So Dusty oh-so-casually threw down the gauntlet lately — for us armchair MMO designers to come up with a contemporary MMO that would work, especially without the assistance of fantasy and magical elements. As I’m not one to back away from a challenge unless it includes a shotgun full of snakes, here goes with an idea off the top of my head:
WITH HONORS ONLINE (WHO)
With Honors Online would be a MMORPG set at Kingsdale University (Go Fighting Trout!), a slightly off-beat college where secrets lurk beneath the surface of everything, where practical jokes and nerdy puns run rampant, and where romance, studies, relationships, achievements and career are sought after.
Players would assume the role of a brand new university freshman, who is shown the ropes through an interactive orientation (tutorial), which culminates in a welcome party. The tutorial will be instanced, but the welcome party is on the campus, ongoing, and can be visited by anyone to welcome in new players.
Player characters have no “levels”; instead, WHO will follow a skill-based system, with an absolutely wide-range of skills, talents and abilities that players can learn and master during their stay. For example, there is a “sneaking” skill (for late-night excursions), a “cheating” skill (for slackers) and a “singing” skill (for wooing and popularity).
WHO will have a running theme of “choices that matter” — decisions you make for your character have long-running and in many cases will be an “either/or” situation, wherein choosing one thing will completely close off access to another thing. For example, training past the halfway point in the “cheating” skill means that you may no longer train “studious” skill, or by pledging with a frat means that you may no longer join up with a D&D group.
I see WHO as a huge collection of mini-systems and achievements, all intertwined as you go through your college career. Pick and choose what you’d like to work on, and the game will give you goals to reach and rewards for those who master skills or questlines. There will also be an overarching Master Quest — for many players, it will be the goal of earning a degree, but for others it might be something completely different.
You may also pursue a parallel goal of becoming a campus legend — supreme nerd, awesome jock, master prankster, artistic superstar, guitar hero.
Guilds (frats/sororities/orders/organizations) may be created around a certain preset theme, and players may join one for group activities, such as guild vs. guild sports games, or joke wars, or whatnot.
You obviously have player housing — new players are forced to share a room with others, but you may quest to get your own room, apartment or place in your frat house. There’s loot in the form of everyday items and clothing, some of which comes with bonuses (there are no stat-laden outfits, but some might make you more appealing to the opposite sex, or help you concentrate on studies more, etc.).
Because college is based on a limited term — beginning, middle and end — WHO will encourage players to eventually “graduate” and become alumni (who may visit the campus and engage in a limited set of activities). Once you graduate, you may pass on a special skill or item to a new character. The choice system in the game will also encourage massive amounts of replay, as no one character will be able to “experience it all” in a college career. Scoreboards will be posted for graduated characters on a weekly basis, to see who achieved the most.
And finally, will combat be part of the game? Sure, but in a limited capacity — perhaps as a security guard (one of many part-time jobs you may take to raise funds) or in a karate class.