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Visit To Mythic - A Look At Catacombs & Imperator

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When speaking of drops within Catacombs, Bales is a bit more cautious. "What we've done with Catacombs is sort of create items that are different," he says. "For example, the artifacts and the high level stuff you get in ToA and a lot of the stuff in SI (Shrouded Isles), that's all RvR gear. People want that because it helps you kill the other guy faster. Catacombs offers PvE gear. What we expect to happen is players will have their RvR suit and maybe they'll have their Catacombs PvE suit. Understandably, loot and weapons are not going to be as sought after as the other stuff, but we sort of did that on purpose." Mythic is attempting to protect the existing items that many players have worked so hard to obtain. With the damage items take during combat in Dark Age of Camelot, it's likely that players will choose to remove their high-level RvR gear when taking on opponents in Catacombs.

Being that Catacombs is subterranean, it makes sense that the extant dungeons would be overhauled as well. The classic dungeons in each realm have been updated. Although the layouts remain the same, the environments have been brought up to date graphically. Players familiar with the dungeons will be pleasantly surprised at the new look. Catacombs brings an entirely new dungeon to the table as well. Known as the Abandoned Mines, it is the second largest dungeon in the game behind the multi-realm Darkness Falls. It is a fully populated dungeon, complete with rideable mine carts, but it also serves as a connector to all other classic world dungeons in the realm, as well as to the realm's underground Catacombs city.

Each realm has its own version of the Abandoned Mines. A player that enters one of the original dungeons of his realm will find a crack in the wall that wasn't there previously. A walk through the opening will place the player in a wing of the Abandoned Mines. He may then navigate the passages to find a route to a different dungeon by following the signs along the way, or just choose to crawl the mines, fighting as he goes. The mineshafts have a great thematic feel and are home to a goblin-type race of miners and crafters known as the Glashtin.

Bales' character is running through the Abandoned Mines. He hops in a mine cart and is whisked down a track a la Indiana Jones. He explains that the carts are basically a fun, roller coaster sort of horse ride. This is one method of transportation in Catacombs. The primary way of getting around in the main areas is through teleportation points. Rather than just allowing players to use all portals at the outset, a player will have to activate the various portals he encounters throughout Catacombs. Some will allow travel to multiple points, while some serve only as recall portals, giving the player a quick jump back to his subterranean city, but not allowing for a return trip.

"We're always somewhat against teleportation just because it shrinks the world," Bales explains, but he accedes that traditional means of travel can be tedious. When asked about personal mounts, something for which many players have vociferously expressed a desire, Bales grins. "Everyone here at Mythic wants to do it as well," he says, adding that the only reason it is not in the game is because the team hasn't been able to implement it to their satisfaction.

Another area of expectation - one that was originally part of the Catacombs plan - is crafting, particularly jewel crafting. "We were planning on doing that for Catacombs," says Firor. "It was one of the things that was cut because it just wasn't part of the core of what we were looking to do with Catacombs. It's still on the table, though. We haven't taken it off yet. It'll probably be out some time in the next year, after Catacombs. We have a system designed. It's pretty much ready to be implemented, and so hopefully we'll get it in soon." In fact, Firor admits that crafting is something the Camelot team hopes to address shortly. "I think crafting is due for at least an evaluation, much like we've done with other parts of the game. I'm not promising anything, but it's probably time to do that."

Catacombs is the immediate future of Dark Age of Camelot, but it is by no means the end, at least as far as Mythic is concerned. Camelot will continue to be a vibrant game, "as long as we keep upgrading it the way we are and learn from our mistakes and accentuate what we've done right," Firor says. Mythic's plans go beyond just expansions and upgrades, though. Camelot's international presence is very important to the team. "We're far and away the number one MMO in Europe," continues Firor. "We're launching in Japan soon. Japanese will be our fifth language, sixth if you count English." And there's more to come, according to Firor. He mentions other countries and languages that the team is considering. It's clear that Mythic's goal is for Camelot to have a truly worldwide presence.

Regardless of where the ensuing years take the game, there will not be a Dark Age of Camelot 2. "I don't ever want to say never," Firor says, "but the way we designed the game, it's very modular, it's very easy to upgrade. If you noticed, the graphics engine is completely different now than it was when we launched, and just because of that we don't feel we really need to make a Camelot 2."

Jacobs is more resolute. "I have made it very clear that there isn't going to be a Camelot 2. Game over. The only way we would ever do a Camelot 2 is if we thought we had reached a technical limit on what we could do with our engine and the only way to make the game better would be to go to a Camelot 2."

A sequel may not be in the future, but another game is...far in the future, in a sense. While the Camelot team is diligently putting the final touches on Catacombs, another team of Mythic employees is working on a different title - one that combines ancient history with science fiction and will give the player an opportunity to fight for the old republic. (No, not that one!)

