Monday, 12 March 2012

Game IPs, Warhammer 40k, fiction and stuff

OK, this post is a bit of a mental stroll, so we'll see where it goes....

For some of us the theme and intellectual property a game uses is important. It could be something long established like Conan or something specifically created for the game like Mass Effect, but for those of us that care about such things we will want it to be of good quality and to fit with certain personal preferences. We want the game's atmosphere to envelop us and be a pleasant distraction, rather than a constant nagging irritation. A favourite IP well represented can cover a multitude of developer sins.

Myself, I get irritated by three things in particular.

First off there's the everyone's a hero crap. It's amazing how the NPC villages have populations that are lower than even the smallest guild of player controlled "heroes". It's just bloody silly. Plus if 90% of the people in these worlds are us heroes, well... damn we must be shit, because evil just keeps on happening. Now this isn't necessarily the IP at fault here, but it is part of how that IP is presented. It changes what could be a living, breathing world into a bit of a farce and something that just feels a bit weak.

Cutesy stuff like World of Warcraft does my head in with it's comedy gnomes and horrifically half-hearted "we're not evil really" faction. I loathe how meh the Horde are. That said, I do recognise that WoW is aimed at an incredibly broad market and whilst I don't like the way it looks or it's hokey lore, there's no way I can argue against it's popularity. Mass market = mass money.

Which also applies to that other hideousness that makes me to hurl over my monitor; the generic eastern style yawn fest. You know the ones, TERA/Aion, etc with their eastern-style-big-eyes/hair-angel-winged-cyber-emo-punk-goth-anthropomorphic-badger-people-bollocks. Invariably this is accompanied by lazy, generic and just plain dull storylines. It's fantasy by numbers, but it has broad appeal based purely on the aesthetic and it sells to those that do like those themes over other elements. Just like Final Fantasy MCMII and so on.

So whilst I don't like those style of settings, art styles and themes, and yes I can happily slag them off for hours, I'm also sure that their fans can do the same for the things I like. Plus whilst at first it may not seem it, my taste is actually a bit more niche. I like my gameworlds dark, mysterious and threatening. Warhammer and Battletech being prime examples of this; they're fantasy/sci-fi worlds that are gritty and in the fiction are populated by unpleasant, devious bastards. Sure they do have nods to humour here and there, but they're grounded in pure nastiness. However the bit that I really like are the small details, the things that flesh out these fantasy worlds and make them approach feasibility and this is where I realise I'm buggered.

Take Warhammer 40k for example and the upcoming Dark Millennium Online game. Warhammer 40,000 is my favourite setting of any IP in any format and I've made no secret of the fact that I'm looking forward to DMO. As such you might think it's my dream MMORPG in the making. But nope, you'd be wrong. It's all Space Marines, Eldar Aspect Warriors, Titans, big explosions, epic battles and total carnage, which in many ways is great, but actually I think it devalues the mythos attached to Spacemarines to have a bazillion players using one. I would much prefer to see something like Necromunda get made into an MMORPG.

Necromunda is a 40k game that is set within the bowels of a GIANT hive city, it's about gangs of street scum, criminals and those trying to enforce the law in the festering arse of the Imperium. It might not have Spacemarines or Tyranid Hive Tyrants, but we don't need them. Those things are meant to be rare anyway, so make them rare, make them special. I want a taste of the worlds that the Eisenhorn books deliver, worlds that are more than just battlefields for the latest spacemarine yawn-fest. Give me a window into what it's like to live in the Imperium with it's oppressive and violent atmosphere. I don't want to be a hero, I want to claw my way out of the crap and forge my own path, be that hero or villain. I want to be scared of Imperial law. I want to run from the Adeptus Arbrites.  I want to see the shops, homes and workplaces. I want to hear the conversations of people that aren't genetically engineered superhumans. And then I want it to go bat shit crazy as our gangs kick off. I want a sandbox, gang warfare, multi-faction PvP based game in a giant 40k hive world.

