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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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Do You Want in a 40k MMO?

Bonus points for the Judge Dredd frown.
What does the average 40k gamer want from a 40k MMO? I can't tell you, because there's no such thing as an average 40k gamer. There's probably a long and boring maths-based discussion of the mean, median and mode within the range of 40k gamers out there, but the simple fact is everyone wants something different.

One wants playable Space Wolves (or any other canon chapter), another wants Tau. People will decry why Orks are or aren't playable, while wondering quite what they have to do to get (or get rid of) Dark Eldar characters. Someone will want to play deepest, darkest depths of elite troops from the Officio Whatevernorinum, while the Adeptus Whatsits have to be represented in all shapes, colours, hues and flavours.

Fully customisible, of course. But how do we go about it?

This is the problem, a nigh unconquerable mountain of fan expectation around every single race and faction that can possibly exist in the 40k Universe. So, to start with for what I want from a 40k MMO, I propose Humans only. Yes yes, I know, (D)Eldar/Orks/Tau/Tyranids/Necrons/Squats won't be represented by playable characters, but expectations (and indeed desires) have to be made realistic. Let's face it, they're pretty high already to begin with and we only had a series of (now invalid) THQ announcements to go on and the internet exploded at least three times.

Setting is, at the moment, unimportant. Whether a single planet, a system or the entirety of the known galaxy, we can get to that later. What we need to know is that, as your starting character-creation Human, is that you choose between one of the two sides in this galactic conflict: Order and Chaos.

As much as I'd like an Alignment slider of Fable or City of Heroes proportions, it's just way too complicated (and for Evil-to-Good, fluff breaking) to add in a 'turning to Chaos/redemption of the Emperor' mechanic. Lord knows that roleplayers would do that to death anyway.

So, you choose Order and Chaos, and then select the innate traits of your character in a Star Trek Online style. These are the basic building blocks of the later awesomeness so it would be stressed at this point that this is the direction that your character is going to go. Obviously in other MMOs you're picking a class and/or powers at this point, so it's more clear what you're choosing, but here are the sorts of options I see being available, and why: Leader (for Tactical types), Tough (Tanks), Vicious (Assault), Latent Psychic (Psykers), Healer (Apoths), Mechanic (erm, Mechanics), Silent (Stealthy) and so forth. Not every single one would be selectable, and there would be others to grant boosts to things like movement, damage, resistances, money-making, or whatever.

Then you can customise your character. It'd be lovely to do a billion different things in the manner of Crytic's customisation, in keeping with the IP's trait of customisation, but as long as it's better than World of Warcraft's seven different faces and ridiculous hair and colour combinations, then I'm happy. The idea is, of course, that everybody should not look the same.

Once the good/evil, traits and look are out of the way comes another hurdle - how many starting zones, and do you get to select them? If we're on a single planet, then you can have a choice between a Hive, Agricultural fields, mountainous or snowy regions, or perhaps a desert environment. Sci Fi is very good at creating simple, one-climate worlds of entirely ice, lava, forest or whatever, but very bad at putting all those into a single planet. In that case you'd need a selection of planets in a starter system zone, or a selection of planets and systems in a larger galactic map. Either way, you need more than just a couple of places to begin your journey into the 40k Universe.

So now what? Missions, of course. As a fresh-faced human making their way in the world, you're given the usual set of fetch/deliver, kill, investigate, talk to and learn about quests that you get in MMOs. Kill Hive Rats, explore the fields, collect technological bits to sell/exchange... that sort of thing.

Along the way you'll meet representatives from the Imperial Guard, Arbites, Mechanicum, etc, including the Space Marines. Now, at this point in the game, Space Marines would be considered as gods among men, so you're not even going to be getting your quests from a Battle Brother, never mind a Chaplain, Librarian or Captain. You'd likely have a Servitor or other slave/minion as an intermediary, one which perhaps even mentioned at this point. "You're doing work for the Blood Angels!" is not what we need here, more like "Your work has made you worthy enough to try and join the ranks of the Blood Angels" is a better line.

This is because, at a particular level, you get to join a faction. Do you enter the Imperial Guard as a grunt, join the Mechanicum as a novice Tech Priest, join the Inquisition/Assassins/Arbites/etc as a random worker or, crucially, do you try out for a Space Marine chapter? In the Chaos side, would you be joining a mutant/beastman army, attempting to be inducted into a Chaos Space Marine warband, or some other option to serve the Dark Gods?

