MMO ideas that have nothing to do with high fantasy

You know, I’ve always laid it down as a maxim that if developers want to inject WoW into their MMOs so that they can be popular, then they should just get a job at Blizzard. Let’s be honest, folks; if a WoW kiddy wants WoW in his MMO, he’ll just play WoW. Which becomes all the more baffling when new MMOs come out and, lo and behold, they’re high fantasy crap. I mean, seriously. Did Eve just happen to pass every high fantasy MMO developer’s mind? So in honor of developers without imaginations, I’d like to offer a few settings that don’t include Elves and dragons by picking from a few popular books, games, and movies that could be made into MMOs. All you need to do is think outside the box.

There must be some way out of here...

The Name: Battlestar Galatica

The Premise: So I know what you’re thinking. How exactly do you go about doing an MMO that takes place on one ship? Well, I’ll answer you. Instead of BSG taking place during the journey to Earth, it’ll take place during the First Cylon War (Reimagined). Now we’re talking, eh? I mean, considering the First Cylon War was a twelve-and-a-half year conflict that should give it plenty of longevity, don’t you think? Plus you still get to experience the best part about BSG–the “old feel” to the Battlestars, the CIC, the old Vipers, etc. At the same time, die-hard oldie fans get to see their old toasters in frakkin’ glory.

Tagline: War! The goddamn toasters have revolted and are attacking the colonies! Choose your nationality from the Twelve Colonies to start at your home planet and then choose from joining either the Colonial Fleet or the Colonial Marine Corps to start kickin’ some frakkin’ toaster ass!

How It Works: There are twelve planets in the game, each with a considerable amount of areas to explore from on the ground in order to fight back the invading cylons. Depending on what starter colony you choose as your birthright is where you end up starting, so replay is a major factor here. If you choose to be part of the Colonial Fleet you start at the bottom of the barrel, completing flight school and being the CAG’s bitch before you do anything compelling. Jump into your Viper and undertake some hotshot flying to frag some toaster ass. Keep up the good work and you may just be commanding your own Battlestar in no time. Or, if you prefer, choose the life as a Colonial Marine, where you’ll find much of your time liberating settlements and warding off the invading cylons.

Classes: They’re dynamic. Specialization is key here. You start off as a Colonial Ensign if you choose the Colonial Fleet with access to the gun batteries on a Battlestar and ordering around NPC Marines in boarding parties. As you gain more experience you “rank” up; Lieutenants fly Vipers and Raptors to repel Cylon attackers and can also lead an escort of Marines for missions; Captains lead CAG, bigger squadrons, etc; Commander gets his own Battlestar, gets to order Viper squadrons around, handles damage control on the ship, etc; and finally an Admiral gets to have a fleet of his own Battlestars to wage war against the Cylons. The Marine class works much in the same way; you start off as a small fry and end up as a big fish.

The Big Picture: The planets work on capture points. Settlements, camps, bases, and shipyards all present different factors that lead to the overall outcome of how the war is being fought overall for the planet. Shipyards in Colonial control yield more options for the Colonial Fleet, such as more Battlestars to build when others are destroyed, more Vipers, etc. Others have to do with the output of NPC good guys on your side and so on and so forth. However, if the entire planet is captured by Cylon forces, then that colony’s forces are moved in refuge to the next nearest colony. If all twelve planets fall then the servers reset. How’s that for an incentive to keep fighting?

Space fighting is a different theater of war altogether. Invading Cylons first have to get past the Colonial Fleet if they want to try and make it to the planet’s surface, so the Colonial Fleet, in effect, is a planet’s first defense. Eventually, if Colonial Fleet players are ballsy enough, they can even attempt to try and take out Basestars that reinforce open space from a distance of the planet that they are attempting to invade.

This is all, of course, on top of the normal quests you would find in an MMO, so it isn’t essentially all about a dynamic battlefield of control points; but that is the main focal point behind the game.

The spice must flow

The Name: Dune

The Premise: Yet again I already know what you are thinking. An MMO that takes place on a desert planet? And, yet again, I’ve got just the idea to reverse that sort of thinking. This Dune MMO would take place between the first Dune book and Dune: House Corrino. Basically a period spanning a decade before House Atreides gains possession of the planet Arrakis. In this time period we’ll say that there’s stuff happening in the Landsraad anyways (what with only millions of star systems involved in it), like trouble with a House that does not recognize the new Padishah Emperor’s ascension and the Emperor’s Sardaukar must quell such rebellions, or trouble with CHOAM in economic disagreements that lead to corporation wars. Plenty to do before the events of Dune take place.

