Introduction & Method
In addition to what was said in the video, I would also like to point out the following before I get started:
- This project is supposed to be presented in a multimedia format, which is why it has been posted to my blog and includes video, images (including some that I’ve put together using PhotoShop) and Prezi presentations. I have never used Prezi before, nor have I ever tried using a “video blog” (vlog) to present information as I’ve done in the preceding clip, so much of this project had to do with learning new technology and ways to present information to people in an appealing, possibly even interactive, way.
- Shortly after getting to work on this project, I learned of the impending release of Age of Empires Online, which is scheduled to come out in just a couple of weeks. On one hand this could be seen as a great benefit for my project, as everything I am about to discuss will seem far more timely and relevant. However, I worry that many of my ideas for a new Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game will come to life in Microsoft’s latest real-time strategy game. I’ve looked into what we can expect with Age of Empires Online, but the details seem rather sparse and I didn’t have time to try out the demo to see how things will work. Nevertheless, the details I have seen/read don’t seem to resemble my MMO model too closely, so I think we’ll be ok. Especially when it comes down to the way players interact with other players in my MMO model (through exploration, warfare, communications and trade), which I think is a significant improvement on the traditional Age of Empires model of gameplay.
- I am not a game designer, nor am I attempting to impersonate one. This project, as explained in the video, is for the University of Waterloo’s “Video Game Theory” course, which is designed to make students think about games critically in order to better understand what makes games enjoyable and whether there is merit in video gaming beyond having fun.
I have played all three of the games I am about to compare and critique prior to outlining my game idea, but to varying degrees. My World of Warcraft experience is particularly limited, as I have only played the 10-day trial (a trial which has just recently been extended to go as long as it takes a player to reach level 20) for approximately six or seven hours. In this time I was able to reach level 12, travel to Orgrimmar and try out a 20-player “dungeon,” which in my case was a multiplayer, two-team capture the flag battle.
I have had much more experience playing Age of Empires (AoE), which was one of the first games I ever owned. I completed the original AoE campaign, but mostly loved the ability to play one-off “skirmishes” against computer-controlled opponents. In addition to the first AoE game, I also played Age of Mythology (AoM), which from what I can tell can be put on par with Age of Empires II, due to the fact AoM came out around the same time. Age of Mythology is considered a “spin off” of the AoE series of games, but it played virtually the same. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to play Age of Empires II or III, or any of the other AoE games, but from what I’ve read on gaming sites like IGN and Gamespot, these games only differ in technologically-superior aesthetics and the campaign narratives. The exception to this rule is with Age of Empires III, which includes the addition of a “home city,” but I am not particularly interested in this feature for the purposes of my game design.
Finally, I first played Utopia in high school, back in 2002 or 2003, which makes sense considering these were the two years in which the game received “Webby” awards for best online game, and the time when the game was at its peak in popularity. I played the game for a couple of years before letting it go due to the amount of time it took to play the game seriously. I have since began playing once again, basically for the purposes of this project, and log several hours a week in doing so. I have to admit, however, that I am TERRIBLE at this game and should not be taken for an expert in any way. But I love certain elements of this game, which I will illustrate later on.
I have created a Prezi presentation for each of these games in order to provide a brief overview for those who lack experience or knowledge of each game. I will highlight the features or points that I feel will be important in explaining my game concept, then provide my list of “What I like” and “What I don’t like” for each game. The Prezi presentations also contain bonus videos, which I was able to either find on YouTube, or create myself, in order to further illustrate gameplay.
After the overview Prezis, I will outline “Kingdom Come,” a game concept that I have come up with by taking the elements that I like from World of Warcraft, Age of Empires and Utopia. To help organize the discussion of my game, I have broken up my outline into the following eight topics:
- Cinematics: Today’s gamers have seen some pretty amazing stuff, and expect to be entertained cinematically by every game they play. This section will include discussion on imagery/graphics, sound/music and video cut scenes, including the game’s opening. I will also discuss what narrative elements the game offers (if any) and whether they add anything to the overall gaming experience.
- Exploration: Because I am talking about a MMO that is set in mythological, medieval times, exploration will be a key element of the game. You can’t expand an empire without seeing what’s out there first, and you can’t battle enemies until you know where they are.
- Game Time: Very few games are played in “real time” because very few gamers would be willing for a game to progress as slowly as everyday life. Gamers want to sit down, work through a few scenarios (whether they be auto races, hockey games, gun fights, investigations, etc.), turn off the game and forget about it, then return to the game at a later time and pick up where they left off. Because of this real-time vs. game-time dynamic, a practical, consistent structure of in-game time must be established so that gamers 1) don’t get bored, 2) don’t get overwhelmed, 3) don’t get confused and 4) can leave the game temporarily and come back to it without (at least too much of a) penalty.
- Interface and Controls: This section may not provide the most exciting critique, but because a game’s interface is “the boundary between the player and the game itself,” it is really the one thing keeping gamers from complete immersion into the game (Wolf 24). If you can create an interface and complimentary controls that the gamer doesn’t even notice, the gamer can focus more completely on the in-game occurrences that are taking place.
- Development: Development is really the next stage after exploration in medieval and pioneering times. Once land is obtained, the settler had better do something with it before it gets taken away or s/he freezes to death. I will just say right now that World of Warcraft develops much differently from the other games I will be talking about (and my concept game as well) due to the fact that in WoW, players work towards developing their avatar and not an entire civilization/kingdom. However, WoW presents some interesting ideas for development and will be useful all the same.
- Combat: Another must-have element of medieval games is combat, which is where many games succeed or fail with their audience. Combat should be exciting, fast-paced, easy to control and challenging to win.
- Avatar: Nearly every major game today places the utmost importance on a gamer’s avatar. Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft have structured their entire gaming experience around the avatar, while games like EA Sports’ NHL and Madden series (which simulate team sports) offer modes that also allow gamers to control and customize an avatar. I need to bring this avatar element into my game design in one way or another.
- Communication: Because MMOs are massively multiplayer, in-game communication between players is essential in order for players to succeed in the game and for those players to feel more fully immersed in the virtual world.
Once I’ve gone through my game concept, I’ll wrap things up with some course theory and final thoughts/confessions regarding my game design.
Finally, if you’d like to leave a comment or two about this project, I’d love to read them. Simply leave any/all feedback at the end of the conclusion page.
Wolf, Mark J.P. The Video Game Explosion: A History from Pong to Playstation and Beyond. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008.