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Strange Sands

Strange Sands is a place for ideas about the game industry, both tabletop and online. I'm interested in understanding how game writers can make better stories while allowing players to create their own interactions within the game world.

Author: Ortwig

Our Crazy Pie-in-the-Sky MMORPG Idea

Posted by Ortwig Saturday February 22 2014 at 2:32PM
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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 CitizenEVEThe 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.

Eos

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…

Objective

Player characters are scouts for “New Earths” that could support a refugee and colonization effort.  The initial phase for scouting vessels is exploration of these systems and evaluation of the ability to support life.  With Earth’s time limited, even a temporary home might be acceptable, and resources are available to terraform if necessary.  Once a system is made available, players can assist in the construction of initial orbital and terrestrial bases that will house incoming refugees.

Eos is skill-based, level less, system, and “scouts” include many official occupations – Explorer, Surveyor, Pilot, Engineer, Medic, Soldier, Diplomat, Farmer, Merchant, Scientist – as well as many unofficial ones – Smuggler, Mercenary, Spy, Pirate, Terrorist.  Players progress their personal skills through experience or training, and no skill is unavailable within a particular occupation.  But there is also progression in discovering and colonizing livable worlds, earning players additional benefits as part of their faction’s growth.  Players use their skills to build bases of operation, perform additional exploration, and finally cities.  The independent and group work and building players do permanently affects their environment.

Of course, establishing new colonies will not be easy.  Each system presents unique challenges for scouts – bizarre terrain, strange life forms and predators, intelligent species and civilizations, solar and planetary events, odd weather patterns, foreign pathogens – scouting teams will need to analyze, understand and face these challenges in order to maintain a foothold on these new earths.  Many of the systems will be less than ideal places for human life, but can serve as stepping stones to something better.  Everyone speaks of “Eos” as the new Eden, but such a system is elusive…

Factions

Players can choose to participate in one of three factions.

The Corporation is the dominant faction on Earth, and they possess 90% of the world’s resources and finance – almost all ships in the game, at least initially, are Corporate-owned.  Corporation scouts can look forward to easy resources and plenty of support in their colonial operations.  The downside is that the Corporation at any time can take ownership of a colony and begin using it to gut a system of resources, much like locusts strip away crops.  The Corporation has contributed much to Earth’s current situation. Corporate-owned planets tend to be short-lived, especially if they are light on resources.

The Edenists are less organized and possess smaller fleets, but are well aware of the greed of the Corporation and are plotting to destroy it.  The Edenists were initially made up of scientists and those dedicated to saving Earth, but have since grown substantially in reaction to the Corporation.  They promote a philosophy of living in harmony with the worlds they come into contact with.  What the Edenists lack in funds, they have made up in population, and more are secretly joining their ranks every day.  Many of the Corporate-owned ships that begin the game will turn to another faction soon after they are out of the Corporation’s influence, no doubt moving to better organization and outright war when the time is right.  Edenist scouts will be the first to see scientific advances and technology, and are often the first to understand technologies uncovered during their explorations.  Edenists are quicker to mobilize than the Corporatists but are not as agile as the Freelancers.

The Freelancers choose to remain independent and work whichever system is in place or nearby.  They are not above stealing a ship, or doing a job for any of the factions, as long as there is pay and they are able to continue doing business.  Pirates, Smugglers and Traders make up the Freelancers.  They rarely cooperate with one another, but they do have the freedom to team up as needed.  Loose connections and on-the-spot alliances keep the freelancers from being easily stamped out, and their stealth is renown.  They have the ability to “obtain” resources and technologies, and sometimes end up with a surprising advantage over the Edenists or Corporation.

One’s faction is not initially obvious to other players and only comes into play in certain circumstances – such as in purchasing goods, or in dealing with official checkpoints, etc.  Some areas will require ID to move within them, but in general, with the exception of soldiers, people are not wearing badges as identifiers, and even if they were it is not too difficult to obtain clothes.  The fighting that takes places between factions tends to be smaller scale subterfuge, spy or terrorist operations, although large space and ground battles can be staged over strategic areas.

Build System

The game would include an extensive build system which would allow players to use resources from their faction as well as resources found on candidate planets to create their own bases, and eventually grow them into full-fledged cities and economies.  These cities are completely player-owned and operated, although they could conceivably purchase merchants and services that would be run by the game, if they so choose.  In PvP systems, the bases and cities would need to be defended against the other factions, as well as game-generated challenges.  In PvE and RP systems, game-generated events and challenges will still need to be overcome as the players work to create new colonies.

