Diablo was a revolution.
Not only did it sell more copies than anyone thought it could, being as it was a game from a dying genre (my, how things have changed), but it took the internet utterly by storm. The online fan community that has grown up around Diablo (and to be fair, many other games as well) is impressive. This site is a great example of the potential the internet has to build communities of people widely separated by geography, but united by a common interest. I am very happy to be apart of Diabloii.net.
But, back to my point…
Diablo was revolutionary in another way as well, and soon the full fruits of that revolution will start paying dividends. I am talking, of course, of Battle.net. Once we had one or two million people clambering through the caves in parties linked by the internet, it was not a large step to persistent worlds and MMORPGs. Massively multiplayer online role playing games seem indeed to be the wave of the future, and are ideally suited to the task of literally creating the fantasy worlds. Now instead of having worlds that are only there when we are, we have true alternate universes that exist in real time. There is already speculation that when Diablo 3
arrives it might be such an online role playing game. I hope not, or at least not entirely. While World of Warcraft may represent the wave of the future, I am hoping the wave changes course a little, or better still splits into two.
The one enormous benefit of a MMORPG is not that it is persistent, or that it is multiplayer. It is that the player will be in almost complete control of his own character. Take for instance World of Warcraft. It looks like this world will huge, and that if someone wants to spend his time wandering through a forest smelling flowers, he may well be able to do just that. There will be a story line (or many), but the option will be there to ignore them and become a wandering hobo.
There is not much of a limit to your ability to explore, either. Certainly not a limit anyone will reach easily. Spending long hours meandering through a virtual wilderness will no doubt drive even lower the average amount of sleep a gamer gets each night. It seems that Blizzard in WoW may have even figured out one of the oldest puzzles in gaming… how to ride horses. Not only can the adventurous hobo wander the virtual world, she can hop on a pony (or wolf) and quite literally ride off into the sunset. How long, I wonder, before the Azeroth Polo League is set up?
Wonderful features these, but as I was saying, I am hoping gaming does not totally follow this route into MMORGPGdom. Why? I like my single player.
For me, the hope of the future is Morrowind. Minus the horses, we have a fully explore-able world, loaded with stuff to do quite apart from the long story line, rather similar to the promise of WoW. Becoming a hobo is entirely possible. So is finding a house and setting up shop. Or hiring yourself out as a mercenary. I even became a rather accomplished swimmer, a skill that always eluded me in reality.
Similar to a MMORPG, this game allows full control of the alternate personality. There are few limits on where to go or what to do. With a few thousand NPCs in the world, even conversations stay reasonably interesting.
Do not get me wrong, Morrowind is far from perfect, and is more notable for its ambition than its gameplay. It does demonstrate, however, where I am hoping gaming goes. I hope that when Blizzard does start work on Diablo 3, that they will take the Morrowinds of the gaming world, and make a fully explore-able, totally manipulatable Sanctuary in single-player. I can only imagine what such a concept would turn into once Blizzard was done working its magic.
Of course, we cannot give up multiplayer! But then, who says the two cannot coexist? Blizzard already has the groundwork in place. Already you create separate characters for single-player or realm play. Just extend this concept. In the future, instead of Battle.Net as we know it, Blizzard implements a MMORPG style multiplayer set up for all its role playing games. The realm characters will exist in a persistent world, just like the WoW characters. This world would always be under construction, always have things added to it, with new items and new quests and even new territories arriving periodically. In the same box, however, you would have the single player game in the same world. New stuff added in the multiplayer game could be added to the single-player game via patches, or some other update system, just like Runewords were supposed to be in D2:LOD.
A perfect concept? Nope. But I think one that deserves a look. The computing industry is getting close to the place it would need to be for the average system to be able to create and run such vast worlds. The concepts that would make such a dual-game possible are already established an accepted. The framework is in place. Now, all we need is a release date.
Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.