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Free for All: A look into The Chronicles of Spellborn


I have always wondered what happened to one of my favorite free-to-play games, The Chronicles of Spellborn. It's still a great game, don't get me wrong, and is completely free to play. A new version is even supposed to come out at some point, essentially the same game but with a cash-shop that features different travel items and armors.

But why didn't The Chronicles of Spellborn do as good as it could have? I enjoyed it from the beginning but did find some flaws, namely in travel time. Of course, I am the world's biggest fan of realistic travel. I think it builds "character," but only having the option to walk while on land is, to say the least, a little tiring. Still, the game continues to captivate me. Perhaps the combat system was too out-of-sync with today's gamer, or maybe the quest text and wonderful lore were not enough to stop some players from getting bored? The stat-less armor and weapons might have had the most to do with it, being that players felt short-changed without being able to be recognized as something powerful just from the look of their avatar?

I asked five original team members for some insight, Coen Neessen (Lead Game Design), El Drijver (Lead Game Design), Matthew Florianz (Audio Director), Michael Wolf Visser (Lead Quest and Content Designer) and Vincent Leeuw (Lead Content).

"...we were really keen on making the combat more action oriented and closer to an FPS rather then traditional MMORPGs"

First I wondered if the goal was to make a combat game within an amazing setting, or to make a piece of art with combat included? "We wanted to break away from the over used vanilla fantasy setting," said Coen, "and we were really keen on making the combat more action oriented and closer to an FPS rather than traditional MMORPGs." This system was also designed to reward a player's skill rather than invested time. And the art went hand-in-hand with the unusual combat. The "organic, dark fantasy, cloak and dagger style worked out great," said El. I never thought of it that way, but that really describes the game well.

Sound can be just as important as the visuals, and Spellborn has some of the most moody, immersive sounds you'll ever hear. To give Spellborn a completely unique twist, pre-recorded sounds were always filtered and many layers usually made up a typical sound or soundtrack. Monsters and mobs were often voiced by members of the team, like the big brute below (voiced by Paul Kuijer):

Matthew provided some detail. "Good sound and music transforms your surroundings where bad sound will give the impression you are in a dry recording studio. To address the linearity of music and to fit it to the randomness of game play, many games will switch between a slow or a fast track depending on whether the player is exploring or fighting. The music for both "modes" still has to be created with an understanding for the randomness of how events unfold."

The team at Spellborn wasn't tiny, hovering around 50 people, but when faced with issues like losing talent to natural turnover, the team faced many problems that might not have affected a much larger team. "There are pros and cons to both large teams and small teams." says Coen. "We definitely could have used more people to get all the content into the game, but working with this slightly understaffed team was nothing short of awesome." Vince gave further detail: "A smaller team gets you to the people you need a bit quicker. At the same time you do miss a lot of "brute force," so in the end you always have to scale down ideas and designs. That said, I think we did some amazing things with such a small team." It sounds like they were a tight bunch.

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