Friday, February 04, 2005

Making the Galaxy Fun Again

Probably should actually discuss the game idea itself, given that this page is devoted to it.

A genre of games have formed around the idea of an inter-galactic privateer. Examples of this genre include Elite, Privateer, Freelancer, Eve Online, and Earth and Beyond. Two of these, Eve Online and the departed Earth and Beyond, have taken this concept and expanded it to be a multiplayer game.

However, as far as the play experience, I always found Eve Online to have a very isolated feel despite the fact there were players all around the galaxy. There are reasons for this:
  • Although each player has an avatar in the form of a static picture, so-called "face-to-face" dealings occur with each party wrapped in a big metal shell.
  • Space is big. Log onto Everquest and you'll see avatars all over the place. Part of this is due to the fact that everyone is mapped onto a two-dimensional plane -- the ground. Now take that same number of players and throw them into a three-dimensional void. That's right, all of 'em, not just the griefers. What you've got is a very sparse distribution.
  • Spacecraft are tiny, relatively speaking. Even if multiple players are intentionally trying to cluster together, a good deal of the time they're going to appear to one another as so many lumps of pixels. The effect perspective has just doesn't add to the camaraderie.
If a person's going to feel isolated in a MMORPG they might as well play a single player game to avoid the griefers and the monthly fee. How do we rectify this? Here are the ideas that I'm using as the basis for gameplay:
  • No more spaceships as avatars. Each player is portrayed as a living, breathing humanoid that can move from a space station to a ship or don a environment suit and go floating outside the airlock for a while. Once the player is unbolted from the cockpit they can begin to actually interact with the other players.
  • Space travel is a team activity. You need a Pilot/Navigator to get you there, a Technician to keep the craft in good working order, a Medic to treat radiation poisoning and exposure to hard vacuum, a Trader to find decent missions and arrange cargo shipments, and a couple of solid Grunts to take on whatever's hiding out in that derelict vessel you're boarding. The crew aboard a ship are going to require a lot of interaction to handle the hazards of space faring.
  • Missions to take the players to interesting places. Salvage operations on abandoned warships. Distress signals to heed. Mysterious space probes floating eerily through the black. Due to the size of space, you only stand a chance of finding these items in a mission briefing.
An interesting effect when you combine these features is what some MMORPGs are already calling "instancing", where a group of players who enjoy each other's company break off from the main game world for a while and adventure. This makes it a lot easier to distribute server load. It also avoids the whole "take a number" aspect of some game worlds where you have to wait for the monster to respawn to complete the quest.

In this case, instead of creating parallel instances of the same dungeon, each crew travels inside their "dungeon" and docks it onto other "dungeons" to fulfill the terms of their mission. Instead of single quests, there are unique missions composed of various themes generated on demand -- an easy feat when your dungeons can fly around. And, unlike traditional instancing, by giving other players your mission coordinates, it's even feasible for multiple crews to collaborate -- or compete -- on a mission.


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