry, both of these pieces are really interesting!

First up, we’ve got blogging stalwart Tobold, who takes a break from his break away from MMOs to write about his “impossible” game. Wheras normally he discusses MMORPG design with a strong eye on what’s possible and practical to do, today he’s just writing about what his ideal, impossible (at the moment) game would do

“My impossible MMORPG would be very different: Monster spawns would not be static, thus just because there are wolves in this part of the forest today, it doesn’t mean they will still be there tomorrow. Monster locations would in part change randomly, and in part in response to player actions. And yes, I know that Ultima Online tried that and failed, but they obviously just underestimated the speed with which players can kill mobs. A better system would increase respawn rates in response to player overkill, and make more dangerous monsters appear if the players empty a zone of monsters.

Secondly in my impossible MMORPG the monsters would be far more different from each other. Players would not be able to rely on “knowing” their “aggro radius”, because not all mobs would even use that game mechanic. There should be mobs which attack if they “see” you, not just stare right through you if you stand one step outside the aggro radius. Vision-based aggro would also mean that it matters from which direction you come. Classic aggro radii could be smell- or sound-based. And there should be some random chance of unusual behavior, a mob running away at first sight, or running for help, and not a predictable attack that is always the same.”

I genuinely love many of the ideas here. In particular, varying aggro mechanisms strike me as very possible for a next-gen MMO, and would solve both immersion and predictability problems.

Meanwhile, Chris at Level Capped has been thinking about theme parks. No, not theme park MMOs – actual theme parks, and how they are designed, in contrast to the theme park MMORPGs we’re always talking about

“Themeparks offer a lot of things, but their main draw is the rides. Rides in an amusement park are heavily engineered and encapsulated experiences which are mathematically constructed to provide the riders with specific emotions at specific places during the ride. These emotions are usually of the type or the level that we don’t normally experience in day-to-day life: terror, exhilaration, and wonder.

Although unbridled terror, exhilaration, or wonder may seem like a good and desirable thing on an animalistic level, the thing to keep in mind is that they’re all controlled here through the design of the ride itself. Assuming you don’t have a heart condition, no ride should be expected to produce fatalities, or to put you in such a state of rapture that you’ll ride the attraction over and over until you die. They give us just the right amount of emotional kick to make them stand out amongst our normal emotional triggers, which is why we seek them out as an occasional diversion from the otherwise baseline emotional state of everyday life. “

There’s a lot of interesting thinking in this piece, too – the contrasts between real-life theme parks and MMOs are surprisingly appropriate and interesting. In particular, the emotional design of theme park rides sounds like something that current MMO developers could learn from.

What’s your “Impossible Game”? And what lessons do you think MMOs can learn from Actual Themeparks?