MMO Blender: Larry's Firefly Effect

MMO Blender: Larry's Firefly Effect

Many MMOs suffer from not actually having immersive worlds. As a player, I always find a separation between what I am doing and what the rest of the playerbase sees. My personal gameplay has little to no effect on anyone else. MMO communities need to have more interdependency -- positive and negative.

I also believe that player choice also plays a major part in making a believable world, and I don't just mean just in some arbitrary dialogue choice, although that can be part of it. Actions in the world should play a part, too.

Many MMOs have the pieces already in place to make wonderful, immersing worlds, but for some reason, no one has ever put all the pieces together. What does it take to make a believable, fun world for a player to not only live in but feel that he is a part of the greater universe?

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

An IP similar to Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies, or Marvel Heroes

Not only does a strong intellectual property come with its own fanbase, but it brings with it a world that players can easily care about. I know on the creative side of game development that using an existing IP makes production difficult, but I also believe that sometimes limiting the parameters of an artist can also stretch creativity.

I guess now it boils down to which IP to use. I would say go ahead and use one of those listed above, but not all of them are science-fiction like my ultimate MMO would be, and besides, those games are already out there. I think another strong IP needs to come to the forefront. LotRO has an issue of being a very closed off IP; there isn't a lot of room for player freedom. Star Trek and Star Wars canon both have a great launching pad, but unfortunately, if a developer steps too far away from the iconic eras, he loses the audience's connection to the world. That's why STO had to add iconic clothing and other canon-breaking items to the game. And after Marvel Heroes is released, do we really need another superhero MMO?

Honestly, I see only three other options: Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, and Firefly. Stargate, unfortunately, already had a shot at becoming an MMO and failed. So did BSG, but that story already has a beginning, middle, and end. An MMO just feels shoehorned in. That leaves Firefly. The world of Firefly is vast, the fanbase is strong, and the end of Serenity left the world-arc wide open. Make it happen, Joss Whedon.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The engine of DC Universe Online

Prior to DC Universe Online, I believed that the Unreal engine worked well for third-person shooters like Gears of War, but it never really occurred to me that this same engine could be used to create an action game like DCUO.

Because Unreal games focus on in-your-face action, it builds the sense that you are living in the world. The average MMO running on, say, HeroEngine, is fun in its own way, but unfortunately due to the nature of the combat, interactions become a math game and not organic like real life. When creating an immersive world, you don't want a dodge or a miss to be performed by a random roll; you want it to be because you didn't actually aim correctly or the enemy actually moved out of the way.

On top of that, did you see the Unreal 4 demonstration? It's beautiful.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The character creator of APB: Reloaded

Immersion takes place on many levels, but I believe the player's first connection is in the character creator. If we do use Firefly as the basis for our ultimate MMO, then we will have only humans to work with. So although Star Trek Online contains the best character creator in sci-fi MMOs, we have to turn to another game because of the limitations of the setting.

I literally spent hours upon hours in the APB: Reloaded character creator. Since many characters in Firefly aren't pretty or perfect, APB's gritty realism makes for a great springboard into the world of space cowboys and Reavers.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The dynamic events of Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 was not the first MMO to use dynamic events, but it is one of the few to have events that actually impact the world. If you don't save a village from a centaur attack, the centaurs will overrun the village until you or someone rescues it. To me, that is the ultimate form of immersion: a world that lives and changes whether you're actively participating or not.

Because we have had only a few weekends to test out Guild Wars 2, it's hard to tell how many links are in the dynamic-event chains. But for my tastes, I would like to see multiple chains with possible branching events based on when the players might have stepped in to intercede or whether the players happen to lose the encounter. Perhaps this butterfly effect can spill into other chained dynamic events triggering event larger world events.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The dialogue of Star Wars: The Old Republic

You should have guessed that I would not get through an article without mentioning SWTOR, but this has to be my favorite aspect of not only this game but every game made by BioWare. Unfortunately, dialogue of this magnitude can be expensive from a production standpoint, but ultimately, I believe a game benefits from it.

It's not just the voice over that makes the dialogue interesting; the choices made during these pieces of dialogue have a lasting impact on your character. Now, take a game like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. These games are single-player, which makes lasting choices easier, but who's to say that one person's dialogue choices couldn't trigger a dynamic event that impacts everyone in an MMO? For me, that's one of the major items missing from SWTOR's dialogue wheels.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The space combat of Star Trek Online

I know that some people like to think that fast-paced starfighter combat is more fun, but I don't think that it fits reality. If we are two vessels approaching each other in the vastness of space, interaction would be more calculated and strategic and less Top Gun.

However, one provision that will have to be made because it's Firefly: There cannot be any sound. I know on the surface that not having sound appears to take something away from the gaming dynamics, but I believe what we lose in sound effects we will gain in suspense. Space is a vast emptiness, and taking away one of the player's five sense adds to this illusion of nothingness.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

The non-combat classes of Star Wars Galaxies

If you build a living world, you must include professional paths that do not revolve around combat, or at very least, around ground combat. Star Wars Galaxies had this in the form of crafting and entertainment professions. If you want, you can be a dancer in a bar, or how about a bartender? Why not take that to next level? You could be the general contractor who creates the bar in the first place.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

Factions of Star Wars Galaxies

I mentioned the butterfly effect earlier, so what if we put that on a personal level? Do you remember the factions of Star Wars Galaxies when it first came out? I don't mean the big ones like Imperial and Rebel. I mean the smaller ones, like Jawa and Tusken Raiders or Nightsisters and Singing Mountain Clan. If you shot a Jawa in the streets of Mos Eisley, you would lose standing with that faction but gain faction with the Tuskens. Eventually, if you killed enough Jawas, anytime you would get within sight of a Jawa, he would attack you. Conversely, Tusken Raiders who would normally attack you on sight would ignore you if you gained enough of their faction status.

Perhaps this can be taken to the next level as well. What if your wandering into the wrong place at the wrong time set off a chain of dynamic events? Let's use the Firefly IP as an example. What if you were to pass by a Reaver ship (of course, you have negative Reaver faction), and for whatever reason, you got away. Perhaps the Reavers would follow you to your next destination and attack that planet, setting off a chain of events that others would be able to participate in.

MMO Blender Larry's Firefly Effect

Companions of Guild Wars

Sometimes you just don't want to interact with other players, but you can't fly the ship by yourself. Perhaps hiring a pilot or mercenary is in order. In Guild Wars, as in other games, each of the companion characters had his own story and role to play in your overall story. Each NPC having his own backstory gave the illusion that you were a part of something bigger than yourself, thus creating more immersion.

What do you think? Would you buy my game?

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!