Massively Overthinking: Building your dream MMORPG

    
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Massively OP Kickstarter donor xenaphex wants to hear about our dream MMOs. What really makes you tick? What would you build with a million-bajillion buckaroos?

“If you were to design an MMOG, what would be your dream game? Please be specific on the setting, major features, style, etc. You can use existing games as an example as long as you mention the game and the specifics about it that you like.”

I posed xenaphex’s question to the staff for this week’s edition of Massively Overthinking.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I’ve been designing games in my head and on paper since I was about 10, and now I actually run a small indie dev studio working on a 4X game, so maybe some day I’ll get to have a hand in an MMO. The most compelling MMO features to me are those that involve procedural generation or the emergent gameplay that results from a single-shard sandbox game like EVE Online, and I wrote a twopart article on Massively-of-old that delved into how those kinds of features could be translated into a land-based MMO. EVE Onland would certainly make for an interesting game, but right now my favourite hilarious but potentially feasible idea is the Sandbox Wars idea we came up with on one episode of Massively Opinionated. This was originally just a joke based on the buzzword “competitive sandbox,” but the more I think about it, the more I want to take a crack at it.

The basic idea is that each player would design his or her own little land-based sandbox world, picking the rules for combat and magic, selecting different types of terrain, and designing monsters. The player then creates a character inside that world and tries to hide several flags throughout the world. They can go into god mode and build a dungeon or castle or keep to keep the flag safe, but they have to complete the dungeon using a normal character inside the rules of the world in order to plant the flag inside the dungeon. Once the world is complete, you can save it and submit it to the universe, and then it randomly collides with another world made by another player and the edges of both maps start bleeding into each other.

The two players who own the worlds then compete to capture the flags from each other’s sandboxes, but while you’re in the enemy’s world, your character is subject to their rules of combat, crafting, and magic. You have to figure out how to complete the enemy dungeons in his own ruleset to get to the flag. To throw a spanner in the works, small pockets of each world start opening up inside the opponent’s world at random over time, changing the rules of the world inside them. You might think your dungeon is secure because the Destroy Stone spell doesn’t exist in your universe, but it could exist in his and he might get lucky and find a pocket of his universe inside your dungeon. Capturing a flag makes your word extend a little further into their world, and the winner is whoever captures all the flags. Throw in some kind of reward or unlock system for winning worlds and a hall of fame for consecutive wins with a world and you’ve got yourself a hilarious and addictive game.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): What you guys can’t see is that when we collect these from everyone, I see them all before I write mine. And I just want to say that I pretty much want everything Jef wants out of a dream MMORPG if I get only one game to play forever and ever, although I do like the Star Wars IP and would want to keep it. I just felt really comfortable roleplaying in that world.

But I don’t want to be redundant, so let me go down a different road. I’d like to propose a new spin on City of Heroes’ using its very best features: insane customization, sidekicking up and down, separation of appearance from stats, and multiple tiers of stat acquisition that keep the barriers between casuals and elites fairly low. I’d enhance the unimportant leveling curve to flatten it out (thereby speeding it up) a la Guild Wars 2. I’d also crack the architect system wide open and make that a focal point of the game, not just something shunted off into the dark corners of development and reward (ahem). I don’t think the superhero setting is necessary, but it sure does make a lot of the mechanics make more sense, so let’s keep that. Ultimately, the point of the game would be playing new skills and developing characters — not grinding, not achievements, not raiding, not ganking, not elitism. Just being creative.

I’m tired of playing games that are work. I’d build a toy.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): Star Wars Galaxies minus the IP. Slap some generic sci-fi universe on it, I don’t care; the unparalleled gameplay options were what mattered. Plus the dream game won’t give actual SW fans the intense cases of lore-related heartburn that SWG loved to dish out.

