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Massively gets the scoop on Empire & State, a new political MMO


Ah, we love the smell of a brand-new company. Massively staffers are known to daydream about potentially wonderful new products that might emerge from the cacophony of modern game development. So when we heard about a brand-new company being headed by a hotshot 22-year-old named Brayden Olson, we immediately had a contest to design movie trailers for the story. "Too Young to Fail" beat out "Level 22." EVE Online columnist Brendan Drain provided the voice-over. It was epic.

When reality hits, though, we need to hear details. We sat down with Toby Ragaini, the newly appointed Director of Product Development of Novel, Inc., the start-up headed by Olsen. Toby came from the world of Big Fish Games, where he was Vice President in charge of games like Faunasphere. If you've played Asheron's Call, you've experienced some of his handiwork, as well.

Click past the cut to see what he has to say about the company's new political MMO project called Empire & State.

Massively: Since Faunasphere was an intensely social game, did it teach lessons that will be useful toward making this new MMO?

Toby Ragaini: Faunasphere was the first MMO I've designed that targeted a casual market. As such, I learned a tremendous amount in regard to accessibility, collaborative gameplay, and the appeal of the free-to-play model. All of these are directly applicable to Empire & State, and I'm excited to be able to contribute.

A political MMO seems a little bit risky or at least delightfully unique. Is there anything you can say about such an MMO that would convince a "normal" player to try it out?

Whether they realized it or not, anyone who has ever participated in a guild or clan has been playing a political game! That said, politics in Empire & State is more about nation building and conflict resolution. It's a reflection of the player-driven world that we're creating, and I think it's going to be an incredibly satisfying experience for players who are dissatisfied with the themepark grind-fest that is the basis for most MMOs.

With all of the "drama" that tends to happen in MMOs, are you worried about it being much worse in your game? Or is that part of the gameplay?

MMOs are about interacting with other players. Empire & State is taking that fundamental notion and applying it to multiple layers of gameplay. Military, political, and economic paths are all valid means of progressing in the game. Will that cause drama? Of course, but we don't view this as a bad thing. Instead, drama is the result of the dynamic, constantly evolving political climate, and that makes for an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience.

Can you give us some clues as to how the new game will work? Will it be a real-life simulator or more of a brand-new take on community gaming?

We're not at all attempting to simulate real life with Empire & State. Games need to be more satisfying than real life or they become work! As a player, you will be creating a character who is setting out as an adventurous colonist, looking to create a new life for him or herself on the planet Altea. You will need to decide how you will survive in this world of danger and opportunity. Will you go your own way as a freelance operative working for the highest bidder or will you side with a powerful empire and advance your way to a position of command? You could even take the path of a zealous rebel, ready to overthrow the establishment. These are the kinds of decisions that players will make.

"Crafting, exploring, and nation building are every bit as important as combat, and we're really excited about the kinds of opportunities we'll be providing players."

How has the development process been influenced or changed by new browser technologies? Will this new MMO rely heavily on browsers?

Empire & State is browser-based, and this has shaped the experience we're providing. By targeting the browser, we're able to reach the widest possible audience.

"Enterprise focused simulations" sounds different. Can you explain what this might mean to the average player?

At Novel, as well as building category defining entertainment experiences, we're applying the technology to and learning from these experiences in the business world with the goal of improving the workplace. So to be clear, Empire & State exists as a separate service, and players will not be affected by the other development efforts occurring within Novel.

With so much emphasis on social interaction, can we expect your games to focus on less-than-common gameplay like non-combat activities or roleplaying?

Yes, in Empire & State, your actions determine whether you will be viewed as a conqueror or industrialist, diplomat or general, peacekeeper or criminal. Crafting, exploring, and nation building are every bit as important as combat, and we're really excited about the kinds of opportunities we'll be providing players.

We'd like to thank Toby Ragaini for taking the time out to answer our questions!

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