GW: Of Nostalgia and Shared Reverie

ArenaNet has to be the cleverest game company there is. In the wake of the ever-so-successful Hall of Monuments (the best tribute to lateral progression and over-achievement there ever was) and the build up to Guild Wars 2, what do they do but give Guild Wars 1 its last hurrah, so to speak?

Or rather, one final celebratory encore (since GW1 is not going away, even as the great beast of GW2 at last slouches around the corner,) inviting all of its players to revisit and pay its beauty a respectful toast?

To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists…

Moreover, they are so clever, that they’re making it a shared experience with the excuse of the festival/event of the Wayfarer’s Reverie. Without it, surely some of us would still have made our way in trickles to say farewell (for now), but by making a quest out of visiting some memorable scenic sights, what better way to make sure that more people are able to follow the structure and see what they might have missed (having not seen it for years, or perhaps even, not seen at all.)

As usual, the difficulty level of the quests in Guild Wars has an interesting structure. The more you’ve played, the more you’ve explored, the more places on the map you’ve unlocked with a character, the easier the quest is to get to, generally speaking. Newer players (or a not-so-much played character) tend to find cross country quests more intimidating, as there are so many towns and outposts that aren’t unlocked that one could shortcut from. So it ends up a quest to get TO the outpost (fighting through however many necessary zones or story missions), before the actual quest.

Then there’s the additional layer of player set difficulty. For ultimate face roll, go on normal mode, dump in as many heroes as you can, and presumably all your characters have uber PvXwiki builds like Discordway necros, SoS rits, panic mesmers and what not. Or wander around solo if your build is strong enough. Hard mode generally ramps up the time taken and challenge factor. If you want to min max on time, it’s probably possible to equip a running build and just runrunrun like hell to the quest spots.

I popped in to work on the Wayfarer’s Reverie: Tyria quest. I’m not in a blinding hurry to rush through quest completion, I hit 30/50 some time ago and pretty much decided I’d scraped the ceiling of what I could do without insane grinding, so I experimented with a number of those difficulty levels as my mood took me. A Tormented weapon would be nice if I manage to make it to the end of all four quests by the 25th or 30th, but it’ll only give me 1 more point, fairly meaningless in the larger scheme of things. The true goal was nostalgia.

My wannabe Imbagon paragon was the main of choice, though I was still halfway through getting all the Old Ascalon areas unlocked and accessible for him. My original Prophecies character, a ranger, has been sadly shelved for a long time. I just couldn’t get my head around how to play at long range and he just seemed weaker than the paragon at keeping the whole pack of heroes alive.

I don’t recall how much of Factions I’ve unlocked on him, I may use the Factions warrior when the time comes. Ditto for Eye of the North, which was both attempted on the ranger and the paragon. (Oh, what utter confusion it is to try to have a native character per campaign. In hindsight, should have stuck with one, but how was an altholic supposed to know and resist?)

The paragon didn’t have Serenity Temple unlocked, so I ended up tromping my way through Pockmark Flats and hit the crystal first, before making my way to the temple. I did this one solo, on normal mode, and got pretty good drops of the Wayfarer’s Reverie token while 2-3 shotting every teeny lowbie mob that crossed my path.

The Searing Crystal – 2012

I also found some really old screenshots while preparing this post, so old, they were saved in .bmp format, which was an extra nostalgia hit. They were taken in January of 2005. Which presumably means taken during the beta preview weekends, since Guild Wars launched in April 2005. I’ve only edited out my character’s names, since I wasn’t smart enough to remove UI then. Everything else is as it was, lower monitor resolution and graphical setting, no henchman names or levels in the party UI, etc.

The Searing Crystal – 2005
Shrine of Melandru in Serenity Temple

I get huge hits of emotional resonance whenever I look upon a Shrine of Melandru. I figure this has to do with my first character being a ranger, and the pre-Searing ranger quest which has you go up to a Shrine and tame one of Melandru’s stalkers as your first ever pet.

