View From the Road

A View From the Road: We Need More Giant Robots

John Funk | 26 Oct 2009 17:00
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Lately, I've been thinking more and more that there needs to be a proper mecha MMOG. Oh sure, there's NCSoft's Exteel, but that's not so much an MMOG as it is an online team-based action game with persistent character elements - like any multiplayer FPS, only with leveling up and equipment. But no, I mean an actual MMOG. Like, "go out into the persistent world, kill ten mecha-wolves, find a giant energy sword" style MMOG.

Now, gentle readers, there are those among you who may read this column and think, "Gee John, this article just seems like you're indulging yourself." And you know what? They're completely right. But it's robot week here at The Escapist (and giant robots are as totally badass as they've ever been) so I think I'm justified here.

Here's the thing: The more I think about it, the more I find myself believing that a giant robot MMOG would be able to plausibly explain all the little nuances and quirks of the genre that we take for granted. Well, maybe not all of them - but more than a few.

Equipment and Stats: All right, I can buy the idea of characters getting bigger and sturdier armor that might help protect against attacks, but how do they boost stats? "Oh, I just put on this new hat, now I feel stronger!" How does my staff give me an extra +30 Intelligence? Does it only work when I'm physically touching it, or do I just have to be in the room? Sure, we can handwave these all with the handy fantasy explanation of "A wizard did it," but let's face it: We both know that the idea of a new wristband making us more durable is a silly one.

Not so if you were in a giant robot. There, you're simply upgrading equipment for tangible benefits - just like putting a new video card in your PC. Technology gets better, after all. "This new engine doubles my power output!" Your new head equipment upgrades your targeting computer, giving you better accuracy. These brand-new rocket boosters make you much more swift and agile in combat. And this powerful laser rifle has had its limiters scaled back, meaning you can shoot lasers that are giant-er and more destructive than ever before!

Leveling Up: Ah, the staple of RPGs everywhere. Too bad it's never really made much sense: "I've just killed an arbitrary number of enemies. Now I suddenly know how to swing my sword in a different way, and it has a cool new attack name!" Sure, it's a fine way to represent character growth, and it's certainly true that firing 300 arrows will make you better at firing arrows, but it feels entirely too artificial. Is it remotely realistic to have a situation where you didn't know how to do this after shooting 299 arrows, but the 300th one suddenly unlocked more latent potential in your mind? Nah.

In a mecha MMORPG, you wouldn't "Level Up" per se, you'd gain proficiency and certification with different technology and equipment. "I'm certified with basic mid-air transformation," you say proudly as your giant robot shifts from its jet-fighter form to its humanoid one. Those badass energy claws you've got your eyes on may look tantalizing, but you won't be able to equip them until you've got your badass energy-claw license. Or, if you want to go with a standard "leveling up" model - you just got promoted, now you have access to superior equipment. It's not adventuring so much as red tape, but it serves the same purpose. Hey, if we're going to be artificial, might as well have some justification for it.

Durability: Like leveling up, this one isn't necessarily limited to MMORPGs - you know how you'll be playing a game, and you'll swing your big-ass axe at someone and connect squarely across the chest... and they'll stay standing? That attack should have taken their damn arm off! They should be writhing on the ground bleeding to death, not winding up for their next Fireball.

A human (or elf, or orc) might not be able to take an axe to the face without suffering from an acute case of death, but you know who can? Yeah, a giant robot can. A robot feels no pain, a robot will never bleed out and die, and a robot can still stay fighting even with its head and arm cut off. Robots can take heavy punishment and stay in the game - even the most hardcore of meatbags can only take so much. And that brings me to...

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