Pretension Warning: Contains the words 'Postmodern' and 'Abstraction'
We had a lovely chat last week about the way persistent online games are evolving—in particular, how innovation is becoming more possible. As the industry moves on to the fresh scavenging grounds of the MOBA genre and MMO players are becoming savvier and discerning about the type of content they want, the way we think about MMOs is changing.
Inertia, nostalgia and confirmation bias all still play their part, of course. It's not difficult to find examples of all of these in large scale discussions of any game, but it seems there is a growing sense that things don't have to be done the way they've always been done. An argument from tradition is, after all, no argument at all.
In the past a major barrier to innovation has been the massive investment and risk involved in releasing an MMO, and once it was loose, keeping the beast fed with a stream of content and features to maintain a healthy playerbase seemed like an impossible task.
Last week I mentioned No Man's Sky as a specific example of how the industry is changing, as it seems to encapsulate many of the current trends while still managing to be fresh and exciting in a way that the stagnant behemoths around it at E3 couldn't compete with. It was made by just a few people who wanted to make something really special, in a time where that has become more possible than ever before.
With no points, levels or specific goals, emphasis on exploration and emergent gameplay, being voxel based with gathering and crafting being core mechanics, No Man's Sky could be considered a Minecraft clone. I do not mean that in a derogatory way at all, I use the term only to make a point. Are you ready for the point? Here is the point.
As we of a certain age are aware, there was a time when every first-person shooter was called a Doom clone, it was fertile new ground for the industry to explore and it took a while for the genre to mature to the point that games could be considered on their own merits. Once we stopped thinking of these games as clones we could start seeing what possibilities existed.
There have been a fair few games labelled Minecraft clones, including Landmark, which is why it's important that No Man's Sky has largely avoided the tag – not because the comparison is offensive, but because it means the game is being considered on its own merit. We look at the game and marvel at what it is and what it could be without resorting to shorthand.
We made it! I got around to talking about Landmark, finally.
When asked to explain Landmark, most players resort to a shorthand version involving a reference to Minecraft. There are similarities, of course, but the comparison only tells part of the story. I think it's important to acknowledge this as we move into the new era of Landmark + Player Studio.
For me, it comes down to a sense of perspective. Landmark as it exists now is heavy on building while light on everything else. This is why many players see it as a building tool; a Minecraft creative mode with a bit of gathering hassle thrown in, and largely they are correct—for now.
What some players seem unaware of is the fact that while the building tools are very powerful and robust, they are not the only systems that will shape and define Landmark as a game.
The fascinating point for me, and one that is often ignored, is that Landmark is incredibly meta.
What I mean by that is Landmark as a game is a game about making games. It's an abstraction, and one that could shake the way we think about how games are made.
This isn't by accident; the original conception of Landmark was as a set of game making tools that could be used by anyone, but were robust enough to make a professional product. We've seen the building tools, but that's only one piece of the puzzle.
In the not too distant future, we as Landmark players will be able to enjoy the sandbox gameplay that Landmark provides. We'll be exploring voxel based procedural worlds, we'll be building and fighting and gathering and crafting, all in a way that isn't too far removed from what Minecraft offers.
However, while we can do all of this in the game, it doesn't end there.
While these activities will form the backbone of the experience, we will not be limited by them. Imagine that: game mechanics that exist to free the player in other games will provide the framework for an even greater level of possibilities in Landmark, all within the context of a massively multiplayer world.
While Landmark shares many characteristics of the 'voxel builder' genre, the fact that it exists as an MMO and as an abstraction with multiple layers of gameplay means that, if I were less self-conscious of my leanings towards the pretentious, I could even describe it as postmodern.
What does Landmark say about the way games are headed? It's a sandbox MMO you can build games in while being a tool to build at least one other standalone MMO. And it's free.
Maybe the next time we're asked what Landmark is, we can give a more interesting answer than 'Minecraft on steroids'.
Here we arrive, in the future. Hopefully this is a future where our understanding of Landmark has benefited from the previous few minutes of reading, and one in which you'll be glad to know we'll be talking about what all this could mean for EverQuest Next next time in Your Next!
Either that or we've slipped into some horrific alternate dimension where people with opinions on the internet are spat at for hinting at post-structuralist ideas making their way into game design, and Spock has a little beard.