Poll

Could a massive multiplayer game in a sci fi setting achieve a mass following?

Yes
13 (43.3%)
Maybe, but they need that "killer app" first
16 (53.3%)
No, nobody wants to play as aliens!
1 (3.3%)

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Author Topic: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"  (Read 5317 times)

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Offline Mezorin

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The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« on: December 18, 2005, 01:12:43 pm »
I figured I'd try starting a thread on this since nobody really has yet




So any of us paying attention has heard Steve's take on the sci fi MMO thing:  Sci fi based MMOs tend to flop, as people cannot "identify with" their characters, setting, or environment.  Nobody wants to play the "MucMucs" or the "G'rasssshes" or what ever, and would prefer to be a sexy looking human or elf, and therefore they can't really identify with their character/environment and not really get hooked or attached the same way you could in your typical swords and wizardry MMO.



The Sci Fi MMOs have had a lot of mediocre bombs and flops every which way.  Earth and Beyond died, Planet Side is a dying zombie of a game, Star Wars Galaxy is an Abomination, Matrix Online was pure garbage, and Imperator (which is going to be a bad assed "Rome in Space" sort of epic) is delayed.  However, some of the (still modest) successes never really got mentioned.  Namely that, yes, SWG DID sell quite a few copies before tanking the way it did.  You'd be hard pressed not to have at least heard of Phantasy Star Online, which had a fairly decent run for a while, as anime-Diablo-in-space seemed to work fairly well.  And Eve Online is still kicking around, and is "Intriguing" as Steve put it.  Hell, if you want to be really technical, you could count the City of Heroes and Villains games to have sci fi elements (don't you tell me that my Master Mind with an army of battle drones fighting her way through an Arachnos lab complete with computers, metal beams and pipes going everywhich way, and genetic super soldiers being grown in tubes is "swords and sorcery"), although that genre is more "fantastic modern day" with elements from a lot of genres.


So the question is, could it be feasible to do a sci fi MMO that's good?  I believe yes, although the industry is not going to take any big risks unless they know they can pay out.  So it is going to be one of the loose cannon companies that likes to try newer and better things.  But the sci fi genre has not seen its "killer app" yet at all.  Obviously, there just hasn't been that smash hit like EverQuest or World of Warcraft in the sci fi genre that just blows the market wide open and is a smash success the way those two games are.


So why haven't we had a "perfect storm" sci fi MMO game?  Namely because the right mixture of stuff and gameplay elements hasn't been made yet.  Most sci fi MMOs I've seen thus far usually had some sort of fatal flaw in game play and design that made it die out. 

Warning, this next little bit is a bit long, and details how I think it could be done.  If you have a short attention span and just want to add your two cents, may as well stop reading here  :P



How it could possibly be done (feel free to add to this):


1-  There needs to be decent PvP in the game, but optional:  There are people who absolutely hate pvp, and then there are those who worship it as adding excitement to the game.  This is a given for any MMO though.   But make sure you build your game with pvp in mind from the ground up.  I doubt anyone wants to see the pvp added 2 years into the game's life cycle, and everything being changed around to fix this.


2-  There needs to be a sexy looking "nympho race" that's pretty to look at.  Ideally two if its a two sided war:  Fun fact:  Nightelves and humans in WoW are THE most played races in that game, period.  If WoW had PlanetSide style "who ever has the most people wins" styled global wars, the Horde would be camped in their grave yards by a zerg of Alliance elf/human bimbos within a week.  People like picking humanish/sexyhumanish characters as a statistic, this is a fact.

Now if people statistically cannot stand to play an orc, I can guarantee you nobody is going to play a tentacle monster from Gamma Quadrant Five, or one of the smelly lizards from the outer rim.  So either make a couple of races that are like "elves in space" (basically what a Newman from Phantasy Star is,  catelfgirls ftw!), or have it all be human.  In turn, you could include a few more "ugly" races, but don't expect people to play them as much as the "pretty" races.  Unless, of course, you unbalance the ugly to be so powerful they're broken.  But I get the general sense people don't like unbalanced classes/races, so that's not a good idea.

