Exclusive Q&A With Morten Juul
Recently, Richard Duffek of MMORPG.com had the chance to have a chat with Morten Juul, the Community Manager for Seed, an upcoming comic-book style MMORPG.
|MMORPG.com:||First, before we get into the heart of the questions can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do on the team? And tell us a little about anything you may have worked on in the past, how you got to where you are today, etc?|
My name is Morten and I'm the community manager slash PR manager slash web editor on Seed. Right now I'm working on the official Seed game site which we hope to launch within a month.
I have a background as a corporate journalist and press secretary. Furthermore I have been the editor and webmaster of several role-playing sites. I was heading for a webmaster job when Kroll, our CEO called me up. I know him and a few others at Runestone from the Danish role-playing community. Having the opportunity to work on a cool game with some cool people it was a job offer I couldn't turn down :-)
|MMORPG.com:||I know this has been covered before in other interviews and various places, but in your own words could you please explain to our readers who may not be familiar with it what Seed is all about?|
Seed is a sci-fi MMORPG which focuses on personal, interactive stories and social intrigues.
The setting is a colony tower on a distant planet and the players are all colonists living and working in the tower. There ought to be a thriving colony on the planet surface but for various reasons the terraforming process has stopped. This gives rise to problems within the tower since it was never meant for supporting an entire colony itself. There is a shortage of resources and living space and it is an ongoing mission keeping the machines running and filling the ever appearing cracks in the tower structure. On top of things the communication with Earth has been lost for years and the colonists are on their own.
You may compare the environment with a damaged submarine drifting at the bottom of the ocean while the air is slipping away and the crew is working around the clock to get the machines to run.
The game play is based on traditional elements like crafting (inventing and producing new tools and machines etc. for the colony), trading (buying resources, selling tools etc.), puzzles (solving mysteries or identifying unknown substances) and skill development (reaching higher skill levels and learning new skills).
In addition there are several unique game play elements. We have no standard quests that keep repeating themselves for every player. Instead we use a template system which casts NPC's and story details to create personalized stories for each player.
We have also put a lot of work into creating believable NPC's. They live their own lives in the colony and you are able to talk to them about anything in the game world using limited free form dialogue.
We focus on single player tasks and challenges combined with social interactions between players and between players and NPC's. Therefore the game features no combat.
|MMORPG.com:||No combat?! But we MMORPG players are a brutal lot! We need rats to smash with big hammers and orcs to blast with lightning bolts of death! Aren’t you worried that the lack of any form of combat might drive off many potential customers?|
Not really :-) There is no doubt that we are narrowing down the number of potential customers by excluding combat from the game. But it does not worry us.
Most of us really enjoy fast paced combat oriented games. But Seed is not that kind of game. We all have this desire for a game with another focus. A game where it matters what you say and do and where you don't just run around in a killing frenzy in an attempt to become a more powerful inhabitant in the game world.
Basically, we hope that there are a lot of players with similar desires out there and that they will want to play the game. If we were to include a combat element we might be able to attract far more players. But without it we aim to attract the right players for Seed.
|MMORPG.com:||You seem quite pleased with your AI system in Seed. Could you give us a little more details on what makes it so much better than anything we’ve seen previously?|
The AI-system is superb in two ways. First, it gives the NPC's personality. Every NPC has goals, motivations, moods, duties, friends etc. and will be influences by what she is told and what she experiences. A NPC does not stand around waiting for players to talk to her, but moves about doing stuff and talking to players or other NPC's according to her personality.
Secondly, the AI allows for a limited free form dialogue between players and NPC's. It requires sentences to be constructed in a certain way but you are not limited to certain subjects. And again a NPC will react to your sayings according to its personality.
|MMORPG.com:||Exactly how player-driven is the world and storyline? We’ve all seen games claim this in the past and then not deliver on it, what makes Seed different?|
It's player-driven to a very high degree. First of all, all regulations and key society positions are determined by vote in the colony democracy system. That gives the players an opportunity to move the society in various directions.
We will lay out some storylines regarding the major challenges the colonists face. Which one will "win" will be the players' decision entirely. May be they will try to restart the terraforming process or attempt to reach the abandoned space station orbiting the planet in an attempt to get in contact with Earth again.
