So in one of our infamous brainstorm sessions, we were sprouting MMO ideas, and one of them that came out is one that I’ve seen great examples of in other games – Star Citizen, EVE, The Repopulation, even Star Trek Online, but none of those quite had the hook we were thinking of. I thought this week I’d go ahead and just toss the idea open to the ether for someone to run with or ignore (my guess is that there are at least a dozen other people thinking along the same lines who have more programming expertise and, more importantly, money to pay programmers.) Our thought was something of a Star Trek mixed with Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner – that drive for exploration, but with a real sense of danger in the universe. Space travel is not safe, but it is necessary. Necessary because earth is dying.
The Year is 3786 AD and the Earth is dying. War, starvation, global warming, predation of resources are enough to seal our fate. But, as if to rub it in, scientists just confirmed the sun is slowly and surely expanding. The expectation is it will not be long before we go extinct – we won’t live to see the Red Giant because we’ll have killed ourselves long before then; the days are numbered for the human species. But 50 years ago we found something. Conspiracy theorists whispered of a discovery by Mars 17 that was quickly hushed up along with whispers of alien artifacts. Shortly after the announcement of the Sun going Red, the Corporation unveiled a fleet of ships “capable of faster- than-light travel” along with a list of the most promising systems that could support human life. And they are recruiting scouts…
It’s been fun watching the EverQuest Next news and reactions at SOE this year; after several development reboots, Sony finally showed off the latest direction of the venerable MMO title. For those who are not completely up to speed where EverQuest (EQ) fits into MMORPG history, it was the big MMO on the block after Ultima Online, but before World of Warcraft (WoW). It was known as EverCrack in its early days due to the addicting lure of a vast world with lots of stuff to do in-game. Later days brought EverQuest 2, but that wilted before the might of WOW polish and popularity. EQ and EQ2 have hung in there quietly all these years, while WoW has gone on to become the MMO standard. But Sony has been working on this new version for awhile now, and last year they announced they were going back to the drawing board with the game, with SOE president John Smedley basically saying it was too much of the “same old, same old.” Sony wanted to do something revolutionary with the next version of EverQuest, not a simply polish of old engines and ideas.
Not too long ago, there were only a few MMORPGs on the landscape; the genre was relatively new. The big names started with Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, then EverQuest and EverQuest 2, and finally, the ultimate behemoth, World of Warcraft (yep, I know your other favorite was in there somewhere as well, but those are the biggies). Since that time, the genre has literally exploded; currently, there are almost 600 active MMORPG’s available, from every genre imaginable, with emphasis on one feature over another, browser-based, to mobile, and even some targeting consoles. How the heck do you choose? I say this because to many folks, an MMO is a long-term commitment; many are looking for a game home that will provide off-hours recreation for a good many years; many solid friendships and even marriages have come from people met in-game, so finding that right mix is essential. Keep in mind that as you ask yourselves these questions, there is no right or wrong answer; everyone has their own preferences for play, just be honest with yourself.
It pays to narrow down the options, so let’s start with…
The whole Newtown tragedy got me thinking a bit recently regarding the combat-centric emphasis of most video games. I won’t get into a discussion here about whether combat should be eliminated from games or not – I think it’s probably unrealistic at worst, and undesirable at best. There have been many articles about violence in games before as well; just Google it and you’ll come up with plenty.
Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed are the games people first scrutinize (or blame) when these tragedies arise, but combat in games go back to very aborignal games – you could say Risk, Galaga, or even PacMan had something of a “combat” focus – you were certainly fighting an adversary, and conflict is certainly necessary in any form of literature, and even art in general. Combat versus monsters or dragons is a bit more acceptable, since they aren’t “real” in the sense that other people are—again, more reasons why Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are the ones that get the most attention.
Last time, I talked quite a bit about endgame, and how games might be designed to avoid “grinding” for progressively more powerful gear once the character has reached “max level:”
Use a skill-based, horizontal progression system rather than a level-based, gear grind system. Give us a huge pool of options and gear to buy, but let players find their own right combination of skills and gear. Place an upper limit on the most powerful gear in the game, but provide lots of it—variety of abilities and gear should be the progression for players who play for epic achievement.
More players than ever are starting to demand horizontal over vertical progression in their games. Recent dust-ups around Guild Wars 2’s introduction of a new gear tier brought to light how much emotion there is on the issue – thousands of posts protesting the decision on the forums after the announcement.
But what does horizontal progression really mean, and how does vertical progression conflict with it?
One of the most criticized and praised elements in more recent “themepark” MMORPGs is the concept of “endgame.” A themepark MMO is a static world that remains largely unaffected by player actions. It can be described as a backdrop where players are “led” through quests (with many pointers and hints making it difficult to fail at the task.) Players critical of themeparks joke about games being “on rails” like a rollercoaster ride at a themepark. Eventually—the time varies depending how frequently the person plays—the character completes most of the quests and reaches “max level” or “level cap,” and endgame. This is simplified, of course; there are often additional ways to reach max-level besides questing, including player-vs-player (PVP) battlegrounds, crafting, and instanced dungeons.
So in listening to The Instance podcast recently, the hosts touched on a bit of a discussion that’s been at the back on my mind for a while. The question was actually emailed in by an 8-year kid who’s evidently taking a class in video games (how times have changed!). The question was pretty simple—will Skyrim ever be made into a multiplayer game? For those who aren’t familiar with Skyrim, it’s the latest release in the Elder Scrolls series of single-player fantasy roleplaying video games.