Category Archives: wod

A player’s role is certain, rigidly defined, and perhaps unnecessary.

One thing that always stuck with me from my experiences with World of Warcraft pick-up groups was that in the vast majority of cases people referred to one another by their role or class, not by character name. ‘Healer you suck’. ‘Tank can’t hold aggro’. ‘Weak DPS’. In WoW, and many MMOs of the traditional form, the players pick The Rogue, The Priest, The Warrior, which are further generalised into The DPS, The Healer, The Tank. It’s akin to games such as League of Legends, where players pick a character type to play which primarily defines the player’s role in the group, the abilities they will have to available to them, and the general strategy they will need to follow; nobody in LoL picks Irelia, the Will of the Blades in order to expand on the story of her spiritual companionship with Soraka, the Starchild.

Admittedly there are many players for whom that is the desired system. But I also get the feeling, however, that an equally large portion of the traditional MMO player base desire not to be classified as a character type, but as a character; they want to be a Shepard, a Geralt, or an Altaïr. They wish to be a character, but in an environment where they can share adventures with other players.

It comes back to the thorny issue of defining what is meant when we say RPG. For some this is categorically defined by the role you play in a group, it is a system forged by levels and stats which enables you to fight dungeon monsters. For others, however, that is only one part of the definition, the other being about storytelling and playing a character.

In the case of role-playing, some people like to play the function, other people like to play the part. Role-function, and role-part.

I’m beginning to wonder if Star Wars: The Old Republic is meant to appeal to the latter audience. At the moment it seems to want to bridge the two, carrying with it much of the role-function baggage from the more traditional MMOs, while also trying to introduce the more character-focussed style of the role-part, more often encountered in single player MMOs. My concern is that, in trying to appeal to the general market of MMO players, Bioware have given up the chance to break the traditional mould and bring a truly innovative character-based RPG to the massively multiplayer genre. The danger is that TOR will frustrate traditional role-function players because it focuses too much on character and story and not enough on the optimisation of stats and abilities, while at the same time leaving enough of the relics of the role-function system in place to leave cold those players who want to play a part in a story and not concern themselves so much with increasing arbitrary stats in order to be able to defeat a dice roll. In trying to take a bold new direction, I wonder if Bioware didn’t free themselves enough from the shackles of the traditional MMO form, and will thus end-up pleasing nobody. At best they may have come up with the most expensive way yet for players to play alone, together.

For a pioneering role-part MMO for the mainstream market, we should perhaps instead look to the studio best known for bringing a successful MMO to the market which breaks many of the traditional MMO rules; CCP’s World of Darkness MMO will hopefully be influenced more by EVE Online and White Wolf’s Storyteller system than by World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragon’s munchkinised dungeon crawling, and as such will stand a better chance of appealing to that different but significant market within the MMO genre that Bioware were perhaps intending to target with TOR.

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

If you haven’t heard about the little hoo hah that’s happened recently in EVE Online, where have you been? And do they do package holidays there?

It’s been quite the debacle, and has had That Section of the MMOsphere all a-blather for the past week or so. That Section of the MMOsphere being defined as those people who play EVE Online, along with those people who like watching the aftermath of a relatively catastrophic event; the sort of people who witness a train derailing off of a bridge and landing on a passenger ferry that was sailing beneath. And then, when a 747 crash lands into the resulting wreckage, shout ‘Oh my god! Oh. My. God!’ and ‘Cool!’ and ‘Did you get that on camera? Because we can totally get £250 on You’ve Been Framed!’

Getting the actual story was tricky, first it was a ‘basic’ GoonSwarm Intelligence Agency spy who had infiltrated the BoB organisation at its highest level; then that spy evolved into none other than the Grand Poobah of EVE spydom The Mittani; then it wasn’t The Mittani; then it wasn’t a GIA spy at all, but a BoB director who had defected; then it wasn’t a direct defection, but an inverse semi-defection-tuck with three and a half twists, as the director, having been caught in a minor GoonSwarm scam, had offered up the front door key and back door key to BoB, all the keys in fact, including the one to the big red button labelled ‘Alliance disband button. Do not press. In fact, we’re not even sure why we have a big bastard button for doing something that we’re never going to want to do. Whatever. Just don’t press it’. It was the real world equivalent of scamming some random chap on the street out of twenty quid, only to have him realise the scam for what it was and rather than getting a big stick, all of his mates, and showing you just what he thought of your cheeky chappy hustling, he instead confesses that he’s actually the Chancellor of the Exchequer and would you like access to the content of Her Majesty’s Treasury? And as an added bonus he can pass a law disbanding England and opening up the land to any claim by its Scottish, Welsh and Irish neighbours.

I’ll just pause while all of our Scottish, Welsh and Irish readers salivate at the thought for a bit.

The upside to all of this lies in the future, and not in the future of EVE, although it has generated a wealth of renewed excitement around the game for its fans as the GoonSwarm/BoB stalemate of many years was broken, if only for a short while. No, because of this event I’m now looking forward even more to the future game that will be CCP’s World of Darkness Online.

I’ve been a big fan of the World of Darkness in the past; I have the first edition Vampire and Werewolf source books sitting on my RPG shelf, along with Mage and Changeling. I was drawn into the WoD by my pen and paper RPG group at school, and I fell quickly in love with the dark gothic world that White Wolf created, inhabited by all manner of fantastic supernatural creatures, and the Cthulhu-esque idea of normal humans having to deal with witnessing such unbelievable creatures and events. The one thing that really stuck with me, both from the pen and paper and live action role-playing games, was the political intrigue and machinations that were enabled, nay positively required, for the game to come alive. For me it was what set the series apart from your standard hack’n’slash dungeon runner RPG. The Storyteller system for Vampire (and to a lesser extent Werewolf, more so again with Changeling) had societal structure at its core, and your place in that society defined the essence of your character; yes you were an individual, you created a unique idea of your vampiric self, but you were fundamentally a Nosferatu, a Ventrue, a Toreador within the Camarilla. Caitiff excepted. How you interacted with other players and NPCs was in a large part dictated by your clan. The whole clan structure was set up for political intrigue and infighting: a ruling clan, a clan that thinks it should be ruling, a clan of disfigured spies and informants who hate all the other clans for their ‘normality’, a clan of aesthetes who detest the spying clan for their hideous nature both in form and function. The stage was set for war, for intrigue, back-stabbing and misinformation, and the game never failed to disappoint.

Sound familiar?

If CCP can hold on to the frankly genius level of freedom that they’ve given their player base in EVE Online, whilst perhaps making the World of Darkness slightly more accessible than that of New Eden, they have the making of an absolute classic translation of the White Wolf pen and paper game to the online massively multiplayer space, because when you let people play in any way they want, they always play the part that humanity best knows how: monsters.

Incidentally, for anyone who hasn’t caught Being Human on the BBC yet, and who likes any of those early World of Darkness games, be sure to catch it on repeat, it’ll probably seem awfully familiar in places.