Project Genom recently entered its Early Access alpha on Steam. I had the opportunity to chat with Ilya Usanov, a game designer on PG, to find out how these first early days have gone and where the team is headed next. In addition, I offer a few of my impressions of the game after spending several hours playing.
MMORPG: How did the Early Access launch go? How do feel about it so far?
Ilya Usanov: The launch was incredible for us. We did not expect so many people would be interested in our game at such an early stage of development. Actually, it was a big surprise: We expected our Early Access to be somewhat more modest :)
It became not only a source of joy, but also some problems which needed to be addressed as soon as possible, for example, the server capacity. Thank God we managed to solve the main issues and will soon fix the rest. The most important thing is that people can play and we are very pleased that it appealed to so many gamers.
MMORPG: What has the reaction of the community been like?
IU: Diverse -- there are both positive and negative reviews. However, there is much more of the former than the latter and we cannot help but be happy about that fact. After all, the game is still in its alpha stage but we are already praised for its atmosphere, models, animations and an interesting story. Well, we have some good news: everything will be even cooler. What players can see now is just a tenth of the world they can dive into eventually.
MMORPG: Has Early Access helped you identify zones that perhaps need more attention?
IU: Yes, as I mentioned before, first and foremost it was server capacity. In addition, we will need to create servers for Asia since we have gotten a lot of requests from China and South Korea. Also, there were many bugs which hadn't been noticed until Early Access and we concentrated on quickly fixing them. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
MMORPG: How important is community feedback to future development?
IU: It is incredibly important. Without it we won't manage to create a good project, every player's feedback needs to be considered. It allows us not only to detect errors, but also to improve the game itself. We are extremely grateful to our customers for each feedback and review, even negative. All of this will allow us to improve. Keep writing, friends, we thank you for it!
MMORPG: What's next for the game — what new features and / or alterations to already-existing features are planned?
IU: As mentioned above, Early Access is just a tenth of the game. First we will continue with the story, bring PvP up to speed and even add robots, and gliders. Then we will finish this (starter) planet, give the opportunity to build spaceships and with them a whole another planet.
MMORPG: What game inspired you to create Project Genom? We notice some very Mass Effect-like environments and music from time to time!
IU: Yes, we're all fans of Mass Effect and were largely inspired by it, this is why our game resembles it so much. We have borrowed a lot from offline RPGs since we wanted to move away from the MMORPG template that will have you farm and grind. Some of our community are scolding us a bit about a number of the quests which require players to think instead of just running to a specified location on the map.
Project Genom is literally a diamond in the rough -- it is a game with vast potential that can be seen even in these early and sometimes frustratingly difficult days of Early Access. After spending some hours in the game and getting the thrilling moment of finally receiving my first pair of boots, here are a few of my initial thoughts organized into a handy list:
Atmosphere & story: the game world is liberally sprinkled with interactable objects that provide the player with a lot of the story behind why they are here to begin with. It can be somewhat overwhelming because you are never sure if another click will give you information about the game world or a quest. My favorite interactable led to putting a severed hand into a microwave and receiving an achievement “Smelly Hand”.
Graphics & animations: despite being in Early Access alpha stage and lacking customization for character creation, the game has a wide variety of models already present, including gear of different types, weapons, vehicles and NPCs. The character animations, especially running and shooting, feel very solid and smooth. Clearly there are still issues with pathing, particularly with regard to small fast moving monsters, but this is obviously something that will be worked on over time.
Character progression: besides the usual leveling, the game also has unique progression system which consists of 12 directions of development, each complete with 6 skills of their own. The higher level of skill allows the character to use more advanced gear of that category and receive bonuses among other things. It’s obvious even from the brief amount of time I spent in the game that the system will offer a vast opportunities to customize a character to play the game in the way one wants.
Quests & map: from the very beginning you’ll notice that you will spend a lot of time wandering around, wondering what to do. Being a veteran of theme park MMOs, I clicked on everything and overloaded my journal with a gigantic number of quests. The game doesn’t hold your hand and won’t guide from step to step. To finish most of the quests you will need to read the quest journal for tips on what to do next and that you may need to interact with special items in your pockets. It took me a surprising amount of time to figure it out, but once I understood what I needed to do and completed a particularly frustrating quest I felt a real sense of accomplishment. Some of the frustration came at the hands of a dimensional structure that is not indicated via the map. Due to that you’d soon find out that you’d automatically memorized paths and locations and might even no longer rely on the map except for a general direction.
Final Thoughts: After the first disastrous couple of minutes of gigantic tooltips attacking from every corner (I suggest you disable them as soon as you figured out character controls), I found myself hooked in a completely unexpected way. This is partially explained by my love of Mass Effect series, but it is more than just that. The game has a solid core already present and a lot of potential that the development team can explore.
Project Genom, a game that is in Early Access alpha, is a title for players who have longed for true alpha and beta experiences. This is a team that is deeply interested in its community’s support, suggestions and assistance with bringing PG to its full potential. Almost every time I was logged into the game there was a developer online who was talking with the players. The Russian version of the site has a detailed road map showing top priorities for the developers as well as long-term tasks.
Players who take part in this Early Access take equal opportunities to play and to help to make improvements to Project Genom. For those who want to participate in completely finished and polished product, it is best to wait until full release.