That said, mad props and huge respect to Guild Wars for creating such a believable pantheon and putting those graphical touches EVERYWHERE in the game. One look, and you know which altar belongs to Grenth (the Death dude), Balthazar (warrior, sword, fire), Dwayna (blue, angel wings, air), Lyssa (twins) and so on. The lore seeps into you, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Shrine of Dwayna opposite Melandru’s

And I’ve always thought it such an awesome touch that you can /kneel before the altars and to reward that tiny bit of roleplaying, an avatar of the said god will actually pop up. In some special instances, they’ll offer buffs (but they’re not adverse to you paying them first!) or transport you to really special places, and so on.

I had a fair bit of trouble getting to Flame Temple Corridor for the next landmark on the sightseeing trip, mostly because everything was a big patch of fog in that area. A long time ago, I’d started the paragon on the Great Northern Wall mission, intending to work on the Young Heroes of Tyria book in hard mode, stopped at Fort Ranik and happily dropped everything the moment I hit 30/50 on the Hall of Monuments.

So I made myself cleave slow and steadily through Fort Ranik and Ruins of Surmia missions on hard mode – not that they’re hard, mind you, but they’re time consumingly tedious to roll through – a million and one ‘trash mob’ fights, back and forth to finish the bonus and to wind one’s way around paths one cannot jump down and purposefully placed to make one loop around in circles wondering when one’ll ever get to the end, each eats about an hour just jogging from fight to fight.

It was surprisingly nostalgic to go through them though. At the time, it all looked brown and barren and depressing and filled with endless charr and scorpions and neverending. Now, it still looks like all of the above, but with a little extra spice to the grim bleakness.

The Great Northern Wall – shattered by Charr invaders

Hey, look, it’s the Wall. The one you spend so much bloody time climbing and jumping and clambering over in Guild Wars 2 to get a skill point! Likely not the exact same section of it, but there’s that link, that connection.

And then there are the Flame Effigies. These don’t move, but the family resemblance is there. And it’s amazing how Guild Wars 1 manages to light and make these things look like they’re burning away in such an old game.

Siegemaster Lomar and Catapult – 2012
Same catapult – 2005

I was quite amazed to realize I’d taken a screenshot of the same thing 7 years apart, without prior reference back to the old one. I guess I really like shooting siege machines and wanted to remember it.

Prince Rurik in the Ruins of Surmia. Ah, the horrifying thrill of escort NPC quests as you chase them down screaming, OMG DON’T DIE DON’T DIE, WAIT FOR TEH HEALZ. His redeeming quality, that beautiful flaming dragon sword everyone covets. Wish we could have let him die and then picked up the sword.

Despite better behaved AI, having his hp bar in the party UI, three discordway necros – two sporting rit heals and one with prot monk aegis and stuff – and my paragon’s “there’s nothing to fear,” he almost contrived a successful suicide when I had gotten too comfortable with him behaving and following my party and took a right turn to begin working on the bonus. Then I suddenly realized he’d taken the left turn, towards a closed drawbridge with two Charr and no one else following him except maybe another NPC. Mind you, hard mode, so I couldn’t trust his level 20 self to finish them both at lvl 23 without a scratch. I credit my heroes being able to cast spells through the cliff wall for saving his bacon as I raced back around and up to pull his arse out of the fire.

Ruins of Surmia bonus – Follow Ember Bearers to Flame Temple

Now this really brings back memories. The confusion of trying to find “Flame Keepers” to follow, while the Ember Bearers troop down the hill behind you. The ignorance and impatience of youth freely aggro’ing them on purpose and by accident (aggro radius, aggro circle, what the heck are those? See red dot means KILL!) before they can even get to the gate they’re supposed to unlock. Finally, slowly working out that you can indeed let mobs remain alive for 15 or so seconds longer, long enough for them to pull open the gate before you charge.

But now, of course, piece of cake. And all the previous pain of Charr fire elementalists throwing around meteor shower, gone, the only real uncertainty is whether you’ll kill them normally through a steady spear barrage while your heroes discord them, or whether pain inverter will recharge fast enough to watch them blow themselves up by meteor showering the minions swarming them.

