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Monday, March 28, 2005

Lore Bore?

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Well, I never thought I would regret xp but as I approach 50 on my wizard I find myself beginning to slow down a little to savor these last few levels. I guess I'm kind of afraid my wizzie won't be as much fun without the carrot stick of an upcoming level. In any case, I've been spending more time with alts. And even though I made fun of SOE's giving us additional character slots as a way to put off complaints about post 50 content, it turns out that seeing the game through the eyes of another class is a lot different. In my case those eyes are those of a bard.

So maybe it’s the bardic way rubbing off on me but I've been thinking more about the "lore" or back-story or meaning of EQII.

I have read a fairly large (read excessive) amount of fantasy and sci-fi novels in my time. I imagine that a decent percent of those who play EQII or other fantasy based MMORPG's also have at least some familiarity with the genre.

So, you would think we would like reading game "lore," being that it is really just fantasy writing based around a game (a game we devote a great deal of time to).

But to be honest I don't know much game lore. I know there is a huge dragon sitting amongst lizard men in the temple of Cazic-Thule, but I don't know why. I'm not sure what exactly the gnolls or orcs are up to (even though I know it's nothing good). And I'd wager most of the people I play with don't know either.

It would certainly benefit SOE to draw people more fully into the game with lore.

So what's the problem? Well for one, EQII is a sequel and building on previous lore has positives and negatives. For example, if you read
this Lore Q&A on Warcry, you'll see that six of seven questions relate to why things are different than EQ and the answers are creative ways of explaining why. So the "lore-creators" in EQII have to be careful they work within existing history.

But the problem is much deeper than that: It seems like most in game lore comes from npc dialogue or quests. For example, before you get a quest you usually have to go through a bit of a dialogue tree with npc's that gives you a bit of back-story. But if you group like me, getting a quest goes a little like this:

Group fighting its way through zone.

"Quest here."

Click on NPC. Click madly through dialogue tree.

"Got it."

"Cool. Let’s go."


So I don't usually read the dialogue. And okay, let's be fair - I rarely read it when I'm soloing. Why? The opportunity cost of time. Most of us have jobs or schools or families which come in the way of playing EQII twenty-four hours a day. It prevents some of us less than others of course (just ask these people). But still, we all want to utilize the time playing either: getting xp, socializing with friends, completing quests, getting guild xp, getting plat or all of the above. Reading long dialogue sequences does not fit into that equation.

Is there a solution? I think so. What people do remember are zones, mobs and items. Everyone knows Blackburrow is a mine and Permafrost is a chilly ice palace. Everyone has favorite or hated mobs (Billy Moppet?). And everyone knows the J-Boots make you go faster. So let’s use that to build awareness of lore.

My first example is with mobs and I'm kind of stealing this from City of Heroes. In COH, when you right click a mob and select info you get a little back-story about their history and affiliation.

It is not a question of visual space. EQII mobs already give you four generic sentences of information relating to the difficulty and aggressiveness of the mob. This could easily be replaced by two words or eliminated entirely (there are graphical clues after all). Why not change those four sentences to lore?

For instance, a Blackburrow Miner could say something like, "These hardworking gnolls labor for love - love of gold that is, and of the fabled gnollish treasure rumored to lie deep beneath the cold stone of the Blackburrow mines. They work day and night to find the next vein of precious minerals. Interrupt them at your own peril. Usually incensed already from partaking in the distilled spirits of Bucky's Brewery they are wary of all who would hamper their work and steal their treasure."

A named mob would give a less generic description.

The same could be true for items, perhaps just a sentence. "This hunting-knife is favored by the rangers of the Celestial Watch for both its light weight and ready blade."

For zones, a sentence or two in a corner of the concept art on the loading screen would do the trick. A rotating basis would be best, just as the art is cycled. "Permafrost: There be Giants here. Booming footsteps shake this castle of bitter ice as the giants sing of their valorous deeds and train their deadly wolf companions in the frost-bound halls."

Of course, my descriptions would be better if I knew the actual lore, which, as we have established, I don’t.

It would probably only take a good writer or two.

Hmm...now that I think about it...

SOE, you listening? I can be reached by e-mail. Let's talk platinum.


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