For every option except a Space Marine, you're immediately signed up and begin your specialisation. Imperial Guard can, of course, be Soldiers and Kasarkin, or Psykers, Commissars, Colonels, Medics, Heavy Weapons specialists, etc. The various Adepts of the Imperium, too, can fit every specialised troop within their ranks. Grab (or rather earn) your standard-issue lasgun and flak armour and you're away.

For the Marines, you have a long quest chain ahead of you, my friend. Even then, at the end of it, you only get to be a 'fully-fledged' Scout. Just like becoming a Jedi in the 'New Game Environment' of Star Wars Galaxies, you don't just select 'Jedi' and start wielding a lightsaber. I envision a fairly long process to becoming a Space Marine - even an initiate - which roughly scales with the development of other characters. Also think of it in terms of the Death Knight in WoW. Yes, they're incredibly tough to start with as a Hero-class, but they're still in line with every other class. In 40k MMO terms, by the time (or rather, by the level requirement) you've become a Space Marine, your Imperial Guard equivalent is a Commissar, Colonel, or at the very least some form of Officer with access to force fields, special weapons and some cool abilities to match the walking tank that a Space Marine Battle Brother justifiably is in a one-on-one situation.

The next crucial question to answer is 'Which Chapter?'. There are a few options. 1) Everyone is a Blood Raven. They're the basis of the hugely successful Dawn of War, of course, so there is computer game love for them there, and no-one can really complain. 2) Everyone is an Ultramarine. Despite the hatred for 'vanilla' as not being niche enough in this most niche of hobbies, there wasn't that much complaining about Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine when you realised exactly how much of a badass you were playing with, or were able to customise everything in multiplayer. 3) Choose your Chapter from the more famous canon ones available. This is most tricky in terms of factions and locations, but best in terms of people playing the chapters they love. I see custom chapters as either a colour customisation later on down the line, an unlock (either earned or microtransaction paid for) or, finally, just available for everyone. Marine Chapters in of themselves are a total minefield, so plenty of room for debate and good ideas here.

But who are these Order and Chaos fighting? As well as the obvious answer of 'each other', you need general, overriding threats to the universe, which 40k has no lack of abundance of. You need a faction that fights for neither side and has the goal of wiping everyone else out. To this end, Orks are out as even the biggest WAAAGH never threatens more than a single system. This leaves Tyranids and Necrons, both of which are implacable foes bent on destruction of everything. Neither of them are particularly user-friendly in terms of playable design ideas, so they'd make perfect bad guys.

Tyranids to begin with, then Necrons in a later expansion? One that includes playable Eldar and Dark Eldar, or Tau and Orks, perhaps? That's the way to do it, with built-in money-generating expansions down the line: "You want to play Eldar? Buy this game and you will eventually!".

So there you have it. My broad strokes of what would go on in a 40k MMO that I'd like to play. What do you want from your 40k MMO, and is it achievable, or something only you'd want to play?


  1. Hi again, I posted on your other 40k blog thread thingy.

    Humans and space marines definately take up over half of the armies in the 40k game so it makes sense to start with those if the rest are being saved for expansions or DLC or whatever.

    Having marines as a sort of Hero Class could definately work. I think they are something that needs to be earnt instead of given straight up but if they weren't available from the start then imagine the rage from gamers who only play because they want to be a marine.

    The marines have to be more powerful than most other races, if not then it wouldn't do them justice.

    An alternative that I thought of would be to have 1 marine count as 2 of any other race when it comes to PvP and raiding and such. Maybe not have the marine twice as powerful as a normal person (maybe 1.5) so that a really skilled human could still take them down.

    So if I was a Marine in a 40k version of a PvP battleground then I would count as 2 participants instead of 1, and what would normally be a 10 man raid would be only 5 marines as they are that powerful.

    I agree that there are a few races which wouldn't really be playable sadly because the people (maybe not right word) don't really advance in power or rank.

    Even with some necrons gaining a personality in the latest codex I don't think it is enough to be able to expand on when a basic warrior has no thought other than to serve their master.

