There is Hope for a SciFi MMORPG

I wrote a post a few days back about the groundwork that existed for, and lead directly to, the current crop of fantasy based MMORPGs.

For me, one of the key items in that groundwork is Dungeons and Dragons.

D&D defined for so many people the essential elements of what we have come to accept as the norm for fantasy MMORPGs. Think of all of the general concepts brought together in D&D, loot, experience points, levels, hit points, character classes, groups, right down to the over riding prevalence of PvE, that were defined in our minds by that game.

So when somebody like me first logged onto a game like EverQuest, they were immediately at home. It was evolution, not revolution. We were trained and educated to be there.

Meanwhile, science fiction does not have a similarly influential game behind it, something that defines the genre, something that would let us know when we have “arrived” at the prototypical science fiction MMORPG.

This is both a strength and a weakness.

It is a weakness in that the desire to make or play a science fiction MMORPG has no focus. There is no path, no map, now way of telling if we have arrived or even what direction we should head.

Furthermore, that lack of a strong gaming influence devoted to science fiction means that, when it comes to MMORPGs, we tend to get fed things that are associated with other genres, especially fantasy.

The strength comes with the freedom that science fiction allows. If you saw the comments thread on my last post, you will have seen that we could not even come up with a working definition of what is science fiction and what is not.

With no “science fiction D&D” there is no rigid box drawn around what a science fiction game is. It will be a long time before a mainstream fantasy MMORPG can escape from the domain defined by D&D, but science fiction is no so constrained.

So I believe that, when the great, defining science fiction MMO comes (and it must come some day… maybe not some day soon, but some day) it will be far easier for us to accept it than it would be for us to accept a fantasy MMO that broke all of the conventions laid down by D&D.

Science fiction is, and should be, the realm of advancement, the realm of the new and different.

Unfortunately, D&D appears to have also locked science fiction into that same set of concepts. When you look at games like Star Wars Galaxies or Anarchy Online, you see the influence of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, influence from which we will have a difficult time escaping.

But there is hope.

Somewhere, at some small studio, on some indie project, there must be somebody, some game designer, with the (small “v”) vision to imagine and create a science fiction MMO that will break the mental boundaries in which we all seem to be constrained. Somebody who can break the MMOs free of the conventions we are all comfortable with, the conventions we all see as “normal.”

There is a market for it.

There is a hunger for it.

There are whole forums just waiting for it.

When will it arrive?

13 thoughts on “There is Hope for a SciFi MMORPG

  1. Tipa

    Traveler has always had more or less the same position for SF-based pencil and paper games as D&D has had for fantasy. I’d like to see a Traveler-based MMO.

    I suspect that the Starcraft MMO will be what defines SF MMOs, though.

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  2. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Yes, Traveller is significant in that regard, but it does not have nearly the same sort following or general acceptance that D&D has. My mother knows about D&D… okay, my mother has played D&D… but she has never heard of Traveller. It does not have the market power to define the genre. While I do not know market numbers, I would imagine that some of the Star Wars RPGs outsold Traveller by a fair margin.

    I fear that a StarCraft MMO might define SF MMOs. Not because it wouldn’t be good, but because Blizzard makes wonderful, polished games that are derivative of past work, so that game may end up being a D&D shooter in space. Okay, hunting Zerglings as a flamebat would be fun, but I want more.

    (Though now you have me thinking about classes in a StarCraft MMO.)

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  3. Tipa

    Had your mom heard of Warhammer? And yet they made World of Warcraft from it and are using it for at least two more MMOs, Warhammer Age of Reckoning and Warhammer 40K (I DID hear that, didn’t I?)

    Case closed. Traveller would be an awesome MMO.

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  4. bluelinebasher

    Command & Conquer is doing a FPS based on the same universe. I’m positive a StarCraft MMO would be like this, with all units being an individual — and you already have your buildings designedm just need to make them larger and not viewed from top-down level.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Dune MMO effort in the works. The spice must flow… There must be plenty of content to pull from, multi house/factions, maybe juat another fatansy in sci fi clothing, but seems like a potentially lucrative project.

