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May 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm #8085AnonymousInactive
In my opinion, there is an abundance of potential that has yet to be tapped when it comes to end game content, and the resolution of the player’s game experience. Some of this potential has simply been overlooked or undiscovered, some of it has been stifled by current industry practices and the current expectation of what end game content should be. I am approaching this from a single-player RPG’s perspective, although many of my ideas and opinions could be applied to MMORPGs as well.
The Dependence on Gear
In many games, end game content and end game fulfillment, is the pursuit and acquisition of, gear. Now don’t get me wrong. I love phat lewtz as much as the next person, but I do not believe it should be the main objective of a story line or an entire game, especially at the end game level. In fact, the dependence on better and better gear throughout the player’s experience is a serious detriment to player customization and story depth. Instead, gear should be an underlying aspect of a character’s persona, with their skills and physical attributes playing just as much of a role in their overall prowess. When gear is less of a determining factor, the mastery and proficiency of a player is more clearly defined, and players must begin to build some kind of persona around their character above and beyond what gear they wear. On a design level, when gear, and the balance that must be created between that gear and what is already in place in the world, becomes less of an issue, designers are able to direct their attention to other game features and storylines, further enriching the game experience and hopefully contributing to the evolution of the industry as a whole.
The Recognition of Character Accomplishment, and Internal Data Mining
One of the most powerful tools in a designer’s arsenal when it comes to increasing story depth and player emergence, is the recognition of player accomplishment and it’s integration in player interaction with NPCs and the game world itself. This is done through the use of internal game processes that track and record a player’s choices and accomplishments, and then the designer’s vision in allowing those actions and accomplishments to influence the reactions the player receives from the NPCs he interacts with, and the game world he shares with them. This is beginning to be seen in titles such as Dragon Age: Origins, or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, though in many cases, this is limited to only a main story line event, or one particular quest or deed. End game content in this regard, is absolutely no different, and in many ways even more important. Because as you journey through lands you have already visited, it always robs the player of a sense of emergence and depth, if the NPCs treat him the same now, as they did before his series of heroic deeds. The games of the future MUST keep track of a player’s progression through the world, and have the information gathered truly influence the way NPCs and the game world operate. And this may not always come in the form of direct involvement with the player. If a quest has him detain or "remove" a poacher from the king’s forest, I’m not saying all the NPCs in the area now need to regard the player as a heroic benefactor of nature and it’s creatures. But it sure would be nice to see a few more deer running around the forest, after you have progressed down the game’s story line significantly.
End Game Content Fulfillment, Playability, and Perpetuity
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life is a journey, not a destination.", and a lot of game designers obviously think along the same lines. In many games, the rewards or the spoils that one attains, are somewhat lacking, or even useless. These are often in the form of rank, or titles, that really hold no weight or power in the game world. So one is left looking back on their grand adventure, full of surprise and excitement, but look upon their grand prize with lackluster enthusiasm, because it really is nothing to get excited about. I will use The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, as an example.
The game itself is a gem. A masterpiece of a game that raised the bar for RPGs on so many levels, that many modern titles still don’t compare to it’s complexity or sophistication. With that being said, in many of the game’s story lines, the player will become the head of a certain organization, such as the Mage’s Guild, or the Thieve’s Guild. I’ll avoid going all spoiler on everyone, just in case someone hasn’t played the game and this post inspires them to do so, but even GREATER positions are handed to the player as well. The only bad part, is that you can’t DO anything with the position. It pretty much gives you a place to stay, some money in some instances, and probably a few trinkets or gear items. You’re the leader of the Thieve’s Guild, and yet you can’t order a single pickpocketing, and you can’t stage a single highway robbery.
These are in fact, the true opportunities for game designers to create games with perpetuity. Games that people will play over and over again, because their decisions and what they make important, determine how the game unfold. Allowing the player to determine and change the focus of the organization allows for direct changes to the game world, made by the player, that can easily be designed and implemented by developers. For example, when promoted to leader of the Thieve’s Guild, players would be able to choose the "Focus" of the guild, at any time. Choices would range from "Recruitment", to "Low Profile", to "Flagrant Robbery", and those choices would have a direct effect on guild numbers, the way the game world views the player’s organization, and would be a determining factor in what types of scenarios would play out while the player was leading that particular organization. The guild numbers, along with the other preset attributes that can be affected by a player’s decisions, will determine whether his organization meets with victory, or failure in any given scenario. Multiple scenarios can be coded into the end game content, so that the player encounters varying situations and obstacles that a normal guild leader would face. This type of system allows players to see the effect their decisions are having on the game world, enables them to continue playing the game until their decisions lead to utter ruin or total domination, and lend an element of finality and closure to a situation that otherwise gets left pretty open ended.
Player Death and Game Closure
Especially in a game such as Oblivion, I believe there should be an option for players to choose a "Final Death". Once selected, this would make the player’s next death, be their last one. This concludes a character’s life in the game world, and then allows for his actions, accomplishments, and achievements to be tallied and then presented to the player in some kind of summarizing fashion. Characters can also then be ranked and given other titles and articles of distinction that once again, give closure and finality that in my opinion, lend depth and richness to the playing experience of any game.
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