MMO Blender: Eliot's online brother from an offline mother

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|09.28.12

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MMO Blender: Eliot's online brother from an offline mother
No, more online than that.
We don't need to go online to have a good time, oh no.

Obviously Massively's writers like us some online games. I am no exception to the rule. But I also started playing video games back when the internet existed only in its most nascent form. I started out by liking video games, period, and the online component came much later, with a lot of benefits, to be sure, but I still love some offline action just as well.

I don't feel the need to bring every game into the online arena. There are games that just don't work as well in a multiplayer environment. But there are also a lot of offline games that translate quite well to an online space, and I'm not just talking about ones that play like MMORPGs stripped of the first three letters. Today's MMO Blender is taking inspiration only from games that do not have a primary online component. Let's see about making a nice big MMO from single-player offline offerings.

There are no screenshots that do this game justice, sad to say.Setting of Bastion

If you haven't played Bastion before now, go fire up Steam and drop $10. You're in for a treat, partly for the actual gameplay (which is admittedly an irritating piece of work here and there) but largely for the feel and narration of the game. Here you have a world that's been broken to pieces, one that literally is held together only by a handful of people with enough will to keep things operational and a few fragments of arcane power. It's somewhere between surrealistic fantasy and an old Western, and it manages to tell a stirring tale with only one voice actor through most of the experience.

There's also a lot to expand there in all directions. We get the barest glimpses of the game's overall setting from narration and descriptions, but there's clearly more depth under the surface. It's also a world that could be as large or as small as the designers wanted. Heck, it's a setting where the idea of an instanced area actually makes sense from a thematic standpoint as well as a gameplay one. It's the sort of setting that seems made for further exploration, and the game's ending even gives a perfect bridge to an MMO. (I won't give it away; you can blow through it pretty quickly. It's worth your time.)

The most satisfying kills are grabs, but it's hard to encapsulate those in a screenshot.Combat mechanics of Mass Effect 3

I am admittedly not an enormous fan of third-person shooters as a rule, so it's quite possible that there's a far better example of the genre in existence, but Mass Effect 3's combat is just plain addictive. Most of the fun of the game's multiplayer mode comes from the fact that you get more of what the single-player game offers: fast, tight, brutal firefights with a wealth of tactical options and a variety of approaches to those firefights.

The setup would make a great basis for an MMO's game system anyway. Considering our shifting setting, I'd say it might even work better, with passages becoming less stable as you snipe away at your enemies. But even if the arenas remain fairly fixed, a diverse pool of weapons and the multiple options of ME3's systems would lend themselves to a variety of fun fights. You can easily meld melee, short-range, and long-range combat together with minimal trouble, complete with powers to back up your chosen loadout -- or to make up for your weaknesses.

Of course, ME3 has a class-based system where Bastion has a classless system with fewer moving parts. How could you get that sense of having multiple options without pigeonholing characters? I'm thinking there's another excellent offline solution.

Class changing mechanics of Final Fantasy X-2

For a game whose core plot reads like amateur fanfic, Final Fantasy X-2 was a remarkably fun game. Part of that was the fact that the first half of the game is essentially just a romp with deadly weapons, but part of that is the fact that the game's combat system is an excellent mixture of skills beneath thematic silliness. Key to that is the game's class system, in which each character gets a certain set of classes to change between at will via what can only be described as a magical girl transformation sequence.

OK, the visual sequences are pretty silly, but the actual function of swapping between classes on the fly is actually really cool. And -- you knew I was going to say it -- it would work really well in an MMO, especially a game with an active combat system. Get pinned in a defensive situation and you'd swap over to a more hearty class, then once you've cleared your space a bit, you can go nuts with something offensively oriented. It even plays nicely with the ME3 combat system: You couldn't change your weapon loadout on the fly, most likely, but you could tailor your selection of classes to work with whatever loadout you take with you.

So we've definitely got a very active game so far; you switch classes quickly, you fight through battles quickly and brutally, you have a changing environment to contend with. So far, so good. Let's put all of this in context, shall we?

Farming is only dead if you let it die.Farm mechanics of the Harvest Moon franchise

Yes, you read that right. You go out into dungeons, you blow monsters away with rifles and cannons, and then you get to work on your farm.

Thematically, all of this makes perfect sense. You're literally fighting to keep shards of the world together while things fall apart all around you. Your first goal is to ensure that your foothold remains intact no matter what, which is one of the driving forces behind Bastion to begin with. So it would make sense that you would be questing and fighting to improve this home base, to make sure that you have a functional spot to return to at the end of the day.

Mechanically, it makes sense as well. If you like both the combat and the harvesting aspect, you can focus on splitting your time between both. But if you prefer farming or killing, you can put your effort into something communal. Harvest Moon is a franchise that really provides a lot of in-depth things for players to do as they build up their farms, meaning that players who just want to play that would have plenty to do alongside players who just want to go out and put down enemies. It would also give a great way for players to interact with one another. Hire someone to go take care of your home base while you kill things; hire someone to go get the components you need for your home base while you maintain the crops and buildings.

Of course, you generally have a lot of NPCs in Harvest Moon games who have a big impact on the gameplay as a whole. But I'm thinking you could work that into your setting as well with one last donor system.

Social links from Persona 3/4

And here's a system that can tie right back into your classes as well. As you build up your home base, you acquire people -- vendors, random NPCs, trainers, that sort of thing. Talk to them, and you can start to strike up a friendship. Talk with them enough, and you'll start to be more and more tied to whatever they're passionate about, something they represent. That means you get more invested in the people around you while at the same time you get more benefits in the game.

This is one of the big tricks that both Persona 3 and Persona 4 use to keep the plots moving: You have a variety of social links with various characters, all of whom offer you varying in-game benefits. You chat with people, pick responses to their statements, and eventually wind up with close companions who would do almost anything for you. And it works just as well if you're dealing with the last survivors of a world drifting into oblivion instead of random Japanese teenagers.

Also sometimes your friends creep you out.  So that's awesome.
Assuming you tie the system into both colony management and classes, it becomes even more interesting. Sure, befriending the blacksmith will do wonders for your colony's metal working, but that's a link that you could also start with the gunsmith for a more accurate weapon...

Oh, and the game would definitely need a proper chat system. So I guess it can't all come from offline entries, but I think it comes together fairly well as it is.

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!
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