For my small viewfinder, not much news came out of PAX. Perhaps the biggest thing was the announcement that ArenaNet was making an iPad/smartphone app for Guild Wars 2 with such neuromantic functionalities such as talking to guild mates, scouring the auction house, and watching guild mates play via an overworld map. I was going to write an small post just on that news alone, but it wasn’t very meaty. What it’s really going to do is allow those of us pressed for game time due to other obligations to keep tabs on our guild until they get to that event where 40 people need to take down a dragon (or sharktopus). Then we can sign on for half an hour to play a very intense event without having had to help with all the lead-ins. It might sound selfish, but if the other option is just not playing at all for fear of only having “lead-ins” then I think it’s a fair trade-off.
I severely digress… although there was not that much news, there was lots of design-level discussion. My favorite was a Guild Wars 2 Event workshop where a small amount of fans came to learn about the event system and then work together in a brainstorming session to create an event system. Oh, and some nice person recorded the whole thing. The developers at PAX seem very open, and it is refreshing hearing from them instead of through the marketing grist-mill.
Okay, so the roads after PAX, or more specifically the two MMO roads after PAX. It’s no surprise that the two MMOs that are seen as so big they auto-compete are Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic (“SWTOR”). I am not saying that TERA, Rift, Lego Universe, The Secret World, or any other that I have missed are not going to be great upcoming MMOs with things to offer the MMO genre. It’s just that their gravitational pull cannot currently (or ever) compete with the two currently unlaunched titles, respectively, from ArenaNet and BioWare.
These two giants are quite dissimilar in design and goals, even though both share a “personal story.” This difference was never more apparent than from this quote a SWTOR dev gave during PAX:
“There are very traditional roles that you fulfil, multiplayer combat requires that. We’re an MMO, we’re not idiots, we know that you need to have dependencies on others. What we’re trying to do is play a class you really like, and then through your AC choice, choose your playstyle. So so if you play for instance as a sith warrior, you can go very much in the tank direction or you can actually go in the DPS directions. That’s really up to you. So I really like a sith warrior, he’s really awesome, but I don’t like to tank. Ok, that’s fine. You can choose I think the marauder is the more DPS AC on that side. The same is true of all the other classes.”
The SWTOR community echoes and amplifies the quote with one of my favorite responses in the post quoting the above by saying SWTOR “is an honest to god MMO, with tanks and healers and DPS.” I found this quote to be self-damning since Bartle just wrote a long article about the dead-end bad design that begat the holy trinity. Even moreso, I think that this quote aims at the heart of Guild Wars 2. By applying Dogberry logic, they are calling ArenaNet idiots because in Guild Wars 2 the traditional roles have been abolished. How can idiotic ArenaNet have an MMO with multiplayer combat?! It’s inconceivable.
However, I don’t want it to be known that I am an ass (anymore than I already have been), and so I am going to helpfully pull one portion of that quote out of context to create a more constructive post.
We’re an MMO, we know that you need to have dependencies on others.
This is why I think BioWare is creating an MMO aimed at World of Warcraft players, and why ArenaNet is creating an MMO aimed at everybody else.
Normal people (read: not classic MMO players) don’t like dependencies. Dependencies imply negative reinforcement. You have to group up because you can’t heal yourself. You have to group up because you can’t take damage. You have to group up because you can’t deal damage. None of these truths are fun to tell anybody when trying to teach someone unaccustomed to MMOs about the party mechanic, the holy trinity, and why we need to wait 20 minutes for a healer.
Dependencies do not create roles! Or, rather… that’s not true. Dependencies overly define roles to the point where a “role” becomes the defining trait. Roles should be created based on the activities at hand. Roles should be positively reinforced by what the character can bring to that multiplayer activity.
Take a look at the Guild Wars 2 elementalist profession with it’s four “stances.” Each stance puts the elementalist into a different elemental attunement. Fire attunement allows the elementalist to start doing massive AoE damage. Air attunement switches the elementalist’s DPS from AoE to single-target. Water does support and healing, and Earth puts the elementalist in to a tank mode. That way the elementalist can watch the battlefield to synergize with the multiplayer mass to provide for whatever role is necessary at that time. The elementalist is watching to help the event or party instead of grouping to negate the elementalist’s dependencies.
It’s a very slight difference when looking at a role built on negatively reinforced dependencies versus a role built on positively reinforced synergies. It gets even worse because it is rarely so black and white anyway. Most MMOs take a mixture of both into creating classes and group content. Yet, it’s the focus that really matters, and Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR seem to really have a different focus in this regard. The battle of these two giants is truly old versus new in the sense of role definition. Personally I’d rather be looking for players rather than roles. Caveat lector.
good men and true