Fallen Earth: Surviving an MMO Apocalypse

Posted Mon, Apr 13, 2009 by Sardu

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.

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