Stieg Hedlund is the Design Director of Gods and Heroes, while Chris McKibbin is the President and Co-Founder of Perpetual Entertainment. Both men are hard at work on their debut title and took some time to answer a range of questions about the game and the company. The Q&A comes along with some new screenshots!
Answers by Chris McKibbin and Stieg Hedlund
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: The setting is the biggest difference between Gods and Heroes and the other major MMOs coming out. Can you talk a bit about what Rome will mean to the game from both the perspective of the history buff and the casually interested?
McKibbin & Hedlund: Gods and Heroes is set in a mythical version of ancient Rome. We take actual historical places, cultures, enemies, technologies, architecture, politics, etc. and set all of that in a world in which the gods, creatures, and monsters from mythology actually exist. Rome the city-state is the center of the world – then and now – and it is pretty accurately portrayed in-game. It is pretty amazing to be able to actually walk around Rome, through the Forum, then go luxuriate in the bathhouse, and explore the massive sewer system below. However, we are more interested in creating an entertaining world than a world that is slavishly accurate to history, so our Rome also includes the Flavian Amphitheater (better known as the Coliseum) which was actually built about 200 years after our time-frame. The history buff will find a lot to be interested in (and chat / argue about) while the casually interested will find a very cool and different world to explore than what he or she might find in another MMO.
WarCry: As mythology plays such a large role in the game’s story, characters and enemies, how much leeway do you have for new monsters and ideas that don’t necessarily jibe with the history and legends of Rome?
McKibbin & Hedlund: The majority of monsters and creatures found in most western fictions actually have their roots in myth, so there are very few monster/creature types that we can’t find some basis for in our setting. We have had a great time learning about all the creatures from myth, and putting our own spin on them. That said, in the situations where we need or want a monster type that we don’t have a known mythical basis for, we will create it in a way that is in keeping with the overall balance and feel of the gameworld.
WarCry: In terms of gameplay, NPC minions headline your innovations. Can you explain the minion system and why you think it will be a welcome addition to the MMO genre?
McKibbin & Hedlund: Minions and squad combat create a fundamentally different game experience than what you find in other games. I say game experience and not combat experience because the minion system goes far beyond combat. Every player starts as a single character, leading no one. Very quickly, at or around level 3, players earn the ability to command a single minion. From that point the system progresses in multiple ways. Players begin to find different types of minions (Infantry, Skirmishers, Casters) and can command more minions in a squad (two, three, four and more). As more minions can be commanded, they can be organized into different numbers and sizes of units – a player can command up to three units. How many minions a player wants to put into a unit is up to the player. Minions level up with the player as they are “played” and as they level they unlock new special moves. Minions also need to be outfitted and equipped with weapons and gear. Throughout the world are “rare” minions – usually granted as rewards for doing major quests – that have greater powers or abilities. Players will adventure to find and earn all the best minions that fit their play style. If he is soloing, a player can use his minions to create a balanced squad of tanks, ranged damage-dealers, and nukers to best play. However, it is in group play that the minion system really gets interesting. There are 6 base player classes in the game, each with 2 god affiliations, making 12 class/god combinations. Each of these can bring out whatever combination of minions they have. So, do 3 players all bring out balanced squads? Do they choose to specialize – with the Soldier bringing all infantry tanks, the Scout bringing all ranged damage-dealers, and the Mystic bringing a combination of nukers and healers? If so, how do their tactics change when confronting a set of enemies? What I like a lot about the system is the user-created variety inherent in the game. I can be a Soldier of Mars playing with all infantry minions one day, and a blend of casters and skirmishers a different day. Players will really need to work together to determine the strategy and tactics they want to deploy, and how to manage their overall squads and minions.
WarCry: How much interplay will there be between minions and the player character? Will they just be faceless drones who obey your every command or will you potentially be able to go out and get to know them like players do with group-mates in single-player RPGs?
McKibbin & Hedlund: Minions have unique abilities and stats, as well as histories, as well as the stories that the player has experienced in gaining the minion, so you will care about them. As we play we continue to identify more ways to make minions more personal and emotionally connected to the player. This is one area of the game we continue to try to make better and better
a href=’http://www.warcry.com/scripts/images/view_image.phtml?id=85868&site=87′>[/a]WarCry: Religion is usually intentionally glossed over or neglected in most MMOs. The polytheistic Roman system is a core of your game. Why did you go this route and can you explain how the gods factor into the day-to-day player experience?
McKibbin & Hedlund: The gods were central to life in the world we are depicting and they are central to Gods and Heroes. Like the classic heroes of mythology – Hercules, Achilles – every player in Gods and Heroes learns that he is the son (or daughter) of a god, and have epic challenges, responsibilities, rewards, and powers in front of them. The gods take a special interest in you, demand great achievements from you and reward you with the ability to call upon their powers. From a gameplay perspective the gods allow us to give every player class awesome abilities to call upon while allowing us to differentiate damage types and resistances through this system.
WarCry: Romans were known for their engineering and invention, yet curiously we know very little about what players can build in Gods and Heroes. What are your plans for crafting? Are my visions of setting up a workshop with my minions helping out too far off the mark?
