That's where gPotato Production Coordinator Aaron "Condulus" Biedma comes in. Biedma graciously stepped up to answer in detail our frank questions about the health of the game, the new expansion, the cash shop, and what lies beyond New Horizons. We even sneaked in a question about sexism in the lore. It's all after the cut!
Massively: Back in June, gPotato announced that it was merging its two North American servers into one, which made us think the game might be in bad shape. But a month later, the company announced it was opening up a new North American server (to which existing characters cannot be transferred), and now gPotato is previewing a massive expansion. How does this translate -- how is the game's current state of health?
Aaron "Condulus" Biedma: The population in our region is actually on the rise and has been for some time. With the old servers, though, we had a very established "upper crust" of guilds that dominated in PvP and a lot of smaller guilds that couldn't compete with them. By merging the two, we were able to mix things up for all of those players, creating more rival guilds that could compete on different levels. We've already seen some more frequent PvP as well as some new guilds rising up to challenge the established, top-tier guilds, and we're very happy with that.
When we created Yul [the merged server], though, we saw a strong influx of new players -- beyond our original expectations, to be honest. We decided to create a new server to give those new players the option of experiencing Allods from the beginning. This is the first time we've had a new server since beta, so it's kind of like starting from launch, except we've fixed the problems and added a lot more content. Yul will still be open to new players who want to join our current community, but if they want the experience of leveling and starting on a fresh server, they can join Avilon.
We were excited to hear about the new allods, especially the ability to own one ourselves. How will that work -- are they a PvP objective, guild housing, player housing?
The ability to build your own allod will be open to each player! Players have been working toward this since the Game of Gods update by pursuing The Great quest line. Once they have the title The Great, they'll complete daily and weekly quests to earn their allods. When they get to week 10 (which should be happening very soon for some), they will be able to choose one of three different allod types: desert, jungle, and snow. Their allod will then begin to take shape.
The allod takes time to build, but eventually, the player will be able to teleport to it using a portal. At this point, she'll be able to see her fortress under construction and begin to wander around her private island, defeating monsters and quests she finds and earning some extra gold as a result. As more updates are released, players will be able to do more and more to customize their personal allods.
Ship-to-ship combat is a surprisingly rare feature of fantasy MMOs. Can you discuss how it works?
Ship-to-ship combat has actually been in Allods for some time. You have up to six people manning different parts of the ship -- guns, navigation, etc. -- and you have to coordinate your position and timing to attack the other ship until it's weak enough for you to board. However, this type of combat didn't happen very often, so we've introduced a couple of things to encourage it.
First up, we've changed the Astrolabe item, which lets you port your entire ship directly to different allods. It was handy, but it bypassed potential PvP opportunities. The Astrolabe has now been changed so you can still use it (still handy!), but it might send you to a different part of the sector that allod was in instead. This is especially likely if you're going to one of the more dangerous allods, so low-level ships will be able to teleport fairly safely, while high-level ships will be seeing more of each other when they travel directly through Astral space.
We're also introducing Trade Wars. When you participate in Trade Wars, you'll be buying and selling goods throughout different allods in the Astral in order to make a profit. The locations will have different prices based on supply and demand. Your faction can capture an allod to receive better prices and a protected dock for all friendly ships. That allod will also get a turret that will fire on the enemy faction's ships to keep its enemies away. You can also take your own ship and pirate the opposite faction's ships, stealing its goods and selling them to one of the allods so you get the profit instead.
What about mercenary heroes? My first thought was the heroes and mercenary heroes of Guild Wars, which I loved. But other people might be thinking yours are more like skirmish soldiers in Lord of the Rings Online. Can you explain how the heroes will work and how the team will ensure they won't unabalance the existing content?
Our mercenaries work a little differently! Once you, and possibly your party, arrive at an allod or dungeon, you will be able to use a spell from your spellbook called Mercenary Contract. With this spell, you'll be able to summon the Mercenary Leader, who lets you hire different mercenaries based on your party's needs.
There are six different mercenaries for hire, including a tank, a healer, melee and ranged DPS, and even buffers. You can hire up to five of them to fill up your six-person party, but you can't use them in PvP to gang up on other players. Each mercenary's strength and power is dependent on the level and gear of the person who summons them, so the content will remain balanced for a level 20 player taking on a level 20 dungeon.