The dream game must have the pre-NGE 32 profession/skill-based system married to the post-NGE everything else. Seriously, many of the game’s unique features were added after 2005, and this isn’t debatable. The dream game must have SWG’s original item decay economy driven by crafters, local banking, and local merchants. It must have the player city system and the open world housing with to-the-pixel control over item placement throughout the x/y/z axis, as well as the ability to name/customize all crafted items and drop all crafted/customized items in your house or in your storyteller zone in the open world.

It must have the TEF/optional faction-based PvP system that happened in the open world instead of battlegrounds. It must have SWG’s full space game (which was basically X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter plus space crafting, space housing, and multicrew ships with essential pilot, co-pilot, gunner, and EM stations). And while we’re dreaming, it needs to have the seamless atmosphere-to-vacuum transition that SOE threw into the game for the last phase of its life.

I could keep going for hours and list all of the other features that are too hard for modern MMOs/designers, but I’ve already done that in several dozen Massively features over the years!

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I would deeply, deeply love to see a good post-apocalyptic MMO along the veins of Fallout or Wasteland. Fallen Earth is a tremendous game, to be sure, but what we need is an improved version with a larger budget and a slightly more accessible gameplay style. The mix of sci-fi and western and post-apoc is a heady one, and I would be in heaven if I could scavenge my way through the wasteland, blasting up mutants, and doing a little Road Warrior action on the side.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): This is kind of a funny question because as MMO reporters, I’m sure we have all thought about which game would fit us the best and which one we would like to have built. In 2012, Massively-that-was had a column called MMO Blender where we would take different tropes from other MMOs and make our own ultimate MMO. And I believe the one that I created back then still holds up. It was called The Firefly Effect. The basic idea is to build a semi-sandbox around the Firefly IP. I don’t want to rewrite the post here, but the major features were the Unreal Engine in a similar vein as DC Universe Online, the character creator of APB Reloaded (which is still one of the best on the best on the market), dynamic events like in Guild Wars 2 and RIFT, the writing and dialogue of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the ship-to-ship battles of Star Trek Online, and factions and classes of Star Wars Galaxies. Rounding that off with being able to have your own crew of NPCs, players, or a mixture of both would be amazing.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I’ve got my stick to beat the dead horse: My dream game would be Star Wars Galaxies. Seriously, no one has come close to having the number of amazing features that SWG had all in place. I’d want the TEF system (a working consensual PvP system, wow!), crafting (namable objects), harvesting (quality matters), social professions (like dancing, music, image design, politician), skill trees, pets, housing (free-form decorating in houses placed in the real world) and player-cities, player-owned shops and marketplaces for all the main goods in the economy with only few things possible on the galaxy-wide broker, emotes, the storyteller system from post-NGE, multi-guild war rings, multi-person vehicles, atmospheric flight for your spaceships, open space to explore and fight in(!!!), racial languages that must be learned, non-bound items you can resell and trade… the list really does go on and on.

There are, however, some changes I’d make. I’d add housing apartments in the main cities like EverQuest II has. I’d spruce the graphics up a bit, but not make them all bright and clean because that is not what the Star Wars universe is about to me; it’s gritty and real. Focus would be on a full world, with no savior-of-the-world, “You are our only hope!” classes/quests. As such, there would be no Jedi. And smuggling/slicing would be meaningful! I’d also be sure there is the ability to have one alt on a server per account, but no more than a couple. And I would keep it subscription based with NO cash shop for anything whatsoever.

Another must-have feature I’d add is the Lord of the Rings Online music system so players can play real music — even their own compositions — via midi keyboards (or like me, cheat and upload the sheet music to system). I’d like to have a farming system where you could raise animals and crops, akin to ArcheAge’s, maybe in little plots by your house or even inside your house! Of course, you have to raise things that can cope with the climate of your planet; I’d totally wrangle womprats! The setting would be Star Wars or Firefly, though if there was a way to do it without having to be at the mercy of licensing that would be oh so grand!

