MMORPG.com: Tell us about what’s been happening in the Divergence world since the success of the crowdfunding goals a while back. What has the team been working on?
Ethan Casner: In the world of indie game development (and to an even larger degree, the world of indie MMORPG development) things rarely pan out the way you expect. At the end of September 2013, we’d had two successful small crowdsourcing campaigns that resulted in an incredible playable prototype. Our players hung out alongside devs on our public teamspeak and the high-point of any given evening of mine was logging in to see what new massive stuff people had built in the game world with the tools our prototype provided.
The biggest challenge confronting us though was that although the current game could do things already that a lot of other games regarded as “long-long-term possibilities”, such as the streaming seamless and modifiable world where every tree, every blade of grass and every stone of every building was put there by players, there were still simple features yet unobtainable. In a nutshell, the reason was quite simply “the core components of the network handler we used were locked-out to us and it was explained to us that would never change”.
We could spend another two years and everyone’s money trying to “work around” the problems with the old network handler, or we could just suck it up and make the incredibly hard decision to just “do it the right way” and scrap it, starting over with a much more “long term” solution that we’d never have to upgrade out of. A year is a long, long time to go without a pay-check let me tell you, but after a multitude of work, I’d like to think that the footage of the first of our new capabilities speaks for itself.
MMORPG.com: What’s the next step? I’m sure backers are eager to get in there and start testing.
Ethan Casner: Right now we’re actually running both the old server and game (so our contributors can still build and play when they wish) and the new at the same time for comparative testing. The prototype is open to anyone who contributes at or above the alpha-level (Gold – $100) while our new system is only accessible by devs and GMs since it’s still very much in development. The next step for us is to take the fundamentals we spent these last 12 months building and flesh out the visual parts of those features, just like we did with the customization overhaul.
MMORPG.com: The sandbox MMO seems to be the “It Girl” in the industry right now. With so many coming out, and a few of them being Sci-Fi in nature, what’s going to make Divergence stand out?
Ethan Casner: I get asked that a lot and the answer I’ve sort of gotten used to giving is that the point of Divergence has always been my personal belief that the term “MMO” has, since the advent of WoW, been devalued more and more each year to a point where games with the simplest of multiplayer are considered as such. Gamers of today consider anything that can connect more than 20 people at a time to be an “MMO”, whereas in the 90s and 2000s these would simply have been known as “virtually every single FPS game ever made”. My personal feeling is that unless a person played SWG, EvE Online, or maybe one of the three or four largely-unknown indie attempts in the past, they probably haven’t even had a “true sandbox mmo experience” in their adult life yet. They don’t know what it’s like to be able to build a homestead literally anywhere in the world they choose, and not just in a pre-defined location on a number of pre-placed spaces, or to have no pre-defined role and simply increase in skill at any action they perform. A true Sandbox MMO doesn’t have hundreds of servers hosted by players all with completely different content, where what you do on one is completely meaningless on the others.
MMORPG.com: Do you think there’s still a need/want for a hardcore PVP game? It may be a niche audience, and if so… how do you propose to bring new PVP-averse players in?
Ethan Casner: That’s actually a really good question too and I’m glad you asked it, because I spend a good deal of time giving this same speech to passersby. This is going to be a long-winded answer, to brace yourself.
First off, I believe wholeheartedly there is indeed a “need” for reasons that you might not expect. Not to get all philosophical on you, but I’ve always strongly felt that any experience that forces you into direct confrontation with your fears and teaches you to overcome them is beneficial for society in general.
Typical people will avoid anything that says “hardcore open-PVP” before they even give it a look, but our goal is to challenge people to re-evaluate those preconceptions by showing them that there is much to gain by taking risks and not always playing it safe, firmly rooted in their purely PVE (or consensual-PVP) existence.
Essentially, when death means nothing, life means nothing.
The main thing that players and potential players need to understand is that “open PVP” does not mean “throat-slitting in the streets from the moment you log-in”. People hear “Open-PVP” and “Permadeath” and immediately draw this mental picture of a blood-drenched den of iniquity where virgins in cages wail as the bad guy from Temple of Doom shouts, “Kali-MA!” and rips your heart out before tossing your corpse into a fiery volcano. No. What “open-PVP” and “permadeath” mean for players in Divergence is “real life”, because that is the model we used to design the game’s systems.