I eventually got to Nolani Academy, and then sidetreked off to find the Flame Temple corridor. Now this one I don’t really have memories of. I didn’t even know the place existed until it came time to do the Titan quests, which was only a few years ago, fairly recent. I suspect I must have just gotten pasted by the massive packs of Charr, and hurried away, unwilling to explore a bonus zone without any quests pointing me that way. Or maybe I got there but pushed into Dragon’s Gullet without ever looking backward because it was just a halfway zone.

Not bad looking, but no nostalgia value for me. I poked my head into Dragon’s Gullet long enough to get a screenshot of a rock painting that held distinctly more nostalgia value and remembrance. It’s probably meant to depict Balthazar.

Up next, looking back on the absolute ultimate nostalgia quest of Prophecies – the Villainy of Galrath.

Learning the Metagame – Personal First Thoughts

Warning: This may turn out to be a very long post on learning the metagame in games.

I’m mulling on two things specifically:

1. How much of this learning should be clued or signaled in-game or given in-game training tools (as opposed to out-of-game tips/guides/walkthroughs from other players)

2. Preferences for learning on a group or individual basis, possibly influenced by extrovert or introvert tendencies

But first, a very long introduction.

As Dusty Monk says, he of the original idea starter,

Every MMO of any complexity has a rich metagame to learn and enjoy beyond the up front “jam on your ability keys until mob is dead” mechanic.  What I think distinguishes a good game design from a poor one is to what extent the game forces you to have to play the metagame, and how soon it forces you to learn it – if at all.

All games have a metagame – optimal strategies for playing the game in a manner that allows you to win, progress or get a high score. That’s generally the point of games, learning the rules and boundaries of the design in order to do better at playing the game and achieving whatever ‘win conditions’ are set by the developers’ design. Make the metagame complex enough, or with enough varied, alternative options and strategies, and you get the often praised ‘depth’ to a particular game. Too simple to master, and players just do it, ‘win’ and get rapidly bored.

Players of MMOs, or virtual worlds and sandboxes in particular, are pretty adept at redefining what the  ‘win conditions’ and ‘playing better’ means to them, which I believe is a good thing. It shows that MMOs are big enough to play host to a variety of people, not all of which have to share the same goal or metagame. Some may enjoy playing the traditional raid progression endgame, which then involve necessary optimisation strategies for one’s character and one’s schedule to play in a group. Some may be content just hitting max level and stopping. Or accumulating one of each race and class of alt. Or the world’s largest collection of pets and mounts. Or costumes. Or screenshots. Or PvPing. Or whatever.

Each may have their own set of optimisation strategies. I don’t need large wardrobe slots, all bank account slots unlocked, or multiple mules. Ye olde hat collector, or auction house trader (with the exception of the wardrobe, that is) might.

I myself have advised people to really examine what they want out of a game, and to either treat the game in a different way or move on when it can no longer fulfill their needs/wants, rather than get sucked down the road of other peoples’ expectations. It’s so easy to, as a commenter over at Spinksville, Boxerdogs, mentions:

The metagame in WoW snuck up on me as it does so many, by my wanting to be a good “contributor” to the raid. But learning a metagame like that is quite taxing. I kinda got suckered into learning one, and I don’t regret it at all, but I have found with SWTOR and Guild Wars 1 that I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to learn a new, complex game.

Now let’s talk about the MMO combat metagame that most folks are thinking of when they say “metagame,” wherein gear selection, optimal builds and skill rotations are often important, a good UI or add-ons can be helpful, may assume basic knowledge of jargon like “aggro,” “kite,” “AoE,” etc,  involves a fair amount of theorycrafting and out-of-game reading/discussion/copy-and-pasting of stuff other people have either mathematically calculated or video recorded to demonstrate easy-to-apply tactics,  may require some muscle memory and practice and maybe quick-ish reaction times (not to mention WASD and mouselook, is that as controversial as whether to use keyboard shortcuts or very quick mouse clicks?), and where combat parsing is often used in the search for the holy grail of efficiency…

That’s… a lot of stuff to learn. Some of it can apply from game to game, and we MMO gamers have actually absorbed a lot of it without realising. (Watch a complete newbie try to navigate an MMO some time.) But the game specific stuff can already be quite tedious a task to take on, as Spinks posits while trying to decide if she wants to join the SWTOR raid endgame:

…there comes a point where if you want to be competitive or complete cutting edge content, you have to stop playing in an exploratory, playful way, and start playing in a more defined and optimised way. Or in other words, there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to look stuff up and learn the metagame, or just move on…

…[there’s also] metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame.

