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What Gaming Should Be

As an avid lifelong gamer, I try to describe what has worked well and poorly in games I've played, and in any given gaming scenario, to define how it could best be handled as a result.

Author: reillan

MMORPGs we desperately need, and how I dream of implementing them

Posted by reillan Tuesday June 9 2009 at 2:11PM
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Often, we see postings regarding MMOs we'd love to see established.  I think these lists often give added weight to franchises merely because they could be easily implemented as MMOs.  But there are a lot of popular titles that could be turned into very interesting and unique MMOs if a design studio were to take the time to do them.  So, to try to spur discourse that could ultimately lead to such MMOs being made, I am here to offer my own MMO requests, with a bit of insight on what we would need in such a game to make it cool.


#5 - Dungeons and Dragons, Faerun

Yes, I know there is a DDO already out, but there is also a fundamental problem with it - it is set in the world of Eberron, a world created only recently as part of a contest that Wizards had.  It's at least an interesting world, fundamentally different in several ways from their main lines, but it is not the world that is the fan favorite among all the planes.

The Forgotten Realms setting is where the stories of Elminster and Drizzt take place.  These two heroes are the most popular in all of Dungeons & Dragons literature, and the world has spawned dozens of well-selling books (The current best selling fiction book of the D&D universe, according to is "The Sword Never Sleeps, a book by Ed Greenwood, author of the Elminster stories, that is set in Forgotten Realms).  The world of the Forgotten Realms is called Toril, but more well-known is the name of the continent on which the vast majority of the adventures take place - Faerun.

Faerun's geography has been very firmly established, with large, highly-detailed maps available, and many cities (especially the more popular ones) intricately laid out.  Some of these cities, especially Silverymoon and Waterdeep, are described as beautiful cities with artwork regularly created depicting them.  Faerun is also where the epic video games Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, and Icewind Dale were set.  These are some of the most beloved and popular fantasy video games of all time.

So it seems rather odd that Wizards chose Eberron for DDO.  Perhaps this had to do with licensing (perhaps Obsidian/Atari own exclusive rights to work in the world). 

Now, I personally think that the current iteration of DDO is not implemented to my standards.  I dislike the slow leveling system it uses.  Some people would say that it is the only way to do D&D and keep it true to the series, but I think that any time you implement a game into a MMO environment, you immediately lose the ability to keep it "true" and can thus do a few things to it that others might not appreciate.  For instance, you could remodel the current 20-level system into a 60-level system, with smaller relative XP rewards and slower loot drops.  # of attacks could be turned into an issue of weapon speed, with each level giving a progressively larger boost to weapon speed (A weapon with a speed of "10" could have its speed reduced by 80% by level 60, or effectively a 1.33% reduction in speed per level, for a fighter, paladin, etc.  That would give it its full "5 attacks per round" it currently enjoys).  Abilities, Armour, and so on could all be expanded in the same ways, so that level 1 and level 60 have obvious mathematical connections to regular PnP D&D, but levels along the way may not be so obvious.

One of the key things about D&D is the ability to dual class, and I don't think that should be any different in a Faerun-based online game.  Prestige classes could be implemented, which would require you to find a trainer somewhere in the world, have rep with a faction, etc.  Some classes could be left out at launch so that they could be implemented later, as well (especially faerun-specific classes). 

Another big thing is loot, which I haven't directly addressed except to say it should be slower.  That's not the whole puzzle, however.  Loot should have the same relative chance in an online game of being really, really cool that it has in PnP D&D.  Perhaps you just killed a dragon and you're looting his treasure chest; you would have a very tiny possibility of looting an artifact more powerful than the normal line of weapons, but even some random weapon drops would be amazing.  You could, perhaps, discover a +5 Vorpal sword (or as I would prefer it, a +4 Vorpal Keen sword).  Each bonus on the sword would be part of a random table, and you'd be far more likely to loot a plain +3 sword than a +5 sword with bonuses - but the possibility would exist nonetheless.  And, certain creatures (especially big mobs like a dragon) could have a higher chance of rolling better on loot.

Finally, crafting would need to be capable of making all non-artifact items, including the +4 Vorpal Keen sword.  This is D&D, after all.  Finding the materials to make them may be time consuming, but you could do it.   In this way, crafting would not be a waste of time as it is in most games.

