Monday, July 14, 2008

Old MMOs That Should Be Brought Back: Shattered Galaxy Edition

A quick note about the title. When I discuss games that "should be brought back," I don't necessarily mean that they are dead at this point. Hell, even 10Six still maintains a cult following. What I mean by the title is that these games should be brought back to the attention of MMO developers of today in terms of what they stood for and what could be learned from them. Will MMO developers will ever read this blog? Well, we can only hope.

The game I'm talking about today isn't close to being dead, probably, but it's not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO gamer. Therefore, we can assume the game mechanics are probably not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO developer.

The game? An oldie released by Nexon (now called KRU) back in 2001, Shattered Galaxy. What makes SG different from most is that it's another one of those games where a different game type is spliced with an MMO setting. In this case, SG is an MMORTS. Similar to 10Six, as previously talked about, but instead of using a first person view of the game world, SG utilizes the traditional RTS view and RTS style.

When a player first starts the game they start on the newbie planet "Relic" (there is another planet a player can inhabit called Morgana Prime). A player can create their own avatar and join a faction on Relic where they fight against the other factions that occupy the planet.

You don't fight with your avatar, but rather through a squad of units you bring into the fight (numbers ranging from 6-12). Each unit has a purpose. Some units are mine layers, and so players will bring in a whole squad of mine layers to lay mines for defensive and offensive purposes. Others will bring in anti-air, or anti-ground units. The fighting system is kind of a complicated "rock-paper-scissors" in that sense, since some units can only shoot at airborn units from the ground, or planes can only shoot/bomb things on the ground, or only shoot things in the air, etc.

The nice thing about this game is that theoretically there are no official archetypes or class roles in the game. Your "role" in the fight is based on what you bring into the fight--which can be a combination of anything. So in a very small sense, there is kind of a sandbox element in the game where you can choose what you feel like fighting with for any fight and not be restricted to the same thing every single fight. You can also modify individual units with buying different kinds of armor, technologies, and weaponry, so there's even a level of customization for the units themselves.

As is stands now there are unofficial "archetypes" in the game based solely on attribute designation, which if you care to, can learn about here. Basically there are four different attributes: tactics, clout, education and mechanical amplitude. Tactics gives you more units to put into your squad, clout gives you access to higher durability for units, education gives you access to better weaponry, and mechanical amplitude allows you to put more stuff into a unit chassis. With these in mind, one can see how people might spec into certain attributes more so than others.

There is also leveling in this game. The units and the character you play as both level, but what's important is the level of your units in the fight and how strong they are. There are checks and balaces, like the "Power Rating" to give newbies a fighting chance and to stop veteran players from becoming so strong that it's game breaking.

The whole premise of the game is essentially controlling territory. As this implies, it is mostly a PVP game, though there are some small PVE elements to the game that beyond newbie levels players usually ignore. There are four factions to a planet, and theoretically all four factions could fight each other.

In order to acquire or lose territory, one faction must beat another, or others in keeping the most PoC's (points of contention) during a 15 minute round. Take a look at the screenshot below this paragraph. Note the red pizza pie looking thing to the right. That's the PoC. You have to hold that poc for a certain amount of time before it's under your faction's control. That is what each team fights for. The attackers fight for positioning in order to take those PoCs and in the end take the territory. The defenders do the same thing, but if they totally destroy the enemy, that can win the round as well.

Given that the game is based on taking and holding territory, there were lots of interesting politics to go along with it.

Factions can also create peace treaties with one another. I remember back in my time playing it, I was still on the newbie planet playing on the Argus faction. We had an alliance with the faction on the other side of the faction. The name of that faction was Dulcinea, but we usually called them the "smurfs" because of their faction color being a light blue. We were generally called "barnies" or something to that effect because our color was purple. The other faction colors were gold and green, though I forget what we called them or what their official faction names were.

Back in beta, I remember that the factions were able to elect a leader for the faction, and the leader could elect a personal council. I remember begging to be on the council, and I did get on the council for Argus for some foreign affairs spot. It was interesting but I have very little memory of the politics since it's been years. Here are some more details you can read up on for faction politics. Other than electing an "Overlord," council and creating regiments, I doubt any of the other mechanics are in the game since apparently there's only enough people playing to fill the two previously mentioned planets.

What can be learned?

Beyond it being "different" as an MMORTS and the fact there are no player classes, one of the bigger concepts that this game makes good on is that the world doesn't control the player, the player controls the world. We can find hints of this in SWG, and in the previously mentioned game 10Six. This factor alone is what intrigued me about PotBS with the capturing and defending of ports. It's probably also why people are so fascinated with Eve politics. The lack of it is also the reason why I personally found Vanguard, EQ2, and WoW boring as hell: the worlds were static and unchanging, and the player simply existed within the confines. On the other hand, players having all the control doesn't necessarily hold a game up all by itself. Even SOE somehow found a way to ruin a good thing with enough revamps. Still, I'm willing to bet that the holy grail of MMOs that we hope to see one day will have have this element to contribute to its overall awesomeness.

If you want to look more into SG, go here. You can play it for free on a "basic" hero account with limitations. Even though it has limitations, you can play as long as you want. To get full access to all the benefits of the game, you still gotta pay up though.


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