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Jon Wood Posted:
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GDC Progress Report: Hero's Journey

MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood had the opportunity to talk to Eric Slick, the Technology Director for Simutronics, about the progress of their upcoming MMORPG, Hero's Journey.

Hero's Journey is the name of a game that you probably haven't heard too much about recently. If that is the case, let me give you a refresher course. Hero's Journey is the MMORPG currently under development by Simutronics. That name probably sounds familiar to MMORPG fans, and with good cause. In the last year, they have been frequently in the news, not for the game itself, but for the technology that drives it.

At the Game Developers Conference in 2006, Simutronics first displayed their game's engine as a separate, marketable product. Throughout the year, we have heard announcements that the Hero Engine would be used by companies like: Stray Bullet Games, Virgin Games, and Bioware Austin. With news about the engine's success continuing to flow out of Simutronics, many had started to wonder about the future of the Hero's Journey and whether it would be pushed into oblivion in favor of their popular technology. As it turns out, it hasn't.

While at GDC, I had the opportunity to catch up with Eric Slick, the Technology Director for Simutronics Corp. He was kind enough to give me a look at what the Hero's Journey team has been up to. While Slick admits that the work on Hero Engine has taken its toll on the progress of Hero's Journey, the project is far from buried.

First of all, they assured me that their unique GM system currently has over 50 Game Masters waiting for the chance to get their hands on the technology. This will help so they can get their quests into the game. As pretty as this game is, like any, it will likely be the content that keeps players involved.

Hero's Journey has always been, right from the beginning, about doing something new and interesting. Plans are still in the works, for example, to give players multiple options in combat. The example that is most clearly remembered is the batch of mobs in a canyon pass. You can either engage them, or you could blast an overhang of rock at the top of the canyon, defeating them that way.

Combat is still planned to include complex, team maneuvers that can be employed against an enemy through team cooperation. It isn't just combat that has some quirks to set HJ apart, they also describe their quest system as giving players, "Dynamic and interesting ways to complete quests."

"We want the world to remember what you've done," says Slick, "and have NPCs react specifically to your character, giving a truly personalized experience."

The example that I was given of an NPC reacting specifically to a character was that if your character angered a faction, that faction might send someone to "take care of the problem". The would-be assassin could appear in-game at any time, looking for revenge.

While many of the concepts and ideas in Hero's Journey haven't changed much since the last time we checked in on these folks, the look of the game certainly has. Hero's Journey, even as it stands now, is a beautiful and rich-looking game. On top of the crisp, clean, fantasy-realistic graphics that I saw in terms of character models, architecture and back ground, it was really the smaller details that stood out for me.

The game employs a "dynamic sky", meaning that it holds to a day and night cycle. Weather too, is considered to be a dynamic function, as Hero's Journey hopes to deliver clouds that will roll in over time before a rainstorm. Characters will know, for example, that there is going to be a storm because they will see it coming on the horizon. It's more than just the sky that carries the dynamic descriptor; shadows also get a makeover in Hero's Journey. The shadows cast in the game function just like real-world shadows. They get longer, for example, when the sun is lower in the sky. I'm not saying that this is a feature that will make or break game play, but once you see it in action, you're happy it's there.

If you're talking about nice touches that actually feel like they are having an impact on game play, I can honestly say that the spell effects seem more organic in this game than in some others that I've seen. The most common spell that I saw cast (I missed the name), conjured a vine of thorns to entangle your enemies. When the spell is cast, the very 3D-looking vine sprouts from the ground and entangles. While this, again, may not be all that unique (we've seen detailed spell effects in many other games), I thought they were crisp, clean and organic enough to mention.

As production on Hero's Journey begins once again to move at full speed forward, MMORPG.com will continue to cover this game as it works its way toward launch.


Jon Wood