The Ego Trip: Kits and Characters in MMOs

What is it that is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken? You! You’re the same. No matter where you go, there you are. It’s always the same old you. Let me suggest that you take a vacation from yourself. I-I know it sounds wild. It is the latest thing in travel. We call it the Ego Trip. – Total Recall

But sometimes, I want it to be the same. Three rogues, three games; all short, sneaky, mischievous, stabby, hard to find, and deadly. And I’ve been playing her since 1979.

There, she was defined by numbers on a endlessly-erased character sheet; bags of holding, 50′ lengths of rope and such scrawled along the bottom. I treasured that paper; that was Tipa. (Or rather, that was Smoken. She was Neutral Evil. Because Smoken is a Bad Hobbit.)

We rotated DMs, and usually we had characters for each campaign, but sometimes, if the DM okayed it, we could use a character from someone else’s game. Somehow, she fell through an interdimensional portal to this new world and new adventure; and if she found her way back or was trapped there forever was up to the whim of Fate and the Gods.

Today’s MMOs can’t support having characters wander from game to game. But… *I* wander from game to game, and I’d like my characters to have more continuity among the games I play than simply their name.

The first, very basic, thing games could implement: Import Character.

New games have their character creation process; in some, like City of Heroes, creating a character is nearly a game in itself. You can waste a lot of time in new games trying to figure out just what everything is and what everything means… it can be hard to express the gaming style you enjoy – for instance, stealth-based close quarter melee combat, two weapon fighting style – in each game’s metaphor.

Example: We Export Tipa from EQ1.

First Name: Tipa

Family Name: Tanglewood

Race: Halfling (see definition)

Home: Rivervale

Height: 1 meter

Weight: 30 kilos

Hair: Orange

Class: Rogue (see definition)

Likes: Friends, Pie, Exploring, Pranks

Dislikes: Elves, Goblins, Standing Still

Rogue: Melee, Sneak, Hide, Stealth, Two Weapon, Poison, Backstab, Dagger Proficiency, Cloth Armor, Leather Armor, Chain Armor

Halfling: Gnome/Human Cross, Short, Infravision, Innate Hide, Innate Sneak

Level: 70 (100%)

Optional Levels: 450

Now we import this into World of Warcraft:

First name we take. There are no last names in WoW, so skip that. Race… no halflings in WoW, looks at the description, sees EQ1 halflings are a mix of gnome and human, could go either way, height cinches it as gnome. Hair orange, check. Class rogue – EQ and WoW rogues are essentially the same, so that comes over. Armor proficiencies are class based in both games, so that’s ignored. Skip anything about level or gear, you start from scratch in WoW. Likes pie, so suggest the Cooking optional profession.

Now let’s apply this to City of Heroes/Villains, a game with very little in common with EQ.

First and last name we skip. CoH/CoV doesn’t deal with civilian identities, only super ones. Short and stocky. Likes orange. No “rogue” class per se, but the definition of rogue makes it similar to the “Stalker” class. Give a selection of starting powers to match, an initial character design similar, and in an instant, I have a character I’ll probably be very comfortable playing.

Before we can even think of implementing this feature between MMOs, the designers of said MMOs would have to agree upon the format for a character file, what information should be in it, whether the user could create their own file and so on. Think of it: a character creator that lets you create a base character that can be read into any MMO! EQ2 did exactly that; you could design your character months ahead of the game’s release. And I did, and all the EQ2 characters I play were among the six I designed in advance.

Why would a MMO designer care about this at all?

Continuity. If you want someone to try out your new MMO, let them tell you a little bit about themselves so that you can recommend, based on their characters in other games, the kind of character and abilities that most closely matched.

For instance, let’s say I want to try out Hero’s Journey. Maybe tomorrow I’ll play with the character creation they have, but right now I know that I want whatever they have that is closest to my EQ1 rogue so I can dive right in and know the choices that were suggested to me will give me as similar to a playstyle in HJ as I have in EQ1.

I’d be much more likely to try that game.

It’s not a new idea. Fantasy Hero and GURPS and even Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, all pencil-and-paper games, simplified character creation by saying, you could spend a few nights making your character (which is how long it took with FH and GURPS, as well as a character conference with your GM; I wrote a program in BASIC to help with this process for my Fantasy Hero campaign, Timespan); OR you could just choose our THIEF kit, which is a selection of abilities made by game experts with no hidden gotchas.

Granted, this may seem a little too much work for a game with such a streamlined character creation process as WoW (lessee… choose female, gnome, rogue, orange hair, choose name, that’s it).

EQ2… Six “rogue” classes available. Swashbuckler, Ranger, Assassin, Brigand, Dirge and Troubador? Assassin seems closest, but halflings can’t start the game as assassins. Import would correctly choose “swashbuckler” and the new EQ2 player could worry about the subtle differences between the scout subclasses once they are more familiar with the game. (And as soon as they like, betray to Freeport and finally become the class they would have chosen if they could).

Importing, say, my EQ2 troubador into EQ1. Name and race come right over. EQ2 bards are far more like EQ1 rogues than EQ1 bards, and anyway EQ1 doesn’t let halflings sing, so rogue is chosen. Religion? Well, until the expansion, EQ2 characters have no religion, but Bristlebane is the god of rogues, so that selection is suggested. Then six stats with little guidance to what is good. Following what you think you know from AD&D, or from what EQ1 suggests, will steer you wrong. The most important stat for all characters is STAMINA, followed by (for melee) STRENGTH. The import process deftly navigates that treacherous shoal, stopping you from mistakenly putting all your points in AGILITY, as you might expect from EQ2.

It’d be a handy ability to have. Giving people a way to instantly move their playstyle to a new game will encourage people to try unfamiliar games and give the skills they built up in one game some meaning in another.

Legacy games trying to retain their players perhaps have little incentive to make it easy for people to try new games, but let’s be real: The future of MMOs is a player who plays one game heavily, but likes to dabble in one or two others. That is how people play. And the games that set their players free will keep them longest.

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Web developer for a Connecticut-based insurance company that's over 200 years old! Also a bicycler, a blogger, a kayaker, and a hunter of bridges.