INTERVIEW: EA Mythic – As the Hammer Falls
Warhammer Online’s developers explain their experimental approach, which of the game’s ideas will survive the MMOG melee, and ponder the future direction of the genre.
Age Of Reckoning’s been in development for a few years now. How does the game you have now compare to the one you set out to make?
The core of the game, the fundamental things we always planned, well, if you look at the design documents we started with you’ll recognize the game we have today. The biggest changes we’ve made are things like the Tome of Knowledge. That came into existence through a spark of genius within the company. Public quests were the same way. As we were playing through the game, as we were experimenting, we thought: ‘What if we did this…?’ But the core of the game, how realm vs. realm works, how the campaign works, it is exactly what we had in the pre-production documents.
The multiple ways you can level a character remind us of the original plan to abandon levels completely from the game. They seem like the ghosts of that idea.
They are, they are. Doing a no-level system, and being able to balance the game round them, is extremely difficult. Not that it can’t be done, but is it worth it to do it? It sounds like a great idea, but there’s definitely something to be said in a social game for being able to look at someone’s level. You need comparison factors in the game – it’s supremely important.
What do you think will be the idea that everyone will steal from Age Of Reckoning?
Public quests. Absolutely.
Just strolling into an area and taking part with an ongoing quest, no grouping, no instance. Can you believe no one thought of it before?
Paul Barnett [the company’s creative director] puts it an excellent way. He says you recognize it as genius because it’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time you go, “Oh, of course!” I think it would be absolutely ludicrous for public quests, or something like them, to not be adopted by every MMO from this point forth.
There seems to be a real depth of narrative in Age Of Reckoning that’s perhaps missing from most online games.
It’s a hard role in an MMOG. You constantly fight against the need for narrative, and the push against it by players or designers who don’t think that it’s important. You have to balance out the impact on the game. So what we’ve done is tied it in to the Tome of Knowledge. So we have this great narrative. There’s, I believe, a prologue and 22 chapters for every race. As you move through the game, physically, you’ll get a ‘Tome Unlock’. Boom – you’ve entered chapter three. You open up your Tome and sure enough, there’s all the information about chapter three. All the information about public quests there, about the rewards you can gain in that chapter by gaining influence, and two or three pages of the story behind that chapter, which is cool because it tells the story about the things that are happening around you. You read the story, and then you go do the quests, and it all ties together.
So, you don’t have to read the story. But if you open up the Tome and read a couple of pages each chapter, it really makes it very fulfilling. It ties together so well. We try to keep quest text fairly short, and try to tie it in to the narrative of each chapter, and then if we have a lot of lengthy text we put that in the Tome. We start to tell this story that Warhammer players have previously had to imagine.
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