Light Themes

You know, MMO’s aren’t particulary good at theming.

Take the medic class in Star Wars Galaxies.  Sure, when the game launched you could be a doctor and sit at the hospital doing doctor things, but today’s medic is more combat oriented.  The purpose of having a medic to take into groups is clearly driven by the tried-and-tested gameplay mechanic of having a healer in a group along with a tank and someone to deal out the damage.  The medic as it stands today, doesn’t really resemble any kind of medical professional, either in reality or in Star Wars.

This medic class can instantly heal a person who’s running and shooting with a “bacta bomb” or heal an entire group of people in mid-combat with a “bacta spray”.  Playing a medic doesn’t feel like playing a medic.  It feels like playing an MMO healer with skills like “group heal” and “single-target heal”.

To be fair, playing a healer in fantasy MMOs doesn’t fair much better.  You know if you pick a priest in a game that you won’t be doing much praying.  You won’t have to attend church or give any sermons.  You’re going to run around clicking buttons that make your friend’s health-meter go up.

Then there’s my loremaster in Lotro.  All my skills look like magic, but the names of the spells seem to give non-magical explanations for how they work.  When I summon a ball of fire out of nothing the spell description says I am merely throwing some “burning embers”.  I don’t mezmerize people I just stun them with a blinding flash of light.

Then there’s the runekeeper in Lotro.  What a mess!  The runekeeper is supposedly reading off of rune-stones to cause different effects upon targets.  In some ways, it feels like the designers were going for full-out magic.  You shoot lightning from your hands like a sith-lord, or cause ice balls to rain down from the sky.  On the other hand, the spells are all explained in terms of just being the effect of words.  For example, the descriptionfor “Fiery Ridicule” states:

“The ridicule of a Rune-keeper writes hurts more than a mundane scribe’s ever could… 41 fire damage every 2 seconds”

Am I really to believe that it’s ridicule which is causing this wolf to burst into flames?  How exactly is criticizing an enemy related to causing fire damage.  Another example, the description for “Chilling Rhetoric” states:

“Written words can have a chilling effect on their victim…. -70% run speed”

In what way is rhetoric related to a run-speed debuff?  In what way is rhetoric related to coldness?  They should have just called it “slowness spell” and be done with it.

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Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

18 thoughts on “Light Themes”

  1. Aren’t you playing a game based on morale? Nothing can sap morale like a one-liner… there’s got to be a TVTrope for exactly this MMO mechanic.

  2. Aww come on, I just started playing a Rune-keeper and actually thought it was pretty cool. I know one of the spells’ description is along the lines of chilling rhetoric, when the Rune-keeper writes of coldness it is so powerful that it affects those around him or some crap. To me I think of like a wizard guy reminiscing about how cold shit can be and since he’s so caught up in the memory he doesn’t realize that everything around him is freezing. I just thought it was a cool idea.

  3. Arg no edit! To me it is better than every game that has: you talk to your god of whatever magic class and call forth a rain of hail! Meh! It’s different for me and I like it.

  4. Yeah, don’t get me started on the technicalities of the Rune-Keeper. I suppose it’s just as silly as signing/playing increasing the health of the other players. Oh wait, that’s increasing the morale and actually makes sense. But, for the Rune-Keeper, you’re right. Why not call a spade a spade? (Where does that phrase come from anyway?)

  5. Honestly though, what are you supposed to do as a medic? Set up a field hospital and wait for the other players to drag an injured pc to you? You can even do a bejeweled mini-game to fix him up; of course if you fail he dies.

    You just can’t look at stuff like that too closely. Why should a loremaster be even in combat? he should be that wizened old man the players go for a plot point.

    A really hilarious one in FFXI has to do with the colibri. A player in FFXI eats food for buffs that last 30 minutes or longer and are pretty potent. Meat dishes for meelee classes, desserts for mages, etc.

    The colibri are little wimpy pink toucan looking birds. They also have an ability called “Snatch Morsel” which removes the food effect from players. Yes, it takes from you to the food you have already eaten, try justifying that in any thematic or even mechanical sense. The web comic lvl-up has some pretty hilarious attempts at trying to.

  6. I was really leery when they added the Runekeeper. I honestly thought that Loremasters were pushing things more than a bit. RK jumps right over the edge to my sensibilities, it absolutely does not fit the setting. However, from a purely mechanical point of view it’s a well designed class that complements the existing classes well. It’s also pretty fun to play. So one major mark against, two for…and there’s nothing I can do about it anyhow so I guess I’ll live with it.

    In any case, as far as you main point I totally agree with you. Launch SWG was the only MMO that really got things right from a RP point of view. Doctors hung out in hospitals and healed people, dancers and musicians hung out in bars and entertained people, ect. And what really sucks about that is that we will never know whether the game failed to live up to expectations because most players don’t care about being part of a world that makes some kind of sense or because the game itself was such a buggy arcane mess when it came out. That style of game has never really been given a fair shake.

    Even in EVE, there aren’t the roles are limited…you are a combat specialist, a crafter, a resource getherer, or a merchant. There’s no mechanic that hangs out in repair bays, there are no entertainers putting on shows for tips and giggles.

    The roles available in EVE can even be approximated in a really straitjacketed MMO such as WoW. You can spend all your time gathering resources in obscure areas and selling them for phat heaps of cash in the AH. If you can save up enough for big bags and an epic mount you’ll be even better at it. Many players spend the bulk of their time playing the AH, buying and selling for cash. Other players master one of the few profitable crafting professions and make money that way.

