Have you ever felt that something was amiss on Rpg Video Games? If you ever played the early pen and paper version, you most likely did.
The premise of the original Rpg game is both simple and brilliant: You can be whoever you want within an amazing and unique universe. It's like being inside an epic poem, bending the story to your own will.
But ain't the Role Playing Games all about the power of choice? shouldn’t it go beyond choosing what profession you master or what race where you born?
Pen and paper power.
You know, a great thing about a Dungeons and Dragons session is the timelessness the players involved get trapped in. When heat is up, you can literally become oblivious to whatever worries you had before wearing your character’s skin. And not because of "gameplay", game mechanics or graphics: The thrill of the well-played Rpg lies on the impact of every decision that you take in game and the way it manifests along the story.
You cannot really expect that sort of experience on a Console or PC Rpg; the games are limited by both hardware and software. There's virtually no way to insert the myriad of possibilities a imagination-fueled pen and paper game offers on a video game.
But there's a lot of potential when it comes to, say, hundreds or thousands of players.
The potential of the MMO as True Rpgs.
The power of the MMO to gather simultaneous players is something very unique.
Games like Dungeons and Dragons Online, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings online offers their players great gameplay and brilliantly architected worlds whose content summed up could probably surpass the ammount of documentation and history of small, young countries. They've been tagged as Rpg's but as their console counterparts, they act more like action games with elements such as character customization and leveling up.
And while there are groups dedicated to actually roleplay their characters inside those worlds, the fun would be spoiled as soon as you find out all other warriors around realm had the same mission as a rite of passage (for that’s a pre-multiplayer background playsession). Or when the quest you've just completed alongside your friends is soon re-activated by another group just a second after you've left a dungeon.
How come there's no real Role Playing Game on the market (or at least, none notorious enough)? Is that a field so impossible to explore?
Arelith isn't a game by itself, it's a persistent world created within the Neverwinter Nights toolset by players and can be reached through the game's online servers. Their number one rule is Roleplay. Keep in character as long as you’re logged in. No matter if you’re a pesty halfling thief or a big, abscent-minded half-orc juggernaut. You’re doing it right as long as you’re wearing your character’s boots.
The server is one of the most popular Neverwinter Nights online modules ever. Approximately 12 Thousand original CD keys are registered, with about 50 Thousand characters in store. Over the years, they’ve developed: A huge ammount of brilliantly designed areas for their players to explore; Modifications to the NWN core engine (such as new classes, Deity presence, Hunger / thirst meter, etc...) and extensive material regarding how the game works. It requires no packs other than the official Bioware updates to run and the server is maintained via player donations.
According to their co-creator, known as Jjjerm, exporting the pen and paper experience to digital media was the point of Arelith all the time; having his RPG group scattered across the country was a huge motivation for it.
On his own opinion about the server, he says that “(Arelith) it's pretty cool, because you get all the personal and direct influence of a PnP game, with enough other players on doing their own thing to give a nice "backdrop" of activity in the world.” And that really makes a world of difference: the impact of personal and mass-driven decisions is visible everywhere. Guilds are named after heroes and villains, statues are raised in praise to the legendary and books about local history are written - and all of this is player driven content.
Even the lead roles are assigned to players: The Mage’s guild leader, the Elven King and the Dungeon Masters - players working as arbiters and plot creators for the persistent world. In order to assure players will be motivated to roleplay their characters, experience can be obtained through their Role Playing Rating, a gradual, continuous prize in experience points earned by those who constantly stay in character and make the server a better place to play. A greater RP rating may also give access to special classes and races.
And it works - As soon as you’re comfortable with the interface, the game turns itself into a big, original Dungeons and Dragons experience. The personality of other characters are limited only by their players and instead of a set number of possibilities and results you would expect in any other digital RPG, Arelith provides the most realistic social experience you could expect from a fantasy video game. And just as a reminder, Neverwinter Nights is a 2002 game, with squary graphics and a non-updated DnD system and that doesn’t seems to be a problem at all.
A Little bit of personal experience
I’ll now swiftly mention a short life story of a character on Arelith, just in order to exemplify the vast array of possibilities and how deep and rich in-game stories can be. I’ll use a character of mine as an example, Edmund Young.
Edmund was a street urchin since he ran away from his homeland, ruled by a heartless Tyrant .
After character creation:
Edmund went to Arelith seeking a way to make a living. One day he was robbing the local grave, when a group of undead knocked him down unconscious. A knight was passing by the graveyard, returning from a undead-hunting mission. He saved Edmund’s life, who became indebited to the knight and started to train under his tutelage. Edmund became his squire and part of the Benwick’s community (a fortress ran by priests and paladins also known as Light Keep). He raised up ranks, trained new soldiers, worked as an intelligence agent for the keep, had brief romances, long friendships and gave his life in a battle for freedom.
Now, friends, i’ve played this character during a 3 month vacation. Imagine how extensive would be the biography of a character player over 4 years! (there are characters even older around there). It’s something quite unique, you’ve got to admit that!
Now, the MMO market have been around for years. Wouldn’t it be great to se an AAA under the same guidelines as Arelith? Would it be really hard to implement it on large scale?
Perhaps it would be a challenge in many aspects, but truth is, it’s a poorly explored branch of the MMO market. And it would be fantastic to have next generation games as accessible and fun as Arelith around for a change.