game design

Virtual Shards

This is actually something that’s been ticking away at the back of my head now for years. Having server clusters and instances just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me: it produces games that are only “massively” from a back-end perspective. If you’re going to do instances, just throw the server cluster concept away entirely. You can scope player names with a Second Life like approach, but then everything else you just instance.

But to avoid that resulting in a mess, a chaotic world of one-time encounters with no chance of community, I’m suggesting a relational index to allow community – or isolation – of the instances that different player characters might see… Virtual shards.

What is an MMO, and why should I care?

 (Edit: I’d fire my proof reader but I need the work)

Strictly speaking, an MMO is a “Massively Multiplayer Online thinymajig“.

There aren’t any games out today, though, that from a player’s perspective are really “massively”. WWII Online people will want to say “the map!” and Eve players will want to say “one server!”. But those are sleights of hand – in neither case is the game running on one single server computer – they use clusters of servers to create a single world and Eve’s hefty player count means one hell of a lot of computers.

A lot of effort gets invested into making today’s MMO compartmentalized; keeping people apart. Sort of the opposite of “massively multiplayer”, more “slightly multiplayer”. The “massively” scale only applies to the back-end systems. Players just don’t want to be in a room with 7 million other WoW players trying to get at the auctioneer.

In the effort to sell their progressive-advancement, MMOs seem to have become locked into a strict one-way flow of storyline that goes against the trends in other sectors of the gaming market. I find the linearity of most games today tedious to frustrating to nauseous.

These issues have arisen from generation X+1 MMOs mostly just solving problems that existed in generation X games. The result: an escallation of the wrong solutions. Today’s MMO design is based on a sweep of flawed premises about what’s necessary to solve yesterday’s problems. Look at the amount of effort that goes into making these “massively multiplayer” games play like a single player product or a shoebox game or the variety of systems that have gone into place to “deal with” camping or mob stealing rather than finding a way to avoid creating the problem that causes those problems.

So for a moment lets throw away all the trappings of a modern MMO: