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However, if any real control were given to the players, they would ruin the concept faster than a heckler at a play. As such, many rules end up being put in place to prevent that from happening. Also, due to the fact that there is very rarely any single overarching character trait (outside of being a "hero" or "adventurer" or what have you), the developers have to write all plots with that in mind. This leads to a perpetually static world. Rules for the world are as follows:
Perpetual World Rules:
- Every NPC that has a permanent role and a part in the plot is immune to death or otherwise being unable to return to said role.
- Every organization with a public face that exists when you start the game will continue to exist no matter what. Kingdoms never fall and companies never go out of business.
- There will never be any sort of large geological change. Will that Floating Continent with the horde of baddies fall after you defeat the dark lord? Nope. Will the underground ruins sealing off the evil god crumble after you defeat it (or probably just seal it off some more)? Nope.
- On a similar note, any faction's general outward attitudes will never change during the plot. If they're at war with another faction, they will always be at war with that faction.
- Similar to the above is that the whole world is at a stalemate. Will the orcs that have a hideout within less than a mile of the kingdom ever make an attempt to invade? Not in any way where they could possibly succeed or be completely driven out.
- As a corollary to all of the above, any major changes that do occur are basically a whole Retcon to the game done by the developers. For example, if they decide that a kingdom was destroyed, then everything in the game will be changed to reflect that it happened in the past.
- You, the player, are the least interesting character in the story by far. If you have any lines, they are prompt choices scripted in a But Thou Must! style and are usually extremely generic. The other characters do all the talking for you. As such, it's actually fairly rare to have scenes interacting with a single person for very long.
- Related to the above, you also play the smallest role in the story. You are little more than a glorified delivery service and bodyguard, fighting all the big bad guys and just being a mute witness to the scripted plot's main character NPC's.
- However, practically every quest they hand you will do its level best to convince you that the fate of the world rests in your hands. If enemies are ready to blow up the castle, rest assured the guards will turn to you, the innocent bystander, with "you have to go stop them or all is lost!" coupled with some lame excuse why they can't do it themselves. Though, of course, Take Your Time, and try to ignore how this same quest gets offered to every other player who passes this way, and the castle never does get blown up, and....
- The longer a story is, the fewer options you truly get to influence it. The only possibility of Multiple Endings come from tiny, self-contained quests (and these will rarely have any impact on the rest of the game world).
- No matter how many people you bring along (or, indeed, there are in the entire world), the story treats it as though the world's events are being influenced solely by your (non)action.
- Time is meaningless outside cutscenes. You could finish a cutscene where you have to chase somebody, go do something else for two years, and come back to the next cutscene, where you corner them with the events of the previous cutscene still only a few minutes ago.
- The most unique, irreplaceable and valuable Mac Guffins and even Cosmic Keystones that the hero is tasked with recovering will be a dime a dozen, and the player will at times be able to possess multiple copies at the same time!
Exceptions to these rules are rare and usually gimmicky. See also An Adventurer Is You, Heroic Mime, and Status Quo Is God. This could be considered an Acceptable Break From Reality, given that it's pretty much necessary for the genre. For non-MMORPG examples, compare Medieval Stasis and Modern Stasis.
- Final Fantasy XI takes this to its logical extreme. While the Conquest system means that imbalance in the nationalities of Player Characters fighting in some regions can lead to those regions changing hands, and there have been attempts to add more spontaneity through Besieged and Campaign, all are still zero sum games in that no permanent changes happen regardless of their outcomes.
- Story Rule 2 is taken to extremes in Treasures of Aht Urghan. It may be annoying that if an NPC there is at least somewhat competent, you'll be treated like a slab of muscle with the IQ of a turnip... but it's even more annoying when your character's actions actually reflect this. Obviously the author had never heard of the saying, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."
- An interesting consequence occurs from Story Rule 5 due to the extremely plot-heavy nature of FFXI: All events over the course of the game (with the exception of the Crystal War, experienced only through time travel) are effectively contemporary to each other, with linearity only occurring along the course of specific sets of quests or missions. Short-term changes are allowed for the sake of plot development, with a return to a reasonable facsimilie of the status quo by the end. This can sometimes cause oddities not just for the player but for important NPCs, such as Minister Ajido-Marujido representing Windurst in national diplomacy while under investigation for treason--or possibly even while being incarcerated for it.
