Our own Dana Massey recently spoke with Tracy Spaight about the upcoming game Phylon.
Answers by Tracy Spaight
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: Phylon joins the ranks of MMO third person shooters and was clearly inspired by Rapid Reality owned Endless Ages. Can you talk about what the two titles have in common and how things have changed for Phylon?
Tracy: With Phylon, we've tried to capture some of the features that made Endless Ages fun, while creating something unique. Endless Ages players will find much that is familiar, but with some cool new twists.
Like Endless Ages, Phylon features Amphibians, Humans, and Blobs as playable species. Phylon employs the same fast-paced style of combat, with jetpacks and cool weaponry. Players can still kill each other in all sorts of creative and interesting ways.
The most obvious change is in the graphics department: the engine now takes advantage of the latest Direct X 9 features. As a result, the environments and creatures are much more detailed and beautifully rendered. In addition, we decided to adopt a more comical art style for character models. Other changes include streamlining the quest system and creating a new back story.
One of the features that clearly sets Phylon apart from its predecessor is the use of instanced battle arenas. Players can battle it out in team vs. team or single player battle arenas. The hub of the game, called Nexus, is a space station that orbits the planet Anura. Here players can buy weapons, do their banking, transit to other locations, or have a drink in the space bar. Nexus (a latin word meaning both center and connection) links all the exterior worlds/hunting grounds and the Arenas. In Phylon, "all Portals Lead to Nexus."
WarCry: The game recently pushed back launch to allow for more changes. How and why was this decision reached and when do you now hope to launch?
Tracy: We decided to extend the beta test in order to incorporate some of the excellent feedback we received from our testers. In addition, to ensure the best gaming experience possible, we decided to push forward with a couple of the features that we'd originally planned for our first expansion. In the meantime, players can continue to play the game for free and help shape the future of Phylon. We'll release the new launch date once we finish integrating the new features and begin final testing.
WarCry: Characterize for us the beta experience for you as developers so far.
Tracy: This is our first beta, so we weren't sure what to expect. We tried to plan for every contingency. In the end, we held our breath, flipped on the switch, and crossed our fingers. Fortunately the hardware didn't burst into flames and the game didn't crash. Quite the contrary: the server architecture handled instancing and load balancing rather well. Having crossed that bridge, we're now focusing on improving the new player experience and adding some cool new features.
There have been some hiccups along the way. We had some log-in issues that affected some of our beta testers, which we've since resolved. One of the more off-the-wall, if somewhat embarrassing bugs we found was that the bad language filter took everyday words and phrases (hello, friend, etc) and turned them into curse words so vile it would make your grandmother's hair turn blue. We fixed that with the last patch.
WarCry: In the old days of Rapid Reality, much was made about the game engine you guys purchased and were building up. What is the status of that now?
Tracy: The Aura 3-D platform does a lot of things very well. It has an efficient render-pipeline and a solid server layer. We've invested a lot of programming resources into improving the graphics capability of the engine. If you compare the screen shots of the original Endless Ages with Phylon, you'll see just how far we've come. We'll continue to expand the functionality of the engine as we dream up new features.
WarCry: MMOFPS games have had a lukewarm reception on the market, with no huge critical or commercial successes. Why do you feel Phylon can stand out from the competition?
Tracy: While its true that the first generation of MMOFPS / third person shooter titles were not run away commercial successes, the upcoming release of titles like Huxley and Hellgate London suggests that gamers are interested in persistent worlds with skill-based combat mechanics. Click a mob and go get a sandwich while you auto-attack just isn't all that engaging. Many MMO players enjoy the white-knuckled fire fights of shooters.
In Phylon, players will be able to design their own weapons or items on the website, drawing upon a library of modular components. Players can combine different modules, adjust the weapon's visuals and attributes (particle effect, damage channel, etc), name the gun, purchase it, and have it appear in their inventory in the game. We're also designing a system to allow players to create and place their own quests throughout the game. We want to give players the tools to exercise their creativity and imagination.
Many shooters (MMO or otherwise) are "Lord of the Flies" free-for-alls. We've tried to encourage more team-based game play through the introduction of factions and leader boards. There are eight factions in Phylon. Factions give players an identity and allies, in addition to bonuses. For example, if a member of your faction reaches the top of the leader boards, then everyone who is a member of that faction gains a bonus until he or she is knocked from the top slot.
WarCry: As a game, it came a bit out of nowhere. Gamers are used to hearing about games for years before launch. What enabled Phylon to come together so quickly?
Tracy: As a small, independent studio, we have to do a lot with a little by necessity, especially compared to the near infinite resources and half-decade long production cycles of the big corporate studios. We're more like a cool garage band: what we lack in resources and exposure we make up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things. We've only recently begun to crank up the volume on the media and marketing front. Gamers can expect to see more interviews and banner ads in the coming weeks.
WarCry: One complaint with most MMOFPS games is pacing. MMOs are big and often sparse, while good FPS games are fast, dense and packed. How have you tackled pacing in Phylon?
Tracy: We opted to create large out door zones for questing and hunting, and battle arenas for fast-paced, densely packed fire fights. Players can jump into a battle arena for some adrenaline pumping shoot outs or just chill out in the space bar or explore the world. It's up to the individual player.
WarCry: Talk to us about the PvP experience.
Tracy: One of the things that makes balancing player vs. player challenging is that new characters are being created all the time. In many games, higher level characters are practically demi-gods, whereas new players are mere insects by comparison. We don't want the advanced players squashing the newbies like bugs right after logging in, so we made the space station and the new player zone non-PvP areas. When new players venture out onto the surface of the planet, they will not drop any gear if they die before reaching level 10.
Since Phylon is a skill-based game, a player's gear and level is not the end all and be all of combat. Yes, having more l33t gear and being high level will make you harder to kill, and will enable you to dish out more damage, but a skilled low level player might still be able to take you out - especially if they bring their friends. For a little more spice, we've added a wagering system to the arenas, allowing all participating players to stake their hard-earned credits on their success (or failure) in that arena.
WarCry: And from the RPG side of things, what is there to do alone or in groups?
Tracy: Our quest system introduces new players to the world, helps them to "gear up" with better armor and weapons, and encourages them to explore the planet. Currently, our quests are solo affairs, but we're planning to implement group quests in a future expansion. Players can form groups, chat with their squad mates, and help each other complete quests or survive encounters with the planet's wild life.
WarCry: Rapid Reality has a well publicized and controversial history. Can you explain the change in leadership there and why you feel the company is now on the right path? Also, tell us about the people now in charge over at RR.
Tracy: With the management change in December, we hit the ground running. Over the past few months, we've worked hard to reorganize the studio and put the company on the right path. Making things right with our preorder community was the first order of business. We have since emailed everyone in our MMOcenter preorder database explaining the new direction, offering free game play, and issuing refunds.
Our current plans call for launching Phylon, and continuing to expand the title with constant improvements and features over the coming year. Later this year, we'll be launching our first co-developed console title.
The new management team includes myself as Chief Operating Officer and DJ Cassel as Creative Director. Tim Petty is Producer and Eric Webster as Art Director. Tim and Eric both worked at SOE on Everquest and its expansions. DJ worked on Medal of Honor: Breakthrough Assault, Postal 2, and Endless Ages, among other titles. With a collective total of 24 years of gaming and entertainment experience, the new management team is looking forward to the year ahead.