Mark Jacobs & the Philosophy of CU
Our friends at MMOZG.net recently conducted a lengthy interview with Mark Jacobs to discuss some of the design philosophy and fundamental principles behind Camelot Unchained. They have graciously translated it for us to print here.
It is always hard to conduct an interview via email conversation. This one is no exception. Actually this time it was even harder to finish it as the second portion of questions were not answered for a very long time. Still I do understand the developers as all their efforts were thrown at game development and writing huge dev blogs, and so there’s really no time for any interviews. Am I satisfied? Yes and no at the same time. There are definitely some interesting answers, but on the other hand there are plenty of things I would prefer to investigate more and it was obviously impossible to do.
Our conversation with Mark Jacobs was not about specific game mechanics, but philosophy of the game and its fundamental principles. So it could not be complete in any way and we will try to make a bigger interview sometime in the future.
mmozg_rigeborod: We would like to thank you for your attitude toward games' payment models as it is one of key moments to still believe in MMO genre itself. And what do you think of the MMO genre on the whole?
Mark: You are more than welcome. As to what I think of the whole MMO genre at this time, there are too many so-called “free to play” games, which are of course, anything but truly free to play. I am excited about the number of small MMORPGs that are in development thanks to crowd-funding. It’s an exhilarating time for both players and developers, and I suspect we will be witnessing either the birth of a few really good games and a new age for MMORPGs or, unfortunately, the exact opposite. At least it isn’t a dull time!
mmozg_rigeborod: Whom would you blame for this situation? Game developers, journalists, players?
Mark: In terms of FTP, it is everybody involved. You can’t blame the players, journalists, developers or publishers individually for the problems associated with the current payment models because each of the parties involved is partially responsible. I’m a true believer in subscriptions without a big cash shop because that is the fairest model for the vast majority of players. I don’t want players of Camelot Unchained to have to worry what the next must-have cosmetic item is, or that any additional “convenience fee” or concierge-level item is going to be in the game. That’s why we are keeping it old school, partying like it’s 1999. :)
mmozg_rigeborod: Any person who plays MMO game for real will spend a lot of time and money for it. What will he or she gain for so big investment? The most important, please.
Mark: Well, in our game, the money anyone spends is limited to the game’s box/key and just a monthly subscription. Our players won’t have to worry about “investing” in cash shop purchases, limited edition items, etc. since our game won’t have things like that. What the game will have is a singular focus on Realm vs. Realm combat for our combatants, and a crafting system that will go down as one of the most rewarding for people who like to craft full-time.
mmozg_rigeborod: I was talking not about “investment” in cash shop but something totally different. I’ve paid CCP for EVE Online more than 1000$ subscription fees for all the time I’ve spent there. And that’s a huge price for one game. So what are you offering to me so I will stay in your game for years? Why should I stay in your game for so long? What will keep me playing? Or the others?
Mark: What keeps you playing in any MMORPG? Are you an RvR fan, a crafter, a heavy socializer, explorer, raider, etc? What you are asking is going to be different from player to player. I talked about the RvR combat, our crafting system (which includes a full Minecraft-on-steroids building systems), etc. For example, if you are a crafter, you might not care at all about combat, so talking about the combat system isn’t helpful. OTOH, if you are a combatant, you might only care about the crafting system if it means you get the weapon/armor you want. So, if you want to tell me more about what aspects of an RvR-focused MMORPG you really care about, I’ll be happy to go into detail about them!
mmozg_rigeborod: At the beginning of times or maybe a little bit later, when MMO games first appear they experimented with many different online interaction mechanics, some now are used in session-based games, some in small multiplayer survival sandboxes. Some are absorbed by Facebook. What is the exclusive for MMO games today?
Mark: The most important one for Camelot Unchained is our ability to handle large-scale battles. And by large-scale, I’m talking on the order of 1000+ players in a small area, not the hundreds that are seen in most other MMORPGs. This is one of the things that will separate Camelot Unchained from the rest of the MMORPGs out there.
We started off the new year with a test of 1,020 bots (player connections run off Amazon severs) and as many backers as wanted to show up for the tests. The game performed as expected, which meant good framerates on relatively newish cards (Nvidia 7xx series for example) and great framerates on Nvidia’s 9xx series and beyond, and it just gets better from here.
mmozg_rigeborod: It is for sure really awesome feature. But it is mostly unique for Camelot Unchained, not the genre itself. Is there any feature, which is a brand identity of the MMO genre in general and yet very important for your game?