Sometimes learning too much about the metagame sucks all the fun out of the game and leads to burn out. My personal theory is that this tends to happen if the game isn’t balanced in a way that leads to multiple, viable, interesting, alternate options, or deeper counter to a counter mechanics that allow players to feel a sense of control and personal agency over what they are doing and/or to vary things up, be it for novelty’s sake or to catch an unsuspecting opponent by surprise.

Starcraft’s metagame is notoriously elaborate, along with, I believe, DOTA-like games, though I haven’t much experience with their ilk. I tend to dislike games in a World of Warcraft vein, where there are one or a few good optimal copy-this-cookie-cutter spec and everything else is numerically suboptimal. True choice is limited if you’re playing a metagame which discards all the other options as invalid for the purpose.

Sometimes players are too fast to do this too, though.

There may be better ways and better strats, that don’t get found until someone breaks convention and does something different.

Me, I don’t mind optimising to a limited extent, on my own, under my control, at my own pace. But I do mind having to live up to an external ideal or standard enforced by other people or by restrictive game design that forces you to be ‘this high’ in order to start doing whatever.

I rather enjoyed what Guild Wars asked of its individual players, once I got my head around the entire “Magic: The Gathering” concept and other uniquely Guild Wars schticks.

I once bogged down in Thunderhead Keep and for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how to move on from there. It took 2+ years of learning in another MMO (City of Heroes) before the entire concept of aggro and aggro radius became internalised to a point that when I returned to Guild Wars, it was a cakewalk to look at my radar minimap and pull and otherwise pick apart groups that liked to patrol close to each other. This is a key mechanic in GW, btw, your party appears designed to take on one group of mobs well, and if you blindly charge ahead into a chokepoint where 2 or 3 groups patrol into each other, you’re in for a mad fight and probably a walk back as your party shows up at the last rez shrine you crossed.

At the point I was having major issues in Thunderhead Keep, I had no such understanding and would walk straight into such traps, limping out only by virtue of two monk henchmen and blind 60% death penalty persistence if need be. (My ranger’s build also sucked, and I don’t think I used his skills well enough to do him much justice either. I’m not really a long range caster sort by nature.)

With that hurdle down, it was easier to start learning from PvXwiki about what ‘good’ builds were, and after copying a few to learn from, to start grasping the concepts behind skills synergizing with each other, and choosing skills appropriate for the occasion as dictated by the mobs you would be fighting. Most of the time, it was still easier to use the chapter-approved uber builds for both myself and my heroes, but I grew confident enough to swap some skills in and out as needed (as first suggested by wiki recommendations) and later, that fit what I wanted to achieve for the mission or dungeon (eg. extinguish for a monk if burning was going to be flying around willy nilly, remove hex for hexes, etc.)

In fact, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m still fond of going back to the game, I just have less urgency to do so after happily finishing HoM 30/50 and getting distracted by “ooh shiny” games of the month. Guild Wars is a classic that can keep for whenever I feel like it. Thank you, no sub fee.

So with a self-chosen, self-directed goal, it seems I am quite content to do some searching at my own pace, do a bit of experimentation and trial and error with different builds and strategies, and even die alone repeatedly and keep going back for upwards of 15+ absurd repetitions. (See my flailing around in the Moon Bog in the Secret World, enjoying myself thoroughly when I figured out a solution that works for me.)

But you know, I don’t like to do this sort of learning in a group.

