You may remember a few weeks ago, we ran the announcement that Earth Eternal is in development. Well, the game caught our eye and we decided to catch up with Matt Mihaly from Iron Realms Entertainment to discuss their project in this exclusive interview.
Answers by Matt Mihaly
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry Network: You've promoted Earth Eternal as a game set in a high-fantasy world, with elements of real world mythology. Can you explain the decision to go this route and a bit about your game's backstory beyond this?
Matt Mihaly: The ideas for the world of Earth Eternal have been kind of percolating in my head for a few years. I enjoy history - particularly ancient history - and have always been a fan of myth. I was and am pretty excited about the chance to develop a world based on a mash-up of my own ideas and real-world myth, legend, and even a dash of history. When we decided to develop the game Earth Eternal, we adapted the ideas that had been in my head for awhile to include the idea that humans have died out, and that Beasts (upright animals) predate and post-date humans.
The backstory is quite sweeping and extensive so it's difficult to get too far into it here, but it's designed to feel world-like rather than game-like in the sense that there isn't a single dominant narrative throughout it, but many stories that sometimes intertwine. For instance, the Trojan War's consequences lead to an alliance to fight the Anubian invasion out of Egypt. Thor watches over the people of Midgaard, which was founded in the Age of Legend by Beowulf. Sir Galahad, knight of the Round Table, has lead a force of Camelot's knights to Andalusia in order to help the Cazadorians repel what is becoming the Second Anubian War, with the Egyptians invading via North Africa this time rather than via Turkey.
WarCry Network: People see dozens of new MMOs announced each year with ambitious goals and feature lists. What makes Earth Eternal different and why do you think it will succeed?
Matt Mihaly: I think there are two main things that differentiate Earth Eternal from most of those dozens of MMOs:
- Earth Eternal will actually be released. We're fully funded well past our target release date.
- We haven't announced ambitious goals and feature lists. We've announced less sexy, but far more realistic ones. See #1.
WarCry Network: Your website notes that no one will ever be forced to pay to play your games. What then is your business model?
Matt Mihaly: Well, we're all independently wealthy from our gun-running days, so we simply don't need to take money from users.
Someday, that would be fun to be able to say, modulo the gun-running bit of course. Since we have to pay mortgages and such, what we'll actually be offering is probably more than one option. One will be some variation on the free-to-play model we use in our current games in which you can pay for virtual stuff, but never have to pay for that stuff as you're able to get it simply by playing. Paying for it is a shortcut, albeit a substantial one.
The other model we'll have is a pretty standard subscription model, likely at $5/month. We recognize that there are people who just dislike the other model, so we'd like to offer our players a choice.
WarCry Network: Of the other games on the market, you specifically cite Dungeons and Dragons (pen-and-paper), Runescape and World of Warcraft as games that will be similar to Earth Eternal. Can you run us through the similarities and some of your unique twists?
Matt Mihaly: I cite those because they're the most well-known games of their type. D&D inspired virtually every fantasy MMO out there. Runescape came along and showed us that it's possible to create a small-budget MMO that can garner a large audience. World of Warcraft, of course, has polished the classic "levelling" gameplay to a high sheen.
In terms of similarities, you can expect us to uphold many of the conventions of WoW and Runescape, such as stat-based gameplay (rather than twitch-based). Twists include our 'malleable' class system, no level cap, Groves, and more.
WarCry Network: Your advancement system sounds interesting. You're a class based game that lets people learn elements of the other classes. Can you give us some examples of how this works and how you hope to balance it?
Matt Mihaly: Imagine four skill trees, each representing one class. Players learn the trunk and then are able to branch off from there. Once a player has gotten far enough in one skill tree, he or she will be able to open up a second skill tree to start learning from, but abilities in that tree will cost more Skill Points (which are gotten by levelling up).
We recognize there's an inherent challenge in terms of balancing a game in which the roles are not strictly defined, and no doubt we're going to have some headaches there, but so be it. I think it's a neat feature to have, and I think we can manage the process.
