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Interview with Tasos Flambouras

Dana Massey Posted:
Interviews 0

We learn more about the upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG

Tasos Flambouras - with the help of Darkfall development team members Jade Mehdawi, BT Oren, Claus Grovdal, Erik Johansen, Ricki Sickenger, and Henning Ludvigsen - goes above and beyond to answer our questions on the development of this upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG.

MMORPG.com: Darkfall was one of the most anticipated games on the MMO radar several years ago. Over time, a lack of information has led to whispers of vaporware or cancellation. Can you make a statement regarding the health of the production and what fans should expect in the weeks and months to come?
Tasos Flambouras:

Darkfall is actually more anticipated than ever. Website traffic, community activity, messages, inquiries by press, fans, business, employment inquires etc. are some of the indicators. The response to our unpublicized clan beta invitation has been overwhelming. All this makes us very happy but it’s difficult to handle when we’re in full production and all our resources need to be in development. Our information stream as a result has been toned down considerably.

As for the board whisperers, they’re a reaction to a highly anticipated and ambitious game by an independent studio. ‘Whispers’ have proven in the past to have an agenda or two behind them, and whether it’s competition, attempts at forcing information, or manipulating an active community, we shouldn’t propagate them by rehashing them.

Our commitment to Darkfall is a given. We’re proud to report that we’re in the final stages of production. Our community can look forward to a lot of new Darkfall information and material, and of course, the chance to playtest the game.

MMORPG.com: Graphically, Darkfall unveiled a new style several months ago. What went into this decision and how did you go about achieving the desired changes?
Tasos Flambouras:

That’s not a new style you’re looking at, it’s the graphical evolution of a game in development, something that we’ve decided to let our community participate in.

As I’m writing this, the screenshots that will illustrate this interview haven’t been taken yet. When I’m done, I’ll log into Darkfall on my slightly above average desktop computer, take screenshots, select a few, add a logo, attach them and send them. I hope I can get a few good ones and we’ll look forward to the usual constructive criticism by our community. What you get when I’m done, is a moment of the game in its current state, a look under the hood if you like. Since we’re still in development, player experience will definitely look better.

We’ve all been patiently trained to expect and to accept the wonderful marketing “bullshots” but that’s not how game development works.

A team of artists using high powered graphics workstations could craft an amazing visual presentation, creating environments, using high polygon models, posing them, cranking up graphics settings to unplayable levels, carefully placing lights, worrying about texture, angle, color, composition etc. When that’s done, then the post production process begins. In the end what you get is a flawless visual that you’ll never be able to see in-game, and action that you’ll never be able to duplicate. Its purpose is to hype a game rather than show what it’s really like.

MMORPG.com: Fans are used to being promised the stars, and delivered a strikingly different game at launch. After all these months of relative silence, can you give us a rundown of your main defining features as they stand today?
Tasos Flambouras:

Darkfall delivers you from the limp-wristed clutches of point-and-click combat. It combines the best elements of the role-playing genre with the intensity and sheer fun of the FPS.

It’s not just another killfest, it’s an epic, player-driven saga of warfare and conquest. More than any other game, Darkfall has been designed as a rewarding, goal-oriented environment for player-on-player combat. Clans fight or form alliances in order to conquer and defend territory and all-important resources, and as Darkfall's main story arc develops, they become the protagonists in an all-encompassing, apocalyptic struggle for the future of the world.

These epic struggles take place in an enormous game world, which is so packed with content that you could spend years just exploring it. Hundreds of different monster types populate countless ruins, dungeons and villages on five huge, radically different continents.

Our main defining features today are pretty much exactly as we first envisioned the game on the conceptual stages. We have stayed true to the initial design, and only minor features have been cut, for various technical and balancing reasons. That said, we have added a lot more new features. A list of Darkfall’s basic features and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the Darkfall website at: http://www.darkfallonline.com/features/

MMORPG.com: Your game boasts the ability to interact with tens of thousands of players simultaneously. Technically, how do you plan to achieve this?
Tasos Flambouras:

The decision that Darkfall would support a high number of players came early in the technical design process. It was obvious that the numbers we wanted would be hard to support on the server end without clustering, so we started evaluating available clustering technologies. None of them met our requirements at the time, and we soon understood that we would need to do this ourselves. After a lot of brainstorming and experimentation, we arrived at a model for distributed computing which we’ve pretty much stayed with since then.

Throughout every part of game development, we’ve designed and programmed using asynchronous communication in between very small, movable modules. This has imposed restrictions on the programmers, but it has also helped error location and debugging immensely. We can spread the game servers across anything in between one and several thousand computers. Additionally, we can move modules in between computers while the game is up and running, making load balancing a simple matter of looking at resource utilization before moving modules around.

Another problem with a high number of players is the limited resources of player PCs, and limitations in internet connectivity. There are several levels of optimizations intended to reduce lag and problems due to these issues. Among these is what we like to consider a quite innovative mechanism for dynamic level-of-detail adjustment, of course in addition to both context-aware and plain binary compression mechanisms for network data.

The combination of a distributed model for servers, which will allow us to always have enough CPU power, and inventive optimizations that can balance CPU usage against network performance, gives us a mechanism where resource limitations could be solved by adding a few more servers.

MMORPG.com: Darkfall has been labeled a PvP game. How do you intend to overcome the stigma many feel towards them and ensure that the game meets the financial goals you’ve set out?
Tasos Flambouras:

It’s true that Darkfall’s real-time combat gameplay lends itself brilliantly to PvP, but equally as well to PVE, group combat and naval warfare.

PvPers have been the most outspoken about Darkfall because they are the group most frustrated by the lack of control in the point-click-wait reality of MMOGs today.

Today I logged into the game, got on a battle horse and rode out of the human capital where I engaged a group in combat. A highlight of this very gratifying experience was a head bouncing to the ground (and rolling into the moat that surrounds the city) after a well timed sword blow as I rode by. I don’t remember having this much fun before in MMOG combat and this was just fighting a group of Goblins. Should we label Darkfall the best PvE game ever based on my experience? Darkfall must be experienced and I think that it’s going to receive several different labels based on what different groups of players enjoy most about it.

The “PvP stigma” you speak of, is proof that PvP hasn’t been handled well by MMOGs so far, in contrast with the mass market where PvP games are the overwhelming majority of multiplayer games being played. It’s a shame, especially since MMORPGs are the most suitable games for epic battles, conflict, glory and shame. It’s our ambition, through Darkfall, to alter the negative perception some MMOG players have of player on player combat. It’s obvious that players are increasingly asking for PvP. Games that have traditionally avoided it, have been incorporating it as an afterthought.

MMORPG.com: For those who do enjoy PvP, can you explain the reasons why PvP in Darkfall will be something new and exciting for them?
Tasos Flambouras:

More than any other game before it, Darkfall brings the fantasy battlefield to blood-splattering, neck-chopping life:

Spell explosions blow you away from the battle line with kinetic force; blood splatters on your armor as the ditch-bound head of a decapitated foe rolls past; smoke from fireball bursts reduce vision temporarily until the wind carries it away; warhorses kick savagely and opponents physically block your progress as you race to execute a wound-stunned enemy before their healers get to him; thundering hooves signal victory as your cavalry arrives just in time to turn the tide of battle.

MMOG combat has tended towards the boringly static, with players deducting hit points from each other while micromanaging their characters. In Darkfall, however, combat is as unpredictable, visceral, action-packed and intense as medieval fantasy combat can be.

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Dana Massey