I have been playing MMO games for more than 10 years primarily with the Lords of Death. The Realm, UO beta, UO through the early days to Trammel. Everquest, Daoc, AC, Jumpgate, Shadowbane, WoW, Eve, Vanguard and I may be missing a game or two. So, I think I know a little about MMO games and what I like and what I don’t like. It basically boils down to this. The more player freedom in a game the more I like it. Given the opportunity it is amazing what shape and direction online communities can take when they have freedom to do whatever they want. It is fun and exciting to observe and be part of such worlds. The closest any games have come to this were early Shadowbane up to the mass gold dupe exploit and early UO dread days. The worst MMO game I ever played was WoW.
In my line of work I have to hire people all the time. It is second nature to judge people and try to guess what they are capable of. The very first quality I look for is honesty. If I don’t believe that someone is an honest person any further interview is pointless because you don’t want to base your opinion and decision on bullshit on top of bullshit. During my visit at the Aventurine offices I met with many of the key staff. They were open, relaxed, friendly and genuinely honest. I believe everything they told me that day to be true.
Meeting with Tasos and Kjetil Helland.
Tasos went out of his way to help me meet with them, which was surprising to me. I was very pessimistic about Darkfall and believed it to be vaporware. Naturally, I expected a lot of excuses and reasons from them not to meet. So, I went to Athens, got into the hotel and went to bed. The plan for next morning was to call up Tasos, hear some bullshit, find out that they can’t meet with me and then off to the Acropolis and other fun things to visit in Athens. In the morning I called Tasos (who is originally from Boston, MA) and to my surprise he did anything he could to help me get to their offices. He went online, found where I was at, what subway lines to take to a less congested area from where to pick me up by car and drive me to the Aventurine offices. The center of Athens, where my hotel was, is a nightmare to drive in and out of and would have taken hours. Otherwise, he would have picked me up straight from the hotel.
I got on the subway, first took the red line two stops then the blue line for about 6 stops to Halendra and got off at the exact time Tasos predicted. So far so good! It was a big subway station and I was supposed to wait for him. I didn’t know what he looked like so while waiting I was trying to guess by looking at the people coming in. I was scouting for someone who looked like a nerd, so when Tasos came up to me, it was surprising to see a tough looking big dude. He was nice and had a balanced demeanor. He didn’t have an attitude nor was he shy. He was easy to talk with. We spoke about martial arts, his car, the United States, Greece; anything but the game. With my belief that the game is vaporware, I frankly hadn’t read much about it. I wanted to postpone as much as possible for the moment when my questions and comments would reveal my total ignorance about Darkfall. Afterall, there was still the chance they had a dinky office with couple of people in it. So I waited.
We got there and their office was not one room but looked like occupied an entire floor of the building. I could see at least a couple of dozen of programmers doing different things. Just briefly passing by the dev area I could catch a glimpse of people coding, working on landscape design, someone was working on medieval buildings for what looked like a human style city. This shop was all about business and the people impressively professional.
Tasos and Kjetil (Darkfall’s lead programmer) sat down in their conference room and they said, “Let’s talk about Darkfall” We began with general Q&A. First we talked about previous games we have played. We talked about the early days of UO which is part of the inspiration for Darkfall, the violence and chaos and pkers vs antis etc. We talked about other games and how they fell short of expectations of players like myself. Then we went on to talk about Darkfall. The concept of Darkfall is to create a free world, where players are in control of their own destiny and the destiny of the game world. They don’t want to force players to be good or evil, guilds big or small, but instead, are very excited to see what direction, shape and form things are going to evolve from the player base. The Adventurine team is extremely motivated to create a realm where players decide their own fate. Simply, Adventurine has created the landscape, the players will create the world!
Here are some major highlights of our discussion:
– “How will Darkfall appeal to a wider range of players?”
The idea of the game is to provide something enjoyable for every niche of player. To not only give them something they can’t help but continue (investment into a grind), but to allow them to enjoy the diversity of they’re choices. After all, if you’re not planning to be a mage raining down death from the top of a tower or a battle proven captain maintaining an iron fist amidst the chaos on your ship’s deck in a sea battle, there are actually viable alternatives. For instance, some of the best items that players can obtain in this game will be crafted. This leads to a robust economy with the need for trade of goods and resources to emerge. Simply, if you do not wish to be a dealer of death, you can be a merchant of wares. If you were never cut out for city life, this world is immense and there will be adventure to be had for those seeking to continually push the frontier.