- City of Heroes attempts to subvert this in places, but fails. They try to Lampshade why the Task Forces are repeatable with a vague "but that doesn't mean they won't try it again" type of sentence. It doesn't quite explain why if they're trying the same thing over again, you still have to play along as if you haven't foiled them before. Some mission sets try to progress the general story, but fail due to conflicts with either the game world or with other missions. One example is the Crey corporation, where you eventually expose all their conspiracies and arrest the owner. That doesn't stop the operatives from swarming the streets or the fact that Manticore still acts like the Countess is a highly respected business owner when you start his task force. One Task Force even has you rescuing an NPC that you can still find standing around in the world. It has also tried to progress the game world itself over time, but this has had mixed results as well. One very clunky change was the 5th Column takeover by the Council, which itself has been criticized as a No Swastikas Retcon. One can read about it here. More effectively subverted in a more recent update which makes the world change client-side to reflect the things the player character has done. For example, if the player shuts down a certain enemy group in one particular area, he/she will not encounter the enemies associated with that group there, however another player will, unless he/she has taken them out as well. The world also changes client-side when your character joins a team, based upon what the team leader has done.
- World of Warcraft has advanced somewhat over the years from its origins, which played this trope completely straight.
- Static examples:
- The Horde and Alliance will always be at war or on the verge thereof, no matter what other conflicts arise and no matter how idiotic its leaders have to remain to enforce this.
- Unless completely removed (or phased; see below for more on this), all major encounters, bosses, and dungeon enemies will respawn a certain time after being defeated, no matter how many times you've killed them before. You can still go and kill Onxyia in her lair, despite her being canonically dead in the main storyline and an undead version of her being an encounter in Blackwing Descent. Similarly, Ragnaros is still fightable in Molten Core, despite having been canonically summoned and defeated there, summoned and defeated yet again in Mount Hyjal, and being the end boss of the Firelands raid.
- As if to rub it in, quests exist that can be repeated daily for progressive rewards, even if these focus on killing the exact same NPC you defeated the day before. There are multiple lampshadings of this, however, including the "Glop, Son of Glop" quest in Deepholm which functions on the conceit that the badguy you're killing today is the absolutely identical son of the previous one, ad infinitum; and a quest giver in Tol Barad Peninsula who remarks on how uncanny it is that he receives a new set of orders every day at exactly 3 AM (which is when daily quests reset).
- Aversions or attempted aversions:
- Holiday events come and go periodically, with their associated NPCs and buildings spawning for the duration, then disappearing once it's over.
- Various one-time events have heralded the introduction of new content, particularly before each expansion, and also with some content patches like the War Effort pre-Ahn-Qiraj, the Scourge Invasion pre-Naxxramas (with an upgraded version pre-Wrath of the Lich King), the building of the Argent Tournament, and the retaking of the Isle of Quel'Danas. In many cases this results in Lost Forever special rewards. In a counter-aversion, some of the NPCs related to these events are still around to accept any left-over tokens or quest turn-ins, even though the events are long gone, never to return.
- Burning Crusade introduced world PvP objectives, where players could fight over zone-specific control points and earn their side a temporary buff. This fell out of popularity and was revisited in Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm in the form of entire zones dedicated to PvP, with battles fought every two hours for control of the zone and its associated quests/dungeons.
- Wrath of the Lich King introduced a technique called "phasing" to the main quest lines, which allows zone features and NPCs to appear differently for players after they've passed certain quest milestones. One major use of this is in the Death Knight starting zone, which changes dramatically as you complete quests. For you, that is. That village you attacked may look conquered and on fire to you, but to a Death Knight who has yet to complete the attack quest, it's still full of Scarlet Crusade.
- With the Cataclysm expansion, the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor have been completely redone thanks to Deathwing's emergence and subsequent rampage. Of course, this leaves the world in a Perpetually Static state of having just suffered this wave of destruction. Parodied by the repair crew trying to move a fallen statue outside Stormwind City, who cannot agree on how to move the statue, and the foreman tells you they'll probably be there "for a long, long time."