Tagline: In a universe of trillions, one man is emperor, but few in their lifetime will ever be affected by him. Instead find your way through the universe under one of the many famed houses of Dune or possibly work for other factions, such as the Bene Gesserit witches or the gremlin-like Bene Tleilax, who only Shai-Hulud would know what dastardly deeds they may be up to. However, it is the spice that influences all in their endeavors for survival, and he who controls the spice, controls the universe.

How It Works: There are quite a number of factions that you first choose to hail as your birthright. You can be born under one of the many houses, such as House Corrino, House Harkonnen, House Atreides, or House Vernius, where you will be able to take charge of many different paths; or you can claim to be of the Bene Gesserit or the Bene Tleilax, whose mysterious ways are known to very few; or you can be under the direct employment of CHOAM or the Spacing Guild, where you pledge your life to fight the detractors and enemies of the guilds; or, lastly, you can choose a more humble pursuit as being one of the Freman, the desert people of Arrakis who influence the spice trade across the galaxy.

Classes: The classes start off very basic, with a choice between the life of a soldier or the life of a diplomat. And while that may not seem like much at first, it will once explained in full that there are many, many specialties and paths that you can choose from. For instance, as a soldier under House Corrino, you may eventually become a regulator officer, charged with carrying out orders to capture or execute enemies of the Padishah Emperor, or perhaps even make it to the tanks of one of the feared Sardaukar. As a Tleilaxu soldier, you can eventually ascend to become a face dancer, or perhaps even a ghoula spy. For the Bene Gesserit, a soldier can even achieve hidden rank if their wiles are as dangerous as their hands. And there is always the possibility to become a Mentat–if one is able to withstand the training.

The Big Picture: While the soldier class doesn’t need to be explained, the full extent of the diplomat class does. You see, Dune is all about economics. It may be a great science fiction novel series, but it’s still really about economics. So, as a diplomat, you influence the way the economy works, depending on which faction you are representing. You can even create your own guilds if you’d like, but keep in mind that factions have a lot to do with faction reputation, so expect opposites to collide if you try to build an economic empire under CHOAM’s nose. Essentially if a diplomat specializes in economics he will be playing a glorified stock market sim, with the occasional ability to hire “help” to take care of any problems they may have with shipments. The other path for a diplomat to shape the universe is that of politics, where alliances and wars can be brokered, peace treaties can be written, and trade treaties can be enacted, all at the old adage of, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Assassinations may be a keen tool of your trade. And hey, who knows, build up a forum of enough political diplomats yourself and you may be able to even start your own house!

Essentially, while every character may start out under a faction, they may choose to break off from that faction in a later part of the game when their influence is great, allowing for user-created houses. However, as I said, it is important to keep in mind of faction relations. A faction that you had a holding in, especially one of great wealth and/or honor, is not going to be happy that you broke off, and they may even wage war against you, so be wary if you plan to do so under House Corrino, as the Padishah Emperor will have no qualms about crushing you with his Sardaukar. Aside from that, there are plenty of repeatable quests to undertake to gain notoriety, reputation, and wealth–much to the point where you can even influence some of the greatest factions in the game.

You're treading on my dreams

The Name: Equilibrium

The Premise: I’m sure you can name a few books or games that fit this profile. 1984, Brave New World, and Deus Ex are among the most common to be cited. However, what makes Equilibrium a brilliant movie is that it combines the best of all three (you can’t really make an MMO out of the three previously mentioned). So the idea here is that the setting takes place a few years after the ending of the movie, which sets into place two factions to prevail–the Tetragammatron Council and The Underground, and they’re at war with one another in Libria.

Tagline: Sense offenders. Are you one of them? In the world of Libria it is one of the highest crimes a citizen can commit, punishable by processing. But things are amiss in Libria. Father has been killed. Peace has been disrupted. And some are starting to wake up from the dream that is a nightmare. But will you choose to stay in that dream, or will you pursue your own ambitions?

