NOTE – this is a long and mostly personal-reference post. You can read the first bit and skip the notes, or just not read it at all. YHBW.
Damn you, Psychochild*, damn you! I was all set to wake up, have my coffee quietly, zip through my email as fast as humanly possible (still took an hour), and get some quality gaming time that I haven’t been able to snatch in the last few days by dint of having too much work (yay!) and being too tired afterwards (boo!).
This happened to me yesterday, too. But I’m the forgiving sort and I’m also a cyberpunk fan so I am going to drive all five of you (Hi Joe, hi Billy Bob, hi Fuchsia, hi Dickie, hi Scaryboo!) to go check it out. I haz cattle prod and I’m not afraid to use it.
If you need more direction, you spineless internet zombies, here it is. Exhibit A: A Cyberpunk MMO would be a terrible idea! And Exhibit B: A Cyberpunk MMO would rule!
Should we be concerned that Ex.2 is shorter than Ex.1? Naaah. We’re armchair designers (or even real designers in Mr P’s case) and we do so love to pick shit apart and point out just how BAD a given idea is.
So where’s this whole stream of consciousness crap, you ask? It’s coming. I just thought I should throw in a few relatively cogent paragraphs first. I don’t think there’s enough there for a proper post about Cyberpunk as an MMO genre — and if there is then I’ll tease it out at some later date, or even submit it to TIC as a guest post. Right now it’s just the transcript of stuff I scribbled down on paper yesterday. I know, right — paper? Who still uses that old shit?
(I do. I think better with a pencil in my hand.)
My usual silly rhetoric aside, there is a point to this post other than driving you like sheep from one end of the internet to the other. If any of you have an interest in the genre and if this sparks some ideas and some debate and even, god help us, some creativity, then it might help Psychochild – Brian ?- Mr. Psycho? – get his game idea out the door. And I really would play a cyberpunk game. As long as it’s not The Matrix.
Like I said, there’s no structure to the notes below. I’m just riffing (and I have ZERO musical talent, so be warned).
I would dump levels for a CP game. Skill-based is all the rage these days and it also makes sense from the perspective of a world where you can just plug in new knowledges and skills and/or use helper apps while you’re online.
I would want a game that includes both VR and RR components. Being in a Tron-like state all the time would get boring pretty quickly (which is one of the issues of designing a CP game). Being in RR with no VR ever would probably end up not feeling very Cyberpunky. (RR = real reality (in game) as opposed to VR/Virtual reality. Just to distinguish it from RL which is NOT in the game. Confused yet?)
Death penalties – you can’t not have those. Well, maybe you could have part of the game (game areas, whatever) with fewer/less severe penalties but if you go with a typical fantasy MMO little-risk many-rewards (aka WoW) model you’ll lose some of the dystopian gritty feeling that makes CP what it is.
You could have scales of danger and risk/reward. E.g. safe, common net areas (& “RL” neighbourhoods) where nothing much can happen to you through to corporate networks of varying strengths and peril all the way out to the fringes of the net where there be rogue AI dragons that might (or might not) fry your brain if they become aware of you.
Add in “ghost in the machine” spirituality (see Gibson’s stuff among others) and you have a lot of room to maneuver in terms of “death” penalties, whether they happen, how bad they are, etc.
Death Penalty example or two:
— loss of gear, temporary or otherwise. Neural hardware can get damaged or destroyed (VR or RR effect), RR hardware same (decks, house, whatever). Software (tools, apps, but also interface stuff like weapon smartlinks etc.) can get compromised for x amount of time or entirely destroyed.
— Loss of skills, temporary or otherwise. This might not be very popular though because you could potentially end up with a char you can’t play for X many real hours.
— RR penalties vs. VR penalties — some penalties might prevent you from operating in one environment but not the other for a while (broken legs vs broken deck).
My big question would be: what would you DO over the long term in an MMO like that? I don’t think I could hack a cyberpunk game (MMO or otherwise) where everything just respawns after X minutes, except maybe in certain places, or where nothing I do actually has a lasting impact on the game world. (I’ve talked about this before.)
I have a feeling that to have a truly CP MMO you’d have to base it on a lot of player v. player interaction — not necessarily just silly duels and the usual zerg-definition of PvP — but in the sense that most of the day to day stories and events are player driven.
Have players be able to be CORP players as well as hackers. (The question is would anyone want to? Could being a wage-slave be made a viable and attractive play option? Not all hackers are endearing basement nerds so I guess Corp types don’t all have to be suited robots either. There’d be plenty for them to do too: uncover & fight industrial espionage, fight the bad hackers, fight the bad terrorists, engage in industrial espionage, be the bad terrorist, take over the world…)
You’d need some depth. Definitely more than 2 sides and a blurring of sides as much as possible. In CP you’re not always sure who’s wearing what colour hat, and indeed hat-colour can change… at the drop of a hat. BobTheHacker could work for Yoyodyne one day and the Hacker Freedom Front the next (if he can survive the transition) — or indeed be working for both from the start (hard to portray in an MMO though?).