Perhaps it’s just me being too sensitive for my own good, or tending to compare others to myself, but as I mentioned before, I both demand a lot of perfection/optimisation out of myself (out of both a desire to pull my own weight, contribute and do well, and fear of embarassment or disappointing others) and it also bugs me when I see others slacking off (out of ignorance or willfulness, the first is forgivable, the second less so) and forcing others to shoulder an extra load. This is also primarily a -performance- issue.

What about learning? I don’t want to have to start the learning process in an ordinary group, which is normally focused on performance and executing well. There’s too much pressure to learn fast and learn quickly… or else.

And worse, to have to learn at their pace, not my own. I’m a poor auditory learner. I hate Ventrilo and having someone talk ceaselessly while I’m trying to focus on doing something. I end up distracted, paying attention to their voice, rather than what’s on my screen. Groups who type also tend to teach badly, because most type in a hurry, in abbreviated form, and are mostly interested in go-go-go and speed. So you’re forced to learn by doing and pray that it’s not too hard and that you don’t accidentally wipe the group from ignorance.

I’m primarily visual and I enjoy reading books and walls-of-text by myself in order to learn something. Wikis and guides are okay, and scanning through forums and blogs. Videos are meh, mostly because of the audio component which means I can’t really fast forward through stuff and have to give up 20 minutes or whatever length of time the video takes to play. Failing which, I’d rather try doing and learning by trial and error. By myself, thank you.

Not where someone will get irritated at me for failing 15 times for being a “slow learner,” or as I like to call it, being thorough, experimental (because I don’t believe in just one true way of execution and must try various ideas) and just plain goddamn stubborn. When I learn something, I don’t like to learn enough to “just get by” or to follow someone else’s method blindly, I like to learn it to the point where I understand the concept and underlying principles and possibly how to apply those ideas/solutions to a different scenario.

Groups by and large just don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. They just want the shiny at the end as quickly as possible. Can’t really blame them, that’s just how it is. Once you’ve done all the learning you care to, then all that’s left is execution, preferably as fast and as well as possible.

It would be indeed nice if more games offered training modes to make the learning curve smoother. Most games are guilty of not getting around to it. Guild Wars has a hero tutorial which is pathetically basic. Why not teach pulling with heroes, aggro radius, corner blocking and such things while you’re at it? (Though albeit in the very first intro missions, they comment on waiting for mobs to patrol away from one another. It goes by so fast, most newbies miss the concept, methinks.)

If dps races and recount and other such combat parsing is going to be an integral part of your game, then by golly, have the combat dummies you provide measure the necessary stats too. If it doesn’t, then don’t have the combat dummies there, and don’t tune your mobs for that sort of thing with enrage timers.

I haven’t gotten around to sampling DDO much, mostly because the build planning appears to involve too much homework in order to minmax your character for the specific function you want (which in my case, would be a worthwhile soloing baseline) but I’m intrigued by the concept of casual mode to both learn the dungeon and see the story, just no/less loot for you.

I also wonder how much of this solo learning preference has to do with my propensity for extreme introversion. On Myers-Briggs type of tests, I tend to break the scale for Introversion and score full marks or close to it for “I”. Hanging around people really tires me out, especially since I have to pretend extroversion to a passable extent to get by in the workplace, and the last thing I want to do when I relax, in a closed room, by myself on the computer, is to hang around with EVEN MORE PEOPLE.

Susan Cain suggests that there’s a fallacy of groupwork being effective, especially where introverts are concerned, in a decent enough book that I just finished reading – Quiet: The Power of Introverts, though she has a tendency to generalize quite a bit.

A quick Google on group vs individual learning styles and introversion suggests I have a lot of meaty reading to do to find out more about this train of thought. I’ll share later if I find anything interesting.

Also, depending on who you ask, introverts make up a good quarter, or third, or even half of the population. We just hide well. And I suspect, a disproportionate number of us are represented in computer games. So why not cater for our learning styles in them? It’ll encourage us to stick around more.

P.S. There’s also a neat cycle of irony going on here in this metagame discussion.

