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Interview with Max Pfaff

William Murphy Posted:
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MMORPG.com: First and most importantly: what is it like working with such a massive intellectual property like Game of Thrones?

Max Pfaff: It’s a pleasure to be working with such a highly-regarded IP at the rise of its popularity – we’re thrilled to be a part of such a fantastic franchise. Our project is based on HBO’s award-winning television series, “Game of Thrones,” inspired by the fantasy novels written by George R.R. Martin. The Game of Thrones MMO (current working title) will be a free-to-play, browser-based title, with immersive gameplay and high-end graphics. It’s developed in partnership with Artplant – the studio who we worked with to build Battlestar Galactica Online, which has just celebrated its one-year anniversary and nearly ten million registered users. Players can look forward to experiencing their own story and adventure in an open environment in the setting of Westeros.

MMORPG.com: How has your relationship been with HBO and George R.R. Martin? What input did they have in the game?

Max Pfaff: We have a great relationship with both HBO and George R.R. Martin. Mr. Martin is not involved in the day-to-day workings of our project, but he’s been a great influence in the direction that we’ve taken the game. Bigpoint has the license to HBO’s show, and they are a wonderful partner. We collaborate with HBO in every step of the process, from the production to business elements of the Game of Thrones MMO; we receive valuable feedback from HBO as everything is reviewed and approved before launch. Naturally, with any licensed IP, we want to ensure that the game represents the lore as authentically as possible, while keeping the community and fans enthusiastic.

MMORPG.com: You have talked about the political system in the game, obviously this is a major part of the books and show so can you give us an overview?

Max Pfaff: Politics in games is a challenging undertaking to get right, but we are really trying to ensure that it plays a vital role in the MMO. We are still shaping up the exact plans for it as it contains so many factors, but we're aiming to implement a system which allows players to take part in it on many levels. This is a key feature that Mr. Martin expressed great interest in when we met with him early on, so we’re determined to get it right.

At launch, players can choose to affiliate with one of three great houses – Stark, Lannister, or Baratheon – and will be able to form guilds and alliances. Players and their guilds will also have a certain status that will rise or fall depending on their actions, and at any given time, can forge new relationships or destroy them. There’s also the goal of installing the Hand of the King where it is all about influence and building alliances; players will need to be cautious in determining who is friend and who is foe to win the game. It will be really interesting to see how all this plays out once we hit live operations, and see how the intrepid players out there will get empires to fall, perhaps even without any bloodshed? 

MMORPG.com: What was the hardest part to keep out of the game from the stories?

Max Pfaff: The lore of Game of Thrones is incredibly rich, so it was definitely a challenge to decide what to include in the MMO. At launch, there will be three Houses from Westeros represented, and our goal is to expand the title by integrating all nine Houses eventually down the road. We’ve selected key themes, locations, and moments from the series to incorporate and capture the overall experience of the lore. What’s great about developing an online game is that we have the opportunity to add new content and features over time. As HBO premieres new seasons of “Game of Thrones,” it will provide us with even greater content to draw from for inspiration; the possibilities are endless.

MMORPG.com: Many people will be shocked to see the quality of this game in a browser. What was it like getting the engine to work inside that platform?

Max Pfaff: The Game of Thrones MMO is being built atop the Unity 3D engine, which has enabled us to deliver an extremely high-quality gaming experience. When seeing it for the first time, people are amazed that it can run out of a standard web browser. In the past, browser games were not thought of as capable of offering meaningful and compelling MMO experiences, but we’ve seen a shift and advancement away from these perceptions. The Unity platform has been really enjoyable to work with as its technical capabilities and features are adaptable to our needs and practices. Bigpoint is one of the few studios around that has multiple concurrent Unity-based titles under development, including Battlestar Galactica Online and Universal Monsters Online.

MMORPG.com: A lot of fans of sandbox PvP style MMOs are excited about this game, can you tell us about the style of play they may experience?

Max Pfaff: When players enter the game, they will be immersed in an open sandbox-style world. Various objectives will be presented, and they can explore different elements of PvP in small group combat, one-on-one duels, or siege battles. In siege PvP, combat will grow larger in scale, where players must capture keeps (small) and forts (bigger) before conquering the opponent’s castle (biggest). Forming guilds and alliances tactfully, while leveling up power and status will be key to defeating the other team. In addition, the Game of Thrones MMO will not be a scripted experience where players must follow rigid paths. Instead, the game will encourage players to shape their character development to advance in the game. We believe fans of the genre will enjoy this form of gameplay, and ultimately control what happens in the universe.

MMORPG.com: With very little magic in the books, will we see any in the game?

Max Pfaff: You’re correct, unlike many pieces of fantasy fiction; magic in the Game of Thrones lore is more a bedtime story of something that once was in the world long ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, it’s just has a much lower profile than in the average fantasy series. Nevertheless, even now, there are supernatural and wondrous things happening. We are very cautious of this fact. This means that we are not aiming for any major magical elements to be in the game at launch, but there may be some minor elements. Don’t expect magic fireballs or any of that sort though, we want to stay as true to lore as we can!  

MMORPG.com: Last one and most important, are you for Stark, Lannister, or Baratheon?

Max Pfaff: That’s a tough decision! All of the three factions have their own appeal and for the Game of Thrones MMO, this is a great opportunity to differentiate them from each other by adding a unique feeling for each house. They’re all dynamic, and if I was playing the game while watching season one, I would side with House Stark because they represent the true and honest men of the North; I would want to go to war with them. But as season two unfolds, I also wouldn’t want to be on Tyrion Lannister’s hit list! That’s really the essence of Game of Thrones – you never know who to trust or who will win.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.