Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Open world MMO

I play games other than EVE.  Shocking, but true, I know.  ;-)  For example, blogging was a bit lighter than usual in early January because I was pumping a ton of time into Skyrim.(1)  I also toy with other MMOs occasionally; the little text block at the right detailing which ones isn't updated very often, but it's still reality.

Matter of fact, I think I'll sum up my thoughts on Wurm Online right now.  First, my concerns: the graphics and interface are terribly dated.  It might also be unique in the MMO universe in that it has a steeper curve than EVE Online, partially because of the interface, partially because of the lack of newbie-friendly areas.  The instant you jump into the game, you're assumed to be an expert at it, and if you're not... well... sucks to be you.

That said, it also has some positives.  The idea of strongly encouraging people to come together, cooperate, and build strongholds and towns to protect themselves from the harsh world outside is a really good one.  In the same way that EVE could be the subject of many economic research papers, Wurm Online could be the subject of many anthropological ones.  When you watch a community form and build up to defend itself, you really feel like you're watching a bit of early Earth history... people putting up wooden palisades to keep out the wolves... then converting them to stone when their wood-walled village becomes prosperous enough to be worth invading.

So, sum up Wurm Online as: concept good, implementation bad.  And I think I'll go ahead and move it to the "departed" list.  ;-)

One thing Wurm definitely has on its side is the sandbox element: it lays out the background and the story, then gets out of the way and lets the players provide much of the content.  In this way, Wurm has a problem because it steps too far out of the way.  But it was the sandbox element that definitely drew me in.

I'm still looking for a sandbox fantasy MMO.

For that reason, another franchise that I'm keeping a very close eye on is the Kingdoms of Amalur brand.  In the interests of full disclosure, I'll say that the franchise came to my attention because a friend of mine works for the company producing part of it.  However, this one would have popped up on my radar pretty quickly in any case because of its pedigree.  The executive designer of the brand is Ken Rolston, who was the lead designer of the Morrowind and Oblivion installments of The Elder Scrolls series.  When he left Bethesda not long after Oblivion's release, I was not happy.  ;-)  The party line was that he retired... but rumors swirled that he'd been pushed due to burn-out.

The first game in the Kingdoms of Amalur brand will be a single-player RPG called Reckoning, set to be released in a couple of weeks.  But the second game in the brand will be an MMO... release date unknown.  They're not going to run out of money, though.  The company producing both products is 38 Studios, owned by former Major League Baseball player (and MMO fanatic) Curt Schilling.  He makes it quite candidly clear that he's spending $100 million on the Amalur MMO, he expects it to have millions of subscribers, and he rejects free-to-play as making no business sense.

In that context, anyone interested in MMOs who doesn't have their eye on this property probably isn't thinking straight.  ;-)

So those two elements would have caught my attention already, but it's the third element that has me truly intrigued: it's been made repeatedly clear that the Amalur games will be strongly open world, mated to a dense storyline and back-story (written by R.A. Salvatore).  You take an open world and plop it down into an MMO, and boys and girls, what you have... is a sandbox.  So... yeah.  I'm keeping an eye on this one.  Expect this to be the first in a series of Kingdoms of Amalur posts around here.

On the 17th, the first playable demo for Reckoning was released, and I spent some time over the weekend playing it.  It's available on XBox Live, Steam, and for direct download among other places.  Go check it out if you're interested.  I'll have more to say about the demo in a day or two, but felt like I should introduce the new tag first...

(1) And I'll be comparing Skyrim to EVE in an important respect in a blog post before too long.


  1. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya

    WoW is an open-world MMO. You can travel to any part of the world, unrestricted. It is not, to my knowledge, considered a sandbox game.

    I wouldn't characterize a game like Oblivion/Skyrim/etc. as a sandbox game, either: it's a game that is predominantly driven by its story. Sure, you can spend your time picking roots and chasing wild animals, but the "point" of the game is the story arc your character is intended to follow.

