Otherland Game Overview Part Two
MMORPG.com News Manager Keith Cross files this report on what he learned about some of the game features in the upcoming MMORPG Otherlands developed in Singapore by RealU.
Today, we begin part two of our look at the Otherland MMO based on the novels by Tad Williams. Before I get started talking about the game’s features I do have to present a few words of caution. As stated in part one, the game is just finishing pre-production, the developers estimate that it is 15 percent complete, and still at least two years from launch. This means that despite their enthusiasm, the guys at RealU weren’t able to give us a whole lot in the way of specific details for several reasons. The big reason is that they’ve seen the folly of the many MMO developers that have come before them and announced details too early, only to disappoint players when the game changed or evolved or didn’t meet players’ expectations at the end. Another big reason they wouldn’t tell us much is fear of being ripped off. At this stage they feel that they have a handful of ideas that are unique or revolutionary in the MMO market. If they start talking about those ideas while they’re still two years out, there is the very real possibility that someone else will like the idea and put it into another game. For example, you won’t see me writing about Otherland’s economic system in this article, because all I have in my notes is that they couldn’t talk about it, and that they think the game’s economic system could be one of their most revolutionary features. Other than that, they weren’t ready to talk about it.
So with all that in mind, let’s get to it. Combat is generally one of the first systems a player is introduced to in an MMO, and it was something that the guys at RealU weren’t keen on talking about. I wasn’t explicitly told, but I got the impression that combat was a system that was still in discussion and hasn’t been nailed down yet. I was told that combat isn’t intended to be the focal point of the game like it is in so many other MMOs, because the focus is going to be more on story rather than racking up kills. Considering that the game is set in a collection of virtual worlds which may have different rules, they also have to carefully consider what it means to damage someone in the context of each world. Some of these worlds will resemble more traditional MMOs, such as the world where Orlando Gardiner, aka Thargor from the novels, spends his time. Thargor is Orlando’s character in an online medieval fantasy RPG that resembles the most generic of today’s fantasy MMOs. In a world such at the one that Thargor treads, one would expect combat to be similar to more standard games. But Otherland is more diverse than that, with worlds much stranger than medieval fantasy. One suggestion that I was told about combat was that it could be tied to the crafting system, where a player crafts a virus or some malignant code, and attacks other players by damaging their avatar’s code.
So if combat isn’t the main focus of the game, you might be wondering how players advance. What do you do if you can’t kill things and grind their bones for XP? In a game where story trumps combat, players can advance through questing. While I wasn’t given any details on what players may be asked to do in a typical quest, I was told that the quest system will be a bit more advanced than the usual MMO. There will be formal quests of the usual type, where you talk to some one with a glowing thing above their head and they give you a story and a task, there will be informal quests of a different nature that they didn’t talk much about. One of the neat features about quests in Otherland is a consequence of their use of non-linear storytelling. Because of the nature of online RPGs, you can’t tell a story like you would in a novel, where the events of the book go from point A to point B to point C. In a game such as this, there’s no guarantee that players will do things in the ‘correct’ order, because a correct order doesn’t ideally exist. The consequence to questing is that players will experience different results from the same quests. Another interesting feature of their questing system is that there can be consequences for failure if you don’t successfully complete certain quests. The details of what exactly that means haven’t been fully worked out, but it’s a feature that many gamers will find either refreshing or tedious depending on what type of gamer they are and how the feature works when implemented.
So that’s how a character earns advancement, but how do they actually advance? First off, characters in the game won’t have a class or race. The game is skill based and characters advance by developing their skills. Characters develop skills by doing activities that would practice those skills. As to what the skills will be called and how they’ll be specifically used and advanced is a mystery that will have to wait for a future interview.
Characters also advance through their avatar’s skin. In the lore of Otherland, people with the most money or computer savvy have the coolest and most elaborate avatars. So it translates that in the game, the players who have put in the biggest investment will have the fancier avatar. I was told that players won’t be directly skinning their character, but will be evolving their character through their choices during play. The screenshots that have been released so far have shown mostly faceless and androgynous avatars. These are the basic models that players start with. Players can choose a few basic body types and colors at first, but they showed us a few advanced avatars walking around in he Lambda Mall demo and players at later stages will be able to make their avatars look more human, or go beyond humanoid if they choose.
Also in the demo of Lambda Mall we were shown how players move around. The avatars walk and run for short journeys like in most games, but when it comes time to move around for longer distances, players have a number of options. There are flight tubes, which could be seen in the Lambda Mall screenshots we recently released. Basically, players enter a glowing outline of a shape, and are flown to a predetermined destination, or some form of node where they can access a variety of other flight tubes that go to other locations within your current world, or to different worlds. Also featured in the screenshots was spline surfing, where players strike a surfing pose and ride along a string in a 3d space. While spline surfing players can solve puzzles in order to find new destinations, if players have a particular world which they travel to frequently they can also create a limited number of personal portals. These are direct links your own favourite destinations, which can only be used by yourself and your friends.
The final topic I’m going to hit today is business model. It is still far to early to nail down a concrete statement about the game’s business model, but they are looking at a few options. They said they were looking at three models: subscription based, micro transactions, and a retail model. They’re not looking at those as either/or choices. Ideally the game will be supported by multiple models where players can choose one form of payment or a combination model. The details are vague at this point, but seeing as the game is going to be marketed as a global product, that is built for a world wide audience, courting multiple models at this stage with the intent to launch supporting a variety of payment models is sound planning.