As with every other online world, Agon will be maintained and controlled by a dedicated staff – for the sake of game immersion, let’s call them a higher power. The acronym ‘GM,’ to players, stands for more than just two words, but for a governing force that has the power to make or break one’s experience. They work for the people you send your blood money to. Supposedly, they are there to help you.
These pseudo-deities lie in hiding, listening to the curses and prayers of every player with the audacity to summon them for the petty, earthly crises that ever seem to plague the mortal population. Snag your foot on a rock and get stuck in the mud? Call a GM. Witness an evildoer exploiting game mechanics? You guessed it; complain away. As a player who pays monthly to partake in the game, it is your right – nay, your duty – to send your troubles to their message queue. Think of it this way: if it wasn’t for our ceaseless bitching, they would be out of a job. Now that’s something you can take to the bank.
It’s fair to assume that nearly every Game Master’s job is clearly outlined and, with varying duties between online games, basically the same. They’re the out-of-character characters that act as a mediator between us and the company, the ones that have been granted the means to help when help is needed. Most gamers already know what to expect when contacting one.
But who says they have to stop there?
I, for one, think that these high profile characters could be put to even better use in games like Darkfall. I know for a fact that it’s been done before, and if done right, an event triggered by GM involvement can be a refreshing and exciting change from the everyday, scripted monotony we normally consider fun. We should be looking back to when the original title (or even the title of Dungeon Master) was given to those who shaped fantasy worlds, not merely moderated them. Nothing would give an online world a breath of life like the touch of human direction.
When the developers revealed to IGN’s RPG Vault the demigods of Agon, one thought immediately came to mind: who’s gonna be controlling these bad boys? These behemoths of flesh and steel (of which we’ve only witnessed one thus far: Baron Pointy-Shoes) that would tower over man and building alike – will there be a human mind behind them? In truth, I’d be a little disappointed if they ended up being just another predictable artificial intelligence. I mean, what better way to spice things up than to have a sinister, whimsical developer loaded on caffeine, cigar in teeth, stomping on crowds of loyal gamers in the form of a giant? It would only be shameful to pass up such an opportunity, in my eyes.
But I don’t think the possibilities should end there, either.
For instance, we’re all familiar with NPC quests, of course, as we should be; they take up the majority of our time in RPGs, multiplayer and single player alike. Most are fairly straightforward, no? “Kill 10 pig-men;” “Collect 12 human scalps;” “Bring me 6 bears’ gall bladders;” or maybe they get creative and ask you to “defeat the Evil Manbearpig in his Lair of Eternal Swine.” These are examples of what one may find on a gamer’s daily to-do list. Eventually, after enough people have gone through the motions, there is established a consensus among us that dictates exactly what we should do next, and what the quickest and most painless way to do it might be. In the end, all this does is take most of the uncertainty and excitement out of the quests themselves, making them quite predictable. Other methods of mixing up the grind have been tried, some met with varying success, but no groundbreaking techniques have been implemented to my knowledge. Don’t even get me started on randomly generated missions…
So what kind of solution should we be looking for? Well, to make questing new and fresh in a place where you might know the layout of the missions like the back of your pale, clammy hand, why not base the current needs of the townsfolk on current events? Have a GM playing the role of an important character hand out tasks that might relate in some way to what’s happening here and now. In a game like Darkfall, where the gamers will be the ones controlling entire cities and waging the most massive wars, what better way to reflect their actions in the game’s content than by having the “quest NPCs” send us out to join the fray, in one way or another. Be it hunting down a notorious band of pirates or helping to set up an ambush for an enemy’s supply caravan, the possibilities are virtually endless. With a bit of a creative touch, it would make for a much more inventive quest system that would ever strive to keep us on our toes.
Another type of event that could prove as an interesting distraction could be a critter invasion (undead, dragons, demons). Who says that the only large scale battles have to be initiated by us? Have a few GMs leading a NPC army of shambling zombies and skeletons attack a large town, watch the chaos ensue. Say a certain faction has held the seat of power for ages, none having the numbers or resources to challenge them; an unexpected event like this could help balance out the scales, swinging the pendulum back over to the other side.
Now on the other hand, one would always have to make sure that regulations and guidelines are being followed – in all of these scenarios – lest some complain about a GM abusing his or her power, or maybe even playing favorites. Accusations like that can sometimes spell disaster for employees or even entire companies if not kept in check. Even so, sometimes it’s worth changing things around and taking a few risks to be innovative. The crew at Aventurine/Razorwax has been pushing boundaries and braking molds since their original vision of the ideal PvP oriented MMORPG quite a few years ago (how long has it really been?) They are no strangers to taking risks, and it’s earned them and their game a remarkably loyal following.
Being but a humble gamer and eager follower myself, I don’t really expect these ideas to make it anywhere. But then again, seeing how the developers have already gone and implemented most of the great features I’ve always wanted to see in a MMOG, who knows? For now, here’s to dreaming, and to always looking for ways to improve the great games we spend so much of our lives playing.