Sunday, July 11, 2004

Master of Magic 2

First off, an apology to my political readers (there may be two or three of you :p ). This week, I will not be talking about politics or a form of government. I have done little more than play Master of Magic this week, and have had little interest in the outside world.

I was going to talk about what I would like to see in a Master of Magic 2, and I'm glad I decided to do some research into the subject before writing this. It seems that software company Stardock, maker of the 4x space conquest game Galactic Civilizations, it testing the water to see if a Master of Magic 2 would be a profitable undertaking. To me, the answer is obvious. Get the word out, get a big company's marketing department into gear, and MOM2 would certainly be profitable—though one wonders if one can allow a big company to even touch licensed material and not screw the game up. It's a bit of a catch 22. If Stardock makes it, it'll probably be good, but will enough people know about it to make it profitable? If Atari (who owns the license) makes it, it'll probably be profitable, but would the people in charge care enough to make it good?

If you're interested, go here and post about it. Now I'll ramble on about what I'd like to see in a Master of Magic 2.

First off, don't remove anything. Don't reduce the number of wizards, units, races, or heroes because you're doing it in 3d and don't want to have to pay for the sheer number of 3d models necessary to do a game that was originally done with 2d graphics. If it can't be done in 3d on a reasonable budget, do it in 2d. It can be really nice, high resolution, animated, 2d graphics, but if going 3d means reducing content, go 2d.

Don't change the magic system. Change the magic domains already provided, and you change the game. You might as well not call it Master of Magic; please don't corrupt the brand just because it'll bring in more money to call it that. Life, Death, Sorcery, Chaos, and Nature; I can't imagine adding anything to that system, nor removing anything. One might decide to subdivide the system, or perhaps make inter-domain specializations (for example, an Elemental Earth focus that makes it easier to cast Earth Elemental—a Nature spell—and Cracks Call—a Chaos spell, since they are both earth based, but makes it harder to cast wind mastery—a Sorcery spell—and... oh, I don't know, Summon Sprites). But the Nodes system is great as it is, and I don't want to see it altered too much.

I wouldn't even change the races too much. I have read that gnolls are “useless,” but I have also read that gnolls are great if you ignore ruins and nodes, and focus on eliminating the other wizards early on, before they've developed too much beyond swordsmen and cavalry (of which gnolls are probably the best in the game). And, of course, if you eliminate a wizard early on, you get their cities, and can use those cities to develop more advanced armies while your gnolls continue to harass the other wizards.

Don't remove spells. I'm sure one might have concerns about play balancing, but I suggest one of two approaches. If one simply is too lazy to really put the effort into balancing the rather large number of possible spells (and possible strategies and exploits), don't bother grabbing the license. Just make a non-MOM fantasy style civlike game. However, the other possibility is to allow the player(s) to remove spells before the game begins. Just provide an interface by which the players in a multiplayer game can haggle over what spells they will allow and what spells they won't, and let them run with it.

Now, as to what I would add. First requirement is obviously updated graphics, sound that works on modern machines, and better AI. Please don't replace the music wholesale. I can't hear it now, on my modern machine, but I remember it being pretty cool. As to AI updates, simple things like having the AI actually move about strategically even when there is a city wall (sending cavalry forth to fight a bit before returning to the fortress, if such can be done so with the possibility of them escaping alive), making it smarter about having their spellcasting heroes use their missile attack rather than cast spells under certain situations (like a node battle), and a better simulation of diplomatic behavior would do it. Another thing that would be nice is to have different levels of difficulty be based upon different levels of intelligence and aggressiveness, rather than relying so much upon production bonuses and absolute gang-up situations. Watch your people who are totally new to the 4x experience play, and make the computer act like them (less efficient exploration algorithms, squandering of resources, novice tactical mistakes, etc.) Give your Impossible level access to the nastiest exploits the players can find—and don't even *make* the Impossible level until the game has been out for a bit, and the worst exploits (the ones you don't intend to patch) are found. Release it in an update.

One poster at Stardock's Galactic Civilizations forums said something about more than just two planes. I think this is a great idea, but unless the extra worlds have more to them than a palate shifted color scheme and more space to colonize, I'm not really interested. We need more races for each plane, more terrain types, more wizards, etc. All this is more graphics, more play balancing, more work. If Stardock is really up to it, I'd love to see a system by which each magic domain has its own world associated with it. This is how each place would be justified.

Arcanus and Myrror would represent the intermixing of the mundane and arcane magic which defines Master of Magic. Arcanus is more mundane, Myrror more magical, but both contain elements of the other plane, since magic exists in both. These two worlds would remain mostly as they were in the original MOM. Towers would continue to be the chief door between the planes of Arcanus and Myrror.

