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A blog by Simon Brady to cover a surprisingly wide range of geekiness, in a combination that no-one else does quite the same way. Probably. Either that, or it'll just be Simon talking about the likes of Football (usually the Soccer variety), PC & Tabletop Gaming, WWE, Movies, Music and occasionally even my actual job of Graphic Design, depending on what I'm up to in the world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to frame a 40k MMO

My first post on this topic appears to have got a few people interested, which is really nice as it proves it's not just me who thinks it'd be a good idea! Like any computer game, ask four people and you get five different opinions. Now all I need is a fully formed idea, a top class Dev team, more IP lawyers than you can shake a stick at and about seventy million dollars.

Um, yeah, good luck with that, Si!

But, as an intellectual exercise, if nothing else, I want to see how far I can go with an imaginary pitch, product spec or overview of a 40k MMO. Let's call it a personal, theoretical project.

Thankfully I don't need a name, minimum spec, budget or anything else important to think about, just the crux of an idea. As I'm aware that the game and app dev community hate the people who think that their idea alone is worth anything, while the creation is obviously the easy bit. Ideas for games and apps are everywhere and this is no different,

There are three main ways that I think a 40k MMO could probably go, which are:

1. More Dakka
First is what I'd call Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine, Part Deux. Which is a bit of a mouthful, if nothing else. Taking the visceral combat and all-out badass feeling of Space Marine on the Xbox and PS3, you simply upgrade the setting to a Planetside 2-like environment and have loyalist and traitor Marines blowing seven bells out of each other, levelling up, using weapons, running errands and that sort of thing. It's very fitting for the scenario, and you can even have MOBA base storming/capture elements allowing you to mow down legions of regular Imperial and Traitor Guardsmen as either side games or as the main focus of the piece.

This would also be easy to include other races outside of Imperial/Chaos, as long as you use their MEQ (Marine EQuivalent) troops. Necrons, Aspect Warriors, Nobz, etc. It'd be more of a PvP focussed game, but the likes of DOTA2, Awesomenauts and Planetside 2 point to the fact that these sorts of things are very popular. This, however, is the easy option.

2. Rogue Trader
In most (if not all) MMOs you're placed as an individual. You're a hero, perhaps even a chosen one, and your contributions are supposed to matter, as part of a single player quest experience. World of Warcraft continually refers to you as the only way to save the Alliance/Horde, for instance. The way to get this across in a 40k scenario would be more difficult, as it's a squad- and army-based game at its heart. This means you have to find individuals in the 40k universe who have the ability to wander around on their own, which gives leads you to Imperial characters like Inquisitors, Rogue Traders, Assassins, maybe even Techpriests or Adeptus Arbites characters and their heretical counterparts, such as they are.

This is more your traditional sort of MMO, as you the player is licensed to go anywhere on the Emperor's (or Dark Gods') authority, smiting where you need to smite and running errands for those who need them (fetch me 10 Ork teef and I'll give you a super frag grenade, or something). Unfortunately, you wouldn't get to be a Space Marine in this - they just don't go off on their own on missions. Either it's fluff-breaking ahoy to get them in, or various versions of Power Armour become completely ubiquitous for all and sundry to purchase. This is medium difficulty, made more difficult by the fact everyone who wants to play as a Marine can't. It'd be like Star Wars without Jedi - no hook to the average gamer.

3. Sandbox Galaxy
Here's where the difficulty level raises to Godlike in terms of development. Of course, it's my favoured option, but that's just because I'm difficult. Drawing on The Secret World, City of HeroesWorld of Warcraft, Star Trek Online and Warhammer Online, combine all three of them with a few extra initiatives and boil it all together. Picture this:

Start with a human (male or female) character  - there is no 'class', at this point - that you customise as a 'normal' inhabitant of the 40k universe. Then give them a selection of traits such as Tough, Psychic Latency, Stealth, Rage, First Aid, etc. This allows you to tune your character at the very beginning towards the eventual paths of Space Marine, Psyker, heavy weapon specialist, assassin, or whatever.

Then pick a planet as your starting zone, either from a list of the famous canon planets or some newly made-up ones. They would feel different, such as a Necromunda-type Hive world, a roaming grassy agri-world, evil death world or whatever. The more the merrier (but of course the more effort). This could be combined into one single world consisting of all the different types of area, but as with everything in this game, customisation is key.

You find your contacts and get missions in the normal manner, as we've become accustomed to, from the various different Imperial (and rogue) factions on the world. The Imperial Guard contact may want you to move ammunition supplies around, or the Arbites send you after some warring gangs, or whatever. At this point you're just an average human, going about their business.

Your character would also have a Loyal/Traitor slider, based on the way you complete certain key missions. Do you purge the local tavern of the heretical scum, or allow them to escape and claim you did it anyway? Go and clean the statue of the Emperor or cover it in a substance to make it rust?

