I bought a membership a while back and I've got this here blog thingamajig, so I figured I might as well put it to use. Thus I'm dedicating it to the posting and discussion of untapped BYOND ideas that I'm not likely to get around to anytime soon. Today I'm kicking off this idea blog with a description of one of my longer-running unused game ideas, which eventually I ended up naming Worlds of Agas.
Worlds of Agas is an almost-but-not-quite fan game loosely inspired by Squaresoft's gameboy RPG, SaGa 2/Final Fantasy Legend 2 (notice my incredibly innovative and clever name!). The original game features a universe consisting of a number of distinct worlds/planes, connected by a system of celestial elevators and causeways which collectively make up "The Pillar of Sky", and powered by small but powerful relics called the MAGI (yes, all caps) left behind an ancient and powerful creator race. In addition to compelling the speaker to shout whenever saying their name, THE MAGI! bestowed a (disappointingly small) number of powers upon their bearers, and if all 70-odd MAGI were gathered they could be assembled to form a statue of one of the godlike ancients, Isis. And then, um, you'd have a really neat statue to put in your front hall. Or something. I don't think the game was ever all that clear on that point.
Anyways, I always liked the game for two reasons. One, the whole theme of travelling from world to world was pretty cool. Even if all of the worlds were rather small (I believe the game used one standard map size for everything--the floor plan of a dungeon was the same size as the map of the town the dungeon was located in, which was the same size as the entire world the town was located in). And two, like all SaGa games it featured unconventional gameplay with "leveling" and equipment systems that deviated from the norm, much to the irritation of diehard console RPG fans. And let's face it, anything that pisses off diehard console RPG fans is awesome.
However, while both of these are cool features that I think it would be great to incorporate into an online RPG (both already have been in one place or another, but you could always use more), the main reason I started jotting down ideas about a game based on FFL2 revolves around the "MAGI" system. See, in spite of all rants to the contrary, I like a lot of things about traditional RPGs. But if it's one thing I despise, it's "the treadmill". No matter how many awesome systems an online RPG has, inevitably it also features this incredibly backwards leveling framework wherein your success in any of these innovative, interesting side features of the game depends on your ability to spend a great deal of time performing monotonous tasks. I mean, it's 2005, for cryin' out loud. We're not running around clubbing mammoths and gnawing on their raw meat anymore--can we get an online RPG that revolves around activities that would actually be fun for their own sake? (Admittedly, some big MMOs seem to be picking up on this concept, but I still say it's too little, too late). The treadmill does do a nice job of spacing out cool discoveries, which gives it a powerful addictive effect that even I ocassionally succumb to, but there's still better mechanisms out there for the same effect.
I think my epiphany here came from thinking about My Life as a Spy. It's been a while since I stopped following the espionage world, but back in "the day" one of the big things used to be rare medals. MLAAS featured a comparitively low cap on things like levels and equipment, and a pretty simple combat system, so success in combat relied a lot on small things. But then at one point Skysaw added a set of big things: special rare items that, when carried, would bestow special abilities not normally accessible to your team. He finished the coding for these medals' effect before he finished any sort of real mechanism for making them accessible in the game (they would eventually become mission [think "quest"] items), so for one weekend he just set them to spawn randomly at very ocassional intervals (lots of random spawned junk could be normally found lying around anyways).
So, lucky players get a chance to pick up an item early that other players would have to hunt down and do work to get copies of, right? But here's the thing--after the random freebie weekend, some skill medals (including a lot of the most valuable ones) were never made into quests. So there was a set introduced into the game of maybe... 20-30 items, tops, which were unique and un-copyable, and very very powerful. To a lot of players at the highest level of play, who had "the medals" was a hot topic.
Anyone seeing what I'm getting at here? Anyone?
Whatever. The concept goes like this: instead of players gaining power by farming experience from orcs, or camping out the lair of some big nasty thing that pops all sorts of improbable items, or sitting at a forge making swords for hours on end, suppose that these sorts of activities existed and could maybe give a modest increase in power--but that real power in the game came from a set of unique artifacts with equally unique powers? Imagine that you're a swordsman, for example. In a typical RPG, if you wanted to become a better swordsman you'd go out and kill a billion orcs. In a more advanced RPG with "realistic leveling", you would have to specifically take a sword and go out and kill a billion orcs using a sword. But picture, instead, an RPG where becoming a better swordsman meant doing detective-work to track down one of the players holding one of a (more-or-less) finite number of artifacts with a power that boosts sword skill, or melee prowess, or really anything relevant to combat--and then hunting them down and taking it by force (which would probably involve something harder than simply killing them)?