How much of the new expansion will fall under the aegis of F2P vs. a la carte purchases?
There will be a couple of new items, such as the Amulet of Renunciation (faction change) and the Flight Helm (new looting pet), that will be offered in the item shop. Those are just convenience or service items, however. The content itself (like all the new allods, the mercenaries, etc.) is all free and included with the update. Even the items that we have in the item shop are still available to free-to-play players thanks to the currency exchange system, which allows you to exchange in-game gold for item shop currency and vice versa.
Fenia's Cloister (an expansion locale) is a fortress run by women -- that's cool. But the women are written as angry, unreasonable, man-hating witches -- that's not cool. Why did the team choose to play up that stereotype rather than defy it?
When you get the details on that allod from the League side, the man who gives it to you does describe the women as angry, unreasonable, man-hating witches, but that's just his perspective. The man who describes that allod for the Empire blames the League for driving these women to desperate measures with their unfair and uncultured attitudes. So the League is trying to wash its hands of the situation, while the Empire is using it as an excuse to insult the League. Fenia, while she has her own flaws, is ultimately a tool for both of these characters to push their own agendas.
Allods has a deep story with rich culture on both sides, and there may be times where your understanding of that story is shaped by the agenda of the person you're talking to. We chose to keep those gray areas alive because it is important to the tone of the world in Allods Online. There is always a deeper story and meaning with Allods.
Could you explain how much control gPotato has over the game, its pricing structure, and so on? Are these expansions and content updates handed down by Mail.ru Games and then iterated on by gPotato for its English audience? Will non-English-speaking audiences be getting a similar expansion?
Mail.ru Games designs and gives us the expansions and content updates. We do have the ability to suggest content, game mechanics, item ideas, etc., but the ultimate decision on what is designed and implemented into the game stands with Mail.ru Games. Localization, or adapting the quests, tool tips, language, etc., of the game stands squarely on gPotato's shoulders (does a gPotato have shoulders?). We spend a lot of time making sure that everything makes sense, has flavor, and works for our audience. Pricing is always a discussion between Mail.ru Games and gPotato. Some prices are set by Mail.ru Games, while others gPotato has more influence over.
As far as other, non-English speaking audiences go, whether they get similar expansions all depends on the team that is handling their region. We have made a point for our region of going with a very ambitious release schedule to make sure that our players get new content every few months. If you play Allods regularly, you'll be finishing up the content from the last expansion right when the new one comes out.
How is the team continuing to combat some of the negative impressions left by the cash shop from the early days of the game? Is this expansion intended as a concentrated attempt to rehook players who left because of the game's early issues or those who are leery of investing time and money into a F2P game?
The initial prices were too high, and mechanics such as Tep's Curse (which caused items to get cursed when you died) only compounded the problem. We have been aggressively changing prices and removing those mechanics that got in the way of players enjoying the game. Tep's Curse has been completely removed, patronage buffs are free twice a day, and the currency exchange system lets players trade in-game gold for item shop currency to get anything else they want. We've overhauled the entire item shop, and we repriced over 80 items as recently as last week (yes, most of those prices went down). We'll continue to monitor and analyze all of our content and make changes to resolve any issues.
We've also made a very concerted effort to keep players in the loop about what's going on with Allods Online so that any concerns they have can be addressed. We realize that a lot of players early on felt as if they were being ignored, which caused them to lose confidence in the game. Our community managers have been very active on the forums, discussing changes and getting player feedback on mechanics, pricing, all that stuff. We want our community to be involved.
New Horizons is intended to provide more content and fun for everyone in our community. It is not directly targeted at players who have left, but if they do come back, they will get to experience all of the positive changes and a ton of content that they've missed out on since their departure.
Is the team giving any thought to what lies beyond New Horizons? Might the game see another expansion in the distant future, or is the success of NH going to determine how much love Allods receives going forward?
We are absolutely giving thought to what lies beyond New Horizons. We're already beginning to get details on an even bigger expansion in the not-so-distant future. The developers have been working on a lot of great content, and we will continue to give the ever expanding Allods universe to our players. This game isn't going anywhere, and we hope that players will love it as much as we do.
Thanks very much for your candor, Aaron!
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