Sex and familiarity sells, abuse this.


3-  Make a lot of the game take place on the surface:  Okay, big empty boring space is not that fun to look at.  But lush jungles, harsh deserts, massive metropolitan cities, temperate forests, and what ever else that you can cook up could have that whole "hey, I've seen a forest, I'm familiar with this game, I feel attached to this!" effect.  Of course, every now and again toss in a futuristic base, mine, or fortress of evil that reminds you that you are in a futuristic environment. 



4-  Build a good brand new story setting from scratch:  "Whaaaaaaaaa?   What are you talking about Mezorin, making a brand new universe and new story setting is expensive, and doesn't have brand loyalty, and its going to horribly fail!".  Is EverQuest "Lord of the Rings"?  No, it may rip some things off from LOTR, but EverQuest is its own world and plot setting.  Sony is in complete control were the EverQuest story line and everything to do with it goes, and can therefore tailor it to fit their gameplay goals.  Now I know Steve's going to smack me down for stepping AWAY from brand loyalty, but hear me out.


The best example of why you DON'T want to stick with a name brand is Star Wars Galaxies.  Right now in that game you can see a light saber battle go on in just about every space port in the galaxy, in a time when the Jedi were supposed to be hunted to extinction.  Not to mention its been God knows how many years now that the game has been going on.  If you are going by actual movie time line of events, the second Death Star should have been blown up by now, and they should have been partying and getting drunk on Endor Moon last January.  Needless to say, the "Star Wars nerd" they were hoping to cater to as the target audience is going to have their illusions broken when "Star Wars" becomes "Grind Wars".  Not to mention having George Lucas ridding your butt on how your game is implemented, your time frames, and the balance of your game is NOT a good idea. 


Theoretically, you could do one on Star Trek or Babylon 5 possibly, as those series tended to focus on the crew of one single station/ship and there was a whole universe of untold stories going on everywhere else, but you may run into the same problems of people's expectations being broken and plot continuity getting mucked up.  So yes, putting a brand name on the MMO would sell more copies of it, but then the said MMO would have more problems.


"But Mez, people want to see familiarity with plot/story line and nobody will play a game for story that nobody has an attachment to!"


So instead of a BRAND NAME, you get a good AUTHOR NAME as your hook.


In a perfect magical world, if I wanted to make a sci fi MMO, I would commission Frank Herbert (who would somehow be alive and well) to do the plot line, NPCs, and settings.  I would sit down with the guy, lay out all the technical and plot limitations, and come up with a kick assed setting/story line that is unique to that MMO game.  It would need to be reasonably open ended to support the player end of things, but have a greater plot line going along globally (so you both have player interest AND an excuse to add content).  Now this plot would need to be able to support good game play, and would need to be MMO friendly ("I'm the Chosen One!" styled player arcs mess things up continually wise...),  but I am sure there are genius sci fi writer minds who can pull it off.  The author should be there to be consulted on things through out the whole development life cycle.


Someone who has authored a series of million seller classic sci fi books will carry more weight with a name on the box then the usual "generic pulp video game" plots do.  You get people turning heads and buying what they're loyal to, but the plot is designed for an MMO game and your team has control over how things are working out balance and gameplay wise.  Best of both worlds if you ask me :)



5-  Gameplay takes priority over the story line:  Okay, forget what I just said in the last point if your gameplay isn't up to snuff.  You could have the dark magic voodoo animated corpse of Frank Herbert himself write your game, but if the gameplay itself plays like garbage, it won't matter if your game is the next Dune on plot/character interaction/story line/etc.   The gameplay and "fun factor" is your meat and potatoes, the plot is your spices and herbs that add flavor.  Add all the spices and herbs you want to a charred piece of dog feces and its a piece of dog feces still.  The classic example of this:  The Matrix Online.  Sure, the game has a compelling ongoing plot and setting, but is one of the most horrible game play experiences since E.T. I have ever seen or heard of.  Oh sure, it may sell based on compelling plot line/etc at first, but bad game play is bad game play.



