Archive for October, 2006

My idea of a Great MMO, Chapter II: The Genre

Posted: October 26, 2006 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

As a follow-up in my ongoing series to build the ultimate Kendricke-centric MMO, I’d have to eventually choose a genre, right?  Might as well get it out of the way up front, because at some point, we need to figure out if it’s going to be space aliens or elves, or what have you.

 Now, obviously, from a business perspective, I’d be mad to hit high fantasy.  Seriously – Ultima Online, Everquest, Everquest 2, World of Warcraft, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Warhammer Online, Middle Earth Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online…  this genre’s packed!

That said, I’d love to see an Earthdawn high fantasy MMO.  Earthdawn was a high fantasy pen and paper RPG put out by the now-defunct FASA corporation (the brainchild of Jordan Weissman and L.Ross Babcock – of Battletech and Mechwarrior fame).  Since this is my personal idea of a perfect MMO, I think we’ll touch on that as well.

Of course, there’s another hot FASA property I’d love to see MMO’d:  Shadowrun.  What’s not to love, right?  Rich racial traits and traditions, tons of character classes with a skill tree based system that allows for serious multiclassing, a fully flushed magic system, and a cyberpunk meets mysticism mythos that is a cross between the Matrix, Bladerunner, and the Lord of the Rings.  Trolls with tribal tatoos jacking-in to their high end street bikes to duke it out with monoblades and SMG’s against megacorporations who are bigger than goverments.  What’s not to love, right?

I realize that Anarchy Online tried this and largely failed.  I realize that there’s The Matrix online.  Neither of which really had the market pull because I truly believe they combined mediocre design, mediocre support, and worst – lack of elves.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I hate elves.  I nearly never play the daisy eating tree huggers, no matter what the game.  However, there’s apparantly a ridiculously large market for elf lovin’ gaming hippies out there.  So, elves have to be in.  Besides, without elves – ya got no Shadowrun, chummer.

So, because I’m lazy right now and don’t want to go out reinventing the wheel to create a brand new, outside of the box genre, we’ll choose to work on both the Earthdawn AND Shadowrun genres during this little experiment.  Who knows, right?

But for a moment, let’s presume that I’m not really lazy and that I’d really like to try something new.  What else is there out there?  Let’s think on that for a moment, shall we?

  • High Fantasy:  The granddaddy of MMO genres.  Everyone and their brother has an MMO based on elves and dwarves and swords and sorcery.  Even Age of Conan could be basically said to be a high fantasy title. 
  • Mythology:  The first cousin to High Fantasy, I would place Greek and Roman classic mythology in this category.  “Gods and Heroes” looks to be an interesting game coming out that would include this.
  • Egypt:  All things Nile and Pyramids would fall into this category.  “A Tale in the Desert” is the obvious winner, with a lesser appearance by the upcoming “Stargate” MMO produced by Cheyenne Mountain.
  • Cyberpunk:  Man as machine.  Man in machine.  Man vs. Machine.  Anarchy Online is the only current title (if you can call it current) in this genre.
  • Space:  Big space ships.  Little space ships.  Planets and space stations to visit.  The now defunct Earth and Beyond was in this category, which is now dominated by EVE Online.  One could make the argument that Star Wars Galaxies fits here as well.  Obviously the upcoming Star Trek Online fits neatly in here.  Tabula Rasa seems to fit neatly in this category as well.
  • Comic Book Heroes:  Look!  Up in the sky, it’s a man in a cape, a woman in dental floss, and five guys in matching spandex.  City of Heroes/City of Villians is the only current title in this genre, soon to become crowded as well with SOE’s upcoming DC Heroes Online and Sigil’s Marvel Heroes title.  An argument could be made for Toon Town Online here.

Not too many “new” games out there, are there?  It’s all been done before, right?  So what could be different?  What SHOULD be different?

I mean, there’s no current Wild West MMO…but does that mean there’s a good idea out there for such an MMO?  I mean, if you think current gamers are complaining about “too much brown” (hereafter referred to as “TMB”), wait till you put out a game that’s pretty much built on tumbleweeds and dirt trails.  Then again, there’s about 8 hojillion cowboy an Indian fans out there – I mean outside of the U.S. “out there”….

Would a historical MMO set in fuedal Japan or China take off outside of Asia?  I didn’t include the genre above, because it’s a HUGE genre, and has dozens of games involved – in Asia. 

