Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Playing As Borg in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by Redding:
Well, the Borg are a No go player wise, this has been discussed several times in other posts and generally its understood that to turn them in to players would take away from what they are. No one yet has figured a way to make them playable and still be Borg.
Now how am I supposed to resist a design challenge like that? :)

Turbine allows players of Lord of the Rings Online to play as monsters (calling it, not surprisingly, "monster play"). Why not use something similar for the monstrous Borg in Star Trek Online?

The big challenge of letting players run a drone character is the loss of free will. How do you make that fun in a Star Trek MMORPG?

Here's my suggestion: All player drone characters spawn in a single cube somewhere in Federation space. Every cube comes equipped with several features:

  • engines
  • weapons
  • regenerative shields
  • lots of NPC drones
  • a reasonably specific objective from the Borg Queen played (usually?) by an NPC
Control over the ship and its systems would be exercised by a kind of uberdemocracy -- the ship would travel at impulse to the average position selected in real-time by all drones aboard that cube (players and NPCs); it would fire a particular weapon at the target chosen by the greatest number of drones for that weapon; and so on. For each and every action, the cube would carry out the collective will of all the characters aboard it.

Here's the kicker: the fewer players playing as drones, the more control those players have over what the cube does (subject to some limits, which is why those NPC drones exist), but the less power the cube has. Conversely, the more player drones, the more powerful a threat that cube becomes, but the less control any individual player has over what the ship actually does from moment to moment.

Naturally there are some practical questions that would have to be addressed. For example, to keep player characters from hijacking a cube, the NPC drones would be programmed to be able to take appropriate actions to assure that the Borg Queen's objective is satisfied -- perhaps warp drive isn't under the control of player characters. It's also interesting to speculate on what might happen if a group of 100 or more players got together (with some VOIP communication) on one cube -- what could they do with it if they actively collaborated?

Also, what happens when a Borg cube is destroyed? I'd suggest just respawning a new cube somewhere and letting all players who still want to play drones create new drones on that new cube.

There are plenty of other practical questions, but the big point here is the collective control mechanism. I believe it's a workable mechanism as gameplay that communicates what it means to be Borg. Borg power is collective power, not individual power. Playing a Borg should be about that experience of gaining fantastic power, but only at the cost of one's individuality.

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"

I think this would feel true to the spirit of the Borg as fictional characters in Star Trek. That said, I freely acknowledge that not everybody would like it as gameplay. In particular, the gamers who want to play Borg because they think they're supposed to be "more powerful" than every other player would probably hate this idea with a fiery passion because it confers power only on the group, not the individual.

Is there a better approach that meets the criteria of communicating that Borg hive-mind creepiness while still being both fun to play and not excessively disruptive to other players?

Or is Redding right, and the concept of playing as Borg is just not really practical?

No comments:

Post a Comment