Massively visits Stargate Worlds: The interview, part 4

Samuel Axon
S. Axon|07.10.08

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Massively visits Stargate Worlds: The interview, part 4

In part four of our interview with Cheyenne Mountain's studio head Dan Elggren, creative director Chris Klug, art director Howard Lyon, VP of technology Demetrius Comes, and senior marketing manager Kevin Balentine, Lyon describes the philosophy behind the game's artistic style, and we learn more about the company's plan for launch and post-live content.

What's the philosophy behind how you're doing the art?

Demetrius Comes: The philosophy on the art is what's gonna let us push the min spec down.

Howard Lyon: We definitely approach the art with the fact that it's an MMO in mind. We've approached it that we wouldn't try and create the visuals through all the amazing shaders that you have in Unreal. Like, if you look at Gears of War, they did amazing things and they did it by layering some of the different materials and shaders that you have in Unreal. Our approach was to paint the diffuse textures so that we'd get the look that we want in the diffuse, and then we'd start adding in all the bells and whistles and eye candy that you get in Unreal on top of it to push the normals and the spec and the different materials, so that it just gets better based on the diffuse that we painted to begin with.

But if we have to turn everything off, then we can go back down just to the diffuse map and the game will still look pretty. It will still have all the colors, it will still have all the value ranges, all of that will still be there in the textures if we need to turn everything off. That's definitely been part of our philosophy behind the art.

The other side of it, from more of the artistic standpoint, is we've tried to create warm and inviting worlds. The palette of our game is a fixed palette; it's a warm palette. Even in the cool areas -- for the Op Core you start out on ... an ice world -- they're warm blues ... the stylization of the game is a little bit to the side of reality. We're not using any photo textures; we're not trying to create a photo-real game. We're not going as stylized as something like WoW. We're kind of somewhere in between. We're trying to create a fantastic world that people can escape into and feel like they're running around in places that they would want to go and explore, even the dark places would be some place that you would find interesting.

Do you have a ballpark in terms of number of worlds you're looking to have at launch?

Dan Elggren: Well, we won't go into specifics, but we'll have enough worlds that you'll feel like you're in a universe.

Chris Klug: One of the things that we're doing is we're varying the size of the worlds so that some worlds form your jumping off point for a number of levels. Other worlds are treated more like episodes of the show, where you go there and do a very specific task and then return. So the mixture of the world sizes and their purpose hopefully will be entertaining.

Dan Elggren: The other beautiful thing about episodes and that extra content we're going to do after live, is that we're going to be adding extra content into the main bulk of the game as well. We want people to play these different archetypes, build their alts, and be able to have expanding content within those alts. So, going back and having mid-level content in the 20s and the teens and having new spaces be available in those areas is something we want to add to the game.

That's a little bit different than what most other modern MMOs have done. The retail box has all the content up to level 50, 60, or 70, and then there's hardly ever any new content added below that. It's mostly endgame. You guys are putting more focus on playing alts, as opposed to endgame content?

"To assemble in your head all of the permutations of what's happening in the universe, you will need to play all the races at some point."

Chris Klug: Yeah. Actually, one of the motifs we're doing is the story -- because it's a television and because the motif of the show is that you would tell stories over seasons -- we're looking at that kind of motif for our mission set. But there is a fundamental core story that you engage in from the moment you enter the world to the moment you hit level cap and beyond as we add in the episodes.

Every character regardless of archetype is engaged in wrestling with the big bad in the universe on some level. So what happens is that each archetype has a part of that story that they tell uniquely. What the Asgard know about the big bad is different from what the Go'auld know about the big bad, and that's different from what the Jaffa know about the big bad. And so to assemble in your head all of the permutations of what's happening in the universe, you will need to play all the races at some point.

Demetrius Comes: Yes, we're gonna try to put as much on disc as possible at ship. But if it's best for the game and best for the story and best to move us forward, we'll build the content release and put it together and package the data in there -- figure out a way to compress it down as small as we have to. We want the players to have new content to play. It's gotta be like a TV show. We've gotta have new stuff at equal intervals.

FireSky [the company publishing Stargate Worlds] recently announced that it's working on some social networking features that will operate in concert with MMOs. How might that work with Stargate Worlds?

Kevin Balentine: FireSky's plan really requires more than than one game to be deployed before you're gonna see those things come into effect. When Stargate Worlds launches, it's going to have the range of features that you usually see in an MMO, right? But for what we're talking about with FireSky -- it's called Project: Ascension, that's how we're referring to it internally -- that is something that's going to be coming online later as we fill out the number of games we're going to launch.

Last I heard, and this was a while ago, you were planning on releasing the game before the end of the year. Is that going to happen?

Kevin Balentine: There are a number of different factors that can go into release dates, as you know. We've talked about Q4 this year, but there are any number of different reasons that we may not release this year. That doesn't have anything to do with whether the game's ready or not. There are a number of games that are also launching at the same time. You've got to look at the competitive landscape, and you've got to look at a lot of different factors before making that final decision on when your game's gonna launch.

What kind of subscription numbers would be success for you guys? Are you looking to blow World of Warcraft away, or are you looking for a niche audience? Something in between I presume?

Demetrius Comes: Anybody that goes into building one of these games with the concept that they're gonna blow World of Warcraft away is first of all insane, and second of all needs to be checked in somewhere. You don't go in with that kind of expectation. That's just insanity.

Dan Elggren: I don't think even World of Warcraft had that type of expectation.

Chris Klug: Yeah. We have a couple of Blizzard staffers here, and that's absolutely true. Their numbers were much, much smaller than what they ended up doing.

Dan Elggren: We're seeing how the success grows, and the IP, which we all love, and feel it's going to really grow. Those numbers are going to continue to grow, because as Chris was saying earlier, we're a service. With that service, we expect to grow our community and bring more and more people over time.

Thanks very much guys!


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