Everybody who played games at some point spent some time thinking "If only this game had feature X from game A and feature Y from game B it would be the perfect game!". Obviously MMOs are not immune to that kind of thinking, in fact, Massively had a column called MMO Blender where the writers would describe their perfect MMOs if they could mix and match features from different existing games. This seemed like an interesting exercise in thought so I decided to create my own FrankenMMO too. I will be just sticking to the mechanical parts though because genre and setting are like ice cream, they are all good in their own ways. While mechanics it is much easier to discuss in an objective way and debate the merits and flaws of each one.
I will try to give examples of games that has the features I am talking about but I am pretty sure I am missing tons of examples. So keep that in mind, please.
Oh, and if anyone needed proof that I should not ever be put in charge of designing an MMO (or any game, actually) then this will be it. Unless someone wants to make the Titanic of MMOs, in that case I am your man! :p
- Characters are not tied to a specific server
On my first reall MMO, a little known game called Fairyland, your characters were not tied to a specific server. Every time you logged in, chose which of your characters you wanted to play, you could choose which server you wanted to play on at that time. This means if I was in more hermit mood I could go to a more empty server while if I wanted to trade my goodies I could go to the server who was more full and everybody went to trade in. The only flaw with that is one of economics as maintaning servers that wouldn't be used much would get costly pretty fast. Now, before we examine alternatives that would probably be more economically viable, let me explain my reasons for wanting this kind of feature as there is more to it than just some mood fickleness. Throughout my MMO history I found myself in a position where I found that friends were playing the same game but in different servers or I make some friendships throughout forums or some other way but they also happen to be in another server. Making an alt just to play with them has a ton of complications (and I even did it in Everquest 2) and paying to transfers characters is also not exactly feasible both because of the costs and because I don't want to completely leave my friends in the current server I am playing behind. Plus the idea of community for me was never about server, faction, race or whatever other arbirtrary criteria, it was all about shared interests. Case in point, I care more about my guild/allies and the decoration community in Everquest 2 than the rest of the population of my server. Put me in any other server and as long as I have my guild/allies with me and access to the Homeshow channel and I will be just as happy and not notice any difference.
Anyway, now that my motivations are explained there are a couple of alternatives that would probably be more viable economically-speaking. One would be the guesting system of Guild Wars 2. It still uses the traditional server system with characters being tied to a certain server but it allows you to guest in another server, playing all the PVE content. I might be wrong about this, but I recall correctly you need to have someone in your friend list that plays in the server you want to guest in for that to work. In my FrankenMMO that wouldn't be necessary. You would just choose the server you want to guest in and play the PVE part normally. Stuff like your bank contents, guild benefits, etc. would still be tied to your original server though. Once you were finished with your business in the other server you could just choose to back to your original server.
Another alternative would be to have just one megaserver, like in EVE Online and Fallen Earth. That eliminates the icky issue of server populations being too low in certain servers too but there may be more technical issues. If we were to have PVP in the game it would have to be limited to certain areas or maybe make two megaservers one PVE only and one PVP only.
Examples of games that do this: Fairyland, Guild Wars 2, EVE Online
- Point-based character creation
Back when I was an avid collector of RPG books (because getting a group to actually play them was tricky) I always preferred systems with point-based character creation. Class-based systems just never felt exactly right to me, with few exceptions *cough*D&D*cough*. They always felt too rigid, too artificial. With point-based character creation I always felt I could come with any crazy idea for my character and then just spend the points in whatever stats, skills and what-else made sense for that character. It also made the character feel more like it was something of mine rather than choosing a preset mold and making it work for me.
Unfortunately, MMOs have never explored that type of character creation much, being happy to just use the class model. I can see why that is the case, with a more freeform character system you need to make sure every skill that you put in the game matters. So if I have 12 weapon skills than all of those need to be useful throghout the game, not in just some specific circunstances. While with a class you can just give them a few abilities to distinguish them from the other class. Class systems also make it easier for people to know what their role is in the group. Although a point-based system does not necessarily exclude one having a role within a group it again can be tricky depending on the skills. If only the skills that deal with dealing damage seem useful than nobody will want to get the support skills and play are more support role.
Despite those difficulties I think it would still lead to more unique characters and allow more flexibility for group formation (for instance, don't feel like tanking? That is ok, just hang back and DPS). You could even tie it with gear types, for instance a character that specializes in heavy armor could be better for tanking but being too slow to pull mobs while a character that specializes in lighter armor would be better for that kind of role. And if the group doesn't have anyone that specializes in say, light armor, they could try to improvise with someone that has a relatively decent skill at that to make do. That would mean no more spending one hour shouting for that specific class you group needs for that specific role. Just go with what your group have and discuss the tactics according to what your characters can do, not their classes.
