Thursday, March 17, 2011

Possibility space

Imagine a n-dimensional space.


Hmmm, that probably isn't going to work as introduction. Let's try something else: Imagine a list of features describing a MMORPG. For example the first item on the list could be the genre, with 1 representing fantasy, 2 science fiction, 3 historical, and so on. The second item describes the advancement system, with 1 being with experience points and levels, 2 being a skill point system, and so on. So you list ten or twenty or more sub-systems of a MMORPG, and in each of these sub-systems you assign numbers to all possible options.

What you end up with is a single long number describing a MMORPG in all its features. And if you do the list right, and include every feature of every MMORPG ever made, including exotic games like A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, or Wizard 101, the totality of all the long numbers possible spans all the possible MMORPGs that can be made, just by using already existing ideas. You could then create random numbers, and see what kind of a game you get, for example a historical game with a skill point system, combat done via a collectible card system, and crafting done by puzzle mini-games.

Now if you take a list of the 50 biggest or best-known MMORPGs and describe them each with their single long number of all features, you would find that many of these numbers closely resemble each other. Starting with the first cipher, it is already obvious that the fantasy genre dominates over the other possibilities. Games with experience points and levels are far more frequent than games with skill point systems or other forms of advancement. And so on. To come back to my n-dimensional space, if you plotted all the existing games using the feature numbers as coordinates, you would see that most of these games form some sort of cloud, with only a few games like A Tale in the Desert being really far away from that cloud.

MMORPG players are an extremely territorial bunch, constantly fighting turf wars of "my game is better than yours". Thus when I am trying to express my disappointment about the possibility space of MMORPGs not being used better, that is immediately interpreted as bashing some particular game. You guys simply don't understand. I am not "anti Rift". I am just saying that in the huge possibility space of MMORPGs, I would like to see more games further away from the cluster of the majority of MMORPGs. I would like to see more games that aren't fantasy, more games that don't have xp and levels for advancement, more games that don't use autoattack plus hotkey combat, more games that don't guide you through various zones by series of quests, more games in which you don't spend the majority of your time killing and looting monsters, and so on. As there are a few examples of games like these, I know that the possibility exists. I just would like this possibility space used better, with more different games produced, instead of lots of minor variations of the same features and principles.

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