In the second half of our interview with Robert Rice (part one is here), he talks in more depth about his start-up MMORPG Immortal Destiny. Rice is the CEO of Neogence Studios, a new Raligh, NC based MMO studio.
Answers by Robert Rice (CEO/Exec. Producer, Neogence Studios)
Questions by Dana Massey
Editor's Note: This is the second half a Q&A we began last week. You can read the first half here.
WarCry: Story seems to be a focus, from reading your site, but it is not overly explained. Talk about the world you're creating from both a fictional and artistic perspective.
Robert Rice: Mmm, yes. Story is very important. Some people would argue that story is useful for nothing more than setting the stage of the game, and that no one really ever reads the flavor text or even quest/mission descriptions (how many of you just fast forward to the end where the quest giver lists the things you need to do/get and just ignore the rest?). What some designers miss out on is that story and the lore of the world do much more than just set the stage. It helps make things more real, more interesting, and more immersive. It gives a reason WHY things are as they are.
One thing that never ceases to surprise me, is that when you get right down to it, game developers are essentially story tellers, but good writing and crafting stories is about as important as hiring a good secretary. I put this theory to the test a few months ago and looked at a few thousand game industry job openings...I only found two for writers. One was for writing content for the website and doing general editorial on game documentation, manuals, etc. and the other was for a game review site. That was it.
I should point out that we already have a few very talented and experienced writers on staff, and will add more throughout our development cycle. But enough of that, you want to know more about the world.
Immortal Destiny is a bit hard to categorize because we are trying to create something original and we are forging new ground in a lot of respects. I can say that there are not going to be any elves or orcs and there won't be any spaceships or plasma rifles. There will be plenty of magic (hrm, should I mention that players will be able to craft their own spells in a way that has never been done before?), and a wide variety of weapons and technology, but the game is not traditional fantasy or science fiction. Somewhere in between with some other interesting bits and pieces thrown in and mixed around. While I can't say much more about the story or the world at this point, I will say that we will begin revealing small glimpses of the lore, history, culture, politics, religions, philosophies, and so forth on a regular basis throughout the entire development cycle. By the time we get to launch, there should be a pretty good sized encyclopedia of stuff for players to consume. I'm hoping that we will have a vibrant and active fan fiction community that will create stories of their own. We will definitely bend over backwards to support them, and there might be some opportunities to incorporate some player created stuff into the official canon.
Artistically speaking, we want to create a lush and vibrant world that responds to player actions (or inaction). We want to redefine what it means to say "dynamic", "interactive", and "immersive". We want a visually gorgeous world with plenty of places for people to just stand and have a "wow" moment. Exploration will be rewarded! Every building, object, item, creature, piece of clothing, and so on will be carefully designed and crafted. We want to avoid the same old European medieval styles that are becoming cliché, but we aren't going to go crazy with weird architecture that looks "off" either. The world won't be harshly realistic visually, and it won't be heavily stylized either. We have found a nice place in the middle that looks incredible. You will just have to wait for the screenshots I guess.
WarCry: Your FAQ mentions that skills don't entirely advance through repetition, but doesn't say how they do advance. How do they?
Robert Rice: We have a fairly complex system that governs skill advancement. One of the variables is repetition, although the law of diminishing returns applies. There is only so many times in a day that you can do something and learn from it before you are just wasting your time. There are quite a few other variables, including learning from other players that have the skill at a higher level than you do, learning from books, and so forth. I should mention that the system is designed to thwart scripts, bots, and macros (they are effectively useless), and that there is a difference between learning the *theory* behind a skill (reading books about brain surgery) and advancing a skill based on practical application (actually operating on someone).
Oh, unused skills tend to "get rusty" over time. Of course, if you master something, it is like riding a bike and you probably won't have to worry about anything. But if you just spend a little time picking up a skill and don't really use it, you will eventually forget everything you learned.
WarCry: Your FAQ mentions that there are seasons in your world, something no other game does, because at a very basic level, it's really hard to put snow on the ground and change the trees. How are you going to pull that off?
