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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Zones of Evil

I first wrote this post a while back as a general comment on MMO design, but after playing on the PvP server as an evil character I added some EQII specific comments at the end.

This is one of those ideas I'm not really sold on myself, but I'm throwing it out there anyway. It's applicable to every MMO I have played.

What's the deal with the zones you start off in as an evil character? It is always some drab place with a dull color palette that looks like it has been beaten severely with the ugly stick. It almost always looks poverty-stricken.

To me the whole concept of evil is that you're going to do evil things (i.e. steal, betray alliances, ambush other countries, abuse your workers) for the point of amassing vast fortunes and power. Sure, the "worker areas" should look like cesspits, but there have to be some zones which display the vast wealth of the evil upper class. The whole draw of evil is: "Forget your morals and you will become rich and powerful!" It's not: "Forget your morals and you can live in a mud hut." And why can't evil people have a little architectural taste and artistic appreciation?

In my opinion, if any zone should look economically depressed, it's the good zones. They have to do things the right way by sticking to their morals. That means working harder to accomplish goals while still staying true to their principles. And the setting should reflect that. Stormwind in WoW looks like Disney World. Sure it's easy to be good if you have a place like that to live in.

The counter argument would be that good zones should look pretty and bad zones should ugly for purely thematic reasons. Any opinions?

Okay, on to my EQII specific comments. It's funny because I originally disliked the evil starter zones. But now I enjoy them. I think I was just lost and disoriented at first. And they are a bit tough to navigate for a newcomer.

There is no way the person who did the Qeynos zones is the same person who did the Freeport ones. They are just too fundamentally different. I'm not just talking about the color palette or the NPC's. They just feel like a totally different city, have markedly different layouts and create a completely different atmosphere.

Sure, Temple Street is a claustrophobic maze of alleys. But it accomplishes the goal of creating the feel of a real city very well. And it's so different from say, Castleview Hamlet, that it's like playing a different game. While the Qeynos zones draw on fantasy tropes (a hobbit shire, an elven city in the trees), the maze-like slum of Temple Street is a valid fantasy setting as well. And it affects your mood and enhances the feel of the game.

So maybe my philosophical commentary was invalid, though I think I still think it kind of makes sense from a general perspective.


Anonymous Gordon said...

I love the FP zones. I admit I found them exceedingly confusing when I first started playing but now I know them like the back of my hand. FP to me has always had a lot more humour, life and general "soul" than Qeynos ever will, and that's something that enhances my playing experience.

I understand where you are coming from with the "why is evil always drab and crap" approach but I guess designers do it for many reasons:

1. It reflects the fantasy sterotype of evil. The orcs in LotR weren't exactly dressed in blue silk where they? =D

2. It reinforces the idea that "evil is bad"... wouldn't be sending the right message to kids if evil was always rich and happy!

3. It allows the designer to create a more vivid experience for the user. Like I said before, turning up in Freeport after being told to expect riches by the NPCs on the Isle and then finding that people hate you and its horrible... well, I think that's really fun =D Unfortunately it seems to have been toned down a bit lately since the 1-20 revamp - I really enjoyed the banter of the Overseers and the Innkeeper.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Karnatos said...

I've only played two MMOs where there were obvious Good/Evil lines drawn; EQII and City of Heroes/Villains... and both of these games follow you observations.

However, this observation is not just MMO-centric, its just something that seems to be present in most of means of storytelling.

I've made note of this myself long ago, first from reading, then in gaming as games became more graphics-oriented.

There are similar themes between good and evil in all sorts of medium; lets take City of Heroes/Villains as a gaming example: the first thing one notices when they start CoV is that they have a whole slew of new costume add-ons to choose from... but I'd say 75+ percent of the items are skull/bone/chain/mutilation themed items.

Why are these automatically associated with evil? "Because they're bad things", at least its one of the first things most people think of anyway. These thematic sets are applied to good/evil all the time - and I personally find it sometimes a cheap/easy way to get a point across; "This guy's belt has a skull on it, he's got to be a bad guy"... but all of us that were once teenagers probably know this to be a shallow way of thinking, and probably some of us even rebelled and tried to use these thematic images and prove they can be used by good people too... but in the end we all know what they are, just a quick and easy means to describe good vs. evil.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Quylein said...

I'm with you Aggro, Up untill I started PVP I didn't like Freeport. However, there is a differnt feel about the place that's for sure. I'm starting to love the city.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

I played Fp for one month in Beta. That was all I could stand. When I finally rolled a good char in Qeynos it was like an incredble awakening.

No way I will ever like Freeport. And personally I will never role play evil or choose to play evil.

There is too much real evil in this world for me to want to ever emulate it.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Diachron said...

Actually, the FP hamlets are cesspools, but Freeport proper itself is magnificent (just compare the FP library to the qeynosian library!)

This leads to the conclusion that Lucan D'Lere greedily soaks up resources to build his capitol city, but leaves the outlying hamlets to rot. If you were a megalomanic tyrant, you'd likely do the same.

So the message in eq2 isn't "evil is dirty", it's more "evil is selfish and doesn't share".

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Tipa Tanglewood said...

I bought the game back in November '04 intending to be good. I play halflings, I started in Baubbleshire and had a great time... but it started to wear on me. The cheerfulness. The cuteness.

I betrayed. I have betrayed three halflings to Freeport, even when the rest of my guild was Qeynos. I just couldn't take it any more.

Freeport offers an entirely unique (haven't played CoV) newbie experience. Quest givers are selfish; you must look out for yourself; people have hard lives.

And the story was great. As a halfling, I wanted to encourage the refugees in the Sprawl to rise up and take over. We haffers invaded Neriak, drove the inkies away (aside from the few who escaped to become Freeport refugees)... Halflings should be ruling Freeport by now...

I love the architecture. The toady merchants. The barely sentient trolls... and as far as I can tell, the only halfling player in all of Freeport on Befallen. It's fun to be unique, too.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Darklighter said...

Freeport is great I find that the more quests and status you do the less crap the evil NPC's give ya, and well I like an environment with a lil spice if I wanted to be somewhere that people where forced to be cheerful toward ya, then I would go to wal-mart. As far as evil cities being slummy thats okay with me I just keep all my money to myself and pimp out my apartment. When I need a taste of the good life I go to my house and play with my gazing ball or feed my man-eating plant something and chill out.

2:00 PM  

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