Problem is, it's just too niche a desire. Nothing like this will ever get made because it wouldn't have that mass appeal. In my head this idea is dripping with atmosphere and has immense multi-faction PvP potential, but that  just doesn't matter, because most people want their Spacemarine. Which is a shame, because as I mentioned before, books like the Eisenhorn trilogy show you that there's so much more flavour if you focus on the small details and give the reader a bit more chance to sink into your fantasy world. It doesn't have to be all explosions and shouting AVENGE ME BROTHER! every 5 seconds. I'd like to see some games that reflect that.

OK so this post started off about IPs in general and different tastes and then ended up with my ideal way of presenting my favourite IP, which won't ever happen. Bit of an odd post, but there you go.


  1. Brilliant idea

    Dreaming to play a Rogue Trader one day

    But will never happen ofc. If they give us Space Marines but some Berzerks on which we can macro /yell "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD" and spam it all day long while cutting heads I would be quite happy already (and I am not asking for some psychadelic Slaaneshi Marine blasting his hyper sonic phalus canon guitar and laughing like mad, right)

  2. You've touched on a lot of truth in this post. Especially how games need to make better use of NPCs and how everyone needs to stop being the hero all the time. One of the things that turned me off to RIFT was how everyone was the prophesied time traveling zombie messiah or whatever.

    The Black Crusade setting sounds a like like Necromunda, scraping to survive with your one path to power also risking permanent soulless mutation. It would be a ridiculously fun setting to play an MMO in.

  3. You hit the nail with you view of a "prefect" MMO. I would very much play it and it would be fun. NPC that actually have lives, several factions, a deep level of stories and atmosphore.

    I actually think that game studios are in many ways cowards as they don´t want to stick out, instead taking the safe way. In that way the die slow but they do die. If they took the chance of doing something diffrent, that could be stardom!


  4. Very cool idea!

    I'd love to see a GTA-style open world based on a hive city where you are a gang scum trying to rise up through the ranks. If you stray too far into the wrong part of the hive you have to deal with the local gang. Break the law and the Adeptus Arbites come a calling. Need extra credits, take on a risky job offered by that sleazy Genestealer Cult in Subquad VII.

    Throw in RPG elements, limitless customization, different classes, and a sandbox style with varieties of missions and tons of stuff to do ... I could waste 100+ hours in there easily.

  5. The main reason why I stayed away from SWTOR was light sabre fatigue. In the first star wars movie we hardly see light sabres, whilst the prequels were drowning in endless light sabres. This is because in the first movie a light sabre was a sacred weapon used for cauterizing evil in the prequels they are tool for shifting merchandise.

    If someone said I am making a 40K game without "spesh mareens" people would instantly react and say "your an idiot". So we get the current generation of MMO's where people play Jedi's and Space Marines. I think this is a fundamental mistake, when you play you dont become the hero - you already are the hero! Your character is one of eight billion snowfake heroes out there.

    I think in the short term MMOs will not make the impact they should do. I dont think SWTOR will last as long as you might think. I also suspect DMO will not do so well either. I think though in the long term though MMOs focused more on the world itself and you just being a bit part will start to emerge (I have the feeling secret world will be a step towards this.

    Besides every MMO in the last few years has been missing its socializer group of players. They are all playing the biggest MMO of them all... Facebook.


  6. Necromunda in MMO form looks like a bunch of other MMOs in development under the radar and going nowhere.

  7. What an excellent post. You have expressed my own feelings on this Bootae. Though I think I rather have a game like Elder Scrolls or even Mass Effect using the Warhammer IP. A setting like on the books about Eisenhorn/Ravenor or Gaunt's Ghosts would be a dream.

  8. Bad news: THQ has laid off over 100 people and the 40k game will mow just be "DM" not "DMO" i.e. single player only. :(

  9. Might be some bad news for you:


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Half man half pixel. Music obsessive, likes a drink, occasional bastard.