This one might just ramble a bit.
Mostly because I am not really talking about what I know as much as what I Think is probable.
What the hell are you talking about you ask?
I am talking about what I see on the horizon as Blizzards next generation MMO.
You know, that game that most of us will likely end up playing a few years from now.
Now there are quite a few people that will not like the direction I see this going. Actually, I’m not even really sure that I like the direction I see it going. Then again, I am just saying what I think will come to pass, not necessarily what I would like to see.
First thing I would do if I was sitting down to design a game is look at the type I am planning as it will influence nearly everything else in the decision tree.
Based entirely on the assumption that the next generation MMO will in fact, be an MMO, this question is partly answered already. Then again there are many types of MMO that are possible.
Not settings, thats a whole different issue. I am talking about actual game play types.
Based on what I have seen of the evolution of WoW I am leaning towards what amounts to a hybrid between the current gameplay model of WoW and a first person shooter. In a sense it’s already an option. Although everyone I have talked to plays with the camera zoomed out in more of a third person mode, it’s possible to zoom in and play in first person.
I see that level of camera control being included in the game. It has worked well so far.
Another thing to note is that as time goes on much less reliance has been placed on things like crowd control and problem solving. More and more I see the design of encounters being “don’t stand in the bad stuff, kill the boss before he kills the group.”
As the fights evolve they seem to be more and more about movement, positioning, and overwhelming firepower. That kind of combat mechanic would fit in just as well with a rocket launcher toting grunt shooting at the big bad guy as it does with mages slinging fireballs.
This change to the group play dynamic has caused the fights to be more gear dependant then ever. That’s why they are essentially giving away tier 9 to your bank alt just for logging in at this point. The change has also made the game much more of a twitch reflex exercise in multitasking than it once was.
Take into account also that Blizzard has done a good amount of experimenting with vehicle based fights and fighting in a three-dimensional environment. They have also done several fights now where the “holy trinity” of tank / heals/ Dps is not a factor. Think Malygos phase three as an example of all of that at once.
These kind of changes do not happen in a vacuum. Nor do the types of changes that have been revealed as coming in Cataclysm. Things like the continued homogenization of classes and the watering down of the talent trees. The upcoming paths of the titans that are apparently neither class or race specific is another example.
The developers at Blizz have said in the past that they work across groups to some extent at least. Ideas for these things could very well be coming from some of the same people that are working on the next game, just as ideas for the next game could be coming from some of WoW’s current development staff.
They don’t even have to be working directly together to throw ideas back and forth around the water cooler.
All that together tells me to expect a MMO/FPS hybrid.
The next thing I would have to decide is the genre I plan to cover.
Most, if not all of the other decisions that will go into creating the core mechanics of the game would be influenced by this. It would need to be addressed early, before the project even started really.
Going back to the idea of a MMO/FPS I would look at genres the would support that type of game play.
The ones that come to mind are Sci-Fi, Fantasy/Medieval, Steampunk, Gothic, and Post-Apocalyptic.
I might very easily be missing a few, but those are what come to mind for me.
Sci-Fi would have a lot of potential.
The vastness of space could account for a lot of diversity in races available to players. Different planets could essentially serve as separate servers, each with it’s own challenges and rewards. “Technology” could take the place of “magic” for things we can’t readily explain the physics of.
There are a lot of plusses here, and I would love to play one created by Blizzard. Unfortunately I don’t really think this is the road they are going to go down.
I see two big reasons that I don’t think we will see it become Sci-Fi. One is the relatively large number of games that have tapped that genre already. The second and in my mind most telling is the fact that Blizzard has stated that it will not be in the Starcraft universe.
If they were going Sci-Fi they would certainly tap that brand recognition and use the Starcraft name if nothing else.
The Fantasy/medieval genre would make for a good game. Blizzard has shown that they know how such a thing could be made to work. The storylines would be fairly easy to craft as they don’t rely on anything “real”, it just must be internally consistent with it’s own lore.
The downsides of this are even greater than for a Sci-Fi game.
First and foremost Blizz already owns the flagship MMO in this genre. The would become their own competition. Unless they plan to retire WoW completely or graduate it to a free to play/ microtrasaction game this would make a poor business decision. You don’t want your two subscription based games fighting each other for players. Ideally you want them playing both.
Why would they even consider staying with this genre if they could work towards domination of another while trying to keep WoW going with perhaps a different business model?
Blizzard may rock as a game design company, but they are in the end a business. They exist to make money.
That’s the biggest reason I can think of that we won’t see the next MMO as a Fantasy/Medieval game.
Next up to the plate is Steampunk. Actually I will look at both Steampunk and Gothic together, as they have a lot of similarities.
Both have the potential to offer a wide verity of character archetypes. From vampires and werewolves to androids and regular humans all would fit right in. Between the two of them you have a lot of options to choose from. Hell, you could even run them together and have a Gothic Steampunk world.
It could even be made to account for two separate, possibly conflicting, factions within the same game world.
Personally I like this idea. It would have a wide array of gameplay options. Everything from undead and magic to firearms and steam powered fighter planes would fit right in. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun.
Somehow I don’t see it happening. If I am wrong though I would put this as an interesting second choice.
I know if they made it I would play it.
This leaves me with one last contender, the one I think we will see on store shelves.
A post-apocalyptic world would lend itself to an MMO-FPS better than any of the others that I can think of.
There would be separated communities, and they would seem natural to separate into zones. It would make sense to have scarce resources, therefore having independent towns that acted as quest hubs to players would fit right in. All the work Blizzard did on vehicle combat could come in very handy in something like this as well.
There would be a lot of room to improvise in terms of both solo and group content. There would be reasons for both Pve and Pvp type content. Rep could be handled similarly to WoW. Each town or group of towns having it’s own reputation, perhaps with a bit of spillover to allied towns. Think of something similar to how rep with the goblin factions works.
Depending on how the world ended there could be mutations whether caused by radiation, a plague, or whatever else caused the apocalypse. This would give many available “classes” for lack of a better word, though I think it likely that your skills would be more separated from your class than in WoW.
Another thing that could not hurt is the likely timeframe. They have been working on this project for years, and that has likely just ramped up as more and more of the original WoW development team has moved over to work on it’s design.
Imagine the free publicity and general interest in a postapocalyptic game that was looking to hit the market in a couple years.
Say…. December of 2012 for instance.
In stores just in time for Christmas.