Massively multiplayer role playing games have enjoyed a great amount of success throughout most of the world. We are all familiar with successes in the US, Western Europe and Asia.
However, there are other parts of the world where gamers are just becoming exposed to the genre. Such an area is Eastern Europe, and leading the way is Russian developer Nikita with their
Sphere recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. The game has already seen expansion and there are plans for moving to other platforms such as mobile phones. Nikita’s efforts in pioneering
a Russian language MMORPG have been rewarded with a solid player base that continues to grow. The game was recently acknowledged as the Best Multiplayer Game of 2004 at the Gameland Awards in
Moscow. We spoke with Yan Udras, PR Manager of Nikita about the game, its success and Nikita’s plans for the future.
First of all, since "Sphere" is primarily a Russian game, many of our western readers may be unfamiliar with it. Explain what makes "Sphere" unique.
"Sphere" is the first and the only project of MMORPG genre in Russia. It has proved, that such kind of projects can be successful in our country. Most unique part of the "Sphere" is action
like combat system and innovative magical system. Gameplay in "Sphere" based on 1st person view and combat is very dynamic there. You have to move, strafe, jump, use trees, stones and other
terrain details to for the tactical advantages. We have developed castle sieges system and land taxes for the owners of the lands. Our game is PvP driven and in some circumstances you can even
receive experience for struggling other player.
"Sphere" has been live for over a year now. What has the response been from the Russian gaming community? Have they proven receptive to the MMORPG paradigm?
As we said, "Sphere" has proved the success of MMORPG projects in our country. The genre, which is more than popular all over the world has appeared in Russia. Our community accepted
the novelty and joined the MMORPG gaming society. Of course, there were some specific problems, which were connected with MMO playing experience absence in Russia, but it has been solved.
Are there many players outside of Russia and/or Eastern Europe?
Today our audience is mostly the Russian-speaking community in our country and abroad. It’s hard to tell about concrete quantity, but the main part of "Sphere" players live in Russia.
The number of players has been reported to be in the neighborhood of 50,000. How pleased are you with the game’s population and rate of growth?
The game population is still growing and there are all the conditions for it. The last add-on – "Sphere. The Land of Power" - has given the new opportunities,
re-worked models and animation for users, so new players entered the game, and many players, who had left "Sphere", returned. Now we can say proudly – "Sphere" is
more then successful as a game and as a business model.
Players have the opportunity to become the "King of Sphere." Please discuss how this works and how it impacts gameplay.
To become the "King of Sphere" is one of the game aims for players, so it can not be easy. The only way is to form your own community, which must surpass the other
ones by quantity, quality, unity and devotion. So you need time, people and a good scheme to realize. But this feature is still unavailable till next expansion.
Is there always a King, or does the kingship become vacant at times?
It is vacant now, but when the first king or duke appears, it would be possible for the other ones to organize a strong community to depose him. This is one of the, so to speak, political sides of a game.
Has the kingship changed hands many times, or has it only been held by a select few for extended periods?
The kingship is still to be claimed in "Sphere". Right now there is final even occurs in world of "Sphere" and soon Kings Castle will appear to find the new Emperor.
When the first player becomes a king or a duke, depending on his karma and evolution direction, there will be a possibility to replace him or her. But it won’t be an easy process.
Player vs. player seems to be an extremely important aspect of Sphere. How does PvP figure into the game? Is it possible to play without experiencing PvP?
"PvP" is one of the main game features. Its is stabled by the karma system and world of "Sphere" is not totally PvP driven. There are many cases of clan wars in "Sphere". When
you are at war with enemy clan and you declared that war officially you start to receive experience for killing your enemy players. Every clan has its own "black list" of enemy
clans and characters. PvP system makes the political and emotional sides of a game stronger, but you can play without that experience if you wish. Build your fame and karma and
become slayer of dragons and other magical beasts or famous crafter or enchanter. It is possible to play without PvP, but nobody you will encounter robbers and thieves and assassins
that will try to do they job done and you have to defend yourself from time to time anyway.
Players maintain karma to determine their status, working to either get it very high or very low (if they choose the criminal Cult). Discuss karma and what it means to players.
Karma is an alignment analogue. If this parameter is bad ("red" is a high level), character loses more experience points when he dies and his killer doesn’t harm to the karma. The character
with a bad karma respawns far from the cities and his chance to loose many objects after death is higher. But if you are member of the Cult – you will loose less belongings and experience during
your deaths if you have bad karma. But simple vagabonds and killers cannot become Cultists. Only ones who have truly black hearts and are eager to serve demons will become servants of the dark.
Is it possible to go from one extreme to the other? In other words, can a Cultist repent and work toward raising his karma, or is a player’s decision to be a criminal permanent?
It depends on the player who to become. There are many players as with bad karma, as with good one, but in case a character has a red karma and specializes on player killings, it would
be not so easy for him to communicate with other players, join the clan and so on. There is some Cultists with good karma, they loose more while death but they are able to communicate
and negotiate with other clans freely. After all it is not all about belongings and experience, it is politics, blackmailing and game of the clans.
"Sphere. The Land of Power" expansion was recently made available. What new features were added to the game through the expansion?
For the time "Sphere" has been existing 2 add-ons have appeared. The first add-on "Sphere: The Hyperion Curse" appeared 3 month later after the official release of the game. There
was a lack of place and activity fields for all the users, who wished to "live in Sphere". So the unique for Russian game development product got its addition. The release of the second
one, "Sphere. The Land of Power", was on November 19 last year. After the release of a new add-on "Sphere. The Land of Power" the graphical side of a game has changed. On the "Sphere.
The Land of Power" CD new game features are available for players: additional land Fiebe; new animation; weapon and armor, which have become visible on the characters’ models; new
possibilities for the character evolution.
Nikita recently announced a version of Sphere for handhelds, currently targeted for second quarter of this year. Will this be a different implementation of "Sphere", or will players
be able to alternate between their PC and their mobile device, effectively extending their PC character to their mobile?
"Sphere" version for wireless devices is a new generation project with no analogues. The users of "Sphere" will be able to play it without PC, using the main features of a game on their pocket PC or smartphone
Will there be limitations on the mobile client, or will the full range of features from the PC client be accessible for the cell phone/PDA player?
There are several important opportunities of a game, which will be available on wireless devices. Our users will be able to trade, to communicate with the other players in a game
chat and to walk in the trade place limits. As we said, "Sphere" graphics should be comparable to those designed to run on a PC platform. Mobile devices supported by Intel® XScale®
technology and using Intel® 2700G multimedia accelerator in addition to processors with at least 300 MHz (for smartphones) or 600 MHz (for PDAs) provide sufficient display
resolution (640x480 for pocket PCs) for graphically rich computer games.
"Sphere" is still mostly a Russian game. Are there any plans to market it more aggressively to those in the west? Will we see things like English-only servers or
additional language clients (such as Spanish or German) to broaden its appeal outside Russia?
Our company is working on this question at the moment. Nowadays we are beginning the informational activity on the foreign markets to show the title
to our western colleagues and we are planning to launch "Sphere" on all main markets and we are still in negotiation and seeking process.
We would like to thank Mr. Udras and the staff at Nikita for taking the time to speak with us about Sphere. Anyone interested in Sphere may find
out more about the game at the official homepage: http://sphere.yandex.ru/eng/