    Tyranid also couldn't really be a playable race. They have one mind which is the hive mind and they do what it says. I can't see the hive mind sending out a lone termagaunt out to capture a catachan barking toad for research (though to be fair, if you have read about them then you wouldn't want to find one).

    Daemons are the last race that at the moment isn't really viable. As they are mostly beings of pure warp energy and emotion they don't really strike me as the type to run messages between their daemon lords. This however could change in the next few days with the release of the new Chaos Daemons codex and the potential for fluff changes so who knows.

    Honestly, I really want to play an Imperial Guard Demolitions scout sort of thing. Sneaking in, planting bombs, sneaking out, and watching and laughing as things explode and panic is caused. Pretty much Guardsman Marbo from the current codex. That's what I want.

  2. You should really think about registering/logging in with a Google account, it'd save all the introductions!

    To cover the 'Starting as a marine' point first, being a Battle Brother (or even a Scout) isn't the beginning of a Marine's story, there's a whole host of what comes before. Anyone who has the mindset "If I can't play a marine from the start, I'm not playing at all!" probably isn't the MMO type of player anyway, and certainly not an RPG player. Plus all you have to do is advertise it first - you're telling the story of from zero to hero, 'Join the Marines! Earn your Battle Brother status!', etc.

    Classes generally have to be balanced - the Death Knight in WoW may be a 'Hero' Class, but they're still fairly well balanced with the rest of the classes you can play. Being almost twice as powerful as the other players means that the average person will pick nothing but the Marine character, and everyone in the world will get to moan about Easy Mode or Noobs or whatever the flavour of the month insult is. Imagine if that was Death Knights now in WoW, everyone would either hate the class with a passion or be forced to play it to compete 1-on-1.

    Simply put, I don't think there's a way to balance one class being particularly more powerful than the others. And as for comparing with other races/classes, pretty much every race has it's MEQ (Marine Equivalent, of course) and, even if you are an IG player, by the time you're at the same level as the players who are donning power armour for the first time, you're an Imperial Guard Hero with access to force fields, exravagant special weapons and other Control/Buff abilities while the marine is just a walking DPS/Tank/Both.

    Consider that a 40k stat line of WS4 BS4 S4 T4 is almost the average - plenty of Veteran Sergeant, Colonel/etc type models have Marine-comparable stat lines so should, theoretically, be able to go one on one with the Emperor's finest.

    For your Guardsman Marbo (WS5 BS5 S3 T3, so a better shooter and damage dealer but less tough compared to a Marine) equivalent, you'd take the Imperial Guard path, have Stealth and Grenades(?) among your traits and gear towards, in WoW terms, being an Engineerish Traps Rogue player. You'd expect Marbo to be able to handle a Marine one-one-one, right? So why not in a 40k MMO when they're at the same in-game level?

    1. Ah there we go, google account it is.

      You make a good point concerning balancing marines with everything else and I agree that players who wont play simply because they can't start as a marine aren't really the people I want to play with.

      I suppose an IG colonel would be about on parr with a power armoured marine but how many colonels do we want running around? When everyone gets to max level there could be dozens or hundreds of colonels jumping around the in meeting area or whereever. Or Elder Autarchs. Should the players really be able to advance their characters that much?

      Personally I think they should stop just before they get into the real higher-up ranks. I think ranks like colonel, autarch, warboss, lord, master, shas'el or shas'o, and archon should be kept for NPCs. So if we were looking at each codex I think anything with 3 or more wounds should be restricted as that is pretty much commander material there.

      Even lookin at some of the older codex's they have inquisitors and leiutenants with 2 wounds which I wouldn't mind seeing groups of them running around. Librarians, orks nobs, crisis suits, commissars are all still available.

      I know I wouldn't be happy rocking up to a 5v5 pvp match where we were against 5 autarchs. Some craftworlds probably dont even have 5 autarchs. I just couldn't believe it would happen. 5 Exarchs I could believe and it was kind of mirrored in one of the old elder units called the Court of the Young King (though that had an Avatar in it which might be a little OP for an MMO).

      I think maybe around Veteran level might be the highest they should advance for now.

      Lol, yeah my main on WoW is a rogue engineer, good times.

      Anyway I'm late for work, might add more later.