This post is over 4 months in coming, but I finally decided to write it up. In part 1 I explained why just about every MMO nowadays sucks. And in part 2 I examined the social consequences of MMOs. In part 3 I am finally going to reveal the skeleton of my idea for an MMO that will not suck. In fact, I believe it will rock if executed properly.
As with any piece of software let us examine the problem we are trying to solve. We are trying to make software that will entertain people. It should also challenge people’s minds and reflexes and simultaneously move them emotionally in the same way a good movie does. This software should not be addicting, and it should have as small a monthly fee as possible, free is best. This software should not have a system of leveling by which the players who pay more money or play for longer hours will automatically be superior. Only skill in brains and game control should separate players.
First, the easy technical problems. Why do MMOs have monthly fees? The architecture of the software requires a centralized server which costs money to maintain. If we were to develop some sort of p2p architecture akin to BitTorrent that would act as the server, or at least alleviate some of its load, then the monthly fee could be reduced significantly. Also if all profits, if any, were made on the initial sale of the game we could reduce costs further by setting the monthly fee at cost. It would also remove incentive for developers to add addicting elements to the game which do not enhance the quality of the game itself. And distributed computing of an MMO is interesting computer science problem number one.
Next, how do we have a game in which there are multiple players that are separated only by their intelligence/wisdom and their video game control skills? There are many possible answers to this question, but the best one I’ve come up with is Metal Gear. Metal Gear is a game series in which puzzle solving and acute control skills mean everything. There is no treadmill, simply the collection and intelligent use of resources at your disposal to accomplish your goals. In my MMO idea, everyone controls an avatar just like Solid Snake, Lara Croft or the 3d Prince of Persia. Problem solving, resource management and video game button pushing are the skills required to make progress.
How can this game move people as emotionally as a movie? It needs plot, it needs music, it needs an immersing world. My suggestion is the following. The setting of the game is a post-apocalyptic hellhole similar to that portrayed in the Terminator movies. A game of survival. Every player is a person and there are deadly killer robots ruling the planet. The game will have one large persistent world, and there will be an endgame. High quality music will accompany everything to set the mood. And everything from in-game television screens to players communicating with each other to players finding things throughout the course of the game will be used to deliver the plot. The plot will be an incredibly epic and well written man vs. machine survival story. It would rock.
Now comes the hardest part. What are the specifics of the game that prevent it from making all the mistakes of MMOs in the past? This includes all the questions like player death, cheesy techniques, asshole players, etc. These ideas have not been thought out in full, but I do have some good ideas on how the game will work. More ideas are welcome.
First off, the game will work like so. The player creates their character. This includes selecting a name and a physical appearance of the character including clothing, since clothing doesn’t matter. Next, the players will spawn in a “safe” location in the persistent world. If there are many players then multiple spawn points can be set. These safe points will be somewhat protected from the enemies, but not completely. The only humans inhabiting the game will be players. The safe “city” will have resources such as food, water, weapons, radios and a shield or turrets to keep the evil at bay. It will be up to the players to collectively manage resources properly if they hope for this place to remain safe. They will be free to form their social structure in any way they see fit, and depending on how that works out will determine if they get anywhere or just all die. Free-form social structure is interesting computer science problem number 2.
The actual game-play will be as follows. Each player has equipment that does everything it should do. Guns shoot, knives cut, radios communicate, watches tell time, etc. Making equipment like walkie talkies work the same way they do in real life is the third interesting computer science problem. In order to fight for survival, and hopefully the destruction of the evil overlords players will have to leave their safe little bases to gather more resources and mount offensive strikes against the enemy. The elements of stealth, puzzle solving, exploration, aiming, maneuvering, teamwork, etc. will all come into play out in the world.
When a player dies their corpse will lie there depending on the fashion in which they died. Dying from starvation and dying in a huge explosion are very different. All their inventory will be affected as realistically as possible. The player will then be forced to make a new character. The accomplishments of the previous character will be logged and remembered. That’s it. Since there are no levels or xp the only thing you can lose is inventory. And as there are no items that are necessarily better than others, just different items, it wont be too painful. Some items might be scarce, like powered armor with rocket launchers and jet packs. But if you have that, then you aren’t very likely to die. You couldn’t realistically expect to keep something like that forever either as the enemies will come at you in full force. You will either waste them or perish at that point. People really wont care about losing their pistol, flashlight, canteen and two grenades.
That’s the whole game? Yup. But there will be some other interesting tidbits. First off, coding the ability to switch control of enemies over to the administrators. That will allow cool things to happen during special events. Also, maybe some sort of side plots involving evolving mutant monsters near a radioactive dump. This will be yet another computer science problem to make enemies with AIs that evolve depending on player equipment and combat tactics, but also in their own configurations. It will be too much work for someone to configure enemies for all situations. But it would be undeniably awesome if they automatically outfit themselves with flamethrowers for massacre missions and sniper rifles for assassination missions, etc. And mutant enemies that actually change over time would be just one more bit cooler.
The other thing about the game will be the level of interaction will be extremely deep. Radios will work like radios, video screens will work like video screens. Robots will work like robots. Players will be able to dismantle robots for parts, assemble parts to create new things. They can re-program in-game computer systems to aid the cause. Imagine a game world where someone writes a virus in the game and it infects the enemy base in the way they coded it and that gives you the opening for an assault. That is indeed the game of all time. Imagine the game having real working duct tape. Need to strap a flashlight to your assault rifle? No problem.
That’s my idea. Tons of players with the abilities of Solid Snake fighting for survival in a very large persistent game world with incredibly dangerous AI enemies roaming about. Every important video game skill and more will come into play. The plot will be deep and have a beginning middle and end. The music and immersing world will elicit strong emotions. This is but one way to make a game with many simultaneous players on the Internet without making it just another MUD with 3D graphics. I think it’s a damn good idea for a game that provides interesting and innovative new things on all fronts. For the player, developer and administrator this will surely be something special. If anyone wants to pay me enough money to quit my job, I’ll make it.