How It Works: There are two factions to choose from; the Tetragammatron or The Underground, which obviously play opposites. Both factions are waging war in light of the capital city falling to The Underground after the Prozium factories are destroyed and the leader of the Tetragammatron is killed. However, The Underground did not anticipate that the people of the Tetragammatron in other cities would be riled to war and become only harsher and more strict in their society, and so both factions wage war against one another as a means to prevail as to who is the true victor in the crime of feeling.

Classes: Being part of the Tetragammatron definitely has its benefits. You can either start off from the soldier class, a Sweeper of the Nethers, or be part of the Civil Sense Police, who act as spies to reveal sense offenders or Underground spies in turn. High ranks include becoming a Cleric for the soldier class and “senseciologists” for the CSP, who use science and fear to influence a person’s behavior. In turn, The Underground has a variety more of classes; the common foot soldier, the saboteur, the spy, and the propagandist, whose roles are exactly how they sound.

The Big Picture: I really like the concept of control points, because it makes the world in an MMO feel dynamic, so again that is the case for Equilibrium MMO. The Nethers may have various control points, such as hideouts, makeshift factories, and vaults for sensitive material. When controlled by The Underground they influence a positive boost on The Underground forces on a whole, allowing greater weaponry to be used against the Tetragammatron and more people to fight against them. The Tetragammatron, however, cannot control these points; they can turn them neutral by killing all Underground forces at them, however. Tetragammatron forces protect their city control points, such as the Prozium factory, the Cleric offices, the processing facility, and the civic control tower. If any such points fall to the Underground then the way the Tetragammatron works in that city is effected; if all points are captured by the Underground then the Underground gains a gigantic boost in forces. However, the double-edged effect is that, with the taking of a city, all other Tetragammatron-controlled cities produce more soldiers and war machines out of spite and revenge, so it’s a matter of whether the Underground can defend a city before it is recaptured.

As infiltration is key, the vast majority of how captures of cities are enacted is through player interaction. A player acting as an Underground Spy can infiltrate a city and recover documents and key codes that can later be of use to The Underground forces (information is changed every three days). Saboteurs can place explosive charges at factories to destroy Prozium product flow to the city, allowing for a day for the inhabitants to be without Prozium (Tetragammatron players are unaffected by this), which may lead to riots. And to counteract this, the Civil Sense Police walks the streets of the city, detecting people and questioning them to see if they are sense offenders (Underground Spies can withstand questioning better than other Underground classes), essentially becoming a game of cat and mouse, while the Tetragammatron of each city may lead raids on the Nethers to wipe out Underground control points.

Much like the BSG MMO, if the Underground captures all Tetragammatron cities, then the servers are rerolled to the beginning. However, the Teragammatron can never truly win, even if they set every Nether control point to neutral, so there is only one way for the server to reset, thus offering the carrot on the stick as to further add an incentive to fight for (or against) the Tetragammatron.

You can't take the sky from me

The Name: Firefly
The Premise: I know, I know, there’s a Firefly MMO in the works already. And I’m the queen of France. We all know that that MMO isn’t going to see the light of day, much more because it’s still in the hands of Fox. That’ll teach Joss Whedon for ever trusting Fox to know what the hell they are doing when it comes to a gorram good show. Anyways, instead of the MMO taking place during or after the movie or the show, it would take place, instead, during the Unification War, where the Alliance battles the Independent Faction for dominion of the known ‘verse.

Tagline: The future isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Between the Alliance cracking down to unite all the planets under their rule and things that are better left to be in nightmares on the edge of space, things don’t look too good. You, however, are just trying to make a decent living in times of turmoil, and you’re willing to do just about any job–for the right price.

How It Works: Instead of being able to join factions outright, your player chooses between a few selections that influence where he starts and what he starts with. With a rich background, you start off on one of the core planets. With a not so rich background, you start off on another planet, maybe even a backwater planet. Starting credits aren’t that much of a big difference from one another, as you’ll be given a ship from the very beginning.

Yes, I did say ship. Think of it much like Eve but with a lot of differences, such as being able to land on planets and walking around to take on different missions and contracts (or walk around your own ship if you want). In most cases your ship is your home, which allows you to store your belongings and hire a crew to maintain it (NPC crew, mind you). What you do from then on is up to you. Join the Alliance? Sure, if you can. Want to become a Browncoat? Sure, go ahead. Become a mercenary? Sure, just sign right up. Just remember that faction relations and reputations are a huge and major deciding factor in what path you choose to take.

