Picking a favourite, exciting, PS3-exclusive snippet from Sony’s E3 Conference was easy. Not only did Sony package it up with a lovely acronym – MAG – but they ensured it was an exclusive-exclusive too. Well, they didn’t announce anything else worth remembering, did they?
Massive Action Game (MAG) is the presumably working title for a new game from the developer of the uber-popular SOCOM games, Zipper Interactive. Sony weren’t exactly doling out MID (Massive Information Dumps) however, but the main premise of the game – at least for now – is that it’s a 256-player online war. If you take that at face value, it sounds more awesome than the time we were kids and stormed our neighbour’s garden with an army of Action Man figures. Actually, that was last week and Alex still hasn’t returned…
There was some extra info available from Andy Beaudoin which hints at more depth than is present in Warhawk. 8-players squads will be able to roam the battlefield and most interestingly there will be the concept of character progression – RPG-lite perhaps? – and even the possibility of “…ongoing…campaigns…”
But, like, what does it all mean?
We don’t know, but as these TIM (Tiny Information Morsels) have left us more jazzed than Winehouse, we thought we’d do a bit of reconnaissance and see what we think it means.
First up, that number: 256. Think of your best 16-player Warhawk sessions and multiply by 16. That’s the potential for 32 8-player teams fighting their way around the online ether. It pistol-whips you in the face initially, but how will it work in practice? Are we looking at the potential for unmitigated chaos, where no-one knows what to do or who to shoot? Will there be objectives for each team so as to provoke localised conflicts? Will inter-team comms be available so that you can team up with another group?
We’re imagining a game that sees you trying to complete objectives while 31 other teams are trying to complete theirs. Paths will no doubt cross and maybe you’ll fight or perhaps you’ll communicate your intent to ignore each other? This has major connotations for gameplay that we think are startling. Take Warhawk: it’s team versus team, so there’s never a situation where you wouldn’t want to shoot the other guy. But in MAG, it may be better to avoid a fire-fight so you can make your way to your objective. Perhaps teams will be given the same objective, but imagine if you could choose to work together and share the spoils, or wage a fire-fight first? You may be being decimated by another team, just 2 of you left, when another team shows up and saves you. Why? Because their objective was to waste the other team, and the happy by-product was your survival.
Remember Cannon Fodder? And how your little men progressed the longer you kept them alive? And how utterly devastated you were to lose one after many campaigns? Well, if MAG can re-create that then it could alter the landscape for online action games. No longer will you not worry about dying because a re-spawn is only 5 seconds away; you’ll be desperate to stay alive to preserve your hard-earned battle experience. Far from MAG being a 256-player free-for-all, it could turn into a tense, taught affair punctuated with vicious fire-fights with much more at stake than just capturing a flag. It won’t just be, “Great, nofi has joined!”, it’ll be, “Thank God, nofi’s Level 10, Captain Buttplug, has arrived!”. Or, worse, “Shit. My Level 10, Captain Buttplug, just got snotted!” followed (possibly) by tears. There’ll be an online graveyard for heroes lost – Buttplug will never be forgotten.
Oh, see what we’ve started now. We’re as happy as Tony Blair when he realised he was getting out at just the right time.
With all that said, there’s still the teasing “…ongoing…campaigns…” nugget that needs analysing. What could a campaign be? A simple chain of objectives to be met? Will it require the same set of teams to play over and over, or can the ‘campaign’ continue no matter which teams are involved? The idea that we could be playing a mini-war, continuing over a week or two, and seeing our characters live, progress, and maybe die is very exciting. We’re fascinated with how the idea of re-spawning will work. Assuming we have RPG elements, and that a dead character doesn’t just re-spawn with the same skills, how will skills be assigned to characters? If skill comes down purely to the player in control – as in Warhawk – then a dead character is no big deal. But, if the character is part-controlled by a set of RPG-numbers, then even the mightiest player coming back as a level 1 grunt will feel the pain.
It’s no doubt too much to hope that all our dreams will be realised. But it’s that hope that makes this industry so damn exciting. And the guns.
We’ve got so many thoughts about MAG we can’t possibly blog them all, so we want to hear what you think and what you’d like to see in the final game.
Right, time to sign-off from this PIS (Pure Indulgent Speculation).