The Underfoot - The Metroid Principal
The Underfoot - The Metroid Principal
Submitted by Lewis B on Wednesday July 31, 2013 - 05:22
Empty low-level zones are a commonality all MMOGs share. As a result of the levelling treadmill, the certainty that these stepping stone areas become deserted within several months has a sad predictability.
I've yet to see a single MMOG past its honeymoon period where there are enough new players flooding the servers to ensure they are in fact busy and bustling. There are of course various reasons for this desertion, the primary being the fact “levels” are a cornerstone of the genre. Removing levels entirely would have its benefits but when tried previously, it can often lack a sense of direct character progression while the structure within the game (for not having levels) often leaves players wondering what it is they should actually do.
Many developers have battled with this issue, with concepts such as character scaling (you “down-level” in lower level zones) or trying to encourage open world encounters with valuable rewards in this starting zones, all for the intention of drawing high level characters away from high level zones. Sadly, all of it has failed as it has been too lightly implemented.
If we are to keep levels (which I'm sure Everquest Next will) then I believe Metroid Prime represents perfect principals to encourage players of any level back to low level zones through its inverted progression system. Effectively, you go forward through the game in order to go back.
For anyone unfamiliar with Metroid Prime, the game (similarly to Zelda) always begins with you having very few skills or weapons. As you travel from world to world, you'll encounter many routes, pathways and obstacles you cannot overcome without progressing through the game. The intention of this is to cause you to retread your steps, when stronger, to proceed even further through the story. For example, at the very beginning of the game you may encounter a ledge you cannot reach without a double-jump. Many hours later and several planets away, you will receive a double-jump ability that now grants you the opportunity to return where you started.
It is a design philosophy that is not only ingenious (you get to experience all worlds multiple times) but one that I believe, with a little effort by developers, lend itself perfectly to the MMOG genre.
The greatest problem facing low-level zones is the fact that developers insist on tipping the scales of end-game content away from the zones we start in, as opposed to spreading all that maximum level goodness across all areas, in equal measure. For example, resource nodes such as ore or herbs (similarly to the level progression system) scale in potency: the highest level nodes being at the end of the game. Would it not be sensible to apply a 'Metroid principal' here and instead have the highest level nodes mixed amongst the lowest levels as a guaranteed method of pulling high level players back and better yet, spread specific rare nodes throughout all zones irrespective of level category.
We could take the 'Metroid principal' even further and have the highest level dungeons in a variety of zones (disregarding level restrictions) to further bolster the swell of an area, while also ensuring that non-instanced events or boss encounters are also spread evenly. Most importantly, guaranteeing that loot obtained on low level zones (alongside a robust character scaling system) actually rewards players appropriately, to encourage a maximum level characters to return, would go a long way.
Lastly, there are a few more things I feel SOE could implement in order to encourage high level players revisiting low level zones. What I must stress however is all of these suggestions should be carefully implemented to ensure that low and mid level zones arent too favourable for high level players, otherwise the potential to flip the problem (high level zones being deserted) is a real possibility.
Allow crafting to be undertaken anywhere as long as you have a mobile craft station, to pull players away from capital cities.
Implement zone-wide bonuses for things such as crafting, gathering or gold gain that all players in that zone receive. Make the value of this higher in lower level zones.
Add mini-games in the open world with generous and unique rewards.
Add unique “champion” enemies who carry rare items and crafting materials to encourage high level players to return.
Add world incentives or objects in zones that players must fight for in order to access/unlock higher level dungeons.
Add areas in low and mid level zones that are blocked off (similar to Metroid Prime) that high level players can return back to, to complete after they've obtained a specific item or completed a specific quest.
Ensure quest chains or personal storylines flow from high level zones through low and mid level zones, to encourage footfall.
Ensure that guild content (and possibily Guild Halls) are located random zones to ensure they aren't centralised in the end game.
Mix or split zones so that monsters and content of different levels intermingle. This would encourage low level and high level player participation and cooperation.
I'm interested to hear your suggestions to fix the age old problem, so please let me know in the comments below!