Hello TAY! Sorry this is late. I meant to post this Thursday, which obviously didn't happen, and then I was out of town for most of the weekend. Anyway, we now journey into the realm of massively multiplayer with a game concept I like to call METEOR FORTRESS.
There's this planet, and on this planet you have a continent full of civilization, with cities on the coasts as well as inland. A big meteor drops from the sky right into the middle of the continent, obliterating everything and everyone except the coastal cities, and then reveals itself to be an alien invasion. The meteor is actually a drop ship with production facilities, and quickly goes about constructing itself a fortress and an army.
Oh, and did I mention it's spewing toxic pollution everywhere? It's mutating whatever native lifeforms have survived. And the alien armed forces are now moving out in large numbers towards the coastal cities.
Fortunately, on this planet, pseudoclone technology exists: put your body in storage, and drop your mind into a clone of your desired appearance and combat skills. The remaining governments are now offering huge financial incentives and free clone revivals to anyone who signs up to fight the invasion. But this pollution is toxic like nothing they've ever seen before, and at the beginning they can't really protect you from it. They've measured the concentration of the stuff at the Meteor Fortress itself, and scaled the level of exposure you can handle from 0 to 100.
That's right, this MMO has levels built into the story. What it also has built into the story is a smooth progression of enemy level, no arbitrary upscaling of low-level enemies, a legitimate reason why the toughness of enemies scales linearly across a huge landscape, a reason for a suddenly huge population of would-be heroes, and character creation.
Allow me to elaborate on that second thing, because it was the original motivation for this whole idea. Now, I love Guild Wars 2. I play it regularly and it's a ton of fun. But it does require suspension of disbelief on several matters. For instance, if you make a human character, in your starting zone you fight low-level bandits, around levels 3 through 6. All well and good. But then you move on, and you're in a higher-level zone, and now you're fighting level 22 bandits. That look the same and have the same attacks and animations. What?
Lots of MMOs do this - they scale the enemies as appropriate to the zone. And I can't even call it lazy, because making and maintaining an MMO is a metric fuckton of work. But it seems rather arbitrary, and I think there's a better way to use that metric fuckton of work to make things fit together better. So let me go into some detail on how leveling works in my trope-conscious MMO.
Instead of large, blocky (or even outright rectangular) zones, there would be one big approximately radial map, with the Meteor Fortress at the center. Surrounding it would be 100 circular ring zones, not demarcated on the map in any way. Each enemy's location would be dictated by a Gaussian probability distribution centered on the ring matching the enemy's level.
For example, a level 10 enemy would have the highest probability of being found in the level 10 ring, but there's a decent chance of finding it in the level 9 or level 11 ring. If you're really unlucky, he'll wander into the level 5 ring and knock some players around. Using this scheme, you can plop your level 2 bandits just outside the city gates, your level 15 enemy scouts further out, your level 35 basic enemy emplacement further still, et cetera, and be free to create the geography of the continent in whatever way best suits the gameplay.
Another thing I love about Guild Wars 2 is their Living World concept. Large scale events and territory control that players cooperate to achieve. One criticism I've had of it, which the upcoming expansion seems like it's going to address, is that living world changes are very short lived and low on consequences. In one of the starter zones is the wrecked Thaumanova Reactor, which players have to fight to clean up. If the event fails... not much happens. I always thought the failure state should be a poison condition that affects all players in half the map unless they buy a hazmat suit, or some such thing. And it would last for the full two hours until the event cycle resets. (In fairness other world events have some things like this; Tequatl comes to mind.)
Obviously one could take this too far, at the cost of accessibility: e.g. once the enemy legions are defeated, they don't ever respawn. But maybe there's a compromise solution. If and when players defeat the big boss in the Meteor Fortress, you then have to wait a week and then a new Meteor Fortress with new enemies drops in and the game starts all over again. (I have in mind here that defeating the fortress would be capital-H Hard, requiring weeks/months and lots of player coordination.)
I was going to start talking about combat classes, but I liked the idea for those so much they're going to get their own column.
NEXT TIME: Combat classes based on the four fundamental forces of physics.
BONUS IDEA: The Mountain of Tallness
Level of players and enemies literally scales with altitude. Olympus Mons sized mountain in the middle of the continent. Starting zones/cities on the outer edges. Invention of pseudoclone technology spurs wave of exploration of the mountain. Ambient creatures are hostile and better adapted to their environment than you are. Thinner air, cold, and generally harsher conditions mean they're tougher than the players, at least until the PCs level up.
Advantages: Built-in method for dungeons — they are caves in the mountainside. Ancient and powerful things live within.
Disadvantages: No clear endgame. Mountaintops are generally desolate places. Would have to invent something that 'rules' the mountain, which, let's be honest, would probably be a dragon.