Interesting point. Being able to belong to more than one organisation/side increases the possibility of treachery, lying and backstabbing that is integral to the “noir” element in CP literature. MMOs don’t usually let you do that kind of thing — even EVE requires that you be part of ONE corp and one corp only. (A Tale in the Desert is the only game that allows & encourages multiple guild memberships.)
Re: gritty and controlling / dystopian atmosphere in CP — you can do all of those but I’d be wary of faithfully reconstructing anything too totalitarian (i.e. 1984) or indeed anything too obviously dark (Strange Days). Maybe something that’s more or less like what we live in now only with some of the conspiracy theories (“the military industrial complex owns us!”) being more fact than theory.
And no, NOT The Matrix for me, thanks.
The next problem is selling it to a game-aware and jaded audience. You can probably trade on the novelty angle for a while, but you’ll instantly lose all the fantasy fans. Then again, maybe you don’t want most of them in the first place. You either go for the WoW-base (“Cyberpunk with goblins and glitterponies!”) or you go for the EVE-base (the Chumbawumba player). No idea which of those is more lucrative but I do know which one I’d prefer to play.
Then there’s the time period issue. When do you set it? Now? 2030? Go too far forward and you risk ending up with SF rather than CP. Not far enough and your speculative future may look silly when realtime catches up with it. Maybe a fuzzy “modern day, slightly different” approach which is essentially what The Secret World seems to be aiming for (only with tentacles instead of terminals).
The ADVANTAGES of a CP MMO are, however, legion. If you want to include fantasy-game VR elements, you can. If you want to do spaceship VR elements, you can. That very breadth of options could also become a major headache.
Fantasy MMOs have established and can maintain this vacuum-like setting in which the world (mostly) never changes and every player repeats what every other player has done before. I’m not sure that would work for a CP genre MMO (it hasn’t really seemed to so far — we’re more tolerant of our fantasy being formulaic).
You’d have to sell players on the idea that even a small victory is a victory and not every adventure involves saving the world. Sometimes all you save is your own ass.
A CP game would (and I’m pretty sure has) work well in a MUSH format. Why? More meta-PC and GM involvement? More malleable worlds, that are more open to global changes on the fly (so to speak). Downside is that you can inadvertently wreck your game and that you need GM-like manpower – or you need to code levels of player power and that can be a very slippery slope. Not to mention probably not easy to develop.
How do you make a CP game FUN (while remaining gritty etc.) with0ut losing all the risk OR alienating your genre-loving but risk-averse players (like me)? One thing – give them avatars (unlike EVE, which is working on those as we speak).
What do you want players to strive for? What’s going to keep them logging on? Power? Money? Security? I think here again you need a model more akin to EVE than WoW. How many purple Decks of ICEbreaking +3 do you really need?
Give players the ability to build their own structures & communities. And hell, maybe even carve out their own empires, RR or VR or both. High-sec villas in Nicaragua and/or heavily fortifies net-enclaves. Players love to build stuff and players love to tear other people’s stuff down.
Build their own tech? Not sure how you’d work that, but building your own gear is a cornerstone of computer geek culture and hence CP.
So what would I want to be able to do when I logged into CP-the game?
— Fight stuff. Both physically (RR) in terms of avatar combat, eg physical infiltration missions, assassinations, kidnappee retrievals… or just beating up on some gank of punks that’s victimising my neighbourhood. Also virtually (VR), from the usual CP data-related activities to VR-versions of RR missions (spying, hunting/killing, defending…) to things like PvP arenas, fight clubs, fantasy themeparks (think Tad Williams’ Otherworld series – I wasn’t a huge fan but it’s sort of cyberpunk all the same), minigames, whatever. Lots of work, I know.
— Face stuff that is somehow much more powerful and scary than me and live to tell the tale. Maybe not every day.
— Work on my gear — whether it’s looting or making or both, whether it’s RR gear or VR gear or both. Acquire skills. Achieve and progress — the cornerstones of most games.
— Make money and spend it. Buy things and sell them.
— Build things… and destroy other people’s things (not so much on a griefing level, but there’s great scope for Corp v Corp or Corp v Hackers or Corp + Hackers v WeirdAlienAI or whatever).
— Compete. Not so much me personally, but many would be bored titless without some element of competition and measuring.
*I am being too clever for my own good. If you ended up at psychochild.org, click on Child and not Psycho. You probably did not see what I did thar.