MMOs, the Final Frontier: The Rise of the Sci-Fi Shooter

Long ago in a galaxy shaped absolutely nothing like a candy bar, Richard Bartle dissected the playing habits of typical MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) players. His analysis concluded that there are four primary categories players fit into based on the goals they create for themselves and the means in which they obtain them. As an extension of this, Bartle also discussed how these four categories – Achievers, Explorers, Killers and Socialisers – need to maintain a certain degree of equilibrium from an overall design standpoint for a game to be successful. In other words, if you tip the scales too far in one direction, you run the risk of alienating players from one category, which ultimately creates a lackluster environment for everyone else.

While many developers attempt to address how upcoming games will appeal to gamers from each of these categories, that’s not always the case. By favoring one aspect of gameplay, specific sub-genres begin to emerge based on which type of gamer an MMOG will most likely appeal to. These are commonly referred to as niche games, but don’t let the label fool you. Just because an MMOG is aimed squarely at a certain type of player, it doesn’t mean it won’t be an excellent gaming experience.

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Earthrise, Global Agenda and Huxley – the Rise of the Sci-Fi Shooter

Scanning over the eclectic list of sci-fi MMOGs set to release in 2009, one specific niche stands out from the rest. Upcoming games Earthrise, Global Agenda and Huxley all aim to bring the sci-fi shooter into the realm of persistent worlds, each with its own unique take on the genre.

Earthrise promises a return to sandbox PvP.

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Earthrise has quickly climbed up my list of most anticipated sci-fi MMOGs. Somewhere between the stunning visuals, open PvP and in-depth crafting system the upcoming title by Masthead Studios certainly grabbed my attention. If you’ve ever been a fan of Ultima Online or EVE, then chances are Earthrise will be right up your alley.

Much like UO and EVE, Earthrise will offer a return to true sandbox PvP. Crafting will also play a prominent role, with the best items in the game being created by players. Somewhere in between, players will have to choose their allies wisely, as the resources necessary to craft the best items will only be found in specific areas that will no doubt become a focal point for some truly epic battles. This is a game for the hardcore, no doubt about it, but I’ve found that some of the best social experiences in MMOGs are born of a need to bond with your fellow players to survive.

Global Agenda adds more 'spy' to your 'fi'.

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With a solid foundation of the Unreal Engine 3 at its core, Global Agenda could very well bridge the gap between FPS multiplayer games and MMOGs. While Earthrise offers us a look at a post apocalyptic Earth, Global Agenda takes things in a very different direction. Being dubbed a “spy-fi” game by Atlanta-based developers Hi-Rez Studios, it will offer players a setting that’s full of espionage and interesting tech devices as a solid backdrop for player-driven conflict.

Though there’s a greater emphasis on PvE thanks to various factions player agents can align themselves with to complete missions, the main conflict in Global Agenda will ultimately come down to fast-paced PvP against members of rival agencies. Fluid FPS combat is what the Unreal Engine does best, so if you’re a fan of the genre but prefer a persistent world where you can develop a character over a longer period, this game will certainly be one to watch.

Huxley's Battle Zones will provide a more structured PvP experience.

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Currently being developed by Webzen, Huxley is set in a post apocalyptic future where much of the Earth has been devastated by storms and floods thanks to the destruction of the Moon by an unknown source. Players will side with one of two main rival factions that have emerged in a struggle to obtain increasingly scarce resources in a series of PvP Battle Zones and underground PvE dungeons.

Huxley will no doubt appeal to hardcore FPS fans that prefer a bit more structure to their PvP experience yet still crave aspects of character advancement. Battle Zone maps will consist of some instantly recognizable gameplay modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch and king of the hill ala control point capture, while the underground dungeons will pit players against a third NPC faction, and will offer some more story-driven gameplay. If any of this sounds familiar, it should, as this type of gameplay is what helped make the Guild Wars franchise a success.

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Sci-fi shooters traditionally haven’t fared all that well in the broader MMOG market. Though Planetside is still up and running thanks in part to SOE’s Station Access subscription plan, one of the genre’s highest profile titles, Tabula Rasa, will be permanently shutting down next month.

That said, I still think Earthrise, Global Agenda and Huxley show a lot of promise, even though each game is clearly aimed at attracting a more hardcore PvP audience. Only time will tell if Bartle’s scales have been tipped too far in one direction for any of them to be successful over a longer period, but in the meantime I’ll be looking forward to their launches sometime later this year.

What do you think? Will the hardcore nature of these upcoming sci-fi shooters ultimately be a boon or bane? Be sure to post your thoughts in our forums, or you can also contact me directly.

Until next time, dear readers, this is Captain Sardu signing off!

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