    To my knowledge, EVE is the only "sandbox" game out there: you are dropped in a world with no real overarching story goal to follow. Do what you want, how you want, within the structural framework provided. There is no objective, but the objective you make for yourself.

    I am not making claims for 38 Studios' MMO one way or another. I am merely pointing out that your definition of what constitutes a sandbox, as stated in this post, applies to WoW. ;)

    1. I would disagree on Bethesda games not being sandboxes. Their stories, especially the mainquests, are blandly generic, fall victim to 'the chosen one' mantra, and usually are fairly anti-climactic. While an overall story-arc of the character is central to the game, that story arc is quite free to be pursued in a plethora of ways.

      The attraction of Beth games and why they're so popular has always been a)the large open worlds and b) a fairly large degree of freedom to interact with these worlds however you might wish. To me that makes them sandboxes.

    2. Of course it would help if there were uniformly agreed-upon definition of 'sandbox' :)

      I am siding with Anonymous somewhat: Bethesda does produce sandboxes. They may not qualify as 'sandbox games', as the core gameplay is the story they want to tell. But they do place this rails-RPG into a sandbox world where you can go off and try to make a living as a hunter or farmer (the story arc is usually the last thing I play in a Bethesda game).

      But yeah, WoW doesn't appear to be very sandbox'y, though mostly open world. Minecraft I think is at the far end of the sandbox scale (and from what I hear, SW:TOR is apparently neither open nor sandbox).

      Disclaimer: While I follow various blogs, EVE is the only MMO I actually play, after having paid my dues with MUDs.

  2. Unless I'm completely mistaken, WoW is closed in the sense that you can't advance from area to area without meeting level minimums. Correct?

    Unless I'm equally missing something, Reckoning seems to allow you to take off in whatever direction you like and go in exactly the same way that most games do not. It also seems to have the TES games's quality of allowing you to skip "the story" entirely if you wish to.

  3. Nope, incorrect on the WoW front. You can go wherever you please in WoW. You'll likely get your ass handed to you by the local fauna, but you can go there. ;) Each area has intended level ranges and level minimums for its quests to become accessible to you, but nothing preventing you from going to those areas at level 1.

  4. While technically true to say that WoW is 'open-world', it really isn't. Sure, you can go to some high level zone as a level one, but you cannot experience any of the content. Similarly, instanced zones often have key requirements that require quests to unlock - quests that don't open until certain levels.

    1. They did away with many of the instance requirements in Cataclysm, actually. Most of the instances up to level 60 now have the quest-givers related to the instance inside the actual instance now.

  5. Ah yes, the lush vistas of Skyrim... it was just the new drug I needed!

  6. Until they put out an online (and modernized) version of the X series of games (X: Beyond the Frontier, X2: The Threat, X3: Reunion, X3: Terran Conflict, and the coming X: Rebirth), I don't see anything online as being a true sandbox. There are always limits in place to keep people from ruining the game, like not being able to destroy space stations.
    Oh wait

  7. To be honest, I think you are a bit illuded. I read that interview and all I found was big :words:

    "R.A. talks about making something so evil you have to kill it, and something you care about so much you have to save it."

    In my Eve player view that sentence sounds very funny. If that guy acomplishes everything he says he wants to, a sandbox is what you won't get.

  8. I'm still looking for a sandbox fantasy MMO.

    Perhaps you might be interested in Pathfinder then.

  9. Shilling's 38 Studios has about 80 million (iirc) in tax free loans from my home state of Rhode Island. This created an uproar because it was the only company which got loans from this fund at the time. The thing is,the state is so business unfriendly with taxes and regulations that the program had zero applicants. This all happened within a few months of the 2010 elections so heads were spinning.

    The money did come with stipulations and they are moving the amount of high paying jobs to Providence and hiring what they have to. But to think Shilling is "putting up 100 million" like he says is a bit misleading. He won't owe most of it to lenders if the company goes belly-up.

  10. I've been following Schilling's projects for years over on a message board he posts on and i'm not convinced it's not vaporware.


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