Classes: There is no “starting” class. What you choose as your background dictates what level of skills you have, whether they be mechanical, technical, combative, or diplomatic. All four major skill areas influence different things that you can and cannot do in the known ‘verse. Want to personally fly your own ship? Hope your technical skill is high enough to do that. Want to shoot a gun straight? Hope your combative skill is at a good point. Want to influence someone to do something for you? Diplomacy is key. All skills are “leveled up” not through the missions you complete, but rather the tasks that you complete that are related to a skill (that, or you see a trainer and pay cash to be trained in those skills).

The Big Picture: The only control zones you are going to see in this game are on PvP battlegrounds. Other than that, much of the world will remain static. No server rerolls or anything like that. The real meat and potatoes will be the influence a player can carry out if they build up a large enough force to do something, such as start up their own colony, or run a pirate ring, or start their own trading company. Space is out-right open PvP, which is exactly where the vast majority of the action will take place, whether it be against player-made factions or the Alliance versus the Browncoats.

Economies on worlds can be semi-influenced, however, depending on what you do with trade (or if you steal it). Again, bringing up faction relations up once more; pirates, or undesirables, will be hunted in core region space by the Alliance–less so as you go farther from the core planets. Of course the trouble is as the farther you go from core planets, the less supplies there are to choose from, so you could be running on empty weaponry or an unruly crew of mercenaries, especially if you introduce Reavers into the equation.

There’s war to be fought if one wants to, and there’s plenty of profit in it, but a player can still make what ever choices he’d like to make in this Firefly MMO.

I'll be back

The Name: Terminator

The Premise: Never mind the headache that is time travel. We’re just going to fast forward this bitch straight to the resistance portion of this franchise. You know, where Skynet is self aware and is attempting to eradicate all mankind? The sort of stuff nightmares of made of. And so here you’ll be playing the role of one of the members of the resistance.

Tagline: The world ended on July 25, 2004. Skynet, a military computer AI, was turned on and became self aware, beginning a nuclear apocalypse. The year is now 2018, and humans continue to fight on due to their resistance leader, John Connor. The human race is an endangered species. Will you rise to fight against the machines?

How It Works: You start off as a survivor who is found by the resistance. Following a trip back to their base, they ask you some questions, like what you did before the world went to shit. This is where your defining skills are placated and your specialty is then assigned to you by the resistance and from then on you’re a fighter, fighting against the machines, protecting those who can’t fight, and finding more survivors to help.

Classes: Technicians and soldiers. Much like previous class ideas, these are just the basic starting levels; there are many specialties to be had for either class. Soldiers start off as common foot soldiers, perhaps running suicide missions, before they are awarded options to become explosive experts, rocketeers, or handle heavy weaponry. Eventually they can achieve infamy if they agree to undergo an experimental procedure that makes them into a cyborg so they can effectively battle the machines with deadly force. Technicians, on the other hand, range from a few options, such as dispensers that offer medical supplies and ammo, to the technician that can build sentry guns and EMP explosives to knock out machines. Eventually a battle-hardened technician will be able to even reprogram terminators to fight for the resistance and even cause self-detonation within facilities.

The Big Picture: Capture points convey here once again! The idea behind Terminator MMO is simply to survive. You’re given capture points you hold at the beginning of the server’s life and from then on it’s up to the players of the servers. Instead of set-in-stone capture points, however, players are allowed to build their own fortifications as their own capture points, thus allowing the longevity of the resistance to survive. However, they must be built from destroyed machines and, mostly, from destroyed machine bases (machine bases cannot be captured, only destroyed and/or salvaged). Considering the playing field won’t encompass the entire world, machines will continue to bring in reinforcements, so even if you destroy all machine control points, the machines will still keep coming, rebuilding them to continue to fight. However, if the machines destroy all resistance capture points, then the servers are rerolled.

Apart from that, much of the game works on upgrades instead of experience gained through quests. The monetary system is replaced by what sort of machine parts you are able to salvage. Some control points are key to winning, such as an armory control point (salvages machine weaponry to be used against the machines) or a hideout control point (adds more resistance NPCs to help fight). As rank is gained, you will be able to command NPC resistance members to aid you in what ever endeavor you wish to pursue, or you can always carry out orders from command. The war, however, won’t be ending any time soon.

For Mother Russia!