    We will never know if a game that really lets you spread your nerdy RP wings and play something as “boring” as a full time physician or musician could really work.

    Finally, two major pet peeves in every fantasy MMO I’ve played:

    Theives/ Rogues cannot break into houses and steal things. There is no such thing as a thieves guild, fences, prisons, or even laws to skirt in most cases (save don’t stab a guard in the face if you count that).

    Priests never pray or commune with their gods in any way, or perform any rites. Churches, if they even exist, are purely cosmetic.

  7. Good theming would mean consistent lore and intelligent worldbuilding. That was the promise of MMOs, but no, we get blingy treadmill games rather than worlds. Until people stop accepting half-baked work, we’ll keep getting more of the same.

  8. It’s one of the problems of taking an existing setting, particularly from a non-game-based IP (Star Wars, the Matrix, Lord of the Rings, what-have-you) and trying to shoehorn it into the conventions of an MMO. How “healers” work in your typical mishmosh of fantasy-ish motifs with a 2nd Edition D&D underpinning doesn’t fit well with a lot of settings.

    Even when a work helped define a genre (Lord of The Rings), the standards of a game often are at odds with the work. You had very few (non-divine) magic workers in Tolkien’s books, and most of the magic they performed was slow and subtle: the forging of a sword, the corruption of a king. When players want to shoot lightning from their fingertips, you have to really bend the setting to make it fit.

    Similarly, if your combat system is rooted in the tank/DPS/healer trinity, you’re going to have to have ‘bacta-hoses’ or some such nonsense — or you need to rethink your combat.

  9. Jaxom: the phrase dates back to a 2000 year old mistranslation, entering into English about 500 years ago.

    More on topic: I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time to introduce Sith Lords to Lord of the Rings, then have a company executive mock the players who thought it was a bad idea. There are not any vampires in the game that I know of, so we can root for something from Stephenie Meyer or Anne Rice in the next expansion.

  10. Aren’t words what the majority of witchcraft is based on? There may be cauldrons a-bubbling and brooms for flying on but it seems to me that the power of a witch’s magic comes from the words of the spell.
    For that matter, is most of “magic” tied to it’s source? Is there anything in magic wands or staffs that make them inherently more likely to produce magic than the recitation of words? The problem seems to me to not be that the Runekeeper uses words to create magic, but that the designers of LOTRO have failed to convince you as a player that this could be possible.

  11. The diku model doesn’t translate well. That’s why you see odd things like a combat medic running around basically casting spells. Because he’s actually a healer, not a combat medic. An actual combat medic would require a new and untried game mechanic and, really, where’s the profit in that?

    The lore in our MMO’s is ultimately irrelevant trappings meant to make the game seem different than what it actually is. All our games are, basically tanks tanking, healer healing, rogues backstabbing and mages casting spells. But it’s hard to bend that simple model into a complicated world like Star Wars Galaxies.

    There’s money out there for someone who figures out how to create a game world that works with an established IP. Star Wars Galaxies is NOT a good example of this. Star Wars the collectible card game, on the other hand, kinda is.

  12. @ Sok
    “Even when a work helped define a genre (Lord of The Rings), the standards of a game often are at odds with the work. You had very few (non-divine) magic workers in Tolkien’s books, and most of the magic they performed was slow and subtle: the forging of a sword, the corruption of a king. When players want to shoot lightning from their fingertips, you have to really bend the setting to make it fit.”

    And I really don’t think that settings bend. I think what happens, ultimately, is that the designers create an “IP-based diku game.” It’s like making a lunchbox with IP on the front – it’s still just a lunchbox. WoW is, functionally, no different from any other MMO.

  13. @Jenna,
    Some magic systems attribute power to words, yes. European cultures with heavy use of oral history among them.

    Speaking of staves and such, though, the originally Oceanic concept of Mana attributed power to natural *things* and bloodlines. That power is drawn from the land or objects by magic systems loosely based on that concept. (Anything from MTG to FFCC.) Also, royalty was considered powerful and blessed with more Mana because of their bloodline. Whether or not they had access to that mana depends on the storyteller.

  14. @Agent EVE
    “And I really don’t think that settings bend. I think what happens, ultimately, is that the designers create an “IP-based diku game.””

    Yep, agreed. I’d even say it’s not entirely a diku problem, but rather a problem of MMO expectations, trying to make the MMO ‘genre’ fit with the setting.

    An example is City of Heroes: at launch, a lot of people griped there wasn’t any loot in the game. MMOs have lewt, diku or not, and there was a certain contingent that wanted their version of Spider-Man to lift handguns and jetpacks from the bodies of the fallen. Y’know, like comic-book superheroes do…

    The loot/crafting/economic system they finally came up with manages to work with the setting (more or less) because it exists (more or less) on the abstract level. You’re not crafting “a rifle”, you’re making something that helps you do more damage with a ranged attack — what that is, exactly, is left for your imagination.

  15. One thing I love about pen & paper gaming is that the cleric never just stands in the back pumping out healing to the rest of the party. Healing is something you do when the fight is over, doing so during a fight can get you killed (attacks of opportunity) and doing things like drinking a potion is done at the sacrifice of a round of attacks…

    I’d love to see a game better capture the table top gaming style, because what we have in current fantasy MMOs leaves me wanting…

  16. “he cleric never just stands in the back pumping out healing to the rest of the party. Healing is something you do when the fight is over”

    That’s so true, and something I never noticed before. We’d kill the cleric, just on principal, if he just stood there healing us and not helping us fight.

    Good catch!

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