The Imperial Realm :: Miranda

Article: The Single Player MMO Experience

By Admin on 2007-12-24 03:02:42
Homepage: email:admin at mmorts dot com

In my quest to learn more about how MMO's work I have been looking at MaNGOS.  From their website, "MaNGOS is an object-oriented Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Server (MMORPGS). It's an educational project, to help developers get familar with large scale C++ and C# development projects."  As a practical matter, it lets you make your own free to play World of Warcraft (WoW) server.

After perusing the source to learn about the communication protocol used by WoW, I decided to set up a MaNGOS server of my own along with a gameplay database from Unified Database to see if it actually worked.  I have to say I was pretty surprised to find that it does work -- well.  I've spent a few hours with it and played through 10 levels without a crash.  There are a few bugs, such as an occasional invisible creature, but for 98% of the time, it works perfectly.  (If you're looking to try it yourself, it isn't for the faint of heart.  There are lots of online setup guides, so the only advice I'll offer here is to make sure you get matching MaNGOS server, database and WoW client versions - which are not necessarily the versions that the setup guides say - that is the key to success.)

I signed up for a Blizzard World of Warcraft account for a few months last year.  Playing through the game again, I got to thinking about how I play online/MMO games.  When I was playing on Blizzard servers I mostly did quests, built up my gear, and explored the amazing world of World of Warcraft.  There is just something magical about the world they have created.  They have haunting music, day-night cycles, weather, and a truly unique art direction.  It is quite amazing to see all those people doing their own thing as well as interacting in such a huge environment.

However even with all those people, in three months, I teamed up with other players only twice.  I know a lot of people who play WoW, however they were either on another server, or they weren't online when I was (I typically get time to play games from midnight until 2am when most of my friends are sleeping) so my choices were play alone, or play with strangers.  I have spent quite a bit of time playing miscellaneous online player vs. player (PvP) games, but I'm not spending 20+ hours a week at it so usually I get killed a lot.  Being able to play in a living world is a big draw for the single-player gamer.  Getting ganked all the time is not.

A lot of elements of WoW that are very important when playing on Blizzard's servers just aren't relevant when playing on your own.  Your play style options really get pared down when there isn't  anyone else in the world.  There's no real need for money (you can give yourself as much as you like with simple GM commands.)  I used to waste a lot of time farming creatures to get the ingredients to make tailored items to sell at the auctionhouse.  With my own server, there's nobody to sell to.  If you are a gearhead, you're going to have to give yourself the gear you want, as most of the best gear only drops in the big group raids, and again, there's nobody in the auction house to buy from.  I also spent quite a bit of time running an alt (second character) to earn income for my main.  No point in that now.  Teleportation is another big change.  I can .tele myself to any major location in the game, no longer do I have to spend my entire 30 minute lunch break walking from one place to another.  I'll take the walk once to see the scenery and pick up any quests, but I never walk back.

All these adjustments got me to thinking about the single player content of MMORTS games.  The big focus of most MMORTS discussion is PvP or guild vs guild combat.  "You can take over the country/world/galaxy!"  The game developers talk a lot about building communities within the game, playing with (or against) friends.  But what about players who just can't (or don't want to) play with friends.  What sort of player vs environment (PvE) content is being built in for them?

Non-Player Characters (NPC's) to attack are a good feature for the single-player.  Defeat the computer player to gain some research for an advanced weapon or a unique technology.  Have the computer players scale their forces to give the attacker a challenge, but not so formidable that you need 20 friends to achieve victory.  From the developer's standpoint, having computer players means you need extra CPU to supply that, either on your server farm, or through farming out AI work to client machines, and it also means they need to make a competent AI or get hammered in reviews when the computer players do something dumb.  Good AI is not easy.

A naive designer might suggest the single player should just play against less challenging competitors, however other players are just like me, they're there to have fun, their purpose isn't to make the game fun for me like an AI player is.

NPC's are also good for friends that want to play cooperatively.  I used to play Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 with a friend of mine every Friday night (to our girlfriends' dismay.)  We always had a great time working together to waste increasingly challenging AI baddies.  Playing against each other wasn't any fun because most of the time I beat him and who likes to lose all the time?

A world with variety of terrain and features is also a plus for the single-player.  Procedural terrain is quite popular in MMORTS games right now, but it is so monotonous.  Beyond Protocol has a variety of terrain textures and atmospheres for their different worlds, but the terrain still all looks the same.  If you can't afford to have artists create your entire world like WoW, at least spice up the rolling terrain with some unique, artist designed set-pieces and areas.  If there's a unique area, even if it is a long way away, I'll go check it out.

PvP isn't the end-all of MMORTS games.  We need to make sure the games we play take into account a variety of play styles if they are going to be successful in the larger gaming community. 

If you're a budding game designer interested in learning more about the types of people who play online games and how to design games for them, check out Richard Bartle's article Players Who Suit MUDs.

What are the features you want to see in new MMORTS titles?

By Vladk on 2009-03-19 23:55:15
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It's good to see some other players feel the same. Most of the time I'm pretty disappointed with game developers. Even if they have very hard jobs anything can be improved but they don't extend. I don't know how to call this: Lazyness? Fear?
By Admin on 2009-03-20 01:43:10
Homepage: email:admin at mmorts dot com
None of the game developers I know are lazy. Making something new is tough, and risky, and expensive. Most game makers just can't do all of those things. For systems as complicated as the average title nowadays, even little things can be ridiculously complicated. I'm not saying it isn't worth trying new things, just that it isn't as easy as it sounds.
By Vladk on 2009-03-22 22:54:18
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True, now even wacky fps's cost millions to make.
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