Last September I had the pleasure to sit down with some of the senior staff at Cheyenne Mountain, the team behind the upcoming Stargate Worlds MMOG, and Joe Ybarra, VP of Product Development at Cheyenne was kind enough to sit down with me again for an interview for this week's The Escapist, Issue 87, publishing tomorrow, Tuesday, March 6.
Most of that interview centered on his long, successful career as a game designer and producer, and why he's one of what we would call "The Rainmakers." Some of it, however, was about Stargate Worlds.
Needless to say, Joe and I talked for a good long while, and we just couldn't fit all of what he had to say in one article. Here, therefore, in two parts, is a portion of that interview which didn't make it into the weekly magazine. Part two will be appearing in this space on Thursday, March 8.
The Escapist: I assume you guys are still working on Stargate Worlds?
Joe Ybarra: That's correct ... we're actually in printable production right now in many components of the project. Probably the only place where we're not in printable production is on the content side, the storytelling side and the quest side and the only reason why they're not in full production is because we're finalizing the storyline. Because we get all the scripts for the show, we found out a few things that are going to happen later on in the season, that we went, "Oh, wow, if they do that then we need to change our storyline." So we've adjusted our storyline and we've reacted to that and so the result of that is that puts that behind the rest of the team is, but the rest of the team is cranking away.
We have six worlds in production right now. We're looking at expanding the number of folks working on worlds here to include some outsourcing partners to help us out with that aspect of our work. On the art pipeline side, besides producing all the assets of the worlds we're building, we're also finalizing all the treatments for our character archetypes and getting everything staged up for animation and what have you.
One of the big events that took place since the last time we chatted was that we completed what we called the Visual Target, the V-targ so we've actually propped up some images on the website of images from the V-targ. So we pretty much nailed the look and feel of the game, as a whole, and have really worked hard making sure that the pipelines for all of that are under control, and everybody is willing to understand how to use them. So that's going pretty well, our big push right now is First Playable, we're shooting for in the next couple of months here or so. So there's a lot of high energy going on with the project.
TE: That's an exciting place to be. You said you nailed down the player profiles, you have character builds, and that's all established at this point. I have a question from the peanut gallery to that point: Is there going to be a playable Zat in the game? I was supposed to ask you that question.
JY: Are you thinking of the Zat'nik'tel, the weapon?
TE: Yes, I am.
JY: Of course we'll have that in there and you'll be able to modify yours with our component system.
TE: You just made someone very happy. I'm going to write that down. How many playable character types are there going to be?
JY: Well, it depends on how you want to specify types, because basically we're modeling four different races in this game, and each one of the four different races will have three different professions that they can pursue. So you'll really be able to tailor your character; it's pretty much like World of Warcraft in that sense of being able to stay within one archetype but really have a lot of variation within it.
So having said that, the four major archetypes are modeled on the TV show. So we have the soldier type archetype for the SG1 group, but they're also the scientists and archaeologists as well. We do not have a combat medic in the sense of a priest that you would see in an [MMOG]. Instead what we do is provide a [healing] capability to all the players through equipment and universally available training professions, but we do have scientists as I just mentioned. And then, we have scientists that specialize in the different branches of technology.
So as we're modeling both the Goa'uld and the Jaffa there's two types of technology there to go along with the Human and the Asgard. ... They will be the scientific kind of people and they'll also have some very interesting capabilities that we designed in the game. Yeah, [they're] telling me I can't tell you more than that.
TE: Giving you the universal sign for stop talking. Fair enough, fair enough. One question that just immediately came to mind here is how does the symbiote come into play with some of those races there?
JY: Well we're not going to let you pull them out of people's stomachs if that's what you're asking. But basically, both the Goa'uld and the Jaffa are symbiote-based. And when you look at the Jaffa, there are actually two different flavors of Jaffa, there's the good guy Jaffa and the bad guy Jaffa, right? So the good guy Jaffa will use [tretonin]. And then the bad guy Jaffa are still enslaved by the Goa'uld so they'll be running around with worms.
But, you know, it's pretty transparent to the players. We're not using the worm as a tool in the game if that's kind of a way to think about it. But nevertheless, they're there. And one of the things that's been fun in designing this game is we are allowing the players to play Goa'uld. So if they're going to be a Goa'uld, that's sort of the bad guy mean, nasty, "I'm taking over everything and we don't care what you say" kind of race, right? So designing quests and storylines that fit within that personality profile has been entertaining to say the least.
