Copra asked a little while ago about MMO settings, specifically, “What would you like your MMO to be?”
I’ve written about this sort of thing before, but mostly in a whole package sort of way, pontificating mechanics, business model and such along with the setting. Just for fun, though, while I’m working on another balance article, I wanted to write a bit purely about a setting I’d love to see in an MMO.
While I’d like to see things like Dinotopia (from the book, not the lame TV versions) and Midkemia represented well in a graphical MMO (Midkemia Online is a text MMO… I’ve nothing against such, they just don’t interest me as much), or even Warmachine, what I’d really like to see is a blend of things. Over at Copra’s place, I called it “an alternate history Steampunk MechWarrior game”. Perhaps a bit more detail is in order, perhaps not, but it’s fun to get things down in type. That’s sort of what I do here.
First, there’s Steampunk, a curious fiction genre adequately summarized by the Wikipedia entry, or in more entertaining form, by the Girl Genius comics (yes, yes, the Foglios refer to GG as “gaslamp fantasy“, but I like that twist of the fantastic in the steampunk mix) or the Clockworks comics. It’s a sort of alternate history where steam power became more prominent than it did in our history, with a bit of Leonardo da Vinci and even Escher thrown in, maybe with some magical elements. I love the look and feel of this sort of gritty, gear and steam-based technological world. The Industrial Revolution was a fascinating period of history, so riffing off of that makes me happy.
MechWarrior, on the other hand, is a subset of the BattleTech universe, a fictional far future where different factions of humans use big, stompy robots to fight interstellar wars. It has a long and storied history, and the IP has spawned a ton of games in a variety of formats. MechWarriors are the elite warriors of that universe, pilots of said big stompy robots. There are other military units to be sure, but infantry and even most tanks aren’t much of a match for these giant walking tank-things that typically range from 20 to 100 tons, bristling with energy, ballistic and even melee weapons.
I’d like to mix the two. I’m imagining a game setting where the Industrial Revolution turned into an arms race, with each country devising its own steam-powered ‘Mechs as the ultimate fighting machines. A purely terrestrial political war might not have the vast resources that the interstellar Inner Sphere of BattleTech has, but that’s part of the draw. ‘Mechs would be more ramshackle, more likely to be MacGyvered into military service than perfectly cloned assembly line hot rods. They wouldn’t be far and away better than the other machines of war, but they would be important “heavies” in combat. They would be steam and gear-powered, but you could even see prototype Gauss Cannons (purely magnetic) and Gatling Guns. Scientific innovations would be rapid, and experimental weapons might just carry the day in several instances… or might backfire spectacularly.
The political landscape would be a mix of feudal systems and nascent city-states, with most major countries shattered into several internal factions. Such a diverse political backdrop could provide very fertile ground for mercenary work. Reputation could be interesting, and managing a career by playing the lines between powers who may or may not know of your work history (communications being a bit more primitive in those days) could be an interesting non-combat large scale puzzle.
Similarly, the economic game could be a lot of fun. The arms race would be fueled by weird science, always chasing new energy sources. Factions would try to squeeze the most out of their controlled territory and even expand into the New World.
…which opens up even more potential. Forget the Eastern Kingdoms vs. Kalimdor, let’s talk stompy robots storming New England. And don’t forget, ‘Mechs function underwater…
…and you never know what sort of things a mad scientist might come up with. Even smaller mouse-sized ‘bots might be a threat…