Constant celebration

The start of a world

Monday, April 30, 2007 | 04:30 PM | by
I managed to work far enough ahead on the strip that the next week and a half worth of comics are finished. So I've got some free time to relax, catch up on some games and focus on some other projects that I keep putting off.

Over the weekend I gave some thought to what features would be in my ideal MMO, and, as promised today I'll outline some of them for you here.

Genre: This category is too broad to completely sum up in a paragraph. Were I ever to be given the opportunity to create an MMO, I could fill pages and pages with design and story elements for the world the players would live in. But to simplify things, I would go with a sci-fi MMO. I love fantasy as much as the next guy, but they're a dime a dozen at this point. We need a good solid sci-fi MMO.

To be a bit more specific, I'd like to do a steampunk or hybrid sci-fi MMO. Humans, elves and dwarves, and a handful of original races, in a setting that is a gritty combination of old and new. Tech and magic, laser carbines and swords. Kind of like Shadowrun, if you will. More like the original, not the FPS bastardization due out in a month or so.

Character Creation: Character creation is the first thing a gamer sees when he fires up an MMO, and the process defines their character for the entirety of the game. And not just what racial benefits and class they choose, but their appearance in-game. And I, for one, am sick and tired of developers acting like character customization is an afterthought. Something that takes a back seat. Three or four hairstyles and a couple of face options to choose from may be fine for a single player RPG, but when you're going to be sharing a world with thousands of other people, you need more than that to differentiate yourself.

My MMO would offer at least ten different hairstyles for each race/gender combination, in addition to other facial features like beards, and scars. And a wide assortment of skin and hair color options to boot. Body customization would be akin to a game like City of Heroes or Vanguard, where you can alter the height and weight of your character as well (within reason). I would also like to see bodily tattoos implemented. A permanent addition to your character's arms or torso that you can add at creation (selected from limited designs) or purchase from a vendor later on (with more designs available).

Travel: Since it was my complaints about insta-travel that sparked this whole train of thought, I put a fair amount of consideration into this.

For my MMO, I would want to make travel a reward for higher level players, and also fairly reliant on class interaction. The more you level up, the faster you can travel, and the more options you have. For players just starting out, travel would be limited to running on foot, or perhaps a moderate speed buff available from a certain class or two. For inter-continental travel, a boat or other travel running on a schedule, say, ever 15 minutes. Similar to boats in Everquest, or Zeppelins in World of Warcraft.

I liked that Vanguard gave characters a mount very early on in the game. It made travel a little easier, a little quicker, and also was a nice "right out of the gate" reward to work towards. So around level 10-15, players could purchase their first mount, to speed up travel.

Around level 20-ish, certain player classes would begin to learn teleports, similar to Wizards and Druids in the original Everquest. Available to port nearby members of their party to specific locations around the world, with more locations becoming available as they leveled up. In EQ, a lot of Wizards and Druids would run "taxi" services in their free time, and some would teleport travelers for free. Either way, it encouraged social interaction between players, something that automated travel in current games does not.

In the interest of making it easier for parties to group together, around this same level a sort of summoning ability would become available within parties. I figure prior to level 20ish a great deal of players stick to the adventuring regions surrounding their starting towns anyway. But for meeting up with groups later on, a player purchased and activated reagent that could summon a party member to their location. A number of factors such as price, possibly a multi-person activation (similar to Warlock summoning in WoW), and a significant cast-timer (upwards to 3-5 minutes) would prevent the reagent from being abused. But it makes it a little bit easier for players to meet up, and once again, promotes social interaction.

As well, a certain class or two would get this ability for free at some point. So if your group has a member of this class, well, bonus for you.

Throughout the levels faster and more attractive mounts would also become available, to make interim travel easier and easier. Eventually flying mounts would be accessible in the later half of the game.

And finally, towards endgame, a form of solo insta-travel. The player would have the option to quest for an inventory item that would allow him to use a series of network points all over the world to travel quickly from one place to another. At this point the player has adventured through some 50+ levels and paid his dues, and it is time, as a reward and a status symbol, to make travel for him easiest of all.

As a note, there would be no network points near the teleport points, so that class-based teleporting would retain some of its value at higher levels.

Ok, I think that's enough for today. I'll continue this on Wednesday with some ideas concerning other gameplay elements. Remember, these are merely my opinions and ideas, and are a long way from being balanced or refined. I believe everything I'm suggesting is perfectly feasible from a technical standpoint, as pretty much all of it has been done at one point or another. Just not in the same game.

And I am never going to design an MMO, so this is just us talkin'.