Character Development in MMO Games

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Gitanos the Gypsy, Outside Ironforge, The World of Warcraft

Speaking of storytelling, character development is one of the things that I really love doing (probably originating from my role playing game days as a kid) and can never seem to get enough of it. Seriously, I’ve even considered creating a site just focused on MMO character development for the World of Warcraft (and potentially for EVE Online as well) to show players how they can create a really well rounded character to personify within the game. This can involve everything from how they speak, their mannerisms, their flaws, to even how they dress.

It’s not as easy as it sounds though because games like the World of Warcraft can make this quite difficult to achieve since your wardrobe is often limited by your level (and I’m not talking armor types here). Portraying a young noble hero is one thing but trying to look like an evil villain can be downright depressing until you reach some of the higher character levels in the game. I’m totally against this limited approach to the game and I wish Blizzard would add something to the game to allow for at least equipment colorization (similar to how you could dye your character’s clothing and armor in Neverwinter Nights).

I mean no wonder people in the game have very little interest in role playing a diverse community with unique characters (even on RP servers) because it’s extremely difficult to visually represent the personality of your character. Even if you do finally achieve a level where you can get the right equipment, it’s a lost cause anyways. Why? Because as soon as you obtain a few more levels, you’ll need to replace your armor and equipment to be able to handle the higher level creatures and dungeons. For example, here’s a couple of pictures below of my character, Malavar, around 40th level, when I felt his outfit fully captured his villainous nature. Of course, levels later he had to give it up if he wanted to continue forward with higher levels.

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Malavar, Inside Orgrimmar, The World of Warcraft

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Malavar, Crossing Deadwind Pass, The World of Warcraft

The only way around this problem that I can see at the moment is to set out to create a social character from the very start. For example, I’ve got one character I’m fooling around with now that basically has no ambitions to get above 15th level (since it’s fairly easy to obtain this level quite quickly). Instead the goal of the character is to be like an NPC near the town of Goldshire in Elwynn Forest who acts like a sage or guide. Boring you say? Well not really, as you’re always interacting with an ever changing flow of people who are new to the area and people seem to enjoy seeing a regular face all the time (i.e. “Norm!” from Cheers). In effect, the unique experiences you have with these people becomes its own reward.

Soulless Corporations

Here’s a quote from Ars Technica’s article on Yahoo’s involvement in the violation of human rights.

“Yahoo claims that it is simply following local law and that it has no choice but to comply with legal requests from the Chinese government if it wants to keep doing business in that country.”

Nothing like putting your profit and business agenda over human rights. It somewhat sad considering that larger companies like these are the ones who have the ability to truly help change the world. Unfortunately it seems the bigger a company gets, the more likely the chance to lose its soul in the blinding pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Creative Storytelling

Dave just mentioned he enjoyed watching some videos of Ira Glass talking about storytelling, so I decided to take a look at them myself. Dave’s right. The advice passed along in these videos is priceless and I’d recommend them to any creative individual, no matter what they do. I’ve included them below for your viewing pleasure, as I wanted to add my own comments afterwards relating to each video.

First Video: On The Basics

It’s interesting that he talks about two basic building blocks to a story. An anecdote and a moment of reflection. I find this approach has an almost mythical presence to it in that we’re talking about a cyclic motion here (i.e. the wheel of life, the seasons, the constellations). More importantly this cyclic pattern has a ying and yang balance to it like life itself (i.e. day/night, asleep/awake, etc).

Why I find this interesting is that it relates to me particularly in that I dislike the continuous momentum that everyone tells you must have in a blog. I disagree with this approach vehemently because it feels like I’m a dancer who has to keep dancing to stay alive. Instead I believe in an approach where downtime is critically important because, as Ira notes, it allows for these moments of reflection which give us a deeper understanding of the events/actions unfolding within our lives. Without these moments of reflection, it would be like a captain of a ship that never checks his position or heading during the voyage.

Second Video: On Finding Great Stories

Again I’m seeing a pattern here when he mentions that most of the work in producing a “decent story” doesn’t relate to the production of it but actually in finding the right story. This is exactly the same with web development. Most of the time the work you put in the discovery and planning stages should equal (or even be more) than the time it takes to produce the website. This also relates directly to creativity as well. Often times, you may spend hours researching or experimenting with something until everything clicks (again usually when you step away from it) and that creative energy is released creating something wonderful. Without that downtime or exploration though, the discovery or creation doesn’t reveal itself.

I also find his description of knowing when to kill a story very important in relationship to blogging. You hear people saying that you need to continually have content, even daily, to get the attention and interest of people. I disagree. To me, having meaningful content (my idea of a decent story) is what it’s all about. There needs to be an emotional connection in some way (which Ira describes as the “feeling you had about”). If it’s not there then its just feels empty somehow and you’re writing just ends up being “filler” with no real substance to it. I think it’s one reason why I like continually breaking things apart, so I can re-examine them, and then rebuild them from scratch in a different way to make something better.

When he stresses the importance of continually “propping up” your work, this to me is exactly what design is really about. It’s about constantly working at something daily to make it better than the day before (like life itself). Therefore these moments of reflection give us a deeper understanding of our lives or the design we’re working on, so that we can make changes constantly to evolve our life or our designs.

Luck is having the persistence to continually persevere through failure to finally achieve success. Therefore if you’re not failing often, then something’s wrong. It is failure that makes us question and reflect which in turn allows us to discover and achieve success. It’s funny though because even though various people have told me they enjoy what I’ve written on my site, I still find a lot of it mediocre. Yet this is what I was getting at before about having different types of writing areas. You need areas where you can just throw ideas into a sandbox and see what happens to them. These areas are critical because they allow you to keep your “flow”, otherwise you’d continually be worrying and spending hours trying to perfect everything before releasing it. You need areas to experiment, to let go, and to get dirty. When you do, that’s when you’ll find the raw gem hidden in the dirt that you can then start polishing.

Third Video: On Good Taste

Hahaha! So true about your good taste exceeding your craft (and I’ll raise my hand as well like Dave because I feel that way too). Again, as I mentioned above, he recommends the best way to get out of this phase is to do a lot of work which will allow you to continually experiment and hone your craft (with a strong emphasis on rejecting things that you feel aren’t up to par because it’s about quality not quantity when presenting it to others). Thus don’t expect things to change and improve overnight. Small changes daily make a big effect over time.

Fourth Video – On Two Common Pitfalls

Be yourself. So true and it’s the one golden rule I always mention to people who are interested in blogging. If you don’t feel like you’re talking naturally (say like how you would with
a friend) then others will probably pick up on it as well.

Now when he mentions people with “horrible personalities” who are only interested in talking about themselves, this really hit a chord with me because I’ve been thinking about this for a while due to a pattern I’ve been noticing in my own life. Basically when I’m focused inwards on myself, I don’t like what I create and things feel unnatural to me. However when I’m focused outwards on others and trying to help them with their problems, I feel really good and things seem to flow. Thus I’m at my best when thinking of others rather than thinking of myself.

And finally his mention of people interacting and providing different viewpoints to help create a good story is so true. Interaction or conflict between two people is what makes us stop and reflect on things because when life’s going smoothly, we rarely question things because everything we do seems perfect. That’s probably why the most enjoyable stories that I’ve read are the ones which involve a great conflict or struggle (either externally in the world or internally within the mind/soul) that usually lead to the discovery of a new perspective or outlook on life…

…as he says as he looks in the mirror and sees the story unfold another step.

Related: Storyboard Your Life