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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

Otherland MMO - Cyberpunk? Not so much.

Posted by Daedren Friday October 3 2008 at 6:24AM
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For those that haven't heard, an adaptation of Tad Williams Otherland books is in development by an unheard of German company with a bunch of Aussie developers. I think most people will say "What the hell is Otherland?" - something I can empathize with. Tad Williams isn't exactly the Dan Brown of sci-fi. However, his books do have a bit of a following, and I've actually read all 4 of the monstrous, Bible-sized novels. With that said, I'm going to talk about what I think of this idea.

First of all, the announcement of this MMO seems to have brought a bunch of clueless half-wits to the table to talk about this MMO. Eurogamer, in the fanboy, payroll induced article I linked above, went as far as saying "Let's call this the first cyberpunk MMO." And I'm going pull my hand back and say "No, let's call this Second Life, version 2" - Yeah, the Otherland series is technically cyberpunk - there is no arguing that. It's just that the MMO has announced it'll be focusing on the avatar / Lambda Mall version of the series, which is pretty much no more than a glorified 3D chat room.

Allow me to explain. Here is a quick synoposis of Otherland:

Set in the future, we have some mega-cities and urban sprawls that are popular in cyberpunk. People plug into "the net" via a neural shunt and some fancy VR equipment. They then hang out at the "Lambda Mall" and run around with crazy looking avatars - pretty much nothing more than elaborate version of Second Life.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

The real appeal of the Otherland books was that the main characters get trapped in "the net" because an evil mega-corp is doing something naughty. They end up having to battle the evil guys and save the world pretty much. It takes them through some crazy places - user created lands - via a river. For example, they go into a jungle and are the size of ants, get attacked by a scorpion. Or they have to play cowboys and indians with real life toys in a kitchen. Or they're thrown into a Viking-esque frozen land where they're chased by savages. And lastly, there is actually a Lord of the Rings-esque MMO type game in the game. One of the main characters lives in it (he's a kid, sick, has a terminal disease).  Basically a VR/Cyberspace version of any modern MMO.

I'll be the first to say that capturing the second, main element of the stories (user created worlds, dynamic content) might make an Otherland MMO actually worthwhile. So, unless every MMO subscriber gets to be one of the Otherland super-rich, playground/world creating guys, the thought of running around with a crazy avatar is about as exciting as it gets. From the over-excited Eurogamer article, it seems you can't do more than have your own space in the world and customize your avatar. Yipee!

Continuing the line of cluess-gits, we've got this announcement over on the Shadowland (Otherland fansite boards). The topic? Otherland MMO could be the WOW Killer! Now, while most of my regular readers are familiar with my thoughts on this subject, the fact that this came up 2nd in a Google search for "Otherland MMO" makes me weep for humanity. What's next? Hello Kitty, the WOW Killer? Fuck WOW, and fuck killing it. You're talking apples and oranges here. How is "making a pretty avatar!" going to compete with people that like high-fantasy and enjoy the treadmill-like advancement system of WoW? It caters to a completely different audience.

I digress, like I usually do. I'm all for a non high-fantasy MMO. Warhammer was pretty much the last straw in terms of the general populus's tolerance for yet another orcs and elves, magic and swords, fuck creativity of a game. It's like watching television and the only thing on is CSI or 10 spinoffs of it. I like crime shows as much as the next guy, but it's time to move on. So, in that aspect, *applause* to the unknown German company investing the rubels into something a bit different.

However, until we're told otherwise, Otherland MMO is not Cyberpunk. It's 2nd Life with a 90's retro theme. Let's not get too excited to say "FIRST POST!" in the land of MMO's in regards to a genre. Uncouth, Eurogamer, uncouth. So, until you know a bit more about the game, this guy from Office Space wants his Jump to Conclusions Mat back when you're done using it.

Original article is here.

Digg it here.

xmoleculex writes:

While there are elements of Second Life in this idea, I don't know where you get off calling that the entirety of the game. According to the article, the game will have a large section devoted to Lamda Mall, which would be full of mini-games and social gathering spots to appeal to the casual gamer... The "glorified chat room" as you called it.

But the article goes on to explain that Lamda Mall would also act as a hub to the other virtual worlds in the game. Players would get quests from NPCs or from other Players that would lead them to other virtual realities where the game would not be focused on casual mini-games, but would seemingly be more challenging adventure zones.

