Rift Unveils New Classes; What is the Cost of a Fourth Pillar?

Planes of Telara pulled the curtain back on a few more of their classes or “souls” this weekend.   You can see them here.

So far I am liking the variety they have put down into the game.  Combine that ingrained variety with personal customization by mixing and matching classes, and you have some fun character crafting ahead of you.

After the whole “Beta Upgrade” incident, I did get that apology letter and had a short,  but nice, conversation with Studio General Manager and Chief Creative Officer Scott Hartsman over the blip.  It gave me some good perspective on what faces a development team – a sleep copy editor can cause a tremendous uproar with one poorly worded email, in this case.  

With that said, the team also faces a tremendous challenge.  As Bioware has chosent to hang their hat on a fourth pillar of “story,” Rift aims to make its fourth pillar a “dynamic world.”  Its a tremendous challenge, but a very worthwhile one.   We  take that for granted in PnP RPG’s and even in most PC RPG’s these days – that the world will react to our presence and indeed, bear the mark of our passing when we come and go.

The question constantly on the back of my mind these days is – can any game, be it Rift or GW2 or SWTOR, simple *add* a fourth pillar?  What is the cost involved?  What will need to be changed to accomdate the addition of that pillar?  I would like to say nothing, but another part of me would like to say “many things.”  And I believe that part is correct.  To include that pillar – whatever it may be – then the other three pillars are going to have to make space, and that may mean saying goodbye to some features we have come to know, expect, and yes, maybe even love.

The Fourth Pillar Debate

So what’s bigger news, that Derek Smart plagiarized from some of his competitors MMO’s – or that six years later, a new MMO can still make that claim with a straight face because nobody has been able to fufill the promise of the mythical fourth pillar?

LotRO has probably come closest to giving players that, admittedly.  But its hard to say really because people mean so many things when they say “story.”  Some people want lots of quests.  Some think that means plenty of solo instances.  Some feel it means the opportunity to be heroic and have an impact on the game world.  Some hope that it means the creation of a dynamic world, with scripted and hosted GM events.  Others say its time for story to be something the players do, with a storytelling system along the lines of SW: Galaxies, or CoX.  Some say it just means having enough space and sandbox to play in and the stories will write themselves – the drama of EVE Online’s null sec wars makes a story of its own in some sense.

All of these things have one common thread though, one element linking them all despite the different forms they take.  For their to be a story, their must be a change of some sort – within the character, the player, or the world – and preferably all three.

MMO’s have their roots in RPG’s of the table top variety.  Maybe its time to draw some strength from those roots.  RPG’s revolve around players and a GM, or in some cases, a troupe of players sharing GM duties and maybe even characters too.  Should MMO’s begin to offer a “GM Package” subscription that gives a basic tool kit to allow for quest creation and npc manipulation? 

Do we need to lower server populations or travel options so that players deepen their interactions with each other? 

Do we need to spend time and money for the better development of AI in MMO’s (face it, the AI in MMO’s is rudimentary compared to other games)?  NPC’s in The Elder Scrolls series open and close their stores, travel to and from their homes and places of business, have dynamic inventories, even steal from each other!  And yet *none* of those things is present in MMO’s, even the latest and greatest ones.

Anyway, bottom line – its not plagiarism if its a long time concept in the genre.  And if Alganon is the one to finally pin the tail on the donkey, more power to them.  Maybe when they are done with that they can start, you know, fulfilling the promises they already made.   Like finishing up the races and classes they promised two years ago…