- Cataclysm, however, vastly expands the phasing system. Players will start seeing the world change around them as a result of their actions by level 15 or so now, although the same caveat -- other players see the zone as a result of their actions or lack thereof, not yours -- still applies.
- Several outdated quests have been removed from the game. Examples include the quests after the Angrathar the Wrathgate quest, which lead up to the Battle for the Undercity (which involve meeting with Thrall, who has since left the Horde to help the Earthen Ring in Cataclysm). The quests to save Princess Moira Bronzebeard from Thaurissan are no longer in the game, as she is now part of the Concil of Three Hammers, but still appears in the boss encounter with Thaurissan unless the players have done the quest to save her already, in which case a Dark Iron Priestess replaces her.
- Thrall has members of the Kor'kron elite guard replace the abominations that used to guard the Undercity after the horrific consequences of Varimathras and Putress' betrayal at the Wrathgate to make sure nothing like that happens again, and because most of the abominations were killed when the Horde retook the city. The guards, referencing the events, express contempt and distrust for undead players and give words of caution to non-undead players when spoken to. They, however, are present for players who have not completed the Wrathgate quest chain yet, and if spoken to before then, say that they are here to guard the city because most of the troops are in Northrend.
- Static examples:
- In Ultima Online, there was an invasion of towns by the Orcs that players actually had to fight. On some Shards (servers), people actually failed to kill "enough" Orcs, and certain towns were taken over permanently.
- Likewise, there was an event which involved fighting to save a small woodland town from invasion. Some shards just didn't try hard enough, and the town was partially corrupted into a giant swamp full of mutated creatures; it has only just been reverted, several years later.
- Ultima Online also accidentally violated the first law, with the eponymous Lord British getting killed of by a simple fireball spell during an event. In fact, they did code Lord British to be unkillable -- a server crash reset the 'Unkillable Flag' and the staff didn't notice until Richard Garriot's character was dying in front of a crowd of several hundred.
- In Eve Online, how static a region is varies directly with its security level. The highest-security systems are almost completely in the hands of NPCs, and no player-controlled building is allowed, while no-security "zero-zero" sections are all-players, no-rules. The publishers of the game have decided to leave this be, as the player base seems capable of providing for itself, and the economy is now almost completely anarcho-capitalist. It helps immensely that this particular gameworld is space, as the almost complete emptiness lends itself well to player control.
- The recent Incursion update brought with it the titular 'Incursion' system, which undermines somewhat the above sliding scale of staticness. While player-control rules remain the same, the incursions, wherein local sovereignty is subverted by pirate-faction interests, can strike in absolutely any security zone, screwing up reward rates, PC ship stats, and instance types while ambushes will occur around major points in the affected system. This situation will persist (and get gradually worse) until such time as players band together to kick the pirates out again.
- Subverted and then given a good hard kicking in Achaea (and other Iron Realms games). The world is run entirely by the players; they rule the cities, control every major organisation and create the vast majority of the content, from clothing to pets. The only reason the status quo stays that way is that the powerful players at the top want it to - and every now and then it shifts dramatically, with everything up to player-guided wars. (However, NPCs are more or less static, respawning shortly after they're killed, and the safer newbie-lands of Lodi and Minia are completely static with no player control at all.)
- Although this mainly applies to MMORPG Anarchy Online, there are few elements in the game worlds plot that move forward. For example in one patch the city of borealis was occupied by omni-tech affiliated unicorn guards, which made travelling through there deadly for clan. After few player organised major clan attacks the Unicorns retreated at a later patch. Also some other areas control has changed hands in permanent basis.
