I remember thinking the same thing when Wing Commander first came out. There you were flying around in this cool interface fighting alien ships, but when your ship was docked, you were stuck in a two dimensional picture of a ship-board bar. What the hell? Why not put a real game into the thing for walking around the carrier ship?

Then there was Doom. At the time I was playing that game, I was already in an MMORPG (the original Neverwinter Nights – oNWN), and I really started to see the whole future of gaming in terms of persistent shared games. And yet here was this cool skill-based combat system with multiple players competing against each other that wasn\’e2\’80\’99t persistent, wasn\’e2\’80\’99t massive, and didn\’e2\’80\’99t have any non-combat areas.

I kept thinking to myself, \’e2\’80\’9cWhy don\’e2\’80\’99t they just hook Wing Commander to Doom, make some sections of the Doom maps where you can\’e2\’80\’99t fight, throw in a chat system like oNWN and persistent tracking of character development and then track the ownership of ships like in that SSI game and allow ship upgrading with money made from interplanetary trading? Now THAT would be a game.\’e2\’80\’9d

It seems simple enough. Heh.

Ok, maybe not so simple. But you have to admit the combination of game genres would make a helluva powerful game. Of course we\’e2\’80\’99d need a new acronym for it. MMORPGs wouldn\’e2\’80\’99t cover it anymore, the game would be too broad to fit in that definition. It would have gone far beyond that. You\’e2\’80\’99d have to call it a \’e2\’80\’9cPlayer Interaction Game.\’e2\’80\’9d Yep. A PIG.

And yes, any of you game designers out there are thinking to yourself, \’e2\’80\’9cHell yeah you better call that idea a PIG. Do you have ANY idea how long it would take design code and produce that monstrosity???\’e2\’80\’9d

Yes I do. So what. Make me a PIG. What the hell, I mean the trend is already in place. Look at the games that keep coming out.

How did FPS games like Doom get better? They added strong internet support (Quake), and then capture the flag support (Quake plus mods), and then built in team support and capture the flag with flying vehicles and \’e2\’80\’9cequipment\’e2\’80\’9d (Tribes) and then ground vehicles and restricted servers that will centrally manage player win/loss records in a persistent way (Tribes 2).

How did RTS like Warcraft get better? They added multiple race options, and internet support and team play, and centralized win/loss record keeping (Starcraft), and then really beefed up the harvesting and building side of things (AOE).

How are MMORPGs getting better? They added 3D engines (Everquest and AC). They\’e2\’80\’99re building in stronger team play and capture the flag type stuff and a kind of RTS perspective (Shadowbane).

Basically all the genres are growing toward each other like the urban sprawl that is supposed to create megalopolises. FPS, RTS, MMORPGs and flight combat games are all becoming one.

Massive multiplayer persistence, strategy, twitch skill, team play, socialization, rich interfaces for every \’e2\’80\’9cgame type\’e2\’80\’9d \’e2\’80\ldblquote these are the things that all games are building towards. But I\’e2\’80\’99d say in general that they\’e2\’80\’99re doing it badly. Take the ship-piloting interface in Tribes. It stinks. If you took that aspect of the game and pasted it into its own game all by itself it would be unplayable.

The problem is that the more the pressure to compete drives games to develop features that the last game didn\’e2\’80\’99t have, the thinner the design and development resources get spread out. And the thinner they\’e2\’80\’99re spread, the harder it becomes to deliver a complete, integrated, balanced, bug-free product with GOOD design in each aspect of game play. However, like it or not, PIGs are coming. The gaming world will continue to demand more cohesive and fully encompassing gaming concepts with each new generation. This new direction in game design will henceforth be referred to as the Feature Augmentation Trend (FAT). (Ok, I admit it. I just really wanted to invent a FAT PIG acronym. So what. Suckit.)

So how do you make a FAT PIG fly? (I\’e2\’80\’99m killing me here.)

The PERFECT platform for the development of the FAT PIG is the current MMORPG market. What has to be done is to code and deploy the first MODULE of a standard MMORPG written in such a way that it can easily integrate itself with whole new user interfaces and functions while maintaining a common data structure behind it all. The database API has to be abstracted from the interface layer. The monthly-fee model of MMORPGs is the perfect niche in which to develop the quintessential FAT PIG in pieces because the ongoing revenue and play style can pay for and support a gradual introduction of more and more pieces of the FAT PIG.

Instead of designing more land mass and more loot in expansions, you\’e2\’80\’99d design flying dragons and create a whole new interface for people to pilot them. Jumping into the saddle of a dragon could trigger a loading sequence kind of like changing zones. This would set up your new interface that still uses the same 3d engine and peers into the same data world as the rest of the game.

The key here is that you can approach each expansion with the mindset that you\’e2\’80\’99re making a whole new game that just happens to exist in the same data world. This would allow you to really focus on making something cool instead of having a bunch of half-assed interface approaches within one game. You could even have specialist designers who are really good at and focused on each play type.

For instance, the completely lame \’e2\’80\’9ctrade skill\’e2\’80\’9d interfaces in UO and EQ are forced into a user interface that wasn\’e2\’80\’99t built specifically for that purpose. And they suck because of it. Imagine that you were JUST building a game around making things with trade skills. What would it look like? How would you make it more fun?

Imagine an RTS interface to Shadowbane or EQ or whatever that was designed and progammed by Blizzard? With a common API into the database you could maybe even franchise out the creation of new game interfaces built over your database. Blizzard comes in and defines an interface for moving troops around a strategic top-down RTS map. But the troops they teleport from one area to another in battle are actual players playing in the standard EQ interface. They appear at a transfer point, get notified that the enemy is over the hill to the south, and then they fight out the skirmish not as mindless little marines but as skilled FPS fighters, etc.

Well, I\’e2\’80\’99m no programmer. I could be smoking crack on the approach here. But I predict that somehow, someway, the market will demand FAT PIGs, and that someone, somewhere will figure out how to provide them.

I\’e2\’80\’99m planning in the next few articles to talk about some of the SPECIFIC ways this crossing of genres must be applied to the MMORPG framework. Oh goodie, right?