One thing in a spy’s arsenal is to be whoever he needs to be in a certain situation. Whether it’s fake credentials, stealing an access key and uniform, or even just talking a good game, being able to create an identity that helps the spy complete the mission is a staple of the spy genre. The question is, how to do that in a spy MMO?
Usually players are pretty obvious in an MMO – they’re the ones running around killing stuff. That would be the first thing that would have to change, the mentality that the player can’t do things like that without consequences (which has been touched on in previous posts). If the player is indistinguishable from NPCs in the game world it becomes easier to impersonate someone else.
Another issue which needs to be addressed is the normal identifiers of players and NPCs/mobs. It would be kind of hard to impersonate someone or be inconspicuous with a big string of text hanging over your head telling everyone who you are:
Not having these hang over entities in the game world is one of the first things that would have to be removed. The player still needs to be able to recognize other players and NPCs that his character knows, but if the character doesn’t know someone the player shouldn’t be able to tell who it is either.
From a design standpoint, the character object needs to have a list of credential objects that have been obtained somehow (stolen, black market, etc.). Other entities, be they PC or NPC, can query the character object to verify their credentials. One set of credentials should be the public face of the character and switchable somehow by the player.
If the credentials have been forged, there needs to be a chance that whoever is examining them can realize they’re fake. This means keeping some property that identifies that entity’s familiarity with that set of credentials. A security guard for a company will be more familiar with a company badge than the average company employee, since part of their job is to ensure the badge is real. A company employee won’t care as long as it looks real. Electronic verification of credentials is another issue entirely. This would probably depend on the skill of the forger. The type of credential will determine the number and types of verifications that need to be faked. A badge with a chip embedded in it will require more skill to fake than a purely picture-based badge. There would be a chance that the visual forgery would be ok but the electronic one wouldn’t succeed.
The ability to obtain credentials easily is going to mean the player has to have a set of contacts, legal or otherwise, to call upon and a black market is going to have to exist in order to be able to obtain things like forged papers and credentials.
At first, the player won’t have any contacts, unless as part of the character development process, a perk can be “bought” that allows the character to somehow know a contact from past experience.
A reputation system of sorts seems to be needed here as well, but not the typical MMO type of reputation. Usually reputation is just a number that determines if a person or group will deal with you, do something for you or kill you on site. Our needs are a bit more complex than that and it’s something I’m going to have to think about as part of this. Maybe it’ll become another post.
In the end, is a system like this doable and something the player will enjoy dealing with and/or be challenged by having to handle obtaining proper credentials in order to complete missions? I hope so, since it’s a integral piece of the spy game puzzle and something I feel needs to be present in order to make a spy MMO game feel like the player is really a spy doing spy type things.
As a side note, I’m kind of impressed this topic turned out to be longer than the one on combat. Whoda thunk it?