More IPs than you can shake a lightsaber at: Five sci-fi intellectual properties that just scream "MMOG"

Joe Blancato
J. Blancato|04.03.09

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More IPs than you can shake a lightsaber at: Five sci-fi intellectual properties that just scream "MMOG"

Science fiction isn't exactly new to the MMOG scene. In addition to the obvious - Star Wars Galaxies, EVE Online and the defunct Tabula Rasa - there's Neocron, Anarchy Online, Earth & Beyond and Planetside. But with the exception of SWG and the upcoming Star Trek Online, some of sci-fi's best intellectual properties haven't yet been tapped to invite users into their world. What follows are a few franchises that lend themselves perfectly to what MMOGs are, and what they could be.

Remember, back when you were a little nerd, what you used to think hacking was like? Remember the virtual world you conjured in your head, with stealthy rogues zooming around the internet, stealing millions from banks and pilfering government secrets? Remember the awful movies Hackers and Swordfish? OK, so maybe real hacking doesn't work that way. Maybe real hacking involves an encyclopedic knowledge of Unix, PHP exploits and hanging out in IRC with people who tell you to RTFM if you ask them what time it is. Real hacking may be a lot of things, but "fun to a lot of people" isn't one of them.
But in Uplink, developers Introversion (the guys who made Darwinia and DEFCON) hearken back to the days when cyber criminals were the gunslinging cowboys in the Wild West of the 21st century. You play a member of a fictional hacking network and receive missions via your fake email; upon a successful mission you're awarded money, which you can use to upgrade your computer to help you hack faster. It includes a basic, if interesting story about a murdered hacker who discovered something he wasn't supposed to, and it's up to you to unravel the rest of the mystery. Or not.

Uplink all but demands a massively multiplayer version. What good is a game about hacking if there's no one with which to brag about your hacks, or from which to defend yourself?

What would be great about an Uplink MMOG is its meta-game implications. It's a game on the internet about doing stuff on the internet; plugging it into Facebook or Metaplace in addition to its standalone client wouldn't just be easy, it'd be awesome.

Just because Blizzard has conquered the MMOG market doesn't mean they can't tighten their grip. As successful as World of Warcraft is, an MMOG based on StarCraft could give it a run for its money.

A StarCraft MMOG has a lot of things going for it. First, Blizzard wouldn't have to do a lot of engine work to port WoW's mechanics into the new world. Drop ships work for long-distance travel, and it's impossible to deny the cool factor of dropping a wad of cash to buy your very own Vulture to speed up your run from A to B. In fact, aside from new classes and art, the hardest design challenge Blizzard would face is dealing with so many more ranged classes and finding ways to keep melee useful when people can drop tactical nukes in stealth mode.

Yeah, I know. File under: "Duh." The gaming world is poorer without Universe of StarCraft in its life. I know it, you know it, Blizzard knows it. However, should the good people in Irvine opt to stage a two-front war on the MMOG genre, they've got only one major obstacle to overcome: not robbing Peter to pay Paul. Even if Paul is cooler in every way.

The Terminator Series
Perhaps the most MMOG-friendly IP on this list is the Terminator series. Think about it: You're fighting an enemy with an endless supply of disposable minions hellbent on your destruction. Gone is the cognitive dissonance of the spawn point, since, hey, robots gotta come from somewhere. The only danger in a game based on the Terminator franchise is if it falls too hard for MMOG tropes. Scene: John Connor sends you into a post-apocalyptic field, where you're tasked with killing 10 Skynet robots. Talk about boring. How would we go about avoiding that?

Easy: Time travel. Rather than playing the game in the bleak future in which humanity is barely clinging to life, what if you played the role of the time traveling superhero, ala Kyle Reese, sent back in time to undo the mistakes of the past? Sure, the game would be highly instantiated, but the idea of five-manning a 1950s suburb with your buddies is pretty hard to pass up.

And let's not forget the major upside: The art costs would be miniscule, since every robot will look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Johnny Mnemonic
Johnny Mnemonic was, in many ways, the precursor to the The Matrix. Keanu Reeves plays a courier in a futuristic Dystopia, where the world is run by mega-corporations and cities range from gang-controlled war zones to sprawling Emerald City-esque metropolises. The Reagan era with cybernetics, pretty much. Reeves picks up a message that one of these mega-corps is trying to intercept, and flanked by Henry Rollins, Ice-T and Dolph Lundgren, he navigates the globe, trying to get the information in the right hands before he meets his untimely end.

The movie is a cyberpunk adaptation done right, and the world director Robert Longo created has enough stories hidden inside it to keep a million inhabitants busy for years. That's where you, as a player, come in. The cyberpunk genre isn't without its share of games - Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020 are the most iconic - which makes developing a Johnny Mnemonic MMOG pretty easy, since the classes in either game would fit perfectly into the movie's universe.

A Johnny Mnemonic game wouldn't be family-friendly, though. Most of your buddies will likely be drug addicts or half-crazy from installing too many mechanical parts. But hey, that's what the ESRB is for.

Joss Whedon's classic sci-fi/western may be the most endearing universe since Star Wars rolled around in the '70s, and because of that, it lends itself to the MMOG market almost perfectly. Whedon seemed to have spent as much time crafting the worlds Serenity and crew landed on as he did the interpersonal stories among the cast, and it's because of that exposition we can see a world beyond Mal, Zoe and the others.

It's got player-vs.-player combat built right in, what with the Browncoat resistance and the Alliance trying desperately to crush it. It's got great PvE content, since not only is each world crawling with lowlifes to hunt down (or work for), there's also a bunch of psychotic cannibals roaming around space, just spoiling for a fight. Since most ships are rundown, and most people are rundown even more, crafters and medics would have plenty of things to keep themselves busy, as well. Whedon's sitting on a $15/month goldmine.

The only issue is continuity. The Firefly movie, Serenity, tied up a few loose ends that would be better off frayed in an MMOG. Given Whedon's storytelling ability, though, it wouldn't take him long to figure out a way to make the Reavers mysterious again. A Firefly universe in his hands could do a world of good for MMOGs, and games in general.

It should be noted that an independent company, Multiverse, holds the license for a Firefly MMOG, but put the game on hold in 2007 and seems to have drifted into Second Life-style virtual world territory as of late.

United Via Wetware
Even though the sci-fi MMOG space is populated, it's by no means as crowded as the fantasy sub-genre, which is why it makes even more sense to pick up a pre-existing franchise and charge into the field with smart guns blazing. Just look at what World of Warcraft did to fantasy MMOGs: a highly polished game based on a franchise loved the world over catapulted MMOGs into the stratosphere. A sci-fi MMOG based on a franchise of similar acclaim could continue the upward trend and guarantee a market for years to come. If done right, a sci-fi MMOG could prove that WoW is the new rule of the market, rather than the exception. And this time there will be spaceships.
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