I think I’d also like the search feature from EQII that allows me to figure out where in my inventory/banks/houses certain items are located. I debated this, but I don’t want appearance slots in this game. If people are wearing a skimpy dress, it shouldn’t be providing armor when they go out into the wilds and battle; if you want protection, you have to wear it and look the part. I’d add more planets over time, too, but I’d be sure none of them were on rails so they could be explored freely.

That’s the main premise of my dream game in a nutshell. I am sure there are a few features I’ve forgotten to mention. The only thing I’d miss are the ships like in Vanguard. Obviously sea-faring vessels wouldn’t really fit in this setting, but dang if that wasn’t an awesome system, where you could decorate and live on your boat as a home and sail between the continents.

Your turn!

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AuraOdum
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AuraOdum

I’d like a game with an anime aesthetic, not full blown Akiba’s Trip, but somewhere between say Final Fantasy and that. (Better graphical Aura Kingdom style? Maybe? Closer to FF still…)
A large open world, naturally, but with really unique and interesting environments that tell their own story, with interesting enemies and lore to add to it, akin to Dark Souls. Not always as constricted of environments though— I would also like large open fields to explore as well, and see animals grazing in the distance… till I skewer them with my sword.
Controller support, perhaps even console ports, regardless if action gameplay or tab targeting. (Action gameplay preferred but understandably limitations with the online persistent open world may make it difficult or unenjoyable.) Also, the UI should be TV-Friendly. No need to squint or get a magnifying glass to read the text. If not natively friendly, should have an easy UI preset in the options.
Robust but not complex crafting system. Ability to learn all crafting and combat disciplines, like Final Fantasy XIV. (Perhaps include an academy where you can learn and master the crafting abilities?) Lots of yummy food that can be prepared.
Housing system, with actual residential districts like FFXIV, where you can also hang out in the neighborhood and befriend your neighbors.
Lots of social features and interactive environment— combat needn’t be the sole enjoyable feature of the game. Sit on chairs and roofs, lay on beds, do a nice stretch, have lots of emotes. Can walk, can jog, can sprint, can enjoy the scenery with its plenty of scenic views.
Perhaps even add items that let you sit down and have a nice picnic. In homes or in public restaurants, able to sit down at a table and have a meal, sit with other players, maybe even have an option “to be seated” with other players you haven’t met so you can talk to new people and make new friends. Have the menu with all sorts of food items that can give different perks
Have a salon where you can change your appearance, a clothing store where you can change your outfits. Include a glamour system like Final Fantasy or Guild Wars 2, where you can wear one set of armor for stats but display a different set for vanity. Unlockable early, say around level 15. Make vanity slots free— don’t need an item to give one armor the appearance of another, just two different slots. If nothing is in the vanity slot, default to armor appearance. Include lots of nice looking level 1 equipment specifically for the sake of the vanity slots. Of course, also add dyes. Include lots of nice options for character creation as well, lots of hair styles and preset face styles with advanced sliders for further tweaking. Add changeable height as well. Boob slider is welcome, even though the concept seems … ridiculous, I’d rather not have to conform to a designer’s opinion on what they size they should be.
Now that I consider it, would want classes tied to equipment.
You master that weapon more than specifically a “class.”
Different armor types give stat bonuses that fit different weapons, i.e. robes giving less physical stats and more magical stats, fitting well with magical staves and tomes which focus on magical attacks.
Perhaps the ability to climb on ledges and up rocky mountains to reach new heights and see new vistas. Add secret areas found by adventurous players.
Include swimming, fishing, logging, mining. No breath meter while swimming. Include a wide variety of mounts, and the ability to share mounts and have friends ride with you.
I really want emphasis on spending casual time in the world with other players without specifically going out and fighting monsters and dungeons. Combat would still be a strong feature, but I don’t want that to be the only way to play the game.
Lastly, would prefer a B2P model like Guild Wars 2. As that may not be possible, P2P like FFXIV would be good. If F2P, needs to have all premium items available on player market board. Needs to not have huge advantages over other players for the “whales”. Should limit focus on “whales”, perhaps include an optional sub service that lets the game become like an actual sub game (as in features in-game methods in getting 95% of the cash items)

Jigawatts
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Jigawatts

A classical fantasy based sandpark cross between EQ and SWG.

