MMORPG: Talk about some of the design philosophy behind NeoJac. You truly are including the community in building the game.
Jacques Rossouw: The philosophy is along the lines of the open source virtual world projects. The main limiting factor in my opinion for such projects has been with the client-server platform. By having such a platform now, we can implement the open world concept where we can rapidly develop any feature the community comes up with. But since this is a commercial environment and of a genre, there will need to be some regulation. We would like to minimize our roles to only maintaining the environment, revising the rule framework, and adding in additional features. From there we will like to let the community take the role of governorship of the game.
This is likely to be messy at first and chaotic, along the lines of a fledgling democracy. There will be differences of opinions, but hopefully we can find some solutions that can be accepted by all sides. I will admit this will not be easy, will be quite the challenge, but this is what all gamers like to have.
MMORPG: You have had several roundtable discussions already. What feedback have you gotten from players?
Jacques Rossouw: In short, we are working for the community. We get both the good and the bad; however overall the feedback has been positive. This is a work in progress and the round tables will improve in time. For now they are essentially an open session to speak of your thoughts on a given subject. This provides us with an initial direction to go with for implementation of a given feature. When we have something ready, we can have it tested, gain feedback from the community, make the changes where possible, retest and continue until accepted. Due to time and costs, we will often have to have a limit on the frequency of a cycle. It’s important to note that with these round tables we do not participate and are not invited. We do not want to force our ideas onto the community and we do not want to limit them in their thinking when it comes to implementation of their ideas. We don’t want the community to have any software and hardware borders. We want them totally think outside the box. Then it’s up to us to make it work. From this system we have gotten amazing ideas.
MMORPG: Give us a background on the genre for the game. We know it is high fantasy, but what are some of the elements that set it apart from other MMOs.
Jacques Rossouw: The biggest thing I would say that will set it apart will be the way it is being developed, with real time player involvement where the community decides what feature the game will have. We are calling it Source Game Design.
Some key items that have already been implemented include our housing system. Houses are built in sections and therefore offer players the ability to make their houses look unique. If a player wants something even more unique, then he/she can make a model and/or texture of what is desired and then could add it to the game.
Other features are things like dungeon creation where players will be able to create and design their own dungeons from scratch. Using a voxel based system they will be able to dig into the terrain, build dungeon walls and traps. Placing down things that can attract creatures to their dungeons like hay, which attracts Ogres, will allow their dungeons to be inhabited by creatures and once they open up their dungeons to their friends they can sit back and enjoy the slaughter.
MMORPG: What is your approach to the sandbox MMO model?
Jacques Rossouw: It’s simple In terms of ideology it’s “let the players decide.” Our focus on this is to develop all the systems and tools and let the players sculpt and build the world they want. We are even taking this a step further and allowing player created content, so they can create unique items and inject those into the game.
In some round tables the players have brought forth the idea of player created books. In these books they can spell out the knowledge they have acquired doing certain skills which will help other players learn that skill much faster. Also the players can create quest books with story lines and lore from their own experiences and make them available for others to read. This takes the Sandbox MMO model to a whole new interactive level.
MMORPG.com: You have talked about player housing in the game. How will you manage that system? Are you afraid of overcrowding?
Jacques Rossouw: We have a tile placement system for managing houses and overall land management. For now, we determine how the tiles are laid out and where. So in that sense, we can determine how many houses, commercial and industrial structures there can be. Again this is intentional from the start, where we are having a heavy hand with the development of the world. We monitor how the environment is performing, ultimately trying to find that optimal sweet spot and then go hands free with how the land is managed. Later we will allow players to set certain tiles to different zoning which will allow further customization. As towns grow, more tiles will be available in that area to allow further growth and other types of zoning like guard towers.
MMORPG: How much input does a player have in the game creation process? Are you allowing for individual ideas to be sent in? Can my voice be heard on one of the Roundtables?
Jacques Rossouw: We would like to provide each player as much of a voice as possible. I know this is very difficult to achieve, but that is the goal. Another difficulty is dealing with a large volume of differing opinions and of the limitations of the gaming environment. Making changes to the environment or rule framework will be difficult, as that deals with making changes that people may not want (change is good, but people are resistant to change) and of the programming effort.
Providing new content I would say is the easiest way of working with game creation. Though some items may need some codes to work, such as flowing capes, which by the way is possible. Adding in models for content will be done in a peer review manner, which allows us to focus on maintaining and improving the game environment. I also think the community tends to be supportive of one another when it comes to providing content. And so, this method should provide a good experience and motivation to play.
For the round tables, yes your voice can be heard. Though there are a limited number of active participants, I believe as a first come, first seating at this time. We can look at some additional methods to enhance the live video round tables, such as providing a text chat line. But all are welcome and we also have a forum where you can post your ideas and have them voted on.
MMORPG: Do you feel that having so much player input it might slow the progress of development on the game?
Jacques Rossouw: That is a valid concern. It’s one of the problems with a democratic model you could say, especially with that being a key feature. PvP would be an example of this. There is a camp that wants free open PvP, another that does not want it at all; and those in between. In such a case, I find that it is best to come up with something in the middle (but yes, compromises do not always work), document it and have players review it. Take in their feedback, make changes and go for another period of review. This can take some time and multiple cycles of feedback (and we may have to limit the total number of cycles) but like all MMO games it’s a continuous work in progress as we always strive to evolve the game.
I have found that when implementing a concept (or change), it’s best to get as much interaction as possible before implementation. People who have been informed and made aware that they have been heard, are more inclined to accept a concept, even if opposed to it.
I know we will make mistakes as this will be an ongoing learning process. And we’ll have to admit to those mistakes we make and work with the community on how best to correct them (the mistakes that is, not saying the community), rather than just go silent and pretend all is a-o-k.
MMORPG: What are the best parts about making Neo’s Land? What features in the game have surpassed your expectations?
Jacques Rossouw: I would say the best part has been the integration of the Atavism Online Server with the Unity3D Client. I have heard by many developers for years of how easy and powerful Unity is. Now we can harness that power of Unity for an MMORPG. What would take days to weeks to make possible, such as a change of seasons and weather conditions (ie: snow frosting on the ground) is done in a matter of hours. The cost for the package is either as much or less than paying a programmer for one hour. Just in the last few months the pace of development has improved rapidly.
Creating the avatar is a good example of this. We have been used to dealing with character models in which there has to be a different mesh for a given profile. For example, there would need to be variations of meshes for slim, athletic, overweight, average, muscular profiles; compounded with sizes (short, medium, tall); and then the same for clothes. Now we have a system which only has two base models (male and female) and can be morphed to different sizes and profiles and the clothes suit as well. This was achieved by successfully integrating Fernando Ribeiro’s Unity Multipurpose Avatar (UMA) system into the environment.
Although in this regards, I am not talking about game features, I find the capability to tap into Unity’s assets and community for rapid development to be fairly revolutionary, at least for MMORPGs. I could say, “If there is something you want, there is an asset for that.”
As for features, having the community involved in guiding our development brings into play the phrase, “many minds are better than one.” Game developers have a narrower vision than players when it comes to designing as they already know the hardware and software limits, whereas players lets their imaginations run free and come up with amazing ideas.