27 Sep 2011

The Brutal End of MMOs

There was no Armageddon

The camera plays over a derelict ruined city, buildings half-buried in the sand, bleached dune grass desperately clinging on. The dry wind howls.

We saw the end coming. Those who could leave did so. Those who thought they could defeat it perished in their idiocy.

A different city scape, different architecture. Half-built spaceships and unfinished portals lie wedged in the cracked earth. The decay of metal and paint is unmistakable.

We are all that is left, clinging to this ball of rock until whatever end consumes us all.

Through the heat haze coming up from the desert floor, the camera picks out a solitary figure dragging a wooden sled across the hard, cracked ground. A few trees can be made out, dried out, debarked and leafless.

A few city states remain, providing what little sanctuary can be found. But out there kid, in the wilderness, you’re on your own.

Welcome to Endgame.

There’s been a lot of challenge recently about most upcoming MMOs not catering to the veteran market. These are the people from the Stubborn Quadrant; time poor but skilled players looking for more challenge from their MMOs. But what would they look like? Here’s my take on how a game from the brutal end of the MMO spectrum could be built.

It would play like you were fighting the world and everything in it – that you couldn’t trust anyone or anything. That you were one eye blink away from combat and only a handful more from death.

It would feel like the creators of Demon’s Souls had been spending their weekends devising the most fiendish MMO they could imagine, then dialling up the difficulty level to make every combat a test of mettle. It would be harsh, punishing, brutal and bloody.

No government or society to speak of means no factions. When you’re out beyond the city walls, you’re on your own. Anyone – or anything – could kill you. No-one’s going to protect you outside of what guild alliances and friends you manage to scrape together.

The world has nothing left to offer up. Crafting is left to what you can scrounge, salvage and cobble together. Powerful weapons are rare to encounter and even rarer to obtain. Only through trade or capture will you acquire the resources you need to thrive.

While player on player combat exists outside the city walls, sanctioned arenas are held within. All manner of gladiators try their hand within the arena floor, while crowds gather around to spectate. After all, what’s the point of gratuitous combat if there’s no-one to watch?

By now most of you will either be drooling with anticipation at the thought of this game or frowning and walking away. It’s a marmite response – you either love the concept and wish there was a game like it or hate the very idea and would never play it in a million years. And yet in a way that’s absolutely fine. As our tastes in MMOs evolve it’s only natural that games will spring up to cater for those unique tastes.

I’ve tried my hand at MMO design before, but this is the first time that I’ve set out to create a game with almost all the conventions and rules removed. But trying to craft a game where there are no rules or safeguards pretty much relied on a setting where that would seem natural. Rather than trying to go for a post-apocalypse or save-the-world scenario, I wanted to capture the despair and hopelessness of a dying world.

In this game the player does things for themselves, not because the king or the ruler wants them to. Power is a rare thing that feels important when it is found. Death is part of the learning experience, not the result of failing to learn. Life is harsh, cruel and unfair.

The question is, would you play it? Does this kind of thing appeal to you? Or do you prefer the more mainstream style of MMO, maybe made slightly more challenging?

Feedback is, as they say, enlightening…

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