Stephanie Shaver, the Lead Designer for Hero’s Journey, drops by to help debut this new home for Hero’s Journey on the WarCry Network. In this exclusive interview, the first in quite some time for Simutronics, we learn about what’s going on with the game – not the engine – and how things have evolved in recent months.
Answers by Stephanie Shaver, Lead Designer for Hero’s Journey
Questions by Dana Massey
Stephanie Shaver: The vision remains the same: build a fun game. Build a game you can play a hero in. Build a game that allows you to be creative and flexible with your character. Enable roleplay whenever possible. Reward players. Preserve solo play. Those themes remain the pillars of our design philosophy, and they’re the questions we constantly ask ourselves when we’re designing anything.
We’re getting used to having time to focus on design and refining it for implementation. Races have changed subtly. We decided that to do Suwari and Tog correctly we needed more art and more time, so they’ve been moved to future development. At the same time, we opened up our humanoid types and added two more (the Dranaar and Silvan).
WarCry: One famous and controversial aspect of your company was the reliance on volunteer GMs to help build content. With the success of HeroEngine, one would assume you have more resources to work with. How will this change your philosophy on volunteer contributions?
Stephanie Shaver: Hurray! We’re controversial! 😀 When you have a tool like HeroEngine that allows you to work long-distance with people, I think it’s more like “common sense”, but your mileage may vary.
In short: Aside from better organizing the groups of GMs their role as the game’s builders hasn’t changed. The GMs are still a key part of our development. All the areas you’re seeing at tradeshows were assembled and sculpted by them. They’re an amazing team of people who we want to be around for a long, long time.
WarCry: At GDC 2007, your art had taken another step forward showing that despite length of development, the game is still going to have AAA graphics. Can you talk about some of the bells and whistles your engine allows that make Hero’s Journey visually special? (shadows for example)
Stephanie Shaver: We recently brought John Ratcliff (of PlanetSide, CyberStrike II, and Scarab fame) on board to complete the integration of our physics server into the engine. We’re talking about destructible environments, because blowing stuff up is fun. I’d mention the dynamic sky and weather, but they’re taken for granted in MMOs. Shadows, yes, we’ll have those. Bump, spec, cubemaps on the water, bloom, dynamic lighting…and more. Always more.
WarCry: Your game features a few classes that don’t fit in the classic swords and sorcery guidelines. For example, the Gearknight is outside the norm. Can you talk about some of these more original classes, what they do and why you’ve chosen them?
Stephanie Shaver: Whoo. Pardon me while I get pseudo-philosophical.
One of the design motifs for this version of Elanthia is an idea loosely adapted from C.S. Lewis’s treatise on the tripartite nature of man: Mind, Body, and Heart. In the Elanthia of Hero’s Journey it’s Mind, Body, and Spirit, and from this we have another set of elements that are combinations of the Big Three: Magic, Gear, and Nature.
Gear’s always been a major part of the setting, since way, way back when we first developed the world in…uh…man, I can’t even remember when anymore. Anyway, when we were developing the classes we had a Wizard (Magic) and we had a Ranger (Nature), and we needed something appropriately Gear-like to balance them out. Gearknights! Also: see previous comment about blowing stuff up. We like big boom.
Healers. I think Healers are one of our more important “original” classes, not because no one’s done them in other games, but because this breed of Healers was inspired by the Empaths of DragonRealms and GemStone IV. They don’t transfer wounds like in those games, but they are a class very dependent on other players. I want to emphasize that we take solo play very seriously, but I want to also emphasize that we know the value of a class that allows you to not have to go into combat to level. It’s a nice break from the norm. Personally, one of my favorite modes of play.
WarCry: A core philosophy for Hero’s Journey was that everyone should look like a hero from day one. What are you then doing to make sure the lack of physical representation of items does not devalue their importance or remove a sense of achievement as characters level up?
Stephanie Shaver: Wyr system handles this. Wyr have the rarity, discovery, and collectible nature that we like in our MMO experience. Also, certain special Wyr can cause FX on items (setting swords on fire, making your armor glitter). Finally – not all clothing will be available from day one. Some will be available from day two! Maybe even day three!! And dare I dream of day four??????
Seriously, though, some of the clothing sets will need to be acquired outside of character creation. Crafting, treasure, merchants. Yeeha.
WarCry: One of the neater features we’ve seen is your interactive multi-person combat feats. Can you talk about this feature as it exists today?
Stephanie Shaver: Not at this time. We’re still discussing how we can successfully do it without making players tear their hair out.
Stephanie Shaver: Creating a zillion Wyr. Oh. My. God.
WarCry: Sometimes when a game goes quiet, some assume it is gone. Can you talk about the number of people you have actively working on the game (both internally and volunteers) at this time and some of the recent milestones you’ve hit?
Stephanie Shaver: I can’t disclose numbers. I can say the game is still being actively worked on, and that my job at the company is officially Lead Designer of the game, so my mortgage payment is dependent on us doing Hero’s Journey.
My home hasn’t been foreclosed on. It’s safe to say we aren’t vaporware.
It is also safe to say that it’s taking a while. Even with the best resources, MMOs take a while. We’re an indy game company, and doing our best with what we’ve got. Simutronics has been blessed with more time than most developers to work on our game, and we refuse to release a game before its time.
Personally, I’m looking forward to our internal Quest system being up and running. I’ve always wanted to create a quest called “Where’s the Runner?”
Oh! And the Dead Citadel concepts. Oh man. Oh my. Oh geez. We spent last night designing out the first area in that environ, and between that and the assets our artists have been modeling for it, it’s rapidly becoming my new favorite.
WarCry: Can you outline your current gameplan for testing (internal and external) and eventually a launch of your product?
Stephanie Shaver: We intend to test extensively internally with both onsite play nights and GameMaster play nights.
Past that, I can’t disclose those things. We know we want to release something fun. We will do absolutely everything within reason to ensure that.
WarCry: Finally, in under 200 words, why should people be excited about Hero’s Journey?
Stephanie Shaver: Branching quests. Evolving game experiences. FlexLevels. Wyr. Clothing, armor, and weapons that aren’t linked to your level. Control over your character’s appearance. Non-static storylines. Major NPCs that will live, die, and change sides. A game that doesn’t force you to grind just to keep up with your friends. I think it’s safe to say we’re the next step in MMO gameplay, and I couldn’t be happier to be working to bring that to fruition.
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