It’s been several months since we last checked in with Divergence Online creator, Ethan Casner. On the eve of his next funding campaign, I had the chance not only to talk to Ethan regarding the progress his team has made, but also to experience a mini alpha test, and see some of that progress first hand.
Lisa: So, your last funding campaign was a rousing success. Your goal was reasonable and you exceeded it. How have you been able to make use of that windfall, and what progress has been since we last talked?
Ethan: Since the last funding campaign, we spent that money essentially using it to build a proof of concept prototype. Instead of blowing it on CG trailers or advertising we focused it entirely on the construction of a framework for a truly massive game. The prototype right now doesn’t have a sweet, flashy interface UI or complex layered stat tracking, nor does it integrate with your twitter feed, but what it does do it does very well...
It conveys to the MMORPG community, “It CAN be done, and you can help us bring it to reality.”
Lisa: So, how is the production work itself going?
Ethan: The best thing the project has going for it now is that, after surviving untold battles and tests of constitution and drive, we’re now operating at what I would consider to be a model of peak game-making efficiency. The only people I consider to be fellow appendages of Stained Glass Llama are those few who survived the hell of “mmo-development bootcamp” and we work really well together. It’s a great pipeline and I hope to continue with it, but in order to keep people devoted here and not going back to leaning on their day-jobs, one must be able to keep all parties well-fed and that is why we’re doing an official Kickstarter campaign.
Lisa: There’s a lot of building to be done in Divergence, and a lot of resources that can be harvested and processed to make that building possible. I know you’ve developed something unique, can you tell us about it?
Ethan: The basis for all civic construction in Divergence is a material we dubbed “Ferrocrete”. It’s a material that contains traits of both ferrous metal and concrete, hence the name. Players can create many kinds of surfaces in the game world to build upon, or simply make structures out of ferrocrete entirely. Different “formulas” of ferrocrete also have different resiliencies and characteristics. A player creates blocks of ferrocrete within the game world by way of a ferrocrete tool that they hold in their hand. This tool is also connected to a storage container nearby called a “hopper”. The hopper can contain hundreds of thousands of kilos of raw materials for crafting or construction, which are “beamed” to the players tool on-demand.
It’s a lot like painting a car in a professional garage. You have the portion of the tool that you hold onto and direct, and your compressor which provides the material or energy needed to apply it to an area. In this case, the hopper acts as that container and delivery mechanism.
Hoppers and ferrocrete tools come in different sizes for capacity and also with variations in their operating range from one another. We offer several ranges on our Kickstarter listing. Hoppers also can be move with the player if you’d like to “pick up and move” to a new location for any reason.
With this system a player can create anything from the smallest hut to an entire city so long as they keep their hopper(s) supplied with ferrocrete which can be created by almost any capable artisan.
But we didn’t stop there. In addition to this blocks system, a vast array of objects can also be placed in the game world alongside anything made of ferrocrete, such as tables, chairs, windows, even beds, pictures, weapons, armor, or clothing. Anything that can be crafted can be “dropped” into the game world on demand. Some objects small enough to fit on you can be placed right from your pocket onto the ground beneath you or into a hope, whereas others might be stored in another hopper in a “compressed space” bin allowing you to easily transport a lifetime of possessions at once.
Lisa: So, you can build just about anything you can imagine, then what?
Ethan: Don’t get too comfortable in your own home in Divergence though. Destructibility is a major part of our game. Currently anything made of ferrocrete explodes into fragments when hit by explosives in our game. This allows for sieges and real attacks on settlements unlike any other MMO we’re aware of. The better quality your materials, the more resilience your structures will have against stress and attacks. Wall modules and supports can increase your home’s structural integrity, but even crafted objects can be blown apart as well with enough force.
You don’t want too many things to go boom at once in our game as well. All those nice fancy street lamps, computer terminals and automated defense turrets you have surrounding your property? They don’t work so well without power, and if brigands blow up or otherwise sabotage your city’s power station(s), you’ll be left in the dark with only the fires of your burning comrades’ bodies to illuminate the darkness.
Lisa: As mentioned above, I had the chance to see the current alpha/pre-alpha version of the game first hand. It was really something. I created my usual test subject, Expendable Bob (in this case a human male) and flung him all over what turned out to be a player’s personal island (purchased during the last funding campaign. I was able to fly, (efficiently, if not gracefully) across wooded hills and sandy beaches.
Ethan demonstrated both the building of structures and the greening of the landscape, and I spent probably more time than is seemly alternately running around making grass appear in my wake, and slamming up additions to the multi-leveled, Escher-like complex that Ethan and my fellow testers were assembling. It was, as they say, a blast.
Also a “blast” was my ability to summarily destroy all that I (or anyone else) had built. Funny thing though, at one point I was convinced that someone was shooting at me as I tried to take screencaps. I went so far as to label the sniper, Douchy McFires-a-lot. Oh the embarrassment when I realized (and admitted) that I’d accidentally left firing command on and was, in fact, shooting myself. Damn. Needless to say, it gave my fellow testers a good laugh. It’s those little moments of true genius that make gaming so much fun. This is also why I always try to own my mistakes, as they are often my best work. But that ability (misused or not) is one of the things that will make the final release of Divergence such a challenge: Don’t build it if you can’t defend it.
The next Divergence Online funding campaign will be held via Kickstarter, and will begin August 1st. See the Divergence Dev Blog for details.