A View From the Road: We Need More Giant Robots


Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more that there needs to be a proper mecha MMOG. Oh sure, there’s NCSoft’s Exteel, but that’s not so much an MMOG as it is an online team-based action game with persistent character elements – like any multiplayer FPS, only with leveling up and equipment. But no, I mean an actual MMOG. Like, “go out into the persistent world, kill ten mecha-wolves, find a giant energy sword” style MMOG.

Now, gentle readers, there are those among you who may read this column and think, “Gee John, this article just seems like you’re indulging yourself.” And you know what? They’re completely right. But it’s robot week here at The Escapist (and giant robots are as totally badass as they’ve ever been) so I think I’m justified here.

Here’s the thing: The more I think about it, the more I find myself believing that a giant robot MMOG would be able to plausibly explain all the little nuances and quirks of the genre that we take for granted. Well, maybe not all of them – but more than a few.

Equipment and Stats: All right, I can buy the idea of characters getting bigger and sturdier armor that might help protect against attacks, but how do they boost stats? “Oh, I just put on this new hat, now I feel stronger!” How does my staff give me an extra +30 Intelligence? Does it only work when I’m physically touching it, or do I just have to be in the room? Sure, we can handwave these all with the handy fantasy explanation of “A wizard did it,” but let’s face it: We both know that the idea of a new wristband making us more durable is a silly one.

Not so if you were in a giant robot. There, you’re simply upgrading equipment for tangible benefits – just like putting a new video card in your PC. Technology gets better, after all. “This new engine doubles my power output!” Your new head equipment upgrades your targeting computer, giving you better accuracy. These brand-new rocket boosters make you much more swift and agile in combat. And this powerful laser rifle has had its limiters scaled back, meaning you can shoot lasers that are giant-er and more destructive than ever before!

Leveling Up: Ah, the staple of RPGs everywhere. Too bad it’s never really made much sense: “I’ve just killed an arbitrary number of enemies. Now I suddenly know how to swing my sword in a different way, and it has a cool new attack name!” Sure, it’s a fine way to represent character growth, and it’s certainly true that firing 300 arrows will make you better at firing arrows, but it feels entirely too artificial. Is it remotely realistic to have a situation where you didn’t know how to do this after shooting 299 arrows, but the 300th one suddenly unlocked more latent potential in your mind? Nah.

In a mecha MMORPG, you wouldn’t “Level Up” per se, you’d gain proficiency and certification with different technology and equipment. “I’m certified with basic mid-air transformation,” you say proudly as your giant robot shifts from its jet-fighter form to its humanoid one. Those badass energy claws you’ve got your eyes on may look tantalizing, but you won’t be able to equip them until you’ve got your badass energy-claw license. Or, if you want to go with a standard “leveling up” model – you just got promoted, now you have access to superior equipment. It’s not adventuring so much as red tape, but it serves the same purpose. Hey, if we’re going to be artificial, might as well have some justification for it.

Durability: Like leveling up, this one isn’t necessarily limited to MMORPGs – you know how you’ll be playing a game, and you’ll swing your big-ass axe at someone and connect squarely across the chest… and they’ll stay standing? That attack should have taken their damn arm off! They should be writhing on the ground bleeding to death, not winding up for their next Fireball.

A human (or elf, or orc) might not be able to take an axe to the face without suffering from an acute case of death, but you know who can? Yeah, a giant robot can. A robot feels no pain, a robot will never bleed out and die, and a robot can still stay fighting even with its head and arm cut off. Robots can take heavy punishment and stay in the game – even the most hardcore of meatbags can only take so much. And that brings me to…

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Respawning: Death is strangely non-permanent in Azeroth and Norrath. Okay, sure, I’ll buy the “magic resurrection spell,” because as long as we’re accepting that people can shoot fire from their hands, why not bring back the dead? But what about the standard “you died, now run back to your corpse and get your stuff” method of coming back to life? How can any major lore character ever stay dead when they can just run back to their body?

With a robot, you don’t respawn. If you are the robot, you merely download your consciousness into a new AI. With a piloted mech, you eject right before destruction, and sortie in a repaired and/or rebuilt model of the one you were just piloting. It just so happens that you have a really efficient repair crew. And, um, that your ejection module is completely foolproof and covered in special shielding.

…nobody said all of these were perfect!

Magic: All right, all right. Magic might not make sense in our world, but it’s a fact of life in other worlds just as surely as trolls and dwarves are. But for the sake of argument, let’s just remember Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” If we’re dealing with giant robots, we’ve got the sufficiently advanced technology, don’t we?

Instead of using magic healing, you’re just using a nano-repair polymer that instantly restores armor. Oh, and instead of Invisibility you’re using light-bending technology. And you have flamethrowers on your wrists, and instead of blasting the enemy with magical power, you blast them with lasers. This one’s easy!

Classes: Another RPG staple, but not one that really holds up under scrutiny. Would any kid – even in a fantasy world – decide one day, “You know what? I want to grow up to be a magic user, but I don’t want to have to memorize spells from a spell book, so I’m going to be a Sorcerer and not a Wizard!” No, the kid decides, “When I grow up, I want to shoot fire from my hands.” Similarly, that guy living in the woods with a pet wolf probably didn’t choose to grow up to be a Ranger, he wanted to just live in the goddamn woods with a pet wolf!

Similarly to how the whole proficiency/certification thing works, different sets of equipment would naturally lend themselves to different roles in combat, even if you never give the role a class name. The agile mecha with seven different blades and a built-in shield is clearly a melee specialist, the one with the giant sniper rifle is meant to engage in combat from an incredible distance, the one that can transform into the swift airplane mode is meant for mobile hit-and-run attacks, and the heavily armored one with the big-ass cannon is meant to plant its feet on the ground and destroy everything in front of it. Do you need to give them class names? No. Do you know exactly what they’re meant to do? Damn right you do.

So yes, I have a dream. I have a dream that one day we will be able to create our own individual pilot characters and run around a town doing all the standard “in-town” upkeep of an MMOG, and then we will be able to go out into the open world and launch in our mecha of choice, whether it’s sixteen feet tall or sixty. Sure, maybe it would be more realistic that your standard fantasy RPG, but let’s be honest: We wouldn’t be playing a giant robot game for realism, would we?

We’d just be playing it because it would be awesome.

John Funk thinks Japanese mecha are a lot more badass than Western ones. Megas XLR doesn’t count.

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