Some Assembly Required Extra: The scoop on Albion Online

Some Assembly Required Extra  Interview gets the scoop on Albion Online
After a long drought in the industry, the tide of the sandbox gaming is finally coming in. This year can definitely be called the year of the sandbox. While not all of them are out yet, many more games promising those features we love are in development now than ever before. In fact, there are so many titles floating about now that it can be hard to keep them straight!

One of the latest upcoming titles to be announced is the stylized, medieval sandbox Albion Online. With such offerings as territory control, housing, a player-driven economy, and full looting, this game certainly fits the sandbox bill. Heck, the development company is even named Sandbox Interactive! But what makes Albion Online stand out from the pack is that it will be a cross-platform experience; players will be accessing the game via both tablets and PCs.

Of course, as promising as it may sound, just a terse feature list doesn't give players the kind of details we want. So to get the scoop, I had a chat with Sandbox Interactive CEO Stefan Wiezorek, who shared more information about the economy, housing,the skill system, PvP, and territory control.

Albion Online artwork
The Interview
Massively: Albion Online will be accessible from multiple platforms, including PC, MAC, Linux, iOS, and Android mobile devices. Will the quality of the game -- such as graphics, load times -- be consistent across all platforms, or will some have distinct visual and tactical disadvantages? Will access on gaming computers be via browser?

Stefan Wiezorek, CEO: Since we want to deliver a fully fledged MMO experience, we came to the conclusion that we are not able to deliver this experience on the rather small smartphone screen. That's why we're making Albion Online mainly with all PCs and tablets in mind. The experience will be the same across all devices. We found that a good user interface will give Mouse + Keyboard users only a slight advantage over players on tablets. In general, we also don't see it as "PC vs. tablet" but rather as "PC and tablet." Eventually you'll play on your tablet while commuting to work or while being in the bathroom, but for the big, important guild battle in the evening, you will play from your desktop PC.

Albion Online screenshotWith its focus on guild territory control, open PvP, full looting, and player economy, what sets Albion Online apart from the current titles that already provide those features? What do you think will draw players to your game?

Overall I would say that Albion Online is, in general, a fresh take on this kind of MMO with lots of small innovations, but I would probably underline the three following points. First, in terms of "guild territory control," we are using a unique mechanism (more about that further down this interview). But in general, if you open our world map, it often feels like "Risk" (the board-game), despite the fact that you are one of the little plastic figurines on the board.

Secondly, in Albion Online the gear you are wearing determines your character. Even if you craft a single sword, you can create 20 different versions of it (all with different spells). To complete your box of LEGO, you can combine every item with each other; there are no limitations in finally creating the mage knight of your dreams.

Finally, another unique point of Albion Online is the pace of the game. You can become competitive pretty easily due to the fact that you do not have to grind for weeks until you are level 100. We want it to be decisive how you build your character and which actions your character is taking. This is supported by a linear progression compared to an exponential one you know from other games.

Because of the ability to change skill sets based on gear, there's no "need" to roll alts, we know, but are players allowed to have multiple characters on a single account, or will we be restricted to just one?

We haven't decided on this yet. The account system and login process is something we're going to look at later. At the moment we're focusing all our efforts on the game itself.

Albion Online screenshot
You tout over 50 different buildings, including storage, production facilities, and military buildings. Storage and production facilities are pretty self-explanatory, but what about the military structures? Can you elaborate on these and how they will provide "protection and safety"?

Actually, the military buildings are not implemented yet and are still debated on within in the team. Therefore, I can't say anything detailed about it right now. I want to avoid making any false promises.

How will buildings in general be constructed? Will they be built piece by piece by putting materials in over time or set down as one prefabricated structure?

The first step is to find the right ground to build your buildings on, which can be found pretty much everywhere except the underground and dungeons. You place a construction site on it, and everyone from your guild can interact and contribute to and put in the required materials. So constructing a building is a team effort, and there are statistics that show who contributed the most materials to your new guild hall, for example.

Albion Online screenshot
How will players acquire the land to set buildings on? And how many buildings can one player own? For instance, can I have two mills, a forge, and a storefront on top of a personal home?

You can claim it at special nodes called "monolith." As a player there is no limit for how many buildings you can own, but every building needs resources to be constructed with. However, the mill plus similar buildings for food are part of a major update after release. If everything goes as planned, you can run your own private shop at release. Once the game goes live, we will constantly be adding new buildings with new functionalities which they players can craft. Same goes for items.

Albion Online screenshotThe official site mentions that buildings cannot be destroyed or resources stolen overnight due to a magical barrier protecting territories. However, if you start a war with a neighboring territory, buildings can be destroyed during the attack. Can you describe in what situations buildings can be destroyed? Can players lose their personal houses and shops? If so, what happens to the items stored therein?

