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9Dragons Interviews: Steven-Elliot Altman, Writer

By Dave Bonnewell on November 13, 2006

9Dragons: Interview with Steven-Elliot Altman

Dave Bonnewell quizes the man whose responsible for adapting 9Dragons to a Western audience. Here is the official brief on Altman: "Steven-Elliot Altman, best-selling author and Hollywood screenwriter, is the lead writer and loremaster of 9Dragons, the first authentic martial arts massively multiplayer online game. Think of the world of Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Jackie Chan's classic Drunken Master. In 9Dragons you can rise from a beggar on the streets to become a master of martial arts as you train with some of the greatest masters of ancient China."

MMORPG.com: How historically accurate will 9Dragons be? What liberties will be taken to keep 9Dragons a long running MMO?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

Good question, Garrett. As far as visuals go, our Korean design team was given a mandate: If it didn't exist in China during the Ming Dynasty, it doesn't exist in 9Dragons. That speaks to the design of the cities, the wardrobe, and even the available weapons. You won't find Shuriken (throwing stars) for example, because they were yet to be introduced during that period in China's history.

As far as the writing goes, I researched each of the Clans to the best of my ability (Shaolin and Wu-Tang Clan had the most available literature of course) and hopefully no one will observe any serious anachronisms. That being said, we have ancient Chinese wisdom being offered in English, so we have to allow for the cultural bias first, and then flavor as we go. I think it's the correct flavor we all strive to experience, not dead on accuracy. Believe me, that would be boring. The process is very similar to writing and then shooting a historically based movie. You have to balance familiar storytelling elements with historically accurate visuals and tune the language as close as you can without losing too much in translation. The only element that keeps me from total immersion in the time period is the fact that I have a mouse in my hand. As far as liberties go... without giving away too much... there just may be an invasion from a foreign land brewing in a not-too-distant expansion event... and we may be compressing time a wee bit.

MMORPG.com: In a setting like 9Dragons', music is a key component of immersion. What can you tell us about 9Dragon's music? Any original musical scores planned? (And I'm not talking about music from Wu-Tang Clan. ;-) )
Steven-Elliot Altman:

I wholeheartedly agree, Garrett. Music and sound effects are perhaps the least apparent required element for immersion in a game (or a film), and too often those element are tacked on at the end of the day (and feel that way!). All of the music in 9Dragons was original scored for the game in Korea, and I'm told the music director was involved in scoring the game from day one. My hat's off to him, because the music is so evocative of not only the time period, but also of the overall sense of adventure. He should be scoring films, honestly. I actually listen to the score while I'm writing quests for the game. I find that it helps me settle immediately into the 9Dragons world. Take a sneak-peak-and-listen as you watch our main promotional video on our website.

MMORPG.com: How beneficial is beta testing proving to be for 9Dragons' overall development? Is the input from beta testers proving useful?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

Oh my god yes, it's not only beneficial... it's virtually essential, Garrett. Howard Marks, our CEO, is fond of preaching that every game's first priority is the player. Community is our strongest asset, and watching the dedication that our beta testers display, when they're playing, discussing play on our message boards, or reporting bugs is pretty inspiring. They see the hard work we put in to making this a great game, and they know we're giving the game to them for free. And though some come just to play, I know the majority of them are playing to help us get everything perfect for the players that come after. Really, there are some very hard workers online offering us their time and helping out, and we've recognized many of them and asked them to work quite closely with us. I play just about every night and I've made some good friends I would have never met in TRW. And all of our betas will be rewarded with some very special perks come commercial release, that's a promise.

MMORPG.com: How many servers are planned upon release? If more than one is planned, how will they be divided up?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

All right, I'm just the writer, so I'll need some teamwork to answer this one. Neil Malhotra is our brilliant, never-tiring CTO, so I'll open up a chat box to him now and get some 411 on that. Okay. Neil says there will be 10 servers, divided between database, game, messaging, and supporting applications for the commercial launch of 9Dragons. There will be twice that many standing by to engage as the user levels increase. What we have yet to decide though, is how many of those servers will be "Pleasant Servers" where players have to mutually agree to engage in combat, and how many we will designate as "Player Kill" servers where anything goes.

MMORPG.com: Back during MMORPG.com's March 9Dragons Q&A session, you had mentioned that there was no announced business model at the time, but that you planned to be "innovative on that front". Any updates?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

As Howard Marks announced recently, 9Dragons will always be a free-to-play game (Hopefully the world's best free-to-play game!) supported by in-game advertisements. The nature of those advertisements have yet to be announced, but I'm whispering in your ear now that you may actually appreciate the way we're going to handle them, and we hope to have our community of players vote soon on some of the placement issues as well. We're also planning to allow players to create their own advertisements. Like I said, this is truly a game for the players.

MMORPG.com: Many MMORPGs feature ridable mounts. Will 9Dragons do the same? If so, can you shed some light on what might be available and how? Hmm...fire-breathing dragons come to mind.
Steven-Elliot Altman:

Ah Garrett, there are no such things as dragons. The "Nine Dragons" of 9Dragons refers to the lost heroes of each of the clans. Characters like The Immoral Monk of Shaolin, who broke just about every rule of Buddhism there is (he ate meat, drank, killed ruthlessly, frequented brothels, so they say), is called a "Dragon" because he was the champion of his clan. You can read his backstory on our website (it's a rather tragic tale) along with the tales of the other lost dragons, including the beautiful Mistress of Chaos from Sacred Flower Clan (who is a seductress and an assassin) and Master Lingyun of Wu-Tang Clan (who is unequalled with a sword and once cut down a ten-foot-thick tree trunk with a single cut!). So no actual dragons... we're going for authenticity, remember. But, you will encounter some dangerous foes from The Beast Clan who are quite formidably mounted... maybe I can dig up a picture... [INSERT IMAGE OF SOMEBODY RIDING SOMETHING COOL]

MMORPG.com: Will certain actions (or non-actions) of player characters have far reaching and long lasting impacts on the game world? Will physical representations of these deeds be placed in the game (such as statues, gravestones or books)?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

You are trying to get some secrets out of me Garrett, I see your game... un-huh. The answer is YES, players will undoubtedly impact the game. In fact, three of the advanced clans (The Union of Noble Families, Black Dragon Clan, and The Disciples of Iron Fist) will be user-controlled clans. The leaders will even control their alignment. I personally haven't seen that little hat trick anywhere else. There will also be large-scale clan warfare that can easily tip the balance of the game from Black to White or vice-versa.

As far as physical representations go, I think our "Epithet" system speaks to that. An Epithet is a title above your character's avatar that tells others who you are and also raises your stats. You receive many Epithets as you play and you can put them up or take them down as you wish. It might read: "Wu-Tang Apprentice" after you've joined the clan, or later you might be awarded "Killer of Shen Mu" or you may be granted a unique Epithet for nobility... and you get to customize it.

MMORPG.com: Once "the elusive secrets of the lost Nine Dragons" are discovered, what happens next? Is it really 'game over'?
Steven-Elliot Altman:

Now Garrett, that is simply something that you are not going to drag out of me during this particular interview. I would need to be plied with a lot of liquor and under fear of severe torture. Let's just say the character you choose to play has a great deal more potential in 9Dragons to effect the game itself than most characters get in other games... and 9Dragons will not end until our players agree to end it. Because like I said, it's really going to be their game.

That said, thank so much for giving us a forum to spread the word about 9Dragons, MMORPG has played an important part in our success and we appreciate it. And thanks to our loyal betas out there! May The Seed of The Dragon within you thrive!

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