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Jon Selin, Lead Designer

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The Lead Designer talks about progress, testing, launch and more

Dreamlords is a unique MMORTS/RPG that we first found at E3 last year. Garrett Fuller, who met with them in LA, catches up with the developers in this new Q&A. Jon Selin, the project's Lead Designer, answers the questions.

MMORPG.com: I was lucky enough to see the game at E3 in May. How have you grown in the last five months?
Jon Selin:

The months since E3 have been hands-down the most intense part of the development of our game so far. There have been several major feature implementations, Precautions is a good starter, it's a way for players to send sneak attacks against each other before the actual battle. For example you can do things like disabling your opponent's equipment, poison his troops to make them weaker on the battlefield or outright assassinate them. Another thing we have done is implemented an extensive special ability system which we are still trying to figure out how to utilize to its maximum without having it completely dominate the RTS-experience. There are now abilities like teleporting, mind control, summoning monsters, resurrection, etc. We have implemented crafting on a larger scale, with different specialization areas for players to dig into. The biggest thing we have done however was a complete remake of one of the major parts of the game. We previously had a rather abstract management interface describing workflows and progress. Now, the design wasn't bad in itself but it didn't do what we wanted for the players, namely putting a lot of choices and gaming in their hands. So we completely scrapped the old management page and made a new isometric map on which you can move different pawns around. Basically it's pretty similar to any single-player strategy game where you are in charge of a civilization of some sort, but it's still available in a browser without requiring any plug-ins as opposed to having a client installed, meaning that you can still log on and check your progress from a friend's computer or at work. The new gaming mode was a huge boost for the Dreamlords, your empire is much less abstract and easier to understand, but at the same time more complex and allowing for more variation. The old adage "minute to learn, lifetime to master" comes to mind, or at least we are moving the game in that direction. Also the player has a lot more interesting things to do in the web part of the game now, to the point where they are almost drowning in it.

The testing and our team have also faced massive changes since E3, but all for the better. We have been continuously ramping up the testing continuously and even though it's still pretty early in the testing we are beginning to reach a state where the players can really begin to sense what the game will be like at launch. The dev team has been substantially expanded over the last months as well, something that we felt was necessary to be able to reach our aims for release. All in all we are still crossing our fingers and going full throttle, but I think we are all feeling that the future is looking bright.

MMORPG.com: How has the development of The Covenant been coming along? Is the race almost fully realized for release?
Jon Selin:

There have been so many things happening around here that I didn't realize that Covenant wasn't around at E3. They have been implemented and have received a lot of love from us; I must say that they are looking great in every aspect. At this stage there's no way that you would be able to tell that the Covenant just recently got implemented, it's a very solid race. In fact, I was so satisfied with them that I had to revisit the older races for some tweaking and rewriting to make sure that they were up to par.

MMORPG.com: Do you expect to meet the deadline for getting the game into production by the end of 2006?
Jon Selin:

It's looking good; I can't see any obstacle at the moment that would cause us to move our deadlines around. However, I'm having so much fun with this project that if it was up to me I would be polishing Dreamlords until 2010. Luckily we have a producer that keeps me on a short leash. Then again I would be very afraid of a lead game designer who comes to a state where he doesn't want anything changed.

MMORPG.com: One of the unique attributes to Dreamlords is the ability to give orders and farm for resources through the website; will this feature continue to be a part of the game?
Jon Selin:

Absolutely. One of our major features is that the game is separated into two parts, and that the management parts are easily accessible through a browser, this is not something we are planning to change. In fact we have greatly expanded in this area with the recent updates. The web parts now contain a much more intriguing gaming experience which you can really dig into; You have a map where you can explore, build cities, attack monsters, etc, there's a fairly advanced market where you can place buy and sell orders, the crafting system is coming along nicely, the tech-tree adds long-term strategy, etc. Then we have the community side of things where you can talk to your friend in the game and plot schemes together and work out your combined strategies. A future update that is approaching implementation is a really neat ladder system which will give very detailed information regarding the top players in different areas as well as people who are close to you. It should add a lot more competition and rivalry in the game for those who like it.

