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Not So MMO: Procedurally Generated Goodness

By Beau Hindman on July 17, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Procedurally Generated Goodness

I have recently discovered that I really enjoy primitive-looking, voxel-based, sometimes-sidescroller-y survival games. It sounds a bit specific, so I mean games like Starbound, Minecraft, or Terraria. I love the way the graphics look simple (which means easy to run on older PCs) but feature realistic lighting or shading. I especially love the fact that these titles offer a wide variety of open-ended content and keep the barrier of entry low.

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One of the best aspects of these games is how easily they allow players to hook up together to play. As part of my recent Patreon attempt, I started looking at games that do not require much of a machine to run and that also invite players to hang out together by simply joining a server. I rented my own Minecraft server and I am expecting to look for a Starbound one as well.

Over the years of playing MMOs I noticed just how much work and time is needed to keep the massively multiplayer aspect of those games alive. Meanwhile, many players -- one could say the players who become most dedicated to a title, like raiders -- don’t spend the majority of their time hanging out with every possible player they can. No, they spend it with a small, select group of friends or online buddies; people they can trust to perform while in battle. PvPers are the same case, roleplayers as well. Do most players utilize the thousands of players on a server? No.

I think the ultimate use of a large playerbase is to offer the potential for new relationships, and over the years many people have met and even fallen in love with complete in-game strangers. From what I have seen, however, most don’t play an MMO to meet people; they play it for the same reason they play standalone titles and that is to perform.

Multiplayer games like Minecraft or Starbound invite players to join into smaller groups (which they would do anyway) to explore massive, procedurally-generated worlds together. Other than the official Minecraft Realms server system, the server cost is usually shifted away from the developer and placed firmly on third-party sites, saving even more money for the smaller developers.

Is this why we are seeing such a rise in popularity of self-hosted, procedurally-generated worlds, even on mobile? If the rise continues, it has to be due to the fact that hosting massively multiplayer worlds (ironically, for players who prefer to hang out only in small groups of familiar people) is expensive. It’s awesome, yes, but expensive.

Let’s get to some news.

MMORPG’s own Richard Aihoshi’s column recently gave us a good history lesson on MOBAs. If you are not familiar with the popular PvP games, or if you just wanted to make sure you were up on where SMITE came from, check out this column. Here’s an excerpt:

“It all began with a mod. While some observers trace the history of the mobile online battle arena category back as far as the 1989 Sega console game Herzog Zwei, it's more common to cite Aeon of Strife. A fan-made StarCraft custom map released nine years later, it was four on four, but with a player squad vs. an AI one and without leveling up. It was also the inspiration for the 2003 Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, which featured two human teams and in-match hero advancement.”

Read more of his column right here.

No Man’s Sky is getting a ton of attention right now, and it’s easy to see why. Players will be able to board a ship, fly to planets, explore those planets by landing the ship (in real time) and doing it all in a procedurally-generated universe with thousands and thousands of places to explore. Sound familiar? Will No Man’s Sky be anything more than just a fancier-looking version of Starbound? And, if it does look as fancy as the above video shows, what sort of supercomputer will be required to play it? Check out that 18-minute video and see what you think.

If you are an Xbox One subscriber and want to check out SMITE -- one of the MOBAs mentioned above -- then good news! The game’s open beta recently launched on the console and the game’s market has been live for a while. All progress and achievements made in the open beta will transfer over to the live game, so no worries there.

So say that you normally play on the PC and would like to “merge” the two accounts… well, more good news! You can! Players can take advantage of a one-time account-merge option that syncs select progress and items. That might be a good option for those who don’t want to leave their old game behind or start over.

In even more MOBA news, Spacetime Studios, creators of Arcane Legends and Pocket Legends, has let its new mobile MOBA, Call of Champions, enter into open beta across iPhone, iPads and Android devices!

When we first heard about this game we wondered what might set it apart from other MOBAs. Other than being featured on mobile, the game offers 5-minute matches. It seems the developers imagine players playing a quick game or two while waiting for the doctor or while standing in line at the midnight showing of Antman, and the strategy just might work.

Spacetime Studios has talked before about how surprised they were to see that players were willing to grind out hours at a time while on a mobile device (battery life be damned!) so I do wonder why they leaned on much faster match times for this new title. Sure, MOBA matches can be quick trips, but five minutes? That’s pretty brave. Can a player fit a lot of fun into five minutes sessions?

The game will feature three-on-three battles, a choice of 15 Champions (and we’re sure they’ll add more later) and traditional MOBA mechanics that are blended with some new twists on the genre. The developers even recruited professional gamers James “PhantomL0rd” Varga, Joedat "Voyboy" Esfahani and Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis to help set the game straight. Will all of this effort equal a good mobile MOBA? We’ll have to see.

If you want to see, check out the Call of Champions site.

Beau Hindman / Beau is a writer, artist, PR/CM, game designer and pro moderator, and he's been blogging since 2002. He lives it up in Austin, Texas with his community manager wife. He's also the author of Anna the Powerful, a sci-fi book about the world's only superhero. Buy it here: http://my.bookbaby.com/book/anna-the-powerful