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Q&A with Frank Ross

Jon Wood Posted:
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Company President Answers a Bevy of Questions

In an era when a flood of MMORPGs fight tooth and nail to set themselves apart from the crowd, along comes Dark Solstice, an MMORPG touting "2.5D graphics". It sounds like a gimmick, but with a unique visual style they have definitely differentiated themselves. Now we find out what is behind it as Staff Writer Jon Wood talks to Black Masque Games President Frank Ross.

MMORPG.com: What is the significance of the name "Dark Solstice"?
Frank Ross:

In our Fantasy world of Teramor, there are several moons and 2 suns. Traditionally, a Solstice occurs when the seasons change. In our world, Solstices occur frequently and when one of those dates coincides with a full solar eclipse, a Dark Solstice occurs. This phenomenon was originally conceived by the four Gods to cleanse the land of evil. Somehow, the beasts unleashed to purge the land got out of hand and as a result, the powerful forces that are let loose kill off any and all of the living creatures they encounter. Unfortunately, this often includes citizens that happen to be caught outside during the Dark Solstice. Most residents will seek shelter when the Dark Solstice begins and the creatures emerge from the depths. Away from shelter, most magic will no longer have any effect and most weapons will become ineffective. However, certain ancient incantations will become very effective magic and some of the oldest antique weapons will damage even the most powerful of the beasts from below.

For the more adventurous that opt to hold their ground and fight, their stay will most often result in their demise. But for the very few that manage to hold onto their life, special recognition of their bravery will be won. The Dark Solstices will occur completely at random and last for several hours. They will occur at various times so that players from all time zones can experience the event.

MMORPG.com: Your game is being presented in 2.5D. What does this mean?
Frank Ross:

With most of the gaming world trying to outdo each other with their wide variety of 3D looks, we chose to return to the “classic” look made famous in some of the Disney epics. We wanted our graphics positioned somewhere between cartoons and photo-realistic. We think we have achieved that goal, and from the early critiques, it appears we have appealed to a broad spectrum of players.

By definition there is no actual 2.5D, but we differentiate in that the scenes are all rendered in “vanishing point perspective” as opposed to the more common isometric perspective. This means that characters, objects, critters, and landscape are scaled dependent on the distance from the foreground and they use the correct perspective for accurate portrayal. Landscape items and other permanent objects can be walked around and behind. The game is room based and the camera view is always 3rd person.

We suspect that if successful, someone will come out with a 2.6D version. :)

MMORPG.com: You're obviously looking to make Dark Solstice into a unique MMO experience. What, other than your game's look, sets it apart from all of the other fantasy MMOs on the market?
Frank Ross:

When deciding upon the features we felt would distinguish us, we came up with the following list.

Games in Pubs and Inns

Because many players are tired of the widespread “hack & slash” titles, we decided to add a dimension that might appeal to many. We are adding a variety of games available for play in various Pubs, Inns, and Casinos (casinos will only be available in the underground city). All of the games will be Medieval in origin and reflect the games of the times.

The games themselves will be divided into 2 categories, Luck and Skill. Luck games are exactly that, winners will be determined by the turn of a card, the roll of dice, or spin of a wheel. Players will be able to wager against the house or another player.

Skill games will include choices such as 9 Man Morris and others popular during the Middle Ages. Once again, players will be able to play against the house or other players. The full list of games for the live version of DS has not been finalized but we will continually add new and more challenging games.

The key will be that experience will be gained or lost by winning or losing at the Pub games. In theory, a player can advance to the highest levels without ever leaving the gaming tables. We may even offer a profession of “professional gambler”.

Adjustable Intensity Levels

We are going to allow players to select the level of their playing intensity.

Normal – this setting will gain experience at the standard rate. There will be no loss of items or experience upon death. Resurrection and/or relocation will occur as a result of a menu pick after dying.

High Risk – Unlike the normal setting, this mode will cause loss of an item and experience upon death. Winning under this mode will cause a more rapid experience advance. Opponents must be of equal or greater skill in order to qualify for the bonus.

Pulse Pounder – The ultra high risk mode can result in the loss of multiple items and significant experience upon death. The reward for winning will result in greater loot and faster experience gain. Opponents must be of greater skill to qualify.

All paths lead to Erudite

Many MMO’s seem to culminate when a top level is reached. Players are often faced with the decision of retiring or advancing another character. In DS, we are channeling all of the profession paths to the ultimate level, Erudite.

We envision the Erudite to be the highest achievement in the game. Once a player has advanced through all the levels possible in their chosen path, they reach a point where they are given a choice. They can remain at the top level of their profession, or they can go through an "ascendancy" to Erudite. If Erudite is the choice, the changes will be both a physical transformation and a new skill set. There will be special areas reserved for fellow Erudites, special shops, clothes, and even beasts to hunt. There's more but we'll leave that for the first Erudites to discover.

Castle and Keep Storming

Castles will be initially occupied by a group of game supplied bad guys. There will usually be around 25 of the villains and the castle can be stormed by an equal or lesser number of Guild members. Once inside, the fight to the death will be on. The drawbridge will raise and will only lower when all of one side in the conflict prevails. If it is the attacking Guild that wins, their insignia will be raised above the parapets and they will rule the castle until 30 days pass from their last victory or they are defeated by another attacking Guild. If those 30 days pass and the occupying force is not challenged, they will be gracefully evicted by the game and the castle will once again be occupied by those nasty villains that once held the fortification. All Guilds that successfully hold the castle will make the Hall of Fame.

For those players that prefer solo play to that of an affiliation, smaller Keeps will be placed around the land. These will be held by up to 6 bad guys. The same rules will apply as with the larger castles.

The Underground City

We’ve not examined every MMO on the market, but from what we can ascertain, very few have underground cities. There are caves, dungeons, and even a city or two but we have created a subterranean world where many of the above ground rules do not apply.

When the Gods first wrought the Dark Solstice on the lands, many of the citizens moved their homes and families underground. Over time this place became a self contained world without need of sunlight or rain. But along with the darkness came the lawlessness and chaos. Eventually it was ruled by a government of thieves and rogues led by a despot named Eros. Players should only venture there only if their life and their purse hold no value to them.

Players can be robbed on the streets, shopkeepers often try to sell cheap imitations of goods and supplies, and the casinos will try and cheat. Why would anyone venture there? It is because there are certain rare and valuable items that can be found there that exist nowhere else in the game.

There are more, but the items listed above are some that we believe will set Dark Solstice apart

MMORPG.com: Your website says that you're going with a turn-based combat system. Are you worried about this being less immersive for the players than a real time combat system?
Frank Ross:

When deciding upon turn-based vs. real time, we chose turn-based specifically because we felt that it provided a more intricate and comprehensive strategy. An analogy can be made to a standard chess game as opposed to time-based chess. Both involve strategy, but the choices made are generally broader based and better thought out in a standard game than a game with a 3 or 7 minute time limit.

As far as the immersion factor, I think it would depend on who is asked whether one method is more or less immersive.

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Jon Wood