Sunday, July 30, 2006

"If you ever wanted to go and live on Babylon 5, you will have your chance."

So there’s talk now about a Babylon 5 massively multiplayer game. It’s all rumor right now, so of course I’m going to jump into the feeding frenzy, such as it is, with both feet.

I love B5. It may be the best TV I’ve ever watched. It certainly ranks up there in the top three for fiction. But I’ve rarely felt compelled to roleplay in the B5 universe. What would I do? Oh, I suppose finishing out the “Crusade” storyline could be fun, and there are lots of neat avenues to explore, places to go, that sort of thing. But there are also some pretty strict limits on what you can do in that universe, and they chafe a bit when I think about building a campaign. So my opinion here might be biased. That being said:

What the hell do you do in a Babylon 5 MMORPG?

Seriously. I mean, most MMORPGs are the worst parts of computer RPGs, yielding an endless sequence of killing things and taking their stuff. Story and consequence (beyond your own advancement) are non-existent. It’s like computer RPG makers can’t even conceive of anything that isn’t firmly railroaded, so if you can’t railroad, there’s no point in creating anything that looks like a story. If you’re coming at these games from a table top perspective, it’s enough to make you cry.

But story is the heart of B5. It’s always been about making the tough choices, having your convictions and beliefs challenged, about growing as a person. Who are you? And what do your answers to that question mean? What do you want? And how much are you willing to give up for it?

That last is very important. Mr. Straczynski was enamored of the lone man in the narrow place, holding it against the endless horde of enemies. Horatius at the bridge, the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Alamo, where a handful stood against far greater numbers and withheld the charge. That’s what all the ramming was about. It wasn’t that crashing ships together was a great tactic, but rather it showed just what the captain and crew of the ramming ship were willing to lose in order to achieve their desire. It demonstrated in unequivocal terms exactly what was at stake, and how dearly the combatants held to what they believed in.

But what does that mean in your average MMORPG, where everyone is effectively immortal? Will ships ram together, only for their crews to rez and then rush into each other again? How do you ‘level up’ in the universe of Babylon 5? What will you kill? What will you take from dead? I can’t see where B5 offers any sort of easy, recursive entertainment which to date has been the hallmark of MMORPGs. I don’t see how you can create B5 entertainment without addressing the issues of loss and sacrifice. I don’t see how you can create a MMORPG that will touch either loss or sacrifice in any meaningful way with a ten foot pole. I love B5, but with the current state of the computer game industry, B5 feels like an even worse theme for a MMORPG than Star Trek.

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