MMORPG.com: Face of Mankind has a long history; can you give us some background on the game?
Marko Dieckmann: Hello Bill and Garrett! Thanks for this interview. Face of Mankind has a long history indeed. We started working on the development of the very first iteration of this game back in 2001 and had our first closed beta open by the end of 2004 with open beta following early 2005. I still remember the day when we opened up the login servers to the public for the first time. Thousands were logging in and we were watching all this in the mall of New York City, Brooklyn (in-game). A place that was nearly empty before now was filled with people, with life. This has been an amazing experience, which gave me enough motivation for the many years of hard work that followed.
Of course, we had many challenges during this beta. First we had to make the servers solid enough to stand this much load. But we also had to make a very tough decision on the client. We had to change the engine, almost a no-go when your game is on open beta already. But we were communicating the need and our players enjoyed the free play in the meantime. A year later we got the game released with a publisher that had almost no experience publishing games. By the end of 2007 they decided to leave the game and cease support, again leaving us a tough decision to make. Either we cancel it or try to continue development with our own funding (again). I decided for the latter and announced a redevelopment called Face of Mankind Rebirth. I knew that the game wasn’t ready at that time and needed a lot of work. But my resources only lasted for roughly six more months, then I had to officially announce the cancellation of the project.
The next months were not easy, because the game has always been a dream of mine and at that time already a big part of my life. Seeing it shut down without having the chance to complete it was quite sad. A server emulation project was created by members of the community, which was still very strong and longing for the game. Somehow that gave me another push and I began rewriting the entire server from scratch. Not much later Charles Wood of Nexeon Technologies contacted me and we started brainstorming about ways how to revive the project so that I could focus my own limited resources to the development and wouldn’t have to worry about server hosting, operation, payment systems and support. We made a deal and the first beta started in February 2009. We introduced free and premium accounts to reach a bigger audience and to be able to continue working on improving the game, which we are doing until today.
We tested many ideas and concepts, some of which worked, while others didn’t. But at least we were able to continue and collect valuable feedback from the community. We knew that many other MMO’s spoon feed content to their players. We would never have the resources to do that, but luckily that wasn’t our intention either. Our goal is to provide all the necessary tools for the players so that they are able to shape their own experiences, their own stories; the content that really matters.
MMORPG.com: Tell us then, about Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion. The new version. What made you start the project?
Christopher Allford: Online games at their heart should be purely about the players and what they want to accomplish. They should be a sandbox fueled by the passions and imaginations of the people that choose to log into it. Since the beginning this has always been the goal of Face of Mankind, and this milestone aims to take these concepts to the next level. We have learned much from the game, having implemented many things. Some of these worked, and some of them didn't, but I think that's an important part of the creative process.
Recognizing these flaws, the Fall of the Dominion milestone entered development. It's very important to understand that no part of the game has been left untouched. This is a very different world, built upon the concepts and experiences of the previous. I'm not really sure I can do justice to it with words, as it's just something you need to experience to understand. The fun and excitement of making your mark on the universe, a world where your actions impact other players and come with consequences. You aren't carried along some pre-written story by developers, but given the tools and opportunities to create your own through the gameplay.
MMORPG.com: You will keep Face of Mankind open to your player base during the project, but what happens when the new game launches?
Marko Dieckmann: We had long discussions about this topic and at the end we decided for the following procedure.
We will keep Face of Mankind running in legacy mode (no further development, only support) for the active community that had game accounts before we launched the Kickstarter campaign. It would not be fair to take the game away from them. But we were also very sure, that we didn’t want to let new customers and Kickstarters play the old version. We want to let them experience Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion and not the obsolete version.
Once Fall of the Dominion is ready for beta testing, we will shut down the legacy version for good and all players will play the new game.
MMORPG.com: You have a system in place with Fall of the Dominion for players to create their own factions. Can you tell us why you chose such an open system?
Christopher Allford: In the previous versions of Face of Mankind, players were limited to joining a handful of hard-coded factions. This static element means that no faction ever suffers true consequences, and that we as developers have to rely on the higher ranked players to keep the game fun. Unfortunately, this creates a very unstable environment. While normally this would be good and entertain users, the lack of choice in factions means that there are few places to go, and instability just makes even less.
With the Fall of the Dominion milestone we made it a very firm point that all players should be able to create their own factions. We chose to do this so that users would not be forced into a role and would be given the freedom to do what they really want to. It means that players will be genuinely encouraged to see the success of their own faction, and the potential to build an empire is very enticing. It is important in a sandbox game that the users are afforded as many opportunities as possible. Opening the faction system in this way was an easy decision to make.
MMORPG.com: Why do you think players are leaning more and more towards sandbox gaming with their MMOs lately?
Marko Dieckmann: When you play a themepark MMO and you have leveled up as much as the game allows, you will notice that you’ve spent numerous weeks and months practically on leveling. Certainly you would have grouped up and played together for some time, but mainly for the reason of leveling and consuming content. The leveling process becomes the game. Then many will ask themselves what did they do it for? To enter another dungeon to finally gain the ultimate sword of heroes? I don’t think that’s very appealing.
In a sandbox game, however, your actions have a reason. You play together with your guild or faction for something real, for territory, power or resources. You build up something instead of just consuming predefined content. In a sense you are shaping the world you create. And that is a very rewarding experience.
MMORPG.com: With the new Kickstarter project you have some great rewards set up for players and fans of the game. Can you tell us what you have as stretch goals on the project?
Marko Dieckmann: We have set our initial goal to the minimum required to finish what we started. But we would certainly love to do a lot more. A sandbox game lives and breathes from its variety of options that players can use to shape their experience. While we don’t want to reveal the exact stretch goals just yet, we can give a glimpse of what is to come. We would love to offer a lot more options in customizing your character. People want to express themselves and we want to let them. New planets are on the table as well, more open worlds.
But what we are hoping for the most is the chance to upgrade our rendering engine and many of our assets and therefore increase the visual quality of the game immensely. Not only the visuals would get better, the client performance as well. We want to display huge crowds of players, cities filled with life. There is a real chance we can achieve this, if our backers keep supporting what we do. We are highly grateful that platforms like Kickstarter exist for independent developers.
MMORPG.com: After learning from a lot of previous MMOs, what type of mission system are you using with Fall of the Dominion?
Christopher Allford: The mission system has always been one of the core elements of Face of Mankind. It is one of the primary ways for players to organize themselves, and provides a metric for activity within the faction. This latest version aims to take it to the next level by opening it to everyone, regardless of their faction.
With Fall of the Dominion, users will be able to create missions and define what factions can join it, even making it invite only. This means that multiple factions can work together to further a common goal, without having to jump through any hoops to do so. Users will also be able to create missions independent of factions, paying for the reward out of their own pocket. To tie it all together is a means of reviewing missions, allowing leaders to check through event logs and validate who should and should not get paid in the mission.
As a whole, the goal of this mission system is one of depth. Users must have enough control over their money to spend it wisely. This will provide a means to do just that, and they can easily reward people for participating in anything they can think of.
MMORPG.com: How can players get involved in the Kickstarter and where can they find information on the new project?
Marko Dieckmann: The project and all the information can be found at http://kickstarter.faceofmankind.com.
Sign up for a Kickstarter account and check out our rewards. We are grateful for all pledges.
We will keep updating everyone on Kickstarter, our devblog here at MMORPG.com and through our newsletter. We are planning a series of updates on the history of the game, how everything came together and what the actual challenges were, and we will give some insight into typical development tasks when creating an MMOG, such as server architecture, networking, operating such a game and more. We want to share the experiences we made during the development of this long project.