- While Gaia Online features a dynamic plotline, and the world has changed a lot over time, the world of zOMG tends perpetually static. This is lampshaded early on with repeatable quests, where your character complains that no matter how many enemies he/she kills, no progress is ever made. Even after you defeat LabtechX, and the NPCs resolve to find out more about this new G'hi energy that creates the Animated, everything is exactly the same as before. Most NPCs in Barton are still wondering if the Zurg or Vampires are behind everything and Blaze is still standing around the ruins wondering where her dad is. If you return to the Shallow Sea, you can rescue Marshall again, and he'll act like it's the first time you've met him. You can also travel all the way back to the Underwater Base, and stop the Big Bad's plan again. In the most extreme example, you encounter an NPC at the Old Aqueduct who is later revealed to be a villain. After you defeat the Big Bad, you can return to the Aqueduct, and the NPC is still standing there like nothing is wrong, pretending he doesn't know you. (It helps that the text implies that your character doesn't recognize that Frank, the G-Corp Labtech, and Labtech 123 are the same person. But your character does know that many of the Labtechs that showed up in the Barton area were actually working for the Big Bad, but no one bats an eye.)
- Asheron's Call illustrated why this is almost necessary for MMORPGs. For the main plot event of one month, characters were left with one crystal keeping Big Bad in check. Great rewards were given to those who destroyed the crystal and set him free. However, players were also empowered to fight each other and defend the crystal. In most servers a half-hearted defense was mounted and the crystal was quickly destroyed, but in one, they were able to mount a round-the-clock vigilant defense. Unfortunately the developers had expected the crystal to be destroyed for plot purposes, and thus were forced to intervene to keep all of the servers on the same page. Never let the players have control of the plot.
- I think an alternative lesson to be learned here is "Plan for all eventualities". Or: "Don't pretend to give people control without something to back it up". No point blaming the players for playing the game.
- BioWare is trying desperately to avert this with their upcoming Star Wars MMOG The Old Republic by adding unique storylines that change depending on player class, alignment, and faction, and even adding NPC party members. Many gamers remain skeptic.
- Perfect World Online has a rather more malleable world than most, with player guilds being able to take and lose territories if they are strong enough. However, there isn't much of an overarching plot for this chaos to mess up.
- Guild Wars easily averts this by meshing its MMORPG with a single-player RPG's plot structure and geography, just with a lot more sidequests and side areas and other players to team up with (the plot pretends you have the same team the whole game). The only real side effect is that with the exception of the Searing (which transforms the tutorial areas into the start of the main game), you can freely move backward in time by just visiting an earlier area--everything will be as if all plot points since then never happened (including Face Heel Turners chatting amicably rather than stabbing you) and there will often be no logical way you could've gotten back there, storywise (since a large part of the plot was getting OUT of Ascalon, how did I just get back from that desert island into a fort in the middle of it?).
- Its sequel will have a persistent world, but will try to avert it via the dynamic event system: The players actions during these events will change the area for everyone and lead to different new events depending if the players managed to succeed in the previous events or failed it. Of course, after a while the quest chain will reset, so those players who don't want to break the Willing Suspension of Disbelief that their actions matter had better move to the next area quickly.
- This is played straight in Ragnarok Online, at least until the Satan Morocc patch, which turns the desert town of Morocc into some sort of portal for evil things to come out of. Sort of. The city's still accessible though.
- Puzzle Pirates averts this to some degree, because pretty much everything that happens in the game (I.E. any sort of plot) is a result of large organizations of players creating these events. It is players who own entire islands and players who set up shops and drive the economy, so when two factions are fighting, it is because the players leading those factions declared war on one another, not because any arbitrary plot-writer decided it should be that way. Wars between factions are therefore temporary and may be settled with the exchange of land or other assets, and the most major event in the game is a blockade, where one faction attempts to permanently take territory from another faction during a massive free-for-all naval combat in which a thousand players may sometimes participate. Therefore, history writes itself based on the decisions of the most powerful players in the game.
- Averted by Urban Dead where the city is constantly changing due to the actions of the players.
- Fought furiously by Nexus War, the Fan Sequel to Urban Dead. The game usually managed to avoid this due to its status as an open beta - there was usually a good explanation for anything the PCs could do, and the regular infusion of new stuff shook up the gamemap on a continual basis. All of that came to a halt when the developer was contractually forced into stopping the updates. Rather than submit to this trope, he took the game Off the Rails for an epic finale.
- Averted even more in Shintolin, where every building, weapon, and slice of huckleberry pie is player-created, mighty empires rise and fall, the Glyph of Marquai was carved into a forest, and so on.
- Averted by a one time glitch in PlanetSide that allowed one team's main base to be captured, effectively eliminating the faction from the server (as romanticized here ).
