Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wheel of Time is going MMO

This one will be interesting. A Wheel of Time MMO could be a fantastic product, or it could be a complete disaster. A Wheel of Time MMORPG has some potentially strong points. First of all, there is the world itself. Robert Jordan sculpted a masterpiece fantasy world that stands head and shoulders above any of its contemporaries. The detail, depth, and cultural flavor of each of his nations and peoples is nothing short of remarkable. From a game development standpoint, it is a world so rich with possibilities one needs only choose where to begin.

And that source of greatest strength is also the source of greatest danger. Jordan's world is a masterpiece just as the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece. No artist would dare add a polka-dotted scarf around the neck of the Mona Lisa. But does anyone think a game developer will be able to resist tinkering with Jordan's world in similarly grotesque ways? Remember, a game is only a success if it is fun. For the game developer, nothing can stand in the way of creating the most fun gameplay experience possible. If that means aspects of Jordan's world have to be scrapped or changed, then those aspects must be scrapped or changed and one can only hope the fan base won't lynch the developers for doing so.

This danger is multiplied tenfold when the game becomes an MMORPG. If you have read the novels, answer this question: What type of character would you most want to play in a Wheel of Time MMO? I'm guessing the overwhelming majority of you answered Aes Sedai or Asha'man. And that is the first major problem for the developers to overcome; Jordan's world doesn't have every third person channeling the One Power. Does the developer add that polka-dotted scarf, or try to give the audience a non-channeling game experience they will still enjoy? The easy answer would be to add the scarf and let the One Power run wild in everyone. But is that the best answer?

Even with such potential disasters in mind, there are several ways a Wheel of Time MMO could be crafted without trampling wholesale over the world Jordan has created. To start with, if Red Eagle simply does not set the MMO in the time period in which Jordan writes, many potentially conflicting issues can be overcome. For instance, suppose the MMORPG is set during the Trolloc Wars. What fan of the series would not want the chance to walk the streets of Manetheren, visit the capitals of the Ten Nations, and fight a centuries long war in which the force of Light face near certain annihilation in every battle? The Breaking of the World provides similar options. Or, perhaps, the game could take place during the Consolidation of the Seanchan Empire. That particular avenue offers very good reason to not allow Aes Sedai to be playable, and sets the game in a part of the world that Jordan very rarely has his readers visit. The possibilities are numerous... this game could work. And then again, it could be an utter disaster for the developers and fans of the franchise alike.

The article on the Red Eagle website does reference other games that will be developed in addition to the MMO. I have much higher hopes for these titles. Perhaps an strategy title covering the rise of Artur Hawkwing? Maybe a single player role playing game, or a series of them, in which the gamer plays an Aes Sedai during the founding of the White Tower? How about a city builder style game that unfolds the history of Tear from the Breaking? Even without an MMO, the possibilities for games set in the world of Robert Jordan are so numerous and so exciting as to keep Red Eagle busy for decades without making a single sequel or repeating a single genre once.

In the end, I can't complain that Red Eagle is bringing the world of Robert Jordan to life via games. The prospect of an MMORPG worries me, but only time will tell how valid those worries are. Perhaps they will resist the urge to paint over the Mona Lisa and make the hard choice necessary to develop a great game within the confines of Jordan's creation, and not over the top of it. Perhaps EA will actually be patient and let these games develop completely and force them onto the market before they are truly ready. Either way, this is a momentous day for gamers and fans of the Wheel of Time series alike. We can only hope it is momentous for good reasons.

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