MMORPGs for the rest of us


Category: Computer Gaming Theory (or “Hey Choppers, I’ve Been Thinking About Zombies Again”)

Objective: Invent a new category of MMORPG; fight the pesky reputation of MMORPGs as a haven for obsessed level 99 infinigamers by introducing a user-defined variable gaming experience that accommodates all sorts.


For as much as computer gaming is a steaming bucket of awesome, the frothy cream in that bucket – the infamous MMORPG – is a little hard for some gamers to stomach. After all, MMORPGs, perhaps more than any other game type, require a significant level of devotion before the benefits of the game are realized. Quests require days of effort. eConomies demand constant attention. And often the coolest weapons and most bountiful dungeons are only accessible to the highest level characters – who are moused about the rendered world by hunchbacks who have traded their waking lives for online deification. These twitchers at the highest character / skill levels dominate the finite amount of land and loot, and often derive great pleasure from slaughter of fresh-faced noobs (“draGoon777: How to I open doors?”), further discouraging ascension. So whether under the blade of impatience or the bitter Best Buy clerk, genre-independent gamers are thinned from the MMORPG herd.

For hard-core MMORPGers, the street cred of a level-up is the end-all-be-all. To them, the genre’s already been perfected. Their calendar is clear for the next six months, and their fridge is stocked (with condiments). But what about intermediate, genre-independent gamers, for whom 2 hours is an extended gaming stretch? You know, the ones with jobs? For them, a Counterstrike deathmatch hits the spot. In. Headshot. Out. There’s no big commitment for players, other than an understanding of gameplay. But with game architectures as they are (and for the aforementioned reasons), infrequently do the sessions of casual / FPS and MMORPG gamers intersect. This needn’t be so. This segregation can (and will, eventually) be overcome with a fusion of game characteristics. And moreover, the fusion will actually improve the experience of both player types.

Consider this theoretical experience with a zombie-themed MMORPG …

The world is immersed in a Class-3 (eventually Class-4) zombie outbreak, in a universe adherent to the Max Brooks zombie mythos and The Walking Dead. The objective of the game is simple: survive.

Taking a cue from Dawn of the Dead, new players awaken (or spawn) amidst the confusion, violence and chaos of an undead uprising (a first person perspective adds to both the realism and sense of immersion). These players start within one of n number of urban centers peppered throughout the game world, and receive one initial directive offered to them by emergency broadcast: if you want to survive, get out of the city.

These urban centers are sprawling orgies of death and destruction. As the most densely populated with the living, they are likewise the most densely populated with the recently deceased. As such, security is in the shortest supply. Help is virtually nonexistent. Hesitation is fatal. For all intents and purposes, the initial experience for new players -- escaping the city -- is that of a free-for-all zombie / human carnage fest -- a deathmatch of the highest order.

However challenging, escape is not impossible. In what may be the bloodiest two hours ever rendered in 3D, perhaps 5-10% of new players make it out of the city alive. Where once a terrified human or ravenous zombie lurked around every corner, soon the crowds dwindle and smell of death subsides. Where once skyscrapers offered tempting labyrinths of surprise and supplies, farm fields betray almost idyllic scenes. Outside of urban centers, the objective changes subtly: survive indefinitely.

Now, players must consider their long-term options. Should they band together (with complementary skill sets) or go it alone? Should they fortify a position or stay on the move? Should they trust those slow moving strangers on the horizon or unleash a volley of gunfire? Eventually, supplies will run out -- should they brave another visit to the chaotic cities or try their luck with fishing or agriculture? While their city escape featured run-for-your-life action, their slow exhale now facilitates incredible complexities in exploration, defense, teamwork, and social order -- prime ingredients for a cracking MMORPG.

At any time, a gamer with only an hour to burn can create a new character to experience the rush of the inner city "deathmatch". Survivalist badasses can trek into cities from the boonies to gather gear, locate doctors (or other skill specialists), or attempt to fortify a more urban locale (good luck, idiot). But the extended game -- outlander survival -- is accessible only to an elite or lucky minority.

Both twitchy FPS gamers and MMORPG warlords commingling within a single game universe? Impossible!

Or IS it???


At 1/4/07 9:36 AM, Blogger hebchop said...

i had always thought that it would be difficult to merge the two schools of gaming, but I think you nailed it. It would be a traditional MMORPG, just very difficult at the beginning.


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