Massively's interview with Aika for closed beta test 2

Round two of closed beta testing for Aika begins today, and judging from the response to our second closed beta key giveaway, players are anxious to give it a try. The game has some unique features, such as the small familiar known as a Pran on the PvE side, and the promise of 1000 vs. 1000 battles without crippling lag on the PvP side. The features aren't limited to those two things, however. We had a chance to chat about the game with Christina Kelly, Aika's Community Manager. Follow along after the jump to see what she had to say.
Let's start out with an obvious question on the minds of an over-stimulated MMO audience: What are the features that would cause me to choose Aika over other fantasy-based, ported free-to-play titles?

When players first set foot in the world of Aika, one thing immediately stands out: it is visually stunning. Beneath the great graphics, though, there is also a wonderfully complex player-versus-environment (PvE) and player-versus-player (PvP) system intertwined with the lore of Lakia and its people. The PvP system engages players through several different avenues, from massive 1000 vs. 1000 battles of Relic War and Altar War, where players fight for the defense and glory of their nation, to the more intimate Battlegrounds, where smaller teams strategize to defeat each other in timed scrimmages. Aika's unique PvP system draws the player into a new world of large-scale online battle that will test an array of skills and strengths.

But let's not leave out the PvE! Aika's PvE is guided by interactive questing which introduces the player to a deep storyline. Players interact with NPCs on a more intricate level than is seen in other MMOs, and the characters of those NPCs are developed through a compelling storytelling quest structure. Aika contains all of the classic PvE features of MMORPGs players love, and, in addition, the inner conflicts of guilds and nations characteristic of Aika's PvP will add another dimension to these elements.

Tell us a bit about the technology behind 1000 vs 1000 battles. How is this achieved without server-crippling lag?

When approaching this title, Aika's developer, Joyimpact, decided to build the engine from scratch in order to streamline the game and make 1000 vs. 1000 PvP battles possible. This streamlining process also allowed the developer to make a much smaller game client so that larger battles would be less demanding for computer hardware. For example, the customization of a player's character has also been modified to be heavily texture-dependent, rather than model-based. These modifications dramatically reduce server lag and enable enjoyable mass PvP.

The Pran is a popular feature of the game, as it allows an element of sophisticated pet micro-management to an MMORPG. Describe for us what player feedback has cited as the favorite aspects of the Pran.

We've gotten a lot of great feedback about the Pran system. Unlike other MMO pets, the Pran is not your average one-dimensional helper character -- Pran have individual personalities and interact with both the player and NPCs on a meaningful level. The Pran system is similar to a mini-game within Aika. However, what makes this fairy familiar so unique is that the interactions between player and Pran affect her willingness to provide buffs and other support. Our users have said that having their Pran during questing was motivational, and that her interactions with quest givers and other NPCs added an engaging, entertaining aspect to the game.

"Where else can you find a game which supports strategic, politically-motivated 1000 vs. 1000 PvP with little to no drop in performance?"

What types of features do you find Western players enjoy more than Eastern players? Any that have surprised you?

Generally speaking, Western players tend to have a preference for highly customizable characters. The aesthetic individuality of each character greatly adds to a player's in-game experience. With Eastern players, though, a more uniform selection of physical appearances which helps to identify guilds and groups seems to have a greater appeal.
Western gamers have a strong aversion to the concept of grinding in MMOs. Western users tend to look for games with quick leveling and story-driven quests, while Eastern players might be said to have greater patience for grinding-style solo play.
Aika actually can be described as a cross section of these different preferences, which means there's something for everyone to appreciate. As far as satisfying Western tastes goes, there is a wealth of options when choosing character abilities and gear selection-craftable gear allows each character to look unique while texture-based character customization allows guilds to tailor their characters in an identifiable way. Much of Aika's most innovative content comes from its PvP system, which is unlocked at higher levels, so its leveling system is much faster and less grind-heavy than most Asian MMOs.

Can you explain the purpose of the Nations in the game? Is it mainly a PvP faction system, or does it reach further than that?

The five nations and their governments greatly affect both the PvP and PvE content of the game. Regarding PvE, a given nation will develop certain priorities and an aggregate personality that will influence how each of its citizens experiences the game. Guilds may compete or cooperate to engage in PvE content, and if a guild rises to power and wins political control over a nation, it has a mandate to determine taxation, law enforcement, and more. These decisions can have huge effects on the world of Aika.

From a PvP perspective, the Nation system defines how each player will interact with other players. A player's loyalty remains with his nation, and the larger-scale PvP systems such as Altar War and Relic War constantly change based on the web of allies and enemies each nation keeps. In Relic War, nations may ally and attack another nation to seize relics, which are powerful items blessed by the Goddess Aika so that they provide strong buffs to the citizens of the nations which possess them. Altar War challenges players to invade other nations and steal gold and rare items from the Altar of Aika. In Castle Siege, guilds challenge the ruling regimes of their nations for a chance to become the political and military leaders of thousands.

The inner conflicts and alliances within and between nations help define the game, creating a fun and intricate dimension to player interaction.

Would you consider Aika to be focused mainly on PvP, PvE or a balance of both?

I consider Aika to be exciting on both fronts – PvE and PvP. However, if I had to choose an aspect which really sets this game apart from other current MMOs, I would definitely highlight the ingenuity of Aika's PvP mechanics. Where else can you find a game which supports strategic, politically-motivated 1000 vs. 1000 PvP with little to no drop in performance?
That being said, the PvE system is well balanced against the PvP modes and draws the player into a great story featuring humanity on a floating continent beset by demons. With more than 1,000 quests of PvE content available to our players, and hundreds of monsters to encounter, Aika definitely satisfies a player's PvP and PvE needs.

With the second stage of beta here, do you have a schedule of future beta stages yet? Or a projected launch window?

The best date I can give you right now is Spring 2010 for a full release. Since there's no time like the present, though, I'd like to invite all of your readers to come join us in Closed Beta #2 and give us feedback so we can build the best game possible. Thanks very much!

Thank you!
This article was originally published on Massively.