From a design perspective, this sort of world has a lot of neat features:
1. "The treadmill" is replaced with "the obstacle course". Instead of slogging through orcs to level 10, and then slogging through ogres to get to level 20, slogging through trolls to get to level 30, etc., obtaining each milestone is a unique experience. You can't just macro tracking down rumors of a unique artifact and hunting down its bearer.
2. Players are unique. In a lot of RPGs, at the high end of the game you end up with a bunch of generic "level 100" (or whatever the maximum is) characters with near-identical stats, equipment, and skills. But if power came from a set of unique objects, high-end characters would each have a set of specific abilities which no one else would share: one might be able to shoot lightning, summon dragons at will, and see invisible creatures, another might absorb fire, teleport, and have superhuman parrying ability... and no one else would have any of these powers unless they first took them from the current users, which would be a fairly difficult occurence (but not so difficult that there wouldn't be a considerable incentive for players to expend plenty of effort in keeping hold of the artifac-powers they do have).
Granted, there would be a limit on just how unique each of these artifacts would be, as you'd need quite a few to keep the player population reasonably supplied (a "mid-level" player should be expected to usually be holding on to one or two artifacts, ocassionally swapping up to get ahold of ones more suited to their class/playing style; "high-level" characters would have around five, up to maybe ten at the very highest (and often very temporary!) level of achievement) need to have some duplicates, or at the very least have some sub-sets of unique but not very unique artifacts: an artifact that boosts sword skill, an artifact that boosts axe skill, an artifact that boosts bow skill, etc.; an artifact that gives you attack bonuses vs. dragons, an artifact that gives you attack bonuses vs. plant-creatures, an artifact that gives you attack bonus vs. the fey.
3. Power inflation is brought under control to a considerable extent, since the bulk of the power exists in a zero-sum system. Well, almost zero-sum. The number of these unique artifacts would be pegged to the active player population, so it would expand along with the playerbase. Incidentally, this could also be a big help in terms of building that playerbase early on--advanced players want more newbies to join in, so they could get a shot at more power-ups.
This does carry its own obstacles as well, though, as the game needs to be balanced so that the highest-level players still have nothing more than merely having a shot at adding new artifacts to their collection. However...
4. Power is both more fluid and more granular. It should not be unreasonably difficult to protect one's power artifacts, but at the same time, careless players should have to face the risk of losing their hard-earned artifacts. This is a delicate balancing act: artifacts would need to be powerful enough to be coveted, but weak enough as to not make the wielder invincible--having too many should make the bearer a target, instead of a god. If the more impressive artifacts were all "active use" in nature, that would go a long ways here--being able to perform any one of ten different powerful tricks doesn't mean you can't be beaten by someone who has one powerful trick and knows how to use it.
The issue of how to keep artifact collection from being a free-for-all is one of the major pitfalls, at least here in the theory stage. My thought is that taking an artifact from another player should not only involve defeating them, but also require the victor to possess knowledge of the possession--you can't take something you don't know they have. Unfortunately BYOND isn't telepathic (c'mon, you guys really need to get around to releasing BYOND 16.0 already!), so any solution here is going to have flaws, but done correctly it would shift the balancing-act burden over to the players: they would have to choose between keeping their power a closely guarded secret, in which case it's not doing much good, or using it as much as possible and thus painting a "LOOT ME!" sign on their back. Additionally, this would create a considerable market in knowledge--simply keeping track of who holds what becomes a vital task.
Ideas like this led to the formation of Worlds of Agas. The setting is pretty similar to FFL2: ancient powerful civilization makes a bunch of powerful relics, they have massive catacylsm, worlds are colliding, yadda yadda yadda. But the gameplay would take the same concepts and rearrange them in a somewhat different pattern. I have more thoughts written down for the game, but I've been composing this for like an hour and I ought to get back to work on projects that might actually see the light of day sometime.