Massively Overthinking: Building your dream MMORPG


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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