There's something interesting going down in massively-multiplayer land and it's a game called Crowfall.
Often in MMOs you're given content, you don't make your own - you fight where you're told over what you're told. But what if you were fighting to protect your land, or to take someone else's? What if you were playing your own game of thrones?
Some games flirt with the idea (Dark Age of Camelot Realm vs. Realm, Guild Wars 2 World vs. World) and some games romance the idea, the shining example being the unpoliced player-inhabited outer-doughnut of space in Eve Online. Think of the stories players create there.
Few MMOs, however, are fundamentally built around the territorial conquest idea, because it's unpredictable, uncontrollable. But Shadowbane tried - Shadowbane the ropey 2003 MMO built by Wolfpack Studios and published by Ubisoft (servers now closed). Crowdfunded MMO Camelot Unchained will try, and now Crowfall will try.
"If you're here," the game's website states, "it's because you're looking for something." What are you, Morpheus from The Matrix?
"Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox. More immersive. More real. A game where decisions matter.
"We are, too. We've been looking for years, and we still haven't found it... because it doesn't exist. Yet."
Crowfall has two big ideas: "dynamic territorial conquest and a player-driven economy". Star Wars Galaxies' crafting system is alluded to time and time again. "Marrying these two concepts is the holy grail of MMO development," commented Crowfall game director J. Todd Coleman. Name sound familiar? He was one of the key creators of Shadowbane.
Here details get thinner; a proper Crowfall announcement - there's a timer - won't happen for another 32 days (25th Feb). But yesterday developer ArtCraft announced the ongoing collaborative involvement of Raph Koster, a legend of ye olde MMO design - a pivotal part of the Ultima Online team, and regular luminary in the scene ever since.
Yesterday J. Todd Coleman also revealed a couple of key ideas for Crowfall, including a different take on how game servers work. In World of Warcraft and a lot of other MMOs, the playerbase is split across dozens of servers with X thousand capacity each. Each server-world is identical but the inhabitants aren't.
In Crowfall, however, the idea is still to have the playerbase spread across servers but for the worlds to be unique. "How unique? VERY unique," Coleman said. "In fact, the the maps are different from one world to the next. Mountains, forests, rivers, lakes. And these worlds are dynamic; they're made to change based on player actions."
Coleman also shared a prototype UI shot for the game's coherent but complex-looking crafting system.
Looking further back, there's a screenshot of a character creation prototype showing a clean and uncluttered cartoony art style, and a glimpse at the class archetypes planned.
There's also discussion around a Fealty Chart that's linked to land ownership and, in some way, to guilds. Intriguing.
How ArtCraft is funding Crowfall, and what size of project we're talking about, isn't publicly known. There's a good chance it could go the crowdfunding route, like Camelot Unchained did. I doubt mega-bucks will be involved as mega-bucks mean mega-return-of-investment that riskier MMOs like this can't promise - nor should they.