Thought for the Day: The trouble with historical settings

I’ve heard people suggest historical settings for MMOs as one of the genres that has never been well represented. But if you think that lore fanatics are bad enough in fantasy settings, imagine how bad that might get with ┬áreal world history.

I think Pirates of the Burning Sea gets around this due to “Hey everyone! Pirates!” and there are some historical settings which get fictionalised so much that everyone knows the genre tropes. But when it comes down to people’s favourite historical periods, they want not only accuracy but their favourite characters to be portrayed “correctly” too. And of course the historical veracity is going to be ruined as soon as other players are allowed in.

It’s a minefield! Having said that, if you could have a game with a historical setting of your choice, which would you choose? (I have a soft spot for the romans…)

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21 thoughts on “Thought for the Day: The trouble with historical settings

  1. Didn’t somebody already try that with Roma Victor?

    And (I know I’m going to get flamed for this) I always felt that Dark Age of Camelot’s grounding in real world legends and cultures put it far above Everquest’s setting, which was very “generic high school D&D campaign” and never really drew me in.

  2. kiantremayne already mentioned it:

    Dark Age of Camelot has it all. Full of myth, legend and history. Just awesome.
    Greek Mythology also makes a good background for a MMORPG, IMO. The Roman Empire or Republic – why not?

    From all more or less generic fantasy worlds created for computer games, Guild Wars and Ultima Online inspired me the most. I think even EQ, despite the American “high school D&D campaign” roots as kiantremayne said, has a good world feeling, as it is huge and has so many zones. I don’t see that in Rift for instance.

    SWTOR: I wish it was rather SW: The Old Trilogy. I can’t help but Lucas turned gold and my childhood memories into trash with this juvenile pubescent Darth Vader clown in the new trilogy! :(

  3. The times surrounding the worst times of the black plague would be interesting. You could be a physician from the era studying the disease and trying to find a cure. Of course, the only cures would be leaches or blessings possibly.

    I think if you want to see how history fanatics would react, you only have to look at how lore-fanatics have reacted to LotRO and it’s wardens and runekeepers. I saw many quit the game with that expansion.

    I don’t think the past is half as much fun as we seem to think it is.

  4. World War 2 Russian Front.

    A leveling system based on points awarded for advancing the megalomaniac faction leader’s obejctives (which change randomly each week).

    Players can work their way up to NKVD or SS status which allows them to shoot other players in the back of the head for “cowardice”.

    Permadeath obviously. (Historically people actually, you know, died when killed).

  5. I have two.

    First, the Wild West (America middling 1800’s)…gold rush, religious zealots, snake-oil salesman, the mad dash for cheap land, and ten-gallon hats. The only historical adjustments I’d make is to eliminate the U.S. military slaughtering the Native American population…Manifest Destiny my arse!

    The other would be a missing-link sort of tale. Add dinosaurs, saber-tooth tiger pets, and a whole lot of spikey club-like weapons…and don’t forget the near absence of clothing.

    So, in summary…War of Wild West (WoWW) or Dark age of Evolving Caveman (DaoEC)…you pick.

  6. Sven beat me to the dinosaur idea.

    I know this isn’t exactly “historical”, but make a survival-type MMO where you’re part of a very primitive tribal culture that exists at the time of dinosaurs and other dangerous animals.

    “Guilds” could be actual tribes that people form, complete with tribe-built villages. Simply surviving in this very harsh world would be a big part of the game, but for more powerful groups it could be about improving your tribe’s lot in the world, including your character. This could be done by gathering resources, acquiring land, fighting off dinosaurs, or even warring with other tribes.

    Can you make it to the river for a drink without getting eaten? Imagine the trees parting to reveal a T-Rex and running for your life.

  7. I’d probably go for Victorian London, possibly with a slight genre twist on it. Maybe not steampunk though; wouldn’t want to annoy Brunel.

    It’d probably be populated with the Victorian ladies from the third panel, however.

  8. I’d also go with the Victorian Era, but include Paris, Berlin, and Vienna as locations, possibly Prague. And I’d add in a supernatural twist, though it would be tough to avoid the whole Van Helsing trope in that situation. But Dracula and Frankenstein (the actual stories, not the modern movie interpretations) are great source material for that kind of stuff.

    The Old West sounds like it could be a compelling setting as well.

  9. If you really want to stir the pot and bring out the “lore” junkies, let’s set something in biblical times in the Holy Land. Book of Judges would be cool, or perhaps Exodus.

  10. The last decades of the Roman Republic could actually make for a pretty good MMO. Fight the barbarians and the glittering kingdoms of the east in PvE for wealth and glory, then come back to Rome and PvP for control of the Senate. The Roman tradition of patron/client relationships would be a good way of mentoring lower level players.

    I’m just worried about some guild leaders yelling “crucify him!” instead of “-50 DKP!”, or ordering decimation after the raid wipes repeatedly on a supposedly easy boss…

  11. I kinda liked the medieval ‘baroque’ setting of Sword of the New World (Granado espada) – I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another MMO with that theme.
    Granted, the dresses were somewhat silly in their opulence. ;)

  12. Rome definitely! But because there are specific eras of Rome that are key points, it may need different expansions. There is a Rome like MMO but fanatasy twist that made it sort of not cool. ROME!!!!!!

  13. I would consider a few different historic settings, but in an alternate history setting.

    E.g. one where European colonialism never happened and other powers made their mark on the world instead.

    Or just different winners and losers for the worlds wars, Roman Empire never crumbled, one where Atlantis exists etc.

  14. Number one choice: Rome- as I don’t thing God and Heroes will get its gameplay right. The perfect setting for a number of different MMO’s from Sandbox style (play as a soldier, merchant, senator, whatever) to arena pvpv (the coliseum). You could have it all.

    ..and the Wild West for sure. I remember a PBM (that’s play by mail for the younger folk) set in the Wild West which was good fun.

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