Learn about some of the issues and possible solutions to bringing massively-multiplayer online RPGs to console systems...from controls to communities.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are steadily gaining popularity among PC gamers, and with the Internet capabilities of this generation of consoles, developers are looking to expand this genre to consoles. Square’s Final Fantasy XI is already in closed beta in Japan, and there will surely be more to follow if it does well after release. MMORPGs have plenty of design difficulties to begin with, but when using a console, the developers have to work with only a gamepad to cover the controls and communications offered by a keyboard and mouse to PC users.
Easy communication is key to building communities in the game, as you’ll never get to know anyone if you can’t talk to them, and these communities tend to keep players playing (and paying) long after solo players would have quit the game. If the gamepad is the main controller for the game, then basic communication should be possible without having to interrupt play for a clunky software keyboard, or to switch the pad for a keyboard. A macro system similar to the one used in Phantasy Star Online, allowing users to enter general phrases (greetings, incoming monster messages, basic questions/answers, etc) and assign them to a button on the pad, or to a menu which can be brought up with a single button push during combat, would work well in these conditions. Players should be able to set macros for whatever messages they need to send quickly in combat, and leave the keyboard for general chatting when no real action is taking place.
Various chat channels are needed to keep multiple conversations separate and easy to follow. In most current MMORPGs, the channel to send your message to is determined by typing the name of the channel (/guild, /group, /say, etc.) before the message to send, but this isn’t practical with a controller. The Triggers on the pad could be used to cycle between the different channels, with the current selection being the channel that text is sent to by default. Macros would use this default channel too, unless specified otherwise in the macro.
Communities also need a place to converse outside of the game. Free message boards such as Ezboard are the most popular for player communities, but console web browsers tend to be a pain to use on pages not specifically designed for them. A set of official boards designed for a console browser would be more reliable, and the browser could even be integrated into the game, eliminating the need for any outside programs. Guild pages could also be hosted on this server, with private sections for guild business restricted to accounts with characters in the guild.
Console-based MMORPGs present a unique set of challenges, but if developers can work within the system limitations, they will have a whole new playerbase to draw from.