One of the metagames I’m putting off learning is in Orcs Must Die (whom Dusty is apparently a developer of), a generally enjoyable game, but I’m hitting a wall in the later levels on normal war mage difficulty because my trap placements are likely not optimal and I can’t earn enough skulls to upgrade traps any further and I can’t unlock any more levels because it’s getting too hard.

(If I’m forced to backtrack and play through all the levels on novice difficulty with two skulls only, I’ll shoot somebody, no Diablo 3 difficulty level grind for me, thanks.)

On my to-do list is to watch this very promising video that is supposed to teach me about trap combos and maximizing score (assuming it is possible with the basic traps I have unlocked), but egads, it’s so long, I don’t know when I’ll have time for that.

Music in MMOs – Potential for More

Finished Heavy Rain yesterday. While watching the bonus content on Making Of Heavy Rain: Music, something David Cage mentioned struck me. He described the important role music played in a game like Heavy Rain, then added, “Actually, we believe that music is probably 50%, if not more, of the impact of the images.”

And I got to thinking about the impact of music in MMOs, and its uses and functions.

Fair warning: I am no musician. I can’t discuss anything technical, but I wanted to think a little deeper beyond simply listing all the awesome and brilliant music in MMOs. Others have done that years ago even.

Suffice to say, the general consensus is that Jeremy Soule turns anything aural he touches to gold (Guild Wars, Elder Scrolls, etc.), Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online are often highlighted as memorable, and then the other MMOs seem to follow at random depending on preference, nostalgia or people just reminding each other that these tunes are pretty good if you paid some attention to them.

Music is a funny beast. Sure, it’s subjective, different people react differently to various pieces, but there’s also a fair amount of agreement in how humans as a whole react emotionally to music – else there wouldn’t be any purpose to making all those movie soundtracks. Movies use music to support the moving pictures, to stir emotion, to create iconic themes and aid the telling of the story.

Presumably, MMOs, given enough budget, strive to do the same thing with music.

Zones and Iconic Theme Music

One of the things I most commonly observe in MMOs is the use of iconic musical themes, tied to various zones. As the scenery and terrain features change from zone to zone, so does the music. It sets the mood of the zone, hints at the culture of any inhabitants, and creates a brand identity for the zone. Players seem to respond fairly well to this, and often can remember with nostalgia memories of specific zones upon hearing the music again.

Sometimes it’s not an entire zone, but just a small sub-area or local space with a special musical theme. Two notable spots in the MMOs I’ve played come to mind – the interior of Tom Bombadil’s house in the Old Forest in LOTRO, and the transition to St. Martial’s main street that is dotted with casinos in City of Heroes. One of my favorite places in a singleplayer game is Erana’s Peace in Quest For Glory (piano version) – a quiet grove of peace dedicated to a dead lady whom you never actually see in the first game, but is given so much character simply by the music that haunts her haven.

I don’t think it’s used as well as it could be in MMOs, as such music could actually serve to encourage a player to remain a while in a certain locale. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in Erana’s Peace not playing the actual game. And I’ve often just stopped in Tom Bombadil’s house just to listen to the music, but I don’t have anything else to do there but stare at the small cylindrical space and watch Bombadil skip around.

Maybe good music in taverns and inns where you’d conceivably want players to congregate might actually help, as well as add to the immersion of the world. Skyrim is a decent example of what I’m thinking of, though one would have to be very careful about repetition of a single piece.

Avoiding Repetition

Repetition seems to be the mind-killer, as far as music in games go. There are games, Final Fantasy being the most notable example, who have a special tune or two for battle music. You know, it works well at first. Combat starts, the battle theme plays, your blood stirs, and the whole thing feels good… until the umpteenth time some random encounter pops up and you hastily mute the music before you’re conditioned to throw something at your speakers when these specific notes start playing.

I’m not precisely sure if there are any good solutions for avoiding repetition. Variety naturally helps. I’m not sure how many variations one can justify on an MMO budget though, which brings to mind the next idea of supplemental music through microtransactions. Cash shops are already selling vanity costumes, animations and decorations for players to customize their experience of a game. I don’t know if music would sell in general.

