Back in the day when I first started up with MMO’s, we didn’t really have a whole lot of storylines. Well, we did, but we called them quests. You know, back before quests were just a way to give you a bonus for grinding the same thing for hours instead of exploring. Back then, every quest was a storyline quest by default. In EQOA part of the reward of grinding was hitting a level that had an available quest, which would usually take several days to complete and lead you over multiple zones, with the end result usually being enough XP to move you up another level. You’d pay attention to the text, you’d probably need a group, or at least another friend or two, and with the story text and some imagination, you could spend a week RP-ing the snot out of that thing.
But I digress…
This all comes up because my brother apologized to me last night. We’ve had some problems with the overflow instancing in GW2 preventing us from being able to play together. To be fair, while its not the best system (and it is broken right now apparently – there is an option to join your partymate, but it gives you an error message), it was our fault because we had a little miscommunication when the queue was up about whether we were going to stay in the overflow or not. And we never got re-linked because he was zoning all over the play working in his storyline quests. Hence his apology – “I’m sorry, I just got sucked into the story.”
And I thought – wow, what a change. A month ago we were complaining about how the storylines in TOR were slowing us down and not at all interesting. And we frequently apologized when the action had to be interrupted for one of us to go advance a storyline or pull us the wrong way on the map to update a related objective. And that led to a bigger question – how is it that Guild Wars 2 stumbled into better stories and arguable a better way of telling those stories, and with more meaningful dialogue choices (a three axis personality system rather than two), all while seemingly not making it a priority above anything else they were doing. Granted, roleplaying and storyline were a part of their manifesto, but so were gameplay and fun and all that jazz.
And of course this led me to the inevitably sad “what if” scenario. What if TOR had allowed your personal story the same level of customization that GW2 does? Some of the early leaks around TOR indicated that you would be choosing a background for you character – but it was tied directly to your race – in other words, you had a single three point decision to make that decided both your back story and your race.
One of the small blips in the aftermath of TOR’s crumble was an anonymous posting by an alleged developer who complaining that it was the communities fault for giving bad feedback. I am wondering now if it wasn’t bad feedback – it was the usual Bioware “allergic to listening” miscommunication.
You see, when images like this started being leaked, people hit the roof. It was restrictive, it was draconic, it was foolish, it put us too much on rails…and at that point in the raging, Bioware pulled the plug on it and started opening up more race options for each character class. They ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, because what people were actually saying was “What if I want to play a ‘Merc’ – who is not a human?” What if instead Bioware had kept the three backgrounds, and separated them from race? Or, as Guild Wars 2 has done, separated them *by* race?
Of course, all that is assuming that Bioware actually had that background programmed into the extensive voiced dialogue they had recorded, and I think we are all pretty clear on what the chances of that were.
So for now, we’ve ended up with some pretty decent stories from a game that didn’t set the bar too high, and took a long hard look at the feedback they got to try to give the people what they want. And still managed to provide voiced dialogue for all its stories – thought sadly not for Bill the Barkeep, or Sally the Forlorn Imperial Navy Officer. But try not to kill me for saying that I wish beyond wishing that The Old Republic had been some kind of love child between these two games. The IP of Star Wars with the design philosophy of Arena Net.
What an MMORPG that would have made…
And as for the evolution of storylines – I guess the lesson here is that while the form has evolved, the importance of their inclusion and featuring in the game never has. Its was there from the very beginning. It was just that some games ignored that feature, and some worshipped it. Guild Wars 2 manages to strike a nice balance between the two.