– “Will I be at disadvantage to a power gamer who plays 24/7, has spell of ‘Pwn thee’ that does 1875 hp damage and a purple ‘Sword of Castration’ doing 1585 hp per second?”
Its ok if you have a life and play Darkfall. However, you’d better have PvP talent or else you should craft a shovel and find work digging ditches. Darkfall will be a game of actual skill. Sure you will be acquiring skills and spells. Kind of like in UO, skills and spells cap at 100. But the real trick is using them. There will be many skills and many spells and using them the right way is what I think will make someone better in fighting. You can have a super developed character, but if you don’t know how to use it, any noob can smoke you. I expect to see the weirdest combination of skills and spells people come up with and new flavors of the month all the time. As far as kick ass items. The game is not item based. Don’t use anything you don’t mind losing. Besides full loot, items will wear out, so make sure you have enough backup armor and weapon sets.
– “What rules will be in place in regards to who you can attack and what reward/penalty you get for kills/death?”
You can kill anyone. Everything in your possession can be looted. No one gets claim to a kill as a corpse can be looted by an unlimited number of people. Kills are recorded. You will know who you have killed as well as who killed you.
– “Zerg vs smaller guilds. Will battles be decided by who can field the most players?”
As previously stated, In Darkfall skill is much more important than numbers. I feel that a well-coordinated small group of guildmates can destroy a large army by using the terrain better, smarter choice of weapons and equipment, tactics and other. It would be harder to get a large group of people fighting well together. This is due in large part to the high level of friendly collision that will exist in Darkfall. The game has friendly collision so if someone is using a large weapon, or area of effect spells, he can hit his guildmates nearby. Even healers have to watch their craft as they could accidentally heal the enemy.
– “Invisibility has been overpowered in just about every game it has been instituted in. How will Darkfall address this?”
It should take skill to be invisible. Just like real life. You wear camo, you move silently and hide in the bushes. Playing paintball, I have run into guys who were so well hidden you couldn’t see them from 10 feet away. And then you get shot- ouch. Now that’s what I call skill. Darkfall will be using similar approach. If you are using the skill, you won’t be on the radar and you will move silently but the rest is up to you. To not be seen, you have to use the terrain and be mindful of light etc. Sneaking up on a guy would be something not everyone would be capable of doing well.
– “Shadowbane was fun. We love to burn stuff down!”
People can find places to call home and they can find places to raid. Although you can’t build anywhere you’d like, you can build around major resources and other points of interest that have impact on the game world. This is going to contribute to conflict greatly.
– “Many games have allowed Player Killers to exist, but usually under extreme penalty, or unviable circumstances. What is your take on this?”
It is a completely viable way of playing Darkfall to live outside the cities and prey on other players. So a group of 4 can have fun being the evil dudes in a forest. If they are good enough, they might very well be able to avoid retribution from the guilds, whose members they kill. Once again it falls upon your skill to succeed or fail.
– “Sailing takes me away to where I always dreamed I could be!”
Sea battles. This is something that can add a lot of fun to a massive game. A party of people being good with ships will be very valuable in many ways. They can transport troops and resources. They can raid coast lines, give support to coastal battles with its canons or just plain rob other ships as pirates for fun and profit. There is a lot of thought put into ships. There are different sizes ships from a 10 canon ship to huge 50 canon ships. One person can mount a canon and use it to shoot at people, shoot at other canons, other ships, coastal buildings, npcs or whatever else. If you have 50 people on your 50 canon ship you can dish out some serious damage. That is, unless the enemy boards your ship, kills the captain (also a player) and turns the whole ship around so your canons can’t aim at the target. If the ship sinks and you are on the lower decks, you sink and die with it. Imagine 50 guildmates trying to escape a sinking ship through the narrow doorway going onto the upper deck. Each trying to push their way through and what it would be like if a couple of enemies are at the entrance pushing back and killing people.
– “I’ve seen great games held back by poor underdeveloped economies and others still ruined when the economic conditions collapsed due to dupes and unforeseen imbalances.”
