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Joe Ybarra spoke to News Editor Jon Wood at GDC

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Ybarra, the Vice President of Product Development for Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, the company responsible for the development of the recently announced MMORPG, Stargate Worlds. Sara Baker, the director of marketing also joined us for a conversation about this brand new game. Ybarra is no stranger to video games, with 50 under his belt, or to the MMORPG genre, as this is his 4th MMO title, following on the heels of Shadow of Yserbius, Shadowbane, and The Matrix Online.

At this stage of production (pre-production), all of the decisions for the game have not been made, their team, which they hope will reach nearly 60, is only half full. Ybarra provided us with a number of firm details as well as their thoughts and hopes for the game. What he did say, was that this game is not going to be "orcs in space", and will offer something unique that is true to the Stargate franchise.

The game itself will be based around 3 major factions. The first are the Free People. They're the good guys on the show, the Humans, the Asgard, the Tok'ra, are examples of these, basically the forces of good. The second faction involved in the game will be the Control People, those who seek to enslave and rule. The System Lords and other Goa'Uld seek to rule by fear and power, providing an excellent contrast to the Free People, a constant struggle. If this wasn't enough, the third group is known as The Entropy Group. Those who seek only to hurt and to destroy, the robotic Replicators personify this ideal. On top of this, the developers are looking to give players the ability to play a wide variety of races. The Asgard, for example, are a race that players have been asking for. MGM has given the ok on this, and it is the current plan to include them as playable. Joe also mentioned the possibility of including the symbiotes as a playable race. This would give players the opportunity to shift hosts and to make the decision of whether to be Tok'Ra or Goa'Uld in their behaviors. Giving the players what he called "betrayal ideas".

Ybarra went on to tell us that the game would be focused around small groups. Much like the TV series, most quests will focus around 4 man teams. They are looking to capture the feel of modern infantry combat, fire and maneuver. To that end, Ybarra told us that players will be able to use their environments in combat, firing and ducking for cover. In most MMORPGs, players concentrate on fighting one-on one, in this game, says Ybarra "rather than individual engagement, players will engage areas and can fire on those that enter the area". While they are clearly putting quite a bit of thought into their combat, the developers would also like for it to be possible for players to take a different route to the level cap, one that does not require the firing of a weapon. We are told that the game will have many large areas to explore. When asked what degree of instancing this game would use, Ybarra told us that instancing would be used if it was needed to "preserve quest integrity", but was firm on the idea that this would be a social game, with some non-instanced areas for players to fully explore.

We talked a little bit about the idea of player death. In a world that involves that kind of combat, death in inevitable. When I asked about death penalties, Ybarra told us that while they are still investigating what to do upon a player's death, their philosophy is "Do not punish the customers," he said that it was one thing to cause an inconvenience to give death meaning, but out and out punishment would not be used. He mentioned that it was possible that players would be given some kind of "time out". They're looking at using a mechanical device known as a FRED, which players can take with them on missions and use as a kind of movable backpack as well as a kind of spawn point.

The game will have a player vs. player element, with players, beginning a mid-level range, will battle over "contested worlds", worlds that are rich in resources. Ybarra told us that the PvP will be meant primarily as an endgame.

Finally, Ybarra wanted to let us know that they have a very strong team going into this project. He said that their team has "lots of passionate MMO people with a great passion for trying to go great science fiction and a great Stargate product. He says that "storytelling is a really big part of what we're building". Their team is made up of a number of game veterans, "Zeb" Cook, of recent City of Villains fame, Chris Klug, the former Lead Content Designer of Earth & Beyond, Josh Kurtz, a former WoW world builder, Stu Rose a former art director from Blizzard, and Dan Elggrin formerly of EA, are just some of the names that are involved in the project.

Obviously, with a game so early in its first stages of production, Ybarra was unable to give us a date for the game's completion and release. He did say that they hoped for 18-24 months to build the game, and another 4-6 months for their beta cycle. That will put the game's release in and around the 12th season of Stargate: SG1, if the series runs that long. Obviously, this is something that neither Cheyenne Mountain nor MGM can say for sure, but the franchise should still be running strong with the Atlantis series at that time. What may happen in terms of story before that time is anyone's guess. As Ybarra said, "We're talking about history that hasn't been written yet".

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Jon Wood