It was the late 70’s and early 80’s, and yes, we weren’t cool. Not by a long shot. We also weren’t old enough to drive yet, so we did what every other dork was doing, playing table top RPG games, console video games and ultimately generation 0 personal computer games.
Since I reconnected online with an old friend from those days, I’ve lamented the loss of the creative process that was so integral to the table top RPG experience. As anyone who has GM’d knows, running the game was both a great chore and a wonderfully satisfying experience. Yes, it was pretty RP heavy, but with limited tools to create the impression of your world, you had to color with the crayons you were given. A GM could also shape he player experience, guide them away from areas you haven’t populated yet, etc. The only real downside was that the GM couldn’t play side by side with his buddies.
Building a world in those days was a labor of love, but labor it was. Grab the graph paper, get out your Monster Manual, put on your thinking cap and get to work. For a map junkie like me that was almost better than playing the game.
Enter the pc-based RPG and ultimately the MMO. All that “real time” game management and polyhedral dice rolling blissfully out the window, but along with that also went with a gamer’s ability to create.
I, for one, miss that creative process. Various FPS games have had level editors around for some time and modders have had a field day with creating cool levels and hosting servers where gamers at large could log on a frag in their world.
Would something like this work for an MMO? Could a player accessible MMO world editor provide enough creativity but still enough constraint to allow player-created modules to be stitched together in an MMO universe?
My World, My Rules
So how might this work? First of all, the overall game would need to provide a theme or genre that would allow for this kind of rolling content development. Planets in space as a paradigm seems an easy natural since there are thousands of worlds in the universe and with various space travel paradigms, player created planets/asteroids/starbases/relics/artifacts would be easily reachable.
Devs would have to provide a skeleton universe of key places to boot strap the universe. Exploration and colonization as an overarching theme seems a natural here. Throw in a good number of built-in races and factions and you have enough innate friction to create the heat and light necessary to make the universe alive.
This could conceivably be extended to a terrestrial world, but there would be more challenges. Would players create new landmass or only populate existing landmasses? I fear a world of ten thousands islands if not suitably constrained. Likewise, wall to wall player created towns wouldn’t do too much to create an immersive effect, so the planet approach might still work without creating an obvious speed bump transitioning between worlds.
Player-devs could restrict access to their worlds requiring faction, tribute or alliance before entry is permitted. Of course, the overall game design challenge is to provide a means of character advancement without allowing player-devs to simply create loot-raining theme parks which would distort the economy and provide a guild/corporation-only xp/gold/loot pimping ground.
Taking a page from the good old AD&D table top days, the creation process would not be so different. A map editor is a map editor, population of mobs would rely on reference to the virtual monster manual with the player dev controlling certain mob properties, maybe key loot and faction awards. Of course having lots to choose from here, and truly decent mob AI would be key.
Unlike the old table top days though, the player-dev would also be able to play in this world but there would have to be some balance. While its probably not cricket to have a player-dev benefit from plundering his own zone, that is still not so different than an experienced player re-running instanced content/boss mob encounters in any other game. A player-dev might know what the next jack-in-the-box mob around the corner might be, but he and his party of hardy adventurers will still need to defeat it and reap the rewards afforded and controlled by the game devs through loot tables, etc. associated with placeable mobs.
I think there would be an interesting social networking element to this as well. New worlds/zones would live and die by their popularity. Set up a popular interstellar trading post and tax visitors to your world. “Digg” this world in-game and watch your local economy flourish. You are the master of your domain. Build a dungeon or build a kingdom, ultimately players themselves will vote with their limited play time what worlds they want to visit. This truly would be an ever-changing and expanding universe. No heavy expansions needed. Tired of existing content? Build your own and share it with others. The ultimate in a player impacted universe.