The Name: Command & Conquer: Red Alert

The Premise: With pretending that Red Alert 3 never happened (yes, lets), Red Alert MMO would take place during the beginning stages of Red Alert 2, still in place that the Cold War had reached its height and World War III was finally coming into fruition. From there you are able to choose between two sides; the Allies or the Soviets.

Tagline: When Albert Einstein went back in time to shake hands with Hitler, he did so because he thought it would thwart Nazi Germany from ever coming to fruition. When his theory proved true, he wasn’t anticipating on the fact that with Stalin unchecked in Soviet Russia that his conquest for power was left unchecked, thus sparking an alternate timeline altogether. After a short stint to take over Europe in the 1940s with failure, Soviet Russia remained dormant for the better part of three decades before Premier Romanov raised his country from the ashes and began his conquest for world domination. The only question is: whose side are you on?

How It Works: First, pick a side; Allied or Soviets. Then pick a country of origin (USSR, Mexico, Cuba, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Vietnam for the Soviets; USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, and the Republic of Korea for Allies) to start in a specific part of the world. Everyone starts off small, starting at the rank of Lieutenant and commanding a platoon of ground infantry. As you battle your way across the world you gain rank, more supplies and soldiers, and are able to influence which side holds which country through battles.

Classes: You start as a lieutenant, regardless of what side you pick, with a platoon of ground infantry. You’ll first be given missions to help out your country’s NPC AI that tries to make pushes and retaliations against the enemy, as well as defending positions or reinforcing dug-in troops. The more battle experience you gain, the higher rank you achieve. As you achieve higher ranks you will be able to specialize what kind of army you will have, such as Jet Troopers and GIs for the Allies, eventually being able to utilize war machines like tanks and aircraft to also be added to your army. Ranks do not follow any real traditional army ranks; when you hit the rank of Commander you’ve hit the highest rank achievable, which allows you to build your own base and supply your own army to control territories.

The Big Picture: By now you should be getting the feeling that Red Alert MMO has an RTS angle on it (and rightfully so). And, you, guessed it, control points plays a hand in this card game yet again. This time, however, we’re talking about countries as control points, and not just on a whole; each country will have its number of control points that you first have to take over before the country, on a whole, comes under control of one side. On top of that, control points also influence the front lines as well; the number of soldiers your side has, the number of war machines are available, the number of advanced technology available, the number of nukes available, etc. All control points are NPC-controlled but can be captured and defended by players.

The real question you’re probably asking yourself, however, is how exactly do you work on the playfield? I mean, you obviously can’t have the entire world in one game space. So this is where a game space a la Mount&Blade comes in, where battles take place in first person (or an overview point of view) and are rendered in scenery and infantry when two forces collide together. At the same time control points are also vast and open spaces that you enter the game world into as well. Once you reach the rank of Commander you’ll even be able to build your own base in true C&C fashion, designing it in any way you wish. Just be wary of enemy engineers.

Depending on the number of countries (and the respective size of that country) will influence the overall outcome of your NPC friendlies or enemies in how many there are and what sort of weapons they are fighting with. Player armies, of course, are not susceptible to this change, unless their special units are killed and are unable to gather reinforcements as the necessary control points are no longer under their control, so player armies could still push back NPC armies and regain territories to change the tide of war. However, once one side completely dominates the world, then victory is claimed and the servers reroll so players can do it all over again.


That’s all, folks
And there you have it. Six MMO ideas that have NOTHING to do with high fantasy. No Elves, no Azeroth, no reguritated environments. Sure, they may not seem all that applicable to be able to be put into a game, but I’m sure if someone just took the time to make it right they would be able to put out an MMO that doesn’t have to suffer under the moniker of “WoW clone.” Maybe that’s the actual reason why new MMOs can’t thrive in this MMO market. Then again, how would we know; the only successful MMO that isn’t high fantasy is Eve, and they must not be doing too well if–oh, wait, you mean they are doing well?

Honestly, just for once I would really like someone to take an already-existing story from an awesome series, like in some of the ones I mentioned them in this article, and make an MMO that shatters this rediculous craze for high fantasy MMOs. I want the future, the guns, the bullets, the tanks, and the vast emptiness of space. And I know I can’t be alone in this feeling. So please, think of your potentially-future customers, developers, and think outside the box when it comes to MMOs.

Originally written: June 2009

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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