Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Build it and they might come, maybe.

Something I would like to see a lot more in MMOs is proper player driven empire building. Not just guild alliances or one faction zerging the crap out of a server, but proper empire building which has a tangible impact on the game world itself.  In my mind this needs 3 key things:

1) Certain areas of land that have high amounts of natural resources.
2) An extensive crafting system that can provide lots of useful items for everyone. AKA a reason to want those resources.
3) Purposeful buildings that are constructed by players in the actual gameworld (not instanced and hidden away).

Actually they’re pretty much the exact same reasons we’ve got nations (and therefore territorial disputes) in the real world. In its most basic sense it’s simply groups of people that survive by working together, utilising their varied skills and controlling natural resources. Backed up by a bit of shared beliefs, at least at first anyway...

Those 3 points give purpose and value to the land itself, which leads to people wanting to claim it for themselves and reap the benefits through crafting or sale of those resources. Then the construction of buildings in the area to provide crafting and trade facilities will only increases the value of the land further. This means territory actually worth defending, which obviously prompts players into doing so with both defensive structures and their own arse kicking powers.

Key words: resources, community, power, territory, control, war…

I suppose this is just the theme-park versus sandbox debate again, but for me it’s this particular element of the sandbox that I would like to see someone do properly for once. There are a few games that have had a crack and most of them would be considered niche and quite possibly flawed.

Ultima Online used to work like this, but unfortunately that was shaken by the introduction of Trammel and then all but destroyed when they copied EQ and went artifact item horny, effectively annihilating crafting and the communities built around it. Since then a few have tried, but most have either closed, sunk into obscurity, or just weren’t that good. Wurm and Darkfall for example; not terrible games, but so smothered in flaws and just so lacking in overall polish that they’ll never reach their potential. Age of Conan appeared to have actually thought about going for it, but they bottled it and went with the instanced player city shite that makes it all irrelevant.

EVE is the big game that really does it all and (I think anyway) it’s the only proper high quality MMO that has real player run empires. Yet EVE for all it’s magnificence is a game that will always divide people due to it’s sci-fi setting, overall harshness and because it is fairly awkward to get into, mainly because of it’s stupidly bad control system for the ships (a tragic waste really).

I’d love to see a fantasy themed MMO that was more than a glorified chat lobby for running dungeon and pvp instances. A game where we could shape the world a bit and where the land itself mattered so it was more than just something you visited as a lowbie. Yet I don’t know if this will ever happen outside of the small niche games, because it must be one hell of a risk for developers to attempt. It is one thing balancing a class or instance, but it’s a whole other thing balancing an entire world and its potential economy… And that’s before they start thinking about how you deal with the problems of alarm clock raids and making a system that prompts player ownership of territory but doesn’t force you to guard it 24/7... So obviously if you’re investing money into developing a game, it’s safer to just make another scripted dungeon and pvp scenario instance based game where the landscape is merely something to glance at as you level through.

But then just because something is difficult or a bit risky, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. You might say that gamers only want their theme-parks, but I would argue that you don’t know that because we’ve never been given a choice, apart from a smattering of poorly made games, which is no choice at all.

Apart from EVE, of course.

Actually there’s one game that comes close to it… Minecraft when played on a multiplayer server. Now if only that had a MMO version :P


  1. You've described a desire for Shadowbane sir.

    I think Mount and Blade would make for an exciting world to play in as an MMO as well. Take away the overworld map and make it all open-field. Could be pretty crazy. Not to mention the mounted combat...

  2. At first I was gonna say "old-school UO, before all the new crap" but then I noticed you covered that.

    Then I was gonna say "SMP Minecraft, but not really Massive" and yet again you covered it.

    I'm still waiting for a fantasy-type MMO with those parameters tbh.
    taking the risk of repeating myself, I'd be happy with something like DAOC with a dash of UO's crafting engine and resource gathering system and a modern-day-MMO UI

  3. Have you ever tried Atlantica? Atlantica is a korean-spawned tactics MMO (main+[1..8] pets vs. [1-9] mob pve or - and thats the most fun part imo - main+[4-8] vs. main+[4-8] pvp).

    Atlantica doesn't have any trash-vendors at all, but everything you obtain by killing mobs somehow ends up in the auction house. and - thats the difference to most any other mmo i know - this stuff actually gets sold.

    If you get into crafting you will find out why: _everything_ in atlantica is a crafting resource one way or the other.

    In the higher levels there also is some kind of guild-based nation system (guilds can own one of the game's pre-existing cities), but i am too low level to be able to say what impact this makes.
    Anyway: I read your blog because of WAR*, so maybe we share some of our taste.

    *Zarubert(BW) - you sure stomped me more than once :), but severe altitis on my side means you probably also stomped half a dozen of my lower level alts :D
    if you get into crafting you will find out why: _everything_ in atlantica is a crafting resource one way or the other.

  4. Have a look at Dawntide, Boots, an open world fantasy sandbo mmo. Erm. I keep popping in and out.

  5. The initial information I read about Prime makes it look to have all three of the things you want, albeit in a sci-fi setting. Guess that makes it a put-up-or-shut-up test: either you care more about those things than the setting or you don't.

    Ultimately, most people have an ideal in their head that no game will ever truly live up to. I know I do. Hence why I try to accept the good with the bad until the good gets patched out and I'm left with only the bad. Then I leave. :p

  6. Gaar - I've been kinda half watching Prime for a while. The game sounds interesting, but I have a huge issue with the way it looks. The whole Ben10 kiddie gfx really turn me off, I think it looks proper bloody horrible. Which is a problem because I'm sorta half and half with atmosphere and gameplay, if I don't like the way it is themed then it grates on me and I don't get attached.

    As for the ideals, yeah totally, though I would just like to see a game with a triple A budget go for the proper dynamic world bit again. I wouldnt expect it to be perfect, but at least it would have a crack at it and look nice and have a UI not designed by a crackhead. Rather than it always being the smaller games, that have so many basic issues..

    Aeo - Doh! I completely forgot about Dawntide, I had it bookmarked on my old PC as one to watch out for. I'll look into that.

    fN8Rd - I did like stomping on BWs :P They were always my priority target, the little buggers :D I might have a look at Atlantica, that sounds intriguing, thought Korean games have a habit of annoying me. A mixture of the grinding and big eyed/eared FF style kiddy horribleness :D

  7. Grim - Yeah I often hear about how good Shadowbane was. I don't really remember why I didn't play it tbh. Wish I had before it closed down.

    Epikk - A DAoC & UO hybrid is my ultimate game. Though I'd glady settle for DAoC2.. Alas Mythic won't be making that anytime soon. I imagine if WoH does well they'll drop the idea of developing proper MMOs entirely tbh.

  8. In a properly done Warhammer MMO, this would be the Border Princes. A complete blank slate of wilderness where any person could carve out a kingdom whose borders are only limited by what they can stop the other players from taking.

    The one caution I would put is that this can't be the WHOLE game because then you run into the Darkfall problem where it's great to be able to take all of someone's stuff in five seconds if you're the person who is taking it but awful if you're the one being robbed. It leads to more unsubs than loyalties as when you win and take everything that's normal and it was a perfectly fair fight but when you lose that's total (censored)!

    Oh, and Mortal Online tried to do this but failed so totally in the implementation I'm not sure it's even worth a mention.


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