Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 10, 2004

Shandalar is the perfect MMORPG. This is mainly due to the fact that it only exists as a rough concept in my head, which gets nicely around such real life problems as bugs, lag, or the quality of the graphics. Furthermore Shandalar is not highly original, even the name is stolen from an old Microprose game, which is now abandonware. The game is based upon different existing games, and some ideas I either read somewhere else (for example Hippopotenuse, see post below), or had fermenting in this blog for some time.

The basic concept of Shandalar is that it is a cross between MMORPG and trading card games, like Magic the Gathering. In the Microprose game, Shandalar was the name of a fantasy world which the player explored, battling the creatures he encountered by playing games of Magic against them. My Shandalar is a MMORPG with a classic 3D fantasy world, and the battles are graphically not unlike Everquest, as I think that visual 3D crossing of swords is a lot more popular than playing cards.

Another game I'm stealing ideas from is Lost Kingdoms 2 on the Gamecube. Shandalar combat is not unlike LK2 combat: You have a "deck" of "cards", each card representing a skill that can be used in combat, like an attack, a defensive move, or some sort of spell. The deck is "shuffled", randomized, and you can only see the top 4 cards. You fight by chosing one of the 4 cards as your next combat action. So you have some control during combat what you will do next, but sometimes you will simply not have the right card as one of the 4 open ones, and will have to do a move just to "discard" the card and "draw" a new one. Cards are not used up, but reshuffled into the deck after you used them.

There are no character classes in Shandalar. Every player starts with the same deck of cards, containing all sorts of skills you'd find in any traditional MMORPG in a basic form: standard attacks with different weapons, spells from different schools, and other typical combat actions like taunt. Cards that do similar things have the same color, for example all sword attacks have the same color, all blunt weapon attacks have the same color, all fire spells, all healing spells, and so on. In combat, using cards of the same color one after the other is faster than switching colors. If you switch colors, like first hitting with a sword, then using a fire spell, there is a short animation of you putting your sword in your belt and drawing your spell book, which slows you down a bit. So it is in the players interest to specialize, and have a deck with not so many different colors. Having two sword attack cards is better than one sword and one mace attack, even if both cards do the same damage, because you don't spend the time switching weapons.

To specialize, players have to modify their deck. But at the start they only got 40 cards, which happens to be the minimum size of a deck, so they either need to trade with other players, or acquire new cards. Getting new cards in game is relatively difficult, they drop as rare loot, or can be bought expensively from NPC for gold pieces, gold being a more common loot drop. But if that method of getting card is too time-consuming for you, you can also buy cards in random boosters from the game company for $1. These boosters contain 1 rare card, which can not be gained in game in any way, 2 uncommons, which correspond to very rare drops in game, and 4 common cards, which are the cards you have at the start, and which you can buy from NPC. There is no monthly fee, the client is freely downloadable, and setting up an account costs only $10 to cover the cost of your initial 40 cards. (Maybe give the player 1 booster for free after completing the tutorial, to get him started in deckbuilding.)

Uncommon and rare cards are not strictly better than common cards, but more specialized (and with better graphics effects). For example the common sword attack cards do the same damage to every mob. The uncommon and rare sword attacks do more damage to monsters with a special vulnerability against swords, but less damage against monsters with a resistance against swords. So if you have a large collection of uncommons and rares, you can custom tailor your deck for an expedition in an area where most of the mobs would be vulnerable to your attacks. Furthermore use of a card costs energy, and the rarer cards deal more damage for more energy. If you stack your deck with only rares, your likely to run out of energy during combat, which is a lot less likely with a all common deck. But the occasional more powerful rare attack is sure nice to have, driving sales of the boosters.

Shandalar is level-based, but your level only affects your hit-points, some sort of multiplier for the effect of your cards, and how much xp you get from what level of mob. Level progression, like in other MMORPG, forces you to move around and search for new hunting grounds. And of course the mobs in the next area won't have the same vulnerabilities, so your encouraged to change around your deck. Your skill in deck-building has a significant part in your success, neither your level alone, nor lots of rares will guarantee you win your fights. If you have sufficient cards in your collection, you can completely change your role in a group by changing your deck.

As Shandalar is only an idea, and I don't have means to transform it into a real MMORPG, I can only hope that some developer either has a similar idea, or feels free to borrow my concept. Given the financial success of trading card games, multiplying the card games higher profit per user with the MMORPGs higher number of users has obvious financial advantages for a game company. So I got some hope than in a couple of years I will see a MMORPG which is not totally unlike Shandalar.
I like it. I could write such a thing in text, but today's gamers don't like text...
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