Are They For Real? We Travel to Atlanta to Find Out!
A few weeks ago, a small, unheard of company announced they planned to produce three MMORPGs by the end of the year and then an additional one every six months thereafter. This announcement from Rapid Reality and their new web portal MMOCenter.com met with skepticism. Their ideas, while exciting, seemed far-fetched and with that in mind, we traveled to Atlanta to tour their studios and see how they will make these huge promises a reality. I return today with total confidence that Rapid Reality is for real.
Rapid Reality employs the Kaneva engine to produce their titles in their new suburban Atlanta offices. Almost all twenty-five of their employees are artists, with four of the traditional variety. In perhaps the most shocking move, two recent hires came direct from San Diego and the EverQuest II team. Thanks to their engine choice, they only need one programmer and he currently serves as a scripter. Over the coming weeks and months, their Creative Director Adam Ghetti explained how they hope to reach forty full time employees, again mostly artists.
Rapid Reality is independently funded by a local businessman, and is completely independent of Christopher Klaus and Kaneva, save that they have purchased the rights to use a heavily modified version of their game engine outside of the agreements described in yesterday’s article. The company has also collaborated with a number of well-known and exciting groups to make their games reality.
During the visit, Adam Ghetti explained how he believes their games will achieve graphics on par with the other major MMORPGs. This admittedly, even by them, was not the case in their first batch of images and they hope the improvement is apparent. While I was there, they received a new shader, jokingly dubbed “exocoagular”, as it combines normal maps and bump maps into their architecture. The effect is the 3d look of bump maps, combined with the minute detail of normals. This effectively removes the problem of bump maps where they lose detail as you get close. Although the batch of images with this article remain a few notches below the multi-million dollar projects from the major studios, they are vastly improved and if they continue to progress at such a rate, the sky is the limit.
MMOCenter.com promises two, possibly three titles to enter beta this fall: The Chronicle, Machines and Survival Instinct. Of the three in production, The Chronicle has been their primary focus to date. The plan is to offer one subscription fee for all games and for them to rapidly create games with limited content, and then expand those that are popular. As such, their motto is quality over quantity.
As they currently focus on The Chronicle, so shall we. At launch, the team promises six full zones, a PvP-oriented game, a skill based game and unique magic and crafting systems. One theme that appeared to run through much of their game design is the creation of systems that enable players to make their own content – in a non-traditional sense. This does not mean players can make quests and dungeons, but rather the game utilizes systems that allow players to make content.
For example, their magic system differs from the norm. Rather than earn spells over time, players create them. They chose a template – such as “damage” – and from there customize the spell based on their skills. Players need to make choices like range vs. damage, and which effects they use. In the end, players can then publish these skills and trade them. Designer and Lead Creative Writer Nathan Knaack described a possible scenario where one guild or tribe might “discover” a certain lethal combination and have an advantage over the others, effectively changing the tide of the war. This kind of scenario is not unlike those that have played out through history with the longbow for a time giving England dominance, or in a more modern example, nuclear weapons.
They also envision their crafting system in much the same light. Players create an item, such as a long sword, and then modify its abilities based on their skill. Once again, it allows players to “invent” things, while also providing a near infinite source of content without as much manual creation from the development team – a blessing when you operate under the deadlines Rapid Reality does.
Rapid Reality has exploited the modular design of the Kaneva game engine, which allows developers to swap out aspects they prefer. The AI in their games is radically different from the average MMORPG. Monsters carry social relationships with other monsters. In one example, a player who killed a single creature may find later that it was the brother of their King and get himself in a lot of trouble when he goes and tries to talk to them as part of a quest. Another example is that of a player who attempts to wipe out a group of enemies, but allows one or more to escape. Later, in the area, they run across that same monster – who now has a group of friends. This player had better be careful. Further to that, monsters in Rapid Reality games are aware of their surroundings.
MMOCenter.com officially enters beta this fall, with the only way into closed beta being to pre-order. Open beta, to all interested, will run for about two weeks just before launch. Rapid Reality also outlined a few details of what to expect. They promise that their subscription fee will never change, and that it buys access to all titles. Limited other features, such as access to a 2d map that shows where guild-members are, will be available for an additional price, but he promises nothing essential will carry such costs.
As I toured their offices and those of their partners, they alleviated any concerns about their legitimacy. Their timeline still strikes me as ambitious, and I would not be overly surprised if delays happen, such is the nature of the industry, but what they promise seems completely possible. Will MMOCenter feature AAA quality MMORPGs from day one? No. However, just as outlined in yesterday’s Kaneva article, this engine and this company will open the door for innovative and fresh ideas to see the light of day. Rapid Reality has positioned themselves as a petri dish of MMO creativity, and it will be up to the fans to vote with their play time which ideas deserve to be pursued.
You can also enjoy twenty five exclusive images of The Chronicle here.