- The Lord of the Rings Online started as fully embracing this trope, as the main storyline is tied to the story of the Fellowship. Each Region is locked in time, so it's always September 3018 in the Shire, December 3018 in Rivendell, February 3019 in Lothlorien etc. As a result, many characters can appear in different locations simultaneously - because they are also in different time periods, sometimes down to a specific date assigned to the room they're in. Any missions taking place on landscape as opposed to dungeons were actually set in instanced spaces designed to look like open world, with the world itself unchanged by your actions. The part of the story you're supposed to affect lived to the trope as well: characters who died or permanently moved away were simply hidden behind suddenly impassible doors, locations you supposedly cleared of enemies were still crawling with mooks and Big Bads of group instances could be defeated repeatedly even despite sometimes surviving and opposing you in encounters later down the storyline as well. Lately, however, the designers have been experimenting with Phasing to a great effect: characters in open world can now appear and disappear by moving along the landscape with you or even be Killed Off for Real and the world itself can be affected by your actions, so the village being burned or overrun by brigands can be freed and rebuild after you save it - while other people walking around see different things depending on their own progress. This feature, however, is only implemented in recently added regions of Enedwaith, Dunland and Isengard, while the rest of the world still employs static rules. While developers have expressed their desire to eventually bring the rest of the world to date, it's admittedly not of the top priority.
- Averted in Dungeons and Dragons Online, where the starting area changes in appearance on a player-by-player basis once you've completed its main quest line.
- Some mild aversions in Star Trek Online to certain aspects of this. Specifically:
- Several NPCs have moved on or been promoted, much like the players (Commander Akira Sulu being a notable example.)
- "Large Geological changes" is a bit of a strained concept in space, but there have been occasions where things caused a permanent change (A Comet was Retconned out of existence, NPCs staking out an area before a new place is built, and there's been a confirmation that the current Earth Spacedock will be destroyed and replaced at some point in the future, likely in a one-time event.
- Confirmed, sort of. For the one-year anniversary of the game, Q arrived on the station, decided it didn't look right for a party, and altered it, making it look smoother and revamping the interior entirely. So the station wasn't destroyed, and wasn't completely replaced, but it WAS changed massively.
- As your character levels up and the threats become more dire, there's progress made in relations with certain other factions. In Gamma Orionis sector (Borg space), the Klingons and Federation have called a truce because they realize it's to their mutual benefit to keep the Borg from interfering in their war. As missions in the area are completed, there's some noteworthy improvement in Federation-Klingon relations. However, the trope is still played straight in that the war continues to rage for low level characters and in the form of PVP. There has been talk of ending the war since it quickly loses focus to more important issues in the Federation storyline, but nothing confirmed.
- Supposedly, Final Fantasy XIV is geared towards averting this somewhat. But since that game is a truly incomprehensible mess at this time, no one really knows for sure.
- Aion falls hard into this one, so much so that you wonder why they bothered to set it up that way. The overarching story is that the world of Atreia has been shattered into two halves by the Balaur, resulting in two factions constantly at war, the Elyos and the Asmodians, and both are at war with the Balaur, who only exist in the center of the shattered world. However, the breaking of the world means that the lifeblood of all three races, Aether, is disappearing, and the game goes so far as to state that the constant warfare is accelerating the loss of Aether, with cataclysmic consequences if the Aether gets too low. What effect does this have on gameplay? None at all (except for the PvPvE).
- Runescape had this thing going on for years and is still present with the same in-game year (169) being for eternity and majority of NPC folk treat you as the hero. However, about in 2005, permanent character changes were made. For an example, completing a quest may result many NPC s die permanently and there are even a few which are skill-related. Some of the updates (like revenants) were also written into in-game timeline. Also, the player character would also gain some personality which varies per quest or task.
Non-video game examples:
- This is parodied during the "Years of Yarncraft" storyline from Sluggy Freelance, most notably in these two strips.
Torg: "It felt like I was accomplishing something, stopping Luther. But I wasn't! He's still in the game drowning puppies. And if I'm not supposed to care about the quests, if I don't have any real impact on this world, what am I playing the dumb game for?"