Many years ago I started writing a story set in a theoretical neural-interface MMO. Since I'm trying to do more writing, I am getting back into it, and I wanted to write a blog post that contains a summary of the exposition about that game.
To start with, it is an inherently "sided" MMO. Every player is on one of two factions, "Mystic" or "Chaos". Importantly, "Chaos" here refers to "chaos mathematics"--it represents a side with advanced-future technology including lasers, force fields, and so on. In contrast, the "Mystic" side uses magic, spirits, and low technology--blades, armor, and so on. The intent is that both sides have about the same power, but are asymmetrical enough to be inherently and consistently interesting when they fight. Mystics like to get up close, have a lot of individual power and flexibility, but are very level-dependent and cannot easily handle losing a high-ranked soldier. Chaotics use equipment more than levels, leaving them more vulnerable to supply chain sabotage, and giving them less flexibility overall.
The world is divided up into hexagonal zones, and each zone has a hole in the ground with a Capture Point in it. Each faction has a Capital Zone, and connecting any zone to the Capital with an unbroken series of zones put that zone in Supply. Supply gives characters passive healing, recharges equipment, and refills mana, but perhaps most important, characters must always specify one Zone to be their respawn point after they are killed. Dying without a safe, in-supply, owned-by-your-faction spawn zone means permanent death for the character. The safest zone is therefore the Capital--but the two factions are at war, and if you are too far from the front line when you respawn, you will not get back in time to affect the rest of the battle. Set your spawn point too close, and yes you might be back in time to affect the outcome, but if you lose, you lose for good.
As a wargame, one side should eventually win, after which the server (continent) resets. The state of the server changes based on who won the last round; the winners are the "Dragon Nation", and the losers the "Shadow Nation". (On a new server or after a 'fresh' restart, both factions are Shadows) Each faction has different bonuses when they are the current Dragon than they do when they are the Shadow; the Shadow, as the underdogs, are given subterfuge, stealth, and assassination-style powers, while the Dragons are given generic stat boosts and unlock powers that distract them by giving individuals power that has little or nothing to do with the combat side of the game, such as free flight abilities and luxury resources. Ideally, the Shadow would eventually consume the Dragon, but as long as the Dragon side doesn't rest on their laurels and get distracted by their new benefits, they will be able to hold them off for a long time.
All zones except the Capitals and Villages randomly generate hostile creatures. Zones not controlled by a side are "feral" and many more creatures can spawn. However, even sided zones will get "incidental" monster attacks, and so it is important that players patrol them on occasion. If monsters remain unchecked long enough, they may reclaim the zone as feral, possibly even breaking a supply line. This patrol gives players a natural, endless series of quests, which lets lower-level characters have something to do even if they can't immediately jump into the war effort. Each zone also has a level associated with it, which affects the level of monsters, so some of this patrolling should be done by higher-level players.
Another interesting twist is time. Players are given a strict 8-hour allocation of game time, which recharges in half hour chunks when you are out of game. If you play five hours and rest two, you have another five hours to spend before you must wait another eight hours; if you obsess about the game, you could make a twenty-hour cycle out of this, but more common would be a twenty-four hour cycle, repeating each day. (This is still unhealthy, but the mandated breaks are hopefully better than if they weren't there)
In-game time is even stranger. The game takes six real-world hours to simulate a day, but it breaks that time into four one-hour "fast" chunks and four half-hour "slow" chunks. The slow chunks simulate the times around dawn, noon, dusk, and midnight; the fast chunks cram an entire morning, afternoon, or equivalent period of night time into just one hour. During a fast chunk, tasks like travel and crafting go much faster, allowing an enterprising player to get a lot of work done. In contrast, the slow chunks have these tasks moving very slowly, to encourage players to do things like talk, roleplay, fight, or just take a break.
The two time systems interact: a five-hour in game block of time includes three slow chunks, three fast chunks, and change. In other words, if you play two five hour chunks in a day, your character gets the equivalent of around five hours a day of sleep and works the rest. If you play an eight hour binge, your character "stays awake" for somewhere above twenty six hours, and then must rest before he's capable of much more. The numbers aren't perfect, but it's a sensible foundation.
The last major twist that is mechanical and not tied to the setting and story is that zones can be built on, and the buildings have strategic significance. There are different levels; any zone, even feral ones, can be fortified for minor benefit. Zones in supply can also have bonus buildings placed on to boost healing, energy regeneration, and so on, but these buildings are immediately destroyed if the supply is lost or the zone is captured. Zones adjacent to a Village or Capital zone can receive Faction buildings. Some of these allow players access to certain jobs, like smithing, farming, and so on, while others are far more powerful fortifications.
However, the most important Faction buildings are strategic ones that benefit the whole side, not only the zone. The Chaos forces have things like airports and factories that produce equipment and vehicles, as well as research buildings, hospitals, and similar strategic assets. The Mystics have a series of what are generically called "temples" that enhance the side's magic, unlocking character classes and giving all players access to some fundamental abilities. For example, a Summoning temple will let players specialize in summon magic, but will also give all players access to summoning skills, even if they never use them. Similarly, temples exist to allow teleportation, pets, more powerful magic, special magics like flight (for Dragons) and stealth (for Shadows), etc.
If you have read my blog at all, you know I enjoy the theory of game development, but Dragonshadow has always existed in a separate mindspace, because it is a purely theoretical thing which, to be honest, is unlike any game that exists--but since I came up with it during the course of writing a story set in it, it is built up so clearly that I sometimes see it. Not finished by any means, and not real in any sense, but it is fascinating to me, and I love it.