Oldmanofmars
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Oldmanofmars

Forgot to mention, every item you see on an NPC is claimable, crappy sword claimed, peaseant garbs claimed, ancient amulet of Iteramanzi the Ninth fallen Fel King of the screaming lands FUKKEN CLAIMED and then taken to the peaks of Sangrasim to be purifed and given to the head of the Lightbringer’s Cathedral so you can prove your righteousness and become the first Tier 10 Pargon Bright Paladin in the game in order to travel to through the void and enter the Lawful and Para-elemental realm known as The Sunder unbothered by its brightstone guardians so you can finally get close enough and try to free  The Sunder’s one and only prisoner, Dave.

Oldmanofmars
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Oldmanofmars

My dream MMO would be all about a living breathing world. rabbit eats grass, fox hunts rabbit, wolf hunts fox, man hunts wolf, Bugbear hunts man, hunting party hunts Bugbear. I would like at least some illusion of life in my virtual world, not some stiff mannequins that throw words at you.

Games like a fully modded out Skyrim, The Sims, Evil Genius, and Banished would be how I imagine NPCs would operate. NPCs would have needs and wants and they would live their lives to satisfy those needs and wants. All NPCs have basic needs; food, drink, entertainment, comfort and rest. Beyond their basic needs they have wants and dreams that they work towards as well whenever their basic needs are satisfied enough. A farmer NPC wants to provide for his family and keep them fed and sheltered(All family members have hunger/thirst/comfort above 65%) and dreams to one day live a safe and prosperous life free of immediate worry and back breaking labor(comfort above 80%, increased wealth level, happiness above 75%).

Based on their personality they would try to meet these needs however they could, if they are lawful they will try their best to stay within the confines of the regions current laws but if they lean towards a more chaotic personality they would engage in desperate acts if their needs and happiness is low enough. 

Take for instance the poor tale of Francis Tiller, the farmer’s son. Francis leaves the failing farm after his father finally works himself to death and engages in petty thievery on secluded nearby pathways.The more people he hurts and coin he collects the higher tier thief he becomes.Thief becomes Bandit, Bandit becomes Highwayman, Highwayman becomes Outlaw, Outlaw becomes Francis Redhand, Francis Redhand starts to generate Redhand Initiates, Initiates become Redhand Thieves, Thieves become Bandits and so on. Banditry grows in the area which becomes more dangerous, Bandit group may change into raiding party in which case villages may be attacked and made a foothold and no longer suitable as starting areas for beginner players who are more Lawful-good. Raiding Band may take over the region’s mining caverns as a base of operation. The mine is now a dungeon that spawns and spits out Redhand raiding bands that try to raid more villages. The villages that were taken over become footholds which spawn Redhand Initiates. The regional town with its walls has been able to keep the raiding parties at bay but has been trying to message the provincial city for help. The city sends guards and places a bounty for every dead Redhand and a high Bounty of Francis Redhand and his liutenants, an experienced guild decides to make it their goal to wipe out the Redhands, they stock up on food and weapons and lay siege to one of the footholds. Claiming the foothold as their own, they make camp and gather materials to create a forward operating base, with this base they can now rest and recover while  killing or capturing every  Redhand and destroying every foothold. They finally come to the mine, every day the mine has gone uncleared the mobs have gotten stronger and stronger, it has gone from being equivalent to a low ranked dungeon to a mid ranked raid. The mine on the inside has grown as well increasing in depth and appearance at each rank up. What once looked like a mine taken over by bandits is now the Redhand leadership’s fortified bunker. Level by level the mine is taken over, some Redhands surrender at the sight of their slain comrades, others die fighting every opening claimed is another rest area giving the guild and their accompanying allies some room to recover until they finally reach the Boss. The battle isn’t some huge spectacle, unlike some of his underlings Francis didn’t have the spark for magic, after his personal guards were slain he is crippled but not killed with arrows and he is captured, his gear, now named and unique is divided up as souvenirs. The region has taken a strong hit and maybe in time more NPCs will come and plow the farms and work the mines, but it will take quite the rebuild effort, which another crafting focused guild is all to eager to start.

