MMO Blender: Eliot's rock odyssey

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|11.02.12

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MMO Blender: Eliot's rock odyssey
First person to mention Black Heaven in the comments gets a cookie.  And if you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up.
I'm upset with bards in MMOs.

Don't get me wrong, I like the fact that they exist. But every single game that features bards uses them wrong. The bard is always a back-line character, someone who sits in the back and heals people through gently strumming on a lute. And that depresses me, because I want to see some bards that actually rock. I want to see some music used offensively. I want to have the option of making my bard kill things through careful use of sweet riffs.

You can say it sounds ridiculous, but tell me that it's somehow more ridiculous than having a bard heal you via magical singing and I will call you a liar.

So let's go for it. Let's dedicate an entire MMO to bards who aren't about muzak and nurturing new age songs, but bards that are going to defeat things through the unmitigated power of rock. My only regret is that this is a week too late for Rocktober.

Seriously, look at this guy.  He's halfway to being an album cover anyway.Setting of The Secret World

I may be the only person in the world who thinks this, but the setting of The Secret World is the sort of thing that's always struck me as kind of silly.

Don't get me wrong -- I get the appeal. But I'm tempted to believe that if there were a bunch of supernatural things wandering the world, our society would look pretty much the same except with more tentacles. There comes a certain point where you just can't contain the weirdness, and it winds up seeping out into the mainstream until it's not even a thing any longer. Some of this may have to do with my recent adoration of Ugly Americans, I'm not sure.

But it also makes a perfect setting for a whole bunch of ridiculous stuff happening in the first place. If you can accept secret societies all over the world fighting extradimensional beasties and cthonic horrors with a straight face, putting a bunch of musicians in the battle is the perfect counterpoint to that grim-faced seriousness. And if you find the whole thing just a bit ridiculous, well, this is also ridiculous. It's like some sort of ridiculous sandwich. It's a little bit glam rock, a little bit metal, a little bit post-grunge, and all about playing your instruments really loudly at something that was ancient before humans walked upright.

Batman is also a master guitarist.  Because he's Batman.Combat system of Batman: Arkham Asylum (with a touch of Guitar Hero and Ryzom)

This is going to sound bizarre, but if you didn't already know it, here it is -- Batman: Arkham Asylum was originally going to be a rhythm game a la Dance Dance Revolution. You can see it when you play the game, too. There's a definite flow to combat, just not quite the steady pace of music. All we have to do here is add it back in.

There's more to do here, though. After all, you can't have a game like this without giving a nod to multiple genres of music... and this sort of combat system lends itself to that. Imagine that you've got five buttons to use in a rhythm instead of Arkham Asylum's three. Now imagine that your genre rewards you for different sequences of presses. If you're playing metal, the emphasis is on hammering a couple buttons at a high speed in a reliable pattern. Alternative? Play an elaborate sequence at moderate speed, compared to classic rock aiming at a shorter sequence but a higher pace...

You get the idea. There's room for many styles.

But it'd be wrong not to give you a chance to occasionally bust out a solo, and here's the place where the game could drift into full on Guitar Hero territory. Everything around you slows down as you bust out a big solo piece -- and you could arrange your solos before combat, allowing you to customize your abilities akin to Ryzom's systems. Want a big attack that also heals you? Okay, but you'll be facing a lot of tricky strums and hammer-ons. Stick it well, and you can blow enemies away, or even keep yourself and your fellow artists up and running with a momentary ballad.

Oh, come on, you knew there would be a power ballad or two in there. It's implied.

Ability system of Final Fantasy XIV

So we've established that musical genres are basically classes in other, less rock-powered games. That's cool. But a lot of artists like to sample things from other genres. How do you allow that to fit in?

Simple. You take a page from Final Fantasy XIV. The game's ability system at the moment really doesn't reward or allow wholesale copying of one class into another... but it does allow you to pick and choose choice bits from other classes you've leveled. Much like picking and choosing choice bits from other musical genres, and... all right, it pretty well explains itself. Let's move along.

Yes, there's the occasional risk of wannabe goths, but that's always been a risk.Dynamic events from Guild Wars 2

No, they're not really dynamic. But that's all right. They're still a way to have regular content in a game that doesn't necessarily focus around quest hubs. And when that content takes the form of an impromptu jam session, it makes perfect sense.

Seriously, having a musical MMO gives a lot of opportunities for content that revolves around more than just combat. Maybe one of your musical idols wants to have a jam session. Maybe you just get the urge to start smashing things. Maybe you're getting mobbed by adoring fans. There's a lot of chances for (usually ridiculous) events that won't require you to beat up anything.

Put in some full-featured minigames for things like "avoid giving groupies your phone number" and you can enjoy the sublime beauty of defeating Cthulhu with the power of progressive rock, then running away from a group of teenagers trying to find your hotel room.

On that note, there needs to be at least one piece of repeatable content allowing you to mess up a hotel room in creative and horrible ways. You remember that scene from Walk Hard with a row of sinks getting pulled out of the wall? Yeah, bingo.

Mayhem missions from City of Heroes

In fact, let's go all out. Sometimes, you need a whole mission where your only real goal is to look awesome and do a whole bunch of stuff, and City of Heroes has the answer. The only difference is that this isn't a mission to rob a bank, it's a mission to stop zombies from overrunning the city or to destroy an evil temple or whatever.

If you haven't played these missions, you lost the chance to play something awesome. More relevantly, the player is dropped into a map and told to run to the bank, grab the loot, beat the cops, and get out. You start with a strict time limit, but you get extensions for doing other mayhem-related things. Like smashing parking meters, or beating up other groups trying to get the loot, or robbing a store on your way to the bank.

Imagine that in this setting. You get dropped into a zombie invasion, and you're told to go rock the head zombie to death. Along the way, you get more time by eliminating other zombies, leading people to safety, and possibly stopping the people responsible for the zombie attack in the first place. Or you're thrown into a concert and you have to play a set, but you get more time to play by destroying vampires that are attacking concertgoers for some reason.

There's more that could be done here, I'm sure. But this is a place to start for making a game that's all bards, all the time, and not just a bunch of guys with lutes. (Meaning no disrespect to the guys with lutes. You're awesome.)

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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