6- Do something unique:  While we all like our elves and swords/sorcery comfort foods, somewhere down the line new things have to be tried.  What's the point of doing EverQuest with a coat of sci paint over it?  New is novel, and novel ideas tend to be a good "hook".  If you don't believe me, look at City of Heroes:  that game bucks the MMO trend on A LOT of conventions and not just the plot.  I would say game play wise about the only things it'd have in common with EQ is you gain levels, you have groups of friends who do stuff, and its massively online.  Besides, we're all full up on our "swords and sorcery" games, and do you honestly think for one minute you can take on World of Warcraft by trying to be the same as it?



7- Pray.  And hope for good backing  Any game that is ambitious like this is going to be a tough job to pull off.  Odds are with a risky game like this, you either need to have a smoking hot concept that someone like SOE or NCSoft will take a risk on, or need to be super rich yourself (Blizzard comes to mind...).  And let's face it:  with costs going up insanely high, few people can afford to take a massive risk like that.  But if you are going to do so, better go the full Monty and make it high quality, or the game will be yet another dead MMO.





So are there any games that are even close to what I put up here that could be considered?  One that comes to mind would be Tabula Rasa.  Richard "I did Ultima" Garriott is their executive producer, and they are being backed by NCSoft (who has a heck of a lot more success and originality then say Sony does these days).  So you have your big name and big author (producer actually) backing which should help generate the much needed hype.


I like the way combat will be handled.  I don't know about you, but any game where you can turn your auto heal/auto pilot/auto run on and go off and play Soul Calibur or read for an hour isn't very exciting to me.  But in TR, FPS skills are the name of the game for combat.  There is also a deep RPG system running under the hood, so you could see a Deus Ex style hybrid of stats and skills game play that looks "interesting".  I really really really want this game to succeed, and prove that a good sci fi MMO CAN be done, but if any one game can do it, I think Tabula Rasa has the best crack at it.


Another good game concept that is currently delayed is Imperator Online.  Its plot is both familiar and novel:  what if the Roman Republic never fell, and continued to thrive and kick ass to this day?  Enter:  Gladiator in space, verses the Maiyans (who are still around, and are the villains in this universe).  Very sweet idea.


I would much rather play a couple games like these that are new, innovative, and more FPS oriented then the same old tried and true EverQuest 3.492 Alpha Foxtrot Clone.  Here's hoping to them being launched and done well.



Offline smjjames

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2005, 02:05:48 pm »
if SWG wasn't so hellishly buggy, it could have made for a great game, but it stayed riddled with bugs and imbalances and thier PR was as low as Hades.

Offline DevilMachine

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2005, 06:53:25 pm »
if the perfect sci-fi mmorpg ever gets released, I may look into it. But I have always preferred the fantasy setting.

Offline PineappleTheHun

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2005, 10:23:12 am »
Auto. Assault.
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Offline Aybraus

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2005, 03:27:47 pm »
Agreed.  Asians will most certainly play a Sci-Fi game if it involves RACING.

I feel like making a thread on how to make the ultimate MMO...since I already finished my ultimite the Sims.
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Offline DevilMachine

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2005, 07:54:15 pm »
oh yeah, Auto Assault does sound pretty good

Offline T-BirD

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2005, 12:00:59 am »
http://www.darkspace.net/ is a spaceship based MMO from a small company that almost nobody played.  I spent a few months in it back in 2002 and really liked it, but the lack of new players hurts it badly :(

Offline Samog

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2005, 03:31:26 pm »
You missed Anarchy Online, but the community is kind of like what happened to the Spacers in Foundation and Earth.
"Fine. Don't believe me. I'm not lying. all your laziness which you mistake for something funney is driving me insane, quit fooling around!  dude this is just wrong, very wrong. reality does not consist of constrained language. go lock this thread malt. I love the payment."4MOD

Offline Leng

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2005, 05:05:44 pm »
don't even talk to me about the expanded foundation series...
I have been told
not by one but two of my lovers
that I've got a heart of gold
but I'm unable to share it with others
They call me a poet who'll never have a poem
a tiger with no taste for bone
I'm the wonderful wonderful wizard who's waltzing alone

Offline Jecrell

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2005, 02:09:36 pm »
Auto Assault wasn't too bad, but not good enough to hold my attention for more than a week. I was a beta tester, I loved a lot of it, but I didn't think they took advantage of a lot of potential things they could have done to make the world more immersive and the quests more enjoyable. It's a pretty good game if you're looking for a little more action though.