I think this game leads to some really exciting roleplaying opportunities. You aren't playing a character, you are playing a sim. The person behind the mask is who you would ultimately roleplay, and that person could be very similar to yourself. This makes getting into the role a lot more accessible than trying to get inside the head of an elf or dwarf, and then quickly falling back onto cliche and stereotype to roleplay (my elf is an honorable ranger, my dwarf is drunk and grumpy).

I find it amusing that you accuse Eurogamer of "jumping to conclusions" (love the Office Space reference by the way), but you yourself are jumping to conclusions when you call this game nothing more than "2nd Life with a 90's retro theme."

Really? That's all it is? How much do you know about the game? It's 15% complete and details have not been released yet. I have a pretty strong suspicion that you are as guilty of jumping to conclusions and labeling this game as Eurogamer is.

Anyways, I loved the books. I'm not an avid follower of William's books (there have been a few that I just can't get into), but the Otherland series and especially War of the Flowers are excellent writing for the most part. Wholey entertaining and very imaginitive.

I'm looking forward to reading more about Otherland the MMO. But unlike you, I am withholding judgement until I have more information or play the game itself.

Fri Oct 03 2008 6:59AM Report
Daedren writes:

@moleculex: Thanks for the reply.

I couldn't gather anything from the article that you can do anything in the game other than customize your avatar. With Lambda acting as a hub, you'll be able to go to other virtual realities. And do what? Look around? Interact with stuff? That's Second Life.

The problem is that "the net" in Otherland is really just an advanced virtual "chat room" of the future. Sure, you can build stuff and customize stuff and go into shops and places, etc etc - but you're still your avatar just interacting with the world around you. So, like I said, unless they're adding in the elements of the adventure of the book - which, as I said, would be great, it sounds like this MMO really is just a take on VR/Cyberspace in a Second Life style.

I liked the books as well. And I'm looking forward to seeing what they'll do with this. My only argument here is that *if* the game focusing on the Lambda / VR realm of Otherland, it's not really Cyberpunk. To be Cyberpunk, the Otherland MMO would have to embrace the real world (Durban and all that) and not just the Lambda mall.

I want to be wrong, trust me. Anyway, thanks for the feedback. ;)

Fri Oct 03 2008 7:08AM Report
xmoleculex writes:

Here's some quotes that I pulled that make me think this game will have a lot more going for it than just being a chat area where you can only customize your avatar:

"You start the game as one of those consciousnesses in a place called the Land of the Lost, a nightmare scenario which you're trying to escape. You'll run, be killed, and reborn in a "baby" state as a simple, low-rent sim..."

"Most quests will be set by NPCs, and have risks associated with failure - a reluctance on the NPC's part to offer it again, for example. But there will be player-generated quests too, which you'll be able to charge an in-game fee for access to, in a sort of lottery system."

"That's not all - each world's rules are entirely defined by its owner, so in some, combat may not be possible at all. There will also be another space, outside of the worlds, where there will be a reason for player-versus-player conflict - but Real U refuses to be drawn on the details."

"There will be situations where you'll want to infect hostiles with a virus, or even yourself; you can protect yourself from them with colour-coded shields, or by trying to outrun the "data ghost" goes that passes on the infection."

They also have a paragraph about character advancement, so there will apparently be levels.

The way I can see the game based on the article is that it is a combination of some standard MMO things like Storyline, Quests, PvE, PvP and Levels, but that there will also be user-generated content and an actual "virtual world" focus that is similar to Second Life.

Anyways, not to beleaguer the point, but I'm getting a lot more out of that article than just a chat room!

I definitely agree that this may not be a Cyperpunk game... I would maybe call it more Meta-Cyberpunk.... so Metapunk? ;)

Fri Oct 03 2008 7:44AM Report
Ozmodan writes:

Personally, I think Tad Williams should have stuck to fantasy.  His Otherland series was plodding and just not good Sci -Fi.  But I do agree with the OP that it is far more like 2nd Life than a real MMO.

The designer needs to get his head out of you know where and do some market research.  All you have to do is look at the Matrix Online to see that the audience for such a game is quite small.  The chances of this game being that successful are practically nil.

Fri Oct 03 2008 8:13AM Report
xmoleculex writes:

Okay, so first you say the game is more like Second Life than a "real MMO", but then you say to look at Matrix Online for market comparison? Huh?

If anything I would say that if the game has a large amount of casual content, then they HAVE done their research, because that is where the industry is heading. In addition, if the game has a well developed adventure side that is more along the lines of your standard MMO, then they are appealing to an entirely different demographic on top of the casuals.

