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MMO Blender: Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome

Shawn Schuster

If there's one thing I've noticed about these MMO Blender articles, it's that the Massively staff members seem to really like their sandboxes. Maybe it's not even so much a staff preference as it is a statement about where we all are as MMO players. Themeparks have been done and have been perfected, but many of us want to stretch the limitations of a truly persistent and open online world.

At least that's what I'd like to think. It's an ideal situation I can dream about, but do we all really want a truly open world with limitless possibilities? What would we do with so few rules?

My perfect MMO has what I'd consider to be the best of all worlds. The trick is, of course, getting it all to work in one game.

World: Wurm Online

Wurm Online is the very definition of a sandbox. The world is made up of islands that act as servers where anyone can sail between each island to discover new land, fight off hostile creatures, fight off hostile players, or just build his own dream village. You can build towers to the sky, enslave monsters as trophies, hire NPC guards to fend off baddies, and even pillage ruined castles of players who stopped playing the game months ago. Of course, before you even begin to do any of this you need to start from scratch -- literally.

Even the land rush of Wurm Online is exciting to me. There's no tacked-on housing system in Wurm because the whole game is about housing, in a sense. You find the perfect spot with access to water, a forest, and mineable rock, and you're set... until you go out adventuring and find out that there's a better spot about a day's walk westward.

MMO Blender Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome
Setting: Fallen Earth

As much fun as fantasy is, I could probably just end this article by describing a combination of Wurm Online and Fallen Earth. But I'm going to get picky on the details because this is my dream MMO, afterall. The post-apocalyptic genre is hands-down my favorite, but the scrapyard feel of Fallen Earth does post-apocalyptic just right. I grew up memorizing every word of the Mad Max trilogy, and that's how I picture the end of the world. You can keep your zombies, spaceships, and sterile dystopias. I'll be over here with my tire tread shoulder armor and the last of the V8 Interceptors.

Crafting: A Tale in the Desert, Guild Wars 2, and Fallen Earth

I've chosen three different games here because crafting is serious business to me. So let's start with the crafting of A Tale in the Desert where you have to collect everything you need and figure out how to put it together. It's close to Wurm Online, but I believe ATITD has a slight edge in the authenticity department. Gathering isn't done through nodes like in most MMOs; it's dependent on your terrain. So if you want to collect sand, you run over to the beach and an icon pops up telling you that there is sand here. Why don't more games do this!?

So with that crafting system in mind, let's add in the discovery mechanics of Guild Wars 2. More specifically, let's throw in the discovery mechanics of Cooking in Guild Wars 2. What would happen if I used my hammer on that piece of scrap metal and attached that leather strap to it with a handful of salvaged screws? Oooh, upper shoulder armor! Throw in the crafting queues, XP gain, and offline progression of Fallen Earth and you're there.

MMO Blender Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome
Combat: Mount & Blade

If you've ever stormed a castle keep in Mount & Blade and won, you know what I'm talking about. Running up a ladder, dodging arrows, knocking enemies off the wall to their deaths, and slicing through dozens of bad guys with every swish of your mouse is really what it's all about. Now imagine doing that on horseback (or a motorcycle!). No other combat really comes close to that of Mount & Blade.

MMO Blender Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome
Armor: Vindictus

While I'm not a big fan of the exaggerated swords and a few unrealistic character models in Vindictus, the armor designs are some of the best I've ever seen. But one of my favorite parts of Vindictus' armor is the fact that it can be damaged both in stats and in appearance. So if your chestpiece is broken, it won't show up on your character, instead showing up as a tattered replacement.

Mounts: APB: Reloaded

Realtime Worlds (with tweaks from Reloaded Productions) is the only studio to really get multiplayer mounts right. I'm not talking about having your friend ride on the back of your griffon while you fly to the next city to complete quest #87649. I'm talking about hanging out the window of your friend's truck while you and a third friend spray bullets at another car full of enemy players. I'm talking about that tanker scene from The Road Warrior, but in an MMO.

MMO Blender Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome
Economy and Trade: EVE Online

I really didn't want to be so cliche, but the truth is the truth. EVE Online's economy is the best, and the ability to earn subscripton time through in-game means is icing on the cake. In fact, a few companies are copying EVE's economic methods, so CCP must be doing something right.

But I want to take this one step further. With crafting such a focus for me, I don't want to see NPC vendors selling armor even close to what can be crafted. In fact, I don't want to see NPC vendors at all. I want to see players making names for themselves as the best armorsmith or the best tattoo artist in the wasteland. There should be crafting celebrities who can earn real reputation for their skill. Who run Bartertown? You run Bartertown.

Mission system: APB: Reloaded

Would it be blasphemous for me as an MMO player to say that I don't really like missions and quests? Well, it's not so much that I don't like them overall, but I don't like them to be 90% of the game's content. In APB:R, you can choose to completely ignore the incoming mission requests or you can pledge yourself to one specific contact and only do their quests and earn their rewards. Unfortunately, each contact's quest line isn't long, so you'll need to hop from person to person, but I like that certain rewards are unlocked through certain contacts.

Factions: Fallen EarthMMO Blender Beyond Shawn's Thunderdome

The Fallen Earth faction wheel is stuff of legends -- or at least it was until people figured out that it didn't mean as much as they thought it would. But in theory, it's a wonderful idea. You take six different schools of thought on surviving the apocalypse, from savage raiders to olive drab militants to tree-hugging hippies, and you decide how each one affects the other. So if you're a tree-hugging Vista, your polar opposite would be the future-savvy Techs, but the tribal CHOTA anarchists wouldn't be too far from your own political views. So when you gain reputation with one faction, you earn a fraction for those on neighboring sides of the faction wheel, but lose twice as much on the opposing side of the wheel.

I would expand this by restricting opposing factions from interacting with each other at all, which wasn't the case in Fallen Earth. The relationships among each individual group and how they connected within the faction wheel is still a fascinating concept.

Companions: Star Wars: The Old Republic

There was a time when the folks at Fallen Earth talked about plans to make pets that would collect resources for you while you ran around the world. I thought that sounded like fun, but it was never actually implemented in the game. SWTOR jumped this a few steps further by taking the simple concept of a customizable companion (think heroes in Guild Wars) and adding in storyline connections, specific reputation, and the ability to have them run resource-gathering quests on their own. After all, what's a boy without his dog?


So I guess you could say that my perfect MMO would be heavily influenced by the Mad Max films in several aspects. Mel Gibson's character was a wandering nomad with complete freedom to help or ignore anyone he wanted. His colorful variety of companions became intergral to his journey, but deep down he was just an explorer at heart. The battles were epic and the visuals have defined a genre. These ingredients in a well-funded MMO would really grab me for the long haul.

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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