WarCry Network: There is a standard checklist of features people tend to ask about in MMOs. What do you offer in terms of crafting, housing, PvP, PvE and role-playing?
Matt Mihaly: There won't be too much in the way of crafting to begin with, but our player housing system is done a little differently insofar as they're not buildings, but outdoor Groves and attached underground dens. Groves will serve as a place to store and display certain trophies (figuratively, not literally) collected through gameplay, and what's in your Grove will have some impact on the power of your character outside its Grove.
We're going to have PvP, but that's all I want to say about it currently. To be honest, we're not sure what we can accomplish in that area before launch, so we'd prefer to just keep quiet on it until we have a better idea.
Now, roleplay is interesting. Our text MUDs are known (insofar as text MUDs are known at all these days) for, among other things, running a lot of GM-assisted events that go way beyond what the big MMOs do. We're getting frequent emails from people asking if we're going to be doing the same thing in Earth Eternal.
Unfortunately, the short answer is 'not really.' We have a much higher ratio of staff to players on our text MUDs than we'll be able to have on Earth Eternal, and a text environment makes GM-assisted events at least a magnitude easier to manage.
With that said, we'll be doing what we can. As I mentioned, the backstory is extensive, partially to provide people with a lot of 'hooks' to hang their roleplaying on. As soon as the game population is large enough, we'll be opening a dedicated roleplay server, and we'll be fleshing out the 'worldy' aspects of Earth Eternal as time goes on.
We're also hoping that we can seed the initial environment with people a little more concerned with roleplaying than might inhabit a lot of big MMOs. Culture is a powerful weapon, and if we can establish an environment in which roleplaying is the norm rather than the exception early on, perhaps we can maintain a better roleplaying atmosphere than exists in most MMOs.
WarCry Network: Some have found a certain level of familiarity of setting is necessary for people to connect with a game. Are you worried that a world populated by beasts and no humans may be too foreign for gamers to get into?
Matt Mihaly: Actually, we chose our setting specifically because we think it's accessible to a wide range of people. Everyone can identify with anthropomorphic animals, because everyone's seen Disney cartoons, or Bugs Bunny, etc. We didn't want to do the standard humans/dwarves/elves thing, and so Beasts just seemed to fit.
Of course, the world is also going to be reasonably familiar to people to some extent. Myths and folklore come to life, some real place names, and so on.
WarCry Network: Artistically, what are your goals for the game? Can you talk about your art direction on both an artistic and technical level?
Matt Mihaly: We're trying to create a relatively simple, somewhat cartoony graphical style, but with the possibility of a little bit of an edge when appropriate. The reason for this is because we firmly believe that a large segment of people look at their MMO as an online home, and a lot of those people would prefer somewhere friendly and inviting rather than gritty and 'realistic'.
The whole art process has been pretty interesting for me personally, actually. This is the first graphical game I've worked on, and I'm acting as our in-house art director. It took a little time to find our style, but we're turning out consistent art now.
Our art is pretty simple compared to 'next-gen' games because Earth Eternal both streams in the background to avoid a large initial download and because it needs to run on fairly low-end system requirements. A lot of the monsters you'll fight are under 500 polygons, for instance, with texture sizes of 128x128, though bigger monsters (dragons, etc) might double or quadruple those numbers.
WarCry Network: What single feature of Earth Eternal excites you most?
Matt Mihaly: As a developer, releasing it and building a community. I've done this before with Achaea, but it's been awhile since I personally was in charge of a from-scratch community, and I miss it.
As a player, I'd be most excited about the ability to multi-class. I think it's going to be quite fun.
WarCry Network: You've set your launch date as this summer. What stage of development are you at and why do you believe that to be realistic?
Matt Mihaly: We're just about to start world building in earnest. Typically we wouldn't have left ourselves enough time for building, but we can't afford the art for a huge world anyway, so it's not an issue.
We're pretty sure it's realistic as we've planned out production fairly well (we've slipped about 2 weeks so far, which isn't bad at all), but it's certainly true that it's possible we could get to beta and discover we have huge problems, delaying the release. I think we'll be able to manage it though.
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