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What if... A Rifts MMO

By Jon Wood on May 25, 2010 | Editorials | Comments

What if... A Rifts MMO

On May 12th, we learned that the game formerly known as Heroes of Telara and later re-named Rift: Planes of Telara had run into a spot of legal trouble over the name change. It seems as though Palladium Books is suing Trion Worlds over the use of the name. You see, Palladium is responsible for a sci-fi IP known as Rifts.

Now I'm not going to get into the whole legal mess and whether or not the charges are merited. That's not my strength and really, it doesn't matter a lick to MMO fans. The charges however were enough to get some people thinking: What if they were to make an MMORPG based on the Rifts universe?

With sci-fi MMOs beginning to take a larger and larger share of the traditionally fantasy-based genre, many have asked the question why no studio has stepped up and claimed the well known pen and paper IP. Today, we wanted to take some time to consider that possibility and think about what a Rifts game might look like.

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For those who might not be aware, Rifts is an extremely versatile pen and paper role playing game, taking place on a future Earth that has been through a convoluted series of events that has left the world a bizarre mix of technology and magic, opening the door for an extremely wide variety of play styles and a diverse set of classes and rules.

In an MMO scene where publishers and studios are snapping up intellectual properties left and right, it really is a wonder that this one hasn't been picked up. The diversity mentioned above makes it a perfect candidate for a virtual world that could appeal equally to fans of fantasy, sci-fi, post apocalyptic real world.

As a former Rifts player myself, I can see the plusses and minuses that could arise in developing an MMO based on the IP:

Theme Park or Sandbox

First of all, the diversity mentioned above could be this game's undoing. As a result of the wide open universe, creating the kind of single, unifying storyline that seems to be required for the development of a modern theme park MMO would be unlikely to please even a small number of fans of the IP. Now with that said, the obvious go-to would be to mock up some kind of virtual world sandbox game.

Pros: The setting really does lend itself to a sandbox style of gameplay and would, if done correctly, be a world full of possibilities that would certainly allow players to "make their own fun."

Cons: In today's MMO climate, the odds of a really good sandbox MMO being produced based on a pre-existing IP are really next to nothing.

Classes

The classes in Rifts are as diverse as the setting, offering players almost anything their minds could conjure.

Pros: Having a lot of classes means a lot of choice and diversity for players. This would allow different playstyles to emerge and could certainly make things interesting within the sandbox setting.

Cons: There are so many different classes available in the Rifts universe that it would be nigh impossible to get them all into the game and make sure that there was enough in the game to keep each of them busy.

Balance

One of the best quirks of the Rifts role playing game is the fact that the developers never really seemed to worry about any kind of balance in the game. The idea of balance always took a back seat to a feeling of realism. For example: Of course a guy with a big huge gun that knows how to use it is going to be able to blow a scientist's head off without any problem. He has a big gun, and the other guy has a few beakers.

Pros: It would be refreshing to see an MMO with the guts to admit that some of its classes weren't as powerful as others in straight up combat. It would be great to play a game where if I wanted to make a character that was crap at fighting but awesome at something else, I could.

Cons: In today's MMO climate, the audience at large just isn't likely to accept anything but the most intricate balance in their classes. So many times, I've read complaint after complaint that someone's mage class character wasn't able to go cleanly head to toe in a fistfight with a warrior.

Setting

Rifts is set on a future Earth where the deaths of millions and millions of human beings resulted in the planet's magical energies being replenished after a boom period for mankind where technology blossomed and got awesome right before everything went to crap.

Pros: I've said it before, it's a diverse and interesting setting that really allows for anything at all to happen. It also provides players with a semi-recognizable place to play without the inconvenience of having to stick too close to reality.

Cons: Familiar territory also means something else to squabble about and nitpick over. With that said though, I think the biggest detractor here is the fact that the backstory for the game is so entirely convoluted that it might be more of a hindrance than a blessing.

In the end though, I can't be the only Rifts player in the MMO world, and I'd be interested to hear what all of you think about what a Rifts MMO should look like. Feel free to tell me how dumb I am and how smart you are in the response thread.