Crafting System and Economy

The game will include an extensive crafting system – eventually all systems will need to become self-supporting, so materials on candidate planets and systems will be needed in order for players to improve their characters and communities.  Alien technologies and materials will also come into play as these are discovered.  Factions can also provide needed support in providing crafting formulas and equipment improvements.

All resources gathered in the game can be repurposed for building of bases, spacecraft, cities, and supplies.  Crafting professions in the game are absolutely necessary to supply equip space travel, not to mention medial supplies, food and support structures.  Crafting mechanics can also scale for larger bulk shipments of good as well as small supplies for individuals.

An interstellar trading post helps greatly with shipping of supplies to various locations, but the game would allow for player-run outposts, especially on colony worlds and outposts.

System Events, Missions and Operations

All candidate systems will have certain events that will affect players over the course of the game.  They may be random or regular events, but in each case players will need to rise to the occasion to overcome them.  These events can range from an atmospheric event that requires building suitable defenses for the base, an incursion of alien creatures that must be defended against, to a strange signal far away from the base that needs investigation.  Of course, PvP systems will also need to worry about factional activities.  System Events and “Missions” can range from activities needing a group to solo-missions, and players will have the option to group up on their own or go solo.  System events last for only a limited time and then pass, with consequences based on whether the players met the challenge or not.  Missions can be available permanently, but some will be only available for a limited time, depending on the type (some of these are simply opportunities that players can take advantage of or miss).

Eos is a serendipitous world in that missions and objectives are both available as assignments as opportunities that can be stumbled upon.  Objects in the game can be picked up and used for any number of purposes – crafting, but also as useful items within missions.  A mission’s goals will be clear, but there will be no obvious markers or hints as to how to accomplish the mission.  So, for example, if the mission were to investigate a strange signal coming from the next quadrant, players would need to travel there without any special in-game directions as to how to proceed, other than the map.  What they find in the quadrant will be clear enough to clue them as what to do next (if they use their heads), but there will be no obvious marker saying “go here” or “do this.”  Players will do well to equip themselves with objects (and group as necessary with appropriately skilled characters) that can help them complete the mission’s goals.

“Operations” will also be available to larger groups, and these would be more epic quests more akin to “dungeons” or “raids” in other games.  These raids would include a series of combat and non-combat challenge, and will require thinking as well as strategy and fast action in combat situations.  Operations can scale from 3 all the way up to 25 characters.

Finally, because Eos is a an occupation-based, leveless system, skills and the ability to think and deduct in the game will become more important than gear, although gear certainly will help in outright combat.  Players of all types will be able to group together and form an effective party, since encounters are based less on outright character power, but on the ability of the group to think and work effectively together.

Political and Espionage System

Also available are political and diplomatic missions and faction challenges.  Players may choose to battle on the political and economic front rather than in outright combat (though that too is an option).  Players may also decide what kind of system they want to create for themselves as they get further established in their colonies – they may choose as they wish within the context of their faction.

Combat

Eos is a character-centric game, so skill-based, individual combat options will be available for each character, but systems for vehicle and space combat will also become available.

All combat is skill-based, and overall health does not improve greatly over time, although armor and protective systems can certainly improve.   Occupation and initial stats determine initial health of the character, but many varieties of protective equipment and weapons will become available over the course of the game.  It is always possible, though unlikely, that a less-powerful combat character could defeat a more-powerful character with a lucky shot.  It will require more in-game work for a Scientist to become as good at combat as a Soldier.   There will be, however, missions which will require a mix of occupations in addition to pure-combat types.  PvE combat will scale to the level of the individual or group participating, skewing towards difficult enough for a challenge.  Since all characters have access to the same skillsets, and can improve any skill with effort and training, I’m looking at the possibility of “unbalanced PvP” which simply allows players to try their hand at taking on other players and seeing how they fare.  Another option is to provide both unbalanced and balanced PvP options to the server based on what the owners decide.  Balanced PvP would basically pair up similarly skilled players for the match, but open world PvP would remain basically unbalanced.

Players will also have the ability to infiltrate, sabotage and destroy player-built installations as long as they are willing to enter PvP mode to do so.  Stealth skills will be made available to slip past defenses, but they are not infallible.

Player Generated Content

Tools would be made available for players to create their own scenarios.   User ratings (paired with written reviews) would be posted for all player created content so that the best would float to the top.  Installing player adventures is client-based and completely optional; players who don’t install will not see the content.  Player content will be reviewed before being posted.

Business Model

Server purchasing, which would allow players to “own their own system.”  Basically, system owners could admit other players to their system and make changes to their universe as they progress through the game.

Theme

Scary, dark, exploratory, with an emphasis on discovering the unknown.  Terrain and system analysis, decision whether to go for colonization, then establishing and holding bases for refugees, and ultimately building new worlds.

MMORPG.com writes:
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