What about a pirates MMO, though?  No, seriously.  I mean it.  I think it could work.  I think it would really work.  It doesn’t even have to be historical, and could be based on a slightly different world than our own (where junks from Singapore face off against Spanish galleons).  A slight reinvention of history (ala Wild, Wild West) could be great fun.  It could be even better if you moved toward a bit of a Steampunk style of adventure (reference “Ars Magica”, “Mars 1888”,  or the animes “Steamboy” or even “Howl’s Moving Castle”). 

On second thought, I think I want a genre that mixes a bit of Steampunk, Earthdawn, and High Fantasy.  It could be different enough to really draw in those who are sick of “just another fantasy MMO” (JAFM), and with enough innovation, could even pick up those who are looking for JAFM.

Now that we’ve chosen a genre (well, sort of), I think I’ll start fleshing out some of the scope in our next installment…

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I thought it might be fun to spend some time over the next month or so going over my personal ideas on what would make a great MMO.  Now, realize up front that this is more art than science from my point of view, and largely this will be conceptualized and not outlined in any great detail right away.

Now, obviously, this is the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” stage of creation, because that’s a great place to start.  Even if later revisions in design or opinion contradict these initial ideas, or even if the ideas are completely unrealistic our outside of the realm of the possible, it’s still fun to sit down with nothing more than unbridled enthusiasm and imagination and start wondering what you’d try if you knew you could not fail (I read that on a motivation poster once).

However, that said, there are certain assumptions I want to make up front to lay the foundation for the ideas to come – to keep to a standard concept and focus, if at all possible.

First Assumption:  The MMO is to be a game, not a world simulation.  I love details as much, if not more than the next guy, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to have to worry about a day job, fighting off the plague, losing teeth, spending weeks or months healing from relatively minor wounds, worrying about where the nearest privy is, general taxes, or anything of the sort. 

Second Assumption:  True Race/Class Balance is Impossible.  That’s right.  I said it.  You can’t balance race or class properly, so don’t make promises about it.  In fact, you might want to ban the phrases outright if at all possible.  Make sure people understand the expectation right out of the gate that not every race will have an immediate or overwhelming benefit and not every class is going to be great at doing something.

Third Assumption:  Avoid “timesinks” that do not add to the MMO in some way or fashion.  Some timesinks might make a world feel larger (boats or airships or what have you).  Some timesinks might add to rarity or even challenge.  However, when there’s no purpose to a timesink other than to kill time, avoid the timesink.  This means cutting back on random quest spawns or timed spawns, and working more with triggered spawns.  Difficulty should be gauged in the quest or event itself, not in the difficulty of simply waiting for the quest or event.

Fourth Assumption:  What you see is what you get.  I’ve talked about this one before, and recently was reminded of those discussions when I saw Blackguard discuss the concept again over at Nerfbat.  Basically, if you can see an item on a creature that you kill…it should drop in some form or fashion (or…what you see is what you get).

Fifth Assumption:  Social interaction should be made incredibly easy – but not enforced.  The MMO’s design should include situations that increase player interactivity – but do not force such interactions.  Every aspect of the game’s design should be built with this idea at least passively in mind.  A lot of players don’t like grouping, or maybe just prefer to have the option to solo.  Even as you keep this in mind, additional rewards should be given to groups and/or raids over and above mere experience/progression rewards.  I’m thinking that soloing should be workable…but that grouping will be where the real fun is at. 

Sixth Assumption:  Death should mean something.  Death should really mean something.  It shouldn’t ruin your night or destroy a group, but it should be something to be avoided and even feared. 

Seventh Assumption:  Players want more options over their own playtime.  Provide more looting options, more guilding/grouping options, more housing options, more UI options, more options in general. 

Eighth Assumption:  Guilds are to be catered to.  Not specific guilds, mind you – but the concept of player run guilds/clans/associations/crews should be held in the highest of esteem and priority when designing the game.  Give guilds more options, more control, and more rewards.  In general, long after a game has lost lustre, most guilds are still recruiting and retaining players.  In my opinion,  as a general rule, guilds are the real powerhouses of MMO playerbases.  

Ninth Assumption:  Players want to be different.  Players are not just natural packrats who like more stuff, they want more unique or different stuff.  Looking like everyone else isn’t appealing to most players.  They want to look different than everyone else.  They also want more ways to show off that “stuff”, be it through houses, or leaderboards, or what have you.   Get away from cookie cutter templates and move toward snowflakes (no two alike…).

… 

I think these assumptions (and perhaps a few others) are always in the back of my mind when I’m choosing what game to play or not.  A game never comes along (or hasn’t yet) that includes all of my personal assumptions or preferences, but as long as it meets most of my criteria, I tend to play there for a long, long time.

We’ll see how the ideas flesh out from here.