MMOs seem to continually be pushing the consumption of content. First there were quests, which World of Warcraft helped launch forward as the content for MMOs. Lord of the Rings Online strung quests together in an epic line. Warhammer Online and Rift made some content into a cycling, public event while also keeping quests. Guild Wars 2 further advanced on that groundwork and evolved the content in to public dynamic events and renown areas. The Secret World decided that quests as movie-like vignettes was the way to go. There is a theme here though: the content is all compartmentalized.
There are degrees and variations, of course. A conventional quest is personally compartmentalized because it is mostly irrelevant what the passersby’s quests or non-quest content are at the moment. Mostly they are geographically compartmentalized too. If a quest has me picking daisies in the scrap field, I am not going to care about the fact that there might be sprockets lying around. I certainly am not going to care about the junkyard dog’s daisy-less rose garden next to the scrapyard. That is, until I have that quest.
Warhammer Online’s public quests were insulated to very specific locations to the degree that it seemed like most of the conventional quests shied away from overlapping in content. Guild Wars 2 overlaps renown (“quest-like areas”) and dynamic events, but the renown hearts are one-shots. Completed renown hearts turn a large swath of the overlapped content irrelevant, and it is fairly noticeable that dynamic events are kept mostly insulated from one another. Each area is telling one dynamic story at a time. I would say Rift appeared most de-compartmentalized because invading events would actually interact with the persistent content to a higher degree, even if there were quest-heavy areas ne’er seen by a dynamic rift.
There are many cool ideas coming in Wildstar, an upcoming MMO from Carbine Studios, but their ideas on content layering have me most excited. Take for instance a simple mining node. In any other MMO it will give players the ore and a small chance of something else like a jewel. In Wildstar, a mining node might actually be a creature’s back… surprise! Now players that want the ore have to kill the creature. Or, hey, let’s actually give a very small chance of spawning a giant boss on a mining node. Killing the boss lets players go inside the boss’s mouth and mine the goodies inside.
Another example is being one a mission to kill jungle cats. Kill ten cats. One is irradiated so the player scans it, this is a small sub-layer on jungle cats. Another one is elite, too tough for the player, so the player scares prey towards the elite. With the elite jungle cat now taking damage from… like, a deer, the player can swoop in for an easier kill. A huntress is nearby, if she sees the player kill the jungle cat she gives more player rep. There are so many variations to the encounter when the player is just there to kill a few jungle cats.
These examples seem more persistent than Guild Wars 2’s renown activity overlay, but I do have a small hangup. Carbine’s Jeremy Gaffney said that with regard to dynamic events (such as spawning the mining boss above) because players level up pretty quick, they would be in and out of an area too quickly to really notice what is persistent and what is random. This is exactly how I felt in Guild Wars 2 until I started returning to zones to mess around with content I missed. I am hoping that their layering is more resilient to a player’s return than Gaffney’s comment suggests. The examples above make it seem like they will be.
I’ve noticed that Carbine has used the more mechanical, objective term “layered” instead of using the subjective buzzword “organic”. Yet, the examples above feel that way. The more rote the content is, such as killing ten of the same jungle cats with the same skill cycle, the less organic it feels. Small layered variations can make a lot of difference.