Frank Ross of Black Masque Games is the latest developer to join our ongoing Q&A series. Today, Frank discusses himself, his path to the industry and a little bit about his project: Dark Solstice.
Let us begin with an introduction to who you are, what you do and what you’re working on.
At Black Masque Games, titles don’t mean very much, and since we are a small company, all of us wear many hats. I suppose as President/Publisher, my primary function is to coordinate the efforts of the rest of the team just to assure that we are indeed all moving in the same direction. Aside from that, my tasks include portions of Overall Design, World Building, and Sound.
The gaming industry draws from all quarters. Can you run us through how you came to your current job?
My entire adult life has been involved with software in one form or another. In times past, I was a software developer, designer, and manager. When my affinity for computer games became evident, it was a natural progression to want to build one. It was then that I started assembling ideas for what would ultimately become Dark Solstice.
This dream is being made possible by a special person that believed in my vision strongly enough to fund the effort. The concept would still be on the drawing boards were it not for her support.
You have what many would consider a dream job. What is your favorite part of it?
The description is exactly right, a dream job. In fact it doesn’t really feel like a job. When you look forward each day to making some headway on the game, it makes starting the day enjoyable. When you really enjoy what you are doing, the job becomes so much more satisfying.
I think there are many parts that are great fun but here are a few that stand out. I myself have little artistic ability but when our talented artists make images come to life that were only a rough concept, it makes my day. We are fortunate to have some very creative people using their gift to create the world of Dark Solstice. You have seen the results thus far and from the early comments, it seems their efforts will be a hit. So, as I watch the world get created, I know this is my favorite part. I admit there are times when I simply stare at the artwork or go back to view it again and again.
Aside from the artwork, I really enjoy creating the concepts for Dungeons and Quests. All of us here feel that there is a lot of latitude for creativity in these two areas, and we think that Dark Solstice will offer some unique approaches to both.
What to you is the most challenging part of your current job?
As much as we might like to, we cannot be all things to all people. We realize there is a broad spectrum of player types out there and as a part of our design criteria, we are attempting to appeal to as wide a base as we can. The difficulty arises when clear choices have to be made while the gaming world is split in their opinion. These are challenging decisions since they will define the player groups that will find Dark Solstice enjoyable. Typical of these choices are:
Real time combat vs. Turn based
Room based 2.5D vs. 3D art
Death experience/item loss
Forced PvP vs. Optional
Experience vs. Skill based advancement
We have made choices on these issues and others in order to make Dark Solstice stand out amongst the wide array of games available today. We hope that our choices prove to be wise ones.
For those who wish to follow and join the industry, what is your advice?
I believe there is room for many more MMO’s in the gaming world. There has never been a time like the present where the potential market is so large. And even though some of the major titles have secured millions of subscribers, the potential is still virtually untapped. So, for those that are willing to put their social life on hold and throw away the clock, the gaming world awaits. Make sure you have adequate financing not only to build the game, but to properly market the result when you finish.
Do not get discouraged seeing the huge investments made by the giant gaming companies. True, they sink many millions into most titles today but still only a few will reap big returns. I believe that the independent game publishers can still carve out a comfortable niche and capture a significant subscriber base.
Can you talk briefly about the games that have and do inspire you most?
Clearly, I fell in love with the Sierra games from the 80’s and 90’s. First the solo games like the Sierra offerings, King’s Quest, Space Quest, and Quest for Glory kept me intrigued for years. The cartoonish look and humor became addictive for me, and I spent countless hours playing them. Many think that UO was the pioneer in what are now called MMORPG’s, but to me it was a new concept game by Sierra in 1996 called the Realm Online that made a lasting impact. For those that remember the Quest for Glory series, they will see some similarity to the look and feel of Dark Solstice. It is precisely this “detailed cartoon” look that we believe will distinguish us from the pack.
Most of us at Black Masque Games have either beta tested and/or played all of the popular titles currently on the market. Like most players, we feel some are good, while others are not so good. We are striving to minimize or avoid completely what we see as the weak parts of those existing games. After launch, only the players will be able to tell us whether or not we have succeeded.
Finally, can we get a brief update on Dark Solstice’s progress?
Like any large project, it is sometimes difficult to assess the overall progress in just a few words. While work is being done on the Server and Client software, Combat, Character Advancement, Castle Sieges, Guild Support, and a hundred other components, there are two that I will comment on.
Scenery Artwork - The world of Dark Solstice will be large and continually growing. We are close to having the areas for Beta completed. There will be significant additions made for the live game launch and those will be tackled next. The areas for Beta Testing will include:
The Enchanted Forest
The Dunes of Ularis
The Jungles of Sarius
The Forbidden Forest
The Underworld of Eros
Pub Games – We have selected the Skill and Luck games that will be present in the Beta version of the game. In all games, the player will be able to play against the “house” or other players. We are including a player selected skill level for those choosing to gamble against the Pub. Wagers can be placed by the participating players or by observers. As mentioned before, experience will be won or lost along with Currency based on the results. This experience will vary dependent on the difficulty of the opponent. The games are close to being ready.
As you know, we have been accepting applications for our Beta testing. We will continue to do so until shortly before the launch of Beta. At this time we are not certain of the total number of testers we will have, but I can say that interest in the game seems to be running fairly high. Once again, I would like to thank MMORPG.com for allowing me to talk about my favorite game, Dark Solstice.
Thank you to Frank for taking the time to answer our questions. If anyone has a developer in mind for a future Q&A, feel free to email me with your ideas.