29 July, 2006
I’m going to cheat a bit and steal from a colleague just as all good artists do. ;) Scott Jennings posted a bit about creating Battlestar Galactica online. It’s an interesting look at exploring alternative types of gameplay that could be the focus of an online RPG based on Battlestar Galactica. Highly recommended reading for people who want to think about these things. Although I have been one of the people derailing the discussion to talk about the relative merits of EVE Online. ;) (Sorry, Scott.)
So, this weekend’s challenge is to discuss what would make a good Sci-Fi online RPG, particularly for a licensed world.
My thoughts below.
One of the things that is appealing about Sci-Fi is the possibilities: You can discover new planets and civilizations. Even in a closed system, you could have undiscovered parts of planets, or major shifts that cause new places to explore. This is similar to how you can have alternate planes or “newly discovered” dungeons added to a fantasy game. Sci-Fi also does better than other genres in “mainstream” entertainment. Until the recent LotR movies, Fantasy had been confined to B-grade movies and straight-to-DVD releases whereas various flavors of Sci-Fi are a perennial favorite.
The disadvantages are that Sci-Fi has never done as well as fantasy games in the online medium. (And, yes, as I’ve said in the thread on Scott’s site, I know EVE Online has done well; pointing to them isn’t going to get people to give you a large budget) You also have the problem with vast amounts of space. Travel is even more boring in space than it is across land. Plus, planets are HUGE so you either need to abstract some of it out, or you would have to create vast amounts of content. Procedurally generated content has never been quite as well-received as hand-created content, so you run some risks there.
Adding a license on top of this can be problematic. You could have huge restrictions imposed upon you: if the setting is “hard” Sci-Fi, you could find yourself bound to conventions that make for boring gameplay. Also, licenses that are character-based instead of plot (or setting) based result in people wanting to be the “cool” characters. A majority of the people interested in Star Wars Galaxies wanted to be a Jedi because they’re just cool, and figure prominently in the movies.
For license, I think one of the most attractive ones would be Cowboy Bebop. (ObNote: I don’t have a license and I don’t know of anyone working on this type of game. If someone does have a license to work on an online RPG, here is how to contact me. *grin*) The game has an established setting, and a very avid fanbase. The world is “soft” Sci-Fi, so you can get away with breaking some of the laws of physics which can make the game unfun. The music is also awesome, which could be used to good effect in an online game. The disadvantage is that you would need a lot of different types of “engines” to make the game work right: space/atmosphere flight, driving, walking/fighting, computer hacking, etc. This game would absolutely have to aim for WoW-sized numbers in order to pay off the initial investment; this is likely possible given the international appeal of the series.
You would definitely have to do something besides the typical “tank-healer-DPS” type gameplay. I think something focusing on bounty hunters where you get a “quest” to hunt a bounty, then some people do research and investigation, and you climax with a big battle to bring down the bad guy (that would probably feel more like God of War than an EverQuest raid) would work best. Players would need a variety of skills from computer hacking, investigation, piloting, to good ol’ knuckle-sandwich delivery skills. Characters would have to have a variety of abilities in order to avoid people getting “bored” during certain parts of the hunt for the bounty. In addition, you could allow for activities for downtime: fighters could “train up” while the investigators are out and about, giving them a temporary bonus for the climactic fight. And, some people might need a little physical “encouragement” to give up the info. Hacker types could do crafting stuff, improving their tools while hunting future bounties. Lots of possibilities.
There’s my brief thoughts, and a brief idea. Any other thoughts about what would make for a good Sci-Fi online RPG?