Online gaming has come on leaps and bounds over the years, and it has many guises. My first online experience is born from when I jumped into a multiplayer game of Halo 2 in 2006, and I was impressed. Gone were the days of my boredom taking over as each AI-controlled enemy followed a predictable and predetermined course of action. If they were designed to be a difficult opponent, they simply fired more frequently and with improved accuracy.
A human opponent is very different. They can be both predictable and unpredictable in every single way. From the way they move or fire to the manner in which they drive a vehicle. A human opponent can also improve over the course of a single round or exhibit a sudden decline in their skill and strategy in a way that makes you question if your would-be enemy has suddenly lapsed into a coma. A human opponent can opt for certain stereotypes in combat. They can prefer to snipe from afar, perched on an outcrop of elevated terrain, or they can be in your face with a shotgun and a smile. Then you have the one’s that like a medium-ranged weapon or a delightfully varied collection of grenades, all of them with your name on them. But within these player types are even more variations.
All of this has led me to question what the future of online gaming could be like. Will we simple see more and more of the usual but successful bunch of multiplayer games, such as: Gears of War, HALO and Modern Warfare, or will we see more of the ambitious incarnations, with swathes of players, like EVE, World of Warcraft and the recently added Star Trek Online? Or will the mainstream bunch decide to take the plunge and join in as well?
In truth, it’s hard to tell. Developers are always keen to stick with an idea that works, and pays well. One prime example is Bungie Studios’ desire to improve the Halo engine but not to change it for Halo: Reach. And, it seems, the idea has worked beyond expectations. But would Bungie, Infinity Ward and Epic Games ever consider turning their successful franchises into a permanent online battlefield where thousands of soldiers fight for supremacy? Well, it seems that one developer did plan for a global takeover in the MMO world
Back in 2006, Bungie and Ensemble were busy planning a Halo MMO, and while the concept seems inviting, I think they could have gone further. The majority of Halo games have been presented in one particular game type: as a first-person shooter, and it would make more sense to throw players into a constantly evolving wartime environment than it would for them to be wandering around the surface of Halo, looking for magic potions and Elites playing Guitar Hero.
Of course, you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. Any Halo MMOFPS could be incredibly varied, with hundreds of miles of open terrain, towns, cities, woods, rivers, mountains, villages and rolling countryside in general. There would be Marines, ODST’s and, of course, Spartans. And don’t forget the Covenant. In the end, though, the idea died.
Imagine if Infinity Ward pushed out an Operation Flashpoint-styled Modern Warfare game – a single, large island with two opposing factions. Or if Epic Games gave you the opportunity to fight for humanity or the Locust in a large, partially devastated war zone.
All of these, I’m sure, would be popular choices, but until anything like this happens, we’ll just have to play something else, and believe me there are some very good alternatives. World of Warcraft has been an immense success; it’s played by millions of people and looks completely “unbeatable.” EVE is slightly different to WoW, as I’m sure most of you already know. Instead of wandering around a fantasyland, you are presented with the freedom of outer space where you can trade, fight, recruit or just randomly roam the universe. Star Trek Online is another, more recent, addition to the MMO universe, but unlike the other two, you are plunged into countless scenarios that you may have already seen on television, with well-known characters and, of course, the Borg.
I can see plenty more additions for the near future, but unfortunately none of those will be Halo or Modern Warfare. But don’t despair, Bungie has explored the idea once already, so who knows what 343 Industries may be planning for the long-term future, at least until a certain Spartan returns.