When Elder Scrolls Online's creative director Paul Sage looks around at today's MMORPG combat mechanics, he sees that something is lacking.
Asked about his thoughts on modern MMORPG combat design, he told Gamasutra at E3 this week, "There hasn't been a lot of innovation in combat, from several games out there. I'm not going to name any."
Paul Sage is leading the creative vision for The Elder Scrolls Online, the first game from Zenimax Online. It's the sister studio to The Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda Game Studios, home of hit single-player RPGs.
"One of the things we're trying to do [with our MMORPG] is get that feeling of active and reactive combat. So my take is that you have to feel like, 'This is really kind of like The Elder Scrolls' [single player RPG] combat. It's really active. I'm actually surprised, and it's fun to play with other people.'
"I do think [combat] has stagnated from game-to-game, somewhat, but that's why it's a challenge to us. The gauntlet's been thrown down. Can we make it fun? Can we make it compelling?"
Sage said Zenimax Online "absolutely" seeks feedback from developers at Bethesda. "We do talk back and forth. We send things to them and say, 'Hey, what do you think about this?' And they're really good at responding and saying, 'We like this, but maybe if you tweak it this way...' Bethesda has been absolutely fantastic about having us work with their IP."
'MMO' is not game mechanics
Players have come to expect "MMOs" to play a certain way. But Sage said the studio is breaking away from the idea of an MMO as a genre of games. That frees up the development team creatively when thinking about how to implement satisfying game mechanics.
"An 'MMO' is not game mechanics, it's not a genre in an of itself," he explained. "You can have an MMO that has nothing to do with an RPG, necessarily.
"The big thing is that it has got to be a compelling RPG first," he added. "There has to be growth mechanics that compel you. As a player, you have to have that feeling of 'If I just stay up for another hour, I might get this one thing.' And if you don't have that feeling, it's not what we want. We want you to be compelled to think 'I want to find out that thing that's around the corner.'"
Aside from strong combat, he said exploration is a big focus for The Elder Scrolls Online. Sage added that the social aspect of The Elder Scrolls: Online is particularly important, but said the studio isn't revealing details of those features quite yet. "That is one of the cornerstones [of the game's design]. I will say that playing with your friends and meeting strangers, and being able to just do it in a way where you're informed, it's a big thing for us."
For more reports from E3 2012, be sure to check out Gamasutra's live coverage.