A History In The Making
"Computer Simulation Games"
with Jim Dattilo
Sim of the Week - WWII Online
You're in the Army now, or Air Force or Navy...
Few would argue that online gameplay is the present and future of gaming. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), such as Everquest and Ultima Online, have captured the attention and dollars of the public with such fervor that new games and even whole new genres are rapidly being developed to take a share of the market. Sims have been in the arena for a while now with such popular MMOGs as Fighter Ace II, Aces High, Air Warrior, and WarBirds. While massively multiplayer sims have generally stuck to combat flight, WWII Online, from Cornered Rat Software, is gearing up as the next evolution - a grand scale war with sea, air, and land combat set on a persistent and dynamic virtual battlefield. Not too ambitious, huh?
What is an MMOG and why should I care?
MMOGs are not traditional multiplayer games in which you log onto a server or connect through IP (e.g. Combat Flight Sim 2 or Steel Beasts); instead, the game itself exists in real-time and continues even when players log out. At any time, missions and battles are being conducted which affect the overall status of the game. Logging back in, a player may find that a decisive battle has occurred or that a few of his squadmates took over a supply train. The War will be dynamic and ever-changing, based on the activities of the players inside. Also, there is a chance to build your character up and save it to continue with later.
So what is WWII Online?
WWII Online (WWIIO) is an impressive and somewhat ambitious sim that is set in, you guessed it, World War II. WWIIO allows players to enter into air combat, naval warfare, or as infantry or marine, and gain rank to command larger forces and affect the outcome of the War. Simmers develop personas, in-game representations, that can join one of the countries of the Axis or Allies, in any of the divisions of the Armed Forces. Players can even choose multiple personas to try their luck in the German infantry or in turn to flight as an American pilot. A very sophisticated ranking system allows advancement through defined missions, or from missions assigned by higher-ranking players. As would-be Pattons and Rommels advance, more strategic information, authority, and responsibility are given. More choices for resource management, more forces to command, and a higher level of access to sensitive information also follow with higher rank. There will also be a scoring system, and streaks, so players can compare kills, hit percentage, and other stats, which are reset upon death.
WWIIO will be played across a number of countries, giving the chance to fly (or drive) across Europe, for example, with no loading zones. There are 10 theaters when WWIIO goes live (the low European countries and Germany), with more being slated for addition in the future (such as Africa and Russia). The War will start in 1940 and commence with the first major events, though the course of WWII will be based on player activity.
Will it Work?
There already seems to be a major buzz and fan support for WWIIO, two very needed elements for a sim's success. There are a few key issues that WWIIO will need to deal with and overcome to be a true success:
1. Competition: As previously stated, the air combat area of MMOGs is currently very competitive. However, what seems to separate WWIIO is that it is largely dynamic and that it adds land and naval combat for those days when you don't feel like dogfighting.
2. Development Cost: A lengthy R&D, betas and testing, very delicate programming, and huge server/bandwidth bills makes for a very expensive sim. In WWIIO's favor is the pricing plan - it will cost a flat amount for the software (estimated $30-$50) and a monthly charge for the service (estimated $10-20). With even a low number of subscribers, Cornered Rat can recover their costs and profit from the residual income off the service charge.
3. Sims sales: Lately, the massively multiplayer realm has been owned by games like Everquest and Ultima Online which each boast 200,000+ accounts. With the advent of even more MMOGs including one based on Star Wars and one on Star Trek, will a massively multiplayer online sim be able to draw its own player base?
4. Company involvement: To host a virtual war on the scale of World War II Online, involvement by company or volunteer staff in the form of online guides is a requirement. Even the word from the developer is that guides will be needed often to help simmers, deal with problems (and problem players), and help steer some of the major events. Realistically, this takes lots of resources and consistent effort, which has been a problem for other MMOGs.
WWII Online is currently in a closed beta and the fan support is already incredible. WWIIO may be blessed even more by timing - the second World War continues to be a popular area of interest and little other major sims are coming out that combine everything it has to offer. In fact, the success of this sim could bring a lot of attention back to the genre.
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