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MMO Blender: Mike's spaceflight of fancy


You know what I love? Space. Not real space, so much; real space is a vast expanse of horrors that generally confound and cripple the mind if considered too seriously. I'm talking about "space," as in the setting of some of our favorite movies, games, and cancelled television properties.

The problem with space, of course, is that it is a setting and not a story. You can't prime an audience by simply shouting, "Space!" The space needs context. Is it "final frontier" space? Is it the space in which your screams go unheard? The greatest space tales have always used the deep black as a backdrop, not a subject.

My perfect MMO would almost certainly take place in space, but the way in which the space is used is what makes it worth playing.

Universe: EVE Online

This probably isn't much of a surprise since I've already written a couple hundred words about how much I love space. But EVE is a special kind of space: an open, emergent sandbox in which players travel great distances to deliver upon each other the rudest kinds of injustice. It is an enormous explorable world with thousands of planets, stars, moons and space stations, and its story is solid as well: People ventured into deep space via wormhole, only to be stranded when the wormhole closed behind them and locked them into centuries of fighting over scant resources.

EVE Universe
EVE also handles the races portion of building my MMO, as I'm a big fan of the way characters in EVE are mostly human but vastly different based on their individual and family histories. It's close enough to reality to feel believable but just fantastical enough to capture the imagination. Frankly, I think we have enough MMOs with elves and dwarves and magical fairies, and it's time to recapture the joy of pure human drama.

So the basic universe is a sandbox in which humans of competing factions venture out into space in the hopes of securing fame, glory and riches for themselves and their creed. Nothing super innovative there.

Let's talk mechanics.

Space gameplay: Star Citizen

I don't know whether Chris Roberts can pull off what he's trying to pull off with Star Citizen, but everything I've seen of the game so far is exceptional. In my MMO, the "space" world would be big and travel would work similar to EVE (warping from point to point), but combat would be a real-time, skill-heavy affair in which your piloting abilities were more important than your ship fittings. Even people flying massive capital ships would need to have elite piloting talents, as fleet battles wouldn't just be two fleets firing shots directly at each other until one decides to leave.

Star Citizen
Star Citizen seems to have this on lock. Huge, hundred-ship battles with each pilot's split-second decision-making being the primary factor in whether or not a fleet succeeds. I'd much rather be shot down by a stellar pilot than by a superior fit, and I think most of the people interested in interstellar combat would tend to agree. It's all about putting you directly into the pilot's seat. The consequences from EVE remain: If you lose your ship, it's gone.

Ground gameplay: PlanetSide 2 and Red Dead Redemption

My enormous EVE Online universe is packed with explorable and beautiful planets, each with several continents of persistent multiplayer combat and a bunch of quest hubs and towns. PlanetSide 2's fast-paced shooting should fit in nicely for the multiplayer confrontations, while Red Dead's third-person exploration and NPC interaction is a nice fit for the towns. Your viewpoint switches based on what actions you're trying to complete, and the whole thing has a sort of wild west vibe.

PlanetSide 2 Combat
Here's where things get complicated: As you and other players of your faction capture points and take over the surface of the planet, the way that planet's resources are allocated changes. The more planets your faction controls, the more powerful it becomes-assuming the planets have resources worth owning. Controlling a planet that's rich in copper, for instance, would be a big boon to your faction's ability to produce electronics, especially if you wage a war to conquer every such known planet in the galaxy.

Red Dead Redemption
Factions will be able to dominate parts of the galaxy, which in turn will allow them to control the flow of resources in any particular business sector. It's not enough to simply drop a beacon or build a facility though; you and the other players of your faction must win sovereignty via on-the-ground and in-space combat superiority. Factions unable to hold resource-rich areas will see economic struggles in the form of spiked prices and scarcity in the affected areas.

Skills and abilities: RIFT and EVE Online

The best thing about EVE Online, for me, is the fact that characters progress when you're not playing. A real-time skill system keeps the playing field even in terms of "play" time and gives busy people a way to advance. That being said, immense skill gaps can and do crop up between new and old players, making the game harder to get into. This is why I've opted for a layered system that relies on standard class-based mechanics and real-time skill training.

EVE Character
Here's the basic gist: In my MMO, your class determines what sort of pilot you are. You can choose to be a support class, for example, and learn abilities that repair damaged ships or buff their damage output. Or a stealth class, with electronic warfare equipment and other such skullduggery. Think of class selection as your pilot's license, with each license representing the specific types of ship you can fly and the abilities afforded to those ships. And as in RIFT, you can choose from a variety of special talents within your class's frame for further customization.

PlanetSide 2 Class
On the ground, you'll be able to select weapons based on loadouts, but the weapons and loadouts to which you have access will be determined by your overall skillset. Skills progress in real-time and fall into categories (and sub-categories) like ranged weapons, support tools or explosives. The higher and more specific your skills, the better and more specialized the weapons. It would require some seriously delicate balancing, but I think it could function if done just right. The important part is ensuring that even new players can contribute to their teams and squads in a firefight.

Economy: World of Warcraft and a touch of Team Fortress 2

Yes, World of Warcraft's economy is (relatively) simple. However, it does a fairly solid job of giving players a way to acquire and trade goods, and its cross-faction tools make for some interesting moments between enemies. It's also item-driven, and an item-driven economy is fun and useful -- as long as the items are necessary and players are interested in trading them.

World of Warcraft
The Team Fortress element comes in the form of rare items that can be bought and sold for real-life dollars. You can't buy them in an online store, but you can acquire them from the in-game auction house or the real-money sales sheet. This adds some danger to the game, gives people a questionable (and fun) method of making money, and legitimizes RMT without endangering the economy (since the drops are rare, their sale can't tank a faction's overall market prices).

I, obviously, am not a game designer. And there are an infinite number of kinks to work out in a game with fully functional first-person combat, third-person questing, and in-cockpit space fights that allows real-money trading and regional sovereignty battles. But if done correctly, it could be the best space game anyone has ever seen.

EVE Planets
Or the worst. Now where's my $7 million in Kickstarter money?

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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