In my continued wanting for a sandbox game, I had noticed something of a recurring habit of mine. This started way back in the first forays into EVE Online. I would spend hours jumping from system to system in my blocky little Gallente frigate and chew on individual space rocks, soar over to the nearest station and refine the ore to sell on the market. Mine wasn’t a glamorous capsuleering life, but it was rewarding. I enjoyed just being allowed to go out there, do a few peaceful chores, making a reasonable amount of space-coin and calling it a night.
Grindy as hell, sure…but…idyllic. Soothing. It was the quiet moments between casting a fishing line and the hurry when your bait was snagged. I loved that.
The Repopulation, Camelot Unchained, EQ Next, ArcheAge…these titles all have the same effect on me–the want to turn swords to plowshares. To live a simple existence of the journeyman crafter or harvester. Maybe a travelling salesperson or shopkeep selling my wares. Instead, the MMOs that are out now all demand combat. Sure, the games I play like ESO or XIV or WildStar have crafting professions, but they play second fiddle to the combat. Ignoring the combat a lot of the time is like being asked to try Frosted Flakes, and then when I’d rather not Tony the Tiger gets in my face.
It never really occurred to me that MMO gaming should be more than being a blade in a blender until I started reading up more on Camelot Unchained’s idea of crafting principles. Not only were these ideas robust and impressive, but it meant that I could actually be what I wanted to become. A journeyman craftsman. I could contribute to the game’s goals and others’ progression without forcing myself into combat all the damn time.
Here we have someone who recognizes that combat has to be supported by an actual set of resources. It always kinda baffles me when people don’t find crafting in their MMOs important, or that game devs don’t pour more attention to this sort of activity, but then those same folks don’t bat an eye at the logistical nightmare fueling a realm-wide war requires. Here, someone not only considered that, but they actually designed tools and playstyles for the player to fill that void.
It’s why I pounced on the chance to support Pumpkin Online as well. I was worried beyond belief that it wouldn’t make its goal, but it has, and I truly hope that it presses on. Not only were the concepts of inclusion and representation important to me, but an entire MMO specifically geared to making one just enjoy a peaceful farming life is something I had never heard tried. I support ambition like that. I slap ambition like that with my wallet.
The common complaint with themepark MMOs is that every single player is The Chosen One. Some games tried to work their way around this narrative pitfall, but it still ultimately didn’t work out or was just never fully followed through. Now, themeparks are fun and great rides and I enjoy them too…but it would be really damned nice if I could be one of those NPCs. Or at least do the things they do.
Even single player games have tried to make this idea work to varying degrees of success. Remember the repeatedly touted feature of Radiant AI in Oblivion? All that ended up doing is giving NPCs the same boring pathed tasks, but with the inclusion of a steely-eyed level of determination that would be noble if it weren’t…well….freaking creepy. EverQuest Next’s recent talk about the Storybricks technology and how dynamic things are in their game sounds good on paper, but I’m almost sure I can see the same dance steps if I squint and tilt my head just so.
Of course, it’s not all shallow promises. There are games out there that have made living a normal life part of the game. One of the best examples of this I’ve played was the game Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. Here we had a game that focused solely on maintaining, stocking and manning the item shop we’ve all seen in those classic RPGs. Unfortunately, even that game was sure that people wouldn’t buy in to it, and included a damned combat dungeon crawler in there too.
Now the thing is, this type of gameplay is wanted, but it still has to feel like fun. There still should be a level of skill and engagement and actual, direct, tactile input here. XIV’s crafting, for as ultimately pointless as it seems due to the dungeons-only endgame and repeatedly layered tiers of gearscore required, has one of THE BEST crafting minigames out there. I was cranking out vendor trash gleefully because I had to focus and use active skills. I was in combat with an inanimate object…which sounds stupid, but it was engaging.
Ultimately, my point is that we all shouldn’t be forced into the combat field. Some of us would rather help in other ways that don’t involve being a tank or a healer because the Dungeon Finder Netherbeast is endlessly hungry. Some of us are completely ice-cold cool with being the NPC locked in an endless animation of tanning a hide in the hub city. Some of us think that it’d be cool to actually cry out in the town to shop our store instead of endlessly spamming a trade channel for a thing we posted in a cold Auction House.
Someone has to make all those endless swords and shields. Random squirrels in the field can’t be expected to drop them all the time. We can supply the demand. I think a fair few of us actually want to.