McKibbin & Hedlund: We do plan on including these systems, but not at launch. As you mention, the Romans were well known for the things their culture created, from roads to viticulture, and we have some great ideas on how to create a rich and intricate system that allows players to experience these things firsthand. The only reason we’re not doing this at ship is that we want to take the time to do it right instead of adding the feature just to say we have it.
WarCry: The classes you have are fewer than in most MMOs, but quite familiar. Can you run us through each class and what is most familiar and what would be most surprising about them to MMO fans?
McKibbin & Hedlund: The Gladiator focuses on showy moves that do a great deal of damage in hand to hand combat, but he is can’t absorb heavy damage as well as the Soldier. He also has some crowd control abilities.
The Mystic is a ranged magic damage-dealing role. He gets a good variety of spells such as massive direct damage spells, area of effect spells, debuffing spells, summoning spells and crowd controlling spells. A Mystic can draw a lot of aggro by carelessly using their high damage abilities which is a bad idea since his hand-to-hand fighting ability is quite weak.
The Priest is the main healing and support class in GnH. He also has some offensive debuff and spell-casting abilities. The Priest has enough hand-to-hand damage-dealing- and taking capability that he can step into this role for short times.
The Rogue can use stealth to avoid enemies or to get the jump on them doing heavy hand-to-hand damage. He can also execute a variety of crowd-controlling abilities. The Rogue can’t withstand a great deal of damage, but can break out of combat and fade back into the shadows if he gets into trouble.
The Scout focuses on ranged damage-dealing and is very consistent in this ability. He is also blessed with abilities which will remove them from combat, making them very likely to avoid trouble. Additionally, the Scout is able to do some crowd control and forage for own food and drink.
The Soldier will be most enjoyed by people who like to play at the front line, with the responsibility of protecting others. While he is not great at dealing damage, he has the important role of managing aggro for his group. The Soldier needs to be very aware of the ebb and flow of combat and when to use his many different defensive abilities.
WarCry: In videos, I’ve spied the Coliseum and obviously you have a class called the Gladiator. It makes me curious what role gladiatorial combat or PvP will play in this title?
McKibbin & Hedlund: This is another area that we plan to make a big deal of in future expansions. Although PvP is a fun experience on its own, we wanted to make sure that we could provide a system that presented appropriate challenges as well as fitting rewards. To that end we have many ideas, including the inclusion of the ladder and lobby systems important in making a fair and relatively unexploitable experience. Because there is a pretty high degree of complexity involved in these systems, we wanted to make sure that we gave them the proper amount of time to achieve.
WarCry: The way combat animations look in Gods and Heroes has drawn rave early reviews. Technically, without giving away state secrets, how do you achieve that feel?
McKibbin & Hedlund: Essentially, we were dissatisfied with the combat experience most MMOs were providing and set out to deliver the most high-payoff, visceral combat we could, to which end we took as our models fighting games like Soul Caliber. We were also wary of node-locking systems, as we’d seen their shortcomings in other MMO games-they were sacrificing the feeling of player freedom for slick-looking combat. All of those things went into a pot, and simmered for a while. What we got in the end was a system where we brought the best features of the different MMO combat styles together.
WarCry: In general, what are your high-level art goals for Gods and Heroes?
McKibbin & Hedlund: We believe Gods and Heroes is the best-looking MMO coming to the market. That is our goal.
WarCry: Recently, it was announced that 35 developers had been let go and that the release date had been pushed back. The release noted that their jobs had been completed as you neared launch. While not unheard of, many MMOs actually staff up for launch, not down. Why did you chose to go the opposite route and what does this move say about the overall health of the project, your projections for it and the company as a whole?
McKibbin & Hedlund: The great news is that Gods and Heroes is art complete. That means that from here to launch we are working 100% on testing, tuning, polishing, and responding to Beta feedback. Most games don’t achieve art completion until a couple of weeks before launch – which keeps teams large and makes playtesting and balancing very hard. To achieve art complete we scaled up our team with a large number of short-term positions. When the work was completed, those positions came to an end.
WarCry: Given you’re a two title studio, could those 35 employees not have been moved over to Star Trek Online?
McKibbin & Hedlund: We are not in the mass-production of art assets phase of STO development yet. When we enter that phase we will again be ramping up these types of positions.
WarCry: Sony Online Entertainment publishes Gods and Heroes. This was not a popular move on your end, but ultimately, one I can only assume you think is for the best. Can you outline the role of Perpetual Entertainment and the role of SOE in this project now and in the future?
McKibbin & Hedlund: We have a great relationship with SOE. SOE is our publishing partner and they handle marketing, manufacturing, and distribution of game boxes to retailers in North America. They are very very good at this. Perpetual retains total control of game design and quality. That said, SOE has been a great partner in working with us and giving us great feedback on the game. SOE is made up of MMO gamers – top to bottom – and they have a lot of valuable insights and feedback. Overall is has been a very good partnership.
WarCry: Can you walk us through your current plans for testing, your timeline moving forward and when you hope to launch?
McKibbin & Hedlund: Currently we are in the closed testing stages of Beta for Gods & Heroes. Once we are confident that the game is in a state where we are happy with opening it up to more people we will move into an open beta. Once we are satisfied that Gods & Heroes is a product that we feel is ready to launch we will final it and send it to retail. The current launch window we are shooting for is this Summer.
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