I’ve been playing a bit of Sins of a Solar Empire again and boy oh boy, is it a damn fine game. It’s your usual real-time strategy sci-fi affair in the same vein as Star Wars: Empire at War and Homefront and if you’ve never played it before then I’d highly recommend that you give it a shot (and find yourself saying “damn, what a fine game” in the process). Although MMORPGs are my favourite gaming genre, RTS’ are up near the top of my list too and recently I’ve been pondering what would happen if they both were to combine and produce some sort of crazy mutated MMORTS offspring.
Although I’m sure a few indie MMORTS’ exist I’ve never seen a mainstream one before, maybe because they’re not the easiest of things to design and development or maybe just because no one’s ever bothered to try. I suppose in many ways EVE Online is the closest thing to a Triple-A RTS MMO we have and I reckon that by looking it to for inspiration, along with traditional RTS’, it would be possible to design a really exciting (and long lived) MMORTS.
My idea for a space MMORTS would follow the classical premise of colonising planets, mining minerals and resources, constructing ships and buildings, leveling your fleet through combat, trading and manufacturing (now with real players) and researching new technologies either through buying them directly, mission rewards or perhaps time á la skills in EVE Online. The big stumbling block for going MMO though would be how to deal with what happens when a player goes offline – do their buildings and colonies still exist? Would they still harvest resources? Would they be attackable by enemies?
Perhaps a solution to the issue would be to use instancing on the majority of planets and allow multiple colonies and installations on each yet, and here’s the key, only produce resources and be attackable when the player is actually online. This way players can actively defend their areas from NPCs (and potentially other gamers) and can’t sit offline for three weeks to accrue lots of cash. If research was time based the same thing could apply too so that it only progresses when a player is actually online (the threat of random NPC pirate attacks enough to ward off going AFK for long stretches at a time).
I love EVE’s sandbox model and I think it’s a principle that would go down well in a space MMORTS. Different planets could provide different materials and bonuses and suitability for facilities which would mean the safer ‘inner rim’ planets would be perfect for newbies but in order to acquire better resources or build more advanced facilities for more advanced ships, the player would have to venture further out and colonise more dangerous sectors. Guilds could operate in a similar fashion to EVE’s corporations and maybe their facilities wouldn’t be instanced and always exist, giving an incentive for guild vs guild warfare over domination of areas of space.
Combat would be a big focus of the game and it would be a lot more intricate than in something like EVE. Each player would be controlling their own fleet(s) of several dozens of ships of their choosing, combing into gigantic armadas with other players and, just like in any good RTS, we’d have to micro-manage the combat and decide on how to best use and co-ordinate ships and their abilities in complex attack strategies.There would also be your usual mix of races with their own bonuses, ship designs and technologies to spice things up.
A strong player driven economy would be fantastic to have as well although it looks like it would be a challenge to integrate that into the RTS gameplay as, essentially, everyone harvests their own resources and creates their own ships and buildings. I don’t how feasible it all is but something to consider anyway.
So there you may my pretty primative ideas for a MMORTS. What do you think? Would it work? And, more importantly, would you play it?