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No Elves Allowed: Four Worlds Ripe for MMO Treatment

Column By Cassandra Khaw on February 16, 2012

Once again, we're back with No Elves Allowed. I hope Valentine's Day was not an all-out disaster for you guys out there. Given that Valentine's Day, when not otherwise a season for blatant commercialism, can be a day for hope, this week's No Elves Allowed will be dedicated to 'what-ifs'. What if your favorite franchise was an MMO? What if? Below is a list of franchises that I would definitely shell out subscription money for.

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The Strain

Forget Twilight. Forget brooding, melodramatic things that continuously try to intimate that we're unfashionable because we're breathing. The Strain takes things old-school by casting aside pretty exteriors and replacing it with something truly grotesque. The guys in The Strain? They're the Nosferatu reborn.

Co-authored by Guillermo del Toro (yes, the dude who helmed Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy series) and Chuck Hogan, The Strain is a trilogy set within the modern world. It opens with a regular airplane landing unnoticed in an airport and ends with an apocalyptic nightmare, one steeped in guerrila warfare and concentration camps.

As I've mentioned before, the vampires in The Strain are rather horrific. Instead of gothic apparel, they're often clad in rags. Their bite doesn't incite pleasure. Unless you're of a certain disposition, it's probably hard to be aroused by the bald, red-eyed thing that has a proboscis clamped around a vein in your leg. If you're unfortunate enough to be turned by one of these guys, expect to have your memories muted, a strong desire to convert your family members (Dear Ones, as they call it) concieved and an infestation of 'blood worms' in your system. In short, they're not a pretty sight. (Ask how they get rid of waste. I dare you.)

An MMO devoted to the Strain would be tricky business. While I could see it done in a variety of ways, I'd personally be rather keen on the idea of playing as a human being in the aftermath of the vampiric takeover. Would you be a survivor trying to escape from the concentration camps or a refugee in the outskirts? Would you be affiliated with the vampires or against them? The economy would be dominated by the player, the politics of the game ruled by the canny. As a scavenger living outside of the rule of the vampires, you could probably try tipping off your undead sovereigns about the presence of a rival gang. You could even do so in order to stage an ambush.

The biggest problem about developing an MMO based on the Strain is longevity, I think. There's only so much you can do in the setting and no publisher in the world would be willing to devote themselves to a short-lived idea. But a girl can dream, right?

Discworld

I've heard all the arguments against the idea of a Discworld MMO but I still can't help but want one. The setting just sort of begs for a game. I even love the elves here – giggly, sadistic things more invested in fun than in the future. In case you have no clue as to what I'm talking about, Discworld is a delightfully humorous fantasy series by Terry Prachett. Set in the Discworld, a world balanced atop gargantuan elephants who are, in turn, set on the back of a giant, cosmos-travelling turtle, the universe is one filled with familiar tropes and clever twists.

For example, vampires here are often foolish and prone towards cliché. They explode into dust if exposed to sunlight, garlic and holy water. They think spelling their names backwards is all it takes to throw a hunter off the trail. However, some vampires are Black Ribboners – vampires devoted to the pursuit of something other than blood. Some of them go into the business of caffeine addiction. Others get obsessed with light. (You can imagine how that goes.) Dwarves here are stereotypical to a fault. How so? Well, let's just say that courtship between dwarves is 90% percent 'figure out what gender the other person is'. There are witches who specialize in headology (the art of getting into another person's mind), trolls that are born from metaphorical rock (live in a city? Expect to look like a brick), little blue men that fight anything they see, werewolves, heroes and more. I could go on.

Needless to say, it's a world ripe for exploitation. So, why no MMO?  The biggest problem, as many have mentioned before, is the fact the humor has a short life expectancy. Jokes become stale after the fifth time you've heard them. Unlike many other fantasy worlds, there is nothing big in Discworld, no imposing threat to be destroyed, no apocalyptic doom veering in on the distance. There is, in short, no end game. However, for the right sort of people, that could be a good thing. A Discworld MMO would have to be something driven by the community, a place where rank and politics mattered. It would have to be huge  and versatile enough to encompass a wide variety of professions.

Imagine being able to start out as a street urchin and earning a spot as the Guild Leader for the Thieves' Guild. You'd have a house, a place to stay, a Guild to police and assassins to watch out for. Your friend could be play as a Troll bodyguard, one whose intelligence is tempered by the, well, ambient temperature. Fancy taking it a step further? You could play as a Wizard in the university or a vampire in the services of the Watch. The possibilities are endless.

World of Watches

In Sergei Lukyaneko's urban fantasy tetralogy, the supernatural world is divided between the Light Others and the Dark Others. As you might have guessed already, the Light Others are goody two-shoes who believe in helping the helpless. The Dark Others, on the other hand, subscribe to the belief that might makes right. However, unlike most settings, both factions are not embroiled in a terrible struggle. While prone towards clashing, both are subject to the same Grand Treaty – an agreement that was written ages back to ensure that neither side achieves supremacy.

The Night Watch and the Day Watch were created as a result of this agreement. Both parties are designed to police the machinations of the other side and to ensure that a balance is maintained throughout the ages. Of course, not everyone is a part of this grand plan. Most Others live out normal lives in secret. Granted, normal is somewhat subjective since Others come in all sorts. There are succubi, shapeshifters, witches, werewolves, vampires – the whole assortment of races you would come to expect from such a world.

Once again, if an MMO was ever made out of the series, it would probably be somewhat low-key and largely driven by the community. Regular, large-scale events would be necessary to switch up the tempo a little bit, something that probably wouldn't be too hard to arrange given the amount of ravenous monsters present in this landscape. While it's unlikely that players would choose to play a regular human when they can become an Other, it'd be nice if this hypothetical MMO offered this option as well. Perhaps, there would be a bounty on the Others – a group of vigilantes interested in ridding the world of the supernatural? A modern-day band of Inquisitors? Who knows? The World of Watches is intricate enough to open the door to a huge amount of possibilities.

Magic the Gathering

First introduced in 1993, Magic the Gathering is still going strong. According to statistics, there were approximately 11 million players in 2011, a hefty number given that it's a physical trading collectible card game. On the off-chance that you haven't heard about the game, Magic the Gathering works something like this. Two or more players must battle for supremacy in a planeswalker duel. To accomplish this, players will have to drain mana from various lands, summon monsters, cast spells, create enchantments and do the sort of things we normally associate with high-profile mages. While different people have different reasons for liking the game, I'm personally in love with the world built around the mechanics.

To elaborate, each Magic the Gathering expansion is often set in a different plane. For example, Kamigawa revolved around the world of, well, Kamigawa – a Japanese-themed world that pit mortals against spirits. Mirrodin, on the other hand, was a world made out of metal. Needless to say, over the last decade or so, Wizards of the Coast have come up with a rather formidable variety of worlds to play in.

How would this work as an MMO? Easy. Take a plane. Start there. You could be a resident there or you could be a transplant, a helpless pawn accidentally abandoned in this new world after your master finished with you. Learn the world. Engage in quests. Defeat titanic monsters. Do whatever it takes to make a thriving MMO. When it is time for the new expansion, have all interested characters plucked out of their existing world and sent to the next, all agents of the planeswalkers. It could even be a way to explain battlegrounds and arenas.

That's it from me. These are the top four franchises I would love to see as an MMO. What about you? What setting would you like to see as an MMO?

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No Elves Allowed
In this bi-weekly column, Cassandra Khaw will be taking us into world on non-fantasy MMOs, Indie, Triple-A, and otherwise to prove that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes.
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