I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.
MMOs based on a literary IPs: Turbine have done it with the generally well received Lord of the Rings (Chicken Play edition ™) and Funcom are in the beta test of their game that is based on and inspired by the chronicles of a certain Conan T. Barbarian esq. by Robert E. Howard. (Nitpickers amongst you may be feeling the need to point out that he was never referred to by Howard as Conan The Barbarian. I know!) Personally, I’m looking forward to Age of Conan a lot although I’m not entirely sure when I’m actually going to have a machine capable of rendering the lands of Hyboria in all their sumptuous glory. What I’m surprised about is that there hasn’t yet been an announcement of an MMO based on the Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
Okay, there’s a browser based MMO called Cthulhu Nation and there’s another one in development called Cthulhu Fhtagn! (sic) but I’m thinking of something with a little more production value to it (although Cthulhu Nation, a turn based and grid based game is a good way of passing 10 minutes or so) and perhaps more in the way of, say, graphics and being more like a virtual world. (I should add that Funcom’s recently announced project “The Secret World” sounds very inspired by Lovecraft although doesn’t explicitly state it’s based on his works.)
I will confess, at this point, that I’ve never played the Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG game and so I can’t say whether the mechanics of that game could translate well into a digital medium. Perhaps it would be better if a Lovecraft MMO didn’t try to use the same mechanics to avoid any alienation of new players and to stop the existing fans from whining about “how they’ve missed the point of the CoC ruleset” (because you know they will). The nearest I’ve come was when a friend introduced me to the board game “Arkham Horror” which was nothing short of fantastic.
From a developers point of view, a game based on Lovecraft’s fiction could be a joy to work with. The setting is so unremittingly bleak in terms of what happens to the characters that random nerfs to player abilities and skills, not to mention lack of availability of any useful items are all part of the horrific setting and don’t have to be justified to the voracious horde that makes up your average MMO playerbase beyond a simple “The power of the Old Ones is growing stronger and you are growing weaker. Live with it!” Designing rock hard quests and “dungeons” as well as introducing boss creatures that are virtually impossible to defeat will be part and parcel of the game.
There’s probably even scope for perma-death. Or perma-insanity. Or something.
For players, the challenge will no doubt be to survive. Lovecraft’s world is a world devoid of heroes as such but is filled with people who have encountered That Which Should Not Be Encountered and lived to tell the tale (which no-one believes). They’re horror stories after all. It’s not going to be an item hunt either – rather than players finding the Sword of Elder God Slayage and Ultimate Pwning, they will be thankful for finding Old, Rusty Handgun and 3 Damp Bullets. The solution to defeating monsters and so on would probably be gained from research and exploration (which, in turn, will probably unleash more foul denizens of the Dreamlands) rather than straight forward combat. There will probably be a lot of running away.
Having said that, there is scope for quite a lot of PvP between, say, The Cultists who serve Nyarlathotep and carry out his affairs in our world and those players who want to stop them. This already gives scope for global PvP goals such as performing/preventing the summoning of some extra terrestrial horror. PvP with purpose.
However, even from these simple, Friday afternoon musings scribbled hastily in anticipation of a nice cold beer, it occurs to me that players would be highly frustrated by the unrelenting and harsh mechanics of the world and would leave to play something more engaging and easier. But that’s okay too. If the game were to go the way of Auto Assault and AC2, the developers could write it into an event where the cultists manage to awaken Azathoth, Lord of All Things, who would proceed to devour the world and everyone in it. The ultimate Game Over.
Have a good weekend!