Design Mockument: What would a Transformers MMORPG even look like?


Everyone who has read my work here for a while knows that a Transformers MMORPG is a longstanding element of my pie-in-the-sky wishlist. This is not altogether surprising; I’ve been a Transformers fan more or less since I was old enough to understand that you could have a robot that turns into a car. My house is full of Transformers, including some very rare and collectable ones. I know a lot about Transformers, I like Transformers, and I would play the heck out of a Transformers MMORPG.

The closest we got was Transformers Universe before Jagex made several stupid design choices (this is known in layman’s terms as “being Jagex”) and then canned the whole thing. But I can understand why people might be skeptical even of the concept. Can you actually make an MMO based on the property that’s compelling and interesting? I think you can. And today I intend to show my work.

First and foremost, the nice thing about Transformers is that you have a whole mess of options when it comes to setting, but I have one in mind already. Let’s take a page from the IDW comics after the Chaos storyline, also known as the part when that G1-inspired story got really good.┬áSummarizing what happened leading up to that is functionally impossible, but the important upshot is the result: The war ended.

Yes, the whole war between Autobots and Decepticons came to an end, with Megatron missing and presumed dead and Optimus Prime voluntarily ceding power as Cybertron was inundated with NAILs, non-affiliated Transformers who had not taken part in the war and were not exactly keen on giving up their home planet now that the war was over. The Decepticons who had surrendered were themselves in an awkward place: They weren’t prisoners but they were also, you know, the losers in the war.

So you start there. Players choose one of three factions, Autobot, Decepticon, or Neutral. All three factions hate and distrust one another, and all three are split by internal strife. Some Autobots want to be in charge of the planet as they establish order, some want to leave outright because they aren’t welcome, and some want to help build bridges now that the war is actually done. Decepticons are still looking for Megatron, trying to find a place in the new world, or just taking advantage of a whole lot of the Decepticon war apparatus now being up for grabs. And the Neutrals are split between wanting a return to old Cybertron before the war, wanting to build a better Cybertron, and just wanting to make sure that the old combatants are out.

Players start by picking a body type that belongs to one of several basic categories, with each one having bonuses or downsides. Some of the bodies are based on existing famous Transformers like Starscream, Bumblebee, Jazz, Springer, and so on; others are original for the game. You can also add cosmetic flair onto the pieces, with care taken to ensure that the cosmetic shifts still allow for physical transformation, and a lot of fine details for color and face/head design.

Unbreak my heart.

Mechanically, the PvE gameplay is action-focused with players choosing both a primary and a secondary function. These functions can be changed later because the primary means of advancement is skill-based. Each function allows for a certain list of installed systems and a certain amount of different systems installed, split between Techniques, Devices, and Powers (combat skills, specific systems like weapons or force field generation, and strange “outlier” abilities, respectively). As you level up those skills through use in combat, you can eventually unlock them to use on other functions.

The function itself, meanwhile, gives you some core traits, while your primary function gives you access to a unique mechanical interaction with the game. Some functions can carry an additional weapon, some can hide behind cover, and some can score extra damage from the shadows or have accelerated skill cooldowns.

However, the game isn’t just about combat. Crafting and gathering disciplines are also leveled as skills, and here’s where changing your functions can be important because those are also functions. Not only can crafting create new weapons, new internal system boosts that are the equivalent of armor, and consumable items, it can also make new skills that need to be leveled up separately. It’s possible to make a character whose primary and secondary functions do not provide direct combat benefits. That doesn’t mean you’re helpless, but it does mean that most of your activated abilities at the time are focused on this gameplay style.

Rather than using a straightforward leveling system, this system will ensure that leveling these skills along with your equipment determines your overall power level. Players can also sync up or down to do content together, although there is a tilt so higher-level characters are still a bit higher level than the others – not enough to break the game, but enough that you see leveling up has some impact.

Well, yes.

Exploring the various regions of Cybertron outside of Metroplex, the central hub city, will see players run into roaming open enemies from wildlife (yes, there is Cybertronian wildlife) to scavengers to more organized pockets of factional power that are opposed to others. There are dynamically spawning area events akin to Guild Wars 2’s as well as radio missions in the style of City of Heroes, along with more organized dungeons to queue up for. In addition, three-way PvP skirmish areas exist both in the open world and as queued battlegrounds; the former feature fortifications that provide resources and rewards the longer they are held, while the latter are more traditional three-way struggles for power.

And of course, players do have quests they can complete. There are two “main” stories, one concerning the fate and development of the player’s chosen faction and one a shared story detailing the overall state of Cybertron after the war. Yes, players can group up across factions. You can have a group consisting of multiple factions to do the main story if you so desire.

Obviously, there’s a lot more that can be done here, a lot more space to explore. The great part about Transformers is that there’s material for miles to bring in. Even aside from players going to Earth eventually, there’s the potential for all sorts of antagonistic forces like the Quintessons, the Destructons (led by Lord Imperious Delerious, and no I did not make that up), the minions of Unicron, and so forth. Heck, I would happily play an entire expansion in which the player characters wound up traveling to the Functionist Universe.

Is there the slightest chance of any of this happening? I don’t think so, and let’s be real, it would be expensive and complicated to make. This is a for-fun column, and my job here is not to plan budgets, but I know this would require a heck of a lot of money. But the point is not “would this be realistic” but rather whether or not this could even be an appealing game beyond the momentary squee of “I just got a quest from Bumblebee,” and I think this qualifies.

Let’s be honest, I’d be more likely to squee about getting a quest from Skyhammer or Sureshot. If you don’t know who those are… it’s fine. Just trust me here.

Designing an MMO is hard. But writing about some top level ideas for designing one? That’s… also remarkably hard. But sometimes it’s fun to do just the same. Join Eliot Lefebvre in Design Mockumentas he brainstorms elevator pitches for MMO sequels, spinoffs, and the like for games that haven’t yet happened and most likely never will!
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