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Q&A #5

Jon Wood Posted:
Interviews 0

Game Designer Aaron Standridge Answers Our Questions

Aaron Standridge is a Game Designer on Hero's Journey and the subject of our next two mini Q&As, which appear every other Tuesday on this site. Today he answers a mix of questions from Staff Writer Jon Wood and our readers. As usual, you can post your questions here.

How should we expect to get around in Hero's Journey? What methods of transportation are going to be available to us?
Aaron Standridge:

There are several types of transportation to consider here: local, quest-oriented, and worldwide. All of these are of course still in the design stage and subject to further scrutiny, as is basically everything else I may mention. Disclaimer out of the way… moving on.

Local travel is primarily a question of mounts. The concept of player-owned mounts has been discussed in design meetings, and the likeliest scenario at the moment is that there will be several levels of mounts that may be acquired by the player at set intervals as they advance.

Regarding travel between quest and common areas, this will commonly take one of several forms. In some cases, the player will be given the option to move directly to an instanced area upon accepting a mission, while other situations will require the player to travel by more conventional means to an access point. Some multipart storylines will actually involve travel as part of the quest, such as joining the crew of a caravan or a ship and making the journey with them.

World travel will typically be done via a travel map, from which the player will travel to surrounding areas or to new sections of the world entirely. As the player progresses through the game, more areas become available to them.

Finally, individual travel abilities may be able to circumvent any of these methods above, allowing the player to teleport short distances, or instantly return to their faction’s capital, for example.

What player actions will result in the greatest rewards? Are we looking at a game that rewards hack-and-slash playing, quest completion, or a combination of both?
Aaron Standridge:

Definitely both. We understand that players have different interests in persistent worlds, and the focus of the game will be on dynamic story-driven missions, but there will certainly be room for players who prefer hunting creatures in common areas to questing.

Furthermore, players will have a wide variety of quest styles to choose from. The vast majority of these will involve combat to some extent, but there should be no shortage of quests that fully center around it, furthering some specific goal via casual slaughter, if you will. Conan the Librarian jokes aside, very few classic fantasy heroes have been renowned for their overwhelming pacifism, or unmatched negotiating ability. Expect combat and lots of it, but the “when, where, and why” will be largely up to the player.

MMORPG.com: On your website, you respond to the question "How will HJ differ from other MMORPGs?" with "Simutronics' design motto is "More Fun. Less Tedium." The game elements focus on fun, action-packed, adventure-style roleplay. Could you give us more examples of what exactly you mean?
Aaron Standridge:

Throughout the design process, a concentrated effort has been made to examine the existing paradigms in MMO games. Too many developers feel like they have to include this or that feature because someone has in the past, and we’ve tried to break out of that rut. We’ve basically taken the stance that if something can’t be made into an engaging part of gameplay, it gets the axe. Crafting is an excellent example of this, having traditionally been a process of “choose the recipe, press the button, wait, repeat until numb.”

So how do we make a crafting system that is more fun and less tedious? The first thing you do is divorce the term “crafting” from what MMOs have done in the past and start over at a conceptual level. What is a Heroic crafter? A good example would be Hatori Hanzo from the movie Kill Bill. He did not gather raw materials for samurai swords, nor mass-produce the blades on a day-in and day-out basis. Rather, he probably made relatively few of them, but they were of such quality, of such renown… a true hero’s weapon. That’s what a crafting system should really be like.

Since combat plays a huge role in these games, we have been working on creating interesting tactics to employ and even adding a layer of strategy to encounters. The strategic layer would allow you, for example, to prepare the defense of a town before an expected invasion. For example, you could order the townsfolk to reinforce a gate or prepare some traps at key locations. What you decide at the strategic level will, however, have to be balanced against the time remaining, resources available and what your battle plan is.

All of these sorts of things lead to game play that is much more compelling. For us, it’s a matter of rethinking everything to make sure there is as much fun in the formula as we can conjure.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you are planning on balancing group play with solo play? Will playing solo be a viable option at higher levels?
Aaron Standridge:

Being almost exclusively a solo player myself, this is always of primary concern to me in any new game I check out, and this is one of the main reasons we’re going with an instanced design. Instancing quest areas allows us to easily provide a more personalized experience, both in terms of story and gameplay. To that end, we’ve built this absolutely incredible dynamic quest system that scales on the fly to provide challenging and engaging gameplay to groups of players of any composition, from a single low level player to a party of seasoned veterans armed to the teeth.

Of course, there are designs in place to ensure that groups work well together, and that it’s worthwhile to team up with your buddies, too. And, as mentioned previously, it’s still possible to seek out wandering monsters in common areas, and these will be perfectly happy to knock you into next week if you show up underpowered and alone.

MMORPG.com: A lot of people are concerned about instancing in your product. Can you run us through a typical gameplay experience, as you have designed it, in a common area?
Aaron Standridge:

Common areas play in a very familiar way: you can travel to any that you have discovered, and keep exploring for more. Some will, obviously, be more dangerous than others so you do have to take care when wandering around.

While in common areas, you will see all of the other players who are in that area coming and going. You can interact with them, in the usual way. Make friends, start groups, get involved in a battle, all of that.

When a common area fills with the maximum number of players (measured in the hundreds), then a new one will spin up. If it ever empties, it will spin down. Players can choose which of the instances of a common area they want to go into from a list at travel time (assuming there is room).

There will be common towns and hunting areas. Some quests will even be in common areas, or perhaps span both common and instanced areas. Also there are semi-common areas, such as Guild areas that are just for your guild members (and invited guests).

Essentially I think we have the most flexible system for managing player population, the special needs of quests, and keeping everyone interacting with everyone else. The GameMasters have many options available to as they direct the game play, and the ability to adjust as we go.

Thank you to Jon and Adam for making this happen!

As usual, please leave your comments in this thread and on their hype meter.


Jon Wood