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A Chat With Derek Brinkmann Of Citadel Studios

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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Last night on Gaming the Industry, Managing Editor Joseph Bradford and Associate Editor Shank were able to sit down and talk with Legends of Aria Project Lead Derek Brinkmann. The more than hour-long conversation covered a wide gamut of topics, from his MMO, LoA, as well as issues facing the industry as a whole.

Derek's studio, Citadel Studios, recently launched the Early Access version of their game, Legends of Aria, in conjunction with a Steam release. The Ultima Online-inspired MMO has been in development well over five years, having gone through two iterations on Kickstarter. The original Kickstarter for Shards Online showcased the potential of giving players the tools to create their MMOs, something which still remains very much at the core of Legends of Aria. We started the discussion talking about this, as well as the philosophy behind why the team had to transition from what Shards Online was meant to be to Legends of Aria today.

"So if you go back to our Kicktstarter, we actually did two Kickstarters in 2014," Derek told us on the podcast. "One of them we didn't hit our goal, we set our sights a little high. And then we came back with another one and we hit our goal on that one.  That was for Shards Online. We rebranded as LoA a few years ago. So Shards Online had a much smaller scope in terms of the game itself and had a much more focused on the player created aspect of it. And what we realized was in order to keep the company going we needed to continue to sell the game.
And players are not super excited about playing a persistent MMO on community servers. And I've been learning through the last six years since I started this company why that is and what we can do to solve it. I just haven't had a lot of time to devote to tackling that problem because we've been so focused on getting our base game done first. And it's something I have to remind our community about a lot because it's easy to forget that Legends of Aria is like a "proof of concept."What I'm really developing - what me and my company, Citadel Studios, is really focused on developing is a MMO engine that is not specific to any one game, but can be used to build to quickly build games." 

This doesn't mean the team isn't working hard on making Legends of Aria the best MMO they can. Derek talked about how Aria can be a game players feel they can build a home, and indeed there have been many players who have put thousands of hours into Aria since its first EA launch. However, some of the sweeping changes made to Aria prior to its recent launch hasn't sat well with many in the community, namely the removal of the traditional, Ultima-style PVP from the official servers. In our discussion, Derek was very candid, explaining matter-of-factly the reasoning behind this move.

"The game is heavily inspired by Ultima Online, and we really did get a lot of Ultima Online fans on board because we went full, open PvP. So Ultima Online fans, if you go back, there's a split between people who think pre-AOS is the best Ultima Online, and the people who said "Oh, no, I actually liked having Trammel, and I liked having item properties and I liked having item insurance because I want to progress my character deeper." Whereas pre-AOS, it was the Wild West where everyone stole each other's house keys and sics dragons on each other. It's great. The problem is that it's not sustainable.
So we made a hard decision to shrink the open PvP area to allow people to PvE without being ganked because gankers were driving people away.[...] We made this decision, and it was a difficult one, but we said "We need this game to survive so we can  make more games and keep working on LoA and make it better. LoA's not even done, we still have quite a bit of work to do to finish it to the point where it's something people can live in for years. So in order to do that it needed to have a sustainable population, which required us to remove ganking from the majority of the content."

You can watch the full video-on-demand version or in the embeded Twitch stream below, as we break down more of Aria, its development, Brinkmann's experiences as a developer in the industry, as well as his thoughts on the state of the MMO genre, crunch and more. 

Full Disclosure: Legends of Aria is represented by Team Critical Hit, a games PR company co-founded by former MMORPG Managing Editor, Bill Murphy.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore