IP-based MMOs: Part 1 (of 5)

Basing your MMORPG on an existing property can be an easy way to get attention for your new game and tap into a base of potential players who are already familiar with the world and its lore. It’s a wonder that more games haven’t tried it. Where’s our Wheel of Time MMO? Our Honor Harrington MMO? Our Sailor Moon MMO? (Oops, didn’t mean to mention that one….)

Well, maybe someone’s working on one of those right now (call me!)

With the help of the super-comprehensive list of MMOs at MMORPG.com, I’ve gathered together a list of all the MMOs I could find that were based (or at least “inspired by”) some other intellectual property. Since there are quite a few, I’ll be covering these in five posts. Today: Absolute Terror through Toontown Online.

Game: Absolute Terror IP: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Gainax’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” re-invented the “giant robot” genre by adding tortured teens and morally ambiguous guardians to a post-apocalyptic world where the heroes were either protecting the world from complete annihilation, or helping to bring it about — only at the end were there any real answers. Maybe.

“Absolute Terror” is a web-based strategic combat game, and is largely the work of a single designer, Liam Young. The player chooses to fight for NERV or SEELE, the two organizations charged with defending New Tokyo from attacks by the otherworldy “Angels”, giant creatures from an unknown source. By winning battles, you gain the ability to perform more actions. Although I haven’t played it, Absolute Terror seems more akin to pseudo-MMOs like Kingdom of Loathing than any of the others on this list.

Game: Age of Conan IP: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Robert E. Howard’s iconic Conan the Barbarian sparked a wave of heroic sword & sorcery that predated and arguably surpassed the sort of epic fantasy Tolkein would soon make famous. With a legendary comic series in the 70s and two movies in the 80s that inspired a mini-wave of copycats, Conan has been reintroducing himself to new generations of genre lovers for seventy years.

Funcom strategically released its Age of Conan in the lull before Blizzard’s new expansion for World of Warcraft and quickly gained a huge following, a popularity that soon waned over reports of bugs, unfinished PvP, and a newbie experience that dramatically oversold the experience a player would have once they graduated to the real game. Since then, Age of Conan has essentially relaunched, filling in gaps, fixing bugs, making gear more relevant to the game and adding more PvE content. By all accounts, AoC has become a game well worth seeing for Conan fans looking to play in the legendary Hyborian Age.

Game: Champions Online IP: Hero Games’ Champions
Where pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons were all about specifying in great and intricate detail the powers and abilities of each carefully defines and delineated class, alternate rule sets like Hero Games’ Hero System allowed the player to make and play a character to fit any template, from spies to warlocks to robots to super heroes. Balancing powers with perks and disadvantages and a combat system that relied upon sometimes intricate formulas, character creation was a lengthy affair in contrast to D&D’s (at the time) roll-and-forget system. Champions, their source book specifically for adventuring in a super hero universe, was a smash hit, and almost every tabletop gaming group took the occasional break from D&D to pull on the spandex and fight a supervillain or two.

Champions Online was the first MMO Cryptic Studios developed after splitting off from NCsoft, for whom they had developed the genre-leading City of Heroes superhero MMO. A last moment rebalancing and a lack of high level content made this game a non-starter in many people’s eyes. It has not drawn the kind of numbers expected; estimates have fewer people playing it than City of Heroes, and with expected competition from SOE’s DC Universe Online and Marvel’s unnamed MMO, the future is not clear for Champions Online. This is unfortunate indeed, as the “Nemesis” system, where you create your own arch-villain to bedevil you, and their famously open-ended character creation system, are unique in the industry.

Game: DC Universe Online IP: DC Comics
DC Comics (the initials stand for the company’s original name, Detective Comics, which kind of makes the extra ‘Comics’ in the name redundant) published Action Comics #1 in 1938 which introduced the world to its most famous illegal alien, Superman. A year later, Detective Comics followed that up with the “world’s greatest detective”, Batman, and thereby firmly planted the seeds of a pulp comic empire that still follows both of these characters and hundreds more. Going from the four-color page to radio, television, movies and even Broadway, DC’s characters have been part of the world’s new mythology for the better part of a century.

