I have found it very interesting reading reviews of Star Trek Online being posted across the blogosphere (Syp from Bio Break has compiled a cross-section here). Since the NDA has dropped, I have started seeing more positive reviews – the theory being that those most disappointed with a game in beta are most likely to break NDA because they don’t care about being kicked out – and that has put my mind to ease somewhat on whether there will be a sustained population to play with in the coming months. I have been reading the negative reviews carefully as well, because it often amuses me to see people criticize the very features that appeal to me most in-game.
I wonder if I should attribute my gaming preferences to my MUD background, or to having gotten my start in graphical MMOs with Guild Wars, or the fact that, unlike what seems like every other gamer in the free world, I never did get into Everquest, WoW, UO, or Asheron’s Call. That very admission might be enough for many gamers to strip me of the “MMO” I place before “gamer” – when Guild Wars’ rightful place in the realm of MMOs is still actively being debated today, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.* However, this background clearly indicates that while I did spend many hours chained to my computer in pursuit of the next boss drop in StrangeMUD, grinding gold to score trinkets for my house, or hanging out in chat, buying and selling items on the auction house waiting for enough players to be available for a roaming group, this is not the same experience as someone who saw the world graphically open up to them for the first time in EverQuest.
The worlds of the MUDs I played were not worlds in the same way as MMOs; even if you had to travel across the continent to reach a destination, it would always be simpler and faster to create an alias for all your w;w;w;w;s;s;s;w;d;e;e;e;u needs and set your wimpy to 50% than to physically point your avatar north and start running, dodging mobs along the way. The death penalties could be just as harsh as in MMOs of the time, the need for grouping and a player-driven economy just as prevalent, but there was arguably less time spent living in many text-based worlds than in a graphical one. I never thought of the MUDs I played as anything other than games, even as friendships were forged in-game and maintained out of it.**
And so it is that I have no desire to see hundreds of people surround me in any given location in-game; instancing is my preference because they replicate the cozy feeling I had playing MUDs where even with hundreds of players online, only a dozen at most could be expected to be in the same room as I was. I have no problem with fast travel, as I bore of riding for half an hour studying the countryside after the first time. Graphics are paramount in any MMO I play; I chose my imagination and text descriptions over EverQuest in 1999. Death penalties repulse me, for even when they existed in MUDs, the use of aliases and city recalls generally made corpse retrieval no more time-consuming than a spirit run in WoW. Funnily enough, these are traits that critics attribute to so-called “WoW-kiddies”, or gamers raised on consoles, though I was making use of them in 1995.
Are these two styles of play so very divergent that we cannot enjoy the same kinds of games? Am I the only MUDder who sees the current evolution of MMOs drawing closer to her prior gaming experiences, while MMO gamers see those same games as moving away from the virtual world model that captured their imaginations?
Edit: I am aware that the branch of MMOs starting with EverQuest and those following its example are based on the DikuMUD model. I still maintain that they play differently enough to warrant asking the question.
*I choose to describe myself as an MMO gamer anyway, because it is the category I most closely identify with; I do not play FPSes, single-player games, or console games, while I have at least sampled most MMOs, and maintained subscriptions to several. Also, nyah-nyah-nyah.
**Having not played every MUD in existence, I cannot verify that no MUD exists as a virtual world. However, I’m not certain what this would look like without verging into MUSH or MOO territory.