I was told that Darkfall will introduce small amounts of gold through npc vendors and monsters and will have sufficient number of gold sinks to drain it. We didn’t go into too much details, but for example selling something to an npc for gold will be almost not worth the effort because the buy prices would be so low. While selling to players would bring a lot more profit. Basically, supply and demand system with a stable monetary mass, resulting in overall stability even though you may still have some inflation with time just like real life economies.
– “You #$^@ing noob!”
Obscene language is something I asked about numerous times as I know how my guildmates are (especially Judas). I was assured that no one will be banned for obscene language or things they type. The game will be rated as “adult” so if you don’t like to see /raped you can filter out that person or just take it like an adult.
– “Tasos, can I sexually please you, or a live animal of your choice, right here, right now in order to begin beta testing Darkfall promptly?”
Right now they are almost done with a new build that might be a candidate for beta. They seemed to indicate that they hoped for this build to reach stability by the end of October. While I didn’t get confirmation (not that I can reveal) that this could in fact be the beta version, I really got the feeling that this could be the case. Why do I believe this? The guys were talking with confidence that the game could be released in 2008 and, from what I’ve seen, I believe them. Additionally, they talked about different publishers and difficulties in the whole process of getting a game published as if this was part of the hold up. Tasos and Kjetil want the release to be a finished game above anything else and for people to enjoy it as a polished product from day one. Frankly, based on the demo I played, I felt I could put up with a heck of a lot of issues just to begin playing this thing as soon as possible. IT LOOKED AND PLAYED THAT GOOD!
Moving on to the tour and actual gameplay:
After our conversation in the conference room we went to one of the offices where a guy was working on various art stuff. I saw 3D models of buildings, bridges other structures, npcs, creatures, and was able to see how they are supposed to work with player characters. Like for example when they create a structure, they take a 3d box with the size of the player character and move it around to make sure it doesn’t get stuck somewhere and the structure is usable in different ways. I saw the dragon from the main web page and how huge it is from a player perspective. An orc looks really small next to it. Then they explained how they are creating the graphics so they look good but don’t require as much in-game resources which I didn’t understand well but it is basically more designer work for improved performance so you can have a seamless world with huge battles possible without them being a slide show.
Then they set me up on one of the computers to actually play the game. Since the most current release wasn’t stable they set me up with a stable version from last year. Outside of the company employees and some prospective publishers I was the first one to play a Darkfall demo! It was very exciting.
I got to be an orc. First thing I did was open my inventory (backpack). It was delightful to see the messy backpack full of pouches and various pieces of armor and weapons- UO style. This brought back memories of the inventory system I most enjoyed in MMO’s. I started to double click on the different stuff, equipping and unequipping different armor pieces and weapons. By the time I was done, my orc looked fearsome and ready to take on the world! The eye candy was definitely present and inspiring. In fact it was the best warlike looking orc I have ever played- and I have played many.
I was in the middle of some grassy hills right outside a small village and did I mention that the game was graphically stunning? I jumped up and down a few times, swung the different weapons around, ran here and there a bit. You know, the kind of stuff any dumb orc would do first thing. Then Kjetil came, he was some kind of magic user (not sure what race) and started showing me around. Of course I couldn’t help but hit him a few times with various weapons. He started throwing fireballs in different directions. Those were very impressive both visually and audibly. You felt that something bad is coming your way and you better hide. The ground was shaking, the buildings were burning. Things were breaking. He then did an area effect fire spell that hit me and I couldn’t see much but myself and everything around me burning. Tasos, who was behind me said : Move out, move out. So I moved out of the fire and I saw that a large circle of fire was burning around Kjetil. It looked amazing standing outside of the AOE and watching everything burn.
Kjetil then summoned a couple of mounts. I immediately got on one and he got on the other. They were intuitive, yet not as easy to handle as I thought. It was very realistic. Don’t expect horse riding to be easy in every situation. It does require some skill and it gets tricky when in tight space between buildings or players. Basically mounts shine in the open space. Aside from speed you can do all kinds of things when on them, typical for fighting on top of a mount. Like leaning sideways so you don’t get hit, for example. We fought in the city and I felt I needed to kill his mount first so I aimed my hits at his horse’s head. Indeed his horse died and all of a sudden he was on foot.
