Monday, July 7, 2008

The Shandalar Project - Introduction

Back in 2004 I posted some ideas for a self-designed MMORPG. When I recently mentioned that old design again, I got a lot more positive echo than 4 years ago, which is mostly due to how much the readership has grown since then. And in the last open Sunday thread Paul suggested a cooperative approach to flesh the idea out a bit more. I think this is a brilliant plan, so I'm giving you The Shandalar Project.

Over the coming days I'm going to write about my ideas for the various parts and features of this imaginary MMORPG that I call Shandalar. The name is "borrowed" from the name of the world in a video game from 1997, Magic: The Gathering from Microprose. But I guess for a non-commercial venture and a hypothetical game I won't get into too much trouble with copyright. Your job is to come up with constructive criticism, improving and adding ideas to each part. Please try to stick generally to the direction I'm proposing, we'll get nowhere if you'll question each of my premises. If we want to make a card-based fantasy game together, it doesn't help if you prefer a SciFi shooter.

The basic concept of Shandalar is that it is a cross between MMORPG and trading card games, like Magic the Gathering. In the Microprose game, Shandalar was the name of a fantasy world which the player explored, battling the creatures he encountered by playing games of Magic against them. My Shandalar is a MMORPG with a classic 3D fantasy world, and the battles are graphically not unlike World of Warcraft, as I think that visual 3D crossing of swords is a lot more popular than playing cards. The cards you draw randomly from your deck replace the spells and abilities hotkeys you would have in World of Warcraft. So as every combat starts with a different random draw of "cards you can play", that is "buttons you can press", no two combats are the same, even if you fight the same kind of monster repeatedly. More on this in the cards and combat chapter in another post.

In the Shandalar game there are no levels, and no gear. Everything revolves around the cards, and you get better by building better decks with better cards. There aren't even character classes in the game, the color of the cards in your deck determine what class you are playing. That gets around nicely the problem of people wanting to respec or wanting to play a different class: You don't have to restart the game with another character, you just change your deck. This will also be discussed in the cards and combat chapter, as you can hardly discuss cards separately from combat, the two are too much entwined.

The business model of Shandalar is based on the old saying that "time is money". Classic MMOs like WoW have everyone pay the same, and then those players who spend the most time advance the furthest. Magic the Gathering has been accused of favoring those who spend the most money. Shandalar is trying to hit a compromise which gives you the best of both worlds: The game is free-to-download, and free-to-play, but you only get a very limited number of cards to start with. You can get more cards either by adventuring, or by buying booster packs of random cards, with 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 11 common cards, just like in Magic the Gathering. So if you don't have any money, you can get all your cards just by playing. But the profitability of the game (remember that developing and running MMORPGs costs money) depends on people wanting to take a shortcut and buying booster packs. And of course players will be able to trade cards among each other, with a trading system designed to eliminate RMT by only allowing symmetric trades. More on that in the trading chapter.

Even questing is all about the cards. Because not only are we all sick about the classic "kill 10 foozles" quest, some of us also realized that doing those isn't really a quest, it's just an errand you run for somebody else. A quest in Shandalar is a real quest, defined by Wikipedia as "a journey towards a goal, used in mythology and literature as a plot". It works like this: While killing monsters you don't get cards or gold as loot, you get points of different colors. You can buy cards with the points, but the places where you can do that are not in cities, they are in remote wilderness places. The rarer the card, the harder it is to get there. So a quest consists of you going to a sage in a city, who basically has a book showing all the cards in the game. You click on the card you want, and the sage tells you in what area of the world you can find that card. You travel to that area, and talk to NPCs, which give you more detailed directions. You fight your way through a cave full of monsters, arrive at some altar or relic, and there you can exchange your points for the card you wanted. No more killing 10 foozles for a farmer who rewards you with an item you can't use. Instead you quest because YOU want a specific card. We'll discuss questing further in the questing chapter.

I'd prefer if we could discuss cards and combat, trading, and questing, in their respective chapter. So I'd like to limit discussion in this thread about things like whether you like the idea, what other chapters we are going to need, and other general subjects. Please note that all the ideas you contribute go into the public domain, unless you patented them first. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever want to make Shandalar under this or another name. If somebody did, I'd be happy enough just to see my ideas realized and to be able to play that game, I wouldn't and couldn't demand payment for ideas I published without patenting them.

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