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Sci-fi Gaming, EVE, Star Trek, Bioware and little, little children. June 2, 2009

Posted by neuralvomit in Games.
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Science Fiction. It’s such a broad genre. Superheroes, Cyberpunk, Apocalyptica, and even Space Westerns all fall into it. Not too many years past, if you were ‘into’ Sci-fi it basically branded you a geek, prone to being bullied, ousted, and generally not liked. Of course these days if you ask someone if they are into sci-fi, and they said no, it’s generally due to simple misconception – Sci-fi is not just Star Trek/Wars.

Fantasy and Science Fiction, genre’s once mostly neglected in the past as a ‘niche’ group, are now being brought to the fore, and gloriously…both on the big screen and interactively. A large amount of people have seen Iron Man, or X-men, or Transformers…even Pixar gets in on the act with WALL-E. Game wise, every second game that is brought out is a Science Fiction romp of some description. I’m not saying that everyone likes Science Fiction, because that’s like saying everyone likes sport. Or everyone likes to read. But it’s certainly a part of mainstream culture today, and people are beginning to notice.

I was just thinking about having children, too

I was just thinking about having children, too

What is realised from this exercise of course, is that today is the perfect time to bring up children, especially from the geek perspective. Where things like science fiction, and to a lesser extent, fantasy, are so commonplace – a child would have topics to talk about to his peers. Video games too used to be the domain of the ‘unpopular’ and ‘geeky’ but really, in this day and age, who doesn’t own a games system of some type. Computer studies, IT, Games Design, so many options for youth that weren’t available in times gone by. Perhaps, just perhaps, the meek truly will inherit the earth.

With the release of some ‘harder’ sci-fi into the media recently (Star Trek, anyone?) It’s certainly the best time to bring out games related to the genre. MMO-wise, EVE Online is mostly populated by old-school players now, with new blood being turned off the game by just how much of a skill gap there is between the newer and older players. Something needs to come out to get these players into a game where they can develop skills with people of similar level. Two games of note, Jumpgate:Evolution and Star Trek Online, both offer a place for the newer wave of gamers interested in the genre, to flock to. But do either have the level of complexity that keeps people coming back to EVE Online?

Probably not. The former, Jumpgate:Evolution, is set to be a fast paced action/shooter game, reminiscent of the Wing Commander series. It’s developer, NetDevil, is known for being remarkably shallow on the PvE content and story, two big things in EVE. Star Trek Online, on the other hand, looks to be focusing on getting people who are already into the Star Trek universe. Whilst the ship-to-ship combat sounds a little more involved than EVE’s (With the facing of your ship being important) It has the problem of pacing. EVE showed that people don’t mind a slower game, which is more reliant on player skill over things like class/abilities.

So what would be the game that attracts fresh blood away from EVE? Well, a game with depth. That’s basically what it boils down to. For a game to be as good as EVE, it needs to hold a depth that will keep players immersed in the rich content. There are some games which hold that level of depth, but unfortunately, both are presently not MMOG’s. And one of them, is a Japanese IP.

Star Ocean, A series of games which has blended Fantasy and Science Fiction together, generally does it’s Sci-Fi aspects extremely well. The previous game in the series “Till the end of time” had almost a novel full of information about the different species involved, Introduced you to several of them on the way, and really immersed the player into the storyline, but more importantly, the background. The chances of a Star Ocean MMOG being anything but a fantasy romp are slim though, but if it did have the science fiction aspects, those would have a depth that would keep people for a long time to come.

Of course Japanese IP’s rarely make it to an MMO status, due to the fact that what a Japanese gamer likes, and what a Western gamer likes in their MMO’s are very much unalike. Of course, with companies like Atlus Online beginning to do good localization work, not to mention their parent company, ATLUS, being Japanese…there is perhaps still hope. Either way, it’s a long way off, and the chance that any MMO like this is currently under development is extremely slim.

Mass Effect would be the other IP that has a similar depth to EVE Online. Actually, it’s depth goes far, far beyond it. Players are introduced to a number of races throughout it, each with their own perks and flaws. Characterizations which are amazingly detailed, and a full, detailed, and rich history. They recently announced Mass Effect 2 – which looks to be even more involved that the first one, and impressive feat – considering Mass Effect has been probably the game with the deepest story, ever produced.

Perhaps the go-to game instead of EVE?

The go-to game instead of EVE?

The good news about the Mass Effect IP, or more the company behind it, is that they are starting to look towards the sci-fi MMO series, with the intention of bringing out a Star Wars MMO. Depending on the success of that particular franchise, it’s quite plausible that BioWare could be looking at bringing an MMO installment of it’s Mass Effect IP to an MMO scale. BioWare would certainly have the capital to pull it off, and are known to listen to their fans. A good sign.

Whilst the days of EVE Online most certainly aren’t numbered, it is certainly the time for a game to step up and attempt to give gamers who like the style of EVE, but not the execution of it… a place to go. And with the success of media bringing in so much new blood to the genre, it will certainly be a rich marketplace for some time to come. As a wise man once said ‘Live long, and prosper’.