An Alternate Future for Rome: Imperator

Colin Hicks laughs when his name is compared to the son of a famous actor. He seems to have gotten that more than once. Although he has no connection to the star of Orange County save a name that is a close homonym, he does bear a job title that would not be out of place in Hollywood: Producer. Specifically, Hicks is the producer of Imperator, Mythic's science fiction themed game, currently scheduled for release sometime in 2006.

The premise of Imperator (pronounced im-PAIR-uh-tor) is that Rome never switched from a republic to an empire and, therefore, maintained its position of power, eventually spreading democracy to the far reaches of the earth. Although in the early development stages, Imperator already looks impressive. Hicks brings up an avatar in a futuristic power suit and runs him through a small section of 26th century Rome.

"The main conflict of the game in the story comes from a war between the Roman republic and the Mayan empire," Hicks says, explaining a bit of the backstory. "The Mayan empire is another civilization that grew up forming in the Americas and became technologically advanced. There was a conflict between Rome and the Mayans generations ago and the Mayans left to go out into space." It is into this conflict that the player will find himself, playing on the side of the Romans.

Imperator is pure PvE. There is no RvR or large scale PvP planned, although players will have some opportunity to compete against each other. Hicks mentions gladiatorial combat as he points his character toward the Coliseum. It is eminently familiar, but it is fully constructed and has floating jumbotrons hovering over it. Nearby buildings exhibit an ancient Roman architectural style with modern touches, while others are purely futuristic in design.

"The cities will be the main avenue for all your non-combat type activities: the crafting, gladiatorial games, your duel interaction," Hicks says as he points to a building with a zipper-style marquee. He identifies it as a sports bar, in which players will be able to watch contests on large screen TVs. "Our goal is to actually get feeds from inside the gladiatorial arenas," he explains.

These are nice touches, but, at a deeper level, Mythic is working on a whole new philosophy behind gameplay in Imperator. "What we want to do with the content in Imperator is really encapsulate everything around discrete objectives," says Hicks. "A lot of times you play these MMOs, first you start the game, run out the city gates and you've got a field of rats that you kill. There's no reason these rats are there and there's less reason for you to be killing them. What we want to try to do for Imperator is everything you do has a purpose, even if it's a small purpose."

The plan is to have players complete objectives rather than just wantonly kill things with no rhyme or reason. Objectives may require the player to kill opponents, but advancement will come upon completion of the objective. So killing opponents may move a player forward, but only within the context of an objective and only if the objective is completed. Advancement comes in the form of raised skills rather than the traditional convention of levels. There will be no level 13 or level 37 players in Imperator. Rather, players will focus on increasing those skills they need to follow the path they choose.

It is planned to have two types of objectives. The first will be of the kind described above, which will be designed to take five to ten minutes and merely advance the player's skills. Then there will be larger missions, currently called life-event missions. These are bigger in scope and may require the completion of several smaller objectives. They will mark milestones in a player's advancement throughout the game and will reveal the larger story behind Imperator.

Crafting falls into a similar paradigm. "We are designing crafting to be an integral part of gameplay, but not a necessary one for all players," says Firor. Objectives may include crafting for those that choose it, but it will fit within the framework of helping Rome in the war effort. "The Roman government can put out a call for, ‘We need this many infrared ship sensors and here's a contract.' You actually get a contract to make these things and you make them and you give them to the Roman authorities."

The plan is for roughly half of the content to be instanced. Combat is still in the experimental stage, but Hicks mentions that one goal is, "a way to make ranged combat more visceral," so that players actually feel the excitement of combat in a ranged setting.

Although a long way from release, Imperator looks to be a fantastic product. It will likely break new ground in much the same way that Dark Age of Camelot did upon its launch. And there are plans beyond Imperator even. Talking to Jacobs, one sees the wheels turning in his mind. When asked about the next game, he smiles slyly and says in a distinct northeastern accent, "I've got a good one!" It's a tease to be sure, but a look at the games he has produced and is producing lets one know that it's not a bluff. Whatever idea Jacobs has on paper, squirreled away in his office, it's certainly bound to be a good one.

On the ride to the hotel, Rebecca Young talks about her experience as a Mythic employee. She is a role player and came to Mythic through her ties to Dark Age of Camelot. She tells stories about conducting beauty pageants in the game and other unorthodox methods of role playing. There is excitement in her voice when she talks about working at Mythic. In describing her job, the primary adjective she uses is "fun," even comparing it to a toy store where she once worked. No, there are no pool tables or ping-pong tables or wet bars adjoining the cubicle where she works. There are no pinball machines in the break room or people rollerblading down the hall. Such things are unnecessary in a place where people love what they do. The people at Mythic love making games, and it shows in that which they have created. They may inhabit an ordinary environment, but out of it are coming some extraordinary worlds.

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Reed Hubbard