The Good, the Bad, and the Pretty Cool : Multiplayer RPGs

by Usagi Vindaloo 

Hey, it's me, Usagi Vindaloo! Remember me, the one with the really cool, RPG loving mom? She's still really cool; she bought me a Playstation 2 over the weekend. ^_^ I wish everyone had a mom like mine. Anyway, here I go with a different topic...

I've noticed something rather odd as of late; from what I see in Q&A, a lot of people hate multiplayer RPGs, especially those of the massive type. I'm not sure I really see why. Of course, they cite good reasons, the main one being the lack of story (hence the wild spasms of horror when FFXI was announced). Now, admittedly, I haven't played a large number of multiplayer games (alright, just one) but I disagree with this sentiment. The wonderful thing about a multiplayer RPG is that it is what the *players* make of it. All right, so there will always be the player killer type that dOnT spiik GoOdeR 3nglish, but really, how many FF fans fall under that category? I mean, come on, after all the RPGs we play, you'd think we'd get SOME creativity to rub off on us, right? Let's put that creativity to good use!

In a multiplayer game, it is the players instead of the company that dictate a game. There may be no central evil overlord (*sniff* Sephiroth?), but come on, surely there are always going to be some people who decide that they would rather play an evil character (heck, *I*'ll probably give it a go; more roleplaying potential), thereby providing the center to a potentially Square-rivalling campaign.

In order to illustrate my point that multiplayer RPGs work well, I point out Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption for the PC. Now THERE is a game that does multiplayer well. It isn't massively multiplayer; in fact, its setup is a bit like a chat room. There are several games running at once, each one with a capacity of about eight players. This is the best part; it is the PLAYERS that run these games! The game engine includes the most brilliant addition to online gaming ever, the Storyteller Mode. With it, the Storyteller (read: player who serves as the GM/DM) can place objects, monsters, props, people, almost ANYTHING. While the game is in motion, the Storyteller can possess any of these NPCs and act through them, making them as real as any of the player characters; the ST can also hand out experience and items as he/she sees fit. Admittedly, some of the games are little more than a bunch of beefy idiots getting in a room and blowing each other to bits, but not all of them are so shallow. Some of the campaigns I've been in have been truly inspired, almost better than the single player game; some real talent and hard work goes into making these quests and stories. Some go even further, using the Embrace engine (read: level building kit) to create huge expansive levels rivalling the professionally done stuff. OK, so the system isn't perfect - there are several bugs, and you can't give NPCs automatic things to say without some coding knowledge (e.g. you can't have a silly villager repeating, "Please save us," over and over again, you have to possess the character ever time you want him/her to speak). Still, it's a start on the right road, and proof that a multiplayer RPG doesn't HAVE to suck.

So where does that leave us with, say, Final Fantasy XI? I personally look forward to this title a LOT. I doubt that Square is going to allow their cherished franchise to degenerate into the sort of mindless, plotless enemy bashing that some people seem to think it will be. They might not go with the same system as Vampire, but rest assured they'll find some way to work it out. Maybe they will start a new quest every now and again to keep players interested, or even ask RPGamers who have proven their prowess at storytelling to create new adventures for people to go on. Maybe there will be a system like Realms of Despair (a MUD my friend plays), where after gaining a certain level a character becomes Immortal and basically becomes a GM who can shape the world itself. Hell, maybe they'll have a random plot generator that fires out new quests every now and again (I can see it now... AERIS is IN LOVE with SQUALL but EXDEATH is hiding in KEFKA'S TOWER which is surrounded by WEREWOLVES. Next plot... SEPHIROTH is KILLING RELM but CLOUD is hiding UNDER TIFA'S BED which is...). The point is... damn, what was my point again...

Ah, found it! (feel free to hum your favourite "Lesson of the Day" theme) Anyway, my point is that, despite what naysayers might tell you, multiplayer games are not plotless. If they are, then we only have ourselves to blame.

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