Every action your character undertakes in Divergence affects your faction standing with innumerable forces on the surface of the world. You cannot walk into a bar, blast the first stripper you see in the face with your rifle and fingerpaint with her blood without suffering appropriate ramifications. In Divergence, you have total freedom; “The freedom to do whatever you want, when you want, and suffer the consequences of those actions”. There is no game-mechanic in Divergence that would give you a buzzing sound and say “Cannot attack players in safe-zone” in this kind of situation, however doing so would most likely immediately plummet your faction with the club and city to a negative number, which means an immediate accosting by bouncers, militia, enforcement officers, not to mention anyone who knew that person. And once that bouncer snaps your neck? You can bet the remaining strippers and customers are going to pounce on your body and strip it of your precious money, items, and equipment, right down to the fillings in your teeth. You most likely won’t even have dry bones to corpse-run back to.
Want to craft, dance, or assume any one of the 50+ professions even if they are non-combative? Then spend your time in civilization, join with a faction and/or band together into an organization where you can enjoy the protection of authorities.
Want to sail the seas as a privateer with your close friends or prowl the frontier of wilderness for victims? Say to-hell with your faction standing of civilization and make your own way in the wild.
MMORPG.com: One of the things that tend to keep people out of hardcore PVP MMOs is the sometimes toxic community. Heck even MOBAs like LoL or HoN have been known to drive people away with their communities. How will Divergence foster a more tightknit group?
Ethan Casner: I think the answer to that question is another controversial feature that really puts Divergence on the map. In Divergence, the term “hardcore PVP” does not mean “here’s a free pass to act like a complete jackass”. Attacking and killing a total stranger is not an offense. Jumping up and down on a mailbox in your underwear and spamming “lollololoolllolololl” is. One thing that not a lot of people are aware of is that one of my most serious personal goals with Divergence is not just to make a game, but specifically to use the game as a method of collecting, cultivating and growing a very specific type of community; the type of people you’d actually want to game with.
Typically the “rules” involved in playing online games of today involve “no racial slurs, no hacking, etc”, but for the most part, anyone who downloads the game can play. In Divergence, we have a more organic and human approach to matters such as “what constitutes a suspension or ban” and our GMs are encouraged to “be creative” with their punishments. It basically comes down to “Do you add to the quality of the game and its community, or do you reduce it,” which determines whether someone is allowed to continue playing or not. Stained Glass LLama doesn’t have $100M USD in debt hanging over its head and thus need to let in every abusive loud-mouth on the internet just to turn a profit. We’d much rather devote to just 10,000 quality individuals and keep them as satisfied players and customers for years to come, growing with us as we grow with them.
MMORPG.com: One of the big “buzzwords” these days is that developers really want to listen to their players and be transparent. How will you all seek to do this?
Ethan Casner: What we did was allow our players to vie for the positions of leadership of many of our in-game factions, including all three of the main factions, OSI, VRTek, and DC. They hold the positions until they either stop playing, or their characters are assassinated. We’ve even went so far as to bring them into the design of their factions’ game elements as well. Out of the dozen ships that fell to the world’s surface, only a few were fortunate enough to do so over actual land, and out of those an even fewer number were able to mitigate the massive damage done to them on impact. For Darius Conrad, one of our major Terran factions, one ship that managed to survive was a massive logistical weapons platform and carrier craft which crash landed above the northern polar cap.
This huge ship, over 600m in length is in the process of being salvaged and repaired by other surviving DC personnel, all under the watchful eye of its current owner. Many players have supported us in such a big way we’re always looking for ways of rewarding them for their personal sacrifice, so from the moment he was selected, we’ve allowed him to take part and contribute to both the exterior and interior of the ship. Once DC players have managed to fully-repair the ship, what they do with it is their business. Perhaps they’ll use its 350m of internal bay area for fabrication and repair of equipment, fly it to a different part of the moon and use it as a trade hub, or perhaps wage war on one of our other factions, raining death from above with its six missile batteries and two enormous rail cannons. It’s their faction – It’s their decision.