Robert Rice: Lots of beer, pizza, and really passionate engineers that like to solve difficult problems. We believe that the cornerstone to a mind blowing MMORPG is the world environment itself, so we are placing a heavy emphasis on the underlying technology here. I can't tell you how we are going to pull it off exactly, as I am not a programmer, but we are doing it.
WarCry: You promise to make sure combat is tactical, not boring and repetitive, but still easy to learn. Can you explain how you will do this?
Robert Rice: Chess is fairly easy to learn, but can literally take a lifetime to master. We are designing combat (and the interface) to be something that is relatively easy to get into and extremely intuitive. We want a very low and short learning curve. However, for people that really want to dig deep into it or focus on combat, there will be multiple layers of depth and complexity (but not complicated). I guess you could say that anyone can walk around and swing a sword relatively effectively in combat, but people that spend the time learning the finer nuances of a particular sword type or combat style have many more options available to them during a fight.
We are generally dissatisfied with combat in MMORPGs. It seems that everything usually ends up being a icon mash fest, or a repetitive mouseclick grind. When was the last time a monster or NPC did something unexpected and surprised you? Combat, whether PvE or PvP, should be more than trying to get in the first shot, or guessing at what element they are weak against. One of the things we decided early on was to make a list of everything that irritated us or pissed us off about MMORPGs and then we set out to change, throw-out, reinvent, and innovate until we had something fresh, kick-ass, and fun. Combat is definitely one of those areas at the top of our list.
WarCry: Your game features 12 Great Houses and all players belong to one. Tell us about them and what they will mean to the game in general.
Robert Rice: We decided against using character races for a few reasons, one of them is because your character's race is pretty meaningless in most MMORPGs. People choose a race either for the look or for the racial skills and abilities. How often do you see elf and dwarf characters running around in the same party? Aren't they supposed to be at odds with each other? And honestly, since when does race dictate how good you can be at a particular skill? I wonder sometimes if the game industry doesn't subtly and unintentionally reinforce racial stereotypes, tension, and prejudice.
Anyway, the Great Houses is one of our solutions to this. Each has a long and detailed history, a fully developed culture, government type, multiple philosophies, fashions (yes, fashion), and so forth. All of this isn't just for show though...many of the Great Houses have old and bitter enmities towards each other, or in some cases long standing treaties and alliances. Of course, we are planning on giving players the opportunity to ascent the social ranks and take control of the Great Houses.
Belonging to a Great House is akin to saying where you are from. You can be pretty involved in what is going on, or you can completely ignore it. Of course there are lots of benefits to being loyal to your Great House, but that is pretty optional. Things get really interesting though with the Lesser Houses and Bloodline Clans (both can be player started and controlled). A Lesser House must be loyal to the Great House that sponsors it, but Clans can be loyal (or not) to multiple Houses. Politics, subterfuge, treaties, alliances, wars, trade agreements, taxes, land grants (!), and many other things are all part of the social and House systems. We are definitely raising the bar here.
WarCry: The game is very ambitious, from the sound of it. Why do you think your start-up can effectively tackle everything you've described?
Robert Rice: Without ambition, why bother? I think it is fairly safe to say that people generally agree that the game industry is stagnating and starting to smell pretty badly. We desperately need risk takers, dreamweavers, and people with vision and ambition, as well as the ability to execute and deliver. Yes, the full scope of what we are crafting is quite ambitious, but we have a seasoned and experienced executive team that is more than capable of guiding the company to success, and our core development and production team (while still small and growing) is full of very smart and talented people. A tremendous amount of forethought and planning has gone into this venture, even before we drafted the first business plan and incorporated. We believe in "measure twice, cut once". It is possible to accomplish great and daring things of raw ambition if you have a solid plan and good people. We refuse to hire people simply looking for a job or that want to break into the game industry...we look for talented people with a burning passion to craft something worthy that will be successful, influential, and withstand the test of time. This isn't just about making a MMORPG for us. We want to create unbelievable experiences and memories for people, and some damned fun games.
In closing I will leave you with a quote from Margaret Mead (1901-1978), an American anthropologist:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
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