As this title changes direction I find myself nodding at their good sense.
Stargate Worlds has been in development for some time as a MMO. However they have been plagued by financial problems with reports of staff not getting paid and so on. Time after time they've lurched back to business, clinging on by their fingernails.
Recently they've announced that instead of launching a MMO in 2010 they will instead be producing a shooter. I applaud their wisdom.
2010 will see the launch of Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The subset of Stargate fans who do not prefer one of those IPs must be absolutely tiny.
Watching Stargate Universe over the holiday period made me think about how weak the IP is as the basis for a MMO.
I'm not saying Stargate is not entertaining, it is - as a TV series.
As a MMO IP it has serious drawbacks:
Stargate Universe has some very well-acted strong characters that are interesting and memorable. Robert Carlyle is mesmerising, David Blue is great. But most of the actors are just bland. In scene after scene we see some big emotional drama played out and Carlyle is the only person whose face moves. It looks bizarre. Like everyone except Carlyle and Blue went to some acting school where you are told to act every part stoic and impassive. It undermines Carlyle's acting because it makes him look hammy when he is acting with a wide range of visible emotions and no one else is.
Carlyle's acting does not suit his part. He has created a strong character of great integrity and personality. Yet the script is clearly written on the assumption he is an unlikeable nerd. He keeps suggesting things in a highly convincing way and everyone rejects his suggestion because it comes from him. That doesn't make any sense, he is clearly an authoritative charismatic expert who is the only person who knows that the hell to do. They should have got Rick Moranis to play Dr Rush, not Carlyle.
The soldiers don't act like soldiers. They are continually ignoring orders and doing what they feel like instead. They act like teenagers, not professional military men and women. They are also particularly wooden. I don't believe soldiers are so impassive in combat situations, particularly not American soldiers. Kelly's Heroes is a much more convincing picture of how American soldiers behave under stress.
The home visits from outer space are ridiculous. Chloe visits her mother and Colonel Young visits his wife. Nice for drama but daft in the context of a mission in crisis. It's as if Picard popped back to London for a pint in the middle of Star Trek.
The IP is too like Star Trek
- the guy who can fly the ship has a Scottish accent.
- a major character is brilliant but can't connect to others emotionally.
- the plotlines are resolved by "leadership" which consists of impulsively ignoring your experts, telling people to pull their fingers out and reminding everyone that "we're all in this together". This is portrayed as opposite to and superior to actually knowing what the hell you're doing.
- a perky medical officer who asserts her rights as ranking medical officer to do things the leader doesn't want.
- ship-based with away teams.
- a high emphasis on emotional interaction between the characters no matter how inappropriate to the situation. All this Eli-Chloe-Scott love triangle business. I can see it makes the show more dramatic but sometimes you really think there's something better they should get on and do rather than fixing the shower.
Stargate really is just Star Trek with different uniforms. Wait, what's that? "Ah but don't forget the stargates," you say, "they're unique!" A mysterions device that can transport people across space. Yeah right, that's never been done before. Beam me up, Scotty.
In addition to this Stargate Universe breaks its own continuity all the time. In Episode 3 an away team goes to a planet to search for cleaning powder (an exciting story if ever there was one!). First Dr Rush, who is supposed to be the unemotional genius gives his water away to Lieutenant Scott in an emo moment. Then Scott orders Sergeant Greer to keep Rush alive. Then when they're alone Greer refuses Rush water, an action likely to kill him, and hits him and pulls a gun on him. Why doesn't he follow orders? Then they get back to the Stargate and a guy is trying to get through. Rush tells Greer to shoot him. He does, and asked why he shot him "because he told me too". So he doesn't follow his own lieutenant's orders but he jumps to follow Rush's orders despite hating him and having just hit him? It's nonsense. And once they get back up to the ship Rush blames Greer for shooting the scientist, telling Young "Greer, Greer shot him!" And this doesn't get followed up. Does the Colonel just forget that one of his men is running amuck shooting civilians?
In another scene Chloe attacks Dr Rush after her father dies heroically. Carlyle acts out a brilliant and moving scene where he explains on his knees how much he regrets the death and how committed he is to saving the ship. The rest of the cast looks on woodenly. A little later Colonel Young asks him if he cares about saving the ship. Hello? As far as the audience knows Dr Rush is the only person who cares about saving the ship. Everyone else seems about as interested as teenage boys helping their mums go grocery shopping. What the series is showing to the audience is wildly at variance to what the characters are reacting to. (This is because Carlyle is too sympathetic).
Implications for game-making
The series is fine for a shooter game. It's sci fi, it's full of soldiers, tech is shown clearly and is interesting as far as game weapons go. It's more like real soldier weapons (pistols, machine guns) than phasers and light sabers which a lot of people will like.
For a MMO which requires considerably more depth the cracks start to show.
First the lore is weak. It's a fairly transparent Star Trek rip-off. Worse a lot of the story contradicts other parts of the story and the science is non-existent. For example to find lime on the planet they go running around on foot despite having telemetry on the ship that can measure chemical composition and which they use at other times to detect breathable atmosphere. Why can't they just scan for calcium carbonate with the thing that tells you the atmosphere is 88% nitrogen and 12% oxygen?
Next what's interesting about the show is to a large extent the drama and the characters. That doesn't translate. Instead of playing out a dramatic scene with Robert Carlyle you interact with nerds who tell you to go to X for a 3.4% speed buff. Instead of a romance with Medic Johannsen you get asked "wanna cyber" by some big-breasted avatar that likely belongs to a 40 year old basement dweller called Bert.
The technology is not sufficiently interesting. The gates are the only really iconic tech but you can't do much with them in game. They're essentially a load screen between instances. The ship looks cool but you can't fly it. "Ancients technology" is just lumps of rock with glyphs on them that work like mobile phones or whatever. The weapons are apparently standard contemporary US Army issue - great for a shooter but very weak for something more story-based.
The characters don't lend themselves to obviously exciting classes (as compared with say Jedi). You got soldiers. A medic who is kinda crap - her best medicine seems to be apirin or something similar and her main treatment is telling people to get some sleep. You got mad scientist that everyone hates. You got college dropout geek. You got crap scientists who are useless. You got politicians who just whine at the soldiers and occasionally use their Leadership powers to calm everyone else. And you got everyone else whose only plot function is to panic and need to be calmed down. None of these make interesting MMO classes. From what I vaguely remember of the film they had a few archaeologists too. Whoop de doo.
The look is sometimes self-defeating. They have these great access corridors on the ship, reminiscent of the Nostromo in Alien. In fact I found myself waiting for the alien to jump out then thinking "oh shoot, it's Stargate, relax, nothing exciting is going to happen". The problem with using everyone else's tropes is that by and large they did it better.
Anyway that's something of a snap judgment, I don't know the IP well, just watched a few episodes over Christmas. What I saw does not make me think, wow, wish I was a character in that universe. In fact it makes me think "they were planning a MMO? Wow!" Sometimes it really is better to just write your own stories.