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Sci-Fi Entertainment Games

The State of Sci-Fi MMOs 194

Posted by Soulskill
from the work-in-progress dept.
Massively is running a story that looks into the status of the sci-fi MMO genre, and why such games have had a tendency to struggle over the years. Quoting: "Fantasy alone carries with it assumptions based in our own history, a romanticized version of the middle ages where knights were good guys and smart people with beards could cast spells. Preconceived notions in sci-fi are far less cast in our collective memory. While stories that predict the future are surely as ancient as the myths describing the past, sci-fi itself didn't really ingrain itself into our culture until the 1800s, with H.G. Wells' stories and other writers at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. ... Compounding the lack of specificity in setting is the tendency of sci-fi games to overwhelm players with skills and rule sets they initially don't understand and eventually don't need."
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The State of Sci-Fi MMOs

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  • Sci-Fi "Too Hard" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The_Myth (84113) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @01:56AM (#27500089)

    The problem with the genre is that often times the Sci-Fi set is too smart for its own good. Take for example the original Star Wars: Galaxies. It had some brilliant character creation and development systems. The concept that you could mix and match from 24 professions to create your character made it very appealing. What happens to it? It didn't have the content it needed to guide a users experience hence it was too hard for people to understand. Then SOE starts a series of neuters that reduce it to a shadow of its former self and any of the redeeming features are removed.

    Now this "too hard to play" syndrome is present in the Fantasy genre. UO/DAoC were too hard core for a lot of players who gravitated to Everquest then WoW.

    With the exception of EVE I cant think of another Sci-Fi MMO that still has a presence in the MMO space.

  • Re:Sci-Fi "Too Hard" (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:06AM (#27500129)

    Actually, I thought the problem with Star Wars: Galaxies was that SOE hated their customers and when one guy discovered how to dupe credits (aka 'money') and paid people with the duped creds, the SOE admins permanently banned the people who (unwittingly) received the money- but not the guy who duped it all...

    The playerbase rioted, but SOE admins teleported them into space. At least, that's what Penny Arcade told me... []

  • by pecosdave (536896) * on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:19AM (#27500165) Homepage Journal

    As Skadet points out above everyone wants to be the really cool character and not a minion. Where in outright fantasy everyone has potential to become something, regular Sci-Fi that doesn't really work.

    So what happens? A different type of Sci-Fi.

    "Retro Futuristic" sci-fi can work, such as things along the lines of Flash Gordon, or possibly post-apocalyptic sci-fi can work, think slightly more futuristic Mad Max. I could see an MMORPG based on Mad Max working out great, and if you move up event that causes society to collapse a couple of hundred years you've got yourself one heck of a game.

    Last but not least, a favorite in retro Sci-Fi: Steampunk. Steampunk is sci-fi that has everything that makes fantasy games great.

    Though not exactly fitting into any of the three but fitting squarely in the middle of all of them - I could see an MMORPG based on Skies of Arcadia taking off. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, and Pirate themes all in one game? WIN!

  • Re:Sci-Fi "Too Hard" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sasayaki (1096761) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:21AM (#27500177)

    [Edit: Accidently posted as AC...]

    Actually, I thought the problem with Star Wars: Galaxies was that SOE hated their customers and when one guy discovered how to dupe credits (aka 'money') and paid people with the duped creds, the SOE admins permanently banned the people who (unwittingly) received the money- but not the guy who duped it all...

    The playerbase rioted, but SOE admins teleported them into space. At least, that's what Penny Arcade told me... []

  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:32AM (#27500227)

    I haven't played Eve or any of the other Sci-Fi MMOs mentioned so I don't know if this has been done before but one answer to Sci-Fi MMOs is to implement something more like Star Control where you don't have a player character, instead, your character is a ship that gets upgraded with better guns, better shields, better engines etc (and your ship would have a crew obviously). And the aim is to destroy the bad guys (i.e. those not friendly to your race), talk to and trade with the good guys (those friendly to your race) and try and form alliances with everyone else. Different areas of space would be declared as space controlled by different races and as the game progresses, the balance changes and control over different bits of space can change hands.
    Make this in a Trek MMO where you get to pick a race e.g. Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, Borg, Ferengi, Human, Vulcan, Andorian or whatever else. Obviously you wouldnt start out in control of a Galaxy class starship but if you play the game and advance, you may be given command of a better ship than the one you started with. And eventually you might get to the Galaxy class.