At this stage you also begin to develop your talent points, placing them in a wheel system like The Secret World. Want to be a Psyker? Great, then put points in that 'tree' (or section of the circle). This would be structured so that you couldn't be a Lascannon-wielding, Psychic Apothecary with stealth camo and a tendency to headbutt people. You could have small psychic abilities mixed in with some first aid skills and some slightly fancy weapon usage, for instance, but in this game if you wanted to be badass, you'd have to specialise.

'But where do the Space Marines come in?' I hear you cry. Well, after the initial starting zone, which I'd imagine to be about levels 1 to 15 or 20 in Warcraft terms, or 1-30 for STO, you then get to pick your career. If you're an Imperial (i.e. mostly-Loyalist on the slider) do you try and be selected by the Astartes (or Sisters of Battle if you've chosen a female character), the Imperial Guard, or the Adeptus (consisting of Inquisition, Mechanicus, Arbites, Ministorum, Assassinorum, etc).

I envisage the Space Marine path starting at Neophyte/Scout and taking a *long* time to become even a Battle Brother, never mind wearing Terminator Armour like it's going out of fashion. For a Guardsmen you start as a grunt and work your way through the ranks to Colonel, General, etc. Within those careers, put your talent points wherever you like in Heavy, Assault, Command, Psychic, etc so you can still develop the usual classes of DPS, Support, Control, Heal, etc. The number of maps, zones, locations and quests for this needs to be enormous, of course, but that's the complexity of 40k for you.

And that's before we get to balance issues!

Option 1 sounds like a good blast, more of the same from what we enjoy already. Option 2 is WoW in a 40k suit, while Option 3, to me, sounds awesome. What do you think? How would you change it? Let me know in the comments section.


  1. Good ideas.

    I think that anything short of Option 3 would be selling the universe short.

    Plus ever since I heard of a 40k MMO I've only ever wanted to play a bounty hunter running around Hive Primus, and I think that would only be possible with Option 3.

    I think Option 1 could work, but it doesn't interest me.

    Option 2 however feels like it's an internal contradiction, being based on the WoW class system is one thing, and yes very often in WoW you are the saviour of Azeroth, however you are always a regular Joe who's job involves being a class. To the NPCs my toon is Loxley the Rogue, no one special. Whereas Loxley the Inquisitor would be someone special, as there are so few of them.

    I think the difference I am trying to promote, in WoW the reason it works is that it's not what you are that makes you special, no birthright or special power. It's your actions that put you apart from the rank and file grunts.

    If this was to be a 40k WoW clone, you'd have to play a choice of rank and file characters, but it's your actions and exploits that make you special.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Doc. "It's your actions that put you apart from the rank and file grunts" I agree with that wholeheartedly, particularly when you look at the total and utter meatgrinder that the 40k Universe is set up to be. For every ten thousand Guardsmen, there'll be one badass Colonel Loxley, and he's only that way because of his life's actions, will, etc. coming up through the ranks, and you're playing that guy.

      Ditto for every other faction/class/subclass in the universe.

  2. Not gonna lie, I've thought (and written numerous word documents) about a 40k mmo for quite some time now, more time than I would like to admit.

    Unfortunately I'm unsure about your approach to the part about becoming a space marine (thought the battle sister part should work fine). Marine recruits are selected at a young age, before or during adolescence I believe. Being level 15 or 20 even might mean you are a little older and stronger than a 13 to 19 year old is, even if they are born on hostile/death worlds.

    What I was thinking was that you start off with 5 race choices; human, marine, elder, tau, and orks (and maybe another selection for kroot, vespid, ratlings, ogryns, etc). Additionally the humans, marines, and elder would have the option of starting as good or evil.

    Humans, elder, and tau have the option of male or female, while marines are all male, and orks are all orks.

    When you start you would also choose your starting area. So someone who wants to be part of the Ultramarines would have to pick the Ultramar System as that is where that chapter recruits from. To join the Catachan Imperial Guard you had to be born on Catachan. Alaitoc Elder are obviously from the Alaitoc craft world.

    I'm thinking the only differences it would make to your character would be in appearance (different coloured armour) with maybe an interesting ability (Blood Angels regenerate faster, Orks from the Snake Bite clan can poison weapons/are resistant to poison).

    Your character would progress from lowly conscript or shas'la to a hardened veteran or shas'vre over the space of 30 levels or whatever.

    In your time questing you would gain levels and get skill points. There would be 4 main 'trees' for skills with each tree having a branch for offensive, defensive, or support. The trees are Melee, Ranged, Psychic, and Tech. So if we pick Melee as the tree and Offensive as the branch all the skills we would spend would go into making our hits harder or faster or giving us new abilities, whereas if we pick the Tech tree with the Support branch (heh tech support) then our skills would allow us to do things like throw photon grenades or use a Narthecium to heal.