If I designed the game, characters would probably start out in a sparsely-populated area of Faerun, possibly some place with high populations of all the standard races (my vote is for the Dalelands, but not many dwarves and gnomes there).  Expansions could take characters further and further away - into Icewind Dale, down to Chult, east into Thay, and so on.  Over an extreme amount of time, they could even head into Shar and other continents.

Wake me when I can raid a Zhent stronghold.


#4 - Magic, the Gathering

I've been playing with this idea for a while, and its implementation would be much harder than the standard fair of games.  Some of you may argue that there's already a Magic MMO - well, there is one where you can play the card game online, and I play it as well, but I'm wanting something more in-depth than the card game.

In Magic, the Gathering, the players themselves are part of the game and are called Planeswalkers.  These are able to summon monsters, collect artifacts, and cast powerful sorcery.  Planeswalkers are ever locked in mortal combat with each other, highlander-style.  However, Planeswalkers can also team up to take others down (such as when more than 2 people play the game). 

This means that there is already a mechanic in place for Planeswalkers to work together, and therefore we can exploit that.  It we say that Planeswalkers must occasionally work together to take down other Planeswalkers, then we can set up a game that has NPC Planeswalkers and PvP for Planeswalker battles.

Each Planeswalker would have a mana pool that is comprised of mana from the region he's currently in.  He could collect artifacts along his travels that provide him with additional mana resources, and these would increase his starting pool.  Mana would regenerate very, very slowly.  Each person would have a display of mana colors currently available, from all 6 colors (counting colorless as a color).  When casting a spell, he would need to have that amount of mana available to begin with.  Spells (creatures, sorcery, interrupts, etc) would need an amount of many available first, and, except for interrupts, would take a certain amount of time to pull off.  Additionally, each person would have only a maximum number of spells they can slot.  These spells are available at any time (taking away the randomness of the card game, to an extent). 

Many of the basic spells people would get as they level - a level one character may start off with the ability to cast fireballs and summon wolves.  This may be the only spell in his library, too.  But as he levels, he gains new abilities (a few more than his library can currently hold, at any given level, making him choose).

Characters would start in one of the 5-colored regions, and have mana available to them mostly of that region's color.  As they progress further, they start blending further as well.  Ultimately, if a person played long enough, he could gain every spell in the game regardless of its color.  However, he would not be able to put all of these into his library - so just like in the card game, he would have to pick and choose what spells he wants available to him.

Interrupts, regular spells, and cards in the current game that "return to hand" would be handled as a mechanic of casting time and skill cooldowns.  Interrupts would have no casting time - you click it, it happens.  Regular spells would have a casting time (these could vary).  Most spells have a very long cooldown, preventing their overuse, but cards in the current game that return to hand could have a cooldown that is reset when the spell is broken or the creature it modifies is defeated, or the cooldown could simply be short to reflect that it can be used again and again.  Monsters with summoning sickness could be paused for a short while when summoned, whereas others could attack immediately.  Channeled skills could have default actions that you can set (ie, set it to default to 3 damage) or could be selected to entirely drain your mana pool (so that you can use up all the mana tryng to heal yourself or injure your opponent, if necessary.


#3 - Transformers

This is just a cool idea, and potentially very lucrative from the standpoint of product placement.  Imagine a system that allows you to choose a base vehicle type (car, truck, fighter jet, helicopter, etc) and you get a default transformer who always transformes into a robot and back into the vehicle based on a set model - however, there would be extents to which you could modify the model, such as adding paint, stretching a fender to be a foot longer (give a car "tailfins"), elongating the nose of the car, and so on.  It still transforms in the same way, but it looks different.

Now imagine that you sell the rights to Ford, Honda, or some other automaker to use their current lines of cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, and so on as several "default" models.  So, a player could start with a car and make it look however he wants if he wants to take the time stretching various components; however, if he wants to, he can also simply click through pre-defined vehicles, and take a Honda Civic as the model for his transforming car.  All players would be given the power of flight while in bot-form, so travel times shouldn't be a terribly big issue that causes everyone to roll a jet.

The game could be set up as either PvP (allowing players to play Decepticons), or PvE.  