If you’re Jeremy Soule, it definitely can, of course. I’ll confess to buying all of his DirectSong music tracks for all of the Guild Wars chapters. Never regretted it, because it turns roaming Guild Wars into an astounding auditory experience, and reduces that horrible spectre of repetitive music. Many times I’d hear something amazing, and have to stop and check the interface to see if the DirectSong icon is on, indicating that it’s playing the extra music – it often is.

Then there’s Left 4 Dead’s music Director, that actually customizes a personal soundtrack for each player and strives to avoid repetition. The game is also notable for musical cues that indicate special Infected or a zombie horde onrush. Translating that to MMOs, musical cues for dynamic events? No doubt a music Director is a lot easier to do for 4 players as opposed to 2000+ players a server, but who knows, we can dream. Technology and progress marches on.

Emotional Arcs in Cutscenes

Music is often used in cutscenes to suggest the emotional arc the characters are (and thusly, what the viewers should be) going through. This is the 50%+ of Heavy Rain for sure, the whole cinematic experience, soundtrack and all. I believe it’s done to varying degrees of success depending on the specific MMO game. I haven’t played SWTOR, but from what I see of the cutscenes on Youtube, it does seem like they did pay attention to that for the purposes of storytelling.

It makes me wonder if more innovation is possible on this front. Do MMO developer tools allow quest/storyline writers to customize the music, as well as the animation in the cutscenes? I wouldn’t know. Then there’s user-created content and creation tools for players to tell each other stories or create adventures for each other – should options for music be included in such designs?

Music Systems

MMOs are not just movies though. Striving for the perfect big budget orchestral themes to accompany high resolution cutscenes shouldn’t be the only approach to music in MMOs.

How else could we bring the ‘game’ or ‘interactivity’ component of an MMO in conjunction with music? What other innovative features might be possible, now and in the future?

Lord of the Rings Online must be mentioned here for its Player Music System – which is far and ahead the most innovative thing to date attempted for music in MMOs, imo. Self-expression and uniqueness (which players seem to love in MMOs, given the demand for customizable looks) in the form of playing musical notes that others can hear. Give players the tools and they will surprise you with their creativity. From the pleasure of additional ambient music while casually strolling past another player, to the incredible annual event of Weatherstock, the emergent content adds to both immersion in a virtual world and a sense of community.

Granted, it has its flaws. Not a few people feel left out or unable to appreciate the system because it rather hinges on a real life skill of musicianship. It can also promptly jar you out of immersion and into real life  if someone is playing something thematically inappropriate for the setting. User-created content is like that. The potential for beautiful pearls, but also a lot of neutral sand to sift through, plus the disgusting tires and the random half-full condom, if we stretch the beach metaphor.

Another interesting music system can be found in Runescape. You get to unlock music tracks and collect them all. Sound achievement familiar? Well, why not? Isn’t that one of the core features of the MMO genre? Why not make music a minigame?

Some games, like Runescape and Eve Online, feature an in-game music player for their own soundtracks, which is probably a neat option for player customization. I’m not sure how many people make use of the feature though. How much further can we take this idea?

Jukeboxes in MMOs? In other words, player-controlled, possibly cost a fee, used in order to send music to a local area. Has been done, but mostly in more obscure Asian titles like Granado Espada, according to my Google-fu. No one seems to have much to say about the subject. The browser MMO Glitch has music boxes, which send short-lived spurts of tunes out, which are more fun-like toy objects for the individual, rather than having any kind of social use. SWTOR is the new kid on the block with them, apparently. I can’t say much more than that because I have no personal experience with those MMOs (besides Glitch.)  I wonder if they are seeing any significant use?

City of Heroes has a notable history of having out-of-game radio stations, hosted by DJs, who hang around in-game to play music for those who care to look up the radio and participate in the social events and contests they also organize. Would it help to have in-game support for such things, and foster a greater sense of community that way? Or does the radio concept only work because of the modern superhero setting?

I don’t think we’ve yet hit any kind of limit on what roles and functions music can play in MMOs. I think the potential has barely been explored.

We just need to think further and deeper on this.

Music in MMOs: What does the future have in store for us?