May 15, 2009

Wait, eeerrhh…there’s eyecandy in my MMO!

On-screen spell effects from Everquest 2

Since MMOs went from text-based MUDs to beautifully 3d-rendered virtual worlds, there’s been a…”discussion” regarding the importance of graphics vs. gameplay. I really don’t wanna make this a new battleground for the MMO-kiddies and the MMO-purists to throw mud(*pun-alert!*) at each other, but lately I’ve been having an out-of-mmo-experience and I feel like addressing a few issues. Let me start out by saying that graphics are very important to me. I need to believe in the world on my screen. I need to immerse myself enough that I forget the real world, where I’m not allowed to wield a 2-hander at work or blast off into space while emptying plasma-cannons onto evil adversaries and nearby traffic.

My main MMO these days is Everquest 2, and although there are many reasons why I think this is one of the most diverse online adventures out there, one aspect I’m particular happy with is the graphics. I never was too keen on the art-direction of the game, but the engine offers loads of effects making the world come to life as few MMOs have done before. I’m not gonna go into what sucks about the engine other than acknowledging that there are also plenty of stuff wrong with it, which I’m more than stunned has never been taken care of. Actually it really doesnt matter which MMO I’m talking about here,  just picture yourself a very beautiful game with an average to perfect gameplay.

How much time do I really spend watching my avatar/my alternate persona/my fantasy-self engaged in excitingly frantic combat or running through dim-lit horrifying dungeons towards unspoken evil? And how much time do I spend watching semi well made icons waiting to refresh? And how much time do I spend watching chat and gamerelated feedback in chatwindows? Come to think of it, when was the last time I enjoyed watching my paladin merging his huge doubleaxe with the ugly face of an orc?

Fighting is a big part of most MMO’s (/mourn Seed) and a lot of work has gone into animations, effects and combat-action, but…during most fights I almost ONLY look at indicators, and eSPECIALLY refresh timers. Now what is the point of me buying expensive muscle graphic-cards, and what is the point in developing sleek looking combat, when all I do is watch 10+ squares of 80×80 icons on my screen? I never was much into playing healers, but MAN have I heard the old hitpoint-bar blues from many a healer over the years. And I sure can imagine looking at 6 red thin lines hours on end being just a tad boring when in the corner of your eyes you see one fireball after another wreaking havoc.

Way too many icons

Remember back in the Everquest 1 days, where you had to turn up spelleffects to keep an eye on WHEN the mob was casting a certain spell, to be able to counter it? (Yes I know you could watch your combat-chat to watch for the spellmessage instead, but then again you would just be looking at text and not the polygon-monster you are trying to defeat) The last time I experienced something similar was in a couple of the newish dungeons in Everquest 2, where you have to watch for a boss-mobs message (A bubble with text in it) to know when to back off from a particularly bad area effect spell. To be fair you can also hear the voice of the nasty mob indicating the casting of the spell, but how about a certain movement of a limb instead? A swing of an arm or the stomp of a leg? How about combining different attacks to different animations, sounds or effects on every PC and NPC in the game? Do we really have to call for Peter Molyneux to come and implement bodily feedback into our MMOs instead of text, numbers and timers?

Too much text-formatted info

MMO-development seem to be a somewhat risky business when considering the amount of failed games and vaporware, so trying to change already working conventions can be the difference between mild success and horrible failure. Age of Conan and The Chronicles of Spellborn has both tried to offer a fresh view on the mechanics of combat and how the system sends it feedback to the user, but some of these concepts has also been the cause of negative criticism. Still I hope that I one day will see a MMO where most (if not all) system feedback will be integrated in what, in my opinion, should be the main source of information: The visual interaction between avatars and the game environment.

1 Comment

  • As a Healer I can tell you that you do spend most of the time watching the bars on your screen. :) As you get used to it you actually get to see other things though. I'm pretty adept at watching the action and healing now, I think my left eye might be starting to fix a bit wide though. ;)

    EQ1 days were great days and I agree with your points above. I tried spellborn for a bit though and didn't like the interface. I think some kind of mix between hotkeys and reaction to events would be best, ease us in gently.

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