TE: One of the most fascinating aspects of the project to me since I first heard about it - and especially since I talked to you at AGC - is the whole storytelling process and the challenges you guys have been faced with in terms of working with the studio and the ever-changing TV story. You just mentioned those guys were having a little bit of trouble. Can you go into more detail about that?
JY: Yeah, one of the big decision points we had to make was when [to] set the game in terms of the chronology of the TV show. And a first kind of event we took back at the beginning of the project was that we were going to start the game's storyline as the end of season 9, and the reason why we had decided it at that time was because it wasn't clear that there was going to be a season 10 of SG1. Well, as we got further down the road here in defining the season for our game, they decided to go ahead and re-up for season 10, and that sort of put a kibosh on the story on that front. So we started to go in a different direction.
As I alluded to a little while ago, we discovered it back around July or August that the producers of the show decided to throw a monkey wrench into the works there that won't be revealed until the end of the season. So we looked at that and went uh oh, that kind of blew up a lot of our other story plot lines. So we decided to go ahead and change it yet again. So our current storyline is actually being built around season 5 through somewhere in the end of season 7 and season 8. And the reason we selected that window of time of the SG1 chronology is because that's a very rich time period for lots of parallel plot lines. You have, for example, the replicators are still running around and creating havoc for everybody. The free Jaffa are still in the middle of the rebellion and try to get free of the Goa'uld. We have Anubis running around creating all kinds of havoc for the Goa'uld in general, and plus the Goa'uld are probably at the peak of their power at the time in the show chronology. So you have all those coupled with the fact that in that window of time, the humans, the SG team, start to become star-faring. They pick up their first star craft in that window of time and they start being able to compete with the bad guys toe to toe.
The other thing that's kind of interesting in that window of time is that that's the time when there starts to become glimmers of the existence of Atlantis. When they're starting to find Z.P.M.s and think about what they're going to do with that technology, and they get advanced technology and they get the gate addresses and so on and so forth, so it kind of gives us the opportunity to start to hint at our expansion pack of Atlantis and putting some Atlantis content in there as well. That's very minor, but it's enough to get the customers' appetites whetted.
So in terms of building all this storyline, we're telling the story through the questing system much like a traditional MMOG, we have to take all these really great plotlines and break it up into like 2,000 different quests. So you can imagine how much work is associated with that task.
TE: Yeah, that actually raises a point, a question, I wanted to ask. Since you had planned on setting the game beyond the scope of the TV show, how many of your plots, or even plot points, are you getting from the studio, and how much did they let you run loose? Is there anything you're getting from them, or are you cooking it all up from scratch?
JY: We're pretty much doing it from scratch, and mostly because they've given us the privilege of being able to take the material and do what we wish with it. Yeah, one of the things that Brad Wright told us when we went up to meet with those folks up on the show was that they can do in the computer game that they cannot do on television, and they wanted us to go ahead and do those things. So as a result of that we felt very encouraged to go ahead and create new material for the show, but by the same token we have a lot of fans of the show here, but we also recognize that our customers have great loyalty to the material itself.
So as it turns out, although we have permission and freedom to do whatever we want, we've actually stayed pretty close to the canon of the show. There's very little that we've deviated from, and instead what we've done is we've enhanced the material that's there with a whole bunch of supplemental material that will really make things come to life.
TE: So is it safe to say that you guys aren't feeling limited in any way by moving the focus of it into the series rather than starting where it left off? I mean, was that a hard conversation you guys had, or was it an easy decision that just made sense?
JY: It was very easy for us to do because we also know that, as you're aware, that a world never stops being built and one of the things that we're very piped into, working with MGM and with the folks up in Vancouver, is what their future plans are about content and material and things that they're going to be doing in the future. So we wanted to give ourselves the opportunity to keep the playfield as clean as possible and as wide open as possible, so if they start coming up with some great ideas, that we can incorporate them into the game and not mess up anything, so that helps out a lot.
And one of the really interesting things we're working on with both MGM and Vancouver is finding a way to go the opposite direction, creating game-related material, both that they would wind back into the TV series and of course that would be done through vehicles - either Atlantis or some vehicle that we can't talk about just yet - so we're working on that.
Part two of this interview will be published in this space on Thursday, March 8.