Mark: Large-scale battles are going to be the single most important feature of the game and our ability to deliver on that in this and future games will be core to our brand identity.
mmozg_rigeborod: Making an MMO is the synonym for making virtual world. And making it RvR doesn't sound like that case if I cannot attack bad guy cause he is "blue", but cannot interact with that good ma'am, cause she is "red" means my choices are meaningless. And if it is so, it's not the world but an arena. So my question is why do you really want to make an RvR MMO? Why not RvR MOBA or real virtual world MMO?
Mark: In Camelot Unchained, just as in Dark Age of Camelot, I wanted to break up the world into three factions. Factional RvR is the best way to get more people interested in PvP MMORPGs since they do not have to worry about being killed by members of their own realm/faction. OTOH, in Camelot Unchained, you can attack any player from both the other realms regardless of their level, power, etc. So, while it’s not a free-for-all PvP game, the faction-based combat of Camelot Unchained should offer more than enough combat for the vast majority of our players. And for those who want to play a FFA PvP game, there are plenty of other choices out there!
mmozg_rigeborod: Actually I still do not understand. You say that you want to make factions. And this fact really makes me curious. Why do you want it? Probably because this approach has some advantages. Could you tell us about the ones?
Mark: I’ve always believed in the viability of three Realms/factions in a PvP game. I learned that lesson a long time ago (1980s) when I was having a discussion with one of the founders of Kesmai Corporation (Air Warrior, Legends of Kesmai, and lots of other games) John Taylor who told me that he chose three factions for the game because that way the third faction could act as a spoiler and team up with the underpopulated faction. That talk stuck with me and, as you know, I used it as the basis for Dark Age of Camelot. It is one of the many reasons I have always talked about Kesmai and Air Warrior when people ask me about the inspiration for the three realms of Dark Age of Camelot and now, Camelot Unchained.
mmozg_rigeborod: You're game developer with huge experience behind. Could you tell us about one most important game mechanics forged by previous mistakes?
Mark: The crafting system of Camelot Unchained is, in part, forged by the mistakes that I/we made with the one in Warhammer Online. When I first envisioned WAR, I wrote a document that described the kind of crafting system I wanted. Unfortunately, we did not allocate enough resources/people to achieve that vision, so the system that came out was a bitter disappointment to both me and our fans. This time, I’m working on the entire system personally and ensuring that we have enough resources to pull it off.
mmozg_rigeborod: Is there anything unique in Camelot Unchained that you haven't tried to implement before and so you're not sure how it would behave?
Mark: There are lots of really unique things in Camelot Unchained, which we call BSC (Bat Shit Crazy) ideas. Lots of information can be found out about them here (http://camelotunchained.com/v3/media/videos/bsc-days/). The biggest is our A.I.R. (Action, Interaction and Reaction) system in which all player abilities can interact with all other player abilities to create something new. For example, a fireball can hit a water wall which creates a steam cloud. The steam cloud can then be pushed over an enemy’s area by a wind mage and act as an AOE effect on people. No MMORPG to date has tried to create a system as powerful as this one.
mmozg_rigeborod: Could you tell us about any game mechanic which you dream about but think impossible to implement?
Mark: I don’t think any system is impossible to implement. I do feel there are lot of systems that are difficult to implement, but as computers and video cards become more and more powerful, the feasibility of implementing them is increasing.
mmozg_rigeborod: Ok, even if not impossible. Is there any really_hard_to_implement mechanics you wanted in Camelot Unchained but considered too hard or long to get it in the game?
Mark: In terms of too hard/long to get into the game, I would say that I’ve always wanted to add naval action to an MMORPG. While Camelot Unchained is the perfect MMORPG to do that in, since the world is mostly islands, we don’t have the time/budget to add it to the game now. Maybe one day, but not in the foreseeable future.
Another system/mechanic that I would love to add to the game would be a full pet system. While we are doing some really cool things with spirit pets, a deep, feature-rich, and fun pet system with training, progression, and even pet death, would be something I’d love to do in another game at some point in the future.
mmozg_rigeborod: We all know about games you've developed. But what about games you've played and loved?
Mark: Sure! I loved Civilization 2 (I’ve played most of the series, but Civ 2 was my favorite), Air Warrior (from which I drew the inspiration for three-sided RvR combat), Aliens Online (I loved that game), Warcraft (the RTS series), World of Warcraft (so much goodness there) and Knights of the Old Republic (still one of my favorite RPGs of all time).
mmozg_rigeborod: Thanks, Mark. Hope your game will be great!
Mark: Thanks for your interest in talking to me about Camelot Unchained!