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An Earthbound Perspective

Practical perspective on MMO play and practice.

Author: Dengar

Interview with Forge's Tim "Sojourner" Alvis, Co-Founder and CTO/COO of Dark Vale Games

Posted by Dengar Thursday July 26 2012 at 12:10PM
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So I got an interview with Forge's Tim "Sojourner" Alvis, Co-Founder and CTO/COO. For those who haven't heard about it, Forge is a lobby based PvP "MMO" that won't have a persistent world at launch but wants one later on. Think of it like Team Fortress 2 meets Guild Wars (1), but with quite an interesting art direction. The game doesn't plan to charge a monthly subscription fee, and is currently in alpha, though you can sign up for beta.



Q: I noticed there are five companions and five classes. Is it safe to assume that each class gets its own companion?


A: Yes, but they’re not running alongside the character all the time. In all but one gameplay mode, one we won’t have at launch, they appear only when their ability is called, perform the ability, and then unsummon.


Q: How do levels work? Do you earn experience points for levels that only stay with you per match, or do you keep your levels between games?


A: You earn experience points that stick with you forever. These experience points act like currency as well. Imagine you were say, level 3, and level 3 opened up two new abilities and a new set of armor. You could spend experience points you earn on those abilities and new set of armor rather than letting them accumulate to take you to level 4. This lets you decide whether or not you want to gain access to new options or unlock existing ones as you play. There will be armor and ability options that require a certain level to make use of, but no armor or ability is more powerful than another, and you’ll always only have access to 9 at a time. Since we give everyone a starting 9 abilities, there are no power gaps between new and veteran players based on ability selection or armor choices.


An example of two equally strong abilities could be: One ability slows an opponent by 50%, and another ability knocks an opponent back 5 meters. Which of these two are ‘better’ depends entirely on their cooldowns somewhat, but mostly on what situation you find yourself in.


Q: One of the big things about MMOs is their persistence. The game initially will only have lobby based combat without a persistent world. What exactly is the incentive for PvP? Are wins and losses tracked? Is there a rating system? Or is there something else?


A: The persistence element of an MMO is meaningful in two ways, one of which we’ll have at launch. The first and most important, is that your character’s progress and customization carry over from game to game. The second is that you’re able to exist in non-combat areas with other people. In a pure MMO, taking WoW as an example, the large open world isn’t really a big part of the experience for many. If you’re queuing up for battlegrounds or arenas, more than likely you’re sitting in Stormwind/Orgrimmar (or some other capital city) while in queue, checking out the auction house, or running around just in front of either of these cities dueling while you wait. Some people work through the daily quests as well, but those have nothing to do with PvP. Maybe fewer still go searching around quest areas looking for low level characters to maul, but that has even less to do with competitive PvP than daily quests. For the most part, you’re participating in combat in an instanced area with a set number of people when not hanging out in the capital or nearby it while dueling. Outside of the home city everyone waits in, there is little difference between our social interactions and those of an MMO, and we have plans to address the home city in the future as well.


As for the incentives, there’s the primary incentive that drives everyone to start playing: Multiplayer games, when done well, are fun. They get the heart pumping. We hope that our first incentive over other games is that we’re just simply more fun than they are.


We’re not going to rest only on that however. There will be tracking stats which will lead into a rating system, but the ratings and rankings aren’t something it appears we can support at launch, though they will follow shortly after. You’ll unlock new aesthetic options for both your armor and your abilities, as well as your companions. You’ll get new emotes, new taunts, and as time progresses unlock improvements to your own personal area. (That’s as detailed as I can get with that just now)


Q: I noticed that the game will only be launching with one faction, but you have plans for more. Can you tell us anything more about the role of factions?


The role of factions won’t be apparent until we’re deeper into the persistent world and meta game. They will play a much larger role in the game as a part of the conquest of territory as an individual and/or a guild when those features role out. When playing inside a particular match for the launch gameplay modes, they’re a flavor choice, like a whole new theme of armor. As an example, if you looked at say, the differences between the armor style of the medieval European period versus the early Roman or even against the armor used in the Sengoku period of Japan. Very visually distinct.


Q: Will there be support for player organizations, such as guilds and clans, at launch?


A:Yes, but not at launch. This is another one of those features that are extremely important to us, but being Indie, we just didn’t have the bandwidth to do justice for launch. We made a decision early on to focus on doing a small number of things extremely well rather than many things poorly.


Q: In your news update about tanks and healers, you mentioned changing roles during the actual game. How does this work with a class based game with levels? Do your levels carry over to other classes? What about gear? 


A:We haven’t decided how this will translate to the progression system yet. Our working model has it such that the experience you earn on any character can be spent on any character. So if you want to level up a Warden, but your guild needs you to play Shaman or Pyromancer because of team composition, the experience you earn as the Shaman or Pyromancer you can spend on the Warden instead. Once spent however, it’s spent. There isn’t any taking it back. Gear is class specific, having only meaningful stats for that class. Since all gear has the same budget for stats, it’s a character customization choice rather than an increase in power.


Q: Appearance customization. Will this be like Team Fortress 2, where the character models all look the same for each class besides a few pieces of gear/hats, or will players actually get to create their own character?