  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:37AM (#27500241) Journal

    I'm sorry, but you haven't a clue about what you're talking about.

    1) Intelligence is only "universally reviled" in the US and is becoming more common in Canada as well. The rest of the world take *far* more kindly to the actually intelligent.

    2) SyFy is NOT "the modern nomenclature" for Sci-fi. It is a marketing gimmick from the Sci-fi network as an attempt to widen its viewing audience.

    3) Fantasy is more popular because it is more accessible. As in, everyone knows about wizards, knights, etc as that has pervaded society for a *long* time. But, not many people know about sci-fi and its trappings. So, it's "weird" to many.

    Seriously, you're attempting to trivialise fantasy to horny teenaged "geeks". And that's just so wrong it isn't funny.

  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:49AM (#27500291)

    I think the article is overestimating the reach and historical significance of "fantasy".

    While there have been stories of elves, trolls, goblins, wizards and the like for centuries it hasn't been "fantasy". Now I'm not an english/mythology major but from what I remember about western mythology there was very little of said storytelling OUTSIDE of the historical epics which were mostly written around the time they were set. The story of King Arthur, Dragons, swords etc... comes from a time when it wasn't abnormal for someone to run around with a sword. Dragons were still mildly plausible and Wizards and Witches were believed to walk the earth. So while it was at the time debateable whether or not there were witches etc... it wasn't 'fantasy'... it was dodgy news with a dramatic twist.

    Furthermore. The assemblage of "Fantasy" as we know it today has pretty much one primary source and one derivative source: Tolkien -> DnD. The Fantasy world which DnD popularized was largely the creation and invention of JRR Tolkien. Before Tolkien the canonization of what a goblin/troll/elf was and how they interacted wasn't nearly so clearly identifiable as we would today describe a fantasy game.

    Really "Fantasy" as we recognize it today is all just Fan Fic for JRR Tolkien written less than a century after the original and has very little mythological root in actual western literature and lore.

    IANAEM (I Am Not An English Major).

    - Gavin

  • Re:Sci-Fi "Too Hard" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DrMrLordX (559371) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:50AM (#27500295)

    Your analysis of MMOs present and past seems a tad flawed.

    Dark Age of Camelot never had the same total share of MMO users that UO or Everquest had during their respective primes. It's not like a bunch of people gravitated away from that game to EQ and WoW since their subscriber base was never all that large.

    Your typical MMO migration went a bit like this:

    UO -> EQ -> WoW

    There were plenty of other games that distracted people from this basic progression (such as DAoC) but subscriber numbers will show that they were not long-term destinations for many. Lineage and Lineage 2 sort of throw a monkey-wrench into that progression but they are their own peculiar beasts.

    Also, claiming that DAoC was too "hardcore" for some people is a bit silly. That game was a cakewalk compared to pre-Kunark EQ (or even post-Kunark and post-Velious EQ). Everquest was possibly the "hardest" mainstream MMO ever given how tedious it could be, how inflexible group dynamics could be, and how much time it took to accomplish anything in that silly game. It took them far too long to realize that punishing players with downtime, absurdly slow leveling, and ridiculous travel times did not necessarily bring the fun.

    DAoC offered some boredome but overall it was a simpler game that had a lot more to offer to players that wanted to get away from that style of tedium. Too bad it had shortcomings in other departments. Nevertheless, DAoC had many features that were a direct response to people's complaints about old-school EQ (horses for quicker land travel, faster leveling, the ability to solo, more group flexibility, better PvP, etc). I'm sure it has become more complex since release, but I played it in beta and after release and boy howdy, playing any caster class in that game was so simplistic compared to the mess that old-school EQ casters were. My EQ Enchanter was like a Swiss army knife with dozens of different spells and spell-lines, some of which were bizarre or useless (Minor Illusion? Bind Sight? And do you think any MMO will ever get away with something as crazy as the original Gravity Flux? The damage that spell used to do to players . . . oy). My DAoC Enchanter had maybe six spell lines and that was it. Summon pet, buff pet, heal pet, single-target blast stuff (actually had two spell lines that did that), stun stuff, and I forget what else. I was Light spec so it was pretty limited in scope.

