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Skyforge Interviews: Talking Skyforge and F2P With Obsidian

By Richard Aihoshi on July 22, 2014

Last summer, we learned that Obsidian Entertainment had been retained to help develop Skyforge. Since the studio is strongly associated with standalone RPGs, this news was interesting and at least somewhat unexpected. Following E3, where parts of the game were playable and appeared to be favorably received, I had the chance to follow up with Development Director of Culturalization Eric DeMilt about his team's role on the project.  

MMORPG.com: How did Obsidian's involvement in Skyforge come about? What was Allods Team looking for to complement its own knowledge and experience?

Eric DeMilt: Obsidian's involvement in Skyforge initially grew out of our work with Mail.ru on the Armored Warfare project. Once we had a solid working relationship in place, discussions about other Mail.ru projects and collaborative information exchanges came naturally.

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The Allods Team was looking for a development partner in the western market who could help them ensure that Skyforge was a success worldwide by providing input from outside the home development territory.  They have a very talented and experienced team, but like most developers, they are very focused on their home territory, native cultural and gaming sensibilities.  They wanted a partner who could be trusted to help with the skills aspects of content development and who could provide culturalization/westernization input and support. 

As the discussions progressed, it seemed more and more like Obsidian would be a great fit for this role. I joined the team in July of 2013, as we finalized what this collaboration would actually look like and began putting our team here together.

 

MMORPG.com: What are Obsidian's specific responsibilities? Who are the key team members, and what MMORPG development experience do you have?

Eric DeMilt: Obsidian's specific responsibilities on the project are broken into three primary areas.

  1. Design and development of additional player classes
  2. Design and development of additional instanced gameplay content
  3. Ongoing westernization and culturalization review and support

We are currently building small teams for class design and implementation (designers, character and concept artists, animators, FX artists, etc), and instance design (level designers), who collaborate day-to-day with their counterparts in Moscow.

Key team members include myself, Aidan Karabaich - Sr. Class Designer and Robert Lee.  Aidan's past experience includes Project Copernicus and WildStar, and Robert's includes several Obsidian titles; Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas, and most recently Elder Scrolls Online.

MMORPG.com: What differences have you found compared to making single-player RPGs? Has anything been particularly difficult, tricky or surprising?

Eric DeMilt: I think, the biggest difference between a single-player RPG and an MMO is the asynchronous way in which players experience the content and its impact on your design. You can't design as if you can guarantee all players have done A before B.  This has a huge impact on all of your design decision.  The most obvious one is the impact on linear story progression and permanent changes to things like world state.

MMORPG.com: What aspects of working on Skyforge have been most interesting? Which have been most challenging?

Eric DeMilt: The most interesting aspect for me has been the unique collaboration with the Allods Team.  Although we are a remote part of the development team, thousands of miles away and -12hrs off in time, we truly are working in partnership day-to-day to get our content into the game, to make recommendations and improvements, and to make the game better. I've been in the industry quite a while and have seen a lot different project setups, but have never seen one I've felt is as collaborative as what we have between Obsidian and the Allods team on Skyforge.

MMORPG.com: What have you learned or are you learning from Skyforge that is likely to improve and/or help Obsidian as a developer of single-player RPGs? 

Eric DeMilt: The development methodologies the team in Moscow uses to run a project of this size and scope are very strong and I've learned a lot from them on that side of things.  I'm a producer, so I tend to gravitate towards that sort of stuff. They have a great mix of well-planned workflows and long term design planning and short production sprints ensuring the team is focused on the highest priority issues and is able to develop and iterate rapidly.

On the dev side, there are always nerdy bits about tools and time saving techniques that different developers bring to the table which are great to see and learn from and to share your own experiences on. I think any chance we have to see how other teams work and to learn from their knowledge and experience is a chance for us to learn how to make better games.

MMORPG.com: Why should our readers consider watching Skyforge more closely as development moves forward toward launch? 

Eric DeMilt: Personally, I think two of the things about the game, which drew me to the project, are really strong and make it worth keeping an eye on. 

The first one is combat. This is the thing you do most in an MMO and in Skyforge it's fun from the very start. I really enjoy killing things and taking their stuff (in games...), and I think we've got a great, solid foundation for combat and a lot of variety in how the different classes play and in how you develop your characters and their abilities.

The second one is the god system.  The premise of becoming a super-powerful badass is inherent in any MMO or RPG, but I really love how deeply embedded the concept of becoming a god is through the game.  Being a god, is not just a title and some abilities we've tacked on at the high end to make you feel epic.  I think players will like how systems like your followers impact you throughout the game.

There are tons of other great things about Skyforge as well.  We've only revealed a very small portion of the game and the world so far.  There is a lot of great stuff to look forward to.

MMORPG.com: In what ways and to what extent has Obsidian's work on this game been impacted by the fact it will be free to play? 

Eric DeMilt: I think the biggest impact of the game's distribution as free to play has been in how both teams look at development.  We aren't just developing to a finish line like a retail box product.  We are creating a game, and game service, with an ongoing commitment to additional development and continuous improvements and tweaks based on community feedback and player behavior.

Closing queries

In what ways and to what degree would MMORPGs benefit from incorporating more features, element, systems and/or development knowledge and expertise from the standalone RPG space?

How likely are we to see more situations where a western studio, either with or without an MMOG focus, is hired to augment the knowledge and/or skills possessed by a team from another part of the world?

What interests you about Skyforge? If you're not interested in it, why not?

Does Obsidian being brought in to help develop Skyforge suggest that its publisher, Mail.Ru, might be interested in acquiring the studio?


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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