    Weapons and Armour I'm thinking are able to either be purchased or looted but you can't use one that isn't available to your faction. So if a chaos marine looted a tau pulse carbine then they couldn't use it so they would give it to their Quartermaster (WoW item vendor equivilent) and they would destroy/resell/recycle it and you would get currency for it.

    Alternatively the player could set a price and the Quartermaster would say they are destroying it and giving the player money for it but really they are putting it on a black market auction house sort of thing.

    Weapons and armour your character is able to use will depend on the type of class tree you selected (melee, ranged, psychic, and tech).

    Lastly we have Faction and Defection quests. Pretty sure I stole the concept from somewhere else but whatever. The idea was to be able to switch factions with a quest line so if you're part of a space marine chapter and you have chosen the Tech tree but it isn't doing enough for you story-wise then you can choose to permanently join the Adeptus Mechanicus and do quests for them and be of a different faction to the chapter you originated from. The option to switch back might be included as well but would also require another quest line.

    Other factions that you could join would be the Sisters of Battle, Inquisition, Mechanicus, Dark Mechanicus, Genestealer Cults, Mercenaries, Traitor Guard, Deathwatch, and Assassin Temples.

    Switching factions may also change what weapons and armour you can use. If an Imperial Guardsman had decided they wanted to be picked to join an inquisitorial warband then they would have access to gear like special grenades, higher powered guns, better armour, etc

    That's the shortened version of my thoughts about a 40k mmo. I'd love to hear about what you think of my ideas

    1. There are some interesting ideas in there, though I think there's one crucial problem you've highlighted that I know I'm struggling with the concept of: too many subfactions. Imagine this path to being a Space Marine:

      Order (or Chaos) > Imperium (or Tau or Eldar) > Adeptus Astartes (or IG or Mechanicum or Assassinorum or Arbites) > Chapter (Limitless) > Class (Tactical, Assault, Devastator, Librarian, Apothecary, Techmarine, Scout, etc...)

      It's just way too much. Starting zones, quest lines and abilities for every chapter, then for every other race and faction? Just not feasible, especially when you compare it to current MMOs.

      A minor fluff tweak (which happens all the time for these sorts of games) that you can start the Astartes process slightly later than adolescence is all that's needed to sort that part out. Either sign up for the IG, or because you've taken the Space Marine proving quests you can be inducted into one of their organisations instead.

      The problem then comes is that do you have 20 different bases for 20 different chapters, with 20 different locations and splitting the user base 20 different ways? That's just not feasible to keep any sort of community together.

      I've been wrestling with the idea and think the best way is probably a controversial one: everyone starts out (strange concept to switch chapters, I know) as a Blood Raven (it is Relic's IP, after all) and the distinct GW canon chapters are unlockable, with the power armour sets themselves providing the chapter bonus (SW ferocity, BA blood regen, IF heavy weapon specialisation, or whatever). It is an MMO after all, and for every dyed in the wool roleplayer there'll be seven people who just wants the best armour set to PvP with. A custom recolouring or WoW-style Transmogging system would also solve that dilemma. The other option is an overriding Hall of The Astartes, or something, where it doesn't matter what chapter you select, and you just have general trainers and quest-givers who could be of any chapter.

      'Choose your chapter' is pretty much the first thing everyone wants from a 40k game (and indeed one of the first things you mention, it's the go-to decision), but I don't think it's feasible in an MMO unless it's a purely Marine-based MMO, which again rules out so many other amazing 40k options.

      I was asked on Twitter "Si, what do you want to see/do/experience in a 40k MMO?", so my next post will be based around that. Thanks for the comment!

    2. Hi, same guy that posted, still anonymous though.

      Now that I read it I can see what you mean about too many subfactions.

      A possible solution to that might be to have the same starting area for all Marines (I don't mean chaos as well) and then as part of finishing the first quest they level up and are able to pick a chapter. But in order to keep them in the same area the marines of different chapters are all phased differently maybe, like what is done in WoW with a lot of the Lich King expansion.
      So they are still in the same area and are able to chat via a General Chat channel but they can't see each other unless they group together or something.

      Alternatively you could just have all the players look like they are the same chapter on each players screens. So if Jim was an Ultramarine then every marine in that area would have the same colours as an ultramarine on his screen, but if his friend Fred was playing Blood Angels then everyone (even Jim) would look like a Blood Angel on his screen. It would keep everyone in the same area and visable but I don't think it would work well for RP.

      I do like your idea of the Hall of Astartes. Have a bunch of RP areas like the feast hall, chapel, library, training area, armoury, etc as well as a sort of Assignment area or Mission Signup place.