    If anything, UO and EQ were much more "difficult/hardcore" than DAoC. DAoC and WoW are two titles that really stick out when it comes to being intellectual successors to EQ in that both built on the gameplay style of EQ and both went well out of their way to make the gameplay experience smoother and more rewarding. WoW just took it to a new level with a better interface, and look where that got them. The legacy of UO has been largely abandoned by developers, for good reason.

  • by PowerVegetable (725053) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @03:04AM (#27500347) Homepage
    This isn't just about MMORPGs; written literature has a similar issue.

    As some have pointed out above, it's far easier to invent a story-framework when you don't have to deal with plausibility.

    In our technologically sophisticated world, and especially among gamers, we have a territorial claim on technology and scientific plausibility. We're much more critical of sci-fi, because we feel comfortable judging sci-fi settings. In contrast, fantasy is allowed and expected to exhibit arbitrary rules like magic, and to develop romantic stories involving heroes.

    If, in a fantasy setting, I'm jumped by rabid fairies from the Underworld, I can buy it. If they cast eternal drowsiness on me and limit my mobility for 10 seconds... OK that's fine. If, in retaliation, I cast a spell to call down meteoric fire from the sky, that's totally believable (not to mention awesome). Fantasy doesn't invite us to call bullshit.

    But if, in a sci-fi setting, I'm attacked by robots, well OK that's plausible. Maybe they're programmed to attack outsiders, I can buy that. They hit me with their laser guns... OK, I can buy that that's possible in the future with advances in battery technology. And I guess I didn't get cut in half because I was wearing special nano-armor that, ummm, absorbs laser light. But in retaliation I cast my hacker-spell and... wait... I smell bullshit.

    It's easier as an author to just cut yourself loose from present-day reality. It's far more challenging to write in a future-of-now setting, and deal with the annoyances of the real world's rules and history.
  • Re:I love Eve Online (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hidannik (1085061) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @03:27AM (#27500409) Homepage

    For me, it's not about the interface or complexity.

    My problem with it is that I'm a tourist, and like every other MMO it caters to perfectionists. It's not well designed for completionists or tourists.

    The NPC missions are few and far between, and most are not very interesting.

    Oh sure, I've heard all about the player created PVP drama in the game, but that's all endgame content. And it takes months if not years of mining or 'rat-hunting for hours every day to earn the skills needed to enter 0.0 space without getting pod-killed every five minutes.

    And getting pod-killed can set you back days (implants), weeks or months (underinsured with inadequate quality clone), or back to where you were when you first got your account.

    So while the tourist content might be there, it's behind a giant wall of perfectionist grind. No thanks.

    If the combat were actually fun, it might make up for the grind, but it really isn't. Lock on and auto-attack until the enemy blows up. Yawn. Even Starfleet Command's combat was better. What I want in a space MMO's combat is something like LucasArts' X-Wing, or Freelancer.

    A Freelancer MMO... now that I'd play.


  • Another view (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mathness (145187) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @03:46AM (#27500499) Homepage

    One of the good things about SciFi MMOs is that they come with no baggage, it is quite possible to create a whole setting that is original. As you game and read the missions you get a feel for the world and it settings. Fantasy often comes with a lot of baggage, mostly it must have magic, elves, dwarves etc. So it isn't always open to do new things.

    I think one of the reasons SciFi MMOs suffer (besides its general lesser appeal to non-SciFi people) is that range combat is always rather poor. Despite all the progress, it still takes a large amount of bullet/lasers/... to kill anything and the range is very limited. Obviously it is so for game reasons, but one can't help but feel a sense of disappointment.

