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What the post-apocalyptic world needs now...
World of Warcraft has been reclining nonchalantly on its throne since 2004. Other MMOs have been released over the past few years as developers and publishers eagerly sought the “next big thing.” Unfortunately for game companies and players alike, no such unseating has yet occurred. Why is this unfortunate for players? Quite simply, a sturdy competitor to the giant would help to foster more ingenuity among all designers. Conan couldn’t do it, WAR couldn’t it, Vanguard wouldn’t even run on most rigs. However, dedicated MMO fans may not be without more options for long, as lately, the industry is a-twitter with reports that a Fallout MMO is in the works.
The original Fallout was developed and published by Interplay back in 1997 for the PC. In this single-player RPG, players ventured outside of a fallout shelter, or Vault, several years after the Great War that virtually destroyed civilized life. The enemies faced consisted of deformed animals and mutated humans that had evolved to form the Super Mutant army. A large part of the game’s unique draw centered on the atmosphere of being alone and scared in an extremely dangerous and unfamiliar world.
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Just another Lone Wanderer - or twenty
How could this type of gaming translate to a massively-multiplayer experience? It is possible that the MMO experience could be accomplished through phasing and instancing. For example, Guild Wars employs instancing in a much larger scale than World of Warcraft. When players leave the larger social areas, they enter an instanced version of the outside world. While this didn’t foster the sense of community from WoW or the on-the-fly grouping that WAR encouraged, it may just be the answer to a more Fallout-friendly universe. Players may be able to band together in order to accomplish more strenuous goals while still being allowed to explore the vast, empty terrain solo if they prefer. Based on past experiences, one can only imagine the effect that 100 players, all named some variation of “Nuked” and jumping around dropping duel-flags, could have on a seemingly abandoned and apocalyptic atmosphere.
Another consideration of building an MMO in this genre concerns the inclusion of PvP and its balance with PvE content. While it is conceivable that players may be able to choose between warring factions a la WoW or WAR, the choice would seem to be limited to either Vault dwellers or Super Mutants. Character customization for Vault dwellers would presumably use the familiar SPECIAL attributes along with skills and perks. It will be very interesting to see how customization for an alternative faction might be handled.
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The battle for license
Of course, it is completely possible that we may be in for quite a wait on a Fallout MMO, or that it may not ever be a reality at all. While Interplay did sell the rights to Fallout to Bethesda, they also retained license to develop a related MMO based on the series. Unfortunately, Bethesda has recently filed a motion to revoke that license based on their claim that during the 24 months following the agreement, Interplay did not make good on the two main provisions: substantial development and the raising of necessary funds to the tune of $30 million. Interplay is contesting that claim, and it remains to be seen if Bethesda will be able to strip Interplay of their chance.
While the Fallout MMO has not been officially announced by either company, Interplay does have mention of a Project V13 in a 2007 press release, commonly believed by the gaming community to be a reference to Vault 13 of the original Fallout game. On the other side of the table, Bethesda’s parent company, ZeniMax Media, Inc., opened an online division in August of 2007. There is some speculation that ZeniMax Online Studios could have been created just for the Fallout MMO opportunity, especially since it has been headed by Matt Firor, best known for his work with Mythic’s Dark Age of Camelot. In either case, it is unlikely that the 2010 release date bandied about by several game forums could be accurate. While Bethesda’s success with the Elder Scrolls series and recent Fallout 3 title is an impressive argument to seeing a Fallout MMO from their team, Interplay does seem to have the player base’s vote due to more emotional attachments to the earlier Fallout games.
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Holding out hope for the future
Aside from the squabbling and finger-pointing, the only surety is that there is both substantial player interest and a real need for a Fallout MMO. Regardless of which company ends up creating it, the full post-Great War story remains untold. Gaming enthusiasts are more than willing to volunteer for the experience, and at the end of the day, the story is really what carries a great RPG. While it’s never going to be the only consideration, it is a very important one - even with an MMO where the players are part of the telling.
Take a look at this article series for a collection of viewpoints on World of Warcraft and other competing MMORPG's.