Harvesting Good Ideas
Oct 25, 2009
~4 minute read

Typically in any game you come across, unless it’s utterly terrible (and sometimes, even if it is), there are a couple of ideas that just stand out as good. They may not be part of the core game play; sometimes they may not even be part of the play at all - but they still make the game experience better in a way that hadn’t been thought of much before. They’re the kind of things that you look at and think “wow, I hope more games in the future do this too.”

Yet quite often, those ideas don’t get reused, but instead just wash away as games come and go. In an age where everyone always seems to be looking for innovation in game play and typically settling for less, it’s surprising how many existing good ideas aren’t harnessed to improve games. Thus, the rest of this entry is going to focus on highlighting a couple of the ideas from existing games that I’d really like to see reappear in future releases. I may mention others from time to time in future posts.

Independent Chat Servers

This particular idea comes from Anarchy Online. Most people are familiar with things like the Steam Overlay and Xfire In-Game, which allow instant messaging on those networks while playing games via overlays that show the program’s chat interface. But what if you could go one step farther, and instead communicate directly to people using the actual game chat channels? AO did just this by allowing open access to the chat server without the need to run the game client, allowing players to use programs like AORC to chat with their friends and guild members even when not in-game. The server simply treated your chat as “coming from” wherever the character were logged in as was last logged out at. You could log out in a city and then be able to chat with all the people there while not actually playing if you felt like it, in addition to talking in guild or trade channels.

In addition, Anarchy Online’s open chat server allowed another tool that became very popular among players: the chat bot. Chat bots could take commands via whispers or monitoring channels in the game, and provide services based on those commands to help out with things like trading, raid organization, or even role-playing. For those used to using DKP systems in games with PvE raiding, imagine never having to manually update a DKP site again - instead, the chat bot could be told to update it simply by linking the item to it in a whisper. Want to know what’s in the guild bank while far from a city? Just whisper the guild chat bot and ask it. Instead of manually using in-game mail to send reminders to groups of people, you could have the chat bot automatically ping them with a message the next time they log in instead. There are plenty of possibilities here.

As far as implementation goes, things usually tend to be fairly simple. Many MMOs already separate out the chat servers from the world servers, since the two tasks are usually somewhat independent of each other. Allowing connections to the chat server without a world connection in such a case isn’t as hard a task as it seems - it just means a few special cases to handle the fact that there’s no in-game avatar moving around, and viola, you open up a new world of possibilities.

Leveling Pacts

Many gamers (self included) prefer to play multiplayer games, well, with multiple players. Often times, there’s one or two people in particular that we specifically dedicate our time to playing with, leveling partners so to speak. Yet inevitably the fact that play schedules don’t always 100% match up (even between significant others) leads to situations in which some characters jump a bit ahead of others in experience/levels. This can also be compounded by experience distribution in many games that gives the higher level character a larger portion of the experience from kills - thus widening the gap even further.

City of Heroes/Villians had a novel way of dealing with this - it offered players the option while a new character was still at low level to enter into a leveling pact with another player’s character. Such a pact would result in all experience gained being equally distributed between the characters until the pact was dissolved, even if one of those characters wasn’t even online! It made trying to stay “in sync” with leveling partners literally foolproof. Obviously, this option isn’t for everyone - some people won’t want to feel like they’re pulling too much of the weight if their friends don’t play as much as they do. But for those who really just want to always be able to play with each other without accidentally getting ahead/falling behind, such a concept is perfect. It’d be nice to see more games with this option - potentially for even more than 2 characters.

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