This would also allows those who are more interested in other areas of the game to specialize in that without worrying about being tied to an adventuring class they don't feel comfortable with. For instance, a player who prefers to crafting could specialize in the crafting skills and just pick one or two combat skills they feel are interesting or at least won't drive them mad.
Examples of games that do this: Ultima Online, Fallen Earth, EVE Online
- All gear is crafted
One of my pet peeves with a lot of MMOs is that you can easily get gear from quests or drops that is easily superior than anything crafted by a player. In some cases it can easily feel like they just put a crafting system to feel a bullet point in the game's feature list. In my FrankenMMO no gear would be dropped from mobs, except in certain circunstances where it would make sense, like a cheaper weapon or piece of armor dropping from an humanoid creature. You could also get something more like a starter version or something of less quality as a reward from a quest or buy from a NPC vendor. But for the real good stuff you would need to buy it from another player.
Materials would either be dropped from regular mobs (like leather, meat, fur, etc.) or harvested from material nodes (like cotton, vegetables, wood, metals, etc.) They would be in specific spots of the map that would make sense for them, so metals would often be found in caves or some other underground passage. This could be a neat reward for exploration too as people would have to wander far to find the highest quality of materials and could mark in their maps where they found some. They would also different quality and would deplete over time taking quite a while to regenerate.
Gear would also have durability so a certain maintenance would be required. The highest the quality of the item the higher the durability it would have. It would also have a maximum amount of durability that would decrease with every maintenance until one day it would completely break beyond repair. Again crafters would have the ability to repair items with the amount of maximum durability loss being dependent on their skill level. There could also be NPCs who offer the maintenance service but they maximum durability loss would always be higher with them than with another player that offers the same services and it would be pretty costly too.
Lasty there would be different tiers of quality for items so the crafters who put the time and effort into it would make the better stuff and all items would have a tag with their name so they could be known for their work.
Examples of games that (sort of) do this: Fallen Earth, EVE Online
- Resources are shared between players
One thing that always bothered me in MMOs, and I never noticed how much it did until I played Guild Wars 2, was that in PvE you are basically competing with other players for mobs and harvestables. That never made much sense for me. Why does the farmer care if it was one or two people who killed the orcs that were attacking his farm? Shouldn't he just be happy that someone took care of the problem, regardless if it was one person, two person, three person or whatever their number was? Or if they were old friends who always travelled together or just strangers that happened to be passing by? So, yeah, I'd rather not have to compete with other players for mobs or harvestables. If I see a mob I just want to kill it. I don't want to worry if there is someone nearby who might attack the mob from range and I might kill steal it by accident. I don't want to have to feel like if I see a rare node and run to get it before someone else I am being a jerk. I'd rather we equaly share the benefits of those. It just feels more humane to me and more inline with the adventurers of fiction. You never see someone in fiction arguing about who has the rights to kill the dragon unless it has a purpose in the story, after all. :p
Examples of games that do this: Guild Wars 2
- Mounts/Vehicles are for more than travelling around
One of the neat things about Fallen Earth is that the horses and vehicles there were for more than just travelling around. They could carry your stuff around and a few vehicles also had weapons. It was often a trade-off between speed and carrying capacity. I think their amount of HP was also a factor. For vehicles you also had to take in consideration the type of fuel they used as some were easier to get than others and if you were out of fuel you would have to walk back on foot to one of the garages and ask the NPC to bring it back to you. It made them neat and something more special than just a form of transportation or a vanity item.
Examples of games that do this: Fallen Earth, EVE Online*
* Yes, I know EVE Online is all about the spaceships so it wouldn't make sense otherwise but I am just trying to give examples. :p
- Strong player made creation tools
Player made content seems to be the new buzzword in the MMO world, what with Everquest Next Landmarks and Trion's Trove. Although those are cool I don't think a game needs to go to that extreme to have interesting player made content (not to mention the stuff EQN Landmarks and Trove are doing gives me a lot of headache just thinking of all the possible issues). Just a good housing and make your own adventure kind of system would already be pretty good. They offer an excellent venue for creativity, can make us feel more invested in the game since we have our own little corner in the game.
It also creates its own passionate community of people that are interested in the game, like the decorators in Everquest 2. Those people can even find it hard to move to other games because the competition either completely lack those features or their tools are a lot more poor than their current game of choice.
Examples of games that do this: Everquest 2, Rifts (housing only), Neverwinter Nights (for the player made missions) and probably a some others
Now that I think about it I think Fallen Earth would be pretty close to my ideal MMO. There are a few reasons I am not playing it now however, the main one being that my friends aren't playing it and I just find it hard to stick to any MMO without them around. But it is definitely on my list of MMOs to revisit Soon (tm) and perhaps I might stick around a bit more this time.
There are also a few other things I probably could ramble about that would be included in my perfect MMO but I think these are the most important ones for me. Plus this post is already getting pretty big as it is. If I feel like there is a lot more that would be "must haves" in my FrankenMMO then I will make a part 2. 🙂