I want to start this week's column with a disclaimer: If you have any intentions of watching the Sci Fi series Caprica, and haven't done so yet, the following article is going to prove something of a spoiler for you. Don't keep reading, and if you do, don't say I didn't warn you.
A while back, one of my colleagues wrote a weekly column called "Why Not." Each week, he'd come up with a different concept for an MMO and then talk about it, looking for reader opinions. Today, I wanted to resurrect that tradition by writing Why Not: New Cap City.
Those of you who are familiar with the Caprica series, a prequel to the recent re-imagining of Battlestar Gallactica, will know immediately what I'm talking about. For those of you not so well versed, I'll give you the Cliff Notes (Coles Notes for the Canucks out there) version of what I'm talking about.
Imagine a world where the internet isn't confined to your computer, but instead could be accessed directly from a device that hooks into your mind. This device allows you to move around "the internet", called V-World in the show (get it? It's a virtual world...).
Within that world are nearly countless different places and people, shops and programs, etc, etc. I wanted, however, to talk about one particular element of V-World, a game known as New Cap City.
Think of New Cap City as a kind of virtual reality mix between Grand Theft Auto and Second Life. It is, at its core, a virtual reality recreation of the fictional Caprica City. Players, when they log into the game, are free to roam around and do pretty much whatever it is that they want. There is no rule of law, there are no levels, no classes to guide you. Instead, you are left almost completely to the mercies of the other players in the sandbox, and they to you. It is, in effect, a true sandbox.
I know there are those of you out there who are going to tell me that this already exists in the form of Second Life, but it's not like that at all. Second Life has no real, true, unifying factor. One zone may be fantasy, the next Sci-fi, the next a proper shooter game, etc. etc. etc. the world is what its players make it, literally. New Cap City, on the other hand, already has a world that asks players instead to create their own social constructs, be they entrepreneurial or murderous, financially oriented or sexually oriented, it's all there and waiting.
If you're like me, you're probably thinking that all of this sounds like a fairly straight-forward sandbox style game. There are, however, two things that I think really make New Cap City stand out as a core concept that could shake up the MMO realm.
The first of these is the fact that the game has no clear, distinct purpose. In fact, part of the fun for players is in trying to figure out what the "point" of the game is, what the original designers intended to be the "endgame" goal. At one point in the series one of the characters inside of New Cap City remarks that perhaps trying to figure out what the goal is actually is the goal. In any case, it's certainly not a game that's about grinding to the "endgame" content.
The second, and probably most dramatic, set-apart feature is the fact that death in the game is permanent. In New Cap City, once your avatar dies, you can't log into the game again.
Now, if we were going to talk about creating an MMO in with the same core design elements as NCC, not allowing anyone to ever log in again after dying is not only something that might turn people away, but it surely isn't a good revenue model. Something would have to be done.
I'm certainly not suggesting that someone build an MMO on the Caprica IP. In fact, doing so would limit the potential of what would already be a fairly niche title. Instead, I'd suggest that someone take the spirit of that TV show game and turn it into a real life MMO. Take an already existing city like New York, and allow players from all over to populate it. Don't give them classes or levels, but instead give them unprecedented interactivity with the world around them. Allow for possibilities beyond simple PvP, and build a "lawless New York" simulator. Don't set goals for the players, let them find their own path, and their own goals.
Now, as far as that pesky perma-death idea, I wouldn't recommend scrapping it all together. The constant threat of being killed and kept out of the game is a big part of what keeps a lot of people in check, and adds significantly to the thrill and excitement of a true sandbox game. Instead, I'd suggest that it be replaced with a pay-per-death system. This not only creates incentive for players not to die, but also provides an interesting revenue stream for the company.
These are all just the foundations of an idea and I'm sure that you all out there have your own ideas and thoughts, so please, build on what I've written here in the forums. At best, it might give somebody a bit of inspiration, and worst-case scenario it's a head scratcher for the rest of us.