BUILDING BETTER WORLDS:
or what I want in the next MMORPG.
One of my favourite fictional universes, that of Warhammer 40k, is about to be made into a MMORPG. I really want this to work, and I would love them to get close to getting it right. First comes a story about a fictionalised account of what I would love to see, and then after that comes an explanation of some of the concepts.
I wake in the body of Michael Krorkin, Imperial Guard Conscript. I am in a cattle train going to the battlefield. My handcuffs are taken off, and a lasrifle is pressed in my hand. I am packed in with 29 of my fellows, and there is a Sargent behind us. He carries a banner, and I know that if I leave that banner my collar will detonate, and I will die. The basic chip implanted in my brain hazes an arrow floating above my vision, telling me where I must go. We see the area we must attack, and prepare ourselves. The artillery howls and... Boom. Silence.
I look at my karma score, and I have 0 battle karma, but now I have some Organisational Karma, as I stuck with my banner and kept to my objective. So I get some choice - combat or patrol - I take a patrol. I come too, and leave my rudimentary tent. Sarge leads off and we keep up, eyes peeled. We run into several orc scouts, and kill some as the others run off. Sarge calls it in, and get the order to pursue. We chase after the quarry, one eye on the banner that keeps our head connected to our shoulders, another on the greenskins running away. I shoot one, and then we hit the greenskin lines. There is a desperate countercharge, and there is a muddle and mayhem and... darkness.
Alrighty, now I have some battle karma, some Organisational karma. Also, my Sargent liked my shooting, and he gave me a point of People Karma. While dead, I pursue the news, and look at the available missions. My current score allows me t upgrade to a drop guardsman, and one of the missions is the defence of a starport. I pick that one, and get ready.
I zap into the body of one of the guardsmen, and look around. I see a marker on the shoulders of some of the others, and note that they are actual players. We get chatting. TACNET shows that Orc push is on, and One of the warbosses is raiding from one direction, and Dark Eldar raiders are attacking from the other side. Our job is to flank the Dark Eldar. If not, we are to re-enforce the airport. We land, follow our compasses, and hit the Dark Eldar from behind, surprise allowing us to wipe them out. Now we join the defenders, just as the starport battle reverts to hand to hand desperation.
Now that I have a reasonable amount of Karma, I can get training with a rocket launcher. Or maybe become a sargent, and lead a squad of my own. Sentinel drivers required? Running around and scouting the enemy? Sounds interesting. The possibilities are opening up now. Or I could simply grab my trusty lasgun and join the big push to drive the Orks back to their god forsaken crashed space ship and clean this planet up once and for all...
A FEW THOUGHTS...
HOW BEAT WOW.?-
WOW is big, real big. Why? They did what Blizzard do. They take a working concept of a game (Korean MMORPG's) and they got rid of the clunky and the dodgey. Clunky interface? Smooth it out. Clunky servers? Throw money until fixed. Dodgey support? Get that worked on. Dodgey distribution channels? Get it in every store. Blizzard did it to all the dungeon bashers and made Diablo. They did it to Dune2 and made Starcraft. It's amazing how well you can do if the product you release actually works. You put in the disk, you install it, you mess around for a while and it doesn't mess up, 99% of the time all the way through to the end. If something is messed, you release a patch quick smart. And then you support it all the way through it's product cycle. Revolutionary! Sales leader! Whoda thunk it?
The way to beat WOW - God damn playtest the thing, and get an interface granny can figure out. "Lowest Common Denominator" is good in an interface - it means it works and anyone can play.
KARMA BEATS CASH-
So what is next? Karma. The full on Buddhist thang. Everyone who rolls into the 40k universe starts at the basest level nobody, and works their way up. Orc players start as gretchin/grots. Humies start in conscript squads. Eldar start as Exodites with a sharp stick. Chaos start as cultists. There are MP squad equivalents coming to get you. you get thrown on battlefields, and if you do well, you might get some experience, skills, stuff. If not, well, you die. After you die is the interesting bit. Instead of coming back to the same body, you can use your Karma to go to another, better one. You go from the scabby conscript up to a conscript with a heavy weapon, or maybe an actual guardsman! Karma can be earnt in multiple ways - by performing good duties or battlefield performance, by following orders. There will be arguments that you must have cash. Soldiers don't need cash. They are issued equipment by their superiors, they get fed by the people in the back, and a lot their choices are made by people up the chain, not by their pocketbooks. The way to climb the chain and have it mean something is too earn karma.
When I see someone at level 60 in WOW, I don't think "Wow, what an achievement", I think "That dude/ dudette has way too much time on their hands to grind that out."
TYPES OF KARMA-
Generated through AI Quests:
Get through basic training. Report to the train. Link up with unit X and officer Y. Take sector Z.
Generated through successfull missions and kills.
People Karma is given by the players. With each monthly supscription a player gets (for example) 10 Good Karma points to give away - and they give them away to the leaders who make their time worthwhile, to the companion they have fun with. It is a limited and known number - limited to the amount of people on the server. they can also get 10 Bad Karma points for the people who ruin their experience.
MAKE BATTLES MEAN IT- I want news, I don't want to be safe, I want action, and I want it to count.
WAKE, PREP, FIGHT: When I hop into my body, I might be in a staging area, and I might be posted to the back zones of the war. I think Dark Ages of Camelot began to get this right. However the random backplay against random bunnies in order to develop skills is getting a bit old. Enemy at the gates gets it right. You wake up in the train with everyone else, and hopefully no-one goes nuts and runs and gets shot by the train guards. You get on the boat inside shell range, and have a chance of being blown to smithereens before your reach the battlefront.
KARMA EXAMPLES : Counterstrike cash is karma. Counterstrike is great for it's immediacy, it's flexibilty between team/ single player interactions, the fact that dying means something, and the continuation. In CS, cash works like karma - initially you have none and everyone starts off as basic troopers, and it is by team wins or personal achievements that cash, and thus improvements are earned. Karma is burnt each time you regenerate, but it can be saved for a big splash eventually. So you can grind it out to get the big gun, and spend no money and stay a grunt. But grinding is the slow, inefficient way rather than main way.
RISK IS EVERYWHERE: The majority of the players will not be the players. They will be AI's, following their orders and trying to kill the enemy and take their objective. You should feel the fear at every engagement. Players will give the teams they are in an edge by being able to perform manouvere and outsmarting tactics, but there should be no grinding holes. A group of PC's should be able to significantly outperform AI's - but they are still vulnerable. Making people unable to be harmed makes them unable to be respected. And when you eliminate enemy soldiers, you will have saved an objective or taken one.
IT MEANS SOMETHING: If I happen to be in one of the biggest battles, I want it to mean something. I want my potshot at the enemy commander to ring out and affect the battle if I get lucky. If I don't take the starport, I want it to mean that we are cut off and doomed. If I grind the level one areas in WOW, the bunnies
HATE DESERTERS: I want people to get really angry at deserters and cowards. There will always be those who don't want to be forced to go a standard path, who want to explore and so forth. I want these people to get to become battlefield scouts who still have missions. They can be the scrounge squads who kill the local wildlife to add some protein to the kitchen. I want deserters to actively hunted by MP squads. If there is an area that is full of wanderes, give others the 'hunt deserters' missions.