Games that at least try: EVE Online

650627757.jpgThe thing that frustrates me most about Fantasy MMORPGs is their lack of imagination. Not imagination like in creating the mystical world of Elflandia populated by mystic Elfians who are under siege by the vicious Orcanauts or however they manage to fit elves and orcs into any fantasy game world (Does it have elves? CHECK. Orcs? CHECK. We’re GOOD TO GO!) I do wish that MMO devs would look beyond Tolkein for inspiration. Why not the world of “The Worm Ouroborous”? Or of “Ill Met in Lankhmar”? Or “The Dying Earth”?(*)

But that’s a rant for another time.

I’d give MMO devs a break if there weren’t already MMOs out there starting to give us crude glimpses of the future.

After I wrote my Dogs and Frisbees post, I just had to see if anyone was truly doing next generation gameplay — gaming where the devs had let loose their iron grips on their IP and allowed players to collaborate with them to make their world come alive.

In EVE Online you are dumped, in a powerless ship, into a hostile universe.\ There’s some tutorial missions to teach you how to play, but after that, you are on your own. No helpful arrows telling you where to go next. I dunno. Maybe mine? And so you mine. Ooops, there are baddies there, baddies that you are unable to kill, and the game has not told you that you need to sneak around, mine what you can, find a decent place to sell it and then buy a ship. What do the weapons do? How do you fight?

Sorry, on your own (they do have noobie chat).

Just for the record, I know now that if I want to use that 150mm Gatling Pulse Cannon, I’d best be keeping about 10km from my opponent, where at least the Serpentis Scout ship weapons can’t hurt me much. But those hybrid plutonium rounds — ZING.

I had to figure all that out by myself. It was a challenge.

There are NPC missions at most starbases, and you can do them for fairly decent rewards. The mission line I picked up right after the tutorial eventually netted me two ships (one of which needed to be built from blueprints) and lots of good upgrades. Getting the correct ores to build that ship? I eventually found out that they expected you to get the rarer ores from reprocessing junk taken from killing pirates in the asteroid belts, but not knowing that, I went searching through the universe, eventually finding myself ten jumps from home making ninja runs into low security space (and finding rare and highly prized Silvery Omber ore which goes for $$$ in high security space).

NPC missions are great to just pass the time, and they tend to be bring this here, mine this, kill these — the same kinds of quests you see everywhere, except with spaceships. (Well, the Mountains from Molehills mission line eventually had you invent and construct a Perpetual Motion Machine II, which was pretty funny).

The real fun comes from the PC quests. These are people who put open contracts on the market — make this for me at this price, or bring this stuff from here to there (sometimes you make something you can’t fit into your cargo hold, but it’s useless to you sitting at the factory — solution: hire a player with a big, fat transport ship to move it for you). Contracts on people you don’t like. All sorts of stuff.

If you don’t like that, you can earn money as I did (I can’t afford the collateral to do the big PC missions yet… yes, you have to be bonded to ensure completion of the contract. I work in bonds in real life. I got such a thrill…). I find rare ores, then find the best buyer and make bunches. You can also play the market, bringing items players have made in abundance in one place and selling them in another. That’s another way to make money. Craft stuff. Then let low level players do the hard work of bringing it where it needs to be for the best price.

And all this is just the pink frosting around the real game — the game of politics, rivalry and warfare for which EVE Online is famous (and is way out of my league). I’m a bit player in a larger world. Not some hero out to save the world, but a lowly miner in a small ship making a living doing the things other people can’t be bothered to do. I was mining in my tiny ship, when a massive transport vessel hailed me. They were recruiting for their corp and needed some stringers. And so I joined Waste of Space (even though I might poof when my 14 day free trial ends). I immediately got help finding those rare ores I needed, was offered a better ship, upgrades and ISK… friendly folks…!

It’s games like this, games unafraid to challenge their players and not caring if they are everything to everyone and willing to hand the game to the players, that are the new face of MMO gaming. I’ll be eventually looking at A Tale in the Desert, where the players make the rules; and Hero’s Journey, where the players make the content (not sure what the status of this game is, I meant to take a look at it a couple of years ago but never got to it).

(*) Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth books, had a short story where humans had domesticated dragons. They had dragons for pulling stuff, dragons for riding, dragons for flying around dropping bombs and stuff. Once they went to war, and on the field found their opponents were dragons… who had domesticated humans. They had humans for pulling stuff, riding, carrying loads… :)