All in the Cards

All in the Cards
Steve Jackson: The Escapist Interview

Russ Pitts | 3 Oct 2006 12:01
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SJ: No! Can't talk about it. I can admit that there's more Munchkin coming, but that's about it.

TE: UltraCorps is kind of an expansion of an earlier UltraCorps game, isn't it?

SJ: UltraCorps was originally created by a studio called VR-1. And it was released on the Microsoft Gaming Zone and it had a little run there, but it was not successful. It was, in fact, so unsuccessful that there's a short chapter in a book about online gaming that discusses all of the reasons it flopped. I found that very instructive.

The only [reason] I disagreed with was the idea that games like that aren't fun and nobody's going to play them, period. I think that there are a lot of people who like the idea of playing a multiplayer space conquest game that's more "boardgamey" and less about running around with an animated character.

But there were a lot of problems with the way it was originally run for pay, and for me, none of those trumped the essential coolness of the game. It's just that there were some little execution problems. Some of them are forgivable. For instance: The game did not have good refereeing on the Zone, according to the book (and I've had other people tell me this). It didn't have good refereeing because the referees were all so into the game that they were playing it themselves. They were sometimes more interested in their own games than in their refereeing duties. It speaks well for the game that it could eat their minds that way; management shouldn't have allowed that.

And we see that here in our play test. I really still love playing the game very much, even after two years of sometimes painful redevelopment. The coder loves playing the game. We're just going to set it up so that game staff cannot join the massive for-points games. That's easily done.

The other problem with the game, the big problem, was that it was hard to learn, and new players were at the bottom of the food chain - quite literally. The winning strategy for the game was to hope that you were set up next to a couple of newbies so that you could roll over them. And take their stuff! We have done a whole lot to make the game easier to learn. We're building in some social things to encourage [veterans] to help newbies. Although, of course, there will still be reason to kill them or anybody else. And as soon as we have enough real games under our belt to make this possible, we will divide play up according to experience so that the real tigers will no longer be around in the games that the newbies enter.

TE: So it's safe to say that you're using the experience of the early game as sort of a handbook of "what not to do"?

SJ: There's a lot of what not to do, but it's a great game. The reason that I bought [it] was that I was in it as a player and I though it was just cool. It owned my mind for a few months some years ago, and I was very sorry when it went offline. And then, when I had the opportunity to buy it myself, it was like "yeah, duh." I truly don't know how it will do financially when it's launched. We have a lot to learn. But one reason that I wanted to do it is for the experience.

TE: When are we going to get our hands on it?

SJ: You can play it now at ultracorps.com. It's in a free test phase. Before we launch it, we will hit feature lock and we will run one final game as the beta game on the theory that "OK, everything is done and now we're testing it all together." And then we will say "OK, send me money?" And see what happens.

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