Theoretically you can practically destroy the houses during the attack, but it's pretty hard to pull off. Destroying even one building requires siege equipment of some sort and quite some time. And due to the nature of the attack system, time is very rare. If you lose your territory, you'll lose all items that are stored in it. By default each player and guild has a vault in the big cities, which also act as safe heavens. Of course, these vaults can be accessed only by the player himself.

How would a player guild start a war to get past the magical barrier protecting another guild? Can you describe the process?

Before I answer your question, let me point out that our territory mechanics are very unique, but in addition, we also have the typical siege situations where lots of people are fighting over one large castle. Once you claim a territory, it's protected by a magical barrier preventing others from trespassing. You can control who enters your territory and charge players a fee for using the facilities. Now, other guilds can schedule an attack onto your territory. There are different kinds of attacks. For instance, a "conquer" scenario is aiming to take the territory away from you, which is why it has a longer lead time and is more expensive, and you'll need three successful conquers to take over the territory. A raid costs less and is only aiming to take away some money and resources from an opponent.

We also have a bonus systems in place to reward peaceful behavior. So attacking a territory that never attacked another territory is more difficult than attacking the territory of an aggressive occupant.

Albion Online screenshot
Player economy and the fact that all items are player-made is a main selling point of the game. What systems do you have in place (or planned) for facilitating trade? Will there just be storefronts scattered throughout the world, or will there be a universal auction house? Will there be NPC merchants or some other kind of item (such as display case) in storefronts to allow for purchase and trade when the crafter/shopkeeper is offline, or must all trade be done face-to-face?

Every major city has its own auction house, which can be accessed only from its current visitors. In addition, you will also find different resources on different areas on the map. So the prices for wood might be higher in a stony area, and you could theoretically make a business out of it by going to a city in the south near a forest, buying all the wood, and selling it for a higher price in the barren north.

The auction house will function as most other auction houses do in MMOs. You do not need to be online; same goes for your shops. But be aware that a shop is a building which you need to construct and which requires some resources; as in real life, it an investment you make.

Albion Online screenshotYou've revealed that power comes not through advancing levels but through the tier of gear you wear. Will this also be the case for harvesting resources? For instance, will there be separate gear that provides for increasing your ability to obtain better resources, or will it just be related to the tier of the tools used?

You can specialize in gathering and crafting as well as on fighting. Doing so will not give you any additional resources, but it will make you a more effective crafter, stone mason, or what have you, meaning that you will be able to carry way more resources and obtaining them goes much faster for you than for non-specialized players. If you specialize into harvesting and get the right gear, you can harvest trees up to 80% faster than people who don't specialize. Needless to say, you always need the right tools for the job. Obviously you can not harvest the rarest wood in the world with the beginner's axe you craft in the tutorial.

Despite this specialization, you can also get access to some special "escape gear," which is focused on getting away from the deadly gank. So you have to make a choice: Do I want to be more efficient at harvesting but easy to catch or do I or do I want to make a couple of fast runs and be less efficient at gathering or will it be something in between? The choice is yours and we are continuously adding meaningful choices the player has to make when setting up his gear.

You've noted that Albion Online will have full looting. Can you detail all the consequences of death in Albion Online? For instance, how long is the player lying dead and lootable, will all items drop to the ground and need to be retrieved, and where does a player reanimate?

As it stands right now, on death you will lose everything you are wearing. The effect of this penalty gives you a completely different gaming experience. It is important to us that death really matters and that you have a throwback when you die. However, to compensate for this severe death penalty, creating a full set (armor and weapons) goes way faster then in other games. So when you are out in the open to harvest resources, it is more likely you will come back with enough to build three to four sets and not just one. It is important to understand that due to the nature of the game, Albion Online is a bit more fast-paced then other full-loot MMOs.

In addition we have more safe zones scattered around the world. It sometimes feels as if you are on a boat in the open sea surrounded by sharks, and once in a while you go out for a quick swim. Avoiding or at least limiting griefing and ganking of noobs is always a key issue for us. It's something that you can probably never fully avoid, but we hope we were able to eradicate it more than similar games.

Albion Online day/night cycle
Beta is mentioned as coming later in the year. Do you have another alpha test coming up sooner? And how do you determine who participates in the alpha event?

Over the last couple of months, we did some extensive testing with many different guilds, and we are very happy with the results. We think the game is ready to be tested by more people. A closed test is upcoming in the middle of next month, and we'll start sending out keys to the fans who signed up first, with another batch going out to the press and some will be used for promotions. There will be many more tests before release, and we're happy to receive more applications. More information about testing and everything else Albion Online can be found on our Facebook page and our homepage.

Thanks so much for your time!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
This article was originally published on Massively.