One thing that needs nailed down before much work is done (other than mechanics, which have been discussed elsewhere, but more can be added), is deciding on a game engine.
For the most part, game engines fall into specific catagories (both standalone and online):
Text/html based (might have images in the background, but are generally pretty flat.
Java/flash games (simple games for your phone)
2D side scrollers
2D top down view
2.5D isometric 'cell shaders'
full 3D game engines.
While the text based ones could be used by the fanfic writing population fairly easily, for me they have no pop.
Flash games usually have their drawbacks, and while it's a possibility it's not idea, as EQ is a HUGE world. Interest would be lost pretty quickly.
I'm not really digging the sidescroller idea. Truth be told, I haven't given it a fair shake, but I just don't see Elf Quest (or Troll Quest) working as a side scroller without becoming too linear (just a retelling of the story in game format). (Well, now that I think about it, I guess I have played what might be considered side scrollers that wouldn't be as bad as this. If the characters can walk toward and away from the screen it might be do-able. The interface I'm currently thinking is like the Space Quest games (the later ones.) It still limits how much of the world you can explore.)
I have not found any isometric cell shader games worth persuing. This is how I origionally saw the game working, but unless a suitable engine is found it won't be an option.
3D engines take at minimum 1/3 more effort than a 2D, and usually a LOT more. Plus you know that fans would want to have every major character rendered in 3D. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm sure I'd take at least 2 weeks to a month on each one, which would mean that just cutter and his family, Skywise, their wolves, two trees, a rock, the Father Tree, and a human for them to beat up might take around half a year, if I don't get busy on too many other things... It would never get done unless someone else knows a lot about this and wants to lead the project. Not only that, but there are not any quality ones available for free/open source. I have no money to throw at this project (well, maybe up to $100 start up and maybe web hosting fees if my arm is twisted), so an expensive engine is not an option.
This leaves 2D "top down view" engines. In basic form, it makes a chess board in which you place characters, items, and whatnot, drawn to whatever perspective you wish them displayed, like the Isometric, but the tiles are laid out in rows and columns, not at angles. By adjusting the width of the rows and the perspectives that the images are drawn, it gives the illusion of playing a 3 dimensional game, but with a lot less work.
Here is a list of 2D game engines (free and/or open source) I've found so far:
Eclipse Origions http://www.touchofdeathforums.com/eclipse/downloads.php
Extreme Worlds: http://mmorpgmaker.org/
There are others of the various types mentioned I'll post later. These would be the top 4 in my opinion.
vbGore is what I'm defaulting to for now to get something to play with. Once things get going we can try a different one without too much work (the images should carry over if done right) The reason for this is:
1) it's completely free
2) It's open source (meaning that custom game mechanics can be added easily)
3) I might understand the code best here
4) All the files were easy to download and didn't require 6 hrs to download.
5) it's a finished product (passed V1.0)
6) it meets the criteria: graphical MMO capable online customizable game.
7) I don't feel like beating my head against a wall using it.
8) it comes with examples.
The down sides to it:
Semi-complex to set up. If you find the install guide on the website it's not horrible, though.
Not supported anymore, officially (means no more features added by the creator, no more free code added).
Has some small issues with online play, but they can be worked around or with.
Is never going to compete with WoW or Rift or any other game that is getting $15 a month per player, but that should go without saying.
The reasons I didn't go with the others:
Mostly, haven't tried them. Just found the latter two today, so haven't looked at them (though from what it sounds like you can't customize the rules, which means it would be a one on one fight between all players, which hasn't been a consideration). NetGore has required huge downloads. One was 700mb and the other (that I haven't had time to download) says it's only 40mb, but then tries to download 1gb.... this is a lot to download, then turn around and upload to a server. It's by the same guy that made vbGore, but uses C# as a language instead of Visual Basic 6. I can read and manipulate both languages but I'm more comfortable with Basic. Furthermore, netGore is not complete. It's still in a beta form and not matured.
Feel free to discuss, ask questions, or suggest alternatives.
Also feel free to suggest what you envision as a 'look' for the game.
Well, I thought Id looked through all the potential engines around but found some more.
Here is what Ive found so far:
VbGore does not appear to allow more than one starting location. It will be months before I learn enough coding to fix this, and the same for netGore if it has this issue. Netgore is better supported (at least as far as operating systems go), and is current langages. Id rather start from scratch there than on something that is obsolite.
Netgore: still dont have .net downloaded, so I cant try it out. Might spend some time this afternoon to check out its code (I can follow code flow, but writing fresh code is rusty) to see if it has features I like.
Found a few working, easy to use engines, but they all feel like a '90s arcade game. To me this just feels dated and doesnt put forth the feel that ElfQuest needs. I have about three backup plans if netgore and one other doesnt work out.
As3iso: this shows promise, based on screenshots Ive seen so far. There is a facebook smurfs game that has the finish Id like to see for a potential ElfQuest game, but it is also going to require a lot of potential coding. It is a flash game engine. I do not know if it will work for MMO games, if a player can save their progress, or whatnot. Still looking at it. Ill need to grt ahold of a Flash development platform. Nicr thing with this is that it would be playable with all computers, all over the world, in theory.
If it is decided that a social multiplayer online game is no possible within the confines of EQ, there is another engine that would mean a lot of work but almost anything can be done with it. It uses java, making it playable on almost all computers and some phones, and is fairly complete. It has no interactive playability with other players unless they are also sitting in front of the same computer (which is not what I would consider a good feature). A game could be produced, but it would be an on your own, solo game.
Well, since I didnt get any input, I decided to go with NetGore. I had poked around with vbGore but it is limited.
Netgore allows for more than one start location, or if it doesnt it can be tricked (the game saves your position when you log off, therefore a preloaded position could be put in when starting your character.)
Anyway, its an uphill battle. The question I have for the group is: sidescroller or topdown view?
Sidescroller is like an arcade game or Mario Brothers, and would be well suited to the image style (eye level with the Elves) of Elfquest might even save some time on rendering backgrounds. There are two problems I see with it though: there is no depth, so you are stuck in a fairly linear side to side orientation, so exploring is minimized. Trolls are stuck in an 'antfarm' like tunnel system. The good thing with this is that you can show Troll Tunnels and the above ground forest far easier on the same map (though the elves cant see the Trolls!)
Topdown view: roughly speaking, this is a psudo-3D like view, as though a map of the play area has been laid out and your character can walk all over it, allowing far more room to look around, hunt, and whatnot. Topdown is better suited to the mechanics of gameplay most people want to see, but takes longer to make. Also, at the moment, it appears that the character animation system is more geared towards the sidescroller version, so someone wohld have to paperdoll every little frame of every action a player can do.
So, what does everyone want, if this all makes sense? I want a top down game, like SimCity, Command and Conquer, but the game will be done faster as a side scroller like Mario Brothers.