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Historical MMOs

Dana Massey Posted:
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Dana Massey Asks "Why Not?": Historical MMOs

Each Thursday, this column explores some element of MMOs that isn't being done and why it should be. Massey debuts the column with a look at the often neglected Historical MMO genre.

Why not? For every forum poster we have, there is a unique opinion on what games should be made, what features should be included and how they should be done. In this column, each Thursday, I’ll take on one of those ideas and lay out the basics of something that really should be done, but (to the best of my knowledge) has not.

Three out of four games on the MMORPG.com Game List are fantasy. And that’s a number that’s actually gone down in recent years, as companies have ventured into a bit more sci-fi and a lot more kids games. Still, three in four is a bit extreme.

Clearly, there’s a market for other genres. Hollywood rarely does fantasy, yet people still manage to watch movies. So why, for the love of God, can’t someone make a good game in any other genre?

For my first “Why Not?” column, I want to explore the most neglected – and in my opinion logical – genre that developers have ignored: the historical MMO.

Fantasy, as it has come to exist these days, is just history with creativity. It’s easier to say, “No, that’s not the British burning French towns, that’s the Generians burning Cauchemar!” But, you know what, that’s a cop out.

Each year, colleges and universities around the world produce thousands of English students who dream of walking around in Middle-earth. Through the wonders of technology, we let them do it. After all, they need something to do after they graduate. So why the heck have we neglected the thousands of equally unemployable History grads (I was one, so I am allowed to mock).

We have the talent, we have the technology and it doesn’t take a PhD in Classics to want to know what it was like to walk around in Ancient Rome. Let’s give them a place to play too.

History is full of rich and vibrant worlds and stories that don’t require the presence of five headed dog men to be interesting.

It’s time that someone did an historical AAA quality MMO.

I mean, people play the hell out of historical games (Civilization or Age of Empires anyone?), and historical and biopic movies sell tickets more reliably than the adventures of some dude’s D&D character.

And guess what, while history may not always have been pretty, the argument that “it really happened” is an entirely fair defense if you want to sack Rome and someone from Italy objects.

Now some naysayers may argue that the true problem with an historical MMO is that we already know how it ends. To those narrow-minded pessimists I say, “We know how Lord of the Rings ends too and no one seems to mind.”

Let’s look at some of the eras that could be done and done well.

Medieval Europe

People have the formula down. Fantasy games basically rip all of their classes from this period anyway, so can someone please reskin a good MMO and take out the Wizards?

Seriously, France and Britain liked to beat the crap out of each other. For some reason, Western culture seems to only be ok with killing digital Germans (WWII), but if anyone suggests killing digital anyone else, well that’s just too far, isn’t it?

It’s not! I want to go to War in France.

What’s more, a focus on this kind of game would force some bright designers somewhere to actually think about some of these assumptions they’ve made for years in Fantasy MMOs and might improve that 75% as well.

Take away Wizards and fireballs and suddenly, rogues and archers need to get a helluva lot more interesting for the game to have variety.

The improvements to melee combat and siege weaponry alone would be worth the cost of development.

Ancient Rome

With all due respect to the tenacious guys at RedBedlam who have done fantastic work with Roma Victor, this is an article about big budget treatments of historical MMOs. I respect the hell out of what they’re trying to do, but Rome could definitely use a game that makes its way to Wal-Mart.

And don’t quote the death of Gods and Heroes at me either. A noble attempt, but that game was mythological, not historical, and its death was more to do with the collapse of the company making it than the product itself.

A Roman MMO would provide the ultimate “us vs. them” gameplay and is far enough back that even the Pope probably wouldn’t get too offended.

Hell, the Empire itself was organized like an MMO world.

For the carebears among us, they could be noble Roman Citizens, practicing their wrestling, building statues and assassinating Senators in a safe, cozy PvE environment.

For the moderately hardcore, there is always the life of a Roman Soldier to consider. March forth with six of your closest shield bearing buddies and civilize you some Gauls.

For the really hardcore? The life of a Visigoth is for you. Sharpen your teeth, practice your club swinging in the dense, cold forests of Eastern Europe, then pull a Leeroy Jenkins and run screaming into Northern Italy to kill you some Romans.

Seriously, what’s not to love?

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Dana Massey