iridescence
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iridescence

Some thoughts on what I’d love to see in a game:
 Either in renaissance or some kind of “steampunk” setting”.
Realistic or low fantasy. 
It would revolve around a very intricate political and economic system that would be largely player driven and dynamic. No quests or static content. You would join an NPC lead  faction when you started the game and do what you could to advance that faction’s interests. 
PVP would be allowed but murdering people for no reason would carry heavy consequence and griefers would be ostracized from the game

GMs with the power to run large events like protracted clan feuds that players could participate in.

DrZaius
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DrZaius

deekay_zero “the setting is less important, but i do favour a near future setting in a dangerous living urban landscape with bits of cyberpunk to go with the dangerous dystopic nightmare dreamland.”

This right here…YES – I had heard a while back that CD Project Red might be working on a Cyberpunk MMO…named Cyberpunk 2077 coincidentally.  After how Witcher 3 turned out, I’m really excited to see what they might be cooking, then again, not holding my breath either…

With that said, dystopic cyberpunk as a genre is ripe for the taking

DrZaius
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DrZaius

Man…I’d really love to play an Eve meets Mass Effect style MMO (…or Mass Effect meets Eve?), I’d love to play a galaxy spanning space opera that was more than planet/zone hopping.  

There was some chatter a few weeks ago about Blizzard maybe making a Diablo MMO and really, my initial thought was if they were to go down that road, I’d actually really love to see a starcraft MMO over diablo…but thats me and my old hopes and dreams…sigh maybe one day

melissaheather
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melissaheather

/insert oft-repeated wish for a Wild Wild West MMO that is M-rated with blood, nudity, sex, and the entire SW USA as the game map.   Indian magic versus settler technology.    Haunted mines and spirit animals.   Liquor, cathouses, and maybe a powerful-but-permadeath Gunslinger class that is hard enough to master that it actually means something, whiners be damned.  want to be a gunslinger?  do the work!

jefreahard
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jefreahard

skardon That’s awesome, I’d definitely pay to play it provided that the level of quality/polish was reasonable close to SWG when it shut down. But that’s just me; I don’t know if there’s a market for that kind of game any longer. I hope so!

skardon
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skardon

@jefreahard

I have been involved on and off in game development for over 20 years. The last 2 years, have been informally formulating a plan to do an MMO exactly as you describe in the article – an MMO based on the game design of the pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies, minus the IP. I have spent many hours reviewing original design documents. I have also spoken with the license attorney at Disney. ( Getting the Star Wars license is impossible, which will surprise no one). But I have always felt the real star of the original MMO was the game design as much as the IP.

My goal has been to launch a kickstarter sometime this year. I have worked for a game company, and previously ran my own small game company for 5 years. I have the management and technical experience to assemble a team and make this happen. I want to base development around the Unreal Engine. My biggest hesitance so far (besides funding, as always) is whether there is wide enough real interest to do this (and not just nostalgia). 

The overriding tennet for this project is ‘community driven’. The team’s purpose would really only be to funnel and implement player requirements, and also be the reality check. I feel this great game design never got a fair chance. Of course, this whole proposal is a long-shot, but when this article came up today, I thought this might be a good time to ask the forum: 

To be, or not to be?

All of this is contingent, of course, on whether Derek Smart okays it. ;)