The only other thought I had regarding the design of this game would be that certain vehicles (especially common ones like cars) would draw significantly less aggro, owing to the fact that they fit into the environment better.  People would be a bit surprised if they saw a tank rolling down main street.


#2 - Firefly

One company already owns the rights to do a Firefly MMO, but I'm not convinced that it's one we'll ever actually see, at least without some help.  Even if we did see it, it might be horrible.

The thing that made the Firefly story great was not its technology or its character classes, but rather its moral ambiguity and the ability of bad-guy characters to still seem good, often by their juxtaposition against even worse bad guys (read Richard Slotkin's "Gunfighter Nation" for more info). 

Arguably, every character in an MMO is evil.  My Champion in Lord of the Rings Online has not gotten heroic by helping little old ladies across the street (certainly, there was a fair bit of that, more often in Lothlorien), but rather by causing the Brandywine River to flow red with the blood of bandits, Dourhand Dwarves, and Dunedain.  The senseless slaughter of sentient creatures is not virtuous, but we're rarely ever given the ability to try to reason with a people (except by first beating them in combat and killing off their entire army singlehandedly - that happens quite often).  Yet my Champion is "one of the good guys," befriended by Glorfindel, Gandalf, Elrond, and all the other heroes of legend. 

So how, then, can a game appreciably make characters more evil, while still allowing them to be on the side of good, and furthermore offer the players the freedom that being a smuggling ship outside the law provides?  I'm not entirely sure it can.  Certainly, every quest chain would need to be incredibly well-thought-out, and offer a lot more variations for XP than merely "go here, kill this, bring it back to me" quests. 


#1 - Shadowrun

If Firefly was set on Earth rather than in deep space, you'd have something akin to Shadowrun.  For those of you uninitiated, Shadowrun is another PnP RPG, and its premise is that magic has come back into the world, creating Elves, Orks, Trolls, and so on as part of the racial mix.  This is supposed to happen around 2012, to coincide with the Mayan calendar that everyone in real-time Earth is currently panicking about.  Fast-forward 50 years to the present-day of the Shadowrun RPG, and many people have slipped off the radar - they've either been born without SSNs (now called SINs, so these are the SINless.  clever, no?) or had them deleted from government systems.  And of course, since these people officially don't exist, they often end up doing odd jobs for people who need jobs done that are, shall we say, not official either.

So these SINless often become Shadowrunners.  They take on contracts from shady contacts (who often go by the name "Johnson") to do all the typical things MMOs ask us to do - kill someone, steal something and bring it back, and so on.  However, in the Shadowrun universe, if you can get by without killing someone, you're doing much better.  Of course, it's always better to carry off a mission without drawing any attention.  However, only an idiot goes into a secure building without at least some form of protection (often in the form of a 12-foot-tall Troll wielding a No-dachi as a 1-handed weapon).

As a result, Shadowrun is the *perfect* property to be turned into an MMO.  The "Johnson" questing system is exactly what we use in every other MMO currently out, even though we don't call it that. 

The biggest problem with Shadowrun is that it doesn't fall neatly into class and leveling systems.  A magic user has the potential to be, over the course of an absolute ton of playing that we expect MMOs to produce, the most powerful person ever, with no possibility of anyone of a different "class," especially without magic, to be able to catch up. 

So I do think we would need some classes, at least to prevent potential balance issues.  Spellcasters (perhaps broken down by spellcasting tradition), Adepts (with at least Physical Adepts as their own class, and possibly other adepts as well), and non-magical people (who could be broken down into Rigger, Street Samurai, and a few other classes).  The game would preferrably be played without levels, but if we had to use them, they would be mostly an artificial construct to determine when build points (the points you assign to your skills and attributes) would be provided.  Perhaps, if we limit people in points by limiting them in level, we wouldn't need classes (a spellcaster would max out when he runs out of points), so that would be even better.

The game would initially start in Seattle, with certain nearby areas possible for travel, and adding on expansions of other regions over time.  Many of the places could be more or less "instanced," as we don't necessarily need to see the hundreds of miles of land between Seattle and Denver if we're flying between the two, although there should probably be an extent to which the land surrounding a city is available for exploration and questing as well, especially for those magic users whose traditions require being outside of a city.