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  5. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Tipa

    Bah… WoW took the graphicl style of Warhammer and not much else. The rest of the game is strictly in the D&D-MUD->EQ line of descent.

    To paraphrase a famous quote, “I played Warhammer, and WoW is no Warhammer.”

    But, yes, Traveller would be an awesome MMO. I won’t deny that. I just don’t think it has the following to define the genre.

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  6. Bildo

    RE: Warhammer 40k MMO.

    Aye, it’s being made. THQ has the rights, if I remember right. Here’s hoping it’s good… because that’s the sci-fi/fantasy blend game I’d drop all else for.

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  7. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I mentioned in my last post that D&D was just a step on the path to where we are today, so left that unstated this time around.

    D&D is, however, a very important step that either shone the light on the path forward in fantasy gaming or pigeonholed fantasy gaming into a predictable trajectory from which we will find it hard to break.

    I think I have that book on my shelf somewhere, though I must have read it ages ago, because the only tickle I get in my mind from the title is that it has the element of lost technological prowess.

    Why is that such a common theme, the idea of civilizations losing the knowledge or ability to make things that their ancestors could? Does that ever really happen, except when a civilization comes up with something better to replace a given technology?

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  8. *vlad*

    I played Traveller a lot back in the 80s, and also Space Opera, a much better SF RPG in my opinion. I also played Ringworld for a time (I love Known Space).
    The trouble with Traveller is it died out around that time (unless they re-released it recently). The name does not have an automatic draw like WoW/Warhammer/LotR.
    Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast/Gamecube/PC) was the first online game I ever played, was a Science Fiction game, and very successful. Due to its console origins, it was very limited, but immense fun.

    Ancient technology is indeed a theme in SF, much like Elves and Dwarves in Fantasy. Any upcoming SF MMO should have this (Alan Dean Foster, David Brin, Jack Chalker, Dan Simmons, they all use it)!

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  9. OT

    Traveller didnt die out it still exists. I personally think associating the game with a relatively unknown name is actually a good thing because it gets rid of all the preconcieved notions that players have when a game does have arecognizable name.

    But I too think classic Traveller would be a great platform to base an MMO on because its pretty open-ended. Imagine if it was an mmo but you travelled around in a galaxy where planets are designed by the players like dungeons in Never Winter Nights. If not that at least a galaxy that allowed you to actually influence the politics and events in the game, let it be dynamic.

    I sincerely hope a Starcraft MMO isnt the basis for sci-fi MMOs. While WoW is good and all, its kind of bland and not really innovative. It basically is a refined EQ. It also has a fanbase thats sophomoric at best. Many WoW players laugh at roleplaying and dont even see that theres a problem with the fact that WoW really doesnt have any RPG element at all. Nothing you do in WoW actually effects the gameworld or the story.

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  10. HEAVENUS

    SHADOWRUN MMORPG… a cyberpunk style game from tabletop with novels with lots of fans and a whole limitless setup for a great online experience…and they shoot us a FPS to ruin the name. WAKE UP!

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  11. cjl1138

    I would very much like to see a game similar to EVE Online with the added ability of getting out of your spaceship. If you could do what EVE does and also be able to explore planets, asteroids and the like, you would have something that a lot of people would like to play. You could use a skill system similar to EVE and just add the additional skills you would need (personal weapons, stealth, archeaology and the like).

    Alternately, you could do a game like that but base it more on a GURPS Traveller type system. Either way, I would like to see a game that provides online an experience similar to the Classic Traveller PnP game.

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  12. Vilis

    Traveller influenced computer game ‘Elite’ which in turn influenced ‘Eve Online’

    Now EvE is trying to make ground mechanics, stay tuned, we may soon see an EvE paper and pencil.

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