SOE’s DC Universe Online, still in development, promises players the chance to fight alongside (or against) DC’s iconic heroes as they defend (or attack) landmark locations such as Metropolis and Gotham City. A fluid power system will let your character switch roles (such as tanking, damage, healing/buffing) at will so that any group of characters will be able to fill the necessary roles. Action-oriented, scripted missions and destructible environments will make this game at home either on the PC or the console. Appropriately, DCUO will be the first MMO produced for Sony’s Playstation 3 game system, followed at some point by SOE’s follow-up, the spy MMO “The Agency”.

Game: Disney’s Toontown Online IP: Disney cartoon characters
Since 1923, Disney’s groundbreaking work in animation has set the standard followed (or at least acknowledged) by every animator since. Boasting some of the most recognizable characters in the entire world — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, etc. — Disney has turned a mouse into a media empire. They now have the largest movie production house in the world, and their theme parks are a vacation destination for travelers everywhere.

Disney’s “Toontown Online”, loosely based on the world in their cartoons and a name courtesy of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, is a child-friendly game that features kid-safe innovations later copied by other kid-friendly MMOs such as Wizards101. Carefully monitored chat, limited social interactions and non-threatening (but frequently hilarious) actions give kids the freedom to make and play their own cartoon character in Disney’s cartoon world. Though there’s not a lot in Toontown Online to appeal to adults, the game has enough depth to make it a satisfying game to play alongside your younger children.

Tune in tomorrow for tales of dragons and kittens as we explore the next chapter of the IP-based gaming empire.

Daily Blogroll 10/10: Short Week edition

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I’ve been playing a bit of Earth Eternal since it went into open-closed beta yesterday. Since I think we’re still unable to actually show the game, here’s a picture of the upcoming stop motion/cgi film, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now, I don’t KNOW that Sparkplay’s gonna close down to go to the premiere, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Should kids gamble on the Internet? Evil Theurgists wonders why KingsIsle is encouraging kids to blow their parent’s moolah spinning the virtual wheels of Wizard101’s new slot machine — where you spend 15 (and up) Crowns to win the usual prize of 20 gold. You get 15 twirls a day and the rewards are minuscule so… let’s hope this is one feature that doesn’t make it out of testing.

How long must you play an MMO before you can honestly review it? Tobold thinks 5000 hours should be just about enough to give World of Warcraft a good looking-at. His conclusion? It just might stick around awhile.

Come back in 2014 for Tobold’s take on Champions Online and Fallen Earth :)

And in a similar vein, Anton is wondering if anyone has heard about this new game, “Aion”. Any good?

Dear Anton: Flavor of the month. In a year, they’ll all be playing WoW: Cataclysm and Aion will just be a footnote. Bank on it. Nobody leaves WoW alive.

Think higher level players should (at the very least) be able to speak English well (if on an English server)? Spinks thinks players should have to apply for more powerful characters as they level. And why not? MMOs these days are MUCH more like jobs than games, right?

Now that Cryptic has launched Champions Online to great acclaim, Syp hopes the lessons learned from the Champions launch can ease the way for their next MMO, Star Trek Online. Most importantly, when players complain of the smoke, their might possibly be a fire.

I have to confess to being a total STO newb. Assuming Star Trek Online doesn’t limit ship names to sailing ships of the 17th and 18th centuries, I’ll be captaining the science vessel “Newton” on an archaeological mission to learn more of the Progenitors, the ancient forebears of most humanoid races in the galaxy. Oh, not named after the famed scientist, ISAAC Newton. No, named after the suburb of Boston. Always loved that place.

MMO commentator Petter has a single word for those who buy gold: asshat. It’s going on your permanent record.

