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You Got Chocolate On My Peanut Butter

Eliot Lefevre writes, "what systems would you like to see combined?" Just yesterday, one of my game-playing buddies and I were talking about this very subject, perhaps because I've been playing WoW again lately. I already posted on the subject of things Blizzard could take form other games, but we got more specific in our conversation of lunch.

So let's build the ultimate MMORPG in our imaginations, by grabbing all the best features and cramming them together. Let's start with Champions, because we always start by creating characters, and they've got the best character creator. We can keep their Power Sets idea, too. To heck with classes. Give me a giant buffet menu of all the abilities and let me mix and match. The results are way more fun and varied than in WoW, and sometimes players discover totally unanticipated combinations. Who expected Power Armor to combine so well with Sorcery?

The Champions engine has some nice improvements over Blizzard's, too, including its collision-handling and much better use of line-of-sight. The destructible, throwable objects are good, too; let's have those.

Forget the Champions world, though. B-O-R-I-N-G. Instead, how about we round up Blizzard's world-designers and have them come up with a huge, varied world with zillions of completely different places in it, and all sorts of eye-popping scenery. We won't have them build it, though. Instead, let's get the Guild Wars scenery folks to do that, so that it all looks totally breathtaking, and then bring in the Lord of the Rings Online scenery folks to go over everything and give it all the incredible polish and detail that they give to everything. Then we should have them stick around and keep on doing what they do. We'll have them continue to make changes and improvements all the time, continuously. Instead of staying the same as it was when you first went through it, each zone will gradually change, little-by-little, with new NPCs, new buildings (and old ones tumbling down), new quests, and new destinations, so there's always a reason to go back and visit places you've already seen.

While we're building the world, let's pop over to Darkfall and scoop up the goblins. Darkfalls' goblins don't just spawn and stand around waiting to be killed. They have their own business, and they work together. If you outnumber them, they run and get help, or kite you into an ambush. Let's have some of that. Instead of utterly brainless wolves and bandits standing around sucking their thumbs, waiting to be killed and respawn, let's have herds of elk that move as a herd, that move defensively and try to avoid becoming food. Let's have wolves that hunt in packs. Let's have bandits who are actually trying to mug somebody, and villagers who try to defend their villages. In short, let's have some mobs with actual behavior.

But when the Blizzard world designers start segmenting the world up into level-specific zones, we need to step in and make them stop. We don't want our world to turn into nine deserted ghost towns for every one bustling community. We've got those excellent Turbine guys putting touches of inspiration on every little feature of the world; we want people to see their work. So let's arrange things so that people have a reason to go everywhere.

The Warhammer guys did a good job of weaving the Order and Destruction sides together, tracing their paths over and under and alongside one another. Their world map was crazy, and their travel system didn't help things hang together, but they did a terrific job of arranging things so that the two side were in their own worlds, and yet were brought together at intervals to duke it out. Let's have some of that, and we'll use that technique to thread different levels of challenge through every zone, so that there are good reasons for characters at every level to go everywhere, instead of sucking all the juice out of a zone and them leaving it forever.

Speaking of levels, let's ditch them. At any rate, let's toss out "experience levels". Instead, let's turn "experience" into skill in the power sets. We'll swipe another page from Darkfall and EVE, and have using your abilities earn skill that can be used to buy new, related abilities. User your abilities and your skill in them goes up; neglect them and it goes down. We'll add to that a Deeds and Traits system like the one in Lord of the Rings Online, so that, not only do you earn skill by using your abilities, but achieving certain milestones in the use of your abilities opens up new lines of enhancements. As in LOTRO, we can scatter these all over the game for players to discover. Some will come naturally from your playstyle. Others will be easter eggs hidden about the landscape, a great reason for people to explore the whole world.

We already ditched classes in favor of Power Sets; let's hide new Power Sets around the landscape, too. Achieve certain Deeds, and you discover new Power Sets opening up. Some Power Sets can come from NPCs; earn enough reputation from certain factions and special NPCs begin to offer you abilities from previously-hidden Power Sets.

