Tag Archives: Science Fiction MMORPG

What Genre is Our Post-Apocalyptic Future?

Fantasy is the impossible made probable.  Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.

Rod Serling

I was looking at Fallen Earth last night.  It is a new, post-apocalyptic MMORPG that is currently in open beta.  If you have a FilePlanet subscription, you are eligible to get in and play as of this week.

As I was going through the tutorial, I was thinking that here at last I was going to get another shot at a science fiction MMORPG, the genre I bemoaned the lack of in a post a year and a half back that still attracts heated comments now and again.

Then I mentally had to step back.  Something was really bugging me about that thought.  Is a game science fiction just because it is post-apocalyptic?

I mean, it can be.  Wikipedia says apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction.  But I’ve had issues with how things get defined on Wikipedia before.  Whoever edits last and all that.

Certainly a future where SkyNet takes over and mankind is fighting a self-aware army of machines has all the hallmarks of science fiction.

But what if the apocalypse arrives by more mundane means?  What if it isn’t technology gone awry or aliens or anything that would fill the “science” bill for science fiction?  What if it is a pandemic or running out of oil or a season of American Idol so compelling that society falls due to neglect?  Is it still really science fiction then?

Of course, this then goes in the direction of defining science fiction, something many people a lot smarter or more creative than myself have taken a crack at.  A futile direction for me to travel.

So I stepped back one more pace.

Why was I trying to exclude Fallen Earth from the category of science fiction?

I think why my bias was driving me in that direction is that Fallen Earth isn’t the science fiction MMORPG I am looking for.  It is not the genre shaking beacon that will lead science fiction away from the fantasy MMORPG paradigm.  It isn’t that hope for the genre that I seek.

Not that it is necessarily a bad game.  I haven’t played it enough to judge the long term game play.  And it does seem reasonably polished and such.  But I’ll post about the game itself at some future date.

But it does wholeheartedly embrace the fantasy MMORPG paradigm.  The game certainly isn’t just Mad Max or Tank Girl pasted over WoW.  But anybody who had played WoW will recognize interface and draw almost all the correct conclusions about how to play.

And since it does not deviate from the fantasy MMORPG norms, something within me wants to deny it is science fiction at all, as irrational as that might sound.

I’ll keep playing Fallen Earth for now, but it isn’t that science fiction MMORPG messiah that will lead us to the gaming promised land.

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?

January in Review

The Site

I wrote a bunch of nonsense over the course of the month, nothing out of the ordinary in that, but this month a bit of it caught on elsewhere.

First, my “MMORPG Progdictionations” got quite a few page views, some from forum links where things I predicted were being discussed rather seriously. I guess they missed the Humor tag on that post.

Then I got back on the “Why So Much Fantasy” treadmill and tried to figure out in narrative form what factors lead to the success of fantasy MMORPGs and how strong those same factors are in the realm of science fiction. Optimistically titled, “Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?” it got the most reactions ever for something I have written.

Potshot wrote “No Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG

Tipa created the premise for a scifi MMORPG with, “MMO Sciene Fiction Outline #1 – “Book of Days”

Lemegeton responded to mine and other posts with “SciFi and Heroes

Troll on Fire enthusiastically misinterpreted my point with “Bring on the Andromeda Galaxy?”

Gooney gave me my first GAXonline link back with “The Western Sci-Fi Phenomena

And I was linked on Massively in “Sci-fi MMO, you’re my only hope… ” which lead to the post “Why Fantasy, and not Science Fiction, Part Eleventy-Billion

So if the measure of success if how many blog posts come up in reply to your own post, this was my best post ever!

One Year Ago

The MMO blogesphere starting talking about generations of MMOs, and I asked if we had even gotten past the first generation, then quoted Wikipedia’s take on the generation debate.

The instance group finished up the Scarlet Monestary and rolled through Razorfen Downs.

