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I "came to work" the other day (virtually speaking, seeing as how I didn't actually walk into RPGamer headquarters), and was informed about Sega's announcement. Later on I got conned into writing a news article (ok, not conned, I enjoy writing news, but conned just sounds like a better word). While reading and writing, and with Doug "Stom" Hill pointing out the potential for multiple online RPGs for a fixed price, I got really excited.
First of all, I have to admit, I've always loved Sega. I don't know why, it's probably just some sort of sick fetish of mine. I tend to like Sega's ideas and their ambition, and their ability to turn out high-quality products that no one ends up buying. They came out with the great idea for Sega TV which really started the whole idea of sending games over the internet for lots of people (myself included).
Now Sega's refining that idea to offer us what could potentially be the greatest advancement in RPGs ever. We've all thought about the basic ability to play dozens of RPGs online for a low cost, but that's just the start. Ultima Online clones are just going to get old fast. Diablo was the first RPG to my knowledge where people actually could team up to progress the story -- that was just the start.
With technology at the place it is, imagine an RPG that can create itself in a sense. Granted it will start out basic, as a randomly generated game world will, but imagine an RPG created with hundreds of endings, and hundreds of quests, that are all readily available. Imagine a game where it will be difficult to tell NPCs from real players. A game where the story is partially made up by people you run into, but where a large part is just in the mystery of finding out how to win.
That may seem vague, so let me try to explain this in more detail. Thousands of people across the world log into Sega's online network to play an RPG which we'll call Namakemono. As soon as you log in, you download a couple megs of info onto a spare memory card you have lying around, which contains dialogue and characters that inhabit the world. Now the fun begins. The players start wandering around, all starting in random places, doing the standard online RPG fare of killing things and getting equipment and talking to each other.
Sometimes they'll come across someone who only talks about something sounding vaguely plot related. Using the standard Dragon Warrior plot, the princess has been kidnapped or some such. Maybe someone else will have seen a dragon flying across the skies towards the north. Now you wander north, and find another town. Maybe you'll run into some PCs along the way who you can either tell what's going on, or that you can tell a total lie to.
Moving north, you get more clues, find more equipment, and maybe get sent on a wild goose chase or two by NPCs or PCs. Eventually, you and your group of chums find the final boss, slay it, and get a nice ending sequence (obviously no FMV, but Dreamcast's graphics can set up a nice ending that doesn't require FMV and wouldn't take too long to d/l if the engine is done nicely). Perhaps you get some reward for beating the game in the allotted time, either a week or a month.
Next month/week there's a new quest, with new characters, and new dialogue. You could even save the old quest and play it single player or with a few friends if you didn't get to beat it the last time. Your characters from the last time are brought into the new one, maybe with some of the ideas from Lufia II's ancient cave. For instance, maybe you can only keep certain special items found in harder to reach portions of the game, but still have to start from level 1 each new quest.
The technology isn't incapable of doing this. What do you need? You'd need a memory card capable of holding the data for a quest or three. Then you'd need a game engine capable of creating all these things and transmitting them to you in a relatively small size so that it didn't take all year to download a game, and so that you wouldn't need a Dreamcast zip disk to store them. Finally, you'd need players to inhabit the world.
Personally, I think that it solves the problem with normal online RPGs. You'd have a plot, albeit a somewhat simple one to start, but it would be a starting point. Eventually you could even possibly wander through an FF8 caliber RPG each month with your friends. People who wanted simply to kill and socialize could do so. Those who wanted to go for the story could do so as well. The possibilities are there to please so many people.
The only problem that it doesn't solve is cost. It wouldn't be very feasible for a company to release a game for $50 and then have the programmers and designers and writers work on things for it every following week. There are ways around it, I'm just not the creative genius I pretend to be. Personally, I'm looking forward to this new advancement in technology, and I truly hope that Sega makes as much of a killing as it can to make ideas like mine a reality, or at least a possibility.
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