Actually, it'd probably be a pretty novel experience playing a game which realistically simulates space combat... It'd become a matter of relative speeds - you're probably already moving at a ludicrous clip, the trick is to dance in and out of range at the maximum accurate weapon range using braking and thrusting maneuvers.... Forget changing direction rapidly, but you could probably do some minor jinking to avoid long-range damage.
The Lucasarts X-Wing and Tie Fighter games had a mechanic which would blend well with that style of combat - namely shield juggling. Assuming you'd allow enough of a fudge factor in your science to permit some analog of a force field, changing the orientation and concentration of a field to deflect incoming fire from multiple directions is a tricky but engaging mechanic.
Finally, it wouldn't have to be completely soundless - remember electromagnetism - assuming hull sensors which picked up and amplified emp and vibrations caused by passing through magnetic fields from shots or engine wake, you could hear a lot of really odd sounds. And as far as explosions, don't forget the stuff that a ship is made of has to go somewhere if it blows apart, and that somewhere is pretty much everywhere. Anything blowing up behind you (movement-wise) would be eerily silent and anything blowing up along your vector of movement would sound like electromagnetic shockwaves and a nasty hailstorm.
If your company can't offer value added over or at least equal value to "homemade" levels, you're likely in the wrong business.
Furthermore, you can just release high-quality mod tools above and beyond the quality that the public tends to provide and sell those as part of the pack.
Player mods didn't sink Quake or Doom (both of which could play mods in their free shareware version.)
It's not always about the first games, it's sometimes about the games that defined what the genres were to become.
Half-Life was the first FPS to deliver a storyline more sophisticated than the average C-rate late night Skinemax sci-fi flick.
Doom was the first to add the speed, immersion and immediacy to FPS, and was probably the most popular multiplayer video game until Starcraft came around.
World of Warcraft triggers the grumpy reflex in old timers like myself, but you've gotta admit, it's a phenomenon that hasn't been seen since Pac-Mania - the whole developed world knows about it and probably plays it - it's ubiquitous. On food, t-shirts, television, every corner of the internet and stuck all over magazines. A couple of years ago I saw two complete strangers in their forties arguing about druid specs... I haven't played the game since beta and am personally sick to death of hearing about it, but it's got an undeniable place in the annals of video game history.
The Sims may not have been the first tiny people simulator, and it wasn't even the first to have a complicated learning AI (off the top of my head, the Creatures series predated it.
What is has, however, is probably the largest sales numbers in history; and it essentializes the nurture/imagine/manipulate instinct to a degree that has not been surpassed.
I never quite liked those Orc guys outside Yew on GL. They decided to start ranging further afield and attacking miners so a couple of Yew Militia members (myself and another guy) strolled out there to have a word with them. They got uppity and started attacking us. We proceeded to spend the next 2 hours completely tearing apart their guild with just the two of us until they agreed to leave the miners alone and to only attack reds on the road.
To be fair, they were only Orcs and after the "accord" we had no trouble with them. They got some good experience fighting real anti-pks from that brawl, and we turned up a couple of times later to help them out when they were having PK trouble.
That ultimately failed when you had grifers and PKs who were Great Lords due to exploits and bot-mediated Karma grinding.
Then the "cops" had to become Dread Lords just to keep out the unwanted griefer elements. I spent quite some time as a Dread Lord for merely defending miners and reagent farmers from griefers. I will agree the title had some clout though, as even some of the tougher PKs would flee upon seeing a Dread Lord show up and kill two of them in a second, even being fully aware that by doing that he'd pretty much shot his wad.
the only people who really miss pre-trammel UO are the killers
...And the cops... and the people who want something more out of an MMO other than endless grinding and football matches (organized pvp).
There was something to be said for actually entering a world which contained some vague simulation of real danger and some consequence for failure. It's true that pre-Trammel UO was extremely unfriendly at the entrance to the learning curve, but someone who was actually interested in a challenge could thrive in UO either despite or because of the constant predation. It drove the in-game economy for the "sheep" as you put it. It made a niche for those people who kept the griefers under control. It allowed for interesting social constructions like bounties (although the in-game bounty system was useless, far better when dealt with informally by players).
More to the point, it made you value what you had more and be less interested in minmaxing your equipment when it could go away at any time. The things you had were ones you worked hard to get and fought hard to keep. It made the uncontrolled and unguarded (by players or NPC) areas more lively. Contrast the Darkness Falls from Dark Age of Camelot to any other dungeon in the game and you'll see the one with unregulated PVP that you had to fight hard to keep out of the hands of your enemies was more populated.
Finally, there are other forms of griefing than just killing people and not letting them get their stuff. Annoyance tactics and social griefing is far more disruptive than PVP ever was. UO had a rather expedient way of dealing with that - if somebody was really annoying you and the people around you, you cut their head off and sold it at the bank on a vendor.
I played for 2-3 years as a "local militiaman" for the largest player-run city in UO (at the time) during my days off from work (I worked a 14 hour graveyard shift 4 days a week). It was considerably more personally rewarding than any subsequent PVP or PVM-based game I've yet seen.
So spend about 1-3 months learning what the code does, taking notes and documenting as you go, writing down both your discoveries and what questions you're left with. Revisit that documentation regularly during the process rewriting any information you got wrong or learned more about including any gotchas you may have found. Start making a list of serious questions ("Why was this done this way," "What would happen if this component failed," "Why couldn't this have been done this way") and see if there are answers by the time you reach the end.
It's really not as hard as everybody seems to make it out to be unless the original writers tried overly hard to be "clever." I've read and learned several undocumented and, worse, incorrectly documented (the documentation didn't reflect the current state of code at all) code bases of this size. It takes patience, it makes your head hurt and it's not always fun, but the payoff is excellent - you understand the code, you've become better at reading strange code (yes, it is a learned skill) and you probably understand the code nearly as well as the people who wrote them by the time you've finished.
Quantity is no substitute for quality, but its the only one we've got.