If done right, a game that can attract both of these audiences definitely has the potential to be sucessful.

The idea is solid. We'll see if this company is capable of the follow-through. That will determine the success more than anything else.

Fri Oct 03 2008 8:23AM Report
Daedren writes:

@moleculex:

"You start the game as one of those consciousnesses in a place called the Land of the Lost, a nightmare scenario which you're trying to escape. You'll run, be killed, and reborn in a "baby" state as a simple, low-rent sim..."

So every person is a child? Land of the Lost was only children if I recall. This also means that players will exist soley in "the net" - meaning no Durban, no real world, no Cyberpunk. My thoughts confirmed.

"Most quests will be set by NPCs, and have risks associated with failure - a reluctance on the NPC's part to offer it again, for example. But there will be player-generated quests too, which you'll be able to charge an in-game fee for access to, in a sort of lottery system."

Quests to do what? Upgrade my avatar? Go look around at something? We've still not heard *how* we're actually going to interact with the world.

"That's not all - each world's rules are entirely defined by its owner, so in some, combat may not be possible at all. There will also be another space, outside of the worlds, where there will be a reason for player-versus-player conflict - but Real U refuses to be drawn on the details."

This is encouraging as it might allow for some unique and engaging experiences, though we're still uncertain if this is really revolutionary or an advanced version of Second Life.

"There will be situations where you'll want to infect hostiles with a virus, or even yourself; you can protect yourself from them with colour-coded shields, or by trying to outrun the "data ghost" goes that passes on the infection."

That's reaching. Install the 2070 version of AVG. It's a contrived combat system. So, I get a virus? Can I perma-die? Or yet another virtual inconvience/time-sink?

I guess I can rework my statement. It sounds like Second Life where you can go around and try to infect people.

At least the RPG aspect of the game is a bit clarified. The players are the lost children. I assume it has to take place after the "event" at the end of the books for this to happen. That means we're floating around "the net" with no physical form. That's a novel idea at least.

As for "Meta-Punk" - I'm not seeing the punk. Just because something is "90's style VR" doesn't make it punk.

Beh, I'm being overly negative and I apologize. I'm just skeptical is all.

Fri Oct 03 2008 8:39AM Report
chillsan writes:

Hey Daedren,  I was wondering when you were going to make this blog entry about Otherland, somehow I felt it in my bones!! Wasn't surprised when I saw the title. lol :)

I feel it seems more of a place to hang out from what I've read and do a few things, maybe it will have varied gameplay who knows. Perhaps some Myst type puzzles and FPS here and there, I'm wishing too much and not betting on it. By the way did you ever see "AVALON" that was an interesting movie.

Also I found this while trying to remember that movies name if you're interested it had a great listing I'm thinking of going through it and checking some of these out. http://www.cyberpunkreview.com/cyberpunk-movies-by-decade/

Fri Oct 03 2008 12:48PM Report
Kotts writes:

They can't even call it the "First cyber-punk MMO".

Anarchy Online beat them out by 7 (+) years.

Fri Oct 03 2008 4:02PM Report
Mequellios writes:

It seems mildly interesting. I've kinda wanted to play a game that takes place in a 3D form of the internet, battle viruses and hackers, etc. I like the idea of creating your own realm and defining it's rules.

It's all very Matrix-like (The "Train Man" created his own place with his rules). Which is encouraging, actually. It was sad to see such an awsome idea crumble because of bad planning (or whatever caused the failure of MxO).

Could be promising.

Fri Oct 03 2008 5:04PM Report
cosimusta writes:

So it's a 3d chatroom where you go around infecting people with a lil roleplay on the side

this sounds more like Red Light Center than 2nd Life

Fri Oct 03 2008 7:22PM Report
JinxedGaming writes:

Neocron was/is the first cyberpunk MMO as far as I know.  It came out years ago (In the late 90's I think, I played in the beta but I forget exactly when that was.) and was also made by a German company.

Fri Oct 03 2008 11:47PM Report
Kotts writes:

Point Jinxed. I forgot all about Neocron. Ether way, these Devs are just full of themselves.

Sat Oct 04 2008 12:05PM Report
Daedren writes:

In their defense, it was Eurogamer who went and said "Let's call it the first Cyberpunk MMO!" - not the devs.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if the German/Aussie guys start trying to pitch it around as that. Like "Otherland is Cyberpunk, so is our MMO!" - Yeah, that'll work.

Wed Oct 08 2008 9:31AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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