Blintz, my swashbuckler in EQ2 was just digging into Zek, The Orcish Wastes, one of my favorite zones in post-cataclysm Norrath.

Scott Hartsman described some of the goals for the EverQuest II expansion that would eventually become The Rise of Kunark.

I played in some of the Vanguard open beta, once I got it downloaded, but when the game actually launched, I declined to buy the box.

And, finally, Blizzard launched the Burning Crusade without the usual first day disasters that usually accompany an expansion, though I couldn’t figure out why I was bothering to buy a copy.

New Linking Sites

A big thanks to these sites who link to TAGN. I encourage you to give them a visit in return.

Again, if your site does link here and I have not mentioned it in the past, feel free to drop me a note, as it is getting harder and harder each month to find sites! (And I’m still lazy.)

Most Viewed Posts in January

  1. 2008 MMORPG Progdictionations
  2. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  3. Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?
  4. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  5. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
  6. EVE Online – The Tutorial
  7. What Is A “Tank” In EVE?
  8. A Tech II Blueprint At Last!
  9. Saturday with Red 5
  10. Revelations Tutorial – Part III
  11. EVE, ISK, and RMT
  12. Pokemon – Battle Revolution

Best Search Terms

gnoll sex
[We’re still not that kind of site]

“you don’t say” “who was it?” “he didn’t
[Spike Jones references FTW!]

“Julie Whitefeather”
[Never even mentioned once on this site. She is on VirginWorlds.]

when is pokemon on?
[Please use TVGuide.com]

EVE Online

I have not been spending a lot of time in EVE lately. Now that I know the corp that preys on mission runners in the low sec systems near me, I have stopped running missions if they are on. And, since they seem to be on a lot, I might have run two level 3 missions in the last month. Losing a barely equipped battle cruiser was annoying. Losing my fully equipped and rigged (for missions) Drake would be a deal killer. Those with the most free time win again.

So I have been training, playing the market, and hauling trash. While I have a reasonable nest egg left over from mining, I have not found anything really lucrative on the market into which to invest, so I piddle along selling light and heavy missiles and hybrid charges.

EverQuest

EverQuest Nostalgia Tour 2007 Edition is now officially over. Results to follow.

EverQuest II

Since I secured the eleven snow globes of Frostfell, I have not been playing very often in Norrath, much to Gaff’s annoyance. He is back on a big EQ2 binge while I barely log on. Blintz, my main, is still sitting at level 62, waiting for me to return.

Lord of the Rings Online

I got my founder’s level 25 horse. Oh, and they fixed the crash problem I was having. I didn’t actually play more than an hour, but at least I have that option again, now with faster transport.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

I have been playing Pirates for four weeks nows and I have not written very much about it. That will be rectified with tomorrow’s post.

World of Warcraft

Azeroth has been my #1 location for the month of January. In addition to the instance group I have been running my hunter up levels in hopes of getting him to the Outlands. He is 56 now. I want to explore the new (year old) content, but Vikund has to stay close to the group in level, so I cannot go too nuts with him. Even so, Vik was close enough to level after the Scholomance run that I just ground him up to level 62 so he could get some new skills. He is now tied with Blintz in EQ2 as my highest level MMORPG charater ever.

Wii

A few new Wii games showed up at our house over the holidays. I have not had time to write about even one of them. I will try to change that soon, though with a sprained ankle, I have had to give Dance Dance Revolution a rest!

Upcoming

February will be a busy month. We have end of fiscal year at the office, with all of the associated planning and budgeting tasks, plus I will be on vacation for a week, so it will be a light month for posts. I won’t be able to keep up the current pace, but I won’t let myself disappear either.

One big thing coming up next month is GDC in San Francisco. I picked up an EXPO Pass again this year and will be up there Thursday and Friday, stalking Brent, Brenden, Darren, and whoever else I can find. If you are going to be up there, let me know.

Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?

This came to be in the car during my commute while I was pondering the future possibilities of Star Trek Online. I think I actually managed to capture most of it in notes, put great chunks of it down in writing, then edited out the irrelevancies.

