MMObility: Let's make a mobile MMO, part four

Game Sketches
So here we are at the last part of a four-part mini-series in which Dave Toulouse, indie developer of games like Golemizer and Star Corsairs, and I have attempted to make a working mobile MMO. I started the series with the hopes of fostering discussion over design as well, and we have gotten some great conversations going in the comments section! I think many MMO gamers dream about game design at some point, and some go beyond that point and actually create a game. It can be tough, as this series has shown, just to get the basics down.

Well, here we are at the last. I wanted to go over some of the best ideas the readers had, cover what we were able to do with the actual game, and debate how much further it would need to go to be considered officially "done."

Character artwork
I'd like to first point out that the goal of this project wasn't really to create a working "true" MMO in four weeks. I would have liked that to happen, but realistically I knew that we needed to stick to very basic designs and framework in order for anything to make sense on such a short timeline. What we have ended up with is a pretty simple board for players to play on, some concepts about lore and gameplay, and a working model that needs to go much further.

In order to make the game a "mobile" game, it needed to fit within the common screen size of the most popular smartphones. I tested images and sizing on my HTC Inspire Android phone, my iPad, and my wife's iPhone. I wanted the image to fit a little better, but I think that leaving some space was a good idea because it creates space for icons, information, and site navigation later. The great thing about the images or maps is that they can be replaced. In fact, I wanted the whole thing to be based on a very simple set of images. A patch could consist of mostly behind-the-scenes tweaking and artwork that is changed out easily. There is no rule that an MMO needs to be three-dimensional or feature any type of animation. The fact is that many MMOs are nothing but text, but I wanted to replace the text with basic artwork. I imagined a series of icons taking the place of navigation. A player could click on an icon for an action and the game would tell her what happened. Keeping the images small means that there will be no lag or issues with performance.

The readers gave me a lot of great ideas, as well. DevilSei gave some great input as to how balance might be worked into the game. Balance is one of the basics of design that is very easy to talk about but pretty hard to implement. Not only does balance mean different things to different people, but it is pretty much impossible to achieve. Each player is unique and responds to the gameplay differently, so developers need to take connection strength, time of day and any number of other variables into consideration. Sure, I could try to achieve perfect balance, but it will not happen.

Personally I find the pursuit of perfect balance to be one of the chief negative forces in gaming today. It has created a fear of causing any discomfort to players in many cases, and it has squished creativity in others. If I found one of my races becoming too popular or unbalanced, I would look into possible alternatives like a lore explanation or another effect that makes the race less likely to do so well in the game. Simply taking away stats or debuffing abilities is a never-ending pursuit and creates the same race just with different art.

DanVanBeek's idea about time-travel and its influence on the environment was fantastic. The fact is that a neat idea like that can take root and cause a game to grow up around it. Essentially he talked about players who play the role of a time traveler, someone who affects the environment every time he visits it. The problem is that the players need to visit the world in question in order to stop a time rift or rip in time from growing more dangerous. The time travel mechanic could be used in a lot of interesting ways. Imagine stats beyond standards like strength or dexterity. A player could have a time-stamp ability that lowers as the he becomes more experienced, causing him to leave less of a footprint on the world he visits.

Joshua Przygocki talked about providing players with the ability to set up camps while exploring the lands. A camp could grow into larger areas for other players to visit, provide defense in the case of attack, and even feature abilities like fishing or gathering items. I liked this idea a lot because it is simple, gives some more persistence to the game world, and allows some players to play a different role than the others.

You can see how some of these ideas could add a lot of depth to the game without adding on tons of artwork, animations, or sounds. I would still want to keep the game very basic, regardless of my budget. Movements and animations would be primitive but nicely done. Atmospheric sound would play a large role in the game and would encourage players to sit, scratch their chins, and think about their next move. It's pretty common for starting developers to think far outside of their realistic boundaries. They dive headfirst into making complicated graphics or animations, and the result is scores of independent, unfinished games that remain in a beta state forever.

Of course, implementing all of these great ideas is easier said than done. Dave is a busy man and has two games to run. He's already done a lot for the project, but as I type this, he is in the middle of putting more updates in and making the game more of a "game." Here are some of the main items I want to see put in before the end of this series:
  • A game that resets every week or so
  • An improved movement scheme that is more realistic
  • A player-versus-player system
  • Squares or areas that act differently for each race
  • Random events like a tornado or wildfire that moves
  • A camping system that allows players to hold areas
There is a lot more I would love to add, but for now I would settle for a game that repeats a cycle every so often. Then, we could test how players interact with each other and play the game. Over time I would love to continue to develop ideas and artwork. I see a return to the project at some point and updates along the way. Look for it in the future, or watch my Twitter for updates. Until then, thanks to everyone who left such great comments! The project didn't end exactly how I wanted it to, but we had some great discussion.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on Massively.