The announcement that Dawntide, an MMO being developed by Working as Intended, is on the verge of its first beta phase sparked a lot of interest. As a result, WarCry is pleased to present a First Look Q&A with the Dawntide team. Check it out!

WC: Please introduce yourself and give us your game development history.

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Working as Intended was founded in the summer of 2007 by Martin Anward and Christian Hummeluhr based on a history in MMOG emulation and player run servers. Dawntide itself grew out of a desire to create a game that was impossible with the restrictions of a client we couldn’t modify, as well as a desire to solve problems we believed systemic in MMORPGs.

WC: For those unfamiliar with Dawntide, what can you tell us about the game overall?

Very complex question that I think is better answered by going to our website’s Information page, and our forums.

WC: How long has Dawntide been in development?

Since November 2007, though full development didn’t start till the spring of ’08.

WC: Is Dawntide a ‘traditional, high fantasy’ MMO? Please explain.

Dawntide is set in a low fantasy universe. It doesn’t draw on classic Tolkien-inspired elements like elves, dwarves and robes being the fashion choice of the year, every year. High fantasy also tends to replace technology with magic (they carry out the same functions), while in low fantasy there is often a sense of technology versus magic – some adhere to one, some the other.

WC: What is the background of the name “Dawntide”?

We wanted a name that signaled freedom and new things and tried to avoid a directly violent name – not because we’re opposed to video game violence (if we don’t make those pixels pay, who will?), but because we think there’s really enough of those names out there already, and it’s getting a little bland. I still think we should have gone with Awesome Online, though.

WC: Is there much emphasis on story in Dawntide?

Yes. We will have only four player races to begin with to ensure that each race is meaningful. Not only in a game balance context, but also story-wise and culturally. Players will also be given the chance to interact directly with the NPC empires later in the game’s life – for instance, territory-holding player factions will eventually be able to form diplomatic and trade treaties with NPC empires, though not military alliances.

WC: Do you plan any cross-platform development?

We currently don’t have the funding for cross-platform development. Some day, hopefully.

WC: What classes and races are included in Dawntide?

Dawntide does not have classes. All characters simply have a race and their attributes, and can freely use the same skills in order to improve at them.

WC: Are there any ‘rideable’ mounts in Dawntide? If so, what are they?

Dawntide will have mounts, but they will not be readily available from NPCs and cannot be carried in your pack. Mounts are tamed, and can range from small animals to quite large creatures, and they will “log out” with you when you exit the game if you’re riding them. It will also be possible to stable them, but if you simply leave them standing around, they will return to their wild nature.

WC: Dawntide is described on your site as a ‘free form’ MMO. What does that mean?

This is an important, but difficult question that I’m going to answer with a comparison between free-form or “sandbox” MMOGs, and the World of Warcraft model. The gameplay model pioneered by EverQuest and popularized by World of Warcraft is linear in nature: imagine a game that starts at Map 1 and ends on Final Map. In a singleplayer game, you have just one Map 1, one Map 2, one Map 3, and one Final Map. The EverQuest model took this concept and developed multiple variations on each map (or zones, or instances), so you could choose from a number of different Map 1s – but you still have to complete a “Map 1” type level in some way (by getting to the appropriate character level, most often) to get to the “Map 2,” and the game still ends once you’ve completed a Final Map (getting the best equipment, most often), at least insofar as there is nothing more to do then.

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Freeform MMOGs are different in that they do not have this invisible segregation in the form of classes, levels, etc – every level is a Map 1, because they have no levels or classes or invisible checks. In a linear MMOG, there are many invisible checks holding you back from affecting things above you. A good example: We’ve all tried to attack a very high level monster with a low level character, only to find that we don’t even do the damage we would to a monster our level, even if that damage would be negligible. This is the game design equivalent of popping up a message saying “You’re not high enough level to fight this monster.” We believe this is one of the primary reasons casual gamers often find themselves discouraged in MMOGs: the hardcore players have no reason to include them, because the game actively excludes them from participating.

There’s definitely more to it than this, but I think I’d have to write a few pages to do the subject justice. I think we’re in the middle of seeing a transition from linear MMOGs such as World of Warcraft to sandboxes, with games like EVE Online and Darkfall building on what Ultima Online originally pioneered. We definitely think there’s room for improvement, though. 😉

WC: What is your favorite in game area and why?

Dawntide has a race of giant mushroom men. One of the planned areas is a forest where they live in various clans (divided by the colors of their hats), where each clan is aggressive towards another clan, but are never mutually aggressive. Players can join them and earn small mushroom rewards, and we hope to round off the forest with a quest that allows players to get their own mushroom hat. The forest has good wood resources and lies in a location that will ensure a high level of traffic through it, which should make it a very nice little hotbed of violence.

The mushrooms, or Sporeborn, are just timelessly cute. In-game they’re very mindless and violent, but somehow still manage to come off as somewhat cude and cuddly, and have just enough background that you can infer some sort of mushroom culture or society.

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WC: Do players level up and get stronger? Are they limited to their race and class when it comes to leveling?

Players increase in power by using their skills and playing the game. Dawntide doesn’t have character classes and levels – instead, every character has the same set of skill, and each skill has its own “talent tree.”

WC: What would you estimate the learning curve is for new players to Dawntide?

Hopefully we can get it as low as possible. We understand that this is a new way to play MMOGs, and aside from the actual newbies (who we’ll try to provide adequate help for), a lot of people will probably try to play this as if it was a familiar MMOG (and not have terribly good results). We’re going to try to manage expectations so that people understand we’re not trying to fix the model they’re used to – we’re making a new model.

I think the “statisticians”, the people who optimize character builds every patch in order to maximize efficiency – we’ve all met someone like that, or just read a guide made by them – will have a hard time with the added complexity, human elements and non-linear progression, but I’m sure they welcome a challenge.

WC: Is Dawntide geared more to the hardcore player or the casual player? What are the best features for each type?

This is one of the really big benefits of a free-form MMOG. As EVE showed, when you remove the arbitrary limitations, it becomes not only possible, but beneficial for casual and hardcore gamers to play in the same environment. It doesn’t necessarily have to be either casual players or hardcore players if you don’t actively try to push the casuals out. Give them a way to meaningfully support the hardcore players in the endgame, and everyone will be happier.

WC: Dawntide is expected to hit closed beta phase 1 on August 1st. What will you be testing during beta 1?

Engine, interface, core features and art direction – Beta 1 will be a rough beta with the eye towards core gameplay and functionality. We want to make sure that the basic features Dawntide revolve around are sound and enjoyable in themselves.

WC: How many beta phases do you expect to go through?

Currently, three: Beta One, Beta Two, and Open Beta.

WC: When do you expect Dawntide to go into retail release?

We don’t have an official release date at this time.

WC: Where can players find out more?

Our website is http://dawntide.net/

Thanks to the Dawntide development team for this First Look Q&A opportunity. We’ll have more to say about Dawntide in the coming days so stay tuned!

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