This is the result of twenty minutes of “logic” brainstorming.
Logic brainstorming because I didn’t start from an inspiration I got. I just started to think about the nature of the project, its restrictions and then figuring out a scheme that could fit that project well.
I’m referring to that Dave Perry’s Top Secret project that I’m still skeptical about but that still keeps teasing me for obvious reasons. On F13 I posted that it could be fun to participate as a group as we are somewhat that part of the MMO world who has always had gripes and knows EXACTLY what is wrong. So it could be interesting to have that solid foundation: even if the project sucks, we aren’t naive and we know the genre and the industry well enough to cut the superfluous and talk about what matters. So whatever we achieve would be still respectable.
Then I started to think on my own about the project itself and what kind of casual game could be appropriate for it. Finding a set of features that must be respected and that are common to all game concepts possible within those restrictions. From there I tried then to deduce a specific idea about a possible game.
Here the skeleton of the project:
1- This is supposed to be a smallish project as they said it must be completed in about a year and will be one of those “free” games. So nothing ambitious like a complex sandbox, a virtual living world or a massive-scale game.
2- It should work on current or easy-to-make technology. So you cannot focus on something innovative or not already proven from the technology side.
3- Low production value. You cannot expect large and immersive worlds, with impressive vistas and focus on the exploration. Nor the “epic campaign” or hundreds of hours of character development. It’s a good idea to build a thing that can work with a limited group of art assets, easily expandable, and where things can be reused. Mudflation or leveled content should be banished from this project.
Considering these points I guess the best choice is for a game easily accessible, with a shallow power curve, small download, that you can get, log in and have some cheap fun within a couple of minutes. Since the “scope” cannot be the goal I guess the focus to realize a decent, interesting game should be on a core gameplay that is easy to get and fun. Nothing with multiple systems stacked on top of each other. Something simple but that can be also be mixed and freeform to hook the attention of the player in the longer term, while on the other side not losing the accessibility and fun.
One idea I had was for a Macross/Battletech/Gundam hybrid with simplistic RTS elements. Something like Planetside, but more RPG-paced. The fact that art assets should be reused makes a good idea to lean toward PvP. It could work through a short PvE introduction, with simple missions to complete, either online with mates, or offline. Completely skippable.
Then you reach the “end” game. A set of “maps” that may be linked by goals and purposes. PvP/conquest maps as well PvE cooperative mission maps. Either path (PvP or PvE) viable without forcing players one way or the other. You get points more or less like DAoC or WoW PvP. Then use these points to buy new mech parts.
The “core feature” of the game could be the freedom on how you build your mechs, so that you can put together and rig all sort of crazy, custom mechs. You build for the game a basic infrastructure, like a “grammar”, then let the player recombine mech parts for a near-limitless number of combinations. Studying a system so that the final stats and capabilities of the mech fall within a directed “balance”… Maybe you can take inspiration from Magic, the card game, where each “map” has also set “requirements” (like Magic’s tournaments where some cards are banished), so that the mechs must meet those requirements in order to participate. Or like in Gran Turismo (the racing game) where you have to have the right type of car to access set competitions. For example through a system where your final mech is automatically “tiered” or “ranked”, defining the kinds of missions it can enter.
You can then have “practice” maps where you can go to test and fine-tune your mech, or just play for fun, on your own, without any restriction at all. Just being wild with your mech design. Think to something like X-men “Danger room”.
Gameplay-wise it shouldn’t be twitch (twitch games need EXCELLENT execution and it’s not a luxury you can aspire to have in such a project). I would use the same system I imagined for my Fallout concept: playable with a gamepad (and ready to port on consoles if you want), using a single key to automatically target what’s in front of you, or switching targets with buttons for automated weapons. Maybe different mech parts could be linked to different control methods. For example you could drive a mech with “legs” with the analog stick, while a mech on “tracks” could use acceleration and deceleration keys.
It would feel fresh enough to draw the attention of the players, while being at the same time “sticky” with the mech customization and unlocking of new parts, along with the variety of mission maps available.
Another main goal is that this game structure is also easily expandable. You can freely add new mech parts and even completely new missions and brand new gameplay. As each map has its requirements you can easily add all sort of stuff without worrying to keep everything balanced for all the rest of the game. It’s so open that you could easily build whole new games within.
+ The game concept makes it also easy exportable to the large eastern market.
EDIT: I got an idea for the first “expansion”: Super Robots!
I was thinking to that japanese RTS game, Super Robot Wars. Instead of toying around with anonymous mech parts, you could do what City of Heroes did to comics. Use mech parts inspired to Mazinger, Gundam, Daitarn and the like. Then have “invasion” mission types where you take your Super Robot and invade metropolis like Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York. Stomp over fleeing people, take building parts and toss them around, take down aircrafts with your lasers, blow things up, destroy everything on sight and even fight Godzilla, Gamera, King Kong -like creatures and all sort of cool, weird stuff. Like those wonderful classic Japanese movies. Okay, maybe this goes a bit beyond the reasonable scope, but it would be one hell of fun :)
EDIT2: To who thought “where is the multiplayer” about the idea above…
Super Robots Arenas! Think something inspired to WoW’s arenas. 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3 or 5vs5. Ranked or unranked. The metropolises of the idea above would be the “ring”. How cool it would be? And in ranked matches, as it happens in Magic, the winner loots one random mech part from the loser ;)
Considering that this MMO won’t run on a monthly subscription but will be “free”, I fear that it’s almost obligatory to support RMT, whether you want or not. Considering the structure of my idea (unblocking and modding mech parts) I believe it wouldn’t be all that hard to put RMT on top of it. Even if I’d despise it…
You purchase new mech parts, new missions, and you may even purchase more “mech slots” to store in your “garage”. So that you have more mechs ready and set up for all the different kinds of maps. Instead of having to dismantle and rebuild your current ones every time.
You can even add “durability” to the mech parts, so that you may have to repair or repurchase broken parts.
This project is “gated content” certified (all content always accessible, with no “endgame” separation or drifts from solo -> groups -> raids. All modes always available right away) and “permeable barriers” certified (mechs can be dismantled and rebuilt freely, no character locked into classes or one-way choices to make). So it respects all the principles I laid down in regards of MMO game design during the latest years. And it may be the proof that they are valid :)