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Vendetta Online Interview

Richard Cox Posted:
Interviews 0

MMORPG.COM: Hi there, and thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions for us. First off can you introduce yourself, tell us a little about yourself, what your title is and what you do on the team, and anything you may have worked on in the past?
John Bergman:

My name is John Bergman, I'm the Managing Director of Guild Software, Inc. Myself and the three other members of the company (Andy Sloane, Ray Ratelis and Waylon Brinck) co-founded the company a few years ago. Vendetta Online is our first product and the first game for any of us. Among other things, I oversee the development as a whole, the prioritization of tasks, try and keep us on schedule and handle all the business interaction. I'm also responsible for most of the core game design, I wrote the back story (which, as of this writing, has not yet been released to the public) and I try to keep the evolution of the game in context with the story continuity. At one point I was pretty involved with graphics and sound as well, but less so of late (too much on my plate). Guild Software being a tiny company of four people, everyone tends to do everything to some extent. Our game is very much a group effort, and pretty much every aspect reflects input and ideas from the team as a whole.

We have a variety of backgrounds. Prior to this, I helped architect and build a major national ISP, the success of which allowed us to start this company. Ray and Andy both wrote plugins for big graphics packages, which have been used for effects in movies and TV. Waylon's a classically trained artist (as well as a pixel-era graphics guy). We've all been together and developing our own original real-time graphics projects since the days when it was hip to write in pure assembly and filled polygons were considered pretty amazing (our teenage years). When the opportunity came along to try and make a go of this professionally, we took it, and here we are.

MMORPG.COM: Well let's get the obligatory beta questions out of the way first shall we? There was a major update to the beta recently, today actually according to your site; does this mean that you may add more people to the beta soon? Or accept more subscriptions?
John Bergman: At present, we're still kicking around what exactly we want to do, and when. We will definitely be increasing the overall size of our testing userbase. We need more people to help populate the universe and test aspects of the game. However, we also want to get the game to a point where it's a little closer to "final" in gameplay structure before expanding the beta. Fix the problems we already know before we ask more people to come onboard and point out new problems. The basic stability of the game is less of a concern, our game client has been heavily and widely tested, game balance is more of an issue for us at present.
MMORPG.COM: With the upcoming Public Stress Test, will that basically be the same as an Open Beta? Or will the number of people allowed in still be restricted in some way? If not are there plans to have an open beta?
John Bergman: I expect we will expand the userbase by perhaps another 20,000 accounts at some point in the near future. We may also do a fully open (uncapped) test in the weeks leading up to shipment date.
MMORPG.COM: Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's talk characters for a bit. Can you expound on the Skill System a bit for us? You say it's open ended, does this mean skill trees? Or just a bunch of skills to put points into?
John Bergman: There are a number of skills which can be increased by various activities. Trading items from station to station, or taking on trading missions, increases the Commerce skill for instance. Increasing said skill can open up the ability to take License Tests from various authorities, which will permit the user access to improved ships and equipment. Sort of like the real-world analogue of someone gaining a truck driving license and then being permitted to run an 18-wheeler. In this case, you might gain access to better transport or freighter ships, plus improved trade-item prices at stations. Combat skills work similarly. Progression is based on these skills and a variety of other factors, including faction alignments and standings, mission accomplishments, and a host of other recorded player statistics.
MMORPG.COM: Are the characters limited in how many skills they can learn, such as in SWG you had a set number of points you could spend over the lifetime of your character; or would someone given enough time eventually be able to learn and "max" all the skills in the game?
John Bergman: Given enough time, someone should be able to max all their skills. However, this is not the only aspect of "character advancement". Skills are one part of a bigger picture. In many cases, the reputation of your character with a given faction (faction standing) can have a greater impact on ship, weapon, equipment and mission availability than what actual skills and license levels your character may possess. Some factions can also be mutually exclusive, disliking one another, others are at war. Overall, we view "character progression" more as the mark you choose to make in the political/economic framework of the universe, rather than simply how "high level" you are.
MMORPG.COM: What kind of Attribute system are we looking forward to? The typical Str/Con/Int etc? Or will Vendetta Online alter from the norm in this case?
John Bergman:

We don't really have anything like that, per se. We moved away from the more standard D&D advancement concept, towards more of a hybridized system that should lend itself better to the fact that our game uses an entirely twitch-based combat model. There is no "dice rolling" in combat; it's all based on player skill, which makes the standard RPG progression model a little problematic to apply.

