Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oh Look, a Fallout MMO!

JK bitches... except not really.

Let's be honest, post-apocalyptic scenarios are fantastic and enjoyable, but when you "borrow" an entire aesthetic feel and art style from something as popular as Fallout, you'd better be ready for people to draw the comparisons.

All that aside, I want to send a quick message to every game developer alive who wants to build their own MMO from the ground up:

The setting and story doesn't matter.

This is a common misconception since MMOs started out as a means by which players, who weren't fully content in their vanilla terran life, could explore strange new places and adventure with hordes of friends and be part of a world-shaping experience.

Over the years, that's changed. Just as non-digital games like Magic: The Gathering or D&D are more about manipulating the turn structure and mapping out deck/character builds to maximize damage output or survivability, MMOs are all about grinding and making sure the numbers associated with your character are a little bit bigger than your friends'.

This is why World of Warcraft is so damn popular, it provides end game content for hardcore loot junkies who want to own the biggest, most pimped-out orc in town. Hell, Diablo 2 is still bringing in plenty of revenue for Blizzard almost ten years after it was first released because of people's desire to own overpowered gear and max out their stats.

Look at Tabula Rasa. I must confess, I never played the game so feel free to shoot down this paragraph as unfounded, but it was hyped as being a reinventing of the MMO genre in hopes of making a deeper experience and giving players the feeling of being in the game's universe. And we all know how well that turned out.

I love that MMO developers are trying new things and putting their efforts into worlds that haven't had MMOs before, but the theme is not, and never will be, the point to a successful MMO.

Fallen Earth claims to have a complex character creation system, which is a huge concern for MMO players. Some Western RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3 already employ a complex and fully customizable character creation system within the single player realm and they are epic successes, but when customization is put into the multiplayer space, it often causes more trouble than it's worth.

Games like Guild Wars and Diablo 2 allow for an epic amount of customization through character stats and chosen abilities, but these systems don't inherently offer creativity. Within a month of Guild Wars' release, people were filling forums with character builds and the landscape was overrun by cookie-cutter characters of various hair styles and heights.

Thankfully in Guild Wars, you can refund your skill points and learned abilities whenever you're in a town so you aren't punished for experimenting. Unlike games like Diablo 2, where if you put three points into Iron Golem, you'll never get them back.

Customizable character classes offer a venue for creativity to a degree, but there comes a point when the most mathematically efficient classes sprout up and deviating from these established norms becomes a way of crippling your own character to an experience of always being a step and a half behind the players around you.

Balancing out the abilities to allow a plethora of these prime classes is the only way to still have a fun world to interact in a year after the game's launch. Fallen Earth is in closed beta right now so the developers are probably getting a pretty good look at what they need to tweak, and lets hope there aren't too many balance errors by launch.

I guess my point of all my ramblings, is that, after watching this video, I was given the impression that the developers of Fallen Earth had story on the brain and I really wanted to say that I think it's a flawed vision. If you have a great story, people will probably appreciate it more in a single-player experience.

That's not to say you can't have a story in an MMO, but you'd better be putting the lion's share of your efforts into content because most players will never read your quest dialog or back stories.

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