MMO Blender: Beau's portable, accessible, and casually immersive mashup

Die2Nite screenshot
I've been pretty excited to take my turn at the MMO Blender wheel. Sure, we all have ideas about how we would build our dream MMOs by mixing up different parts from favorite games, but honestly, I wanted to use my time here to make a point: MMO gaming needs to climb outside of the box, soon. Since there is more and more emphasis on mobile and casual gaming, my game will take that in into consideration.

But games have to be fun too, right? I think they can be fun, immersive, and casual all at the same time. I'm hoping that my examples will show how other developers have combined the three such that players can access the game from anywhere. It's also important to me that my game be simple to play and accessible for players with disabilities, so let's just say that I have included all of the proper features like adjustable colors for the color-blind, resizable text, and maybe even audio cues to help those with sight issues.

I've been given a budget of one million-billion internet bucks, so let's get to it... this game is not going to build itself!

Remanum artwork
First we need to establish the backbone of this game. Sure, I can throw around all sorts of mechanics and hope they magically work together, but I want to be realistic. I want to design this game to run from a browser, using HTML5, to avoid any need for system requirements or problems with compatibility. I'm going to hire some of the devs behind Illyriad, an MMORTS that is built entirely in of HTML5. While I'm at it, I'll nab some of the brains behind Travian Games. That team is made of browser-based magic, so the studio's expertise in accessibility will come in handy. I want to allow Facebook and many other login options, but spammy pop-ups won't be allowed. The idea is to log in, play for 10 minutes to three hours, and do it from anywhere. I can't annoy my players with forgotten passwords or annoying pop-ups.

Now that I've magically laid the groundwork for the game and established that I want nothing to do with bloated gaming machines, we need to talk about how the game will play, what mechanics it will employ, and how players will interact with the world.

MMO Blender Beau's portable, accessible and casually immersive mashup PRPRI'm going to let some Die2Nite employees (well, former employees; I just paid them to come to my team, see) take over this part. They are going to help me design a game that works much as theirs does. In Die2Nite, players join together in towns of at least 40 to attempt to survive waves of zombies. Each player starts out with a set amount of ability points that he or she can spend on exploring the desert surrounding the town, scavenging useful parts to use for the town's defenses, fighting zombies, and performing other in-town activities. The great thing about Die2Nite is that the zombie attacks come only once per day. Preparing for the incoming attack is intense; players debate which defenses to build up first and argue over who should close the gate right before the attack. Many players go out into the desert and run out of points, only to become stranded. They can hunker down, and in some cases, hide for the night and hope to survive. Usually they don't. Points reset every day, but if you don't survive the night, it doesn't matter. It's an amazingly brilliant, simple, and intense game that leads to my daydreaming all day before the attack.

I'll use a similar mechanic for my MMO, but player towns will hold hundreds of people. Players will all have to work together to gather materials in order to compete with other towns, although combat between towns is not in order. No PvP in my game, thank you. Instead of gathering materials to survive an attack from the undead, players work to build up a town that will gather the most natural resources and result in better crafting. Those crafts can be traded to other towns thanks to long, dangerous treks across the landscape. I would bump my events to twice a day, but they would come from storms or other natural (but magnified) disorders. My world is a harsh one to live in, and surviving there will require cooperation from all but those rare few who train to go out on their own.

Ryzom concept artwork
Next, I'll be hiring the original art directors from Ryzom and The Chronicles of Spellborn to create a sci-fantasy world that we have never seen before. It's important to note that the danger in my game comes from the world itself, something we see in Ryzom. Graphics are at a minimum in this game, so the designers will concentrate on character portraits and landscape art. I'm maintaining a small amount of moving art not for performance reasons but because it adds to the lifetime of the game. A book can be timeless because the art is created inside the reader's imagination, so the more I help fire off the player's imagination, the less dated the game becomes as time goes on. That's one reason why MUDs have lasted so long.

I'll also need to hire the sound designer behind Spiral Knights to give the game a modern but alien feel. I want the music to be sparse but effective, and that game is a perfect example of doing a lot with a little.

"One of the most important aspects of my game will be roleplay. I will enforce roleplay with an iron fist but will also provide off-topic and out-of-character channels. I want players to craft characters that are real extensions of themselves."

One of the most important aspects of my game will be roleplay. I will enforce roleplay with an iron fist but will also provide off-topic and out-of-character channels. I want players to craft characters that are real extensions of themselves. I will use some of the character design mechanics found in MUDs like Gemstone IV: player-created descriptions, custom items of clothing and weapons, and even the chance of gaining scars, or in severe cases, losing a limb or a digit. I want players to "see" each other not only through character portraits but in a text description that allows true character to shine through. I'm tired of playing generic classes, as well, so my game will borrow from the simple and effective school of sandbox design that allows players to pick from whatever skills they want and grow from there. My skills would include tree-climbing, rock grinding, and weather survival skills. I would also include medical skills because healers would truly be needed in this game. They might even work as they do in Gemtone IV and would absorb the victim's damage and heal it later.

The Chronicles of Spellborn screenshot
My game is simple, but that does not mean it will be boring or only for casual players. There is a strange rule going around that says that time played equals dedication or skill. Not true at all, my team says. If your character runs out of ability points and has nothing to do while waiting for the next storm to roll through or the point reset, you can roleplay, min/max your stats, plan out your character development using local trainers, or in many cases, lie there and heal up -- in real time -- because you were forgetful enough to be caught in a electric storm without your hide-tent. My game will be harsh, and death means reassignment to another town, much as in Die2Nite, where you will have to start over again. Maybe next time you'll remember to save enough points to get back to camp.

My game will be simple, accessible, playable anywhere, open to all, roleplay-enforced, and immersive. All of this within the confines of a browser window. It might seem like I am leaving out so many games that I could have drawn inspiration from, but I wanted to show just what a fan of mobile and browser gaming I am, and I wanted it to be a game that could quite possibly be made. Now, just hand me that million billion dollars and I'll get started.

Have you ever wanted to make the perfect MMO, an idealistic compilation of all your favorite game mechanics? MMO Blender aims to do just that. Join the Massively staff every Friday as we put our ideas to the test and create either the ultimate MMO... or a disastrous frankengame!
This article was originally published on Massively.