A character is a character is a character, in our universe, without classes or other standard concepts. There are some starting benefits, such as the faction you chose to align yourself with (character's starting nation). Each nation has different pros and cons related to the culture and history of that particular group, and how they fit into the political landscape of the galaxy. These benefits are not fixed; however, a player's can faction alignments can change. The progression of the character is up to the gameplay style of the user, and the choices they make. Your role in the universe is intended to be what you make of it, not pre-set when you choose a class at character creation.

MMORPG.COM: Will our actual characters have a representation, other than the ship? In other words will there ever be any instance where we may be outside of our spaceship, such as Pubs in Spaceports for socializing and such?
John Bergman: At present, the ship is the sole avatar of the player character. We considered adding more first-person elements (walking around on stations, etc), but the development time involved was considerable, and we chose to shelve that particular feature and focus our time on the core space gameplay instead.
MMORPG.COM: Speaking of ships, how many different base ships models are there roughly? I know each ship is highly customizable, making the number of "different ships" almost infinite, but as far as the base models go, can you give us a rough estimate?
John Bergman: Right now there are about 12 basic types, or families of ships. Each of these has several different variants, often produced by rival factions, which differ in features (conceptually similar to cars, where you might have a compact car, and then a special sporty, light-weight version). I'm not sure what the total number of ship variants there are, right this instant, but it changes regularly and will be expanded further before shipment. I expect we'll have over 50 different variants by release time. On top of this, as you mention, the way in which the user equips the ship also has a dramatic impact on its capabilities, and there is a pretty wide range of equipment. The total number of configurable possibilities is very large.
MMORPG.COM: Massive amounts of character customization in the character creation have become a hugely popular feature lately. How customizable are the ships/characters in Vendetta Online? I know it's been stated that the player can partially alter the color scheme on their ships, but to what extent? What are the odds that you'll see other people who look just like you flying around?
John Bergman:

Color is about the extent of external variation, at present. We intend to add special skins that are made available based on special character progression patterns (mission trees), faction affiliation and the like. But this will likely be a post-release addon.

It's also noteworthy that with our player-skill driven combat system, our testing userbase has often considered the skills of the pilot to be more important than how fancy or rare of a ship you have. The people who are especially good pilots tend to be known more by name, and are often respected (or feared) regardless of what they happen to be flying.

MMORPG.COM: Speaking of ship appearance, are there plans to have Guild Emblems or Logos which are displayable on the members ships to show allegiance to their guild? Or maybe even Guild Colors which will set the member's ships to that color scheme when they join the guild?
John Bergman: Special skins and colors for Guilds is a definite possibility. Player-configurable logos are something we've wanted to do for a long time, but fell by the wayside as more fundamental game development has taken priority. This type of feature is more likely to be a part of the Capital Ship addon. Ships of that scale would lend themselves better to space for visible logos.
MMORPG.COM: Will Vendetta Online include a Tradeskill system? If so can you give us a brief rundown on it?
John Bergman:

There is a very limited amount of crafting that's specific to bringing components to a special NPC, and having him assemble a new piece of equipment for you. Beyond this, there's no real crafting system in place.

We would like to implement something, more in the form of player-created stations and "factories" which could be configured to research, manufacture and sell items of various types. However, this will have to be a post-release addon.

