I was on Amazon.com the other day ordering a copy of “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.” I decided that before Age of Conan comes along I ought to get a bit of the back story. I like a game where I have some investment in the back story and content and, aside from the movie version, I am pretty light on the Conan mythos.
As is my usual MO on Amazon.com, when it recommends other books based on what you are looking at, I click on a few of those, and they show other recommendations, some of which I click on, and eventually I ended up on Tarzan. (Conan, Tarzan, six hyper links of separation.)
Since I was thinking about MMOs, I started to consider Tarzan.
Tarzan is not, in my mind, MMO material. That would have the “everybody wants to be a jedi” problem in the extreme. How many people can you have swinging from vines in the same jungle?
But the author of Tarzan is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also wrote the Barsoom series of adventures that take place on a fictional Mars.
Barsoom! Now there is a setting for an MMO! I read that whole series in high school. (Science fiction from 1912 was about as current as our high school library was when it came to the genre.) The adventures of John Carter of Earth and Deja Thoris, Princess of Helium (the city on Mars, not the inert gas) take place in a unique setting that seems ripe for translation into an MMO.
It is a crumbling society. There are a few big cities, some outposts, and the rest is wild. Warlike nomads, lost cities, weird flora and fauna, strange and ancient technologies, burning rivalries, and light gravity all add up in my mind to ideal conditions in which to quest and explore. (Light gravity means you might actually be able to wield the huge weapons you see in some MMOs.)
Bring on the Tharks and the white apes!
There are, of course, some downsides to the idea. To start with the dominant race on Mars, the red Martians, while descended from a mix of their black, yellow, and white brethren, are pretty down on them otherwise. The obvious racial overtones of such a situation are bound to be controversial.
And then there is the dress code on Barsoom. In the books, naked is the order of the day, with just a leather harness on which to hang your equipment (or hold it in place) and some jewelry to indicate status or wealth.
You think that Oblivion topless/nipples mod caused problems?
Still, nakedness could probably be bypassed, to a certain extent. I have never seen Deja Thoris on the cover of any of the books looking as John Carter describes her when he first lays eyes upon her, and nobody has screamed about that. (Not that I have heard, anyway.)
But it does mean that any MMO trying to keep close to the story will probably not be equipment driven, except for weapons. Still, so what! Skill based systems work! And you can put in a much more detailed character creation tool since you won’t have to adapt every single armor set to all the possible characters that can be created.
Finally, there is the whole “Who has even heard of Barsoom” thing. The first book was nearly twice my age now when I read it back in high school. (Okay, not quite, I’m a bit older than that. But close!) It is going to be 100 years old in a few years. What kind of audience will it have?
Well, Conan faces the same problem. His books are a little more current overall, but the last Barsoom book by Burroughs was written after Conan’s author, Robert E. Howard, was dead.
Ah, but Conan… he had a movie! And he went on to become governor of California. What has John Carter got that can match that?
Well, John Carter might have a movie some day. There have been a number of attempts in the past to get the world of Barsoom on film, but none has ever made it to completion. Paramount is the latest to attempt it, but the film is currently stuck in pre-production and may never see the light of day.
Still, if it did make it to release, and if it was even a modest hit, that might be all the series needed to stoke its popularity.
Have you heard of Barsoom? Let me know.
Meanwhile, I wait for my copy of “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian” to show up.