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Novel, Inc. Interview

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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Novel, Inc. a new online game developer in Redmond, WA announced in January, the appointment of Toby Ragaini as Director of Product Development.  Together with Creative Director Mike Marr, they will spear head the development of Novel as an entertainment company, with their first game, a Political Strategy MMO by name of Empire and State.

“What we’re doing at Novel, is applying the learning of all our game experience and applying them not only to the development of a game, but the development of training and learning within the context of games.” Said Toby, speaking of their partnership with the University of Washington's Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking to collaborate on what is described as "a new category of enterprise-simulation products."

However, we were more interested in talking about Empire and State, a game that has been described as about politics, business and even crime.

“Think of Civ 5 with hundreds of players,” said Mike enthusiastically, “Fighting Risk style on a hex map, but with a focus on politics and economy.”

“This is more than just military might that’s involved,” said Toby, “I’m excited about the possible types of interactions that can happen in the game. We will provide enough hard mechanics to allow the soft mechanics to occur.”

Novel is planning on EVE Online sandbox interaction within the sphere of their game and politics play a large part.  Players will be able to be voted into office and make decisions that will affect the game and gameplay.  Starting the civilizations, players will find access to basic goods, but players themselves will have to build the higher civic functions, and Civic Leaders will come from the players themselves.

Toby expects interactive and collaborative development from the start at Alpha and Beta stages of the game.  “Once an environment is up,” he said, “Players will provide feedback and shape how the game continues to develop.”

Mike agreed, “Open beta will begin sometime towards the end of February.  We will provide about five Empires to start, scaling up to as many as fifteen as necessary.”

Players will begin in a neutral zone to learn the game basics before deciding on an empire, and Mike expects that Empire recruiting will be fierce as players are as much a resource as anything else as they will provide tax money and craftsmen for the empire. 

“Remember Asheron’s Call and the concept of allegiance?” asked Toby, “In a similar manner, the more players an empire has, the faster it grows and the stronger it grows.”

Toby and Mike make further comparisons to other games already out there like Ubisoft’s Dawn and Discovery and even Mafia Wars – hearkening back to the first mention of the possibility of a criminal empire in the game.  Mercenaries and pirates perhaps?  Raiders and Privateers?  Empire and State is a building simulation game, it’s a real time strategy war game and it’s an MMO.  Which further allows players to differentiate themselves, much like playing even something like Pirates of the Burning Sea.  One can chuck the map and do nothing but crafting and missions, choosing to be the supply end of the empire building.

“Players will be able to choose their path,” said Mike, “There are no upfront decisions that they will later regret.  It’s learn as you go and choose what you want to do, re-speccing as you wish.”

With a focus on politics, diplomacy and economy, Empire and State will be as much a collaborative game as a war game.  Games offer the ability to compress time, and Empire and State will be no different. However, it is player decisions and events that unfold over days and weeks that will define the game rather than clicks per minute or DPS.  Currently the game is in closed Alpha but expect Beta information shortly.


Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.