MMORPG.COM: What about Player/Guild Housing? Can a guild or possibly even a player build or buy or in some way own its own starport?
John Bergman: We do not currently support player-constructed stations. However, we will be adding capital ships in a post-release addon. This will permit organized and financially capable groups of individuals (like Guilds) to purchase very large vessels, which will in turn be able to carry smaller ships. So conceivably a Guild could own a carrier, which could in turn convey its members into battle, or wherever they wished.
MMORPG.COM: It sounds like the Universe is quite large. How do you plan to avoid the problems most games with HUGE game worlds have encountered lately? Such as incredibly long travel times or large empty parts of the universe with nothing there to do
John Bergman:

The universe is large, but the points of interest are fairly well established. We expect people to congregate at the major metropolitan hubs and along the known trade routes. Newbie zones are near the settled planets and other important locales. As one ventures further and further from civilization, the universe becomes a more dangerous place. If people want to go off on their own, or with a few friends, that should be possible. It also should be possible for them to continually find hotspots of PvP combat and other types of relatively "instant action".

We also intend to expand the universe even further, with our "Exploration" addon. This would permit people to truly brave the unknown, even further from the safety of civilization. The extensibility of our universe architecture is practically unlimited, which opens up some interesting possibilities. Lone explorers might be the first to brave these areas, but others would be lured by the presence of natural resources (for the Mining expansion) or territory to which they might lay claim.

MMORPG.COM: Speaking of travel times, what systems are in place for getting from one point in the universe to another? Is there a waypoint system so you can use an autopilot system if you are traveling a really long distance?
John Bergman: There's currently no autopilot, but we may add one if there's demand. The universe is large in scope, but it's possible to go from one "end" to the other in under an hour. The potential dangers are a greater factor. Randomly moving storms, relating to the cause of the wormhole areas, sometimes occupy sectors in the galaxy. These can pull an unlucky ship out of intra-system jump drive and leave it in the middle of a sector, forcing the pilot to escape the extent of the storm with more traditional (slower) propulsion. These storm-ridden sectors can be frequented by pirates and the like, who know that unsuspecting traders may end up there.
MMORPG.COM: How did the recent announcement of EA's decision to close down Earth & Beyond affect the plans and ideas behind Vendetta Online? Most people see this in two different manners: it either has opened up more room for Vendetta Online, or that there just aren't enough fans out there to support a space based mmorpg, seeing as there were already very few of them out there and one was shut down.
John Bergman:

We're not concerned by the demise of E&B, and we see it as a good thing for us. Given the size of our team, we have very low overhead compared to the requirements of an EA project. We're a small, minimally-funded, grass-roots operation, and we don't need 100,000 users to break even. The space combat fan base has always been somewhat of a "niche", and we hope to be the ones who fill this niche in the online community. Our company's small scale is a liability in terms of the amount of raw content we can produce, but it's an asset in terms of the type of developers we are. We're focused exclusively on Vendetta Online, it's what we want to do and we expect to continue doing this for several years. No publisher is going to suddenly fire us, or move us to another project, or tell us we can't add the So-And-So feature, the game is our show to run. We aren't affected by stock performance, or whether the other five teams are behind on their games. We just want to do one thing, and do it well: We want to make Vendetta Online a really fun game, and keep making it better and more complex as time goes on. We also want player input, and we actually listen (as our longtime testers will agree).

We're also working on some cool promotions for the E&B userbase, so hopefully we can offer them a new home.

MMORPG.COM: Along those same lines, what are you offering with Vendetta Online that other space based mmorpgs might not? What do you feel about Vendetta Online will draw players from other space based games?
John Bergman: There's been a dramatic lack of real-time space combat in the genre, and we hope to appeal to those who have been less enthused by the existing "dice rolling" offerings. Additionally, our game is purely built as a space-based MMO, with a progression model that will hopefully allow for a lot of variability in gameplay. The more options, accomplishments, factions, subfactions, missions and other factors we add, the more dramatically complex the game becomes. We may also have a bit more dynamic universe than some are used to seeing. We intend to trigger storyline progression based on large-scale player choices and events, plotting multiple branches of story advancement, and then leaving it up to a passive choice of player behavior (individuals or large groups). Through this, the face of the galaxy may change, entire factions may be wiped out or new ones added. Hopefully this will all help to create a compelling game that people will want to be a part of.
MMORPG.COM: Well, once again I'd like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a couple questions for us. We look forward to watching your exciting title progress :)


Richard Cox