This is a deeply integrated part of our concept and as soon as we launch our entire team will start working on these ongoing updates. Larger projects like expanding the colony area will take some time to implement, but it should reflect the amount of in-game time needed for the colonists to do the work.
Besides these predefined storylines the players may want to start up new projects on their own. We want to encourage such initiatives and will consider implementing them if they make sense to us.
|MMORPG.com:||And running with the last question a bit further; if the story and world is as player-driven as you claim then wouldn’t it be possible that enough players could get together and theoretically ruin the game for everyone else? Basically by “driving” the story in directions that are undesirable?|
When you give players a large degree of freedom there are risks, of course. A worst case scenario could be a large suicide cult wanting to blow up the entire colony tower with themselves and everybody else inside. In this case it's obvious that we have to do something to prevent the scheme.
|MMORPG.com:||Is it something that you’re worried about? Would you at some point step in and “redirect” the story in a direction you felt it needed to go?|
Well, we are not that worried – as long as the players' actions don't have a game devastating effect we will not interfere.
But if it comes to the like of the above mass suicide attempt, we will try to keep the solution in-game e.g. by making some other players or NPC's become aware of their scheme in some way and leave it to them to react. And if nobody takes any action to foil the plan may be the explosives turn out to be duds or something :-)
|MMORPG.com:||Can you tell us a bit about the economy and crafting systems of Seed?|
Well, we don't have a monetary system as such. Instead we use Access Points which is best defined as a measure of each colonist's usefulness to the colony. The system is designed to benefit the society, while still encouraging free enterprise and personal freedom.
The idea is that whenever you do something the colony deems useful, you are awarded Access Points. You can use these for leisure or for furthering projects you feel are important.
To take the wrench example: Let's say our techie figures out a way to improve a turbo-wrench, by adding a photovoltaic function to it. He uses a few skills and some access points on some scientific machinery, and creates a new improved blueprint. Our techie can now either use this blueprint to produce new photovoltaic turbo-wrenches, or he can donate the blueprint to the colony, allowing everyone to produce the wrenches.
If he does the latter, he will get a small Access Point reward whenever someone uses his design, a sort of royalty. If he keeps the blueprint for himself only he will be able to produce it. Someone else can also invent the same blueprint, but others can't reverse engineer the techies design.
Access points are not exactly currency, colonists cannot trade access points with each other directly. Colonists can trade with administrators, and administrators can trade with each other. This system is set in place to ensure the colony's bests interests by guaranteeing that all trade goes through democratically elected officials. It's a good, but not foolproof system: Some administrators have been known to circumvent the system in various ways to profit personally, instead of doing what's best for the colony.
|MMORPG.com:||What made you decide to go with the route you chose for the graphics in Seed?|
Well, we like to think of Seed as a unique game and thus we wanted to create a unique, easy recognizable graphical style.
Furthermore we wanted to distance ourselves from the 3D effect race. Being a small company we have a relatively long production time. Using a more photorealistic style we would risk having outdated graphics even before we were ready to launch the game.
And then there is the fact that we all thought a comic book style would be a pretty cool thing :-)
|MMORPG.com:||Can you give us a little more details on how the power structure works? Basically it’s a democracy right? Actual players get voted into positions of power? How often will elected positions be voted on?|
Well, the administrators I mentioned before are all democratically elected. Some are players, and some are NPC's.
Administrators control the machines, and thus the production facilities of the colony. The administrators are the only colonists who are able to trade Access Points for goods and services. Having all trade going trough a public elected official is regarded the safety net of the colony's economy.
Anybody with the right skills and certifications can open a petition against almost any administrative position (an admin bits) at any time. When this happens, all eligible voters can cast their vote on either the sitting candidate or the contender. After one week, the winner of the vote gets the job.
Most admin bits control a few so-called Hard Points: Places where machines can be built. These machines can be used for scientific and industrial production as well as for entertainment and leisure purposes.
When someone takes over an administrative post, he or she also takes over the machines his predecessor built, and the "stash" of the administrative post. As an administrator, you have your personal stash separated from the stash of your admin job.