A: All characters will look similar, but not at the same level of similarity as Team Fortress 2. We believe strongly that silhouettes help gameplay in a meaningful way (not that everything has to look identical of course, but that the general size, shape, and ‘feel’ of a character’s proportions are somewhat unique). We also believe that one of the most important features of a game like this is that the character is yours. You feel like it’s you, something unique to you, and we’re going to stretch further away from fixed shapes than Team Fortress 2 has for this reason. Should the game be the success we hope it is, you’ll have plenty of options to stand out in 2013.


Q: What is the source of loot in Forge? Are there any mobs that drop resources for crafting, or is gold earned and purchased from a shop, or something else entirely?


A:End of game rewards as part of extremely difficult to achieve medals, as well as purchasing them using experience points. Some will require a particular level to purchase and equip. We’ll also be introducing some to a ‘cash shop’. Again though, no power or stat increases, just customization.


Q: How are death and match losses treated? 


A:It depends on the gameplay mode. Most of the time, a death is going to result in a 30 second respawn timer. It’s unique to every person, so you won’t be appearing on field with 10 other people at once. We know and understand the reason why that method can be popular, to prevent people from running in one at a time like the ‘bad guys’ from a Kung Fu movie and having an endless cycle of death, but we feel that’s a little heavy handed as a method to prevent that and it can cause an equal number of problems for the team doing the killing. It’s frustrating to kill someone right as the rez timer is coming to an end and they appear 2 seconds later at full health. Other modes will be round based, where you have one life per mode.


Losses just start the next round/map. Much like Team Fortress 2.


Q: How many people can simultaneously play on a map?


A:Depends on the server equipment and equipment people are playing the game on. We’re looking at max game sizes of 32 people right now, 16 per team, but like the feel of games between 8v8 and 12v12. The engine itself can support more, but 16v16 is a pretty large number of people to have playing before things just become a somewhat random mashing together of two mobs.


Q: Leaving out a grind is something more games are trying to promote. For example, both Firefall and PlanetSide 2 are also utilizing lateral progression similar to Forge, in that you choose different options, rather than raw upgrades such as in games likeWorld of Warcraft. Besides the fact that Forge may be one of the only fantasy based games taking this approach at the moment, what do you think your game will offer that competitors don't?


A:Focus. Focus on having multiplayer, PvP fun rather than appealing only to the most hardcore of competitive players. I don’t want that to be misread by anyone, we certainly aren’t ignoring the elite players in the community. We’ve even gone so far as to enlist their help early on with the game to make sure that when stretched to its limits, it’s an amazing experience for them and balanced. However, our goal isn’t to build a game that only they and the other two thousand people able to play at their level that exist in the world are able to enjoy. That puts us away from some of the more commonly named competitors in this space.


One piece of what separates us from the other two you’ve mentioned is that we’re not building a huge, monolithic world and environment before the game is in your hands. We believe in starting small, seeing what you like, what people respond to, and building in that direction. We could assume, make educated guesses or base what we’re going to do on what others have done and build a massive game around those ideas, but that’s not what we believe is the route that will build the best game. I think interacting tightly with the community, building the game together with the community helping to guide it, will result in a much better product that more accurately reflects the tastes of those playing the game. That doesn’t mean we’ll do everything everyone asks or that we’ll blow directionless into whatever heading the current winds are blowing, but it does mean that you won’t have situations like “No one likes vehicles in this game, we shouldn’t have built so many gameplay modes with vehicles” or, “We thought everyone would love earning these types of items and we built six-hundred of them, but it turns out they would rather earn these types of items instead… 20/20 right?”. Aim small, miss small.


The other piece of separation is what you mentioned. For whatever reason, fantasy based games have been stuck in a rut for a while. It’s almost as though under every magician’s robe is a twelve sided dice and experience chart. In some cases, when you see artwork for a newly announced title, you can barely even tell what game it’s for before you look at the logo. One game looks much like another, and that’s true not for two or three games only, but many. Our setting, combined with our gameplay choices, just don’t exist anywhere else. As we’ve seen, there are pieces of it you can find that resemble something you’ve seen already, but it’s like describing an elephant blindfolded. It’s the whole of it that matters, the forest rather than the trees, and our forest is different from every other forest you can spend time in.


Hopefully, people will also come to recognize the level of passion and excitement we have for this game. We’re building what we want to play alongside you for a decade or more. We participate in the forums because it’s the right thing to do. We answer people’s questions honestly without any embarrassment. We know there are risks there, people will twist words later, but frankly we’d rather eat the fallout from those risks than to hold those people most important to the game’s success, those paying and playing with us, at arm’s length. We also don’t believe in dictating to you what you should find fun, though that seems to be a fashionable trend as of late. If you find some quirk that we didn’t expect and you like it, don’t look for that to get hammered until it’s not usable any more unless it really is damaging to the gameplay experience for everyone. Instead, look for us to build around it and make it fit meaningfully into the game somehow.


There’s the old story about how rocket jumping was originally an accident in Quake (don’t believe that’s true, it was around in other games before that, but let’s use it as an example anyway!). There are two routes a developer can take with an accident like that. They could say:


“We have built the maps and environments with typical player movement in mind, which we believe provides the most fun and rewarding experience. Because of this, rocket jumping has been disabled and a hotfix will be deployed at 3AM PST (Sorry Australia, kind of!)”


Or, they could say:


“Rocket jumping is #$@#@# amazing, let’s make sure the next few maps we build have places you can only get to using a rocket jump, and make sure we don’t break it with future patches. Maybe we should even remove splash damage? Let’s ask the players what they think.”


As a studio, we’re all about option 2. That can make all the difference.