Storytelling in MMOs
Star Wars: The Old Republic has been using the buzzwords ‘fourth pillar‘ a lot in their online videos to describe how they are going to add a new era of storytelling to MMOs. I wasn’t aware MMOs had pillars but, well, apparently they do and, out of interest, BioWare describe the other pillars as exploration, combat and character customisation. Seems like some generalisations but, hey, lets roll with it.
So, this ‘fourth pillar’ – apart from being an abstract term like ‘2nd generation MMO’ and ’sandbox’ (which I loathe) – is apparently going to reinvigorate the MMO genre and give SW:TOR something new which it’s competitors never had: storytelling. This got me wondering a lot about a) what exactly do they mean by story and storytelling and b) how are they going to effectively implement it.
Well according to Wikipedia ’storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images, and sounds often by improvisation or embellishment’. Ok, got it, it’s about conveying a story or ‘telling’ a story, if you will. No surprises there. But don’t games like WoW, EQ2, AoC and LotRO already tell a story? Last time I checked they actually had very immersive worlds that told the stories of events and history. In fact, in LotRO you’re actually playing through an entire trilogy of books. How is SW:TOR going to be any different?
BioWare have said that “every one of your decisions is impactful [sic] to your end goal and character progression” and apparently “what’s really missing [in other MMOs] is context–why you’re doing all these missions, why you’re on this quest, why you’re out killing 10 wolves”. Doesn’t sound like they going to suddenly reinvent the genre or introduce some amazing new mechanics but it does like they’re focusing heavy on character choice and working hard to remove the redundant ‘kill 10 rats’ quests which are only there to allow people to quest grind. Looks like BioWare are going to make questing meaningful again and that could be really fun in itself.
AoC tried hard to introduce personal stories to each character and it worked quite well. I enjoyed the Tortage experience and the mix of group and solo gameplay and it’s a shame it wasn’t carried through to the rest of the game in more depth. I wonder if BioWare will try something similar by mixing single player quest lines into the MMO. Certainly when they talk about your characters decisions effecting the world around them, I can’t think of any other way of doing it.
Ultimately, I hate the term ‘fourth pillar’ but I quite like and admire what BioWare are trying to achieve. If anything, even if they succeed in getting rid of the random, pointless quests that now plague MMOs as nothing more than quick exp boosts then they will have contributed something to the genre.
Regardless, I’m looking forward to the release of SW:TOR. I’ve always had a fond spot for Star Wars and there’s no such thing as a bad SW game. Apart form SW: Galaxies. That sucked.