So, apologies to those who don’t like gaming, but this is more stuff inspired by gaming. For those who fear, be aware that there are lessons and thoughts here for even the non-gamer type, and maybe you’ll see magic where before you didn’t.
Anyway, lets get us a starting point.
It started with the kids over at Penny Arcade. Tycho Brahe, the eloquent lord of those lands, muses upon the ‘news‘ that there may be a Starcraft MMO in the offing from Blizzards, the difficult to dispute Kings of the genre. Now, we’re talking about an unconfirmed rumour about a possible announcement of future intentions to create this object, so it seems strange to get all gussied up about it now (I don’t know what gussied means by the way…just to be clear on this). Except we’re talking about red hot Intellectual Property here. We’re talking about a game that gave a name to the unsporting (because it always floors a turtle like me) tactic known to many as zerging or zerg rushing (a young customer at the Internet cafe recently informed me that he’d never played Starcraft, yet he still knew what zerging was…that good enough for you). We’re talking about a game with fleshy repulsive noises so recognisable that they appear as the soundtrack to my dreams. We’re talking about a universe that people really care about, and a game that is considered one of the most important in competetive gaming circles.
We’re also talking about the team that bought their previous MMO to such levels of repute that South Park started taking the piss. We’re talking about millions of players here. This is huge news (if it’s true).
But I have my doubts. Not the problems that Tycho and 1up discuss, the issue of whether Blizzard would release something to compete with their own world killer, that’s quite easily answered with the Garriot’s thoughts on churn, as linked by Mr Brahe, and now me. It makes sense to diversify and provide new product before your competitors completely out do you. WoW will not rule the world forever, the goose that lays golden eggs will eventually grow old and reach the end of lay; and when that happens you’ve got some difficult decisions to make about how you’re going to continue eating such a decadent breakfast.
I have other doubts. I may be wrong (lets bear in mind that I don’t play MMO’s, mostly out of fear of addiction and knowledge that I am rubbish compared to everybody else ever) but I find it hard to believe that a Starcraft MMO could have the same mass appeal as a Warcraft one.
It comes down to differences between the worlds they are set in, and those are big worlds. It’s not even the specific worlds either, it’s the types of worlds, Fantasy vs SF (though really it’s closer to Swords and Sorcery vs Space Opera). I think there’s some difficult things to get over to make them habitable by millions of people trying to be heroes.
I’m going to look at some of them.
First off, there’s a scale issue. Starcraft is about civilisations colliding. War between entire races across planets and across space. Each individual is only an insignificant speck in the grand scheme of things. In space, no-one can hear you, full stop.
Now this is partly due to the RTS format, where troops are undifferentiated and valueless, but I think it is also due to the type of conflict we’re dealing with. We’re talking about huge war between enemies who’s way of life mostly means they can’t live side by side. You’ll have to stick to your own and hope to never see the enemy. Well…maybe not quite, I’m sure there’s ways around it, but I really don’t think the source material allows for the kind of comfortable and ‘homey’ world that you’re going to want to spend your life in. PA covered some of this ground in regard to talk of Warhammer 40K MMO a while back…I really like the comic.
Anyway, I think that the world could potentially be scaled right so you fit in, and it makes narrative sense, though I don’t see how.
What I really want to talk about (see that…straight to the point…no bush beating around here) is the environment we associate with Fantasy worlds and Science Fiction worlds; and why one is much more inviting than the other.
I just don’t think you’ll get as broad a group of people jetting into the future to take part in intergalactic warfare. The reasoning (as I see it) is that the future is both more alien, and more real, than the fantasy realms of elves and orks and what not.
We’ll start with the reality portion. In my eyes, SF is born of the present day. We see futures that come out of the now. Any world of the future is going to have that sense of being about the same disputes we’re fighting now, the same battles taking place. More relevantly, it’s the same work. In the future there’s all this oil and grease and metal, and it looks like the local mechanic’s only with more polish. You can see all the little people scampering around to make the universe work. They must be there, and their lives must be boring.
Think of the bit in Clerks where they discuss independent contractors working on the death star. It makes sense. You expect there to be billions of little people.The future is overpopulated, dense and busy. Otherwise why would we be in the stars…how the hell could it be profitable. Eve Online works(or so I hear) because it takes the Elite point of view, its about pirates and traders and space ships.
You can hide the little people behind that, but Starcraft would have to be on a ‘human’ scale (or you’d have to invent loads of new bits and bobs to tie it all together anyway, which is probably how they’re going to tackle this problem anyway), and that’s mostly what people want. I think.
Anyway, I think that the future is too much like the real world to be the kind of escapist fun that people will want…most of the time. Maybe. It’s going to be all working, earning money, upgrading your tech and generally being a computer owner of the future.
It just doesn’t sound like much fun.
At the same time it’s more alien, literally. The whole environment has to be explained, what people do and how they fit into the grand scheme of things has to be explained and taught. The society will follow rules that won’t make sense…and if they do, then it’s not going to feel distanced enough.
When you say ‘I’m a Night Elf Hunter’. People will have a rough idea what you mean, and that means at the first hurdle, when you’re picking your character, you can guess what will suit you. If you want to have pointy ears, dark skin, and a spear of some kind, then Night Elf Hunter sounds about right. Fantasy realms tend to follow a vague idealised image of what medieval life would’ve been like with added magic. you immediately get this feudal sense of life, without explanation. You don’t even have to have been a fantasy buff to get the ideas.
SF is different, it’s tropes are its own, and if you don’t like it, you don’t care, and you don’t want to know.
Also, Starcraft probably won’t be timed with a revival of SF akin to that which was caused by the LOTR films appearing.
It just won’t be as big.
Now. I’ll happily retreat into a SF or Fantasy world for a couple of hours a day (when I have the time)…but then, I enjoy doing the background reading, I enjoy finding out how the world works.
When I used to play Warhammer, I cared much more about the stories than I did about the games (which I sucked at) and the miniatures (which I wasted loads of money on anyway). I wanted to read about the ancient gods and conflicts that ruled over these worlds. I wanted to learn how future societies stuck together and what made them tick.
I just don’t think many people are going to want to get down to the nuts and bolts of making them tick.
On the other hand, I think I’m being presumptuous and making a hella lot of assumptions about people who play games play.
So I’m probably wrong. But I wanted to get these thoughts out.
Looking at it, I realise that actually, what I want is for more fantasy realms to step outside of the old cliches, into more difficult territory. The worlds that hold the most promise for me are the alien ones, the ones that don’t fit into our history at all, and need to invent their own social structures.
I’m getting images in my head of floating cities and people sailing on the backs of Eagles.
But then, my desktop background does come from Bolt City, home of Flight.
Anyway, I’ve not done myself justice here, but this is going up anway. I don’t think I make sense (again) but have wasted an hour writing, so I’d best get something out of it.
Thoughts? Any real opinions from real MMOers? Anyone want me to change subject to something they want to talk about? You can always Poke the Beast y’know.