Last week, I was invited to visit the offices of The Chronicles of Spellborn in The Hague, The Netherlands. Over the next few weeks, MMORPG.com will be running a series of features on my visit, and The Chronicles of Spellborn itself. I thought, in knowing that, that it might be a good idea to start the series with a kind of "getting to know you" introduction.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the game's offices and met with Marco van Haren, the Marketing and PR manager for the game. What I found, frankly, surprised me.
For many, this will be your first introduction to TCoS. Whenever I have the opportunity to learn something new about a game that I don't know much about, I try to find something special and unique about it. Generally speaking, that's a good place to start. In the case of The Chronicles of Spellborn, it seemed to me as though they were trying to take all of the conventions that we know in MMORPGs and turn them on their ears.
The offices for The Chronicles of Spellborn are located in Scheveningen, which is a rather nice "seaside resort" area of The Hague. The office itself is interestingly laid out. The entire floor of their building is dedicated to The Chronicles of Spellborn, and while this in and of itself is not particularly unusual, what was unusual was the lack of personal offices and cubicles.
Their desks are arranged in small groups, depending on what department they work in, and reminded me more of the groupings that can be found in the more social classrooms than the button-down world of office-work. Personally, I prefer this more open communication approach to game development, and from what I observed, this team communicates extraordinarily well, and that bodes well for any game development process.
Over the next few weeks, as we continue this series, you will learn that The Chronicles of Spellborn is making use of an unconventional and innovative approach that will see concepts like: setting, combat, visuals, and even equipment approached in a unique way. Below, you will find brief overviews of these concepts which will be explained in more depth further along in the series.
The Chronicles of Spellborn is not your average, run-of-the-mill, fantasy MMORPG. Rather, the game is set in what Lead Game Designer Chris Nengerman described during an interview for our podcast, Game/On, a "post-apocalyptic" fantasy world.
According to the official lore, the game world was once full and whole, and more closely resembled the kinds of worlds that MMORPG fans are used to. A tragic set of events saw the game world literally explode, shards of the former world (which serve as playing areas for the MMO) float inside of a storm, its people magically frozen until they could live again on the shards of their former world. This story line allows for a refreshing diversity in the play areas of The Chronicles of Spellborn, with each shard being different from its fellows.
Originally, The Chronicles of Spellborn was conceptualized as a photo-realistic realm. Over time, the decision was made to move away from that look and create what the developers call the "Spellborn Style", a European influenced style that draws a player in and creates an interesting fantasy world.
The combat system in Chronicles of Spellborn differs from your average MMORPG. Not only is the combat focused on the skill of the player, but it also provides a unique approach to the combat AI and to the way that abilities and attacks are handled.
The Chronicles of Spellborn will require that, for combat, players are both quick on the draw, and able to plan out their actions ahead of time. While the number of abilities your character has access to is high, the number of abilities that you can equip at any given time is smaller, so you have to apply some strategy to choose the fighting style that works best for you.
Imagine an MMO world where you can choose the way that your character looks without worrying that your newest, strength-buffing chain shirt just doesn't look cool with that pair of Frost Pants you stole from an Orc two levels ago.
The Chronicles of Spellborn employs a system that sees all numbers removed from items. You can look pretty much any way that you want your character to look. Instead, TCoS makes use of items called "Sigils" which can be used to enhance equipment with the kinds of bonuses that we are used to seeing in MMORPGs.
As you can see, The Chronicles of Spellborn is taking a different approach to their game's design. Throughout my trip, the one thing that kept coming to my mind was that these people believe in the project that they are working on, and have a desire to make a game that players will enjoy.
While at the studios, I had the opportunity to sit down, not only with Public Relations and Marketing people (which is great, don't get me wrong), but with some of the people who are actually down in the trenches, the people who are placing sounds, or creating systems, or modeling and texturing the art. When PR and Marketing are on the same page, it means that those departments are very good. When the average people working on the game are on the same page, it tends to make a difference in the final product.