Fallen Earth: Surviving an MMO Apocalypse

With the summer months of 2009 swiftly approaching, new details continue to emerge about many impressive sci-fi MMOs currently in development. Recently we’ve seen everything from all new
With the summer months of 2009 swiftly approaching, new details continue to emerge about many impressive sci-fi MMOs currently in development. Recently we’ve seen everything from all new videos for such promising titles as Jumpgate Evolution and Global Agenda to highly informative interviews for Earthrise and Star Trek Online, not to mention the bevy of screenshots and class information for Star Wars: The Old Republic. While each of these games certainly has a long list of unique features that set them apart from the pack, there remains a unifying factor beyond the overarching sci-fi genre.

Much like the fantasy genre’s prolific use of Orcs, Elves, swords and boards, it’s become an industry norm nearly overnight that sci-fi is synonymous with high-tech. Yet in other creative mediums such as film and literature, the sci-fi genre is almost limitless in scope, encompassing a broad range of settings where the only true limits are, as Rod Sterling would say, that of the imagination. While gameplay will always be king in terms of what makes or breaks a new MMO’s potential for success, sometimes the simple notion of creating a unique setting for a game world that’s never been fully explored is enough to get MMO players to stand up and take notice. One such sci-fi MMO that certainly deserves some attention for taking a vastly different approach to setting and core gameplay elements is Fallen Earth.

Rebuilding the Post-Apocalyptic Wheel

For more years than I can remember, my favorite sci-fi writer has been the late, great Philip K. Dick. Somewhere between the paranoid ramblings of later novels such as V.A.L.I.S. and the thought provoking masterpieces of his extremely prolific period in the late 60s, the author’s unique take on the genre still continues to influence the creative talents behind modern masterpieces across a multitude of mediums. There have been countless occasions over the past few years where I’d be watching a film or reading a novel only to hit yet another of those points where I subconsciously began mumbling, “That’s a total Philip K. Dick moment.”

Sometimes that type of influence will intentionally shine through in the finished product, almost like a polite nod to those creative geniuses who’ve come before. Other times, though a given influence will be prevalent throughout a given creative endeavor, it may not be intentionally so. Whatever the case may be, as a life-long Philip K Dick fan I can’t help but see those moments blatantly glaring in my face and get excited to see how far reaching the genius’s influence has truly become.

The most common point of reference I’ve seen used whenever Fallen Earth is described in terms of setting tends to be the Mad Max films, but thanks to a life-long fascination with Philip K Dick’s various paranoid, amphetamine-fueled ramblings I can’t help but look towards the late author instead. In particular a core concept behind the 1976 novel, Deus Irae, that Dick co-authored with Roger Zelazny springs to mind whenever I see new images, or read new details about FE’s spin on what a post-apocalyptic America might look like.

Mind you the exact subject matter between Deus Irae and Fallen Earth tend to be vastly different, but one of the main concepts that stands out is that, should an apocalypse come about there’s every chance that there will be plenty of tech that survives, but hardly anyone left alive who knows how any of it functions. To the handful of survivors who understand the intrinsic value of various types of circuitry or how to properly retool a drive shaft, old tech is the new gold. To everyone else though, it’s just so much useless junk unless it can be somehow turned into a weapon, sold on the black market or traded for something of immediate value like food.

This kind of gritty, more realistic approach to what a post-apocalyptic world might look like hasn’t really been taken on so directly in MMO form previously. There were certainly hints of this found in titles such as NetDevil’s Auto Assault, but for the most part even in the broader gaming market, only last year’s Fallout 3 or the upcoming Id title Rage come to mind in terms of the overall atmosphere of the setting. True, setting alone isn’t necessarily enough to guarantee an instant success in Fallen Earth, but it certainly points to ways the developers are looking beyond the norm to deliver a sci-fi MMO that stands on its own strengths rather than falling into the trap of relying too heavily on catering to established norms. Should Fallen Earth achieve this same unique vision across other core aspects of gameplay, there are plenty of reasons why sci-fi fans should be excited for the title’s launch later this year.

From Factions to Fabrication

Faction will play a leading role in FE, but I’m not talking about the kind of faction where you  complete the same mindless task exactly once each real-world day until you eventually please the NPCs enough to let you in on the secret of how to stuff a handful of additional  arrows into a quiver for the low, low cost of a month’s worth of skinning rare beasts. In Fallen Earth, factions are representative of what one might imagine would happen were attempts made to rebuild society in a post apocalyptic world. Like minded individuals would eventually band together in what could only be described as a more tribal form of society, regardless of any attempts made by some of those factions to rebuild an exact societal replica of what’s come before. It’s inevitable that at least some factions would either prefer the more chaotic climes of the new post-apocalyptic America, many of them in fact even thriving in such a setting.

Perhaps even more intriguing than factions that actually matter to a degree rarely seen since the original EverQuest is Fallen Earth’s approach to crafting. I’m one of those MMO gamers who never expects to get wrapped up in crafting when new titles launch, but when done right will eventually focus entirely on creating useful items for other players, adventuring then becoming a means to an end should it be necessary for things such as obtaining materials or recipes. Outside of perhaps healing in PvP, crafting is one of the most direct ways for an individual player to have a positive impact on the broader player base in any given MMO. When you consider that 95 percent of the items in Fallen Earth will be created by players, it’s no wonder the crafter in me is itching to get my hands on the game to see how deep the crafting rabbit hole really goes.

Creating Solid Connections

Between crafting and use of faction in Fallen Earth, there’s certainly a formula ripe with potential for harboring a tight-knit, solid player community. Add in the recent announcement that Fallen Earth will bear an “M” rating from the ESRB, and it could potentially be a more thoughtful, mature community to boot. While a ‘mature’ rating is by no means an indication that the community itself will actually be mature, it does lend itself to catering to a core audience of MMO players who focus their efforts on PvP victories rather than petty squabbles in guild chat. At least one can only hope!

Considering the approach to the overall atmosphere and setting for Fallen Earth, it should come as no surprise that the developers chose to promote the title through a series of fan events, or what’s essentially been a grassroots tour stopping in key locations in the US. I was fortunate enough to attend the first of these events that was held in Raleigh, NC towards the end of February and proved to be an extremely interesting way to connect with fans outside of the usual overly distracting industry shows that seemingly creep from one end of the summer calendar to the other. Promoting the game in such a way also speaks volumes of the type of connection the developers hope to create between themselves and fans of the game – a key area that many MMO players have been quite vocal about with many previous titles. By establishing a willingness to connect with fans in such a direct way, the developers behind Fallen Earth could very well establish a new norm for listening to the voice of their community.

Captain’s Log: Stardate 4130.9

While many of the concepts behind Fallen Earth may not be entirely unique in and of themselves, the approach taken to bring them all together paints a sci-fi picture of an MMO that promises to be greater than the sum of the genre’s previous parts. The title’s gritty post-apocalyptic setting certainly sets the upcoming MMO apart from an industry seemingly hell-bent on homogenization. In the coming months, I fully expect that as we see more details emerge on core gameplay mechanics, many gamers will begin to see Fallen Earth as a beacon leading them towards more interesting sci-fi waters than what’s promised by many of its high-tech contemporaries.

What are your thoughts on Fallen Earth? Do you consider the title to be different enough from the crowd to make a solid impact on the industry when it’s released later this year? Or perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to attend one of the dev team’s stops along their national tour? Be sure to share your thoughts and stories right here on our forums, or you can always feel free to email me directly.

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

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