38 Studios - A Talk with Steve Danuser
At NY Comic Con, MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood caught up with Steve Dausner of 38 Studios. The two talked about the company's unannounced MMO and some of the expectations that come along with it, bother for their big-name stars and the rest of the team working on the project.
At New York Comic Con, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Lead Content Designer Steve Danuser from 38 Studios about the MMO that they are making in the Boston-area studio. For those of you who might not be familiar with this relatively unknown (they haven't announced even the title fo their game yet) development studio, some background may be required.
Some time back, it was announced that Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, was a huge fan of MMOs, particularly of EverQuest II. Being a fan, he even did some promotional work with the folks at SOE. From there, we learned that he was beginning his own MMO development company. Not only that, but he was also bringing together two of the hottest names in geekdom, artist Todd McFarlane and writer R.A. Salvatore. Since that time, we have been waiting patiently as then Green Monster Games began to grow a strong team behind it and morphed into the 38 Studios that it is today. While the team still isn't talking in specifics about their MMO, we do know a few things. For instance, we know that that they are trying to make a story-driven MMO where player action matters to the world. Talking to Steve and knowing that he wouldn't tell me the name of the game, or give me more details, I talked instead about his job with the company and some of the challenges that may have come up in the last year of development on their mystery project: I was intrigued by the idea of a true story-driven MMO, but one of the core failings of this idea is the very nature of MMOs themselves. How can you make a game that is story-driven not just in that there is a story, but story driven in the sense that the players are intimately involved with both the story and its telling. How are they doing this? "What we're really trying to do is put the story at the core of the players' experience such that it's not something that they have to dig for," Danuser said, it's not something that they have to go looking for; 'Oh, I happened to find this book over here so now I know that this dungeon is about.' We want it to be happening all around them. We want the story to be driven by player events. So when we're going through and planning out what the story parts are, what we're doing is saying, 'what is the player experiencing and doing here that drives the story forward. We're still controlling the pacing, but we're doing it in such a way that gives the player the chance to jump in and feel that they are helping to push it along as well. So it's really a combination of tricks and stroytelling that a lot of other games have done in part, but not all the way. That's when having someone like [R.A. Salvatore] who is so good at pacing and stories and having that quality of storytelling is invaluable to the design team." With that question answered, I went on to ask if having names like R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane, whose bodies of work are so revered by their fans, meant that the developers working on the unannounced project feel a pressure above and beyond the norm for an MMO: "It's not a worry at all," Steve answered. "Quite the opposite. What we, members of the team feel is that they have set a bar of quality for us. That it drives us as a goal for what we have to match." From Todd, we are told, the developers get a guiding influence in visual quality. From Salvatore, it's expertise in telling a story that people get involved and invested in. Even Curt Schilling (better known for his fastball than his artistic abilities) provides a great amount of experience to the team. Schilling, according to Danuser, is used to accomplishing things that people think may be impossible. As a result, that attitude is passed onto the rest of the development team. Essentially, Steve took my quesiton and used it as an opportunity not only to say that there are many people behind these three big names, but that those people are influenced by the best qualities of all three in terms of the game that they are making. Continuing to talk about the development team behind the three big names, I asked how much of the critical MMO experience the team actually has. "Well, we have a team that is built from a core of really great MMO experience, as well as other games." He pointed to someone like Scott Cuthbertson (VP of Creative Development), who has an extensive resume, but said that there was a core of the team who had worked together at SOE. From there, he told us, developers were brought in through a network of relationships to build as strong a team as possible. With that question answered, I asked Steve how it has been to work on a title that seems so shrouded in mystery in terms of what theya re allowed to say to the public and to the press. He told us that they more or less have a problem that is opposite to those of other companies. "If you're starting a studio and you don't have any money, but you have some great idea that you want to sell this game, you have to start pitching it to all of these people who may or may not get it or may or may not know what an MMO is. We have the opposite of that. We have these three huge celebreities in their own fields where people know their names and know what they've done so that we don't have to hype ourselves. It's really for us, about managing what they hype is so we really focused in the early days on who we were're about as a studio." From there, the team plans to expand what they are talking about. They will start talking about the process and eventually more about the game over time. MMORPG.com will be continuing to follow this company closely and like many, this reporter has high hopes for their finished product. For now though, we will have to let our curiosities reign for a little longer over what the developers at 38 Studios are cooking up to throw into the MMO marketplace, but one thing is clear. Even if we're not sure what it is, they have a plan.