Well, I guess that’s enough for this morning. Too much Earth Eternal, not enough writing! I leave you with Dr. Horrible’s Neil Patrick Harris as he sings Batman to death

Weekend Gaming

Sean E asked me why I wasn’t playing Dungeons and Dragons Online. I hear DDO and I think “hey, another fantasy MMO with wizards and stuff”. Why add a twenty-first to the twenty I already play or have played? And who has that kind of time? I guess it depends on who you play with; in an MMO, it’s more about the company you keep than the merits of the game.

Vexor cruising in lowsec

In EVE Online, my corp is factioning up to get the new Level 4 epic mission arcs. I haven’t started on that yet… just as I was heading to the station where an Impetus agent who might speak with me dwelt, I got a mail from a storyline agent who had a ten part mission for me. So I headed back to Aunia for that, and accidentally took some normal Level 3 missions as well — but all for the good. I understand turning in more than one mission at once really pumps your faction with the agents.

Tomorrow or the next day, we’re having a lowsec ops — going around low or null sec, looking for trouble. I have a cruiser, a Vexor, fitted out for PvP. I have had this same Vexor for over four months now, ever since Saylah gave it to me, and though I used it for most of my level 2 missions, I always brought it home.

Since I was getting really bored with mission running. I decided to give the Vexor a spin in lowsec — a solo ops. I’d just fit a micro warp drive in it, and the drone bay was full of ECM drones I’d never really tried out. ECM drones interfere with the target’s targeting — and if the enemy can’t target you, it’s much harder for them to hurt you. Smart bombs and friend-or-foe missiles will still work, but I haven’t seen many people or NPCs use those.

I headed to 0.3 space — nearly lawless — found a deadspace hideout and started directional scanning to find players hunting by themselves that I might be able to take. I did find a couple on the scanner, but I couldn’t zero in on them enough to find out how to reach them, so I just went from asteroid belt to asteroid belt, hunting. I didn’t find any players, but I did find some Serpentis pirates. A single went down easily enough, but the next group was two frigates guarding a Megathron battleship. I warped out, then decided to try out the ECM drones by having them jam the battleship while I took out the frigates. I got a little mixed up on the way back and ended up in a different belt, with two Serpentis cruisers guarded by two frigates — two same class ships, the cruisers, plus cruiser-killing frigates. I sent the ECM drones against the cruisers and took on the frigates, but the frigates got in too close, close enough that my guns were useless. I had to call in some of the ECM drones so I could bring out combat drones. One cruiser stayed numb, but the other shook off its drone and came at me. I traded one combat drone for a third ECM drone to quiet that cruiser, took down the frigates, then took down the cruisers, one by one.

ECM drones are not the sure-fire killer I was hoping they would be… it was worth checking them out before we go against another player. I believe our plan is to double up on ECM drones, warp scrambling and webbing. But we’ll see.

I recently finished Core Competency Standard certification and Gallente Soldier Elite, so my skills are coming along nicely. I’m working on battleship skills now.

Radium Red in Champions Online

I got my Champions Online character, a power armor hero named Radium Red after my most recent City of Heroes character, to level 14. This is the highest level I’ve gotten a CO character. She got through all the Canadian quests she could find, handling group missions solo without too much trouble. I’m liking the power armor builds, and I REALLY like being able to lift things like airships and toss them at enemies — one shot kill if it’s heavy enough. (If you’re in the Powerhouse, this would be Gigantic-level objects). I felt pretty unique until I found the Science Invention store, and it was full of people in power armor. Only one looked like Iron Man, thankfully.

The missions in Millennium City REALLY remind me of City of Heroes missions, except, so far, the mission environments have been very much smaller. I don’t like leveling MMOs so much these days, but I do want to level enough to meet my nemesis. In the City of Heroes world, R.R. was a villain, so here, I will make her nemesis upright and heroic as I can. Maybe Superman :)

Rich! Rich!

