Saturday, August 04, 2007

MMO Studies: The Prototype


What a lot of developers do is race ahead to modelling and production and half way through writing documents and really just get into such a mess they don’t know what to do next. You have deadlines ran way over due and team are loosing motivation. So start planning first. I recommend not to go straight into your Full on MMO production.

The Method

Write out your concept document explaining the game idea, the target platform and of course the target audience. Write down some key features your game will have. Once you have completed this get a Prototype document drafted. Now your in pre-production phase. This is a big learning curve. Don’t get anyone onboard until you have a small prototype to show off, it also shows you know the engine and development throughout. As a producer you need to know these things otherwise you can fall in to all sorts of pitfalls.
The prototype document should be just a small extract of your MMO world. Get a small world up and running. Below is an example extract from the “Ancient World Online” prototype document. It just explains what the player should see. The sort of content within the world. A tip is to keep it simple and fresh. Don’t go crowding a huge amount of complex particles, animations and scripts. Keep it simple and easy.

“With the demo we need to get the design idea across by using visual communication. As starting off in the town centre of Delarey we will have many things going on, and many static characters all around us. Traders/Merchants and market sellers all going about there daily work. Also some static models will represent players looking for guilds, selling items or just sitting down, some may be fighting others just thinking. The centre is the central point of the city and must show the most life around. The centre also has the cities 4 most important buildings looking over it. The huge sky scraper of city hall, the galactic space federation council head office, the city bank and also the EUCT HQ. Within the city centre there will be recruitment tents for the EUCT and also quest givers. Vendors and trainers will also be present.
The city will have many places to visit such as the bars and clubs present within the city also a casino will be shown but won’t be allowed to go inside it. The life on the streets will be people sat out side the bars talking each other up, others standing and drinking and some law enforcement there to keep things clean. Bouncers will also be present on the doors. If you have a space ship and fly into Delarey you will probably want to land in its big player airbase. Were players can store there ships with safety, also can gain repairs from the local mechanics. When in here you will see around 10 present space craft which you will be able to fly once you have saved up enough money to buy one.

Wondering down the streets pass the player airbase you will see Information desks for players and also some mission terminals and cash machines by the walls. Walking out near the outskirts of the city you will come to the cities space port were people can have planetary travel by using public transport.

Walking around past the space port you will come to some small hilled areas and grass fields, in the fields you may notice players meditating (displaying some special particles flying around them) and some on the hills camping out with a camp fire and pitched tents. Journeying passed the hills you will start to come to the coast and there in front is a small player base set on the sands. It is under attack from another player and a small battle has begun. Explosions, fires and bellowing smoke can be seen all around. “

What is a key as well in a prototype document is to list the limitations. When I was designing AWO I had many limitations from using a Evaluation package. It’s a good skill to find different ways to get around the limitations. Finding different ways to show off what you want your mmo to look and play like is a key essence. It shows you have skill and have the drive for your game vision. Below is the Limitations extract from AWO.


As using just the Evaluation package of BigWorlds engine we do have many limitations, these are listed below:

1. No scripted entities as we do not have the server to set up on.
2. No Space chooser (terrain mesh program) meaning a small terrain to work with.
3. No means of showing of “Space and combat”.
4. No Showing off of Direct Control NPC and Pet System.”

So what does your prototype need to show. Well for one the games theme and visuals are a key when someone looks at it, but many prototypes are used to get across the game play. The game play for example in Ancient World Online has measurements of RPG and RTS as well as FPS system all built in, but of course the prototype just didn’t allow that thanks to the Evalu engine. So how do you get around that.

Now when looking at RPG system. Your engine may have the capabilities to have shops and vendors even a basic combat system. Well if it does use it. Some engines especially on Evalu don’t let you script anything. So came up with the idea to have speech bubbles above the NPCS with an example speech of a vendor. You couldn’t click it or interact but at least it showed that was what the vendor did.

It’s very easy to get the prototype underway. Create your terrain, your models, then your NPC’s then concentrate on the rest such as skill and combat systems.

Once you have a visually sufficient prototype and shows the game play flow then you can get a team on board as the prototype acts as a sales pitch to your team. You need to have your team buy into your idea and the best way is to give them something to run around in. If your team isn’t motivated by the idea then there are big chances your MMO will fail. Hold on though, don’t quit. Ask them what they want to see in there. Improvements and so fourth. Be prepared to take a lot of criticism your like a mother protecting her new born but you must let everyone have a say. If its just you, your making a MMO targeted for just yourself you need as much input from your team and sometimes the public to help truly build a MMO.

No comments: