What Game Designers Can Learn from MMORPG Animes
There are quite a few VMMORPG (Virtual Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) animes out there. Each one of the games has its premise, world, and situations. A few notable examples are:
SAO (Sword Art Online)
In the year 2022, virtual reality has progressed by leaps and bounds. A massive online role-playing game is launched, powered by “NerveGear” technology. Kazuto Kirigaya, “Kirito,” is one of the select few who get an early copy of the immersive game. The game, “Sword Art Online,” is set in the monster-filled medieval world of Aincrad. Soon after their arrival, the players soon realize they cannot log out. The game’s creator has trapped them in his new world until they beat the game. To make matters worse, Sword Art Online is not all fun and games: if they die in Aincrad, they die in real life. Kirito must adapt to his new reality, fight for his survival, and hopefully break free from his virtual hell.
Haruyuki Arita is an overweight, bullied middle schooler who finds solace in playing online games. His life takes a drastic turn one day. Kuroyukihime, the popular vice president of the student council, topped all his high scores. She then invites him to “Brain Burst,” a program that accelerates its users to the point where time seems to stop. The program also functions as an augmented reality fighting game. To gain more acceleration, users must win duels against other players. However, if a user loses all their points, they will also lose access to Brain Burst forever. Kuroyukihime chose to show Haruyuki Brain Burst because she needs his help to meet the game’s creator. After the girl helps Haruyuki overcome his tormentors, he vows to help her realize her goal, and so begins the duo’s fight to reach the top.
Due to the Elder Tale’s latest update, a MMORPG, 30,000 Japanese players are unable to log out. Among those trapped is a socially awkward college student, “Shiroe.” After the confusion and shock wear off, he sets out to explore the limits of his new reality. He must learn to live in this new world, leading others and negotiating with the NPC “natives” to bring stability to the virtual city of Akihabara. A tale of fantasy, adventure, and politics, the anime explores the elements of gaming through the eyes of a master strategist who attempts to make the best of a puzzling situation.
A popular online game, Yggdrasil, shuts down. The protagonist, Momonga, decides not to log out. This decision transforms him into the image of a skeleton as “the most powerful wizard.” The world continues to change, with non-player characters (NPCs) beginning to feel emotion. Having no parents, friends, or place in society, he strives to take over the new world the game has become.
In the year 2043, Infinite Dendrogram, the world’s first successful full-dive VRMMO, was released. The game promises its players a world full of infinite possibilities. Soon-to-be college freshman, Reiji Mukudori, buys a copy of the game and start playing. With some help from his experienced older brother, Shuu, and his partner Embryo, Reiji embarks on an adventure.
Defense Build ‘Maple’
(Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu): Gaming novice Kaede Honjou tries New World Online, a trendy Japanese VRMMO. Naming her in-game character ‘Maple,’ she sets out on her journey. Because she doesn’t want to get hurt, she puts all her character’s stat points into vitality. Due to this, she can’t move quickly or hit hard. However, due to her high defense, Maple acquires overpowered skills such as Total Defense, Poison Immunity, and Devour. These skills, along with the incredibly powerful items she obtains, allow her to obliterate most enemies in a single hit. After only a few days of playing the game, Maple claims third place in a server-wide event, gaining a reputation as a player who is both unkillable and absurdly powerful. Despite her overpowered character, Kaede has much to learn. As she progresses through the game, she meets new friends and acquaintances, helping her to complete new levels and events. Through all of her adventures, she may even pick up some other crazy skills that exceed all expectations.
These are only scratching the surface of “Game” types of animes.
Questions Game Developers Need to Ask Themselves
There are several questions game designers need to ask themselves in designing a VRMMORPG scenario. Consider the following:
- Who are the Players? This question should be answered both as an in-game and out-of-game question. Because there are two layers here, there can be a disparity in characterization. For instance, a person might be quiet in real life. But in-game, the person can make their character however they want, look however they want. This anonymizing factor allows their characters to say and do things they’d never do in real life.
- What are the player’s skills? For instance, In Sword Art Online, Kirito is a Kendo practitioner, which is showcased in-game with him being an expert swordsman.
- What are the player’s goals? Keep in mind this is asking a different question than asking what the character’s goals are.
- Are the player’s skills linked with what they can do in real life? If so, how? For instance, if a character knows how to fish in real life, will gaining the skill in-game be more useful?
- Are the players trapped there, or do they have a life outside the game?
- If they are unable to escape, is there concern about what happens to their bodies, or is it just hand waved away? As in Sword Art online, if they’re disconnected from the game do they die, or is there no consequence, except you can’t rejoin the game?
- Is it known whether the players being trapped is an accident or or deliberate sabotage?
- Do the players have a life outside the game? If so, what do they do in the time outside it? Are they students? Unemployed? Have a full-time job? Could they be training in a military academy as in Ender’s Game? Why are they able to spend so much time in the game?
Characters & NPCs
- What are the characters? Are they adventurers, people just looking to escape reality, or what? If the world has multiple races, what race are they?
- What are the character’s goals? Such goals might be to
- get a high score in the game
- obtain collectibles to win contests or prizes,
- make a unique magic item
- Rule the World. What’s one of the ways that people typically end up ruling the world? Conquest.
- Win against their rival. Keep in mind in such a scenario that PVP often exists in-game, and because the players can fight (and die) knowing they’ll respawn.
- How real are the NPCs and monsters? Specifically, game designers need to ask the following questions:
- Do the NPCs remember how the PCs treated them? Do the NPCs have a full range of emotions and reactions? Or are they, in essence, “cardboard cutouts” that have limited pre-programmed speech options? Keep in mind this is different than a TTRPG. Any responses that NPCs give will likely be computer-generated on some level or another.
- How sturdy – or consequently – fragile are the NPCs? Are they programmed to get sick all the time?
- What are the pre-programmed plots for the NPCs?
- Will the character’s actions create plots or quests? i.e., if the players kill off a NPC, will other NPCs give a quest to discover who the murderer is?
- If the NPCs or monsters die, are they dead for good, or do they respawn immediately or after a while? In a TTRPG, the death of a NPC typically only affects the players at that table. In a MMORPG, however, a NPC’s passing could potentially affect thousands.
The Game Itself
- On what engine does the game run? What is the player interface? Many times the interface shows up as some sort of helmet in such animes. Could it be something else? Certainly!
- How easily can players navigate the menus? Youtuber Mother’s Basement discusses the interface here. Skip ahead to the 11-minute mark to see his points. He points out that menus wouldn’t be needed or useful in any case because you’re dealing with a mind-synched game. The player could simply think of changing their equipment.
- What happens when the player dies? Do they die in real life? Or are they prevented from re-logging in for a certain amount of real-time or in-game time (or both)?
- If the players are trapped, how has the game itself changed? That is other than the fact that they can’t log out?
- If the players can log out, is there a wiki page for it? Online instructional manual? A community bulletin board? A way for players to see the “best and worst practices?”
The MMO Genre
- How realistic is the game as compared to the MMO genre? Many MMOs have their roles divided up into
- Tanks: the characters able to take damage without flinching
- DPS: the characters who deal massive amounts of damage.
- Healers: those that keep the other characters alive
If there’s not a division of roles, it can get boring quite quickly. Don’t fall into the trap that SAO does and have everything in your
VRMMO game based around swords.
- How realistic is the game as compared to real life? The players in the Log Horizon game need to learn how to hunt because menu-based food is inedible.
- What type of a world is it? Consider these 12 types of VR worlds
- Sports centric
- Classic Tolkien-esque fantasy (e.g., something along the lines of D&D)
- Alien invasion (War of the Worlds)
- 80’s Horror – everything from Friday the 13th to Aliens Franchise
- Collectible Card Game (think Yu-gi-oh). MMORPGs could use the helmet as a way to have the monsters come to life.
- Weird Wild West
- Victorian England
- Vampires or werewolves rule the world
- Far advanced space
- Robots (Transformers: Robots in Disguise)
- Racing (motorcycle or car)
- Time Travel
- How real, how immersive is the world? Typically in VMMORPGs, everything is hyper-real with the ability to do virtually anything the mind can imagine.
- Why are the players playing in this world vs. any other?
There are many VMMORPG animes out there to watch. The set up in these animes makes it clear that a clever DM could run one of these virtual worlds. Try making a VMMORPG as the plot of your next game and see how these ideas can help you out!