MMO Mirror World – Storytelling

William Gibson wrote in his book Pattern Recognition about the concept of a Mirror World.  The Wikipedia masses define the newly-coined term “to acknowledge a locational-specific distinction in a manufactured object that emerged from a parallel development process, for example opposite-side driving or varied electrical outlets.”  I think the excellent term does not need to be so constrained, and it may be as broad as “fundamentally the same, but elementally different.”  This happens for better or worse all the time with MMOs.  Take, for instance, the way an MMO tells its story:

In Warhammer Online the main story for each race is broken up between normal quests, epic quests (spanning across Chapters, differentiated only by an icon), and the Tome of Knowledge. If an avid (or obsessive) gamer reads across the three storytelling mechanics a very comprehensive, detailed story emerges. The problem is that most of the shiny story bits are lost in a lot of muck.  In other words there are a lot of quests and Tome of Knowledge fluff that have nothing to do with the overall story.

Lord of the Rings Online deemphasizes the Tome of Knowledge-type mechanic (though there are plenty of small story bits if you scroll over the Deeds) and parses out the main story to turn epic quests in to Epic Quests.  Lord of the Rings Online also uses instancing for the more crucial parts of its story, and recently it started using camera-style cinematics for when Aragon needs to talk to you.

Guild Wars has no Tome of Knowledge analogue, but most of its story is well-told in the form of Missions with quests filling in the gaps. It has used the camera-style cinematics from the game’s inception, and beating the Campaign is at the front end of gameplay. The game is furthermore content-gated based on which Missions the player has beaten so players going the PvE route have little choice but to experience the story.

Each game is fundamentally the same in that a story is told as the player progresses through the levels and zones.  In Warhammer Online, I would guess that very few players are aware of the, in my humble opinion, pretty good story as they go from one red blob on the map to another.  In Lord of the Rings, where many Tolkien-priests reside, players are well aware of the story, but many skip much of the epic quests in order to go fight a Balrog in the dungeons.  Finally, in Guild Wars, for better or worse,  everybody goes through the story.
–Ravious

6 thoughts on “MMO Mirror World – Storytelling

  1. Melf_Himself

    I must confess I have NFI what the actual story in WAR is. 25-words-or-less it for me?

    I find the way WAR did its story as pretty blah, you definitely need more to draw the player’s attention to it, a la the other games you mentioned.

  2. Ravious

    Really? If you don’t mind me asking, which pairing are you playing through?

    Because for the Chaos story, there are lots of interesting stuff, and it feels like vignettes on our way to Altdorf. Sure, the story is not as sweeping as GW’s or LOTRO’s, but I find it to be pretty coherent. And that is without reading much of the ToK… just quest text.

  3. Tesh

    It’s precisely that GW mechanism that makes me wish Bioware would go that route with SWTOR, all the way down to the business model. Otherwise, what’s the point of having Bioware, the gurus of story, bother with an MMO at all?

  4. Ravious Post author

    If anybody used the GW model for any MMO, I would buy it. That’s how bad I want to support the system. I even bought LOTRO’s lifetime sub, figuring it was close enough to GW, and LOTRO is a great game anyway.

    However, with big-daddy EA… I tend to doubt Bioware is going that route (especially with the amount of content they have claimed).

  5. Melf_Himself

    That’s part of the problem, I’m not “playing through” any pairing. I hope around a lot. This is for 3 reasons:

    1) I try to go wherever the RvR is at
    2) There’s usually one pairing in a chapter that has better PQ rewards than the other pairings
    3) You can only get the repeatable scenario quests in a specific pairing.

    Also, I don’t read quest text, because I never know when it’s going to be something lame that I don’t care about, or an actual useful bit of story. I’m assuming that after I’ve reached the final chapter, I’ll be able to flip back through the ToK and figure it all out. Gotta love the ToK.

    I am keeping my fingers super crossed that Bioware is not over-exaggerating their secret story tech and they have invented some better way of telling stories in an MMO, allowing us to combine a persistent world with a good story.

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