After horse riding and fighting we ran outside of the city to the sea coast. I got to use the bow. It was very realistic. Yet, not unnecessarily complicated. You aim, you get a timer bar and the arrow goes off. It has the arc trajectory of an arrow you’d expect, meaning it doesn’t fly in a straight line. You’ll just have to be good at using bows and judge the target and distance to be able to hit. You don’t get unlimited arrows but you can shoot as many as you have equipped.
Then he summoned a ship and we swam to it and climbed on board. I mounted one of the canons and aimed it at a building. Then shot the canon and there went off a ball in a normal trajectory hitting the building. It was a feeling of destruction and mayhem. He then summoned another ship and we started to shoot at each other. I was destroying other canons on his ship and shooting at the ship itself till it sunk. It awas a blast- literally! Then I left the canon and assumed control of the ship. Sailing it all kinds of directions and turning it around while he was shooting one of the canons. I wasn’t very good at it though and I can tell controlling ships does require skill and patience. Then we went on the lower deck and sunk the ship so we can drown with it; another realistic feature of sea combat in Darkfall. We were using the smallest ships in the game. I can’t imagine how impressive the largest would look like in battle. Showing up with such a ship at a port would probably make people a little worried.
We went back on shore for some fighting. My orc, with mace and shield, versus the mage. Starting up close, he gave me immediate advantage and I ran around hitting him in the back and the sides (which gives bonuses to damage) while he was trying to unleash his destructive magic. After a few hits and him not being able to face and blast me because I was moving around too much he fell! I just killed the lead programmer of Darkfall!!! Well, I am sure he could have summoned all kinds of crap in his favor, but damn it felt good. I guess you don’t die immediately though. You fall on the ground and the player has a final choice to make whether to finish you or let you live. I did my finish move and he was officially dead… and looted. I even looked at his paper doll and bags from his computer to make sure he had nothing left. Yep, the game is definitely full loot.
That was the end of the demo. It went so fast. I wish I had weeks to play it. Then the guys were extremely nice and took me to lunch. We ate Greek food and spoke more about the game. They’re very cool guys and I had a great time, but being on a tight schedule, it was sadly time to wrap it up.
Well, what else can I say other than it was great visiting Aventurine studios. I felt renewed optimism, not only for Darkfall, but for MMORPG games. Tasos, Claus, Kjetil and the others- they are an awesome group of people developing an awesome game and I can’t wait to play it.
Asp Lord of Orcs
The Lords of Death
Q: When fighting the mage around how many hits did it take to kill the mage?
Four or five. Whatever that’s worth. He didn’t seem to have any armor. I don’t know what mine and his skills were either. The mounts movements were very smooth and when I speared that bitch its death animation fucking rocked.
Q: Please give as many details about anything and everything you may have noticed when riding the mount.
The horse animation was smooth. I would say similar to Vanguard’s. Unlike VG’s horse backing up and rotating the DF horse is much slower. It’s hard to manuever it when there are other players or buildings in the way.
Q: How did you know that you had hurt your opponent?
I saw blood exactly where I hit him.
Q: And about ships you said you can approach an enemy ship. Did you see how?
The ship was in the water. I swam to it and climbed on board through some fishing net hanging on the side.
Q: How does he personally feel about the fact that he played a year old demo and may have something hidden from him?
I had fun. Tasos kept saying that the new version is much much better in every way. He seemed frustrated that they couldn’t show it off.
Q: Were there any chicks working there?
I saw one girl working there and she was cute
Q: How many people might it take to effectively crew a vessel in proportion to its size?
I would say depends on the number of canons. If you are planning to shoot from both sides of the ship at the same time then you would need a person for each canon, guards to defend the ship from boarding and a captain to maneuver the ship around. Archers on deck would be useful too. Depends on what you are doing you may add an assault party to your numbers as well.
Q: Was strafe and backwards speeds the same as moving forward?
They seemed slower.
Q: Did you get any impressions regarding 1 vs 1 balance with one person being on foot vs one person being mounted? What the person on foot a sitting duck unless some sort of cover/obstacle could be found? Or was mount to easily killed from under the rider?
I think mount isn’t too hard to kill. I didn’t feel mounted player to have much advantage when not moving. I think mounts advantage is more in the hit and run type of tactic not just standing in one spot. Unmounted player can go around you a lot faster than you can turn your horse.