I had a quick glance at the forum thread pointed to by Nerfbat’s Tales from the Tavern: Volume X, and didn’t see the setting for an MMO that is currently ping-ponging around inside my vastly empty skull, making my teeth rattle, and my eyes gyrate like the much abused trackball on a classic Centipede arcade cabinet. So I thought I’d post it here for the world, all three of you, to see.
A while ago Zoso introduced me to the wonderful comic Mouse Guard by David Petersen, and this would be my setting for an MMO if I were released from care for long enough to unleash my rabid brain at such a project. Like a face hugger the brain would clamp down on the minds of the developers, lay it’s fertile seed in their collective conscious and then fade into legend, only to be remembered too late at the last when it’s effulgent offspring would burst forth from the depths of the subconscious in a searing bright orgy of conceptualisation and gore.
If you hadn’t realised that my mind was like that by now there’s no hope for you I’m afraid, you’re already infected. Sorry.
Mouse Guard the MMO would be cool on so many levels; count them and I think you’ll find there are at least three levels, although fiercer proponents may convince you that they actually counted seven. Either way, there are a number of levels of cool and I shall explore just a few of them for you now.
The world within a world
The idea of playing as anthropomorphised adventuring mice lends itself instantly to the concept of playing in a world that is within world. This juxtaposition of worlds is a staple of fairy tales and children’s stories, we explore through narrative the world of these diminutive creatures, but we can’t escape the fact that this totally alien land in which they live is, in fact, part of our own world. To an adventuring mouse an overgrown lawn is a densely packed forest, fraught with lurking danger. A toadstool of any significant size is shelter from the rain and the gaze of flying predators.
I imagine epic battles that flow back and forth across dining room tables or the tops of refrigerators, over shed roofs and the backs of cows, precariously fought along telephone wires and high in the branches of gnarled oaks. I imagine a miniature horde of muridaen adventurers in their fustian livery with tiny swords and staves held at the ready, marching on the farmer’s grain store where it is rumoured that mountains of treasure lie, guarded by a sleeping beast with fangs the size of a mouse’s sword, and whose golden yellow eyes crossed with black slits stare out from the darkness, as the thrum-thrumming of its contentment rolls out from the darkness and strikes fear into all those who dare to approach.
It’s the age-old story of survival in grim times. The mice have to fight not only their natural enemies of the world – cats, snakes, owls and the like – but there is also the internecine struggle between the various factions within their own society. I would also add to these struggles an overarching fear of the coming of the farmer and his plough, such that the mice also fight to prevent the destruction of their world as they know it, be it through sabotage of the farmer’s tools, or by adventuring across the vast unknown in the search of new lands. Anyone who has read Watership Down or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will see the potential for great story telling in such a world.
World of Warcraft has proven that the cartoon style can appeal to players, hardcore and casual alike, and that a game needn’t be powered by the Unreal Engine with its plastic-looking uncanny valley mannequins. The fact that Petersen’s mice actually look like mice (none of that Micky Mouse or Danger Mouse style of comic character here) means that the worlds are deeply compelling, reminding me more of ’70s era Tolkien illustrations than anything maintream Disney has produced.
I think that Mouse Guard the MMO would be excellent, a slightly different take on the fantasy adventure MMO, with plenty of twists and hooks to make it stand out from the standards of the genre. There are stories from all over children’s literature that could be re-told from new perspectives, and with the players in control these stories could end up as feel-good tales along the lines of Beatrix Potter, or perhaps follow a darker route along the lines of NIMH.
So there you have it, my MMO setting. If you feel a slight tingling in the back of your mind, don’t worry, it’s nothing but the brain-seed bedding down. Just watch out for an irrepressible itching on the end of your nose, that’s the sign that it’s about to gestate.