MMORPG.com: With such heavy interaction for the game on the Web, what are your plans for community management?
Jon Selin:

The community is very similar to any other MMO. Since we have such a strong influence from traditional MMORPGs we are approaching the community issues in way that most players should be familiar with. The Convergence, which is the Dreamlords equivalent to a guild, is very important for the experience and we supply different kinds of communication channels for our players. They range from global forums and chat-channels to dedicated forums for each Convergence and private chats. Even though a lot of the communication is done in bulletin board system in a browser we don't overlook the importance of having the opportunity to chat with your friends instantly in a cozy environment, which is where the client and its lobby steps in.

MMORPG.com: Given the RTS nature of the game, can you give our readers some preview of what the play style will be like?
Jon Selin:

To begin with, the game is split into two distinct parts; the management mode which is completely web-based, and the combat mode which is played in the client using the units you have researched and trained in the management part. The client is a RTS-game at its core, but with quite a few twists. We are taking a squad-based approach to RTS so rather than controlling every single unit you control squads of units, and the proficiency and abilities of these units are completely dependant on your overall progress and success in management. This means that two players may have the same unit but with vastly different strength depending on equipment, and also with different abilities. Finding out and adjusting to these circumstances is one of the keys to being successful when fighting other players in Dreamlords. In the RTS you can also feel the strong influence from MMORPGs, the abilities matter more than in most RTS games and have a larger diversity. However, to keep the lid on the micro-management of the game we are limiting the number of abilities, as well as having a lot of auto-cast option and passive abilities, all to balance out the player's gaming experience and providing the maximum amount of pure fun.

MMORPG.com: Can you give us some insight into how the Dreamlord avatar will interact with the races which players can choose for battle?
Jon Selin:

The Dreamlord is the player's avatar, and it is also the spirit of the land player's people lives on. The Dreamlord has a strong tie to the people as a guide or a mentor, basically holding their lives in his hands. There are spirit quests where you play the Dreamlord which shows the connection between the Dreamlord and the people, that is also where the player explores the nature of the Dreamlord more deeply and the game's storyline unfold, which is all I can say about that without dropping any spoilers.

MMORPG.com: Tell us about Dreamonster.com and how people can get involved with helping develop monsters for the game.
Jon Selin:

Dreammonster.com is sort of an experiment on our part which has fallen out extremely well. We set out to do two things; 1) Involve the player more deeply into the development process, to make them participate in this wonderful game we're making, and 2) Populate our game world with truly diverse and unique ideas. Personally I'm sick to death of Orcs and Elves, I want new races and new antagonists which has never been seen before. So far we have succeeded in what we set out to do, and we are expanding this feature further with the Monster Design Blog here at MMORPG.com.

MMORPG.com: In terms of PvP, how will players be able to get their armies on the field to fight each other?
Jon Selin:

One of our goals was to deliver easy-access action to the players without them having to muck about too much. Fighting another player is actually as easy as loading up the client and clicking "Play Match" after you have created your character. The server will match you against another player of equal strength and then the game is on. While we do care much about immersion and creating a game world with depth, that cannot get in the way of the player having a good time. Anyone who has played a MMORPG has probably spent countless hours on horseback or running around trying to find some action. In order to solve these problems we can usually see poorly grafted on solutions which create an artificial environment that the game wasn't made with in mind to begin with. You won't have to settle for that in Dreamlords, we're on it from the get-go.

MMORPG.com: How has the testing been going for the game? Is there still a chance for players to sign up?
Jon Selin:

The testing is going great, we are letting bigger and bigger batches of testers on all the time, we just recently made the transition from Alpha to Beta testing, meaning that all frameworks are in place and we are now working more on creating more content and tuning the game. Signing up for the Beta is still very much possible; there is a link on the front page of www.dreamlords.com