Yesterday I offhandedly mentioned Atma’s secondary content as a compelling addition to the game’s primary content, an addition that I hope will both mitigate the tedium of more grind-based games, and replace that aspect to some extent, by supplying players with an amusing diversion to occupy their time. I’ve already written several posts regarding some of the planned secondary content for the game, but I’ve decided to expound on, and go into a bit more detail about, some of the earlier ideas I introduced, to hopefully establish some of the fundamental mechanics that will come into play when they are implemented. You’ll have to forgive me if this post gets a little messy; this entire ordeal will be rather stream-of-consciousness, so I can’t make any guarantees about its organization.
The first thought that pops into my head is this: why don’t more MMOs provide an intimate feeling for their world? One of the most commonly requested features I’ve seen through hours of scouring “Describe your ideal MMO” forum threads is the ability for a player to own their own house. It’s obvious that players want some personal stake in the world they’re participating in, so why don’t more games offer such a system? Players want to feel like a piece of the game world actually belongs to them, rather than being treated as vagabonds who were brought into the game world for no reason other than to carry out ridiculous errands for shiftless NPCs. There are certainly nontrivial issues to handle with regards to how you come up with the kind of game real estate necessary to support player-owned houses, but the answer to this particular problem is something that’s already been thought of: instancing.
Once your players are all settled down in their nice, new little house, what will it offer them? Well, what sorts of things are normally expected at home? A place to sleep, a place to prepare and eat meals, storage space for the things we’ve gathered throughout the day (assuming you never empty your pockets, like me), maybe some house decorations if you’re really looking for that personal touch. We can see here that the addition of something that players are already asking for automatically gives us a logical place to throw in several different methods of time consumption that won’t necessarily take much more time to implement, or many more system resources to actually deal with. If people own their own houses, it stands to reason that an in-game economy could even be established around kitchenware or furniture; now our blacksmiths have more to do than simply craft weapons and armor all day long, and we’ve got the foundations of a lumber industry.
A series of small things can combine to become something much more compelling, without very much hassle involved at all. Look at a game like Scribblenauts, which takes a fairly low-key game engine and turns it into something you could easily spend months just toying around with. The process of taking a lot of small ideas and letting combinations of these ideas lead into new game mechanics for players is referred to as emergence. This is the means by which I hope to create compelling secondary content for the game; by mixing components of each of the game’s different mechanics into the other systems, players are essentially required to participate in all that the game has to offer, in order to fully experience the primary content.
The cooking system, for instance, requires ingredients, recipes, and cooking utensils. “Ingredients” can be broken down further, into meats, fruits, vegetables, and grains, requiring both hunting and farming in order to obtain all of the ingredients necessary for a complete dish. Recipes are something that could potentially be mixed into several different systems; they could be a reward from quests, as possibly the most poignant example. As mentioned before, cooking utensils and kitchenware could potentially open up completely new avenues for blacksmithing and other trade skills. As mentioned before, an entire economy could reasonably form around the cooking system alone, given that the meals prepared through such a system offer effects powerful enough to compel players to master the craft.
It seems there might be some real purpose in the transformation of the typical MMO hero’s role from a mighty wanderer to a house-keeper. Not only does it give players a feeling of attachment to the world they’re interacting with, it also serves as a springboard for several other interactions with the game world that people can spend time on and enjoy in a casual manner. Imagine being able to have your friends and party members over for a get-together. Imagine having a mailbox which not only your friends, but NPCs as well, can deliver messages to. What I’m asking you to imagine, in a sense, is an MMO world where the player really feels like another character, rather than some entity that’s just dropping in for a short visit. Imagine an MMO that feels like home, and you’ll have a sense of the direction I’m trying to take Atma.