That brings me to factions and things related. Blizzard's use of factions is all well and good. It's nice that each new expansion brings in a new rivalry between new sets of factions. It's nice that earning reputation with a faction earns you the opportunity to acquire new enhancements and customizations. But why stop there? Let's give players the opportunity to create their own factions, and add their own enhancements and customizations. Let's just grab the player towns and player fortresses from Darkfall and Age of Conan, and plop them into the game. We won't stop at being able to build a town, though. You can fortify your town, make it a fortress with all sorts of booby traps, suitable for guild-on-guild battles, as in Guild Wars. But you can also populate your town with vendors, and take a cut of their sales. You can associate a faction with your town, and offer reputation rewards to other players. You can put questgivers in your town and have them hand out quests that you design. If you design crappy quests, of course, you won't get much traffic. So let's reward you if you create great ones. When a player completes one of your quests, he can cheer or boo it to the questgiver, and if you get lots of cheers, you earn the opportunity to expand your faction's NPCs, buildings, rewards, and so on.

Yeah, people will abuse that system, no doubt. We'll have to playtest it for a while to see how to work in controls reward curves and and deterrents, so that reputation-trading doesn't get out of hand. The goal is to create an incentive for players to help us build and change the landscape. We don't want the world to be static; we want it to be alive and growing, and changing all the time, so there's always something new to see.

Speaking of potential for abuse, let's steal a bunch of ideas from the Sim games. Remember SimAnt and SimLife and SimEarth? Or how about Spore? Yeah, I know; Spore was disappointing. But you can make new critters! And in SimLife and SimEarth, your critters ran around eating and pooping and having babies, and the world changed and grew! Let's have that. In Champions, you also use their character creator to create an archenemy for yourself. In Star Trek Online, you'll be able to use it to create new alien races. Let's have some of that, too. We'll have our designers continually introduce new lifeforms and new civilizations, and we'll let players earn opportunities to do it, too.

Naturally, that means we'll have to have someone on staff to delete all the giant walking penises and boobs. Oh, well. C'est la vie.

Since we're adding new critters, let's snag some ideas from Eskil Steenberg's LOVE and make it possible to add and change the landscape, too. Let's start with the layout of the map. Let's say the world isn't a planet, first of all. It's a big flat expanse, and when you come to the edge, you don't fall off; you discover new places. Yeah, we'll have to set a limit on how fast you can do that, but discovery at limited speed is still way better than just bumping your head against an invisible wall. In fact, we can steal another page from EVE and relax the rules a little as you get out away from the center of the world. We can make it pretty hard to make big changes in the center, where the canonical game content is, but easier out on the fringes. It's sort of like the center of the world is also the realm of Order, and the far-distant edges are the realm of Chaos, where anything goes. Well, maybe not anything; but more things. That makes a handy arrangement for world PVP, too. As in EVE, you can be safe from predation if you stick to the realm of Order, but if you relish the danger, you can head out into the lands of Chaos. That also has the nice effect of automatically creating a sense of danger and adventure when you venture outside the safe areas because, well, you're likely to be killed.

Another things I want to swipe from Guild Wars is its system of NPC party members. Let's grab that, and combine it with WoW's pet controls. How many character can you effectively control at once? Well, Myth had some pretty cool group control for pretty large groups, back in the day. We could experiment some with that. Guild Wars is great in that nothing prevents a solo player from tackling group quests. you just have to be able to control a party of pets effectively. With that design, you can plop challenges for all different team sizes all over the map, and they're open to everyone. You can get together a group of friends to tackle a team challenge, or you can put together a big group of pets. Cryptic says they'll be borrowing that idea for Star Trek Online. Good plan.

All around the realm of Order, out away from the center, but not as far as the realms of Chaos, we can sprinkle rich resources and defensible lansdscapes. We can put abandoned castles and fortress all around. Let players seize the forts and try to hold them. A successful team that holds onto a fort and the region it guards can accumulate NPC serfs to enrich them and supply conscripts for their armies. An ambitious team might embark on a war of conquest and try to build an empire. Two or three such empires might go to war over the resources. Their epic battles might attract more player recruits, as in Darkfall. These Border Kingdoms will be dangerous for travelers, but exciting for the adventure-minded, and profitable for traders willing to brave the danger.

I guess I'd better stop, because I don't seem to be running out of things to describe, and this post is getting mighty long.

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February 2010

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