Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MMORPG nostalgic lament

After commenting in a previous blog about how great it was to play RPGs, I have to make a comment about computer RPGs (CRPG) as well. These things have been around a super long time, but have only become mainstream in recent years because barriers to entry have been brought down.

In the old days, when I had first gotten my modem, I used to play CRPGs online with my friends. These were collectively known as Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs). We would all agree to meet online after school, and game together on a specific MUD for hours. All that was needed to play was a Telnet client, which was available on virtually every computer. There were more advanced and MUD specific clients developed, though they weren't necessary.

It may surprise kids these days to know that these MUDs were purely text based. In may ways, they were like the pen-n-paper RPGs, which required a sense of imagination to master. The scenes were described in text and the user entered text commands to perform actions. There were no overhead maps and making your own maps as you explored was a skill that was required as well (although more advanced MUD clients had some automap facilities).

So, just like the rest of the Internet in those days, it was a wild frontier with many barriers to entry. In order for someone to enjoy a MUD, they would need to be able to imagine scenery, action sequences as well as visualise complex 3D maps. However, any random computer would be able to play on a MUD because the requirements on bandwidth and computational power was extremely small. These days, anyone can enjoy a MMORPG as the mental barriers to entry have been taken down.

First, is the availability of broadband. Broadband is everywhere these days. People are increasingly connected. In the most advanced nations like South Korea, they've even got fibre to the home, which is great. So, with so much bandwidth available, a lot more information can be sent between the client and the server. This allows for scenes and action sequences to be visualised in a more visceral way. Instead of saying that you're in a forest, every single tree can be described.

Second, is the increasing is graphics processing power. With the current crop of graphics chips, fairly realistic environments can be simulated in real-time on a computer. So, games have the look and feel of movies and are more engaging. Couple this with more information available, the MMORPGs today can create extremely complex landscapes and worlds. All this has in fact increased the technological barrier to entry, which is easier to overcome.

However, even with all this advancement in technology, the gameplay has not changed at all. An MMORPG today, is just a MUD with souped up graphics. To me, that's quite lamentable. It's of course fun to play an MMORPG, but for people from my age, an MMORPG has nothing new to offer us, besides flashier graphics, which mainly appeal to the young. The scenes that I can conjure up in my imagination are definitely nicer that the things any graphics chip can render.

I'm not saying that MMORPGs are bad. The fact that they can attract millions of subscribers just tells you that they are good. However, I'm just lamenting the fact that there is nothing new in the gameplay. So, for all the advancement in technology that we've had in more than a decade, the game has not changed at all. Farming, trading, fighting, leveling up, social interaction and what nots are still the same. Boring.

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