Part Two of our interview with Craig Morrison picks up right where we left off. Topics covered in this half include storytelling, the control of griefing, and innovation (or lack thereof) in the MMO genre.
(Incidentally, I think that’s the longest article title we’ve ever had.)
The MMO Gamer: I was talking to Ragnar in my last interview with you guys, and we got into the subject of storytelling in MMOs.
With all this talk about fun… does an MMO really have to be fun? Is experiencing a story, being told a story, entertainment enough? Or do you also need an entertaining game mechanic, as well?
Craig Morrison: I think you can have both, because storytelling can be fun to certain people. I do say the game itself has to be fun, but I don’t necessarily think it’s just about gameplay.
Fun is subjective to different people. To some people, the fact there’s a story there is fun. I’m a huge fan of the old adventure games, I’m with Ragnar on that one. I love storytelling in games.
I say to many people, and they kind of look at me strange when I say it, so I’ll be careful: The best adventure game I’ve ever played is Deus Ex.
Because I consider it an adventure game. Yes, it had RPG elements, and it’s in a First Person Shooter end, but it told a story. And I really, really liked that story. For me it was an interesting story, and it’s one of the best games I played.
The MMO Gamer: It was for me, as well. And if you just took away the entire story and left only the game, it would have been a pretty mediocre shooter, for the most part.
Craig Morrison: Yeah.
The MMO Gamer: It had some light RPG elements, but aside from that… The story was what made it a classic.
And I think that’s what’s been lacking in the MMO genre for all these years. I mean, what kind of a story is “Go kill ten rats”?
Craig Morrison: Exactly. And you see that like even in… we’re lucky with Age of Conan, because we have Howard’s world to base it on.
Like I said to you earlier about, Tarantia Commons took inspiration from Howard’s story The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.
And we were able to take a very linear story in one of Howard’s classic Conan tales, and we managed to entwine it through the entire zone. And some players won’t notice. They don’t read the texts.
They are just hitting the button, come on, come on, gimme the quest. I have to go kill this. Ok, I’ll go kill this.
The MMO Gamer: Yes, but the problem with that, is players have been conditioned over the years that the quest text is so banal and meaningless, like: “Hi [insert player name here], you look like a brave [insert class here]. I’ve been waiting for a hearty [insert race here] like you to come along and help me kill these ten rats.”
They don’t even bother to read that anymore, they just hit accept if the reward looks good.
You have to train them from the beginning that the quest text in game Y isn’t that way, or else they’ll just ignore it forever.
Craig Morrison: I think we’ve done a decent job with that with Conan. I think there are some really well written quests there, and some the players, do really appreciate getting through.
Especially through Tortage, our entire early game experience is very story-centric, and game-driven with full voiceover.
It’s a very compelling storytelling experience in many ways, and it something that I really believe in. I love telling stories, and I love for the designers to tell stories.
And some of the gameplay designers? They’re like, “I don’t care. I’m making my encounter fun.” That’s what they do well.
And then the quest guy, the writer, is the one that makes–because we actually use separate writers, to write the quests, the gameplay and the actual why the gameplay exists are done by two separate sets of people.
I think that’s important. It comes from Anarchy Online, as well. We had a great ability to tell story in Anarchy Online, it’s a very story-heavy game, even for an MMO.
And, that’s something I think follows through in Age of Conan. That it is, there is some very good storytelling there. Yes, you have to accept some of the players don’t notice it, because that’s like what you said, they’ve been conditioned.
The MMO Gamer: So then how do you get them unconditioned?
Craig Morrison: It’s hard, you can’t recondition society fully. It’s bit by bit.
I think when players go, “Oh, that’s really quite a cool story.” And the guy’s like “Oh it was?”
Like you mentioned Onyxia. I remember when I played World of Warcraft, one of the first times my guild, in the very early days, raided Onyxia, one of the players, who was a really heavy hardcore role-player, really liked the Warcraft universe.
We were there at the gates ready to go, and he popped up and he’s like, “Ok, who knows why we’re here?” And we are all kind of like, “Loot! To kill the dragon!”
And he says, “No no, who knows why we’re here?” And they were like, “Guys! You’ve just done a three day, 12 part quest that told you the story of why you are going to kill this dragon. Did anyone read it?”
And we are all like, “No, don’t think so,” and suddenly feeling very guilty about not doing so.
So even though it’s like I’m really interested in the story, even I hadn’t paid much attention.
I knew that it was a key quest, and as a guild we were going to raid it, so, go get a key.
And so I think it’s hard, that conditioning. But you just have to keep trying. You can’t give up. I think the day developers give up and go “No, you can’t tell a story in MMO, so let’s not even try,” is a very sad day.
I think it’s much better to fight. And A: if you only reach thirty, forty percent, even less, the players, that’s fine. But, you know, it’s there for those who appreciate it.
Continued on next page…