Looking back on the last decade, during the rise of the MMO and we see that there were loads of MMO’s based on pre-existing franchises from a myriad of other formats. We’ve had World of Warcraft come from RTS roots, Warhammer Online and Champions from Tabletop, Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online from Films and Books, with both Star Trek and Star Wars moving into yet another medium.
All these share one thing in common, a complex and detailed world pre-created and ready to slot the mechanics of the MMO into.
It is it’s greatest strength, and also it’s greatest curse.
Pre-existing franchises and pre-existing gameplay go hand-in-hand to create what could only be described as Development-by-numbers. Child’s-play. You get two years of development, a playable game, and a dedicated rabble of pre-existing fans guaranteed to play it, or at the very least, buy the boxed version and play for the free month.
For me, the rose tinted spectacles of franchise blindness have been worn down after the failure of Cryptic with there latest two MMO’s. No longer will the mere hint of a pre-existing license tempt me to play it, only concrete examples of innovative gameplay or a genuine love for the subject matter.
Fictional Franchises exist because the subject matter easily lends itself to adaptation. It’s a framework that designers can use to build upon, but merely building upon a framework is not enough. You still have to innovate.
I can think of few franchises that would give you a framework and yet allow for spectacular innovation in the MMO medium.
This is going to sound like a bit of a wish-list. A fanboy’s fancy perhaps. I hope that as much as it does, it also highlights what I think MMO’s are missing, and where the next generation should be looking to for ideas.
4 – Issac Asimov’s Foundation
This was one of the earliest Science-fiction epics ever written, and remains my favourite universe. For the uninitiated, the basic premise is that 10,000 years in the future the Galactic Empire is dying and that a Mathematician comes up with a way of predicting the future statistically, and sets up the seeds of a new empire that will blossom from the ashes of the old. The 1,000 years between the two is where the Original Trilogy is set.
There is however pretty much only one period that would fit the MMO Mould, The part after the end of Foundation and before or during the first part of Foundation and Empire. Home of the Merchant Princes, wars between the Foundation and neighbouring powers.
An MMO could break ground here with a PvE game based not only on Combat but on Economic Expansion. EVE’s player-based economy is second to none, but it’s more about Corporations and PvP than any kind of Player vs Environment (or in this case, Player Vs Economy). Players can focus on trade and make deals with planets, or in combat and join war zones. The aim of the game to increase the Foundation’s territory through fair or foul means.
3 – Red Dwarf
If you don’t know what Red Dwarf is then frankly I want to slap you. On the other hand, I could just tell you. (or link to Wikipedia) – It’s a British science fiction sit-com, it’s set 3 million years in the future when humanity is extinct, except for Dave Lister, a liverpudlian curry obsessed slob. Surprisingly, despite a lack of aliens, there are alot of artificial, genetically altered or time travelling life forms to encounter. A Red Dwarf MMO could easilly become the first MMO to actually have comedy as one of it’s core concepts along with party interaction, while fitting neatly into either a space-based format, a ground based format or a hybrid of both.
I chose Red Dwarf as it’s one of my favourite TV shows, however most of these requests could also be directed at Bioware’s The Old Republic (Except the Comedy, I really want a game where I have to stop playing for a minute while I try and stop my side from splitting)
2 – 2012
Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, that movie was utter tripe of the highest calibre, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t look pretty and sold well. Post-apocalyptic Earth is always a favourite place for games, and what better place than the world 2012 created when it ended. It’s a brand new world, everything’s arse over head, it’s familiar but different. While it wasn’t an innovative film it may well make for an innovative MMO.
Firstly, it could raise the bar for landscape design and variety. 2012 was, if nothing else, a good looking film, and it stands to reason that an MMO would look similarly spectacular. (Spoiler alert btw) Secondly, in this new world, all the old-world powers have banded together in their Arks. Once they’ve landed and begun rebuilding they could easily fall back on their old warring ways, giving us a standard template for combat-based levelling.
Where could it innovate? What I hate most about MMO’s is the lack of change in the worlds that are made. It’s like they’re set in stone for eternity (One of the reasons I’m quite excited about WoW: Cataclysm). A Post-apocalyptic MMO has the best setup for player-based rebuilding. The creation of a new society from scratch, populated by players, defended by players.
There is one other post apocalyptic MMO out there already that could take these Ideas and run with it, and if I’m reading the previews correctly, it’s certainly somewhere the Fallen Earth team are looking towards.
1 – Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy
I fairly enjoyed the movie, despite lacklustre acting and some of the jokes falling flat, it definitely cemented the look. A look I’d hope continued over to any games.
An MMO based on H2G2 would likely see you as a kind of Ford Prefect-esque reviewer for the guide, bumming your way across the galaxy for no other reason than to see what you can see. Stowing away on freighters, battling against the officious offensiveness of Vogons, exploring the mind-bending effects of a Pan-galactic Gargleblaster, fending off the invasion of angry sentient shades of Red, destroying entire solar systems through the overuse of a giant fusion powered Mullet styler. I don’t know, but it’d be fun to see what can be created from the twisted minds of MMO creators if they were truly allowed to run wild in the maddening mental sandbox of H2G2.
MMO’s in general have gone into a pattern of taking a franchise and hammering it into an MMO format. I think it’s time that changed, and that the MMO Format should change in order to better fit the franchises they’re creating.