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Dana Massey Posted:
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Image from cinematic trailer

Image from cinematic trailer

Image from cinematic trailer

Image from cinematic trailer

A conversation with Tracy Spaight, the Lead Designer of Africa

A fantasy MMORPG this most definitely is not.

Rapid Reality, the Atlanta based developers who are also hard at work The Chronicle, Machines and revamping Endless Ages, recently announced their next big project: Africa. This MMORPG is co-funded by Rapid Reality and AfriCast Global Media. It was announced with great fanfare on MTV in February. Recently, MMORPG.com had the chance to travel down to Atlanta and find out more.

“We’re trying to innovate,” said Tracy Spaight, the former St. John’s University lecturer who holds a Masters from Cornell. Tracy is the Lead Designer of Africa and Vice President of Research and Development at Rapid Reality.

Africa breaks the mold of fantasy-MMORPGs. The game is set in North-Eastern Africa circa 1300. Spaight, a life-long student of history, hopes to use Africa to tell the story and mythology of a continent has too often been ignored in traditional history books.

“We don’t have to invent everything from scratch,” said Spaight. “It’s a very rich world… and no one’s seen it.”

Quite obviously tired of fantasy – or “Tolkien-esque” games as he calls them – Spaight hopes to explore a world that continues to surprise him as he delves further into its history.

There are three Harvard graduate students consulting on the project. Rapid Reality does not believe that the story of Africa, a continent that can fit most the rest of the world inside its landmass, has been properly explored. An MMORPG, they feel, is the perfect way to do just that.

In his Atlanta office, Spaight glowingly tells stories of how Asian ships larger than the Titanic landed on the Eastern coast of Africa while Europeans were living in huts. He also explained dozens of religious and tribal struggles that plagued the continent’s history.

While this is all very educational, Spaight makes it very clear that Africa is not the PBS of MMORPGs. First and foremost, this game is intended to be fun. While the game is based heavily on real history and mythology, it will not stick to these at the expense of fun.

The game already has a 362-page technical design document – which sat imposingly on Spaight’s desk throughout our interview – that defines the broad-stroke goals of the game.

Africa employs a primarily skill-based system. He doesn’t like the limited scope of class-based games and the inability to mix and match. While this is a much harder type of game to develop and balance, he believes the effort will be rewarded.

Being a historical game, all races will be human. Players begin as a member of one of the various tribes in the region. The choice of race should impact a player’s affinity to certain skills, but they will not prevent players from making odd choices if they like.

Among other design choices, Spaight is not a huge fan of two staples of most MMORPGs: instancing and pre-fabricated quests. While there will be limited instancing – more on this later – he foresees quests being generated in a “Mad Lib” approach. He calls this a holy grail of MMORPG development and feels that the technology is there to make it work.

What Spaight tentatively calls the “Dreamscape” is the only planned used of instancing in Africa at this time.

“You can adventure in your own mind,” he explained.

The Dreamscape is your own world of dreams. It is like the real world, but clearly visually off. Events inside are clearly different, such as animals who guide and talk to you. Quests in the real world could open up areas in your own personal Dreamscape where you must go – in your mind – to find real life solutions.

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Dana Massey