In Legends of Zork, changing my sidekick to the Accountant is finally starting to pay off. When I dinged 43, she dinged 3 and my rate of interest is now 6.4% compounded nightly. I have a spreadsheet tracking my profits and most recently made 116.2K interest overnight. I’m on track to have 3 million zorkmids by next weekend and in a month’s time should reach the interest cap, which is 635K per night. And then — I can finally start spending money again. My previous sidekick, the Gent, helped me solve traps and fight, and without him, combat and puzzle solving has taken a real hit. My skill points have been going toward TMP (trap, maze and puzzle) solving, but levels only happen once every couple of weeks, so it’s very slow going. Combat will have to wait until I can buy new weapons and armor. In two more levels, the Accountant will be giving me 9.6% interest compounded nightly, and after that, I should have no more money problems ever again.

I play Legends of Zork purely so I can enter the figures in my spreadsheet each morning. Way more fun than looking at my actual bank balance.

I played Gatheryn for awhile, and also Earth Eternal for a few hours. Tonight was our weekly Neverwinter Nights 2 group, and we’ve just uncovered a Githyanki plot. Many Githyanki died this night. I also dinged 7 and learned two new spells, Summon Monster III and Haste. Neither seems to be as useful as Fascination and Cloud of Bewilderment were, either of which serve to make everything in the area hate me. Everyone hated bards, why is that?

In Wizard101, my plan to move onward to Newgate Prison has hit a snag as Marissa is forced to go on a bunch of really trivial missions in Chelsea Court and Hyde Park. I may take a break and head back to Grizzleheim once I’m finished with those.

My house in W101 is shaping up nicely with all the quest rewards and random drops. I wonder how much space the new Life island will have? Or should I just let Marissa have an island all her own….?

Daily Blogroll 9/25 – Apocalypse edition

Adventuring after a mysterious apocalypse forever changed the landscape, with strange creatures everywhere and a refugee populace just trying to survive in a mutant world overrun with danger…. I didn’t even know I’d gotten into the Earth Eternal closed beta. Tails Tales of my chubby little rat rogue, the kind that Cinderella did NOT want helping make her dress, once I’ve seen more of the game.

Back in EverQuest, unexpected adds usually meant a group wipe (unless you were specifically doing an AE group). Crowd control or a puller who knew how to split was really important. Modern MMOs ramp down the difficulty quite a lot, and Spinks wonders if specialized crowd control has any sort of place in World of Warcraft, given the tendency to just gather up a room and kill everything at once? And this is why WoW can’t have nice things, like enchanters and bards :)

At Hudson’s Hideout, Rock Hound looks at the two kinds of people who roll up heroes in Champions Online — Conceptionists, who have a backstory and a theme for their hero, and Minmaxists, who just go for the most efficient powers and stats. We used to call these role-players and ROLL-players back in the day…. and this argument has been going on for thirty years.

Jaye from Journeys With is pushing back against the grind. Having to essentially solo for weeks or months upon joining an established game to catch up with max level guildmates has killed many friends’ interest in playing EQ2. With ten more levels coming in February, who could possibly be dedicated enough to go through 89 levels of mostly soloing? It’s an issue for any established game, and I wonder what SOE is planning to help new players bridge the largest level gap of any subscription game. I’m guessing nothing, because there’s one thing that SOE loves more than anything in all its games, and that’s the GRIND. It’s a holy mandate with them.

It's .... Superdude!

EQ2’s Game Update 53 that introduced the Shard of Lurrrrv and lots of other coolness to the game has gotten Gestalt Mind’s Rao back in the game. Being able now to pass appearance and quest armor among alts is a nice thing, and the new adventure zone that adjusts to the group level — sweet.

Ogrebears is not so much of a fan, averring that the new WoW-like achievement system is turning everyone into mindless, achievement-hungry zombies who care for nothing more than wracking up pointless accomplishments.

Having trouble getting Age of Conan to look as good for you as it does on their web site? Worry not, Openedge1 is on the case, looking at drivers and settings for two different video cards to see how to best boost AoC’s performance.

And lastly (and only because I have to run to catch a bus!), Andrew of Of Teeth and Claws has journeyed back into the world of Spellborn and pronounced it — AWESOME. Yeah, the game is definitely a feast for the eyes :)