This is an attempt to lay down the environment that brought about the seeming wealth of fantasy MMORPGs and compare that to analogous factors for the science fiction genre. I should be able to do this, with the right information, as this sort of systemic analysis was my minor way back when.

Note I am using the term MMORPG rather than my usual MMO. I want to emphasize the “role playing game” aspect of these games, as I think that is a key to their stickiness with players.

And, yes, this is sort of going back to the “Why So Much Fantasy” topic, so sue me.

Hypothesis

Fantasy MMORPGs came about because of a series of environmental factors made them possible and that those same factors do not exist, at least in the proper proportion, for Science Fiction MMORPGs to be created, much less be equally popular and prevalent.

Tag Line

You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run.

The Factors – Fantasy

Literature: A lot of people point to “The Lord of the Rings” as the spark for the popularity of the fantasy genre. And you cannot deny that it has had influence, but so did Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” more than a century before. Works of fiction surrounding King Arthur, such as Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” a title that has seen a number of resurgences in popularity over the last 500 years, and general interest in things like myth and mythology all builds a strong foundation for a work like The Lord of the Rings to flower and in turn act as an inspiration for further works.

Table Top Role Playing Games: By this I mean, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, there are many variations on the fantasy table top role playing genre, but D&D is the big name, the World of Warcraft in the FRP market, and the first player. It is a rare thing indeed to find somebody who has played more than two role playing games that has not done something with D&D. D&D has been a success and has found its way into popular culture, driven by the base of literature, but also popularizing that literature as well. I played D&D before I read “The Lord of the Rings.”

Computer Role Playing Games: There has been a long line of very successful computer role playing games. From the early text games that lead to Zork to the current Neverwinter Nights 2, there has been a long list of popular and profitable games in the fantasy genre. These games created, or adopted from other genres, many of the interface conventions that ended up being part of the standard MMORPG interface.

MUDs: Single player games showed how things should progress graphically while MUDs showed how a multi-player environment and community might be developed. Again, high fantasy rules the road and there were dozens and dozens of successful, well populated, heavily played MUDs that worked out over time, if not the best way, at least a viable way to run a multiplayer fantasy environment. My own favorite, Toril MUD, itself the result of several generations of change and development, had a very obvious and direct influence on the development of EverQuest.

The Factors – Science Fiction

Literature: Science Fiction’s body of work is somewhat less substantial and also somewhat more scattered. I took a course at University on the history of science fiction, and the professor was quite adamant that the direct antecedent to science fiction was Mary Shelley’s gothic horror “Frankenstein,” and that the true heart of popular science fiction lay in the melding of technological speculation (star ships, ray guns, and the like) with coming of age stories (one of those Joseph Campbell staples) where a young male, often in his teens, faces adversity, defeats the bad guys, and prevails, often where his elders have failed. How many Heinlein stories follow that thread? “Ender’s Game” and Star Wars in a nutshell as well, I’d say.

Yes, that theme is also popular in fantasy as well. You can view “The Lord of the Rings” through that lens, putting hobbits in general and Frodo in particular, in the main role. But as a genre, science fiction is not that far from its roots, the pulp novels of the 40s and the domination by Heinlein in the 50s and 60s. There is not 500+ years of work behind the genre. There is no long history of popular revival of the genre.

And, perhaps more importantly, as has been suggested by others, real science has made a lot of science fiction look rather silly. It turns out not to age well. How much of Heinlein’s time line have we passed by without the technology showing up? No flying cars yet! If you go back and read, say, Asimov’s “I, Robot,” you get to a section where he writes about how hard it was to develop the technology to allow robots to speak, but that getting them to understand voice command was trivial. That, of course, is the opposite of reality today.

So while science fiction has a foundation, it is not nearly as big nor as solid as the high fantasy foundation.