Players can be voted upon as often as once every week, but it depends heavily on the popularity of the administrator currently holding the job.
|MMORPG.com:||Can an elected Administrator be “impeached” for lack of a better word? Or will the players just have to wait until the next voting period and vote someone else in?|
They will have to wait for minimum a week and try to vote someone else in. This means that an Administrator cannot be impeached, although a subversive work effort is most likely to attract attention from the colony and thereby resulting in a new Administrator getting voted in.
|MMORPG.com:||It doesn’t sound like a very solo friendly game… If someone just loves the concept of the game and wants to play but is rather anti-social and doesn’t care to get involved in the politics or group projects as much can they still play and be beneficial to the storyline?|
There is a lot of game play for solo oriented players. As a scientist you can devote yourself to analyzing samples and researching new technologies. An engineer can focus on inventing new tools for the colony and technicians can concentrate on scheduled or emergency repair jobs.
However you will be confronted with people, player characters or NPC's, who want to involve you in their projects or plans. You can do so or you can ignore them, it's up to you.
|MMORPG.com:||How will the “Stories” in Seed differ from the “Quests” offered in most MMORPGs out there?|
Seed uses a story template system instead of predefined quests. This means most stories in Seed are based on a number of templates which will be targeted at different players in different variants.
A template could be a blackmail story which may unfold as follows:
An NPC, Rico, blackmails another NPC, the scientist Annie. He knows that she has conducted some illegal experiments and he wants her to help him getting voted in as administrator of a production facility. The player finds out by receiving a mis-consigned message from Rico to Annie.
The next time this story occurs in the game it may be a technician who is blackmailed by a scientist in an attempt to gain access to a first class laboratory. And the scientist asks a player friend to help him with the problem.
These stories don't just spawn randomly but is generated to fit a player's style of play and timed in a way so that no player will drown in unclosed storylines.
|MMORPG.com:||I’ve heard mention of Professions and Skill sets both. So is this a Class based game or a Skill based game? And explain a little if you could how it works?|
It is a skill based game. Often the skills will define the areas of a character's work. E.g. a character with excellent skills in physics most often work as a scientist as well as a person with specialized repair skills work with scheduled or emergency repairs. But characters are not locked into classes. A person working as a scientist could begin learning mechanical skills and take on repair jobs and so on.
|MMORPG.com:||How customizable will the characters be? Recent games such as SWG and CoH have set the bar pretty high with their levels of customization. Are you striving for those levels or somewhere more in the middle ground?|
We aim for a high level of customization although we have not made any final decisions on this subject as of yet. For now we plan to make a series of body forms available plus the possibility to free form certain parts of the facial structures. Clothes and hair styles will be available in a variety of forms and colours. We'll be happy to tell you more as soon as we have the details worked out.
|MMORPG.com:||Is the game designed to be truly open ended. As in no matter what direction the players decide to drive the story there will always be something there for them to move on to? Or will eventually they reach an “end” and the story will have to start over?|
The ongoing story is open ended to a certain degree and will keep evolving. Like most MMORPGs we do not plan for the story to end at some point thus it will not start over.
At launch the game takes place inside the colony tower and what happens from there depends on which paths the players choose. If a majority of the players follow the leads to speed up the terraforming process we will move the game story in that direction and it may lead to extending the game world on to the planet surface. If instead the players follow the leads to extend the colony tower or try to reach the abandoned space station orbiting the planet, we will move the game in that direction and so on.
Our development team remains dedicated to expanding the Seed game after we launch – we are not leaving Seed behind to work on another title instead.
|MMORPG.com:||What is your favourite aspect of Seed?|
Well, I'm actually quite keen on the non-combat issue. I'm a sucker for hardcore diplomacy games where your communication with other players matters a lot more than your physical reflexes.
I'm really looking forward to explore the possibilities of fast-talking, sweet-talking, badmouthing and smear campaigning :-) And of course take advantage of the limited free form dialogue and build a network of trusted NPC's to aid my course.
Thank you to Morten and the Seed team for taking the time to let us in on the progress of this very unique sounding title.
As always, we await your feedback on their hype meter and in this comments thread.