Interviews

Interviews
Gods & Heroes Gamer Day Impressions, Interview with Chris McKibbin

Dana Massey | 16 May 2007 21:35
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Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising is on the way from Perpetual Entertainment and SOE's Platform Publishing. At SOE Gamer Day in New York last week, we caught up with Perpetual President Chris McKibbin to discuss and demo this squad-drive title that seeks to fuse the best parts of single player RPGs and MMOs.



SOE Gamer Day: Gods and Heroes
Based on interview with Chris McKibbin (Perpetual President) and a demo
Article by Dana Massey

Gamer Day Screenshot
Gamer Day Screenshot

SOE's Gamer Day afforded us another chance to take in Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising, the upcoming rookie MMORPG from San Francisco based Perpetual Entertainment. This history-mythology title hits stores this fall under SOE's Platform Publishing brand. Now late in the development cycle, Perpetual President Chris McKibbin was on hand to run us through a live version of the game and answer questions.

Perpetual hopes to combine the best of single player RPGs and MMOs in this new virtual world. Unlike most MMOs where each player controls a solitary character, Gods and Heroes combines elements of traditional RPGs in that players can control a full squad of characters. This worked beautifully in those RPGs thanks to a top down view and point-and-click interfaces (like Baldur's Gate or Diablo), something that is just not palatable to the modern North American market. Thus, in Gods and Heroes, they combine approaches. Each person is in fact a single unique character of their own creation and the interface is nearly identical to any major 3D MMO. The characters in the squad simply trail behind - kind of robotically - respond to commands and rely on their AI to act logically. The effect casts the player as a commander of troops, rather than the all-knowing master of an entire group.

Gods and Heroes features six classes for the primary player character, and employs a class system for players to follow. The game has 40 levels and McKibbin underlined their belief in "foreshadowing" so players can make informed decisions on where they're going and not - as many class-based MMOs do - have players make stupid decisions early on that have a lasting negative impact on their character. In the abilities window, players see a flow chart of abilities from the first to last level and can mentally chart the course they want to take. No nasty surprises.

Fighting a Telchine
Fighting a Telchine

The Nomad is the most recently unveiled player class. It replaces the Rogue as an option and allows players a hybrid class that employs both exotic powers gleaned from around the world and basic hand-to-hand combat abilities. Perpetual may yet tackle the Rogue in expansions, but in the interests of 'doing it right or not at all' they opted to take this more manageable option for initial launch.

Players can also play as a Gladiator, a highly offensive melee class; a Soldier, the traditional tank of the group; a Scout, a ranged and pet class; a Priest, which takes the role of healer; or a Mystic, the more traditional casting class. These classes are further distilled when it comes to minions, who belong to a couple of very basic templates that combine elements from the classes above.

With a focus squarely on action-adventure, Gods and Heroes is not a game for those who want to build hammers. There is no crafting to speak of planned for the initial launch. Instead it is all about exploring the lands of Rome, probing the complex and familiar mythology of the period and - bluntly - killing things.

SOE Gamer Day Screen
SOE Gamer Day Screen

They can get away with this thanks to the game's stylized, but not unbelievable visuals and utterly awe-inspiring animations. These visuals are what has earned the game some awards and while each demo shows more reality of what the game truly is, the animations never seemed to get dialed down. Combat looks like combat in Gods and Heroes and when behind the wheel of the demo, the mechanics - which are not altogether different from most other MMOs - seem novel thanks to the action sequences on screen.

"Far more people know the fiction of mythology than any license," McKibbin pointed out during our demo. It's something most people don't think of when they see a game like Gods and Heroes, but it's a valid point.

At a basic level, anyone with a high school history education likely knows enough about Rome to get by. That familiarity makes the more obscure points easier to grasp. The core of the game's overarching story pits an ancient race of gods called the Telchine in a war against the Olympians for control of the heavens. The players, as the half-children of deities, adventure on Earth on behalf of their parents (the Olympians) to thwart the Telchine schemes. The average player likely has no earthly clue what a Telchine is, but most everyone has a vague idea that Jupiter is more than just the name of a really big planet. This familiarity breeds curiosity, and is more likely to capture the average person than Elves and Dwarves.

SOE Gamer Day Screens
SOE Gamer Day Screens

As they hit the home stretch, polish remains the top priority. In New York, McKibbin told us about how they're working on combat, specifically citing a few details they'd altered since the last time he demoed the game. They're details, but to achieve a truly engrossing experience, they must be attended to. They're also working on the user interface; McKibbin frequently pointed out during the demo that various elements would likely change before launch.

The downside of Gods and Heroes is that its most novel aspects are impossible to get a handle on at this stage. In the chaos of a demo, players can get a look at a quest, some basic hunting and even toy with minions, but what excites many about this style of game is the promise of epic confrontations. At high levels (30 to 40), a player can form a group with up to five other real people, which with four minions apiece means 25 characters on screen at a time. Potentially, Gods and Heroes could have easy to find pick up groups that feel more like absurdly annoying to organize raids in most MMOs. The question is, will that happen, or will the concept of minions remove the overall impetus to bother with a group? Certainly, Perpetual is hoping to find a middle ground where a casual player can go in and form a group all by himself for a short play burst or find some friends and experience something truly epic with minimal effort. Until this game is seen in true online action though, it's all speculation.



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