Marco van Haren of Spellborn Int. took some time recently to answer our questions about The Chronicles of Spellborn. This Dutch company has been hard at work on a unique MMO using the Unreal 2.5 engine for quite some time and as they get closer to public testing, it seemed to time to check in on their progress.
Answers by Marco van Haren, Marketing and PR Manager TCoS
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: There have been countless indie MMOs pop up and then fail. What makes The Chronicles of Spellborn different?
Marco van Haren: I think the answer to this question can be found by reading the rest of this interview.
WarCry: Many games are heading down the pipe using Unreal 3. TCoS employs Unreal 2.5. Why did you go for the lower version? What benefits, what limitations and why are you comfortable with that decision?
Marco van Haren: When we sat down with Epic at the start of the project we looked at both the 2.5 and the 3.0 engine. We already had the basics for our distinct graphical style in place and Epic advised us to use the 2.5 Engine since the 3.0 engine didn't contain any features that could really enhance our style. Over the course of development we made many changes and additions to the engine to add effects that were missing or insufficient in the 2.5 engine. It is important to keep in mind that with our active combat system we need players to have minimum lag or graphical slowdown. With using the 2.5 engine we can can achieve these goals without forcing people to upgrade to the latest hardware.
WarCry: Your FAQ says "we've taken measures to make [PvP Arena Battles] more interesting". Can you explain specifically how you hope to achieve this?
Marco van Haren: Using a FPS style combat system offers the perfect opportunity to create some interesting PvP options. At release the Arena will contain 5 different map setups that will allow for 1 on 1 or group vs. group battles with options such as death matches, time trials and last man standing. Combine these option with a tournament and ladder system and a statue reward system and I think we can safely state that the Arena offers some interesting PvP gameplay.
WarCry: The Chronicles of Spellborn has a rather complex and detailed backstory. Can you talk a bit about the basic premise of your world?
Marco van Haren: Spellborn's backstory is for the most part something that needs to be discovered by playing the game. Information in recovered scrolls, date back to the times of the Empire of the Eight Demons. Eight entities ruled over a world, building their utopia with self created servitor races. The servitor races fought for the favour of the Eight resulting in war and chaos. A rebellion lead by Humans and Daevi to overthrow the ruling of the Eight let to the complete destruction of the world.
Many years later, the survivors of the great cataclysm awoke in the remnants of their old world. Inside hollow rock realms, known as Shards, floating in the magical Deadspell Storm, this civilization is now fighting for survival. Guided by an ancient entity calling itself the Oracle, players will need to uncover the many secrets that lie hidden in the depths of the past and the unknown expanse of the present.
WarCry: Many games have a clear ancestry in terms of other MMOs that have inspired them. What MMOs inspired Spellborn?
Marco van Haren: Spellborn was created because of the teams frustrations with the current MMO market. While we played and enjoyed many of today's offerings, we think there are some fundamental issues in most games that need to be addressed. So some of the current MMO conventions were thrown out of the window and replaced by our take on things. The end result is a big NO to Orcs, Elves and useless time sinks and a big YES for player freedom and the emphasis on player skills.
WarCry: As a European company, you seem to have planned to hit the European markets first. What are your plans for North America?
Marco van Haren: We have every intention to launch in the US as well. We are currently finalizing discussions with US publishers and we hope to reveal our US launch plans in the near future. While there will be a delay between the EU and US releases, we can ensure that the delay will be short.
WarCry: Spellborn has an extremely distinct art style. How did that style evolve and what do you believe it adds to the game?
Marco van Haren: We wanted steer clear of the current trend in MMOs that tries to offer realistic graphics. We wanted to create a graphic style that oozes atmosphere to create a stronger feeling of immersion. When you create an MMO that you want players to enjoy for many years, you need to create a style that isn't too dependent on the current trend in graphic technology since these types of graphics tend to age less forgiving. We used the European comic style as a basis for our graphics. Our concept artists have a comic background resulting in a more organic style and more coherence. Of course our graphic coders came up with some interesting modern graphic effects, but these are only used when they enhance the atmosphere.
WarCry: Individuality is a core feature for MMOs. What are you doing to make sure players are their own unique flowers from an artistic point of view?
Marco van Haren: Individuality is indeed a core features for MMOs, but only few MMOs actually succeeded in offering real individuality. With Spellborn we wanted to go all the way and give players total freedom. To accomplish this we made numerous changed to core MMO gameplay features. The most important one is that we completely removed statistics from armour and weapons. No more tier 3 rogue sets and so on, just grab any armour piece or weapon that you like, give it your preferred colours and wear it. We even went as far as removing all class restrictions; a spell caster can now wear full plate armour. Once a player is satisfied with the way he looks, he can imbue his items with statistic enhancing sigils. This way we could offer complete individuality look-wise and still attain the statistic tweaking that most MMO players enjoy. Of course the game will have tons of additional armour, weapons and sigils that need to be obtained during the many adventures all the way up until level 50. So over the course of the player's career there will be more then enough things to be found to keep things interesting from a item point of view.
WarCry: ...and as characters (internally, skills, etc.)?
Marco van Haren: Individuality doesn't stop at the player's looks. We really tried to make the individuality a deep part of the gameplay. We didn't want every player from the same class to act the same in combat. To achieve this we added some interesting features. Spellborn has a skill based combat system. Some skills can be used by all classes, some skills can only be used by certain archetype classes and some skills are class restricted. All the skills that are available to a class are kept in the player's skill library. Divided over multiple sets, these skills can be unlocked when players reach higher levels. It is up to the player to deicide which skill he wants to learn when he gets offered to learn a new skill. Once a skill has been learned from the library, it is moved to the player's skill book. The skill book doesn't have space enough to contain all the skills that a player can learn from the library. Players will need to make choices here and pick the skills that fit their play style. Once skills are in the skill book, players need to put these skills in their skill deck to use the skills in combat. How players setup their skill deck is again depended on their play style and experience. Experienced players can line up their skills in their skill deck in such ways that they unlock combo attacks.
To further allow players to customize within their class we created skill sigils. Every few levels players will receive the option to imbue their favourite skills with sigil slots. Once a skill contains a sigil slot, players can imbue this skill with skill enhancing sigils.
WarCry: Some games come out with dozens of races. TCoS has two. Can you talk about the differences between the two, why you chose to only have two and if you're worried that people will want more?
Marco van Haren: We are well aware that having two races sounds very limiting. One of the design goals for Spellborn is to have everything in game have a reason and a purpose. Lore-wise it makes sense to only make the Humans and the Daevi playable when the game releases. Adding additional races for the sake of variation would weaken the lore and serve no purpose. Post release, when the world of Spellborn will expand, we will definitely introduce new player races as soon as the story supports them. Some of the current enemy factions in the game are already designed to support player armour and weapons, so rest assured that the bigger plan is in place.
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