    Tabula Rasa is (was) one of the games that got SciFi right, the long range class worked great at longe range (sniper) and they came up with some new weapons that both worked and made sense (polarity gun and injector). And there were a lot of background story and a plot to boot, it was more than just a mission/kill fest.

    Then there are games like Ryzom (mostly fantasy, with some SciFi), which have completely new races and world/creatures which are able to break the fantasy mold of elves etc.

  • Re:I love Eve Online (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @03:51AM (#27500511)
    My beef with EVE is the leveling system.

    There is no way for anyone starting EVE today to ever catch up to those who started a year ago, and those that started a year ago will never catch up to those who started two years ago, .. and so on.

    I played eve for nearly 6 months. When a big content patch came out that was essentialy ships I wouldn't be able to fly for at least another 6 months, yet I had to compete directly against one (freighters), I decided the system sucked more than I had already suspected.

    I was a very successfull high security hauler and trader who had his market taken away by superships he could afford to buy, but could not fly... I had to train another 10 or so skills (one of which taking almost two months to train all by itself)

    Basically, I had to pay them $15 x 6months = $90 in order to continue my trading career, and thats assuming that a new update wasn't going to again push the bar even further away from me.

    EVE, mostly a great game, but the leveling/training system needs to go.
  • Re:I love Eve Online (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @06:28AM (#27501191)

    Erh... no. Sorry, but no.

    First, going into 0.0 space alone is a good way to get podded. Whether you have a million or fifty million SP under your belt, you won't stand a chance. 0.0 is basically what constitutes as raid content in other MMOs. The twist is that you, as a low player, may actually participate. Sure, you won't fly that huge titan with its devastating, POS-killing firepower, but you can still be useful (and I don't mean just as a decoy and meatshield).

    What you complain about is essentially that you can't play for 2 weeks and level the raid dungeon single handedly.

  • Re:I love Eve Online (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hidannik (1085061) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:23PM (#27506871) Homepage

    I was in EVE for 17 months, playing between one and 10 hours a week (3 was typical), between fall '05 and winter '07.

    I was in a corps, and the most exciting group activity we ever did was... mining in .4 space.

    Perhaps this was a mistake, but I concentrated on leverage skills first (learning), then ship-handling and combat. I hunted rats rather than mining.

    I never got powerful enough to spend time in .4 space, let alone 0.0, and it took forever to make enough ISK to buy a new skill (at 4.5M ISK per skill).

    Eventually I realized that I was never going to get anywhere playing three hours a week, and cancelled. I don't like grinding; I get much more fun/second out of single player games, even grindy JRPGs, and session-based multiplayer games like Freelancer or Halo 3 or Unreal Tournament 1 than any MMO.

    That's not to rag on MMOs; my player style is simply unsuited to them. I'm a tourist with a little completionist, and almost no perfectionist tendencies.


  • Re:I love Eve Online (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @07:15PM (#27511425)


    And, you get the joy of putting up with the nerd's nerds - who actually enjoy the process and seem to have an inexhaustable supply of free time - going on and on about how fantastic the game, how deep and engaging the lore and PVP is and how there's no place for sliced bread in their lives any more.

    I wanted to like EVE, but being a fairly casual player unwilling to put in the same hours, it just pushed me away too much. From what I've seen, to get anything decent out of EVE you've got to play it as a part-time alternate life. Treating it as a *game* just doesn't seem to work.

    That said, I wish EVE a long and successful life and hope they don't fall into the trap of screwing with gameplay to make it more accessible.

  • by TeamGracie (891099) on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @10:39PM (#27513113)
    I disagree with your comment about science fiction games forcing you to think. I contend that both science fiction and fantasy games alike can be enjoyed without setting aside a score of mental faculties. In other words, both genres can be enjoyed while cooking dinner, watching TV, and facebooking all at the same time. While the scifi gaming genre may deal with rocket science, any 6th grader can excel at the helm of one of these mindless games.

Money will say more in one moment than the most eloquent lover can in years.