And while Star Trek itself actually has a pretty large body of written work, it is pretty much a niche market. It does not extend into popular culture the way the television shows have. Nobody is planning to make a Captain Sulu movie that I know of.

Table Top Role Playing Games: There have been, of course, many science fiction based role playing games. There was even a very good Star Trek based role playing game from FASA. But as a percentage of the market, they were all eclipsed by D&D. And popular ones not based on a known IP were even less significant. The best known are probably Warhammer 40K, which has its roots deep in fantasy, and Traveler, which was wonderfully deep and complex, but not all that popular in the end.

Computer Role Playing Games: There have been a ton of science fiction themed games. The first computer game I ever played, on a main frame, was Star Trek. But good, science fiction themed, role playing games have, again, not been as prevalent as the high fantasy counterparts. There were some good ones out there, like Fallout. But most games in the science fiction theme have been shooters (Marathon), tactical simulations (Starfleet Command), or empire building (Masters of Orion). There are a few fleshed out role playing styles in the science fiction genre, probably best characterized by Wing Commander and Freelancer.

MUDs: My experience with science fiction MUDs is pretty small. This is mostly because the few I played were all either boring (and usually Trek based) or high fantasy with a science fiction veneer. Doing a global replace on longsword to make it light saber is not all you need to do to make a science fiction MUD. Since my knowledge in this area is weak, I will admit in advance that I could be wrong, but I do not think there was a popular, heavily played science fiction MUD that would act as a guide to making a science fiction MMORPG the way there was for fantasy.

Quick Summary:

Above I tried to lay out what I see are the antecedents required for creating a sustainable, popular, MMORPG environment for a given genre. Things that have both created the interest in MMORPGs in said genre as well as acting as a practical guide to creating the games. Those are, with my assessment:

               Fantasy  SciFi
 Literature    High     Medium
 Table Top     High     Low
 Comp RPGs     High     Medium
 MUDs          High     Low

The Result

Guess what? As a culture we have created an infrastructure that not only produced, but practically dictated the form of a bunch of fantasy based MMORPGs. Meridian 59, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft are all logical conclusions when you look at what came before. Literature, Dungeons and Dragons, computer fantasy role playing games, and MUDs set the standards and expectations. That is probably why I felt such an affinity for EverQuest on day one. I, the people around me, and the people who created it, had all been groomed for that eventuality.

But you probably knew that already.

On the science fiction side of things though, the factors are not as strong.

The science fiction body of work is relatively young compared to fantasy and has the flaw facing anybody predicting the future, being wrong more often than right.

Single player computer role playing games have existed, but have tended to chew on just corners of the genre. Standards for space traders and ship combat have been well defined, but other roles for the genre have been left unexplored.

And there has not been the same small community building exercise that fantasy got with the MUDs of the 90s that taught a generation of players and developers about groups, raids, boss mobs, drops, the holy trinity, and the uselessness of rangers.

With that setup, you get a series of unsatisfactory games when you are looking for a science fiction MMORPG. You have EVE Online, which is more a mass space flight/space trader sim than a role playing game, Tabula Rasa, which is more of a shooter than a role playing game, and Star Wars Galaxies, which really seems to be a fantasy game in science fiction clothes.

Conclusion

Given this view, we’re utterly naive to hope for a good science fiction MMORPG to show up, and if it did show up, we might not even be equipped to recognize it. Brilliance and insight have been thwarted in the past by an uncomprehending public.

So back to Star Trek Online, it is not that the IP is impossible, any curse not withstanding, it is that science fiction as an MMORPG genre is not possible, or at least is not likely.

Comments

So this is something I put together pretty quickly, shored up a bit with details, but otherwise tried not to disturb too much, lest I talk myself out of it.

But does it make any sense? Did I miss something? If so, what?

If it does make sense, how do we get to the point where we have the conventions and understanding to make science fiction MMORPGs not just possible but likely?

And what does it say for other genres… like pirates, for example?

Or was this all an exercise in “Well, duh?”