Nature magic would have an “origin” plane. This plane would be inhabited by faeries, wood elves, maybe stone giants (all summonable creaturs from MOM, except wood elves), maybe beastmen, and other races appropriate to such a setting (two more would be good enough). It would be hostile to organized settlement. Plains would spontaneously change to forests and swamps, limiting food supplies and population sizes. Rampaging monsters would be very common. On the other hand, nature nodes would be 3x in power (while other nodes would have no power whatsoever).

Chaos magic would have an “origin” plane. The landscape would have lots of hills, mountains, and volcanoes. Inhabitants would include wild elves (or gray elves? gotta have some kind of elf in every world), maybe dwarves and trolls, possibly fire giants, definitely efreet, etc. Spontaneous volcanoes would threaten settlement, as well as the rampaging monsters (Hydra and Great Drakes would be a disturbingly common sight).

Sorcery Magic would be a plain of mostly islands (if not a great cloud kingdom), and high mountains would characterize these mountains. Djinn, Najas, sea elves, and others would populate this domain. Freak storms (air elementals) and sky drakes would threaten organized settlement, as would the common lack of dry land.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with Life and Death magic, if anything. Though one can imagine conquering the elemental worlds, how does one enter the world of the dead without actually being dead? Obviously, angels and demons are summoned from somewhere, but how can one tread the world of The Gods (and indeed, they do exist in MOM, since they occasionally give an artifact as a gift). Perhaps this whole thing makes the idea of creating the Magic Planes a bad idea. Or maybe one need only leave out the realms of life and death. Or maybe neither is necessary; perhaps there is a way to do it that is cool, and I haven't thought of it.

One possible way transitioning between the worlds could work is to have magic nodes, much like towers in the first MOM, be distributed evenly between the worlds. The nodes could be the doors between the worlds. Perhaps other types of nodes wouldn't even exist in the magic planes, but rather more of that plane's type of nodes would exist, unlinked to the other worlds. Under that situation, the nodes could be regularly powered (or perhaps double powered like in Myrror), and the reward is access to more nodes in the magical worlds.

The races that correspond to summoned creatures in Arcanus and Myrror would be designed under the assumption that, when you summon a creature, you're getting basically a random group, the “spearmen” of that race (unless the picture very clearly defines a sword, as in the case of fire giants). Actual military units would be potentially even more powerful, though they could only be used on their home plane at cost, which would be high, in gold, and perhaps even in food (like giants). If one wanted to use them on Arcanus and Myrror, one would have to enchant them with a survival spell... every bit as expensive as the summoning spell. The same could be true of units native to Arcanus and Myrror—they could not go through a node without a special elemental survival spell being cast, something that enables them to pass through a volcano into a world of blazing heat, or swim through eldritch waters to the other side of the sorcery node, or disappear, mist-like, into the wild world of the nature node.

But, all this is purely optional. If it's going to bog development, keep it to a slightly updated MOM. Maybe save all that fancy extra stuff for MOM3, if MOM2 is successful enough to justify doing an experiment that may potentially destroy the franchise (as MOO3 seems to have done).

While we're on 3d graphics, how about 3d gameplay? When you've got a combat involving flying creatures and land creatures, it just might be cool to have aerial dogfights and such between angles, demons, cockatrices, units of griffon riders, and such. Maybe even give flying units different maneuverabilities, looking to Master of Orion (2) for examples of how this can be implemented. Make the less maneuverable units also less hardy, able to have their wings clipped. Give them altitudes, and differing levels of advantage depending on whether they are higher or lower. Heck, while we're at it, do the same with hilly and mountainous terrain for ground units. Having the high ground is always an advantage, particularly if you have bowmen in the group. Castle walls can do the same thing.

If not other planes, then how about other areas of the game world? Wouldn't it be neat to have to deal with merfolk and fishmen at the bottom of the sea? Or how about a subterranean realm? Though the extraplanear gameplay seems a bit threatening to me (as something that could seriously ruin the game if done wrong), these areas seem like natural extensions of the existing game, perfectly appropriate to a sequel.

More places to live means you need more wizards, both more options to play with and more competing in the game itself. I was always disappointed with only four opponents (accustomed to seven in Civlization), and if you have loads of other places to go, you definitely need to potentially have competitors in those places.

And, of course, multiplayer mode. At the very least, one should be able to play turn by turn hotseat mode, by email, or over a network (including the Internet, of course). Maybe set up a way to easily hook up with other players, if not running a server themselves, then at least providing a program which interfaces with the game. Timed simultanious turns should be implemented. And while talking about this with my wife, I came up with another idea: the bathroom break button. You hit it, the other players agree to it, and the game is totally paused (ensuring nobody is penalized by answering the call of nature.)

Yes, I am very excited about Master of Magic 2. It should be very cool.

1 comment:

Jen said...

.. i didn't even read that but wow thats long

thanks for the comment on my photo page :)