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Interview, Part I

Dana Massey Posted:
Interviews 0

Nick Witcher talks about the game, its testing phases, combat and more

Roma Victor is being produced by RedBedlam, a small British studio. This game lets players go back to the times of Ancient Rome and take part in a historically authentic world. The game is defined by its unique combat system and alternative-revenue model (no subscription fees). We had a chat with Nick Witcher in the first half of this interview.

To go with today's interview, we're also featuring eight exclusive screenshots of the game.

MMORPG.com: Graphically, Roma Victor does not have the flash of some other games. What do you say to those who seem to like your game concepts, but are critical of your visuals?
Nick Witcher:

A critical response is understandable but I think a little unfair. We have only ever released candid live screenshots of real players and NPC's within the test. We don't release screenshots that are more concept art over a true in-game experience. The graphics settings are set low for testing reasons, but as the test progresses, we'll be turning those up, but not before we're ready. Tech issues first; eye candy second.

Some of the main in-game graphics features have yet to be fully implemented, such as the dynamic lighting and shadows, which by release will only get better.

Of course, we realise that we still have some work to do and we will be putting in a major effort, in time for the final release when we'll move to a different publishing process, especially for promotional materials.

We are also constrained somewhat by our ambitions and the ambitions of our community. Having hundreds of players involved in large-scale first-person battles simultaneously and advanced features such as real-time combat, soil fertility and realistic weather patterns, to name but a few, means that we may never be able to reach the level of eye candy that some of our competitors enjoy but then we believe that they'll never have such an immersive game experience as Roma Victor.

MMORPG.com: As you come closer to launch, your alternative pricing models continue to interest me. Can you run us through how players will gain access to Roma Victor?
Nick Witcher:

We've just announced our final release schedule and pricing model to the RV community. We will offer Roma Victor as a download only at this stage. There is a pre-order scheme and special offer for our current testers.

Our pre-order scheme launches mid December ‘05 when we will offer a limited amount of downloads at £14.98 (to include £5 worth of Sesterces). Pre-ordering will also ensure immediate access to the ongoing Commercial Test.

Current testers that have spent more than £20 on Sesterces will receive the download and account key free of charge. They will also benefit from having all the money they have spent during the test (including the qualifying £20) returned to them in Sesterces at the full launch of RV, as will all the game's testers.

For the launch we'll be offering RV Account Keys for £19.98 with £10 of Sesterces. We believe this pricing model to be fair, flexible, affordable and that it will allow people to enjoy RV without having to commit to a long term subscription. It also allows for a more accurate reflection off player input as well, both in terms of time and effort contributed, and not just money donated.

MMORPG.com: Combat in Roma Victor is supposed to be different. Run us through a typical encounter and what you think makes it better than the average MMORPG.
Nick Witcher:

Combat in RV is very different to other MMO games. It's a much more genuine reflection of real life fighting, as it would have been in the 2nd Century.

Combat is set in first person. Players left- and right-click to use objects in characters left and right hands. If you imagine a crosshair in the middle of the screen, you use the mouse to target and the keyboard navigation controls the action of your character's weapons, so lunge, slash, thrust or their armour, block, parry etc.

Experienced combat veterans will tell you it's largely about timing. With your character's stamina and vigour playing a vital role. Much like real life fighting your character will tire quickly and each lunge or block will sap energy and provide your opponent with opportunities.

Additionally thanks to the implementation of adrenaline, after a sudden and unexpected attack you usually have the chance to stand and fight or take flight and run away, which can be very useful! In PvP encounters a very good fighter can kill a much weaker opponent very quickly but will almost always find it hard to take on multiple challengers as attacks from behind often prove fatally unavoidable. Two well-matched players will take more time over their attacks and the positioning of their character to try and find a weak spot and get behind your opponent's defences. It's usually a spear in the torso or a head wound that will prove decisive.

The combat has been tested quite substantially and we've discovered some very good fighters - in fact some of the best fighters to date have managed to produce combat tactics that we hadn't even realised would be feasible! Our testers have already held several tournaments and games in the local arenas. RV's combat system suits the virtual Roman world in which it is set and you will only see the very best fighters becoming gladiators, fighting for glory, riches or freedom.

MMORPG.com: Your recent advertising calls Roma Victor a historically accurate MMORPG. Balancing history vs. fun can often be hard. Can you take us through some of the examples of how you've balanced these?
Nick Witcher:

We have never claimed to be historically accurate; rather historically authentic. I think the balance has a lot to do with getting the level of realism correct. You won't see mirror-finish shields and characters will not sport stylized, cartoon-like or even 21st Century physiques. Amongst other things you're bound to see a lot of mud and dirt. The species of animals and wildlife are appropriate for their region and period, the armour, equipment, structures and even all of the trade skills and crafting activities have all been extensively researched. We believe this type of authenticity really adds to the experience. I think we've incorporated all the features that make an RPG fun and we want to involve the players and encourage role-playing the era. Activities in the game from the quests to hunting wild animals or gathering the resources to build your house will be deeply compelling.

As for balance we generally tend to err on the side of history although features such as perma-death are an optional character path and that's certainly not historically accurate! Additionally some of the banking and communications facilities are very much 21st century and not 2nd century, as you might expect. We don't believe there has to be a painful trade-off for history against fun. And you don't have to be fighting a dragon to have fun either. In RV the Centuries of a Roman Legion are our dragons – and they're every bit as challenging and fun to fight against or with!

MMORPG.com: Finally, can you give us a status update on the current beta test and expected release?
Nick Witcher:

The Commercial Test is approaching its final stages and we're getting ready to test our servers under heavier loads using our a new server farm, with AMD providing the 64-bit server hardware, and Jolt hosting all the boxes at London's famous Telehouse site. Along with the other precautions we're taking this should ensure that our players experience a smooth launch and game experience.

I would say around 90% of all the game features have been tested and they work. Many of the more recent testers will not have seen the earlier client versions but our longer term testers know it's all pretty much done. The key now is to get the server load tested and gradually add all the features that we've worked on in the past, and optimise the code to make sure the game experience is as reliable as possible.

We've just invited another 2,500 testers into the test in order to help with the stress testing and we encourage anyone that is interested to sign-up on the forums now. We can't at this stage guarantee that we'll be doing another sweep of applications but it's still very much a possibility.

Our pre-order scheme kicks off before Christmas this year with the pre-order players & testers entering the final RV world on the Ides of March, giving them a two week head-start before the full launch on the Kalends of April '06 when we hope to see many of the MMORPG.com community joining us to experience life in a virtual Roman Empire.

Thank you Nick for making this happen.

If you have any thoughts on this interview, let them be heard on their hype meter, their MMORPG.com discussion forums and in this comment thread.


Dana Massey