But -- I think it's about time we had a Dune MMORPG -- or something that has a lot of high-paced hack and slash, one man vs. a horde of monsters action with a higher level of customization. I really hate it when I have no control over my character's development. It's almost as if there's no point to see my Strength stat if it's no different than anyone else in my class unless I get some items to change it. Bah I say!

Or maybe have a kind of realistic MMORPG based on the idea of expanding humanity onto Mars. And the game is based around the idea that Mars' original inhabitants have just burst out of the soil from a long period of hybernation (War of the Worlds anyone?) -- and its up to some of the astronauts to fight them, and the others to help build a Civilization on the dune planet. =P
« Last Edit: December 26, 2005, 02:14:40 pm by Jecrell »

Offline Cool AN

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2005, 02:19:32 pm »
I don't remember, Foundation and Earth was the third book? Or was it that one that was a stand alone one?

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Offline Leng

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2005, 03:58:32 pm »
there is foundation, there is foundation and empire, and there is second foundation.  there are no other foundation novels.
I have been told
not by one but two of my lovers
that I've got a heart of gold
but I'm unable to share it with others
They call me a poet who'll never have a poem
a tiger with no taste for bone
I'm the wonderful wonderful wizard who's waltzing alone

Offline Krakow Sam

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2005, 04:09:27 pm »
In regard to 'one man vs loads of monsters' and control over character developement CoH/CoV is the closest existing thing. its kind of a sci-fi game. if you make sure you only take missions where you're not fighting Circle of Thorns, or the Tsoo... or ghosts of any kind... but the 'City ofs' get round the Sci-fi MMO 'curse' by being set on earth in a sort of alternate present day, theres no purple water or totally unknown items and its pretty obvious who the bad guys are and what youre doing. They may not be eleves and Dwarfs but its pretty obvious what Gangsters or wizards or Clockwork robots are all about. The fact that there are no player 'races' also helps because no-one needs to be discouraged by having to play as an unfamiliar character and it eliminates the uglyness player imbalance.

What would turn me off from the Dune or mars ideas you described is the fact that there would be a total lack of variety in the environments, were talking nothing but rock and sand and dust for every area (except some indoor facilities etc) and this might carry over into the creatures you encounter as well. For the mars one there would just be different types of martians, if you tried to explain how they all differ then youd already have created a barrier to someone picking the game up. The dilemma is that either the enemies wouldnt be varied or that there would be too much explaining to do (which goes right back to the original problem with sci-fi MMO's) so there would be a small audience of hardcore fans and the game wouldnt make money.
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Offline Leng

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2005, 04:26:22 pm »
well we could have a sci-fi with mainly humans (aliens having suffered pogroms and oppression at their hands) and if you like you could play the aliens as bastard children looking to overthrow mankind and make a place for themselves in the universe.  dune could be good if they have more worlds besides arrakis, since it's a feudal society and you could bridge the gap between fantasy and sci-fi.  Emperor of the fading suns or warhammer 40k would work for the same reason.

maybe the real problem is the unfamiliar just hasn't been made very interesting.  we wouldn't necessarily need a famous writer - just some good ones.
I have been told
not by one but two of my lovers
that I've got a heart of gold
but I'm unable to share it with others
They call me a poet who'll never have a poem
a tiger with no taste for bone
I'm the wonderful wonderful wizard who's waltzing alone

Offline Cool AN

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Re: The Whole Sci-Fi MMO "Thing"
« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2005, 04:33:09 pm »
there is foundation, there is foundation and empire, and there is second foundation.  there are no other foundation novels.

Yeah there is. On Danish it is called "Agent for Stiftelsen", which translated means "Agent for the Foundation". I couldn't remember the name before though.

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