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GDC Report

The MMORPG.com team is at the Game Developer's Conference. In this article, Managing Editor Jon Wood updates our community on some of the things that they have seen or learned while at the show including looks at Aion, Fallen Earth, Earthrise and more!

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Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days here at the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference. I’m excited to report that it’s been a busy show and that we’ve seen a pretty wide variety of games and talked to a lot of interesting people. Over the next week or so (starting when we get home on Monday), we’ll be releasing a ton of video interviews covering a wide range of games. I thought though, with the bulk of our interviews behind us, that I would write this article as an overview of some of the important or interesting things that we’ve learned or seen while we’ve been here:

Fallen Earth

This morning, we had a chance to meet with the team from Icarus Studios to talk about their upcoming post-apocalyptic MMO, Fallen Earth. What I expected to just be an interview actually turned out to be a pretty extensive demo of their game.

Both Keith (our News Manager and my partner in crime for this conference) and I commented on the fact that we’ve been watching this game grow for quite some time, really since it was little more than concept art and design outlines, and it’s interesting to see how far it’s come.

In the past, we’ve seen previous builds of the game that were, while interesting indications of where it was at the time, still showed signs of being from a game at an early stage of development. I want to say now that the game has come a long way since last I saw it. I mean, that shouldn’t be surprising given the fact that it’s now in Closed Beta. Everything, right down to the lighting looked more polished and engaging.

In the video that you’re going to see in the next little while, the guys gave us an overview of a number of different game systems including: the tutorial area (which we were told you would be able to skip on subsequent plays through the game), an escape from a post-apocalyptic Hoover Dam which had been generating power for the survivors of the plague that caused all this mess in the first place, the game’s crafting system that the developers told us was important to the post-apocalyptic setting because players actually have to make (or purchase at inflated prices) such things as ammo, weapons, clothing and anything else you’d be able to buy at Wal-Mart today but that might be more scarce when humanity is teetering on the brink of extinction. They also talked a bit about the faction system in the game, how there are no good or evil factions so much as there are good and evil aspects of all of the factions available.

All in all, there’s a lot to look forward to coming out of this game. I could talk more, but the guys really did a great job explaining all of this stuff and more in greater detail that I replicate here.

Aion

This is one of those games that people ask me about every time I go to a show. It’s been pretty consistently followed by MMO fans, even through the major releases that have recently gone out, and with good cause. For visual-minded people, for example, the game is just stunning. I’m hard pressed to think of a game that has so immediately struck me with just how “pretty” its graphics were.

During the presentation that we were given at GDC, the game’s Community Manager spoke quite a bit (and demonstrated) a couple of the game’s more unique features. Now, I don’t think that anything that came out of the demo was necessarily new or shocking information, but I think it’s worth re-capping for those folks who might have lost this game from their radar.

The first thing that they talked about was the vast customization that is available in the game. Now, while there are only two races available in the game, and neither of those is a particularly standard fantasy race, the customization is so deep that you can actually create characters that look very much like classic Dwarves of Elves. I think the point that I’m trying to get around to is that it gives players a lot of options when it comes to how their characters look.

During the presentation, they also talked a little bit about the flight feature of the game. For whatever reason, for some players, free-form flight in an MMO has been a kind of holy grail. I think personally that it comes from the flight paths in WoW where you can literally look down over a living world… but I digress.

I was impressed with the flight system and also with the fact that the developers have put limitations on it. Not in terms of freedom in where you can go or what path you take to get there, but in the form of a timer that doesn’t allow players to stay infinitely airborne. This means that aerial combat has to be not only planned out like a normal combat, but also planned out in terms of duration.

Not surprisingly, Aion was one of the highlights of the show for me. I think that players who have been waiting patiently for this game will be pleased with the end result.

EVE Online

Not a lot in the way of ground breaking announcements with this one, but because EVE is a sandbox style game, it’s always worth checking in with them whenever possible to find out what new developments they’ve got brewing.

One of the highlights of the interview focused around the Council of Stellar Management. For those who don’t know, that’s the player elected council (of players) who get a chance to sit down with the EVE developers and not only share their own thoughts and ideas about the way that the game but also to convey the ideas of their fellow players.

The CSM, as it’s known, is currently gearing up for their third elections. I bring this up here because I still find the concept of a player-elected group that can advise a development team to be a step forward in the “player rights” movement in MMOs. Personally, I think this concept is ideally suited for a sandbox MMO like EVE.

EVE Online Screenshot

Jumpgate Evolution

We got our first real, solid look at Jumpgate this GDC. Here’s another example of a fairly unique game that looks like it’s coming along nicely. Space can be handeled, at least visually, in a number of different ways. EVE Online, for example, takes a more “realistic” look for their space-scape. In other words, at least from my experience with the game, there are a lot of stars and black space. Don’t get me wrong, I think EVE looks great and the darker look of the ships fits well with their chosen setting. Jumpgate, on the other hand, at least from all of the images and gameplay that I’ve seen, takes a different approach. Their ships are sleek and shiny-looking and their environments match, making use of space anomalies and other irregularities to produce vibrant colored, yet still appropriate feeling vistas.

I have to say as well that any MMO that encourages the use of a joystick is a-ok in my book.

Another interesting point of note is that Jumpgate, as a NetDevil production, falls under the larger umbrella of the recently announced Gazillion company that is made up of a number of MMO studios. It’s going to be interesting down the line to see how this effects the game, if at all.

Earthrise

Here’s another post-apocalyptic upcoming MMO offering, this time from the folks at Masthead. This one is in a much earlier stage of development, and this show was the first time that they were showing any gameplay.

During the demonstration, we were shown a little bit of the game’s interesting combat system. From what I could tell, the system is based around powers similar to those of most MMOs, but through progression, you’re able to enhance and even in some cases combine abilities. Also, you’re able to cue up more powerful abilities to your right mouse button and once they’re activated they can be used for only a short period of time. Still though, I’m sure it will be better explained once you see the video.

So far so good for this game as well, but it’s still to early to say anything even remotely concrete other than to say that it’s quite different from most other MMOs that I’ve seen recently.

Mabinogi

Our meeting with the guys from Nexon, the makers of games like Maplestory and Mabinogi, was really quite informative. In it, we talked a little bit about the most recent expansion to the latter game which added a whole slew of new content to the game and expanded the size of their world by something in the region of three times. It also introduces two new races to the game, when before there were only one.

From there, we got to talking a little bit Nexon’s approach to the Free to Play market and how their games are brought into the North American market. I’ve always been at least a little bit intrigued by the concept of localization and what companies do to alter their games to move from one market to another. It turns out that the large expansion to Mabinogi is actually a part of that effort. In the game’s original market, new content is traditionally rolled out in small increments. Here, on the other hand, we tend to more often respond to large, sweeping expansions. So, when it came to rolling out the new content, they felt that the right way to approach it was to give us something bigger than a small rollout.

The Secret World

Sorry folks, I can’t talk about the info on this game just yet, it’s been embargoed . Just thought I’d whet your appetites a little bit and let you know that as soon as we’re able, we’ll tell you everything we know.

There’s certainly more to our trip to GDC, and it isn’t over yet. Even as you’re reading this, we’re meeting with more developers and getting more information about all of the MMOs that we can. I hope that you’re looking forward to our videos bringing you up to date on the development of many of the upcoming MMOs being talked about at this show. It’s been an interesting experience for us so far.

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