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MMO Blender: Eliot swings for internet spaceships

Eliot Lefebvre

Honestly, EVE Online always depresses me.

I know some of you really love the heck out of EVE Online, and that's great. The problem isn't that the game is bad but that it's a game which holds basically zero interest for me except for the fact that it's a game about spaceships that you play on the internet. That part interests me because it's almost a textbook description of the things that I find interesting. Throw in some giant robots and psychological horror and I'm completely sold. Move on to open PvP, corporate warfare, and shuffling through spreadsheets while playing the ore market, and you've lost my interest.

This isn't a lamentation on the fact that games exist that aren't meant to please me. No, this is a lamentation of the fact that I want another internet spaceships game. I want my spaceships on the internet, but I want them to be my kind of spaceships. And so with all due respect to the existing contenders, I'd like to talk about my version.

Shields up, red alert!Space combat of Star Trek Online

There were a lot of things that I really loved about Star Trek Online, but above all else was my love of the game's space combat. It was a love so profound that a good chunk of my desire to go back to the game centers entirely around my love of getting in my assault ship and tearing things up. (The rest is centered around my love of the franchise it's based upon and because playing a Cardassian ship captain just tickles me.)

STO's ship combat plays out less like the frantic dogfights you see in other games. Here, it's more like a clash of naval juggernauts in three dimensions. But there are so many subtleties to it, both in terms of actions taken during combat and your weapon loadout. Shifting power to the correct parts of your ship during combat becomes an art, just like dropping your speed to execute a tighter turn while preparing to fire your forward torpedo launchers.

Better yet, there's a lot of choices to be made about how you want to kit out your ship. If you're playing an attack craft with a tight turning radius, you might want to load up on forward weapons with a narrow firing arc and use your rear slots for more wide-angle weapons... or perhaps you'd rather load on wide-angle weapons in the front, then unload with your torpedoes once you race past your target. Maybe your larger ship wants a wider arc, or you could just load up heavy weapons in the front and proceed slowly with reinforced front shields. It's varied, it's fun, and it's very rarely boring.

But eventually, you're going to get out of your ship. What's that going to be like?

I still don't know how to quit you.Ground combat of City of Heroes

I've said before that City of Heroes doesn't always feel like a superhero game in its engine, but the combat system is definitely well-made and fun to play. It's especially nice insofar as leveling gives you access to more situational skills rather than just plain better ones. There's definitely room for building the system around the sci-fi gadgets you're using rather than inherent powers -- a flamethrower, a laser rifle, and so forth. Each gadget can easily have a CoH-style primary and secondary powerset. And that ties directly into the next point...

Class switching of Final Fantasy XIV

If your ground abilities are tied chiefly to a gadget, you should be able to put that one down and pick up a different one without a problem. Final Fantasy XIV was originally launched with the promise that your character skills were tied directly to practicing with each individual weapon, rather than to some overall class.

Admittedly, that didn't work out so great, but we can take the idea and run with it, right? Right.

A lot of games, including STO, allow you to switch between weapon sets in a flash. This could easily be an extension of that. You can carry a few different gadgets with you at any given time and store more on your ship to choose between for different situations. That means that in one encounter you can bring out your rifle and unload with ranged abilities, while in another you're bringing out a medical device to heal your allies, and then you bring out a melee weapon designed to shield your companions. It's variable based on what you need to do in each battle.

Space is big, though. There's got to be more than just fighting, right? Darn right.

I'm a busy man aiming to misbehave, I don't have time for quest text.Points of interest from Guild Wars 2

As you explore in Guild Wars 2 you find a lot of people standing around waiting for someone to come help them out. Rather than having Farmer McDerp ask you to get five worm livers, you're just prompted by the game to get worm livers for Farmer McDerp once you walk into his general area. McDerp is a busy man; he can't be bothered to pretend to talk to you about his need for the livers of worms.

While I'm not in love with the mechanic as a whole, it does allow for something very nice: You have multiple ways to complete a given area's tasks. Expand that in scope, and it's a great way to set you up for diversions as you explore through space. Say you run across a colony that's having bandit problems. You could fight off the bandits, or you could help mine out ore, or you could help chart new trade routes, or whatever. The important point is that you helped, not the exact method of doing so.

In an ideal world, perhaps you could also have a growing reputation with areas you help on a regular basis, with that reputation decaying slowly over time. Having high bars with several groups could allow you access to extra missions or other overall benefits, but that's all speculative stuff beyond the boundary of this particular feature.

Rifts of RIFT

Last but not least, let's mix things up a little more. Let's get some full-on invasions going.

RIFT's rifts were interesting partly because they were something you don't see often in a fantasy world. But they were also an interesting way of marking enemy forces invading an area. And in any good story about deep space, you need some invading armies floating in from nowhere to suddenly force people into action.

Imagine that you're just patrolling in deep space or on part of a planetary surface when a beacon of some sort shows up. Next thing you know, invading forces are pouring out, threatening the colony you've been protecting -- or at least threatening the continued safety of your ship. It's a good mechanic to mix things up from regularly trying to find certain points of interest and build up reputation, and it gives players plenty of random stuff to do at any given time.

Of course, there's more that could be fit in here. I haven't even talked about crafting or missions or PvP or factions. I didn't touch on the setting. But if I were going to make me some spaceships on the internet, this is where I'd start.

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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