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Sins of a Dark Age plans to evolve the MOBA genre


Over the past few years, the Defense of the Ancients-inspired MOBA genre has spawned some of the biggest games on the planet. League of Legends has become one of the most played PC games in the world, and both it and Dota 2 now pump millions of dollars per year into competitive tournaments. It looks like MOBAs are here to stay, but the genre is still relatively young and there's plenty of room to experiment with new gameplay.

Upcoming MOBA Sins of a Dark Age plans to evolve the genre with the addition of a new Realm Quest feature. At random points throughout a match, quests may spawn that change the rules of the game and provide new opportunities for conflict. Developer Ironclad Games, known for its Sins of a Solar Empire franchise, hopes this will add a new strategic level to the game that favours players who can adapt to changing circumstances and take advantage of the opportunities that quests present. Sins of a Dark Age will be free-to-play on release but you can join the closed beta now by purchasing a Founder Edition package.

Read on for our interview with Ironclad co-founder and producer Blair Fraser on the Realm Quest system and plans to support competitive gaming in Sins of a Dark Age.

Gallery: Sins of a Dark Age | 7 Photos

Massively: Realm Quests add a new element of strategy to the traditional MOBA gameplay. What type of bonuses will players get for completing them and how might they affect the gameplay?

Blair Fraser: The Realm Quest system is one of the larger innovations Sins of a Dark Age is bringing to the MOBA scene, and it changes the gameplay in several key ways. We wanted to see more team conflict, more team cooperation, less repetitive gameplay (especially early game), more psychological gameplay, more expression of adaptation, more strategic opportunities, a more "living" world, and more epic, memorable moments.

In summary, the Realm Quest system accomplishes all this by invoking the Quest Director, who decides when and what quests to spawn at a given moment. Each quest introduces new assets into the game and changes the rules of the match for the duration of the quest. If players choose to participate in a Realm Quest and carry it to victory, they may receive bonuses such as gold or experience, but more often they will receive temporary bonuses that vary in their effect on the world.

For example, a simple temporary reward might be a short-term buff to damage, but in other cases, the rules of the map may change for several minutes -- imagine a lane effectively shutting down or the effects of death completely changed. Sins of a Dark Age has a wide variety of Realm Quests, and each of them is specifically designed mix up the MOBA experience in unique and exciting ways.

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"It's important for players to have some knowledge or expectation of what they will be facing in a given match in order to plan and strategize."

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Will the Realm Quests be put in a rotation, and will players know what quests are likely to appear in a game before it starts?

Our current plan is to maintain a large pool of Realm Quests but to only have a small set of them available at a given time. So in essence, yes, the Realm Quests will be in a rotation. This is an important consideration when it comes to keeping the game accessible and maintaining the competitive viability. It's important for players to have some knowledge or expectation of what they will be facing in a given match in order to plan and strategize. This information will be available to players before a game starts.

What other innovations does Sins of a Dark Age bring to the MOBA genre?

The MOBA genre is still in its infancy, and we looked back at how other genres evolved in order to help guide our innovations. For example we identified the core elements of an FPS experience and watched how the framework in which those elements were placed evolved over time. In this case, we identified what we think is the core experience of a MOBA, made sure we held true to that, and then looked at where we could change things up.

Some examples include a new gold earning mechanism to help eliminate intra-team aggression, consumable slots, physics integration, information feedback systems (especially death summaries), out-of-game (meta) changes, unique items, unique Hero kits, visual advancements, pet stances, and smart cast (we call the smart cast in other games "quick cast" as our smart cast is essentially a mini-AI). All of this combined with the game changing Realm Quests is what we feel constitutes the next evolution of MOBA.

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What plans does Ironclad have to support the growing e-sports scene?

We will have a variety of features that support e-sports such as replays and spectator mode, but we have a lot of ground to cover during beta before we make any final decisions on what approach we will be taking here.

How do you plan to integrate Realm Quests into MOBA gameplay without compromising on the pure skill-based gameplay competitive players expect?

This was very common problem early in the Realm Quest design; we've dealt with it in several ways. First, the Quest Director's primary objective is to spawn fair quests. If there isn't a viable, fair quest available for both sides, nothing will spawn. Second, quests generally favor giving temporary bonuses, not permanent ones. Third, quests are in a rotation, so players have a reasonable sense of what to expect and plan for. Fourth, we believe that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is a skill to admire in a team and that it is something worth practicing, planning and analyzing.

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"The Quest Director's primary objective is to spawn fair quests. If there isn't a viable, fair quest available for both sides, nothing will spawn."

League of Legends title image
However, we understand this only makes sense if the possibility space is reasonable (hence the rotation). Finally, we believe there is skill employed in psychological games and Sins of a Dark Age (through Realm Quests) is upping the psychological component to strategy in a MOBA. Poker and Yomi are the classic examples in this field, and while I'm not saying Sins of a Dark Age uses any of those mechanics directly (nor is it as random), there is valuable gameplay space here where good players can easily stand out against the average player.

Ultimately, we do feel Sins of a Dark Age is undoubtedly a skill based game and can succeed in a competitive scene even if that competitive scene ends up looking slightly different from what we've grown used to. If anything, the dramatic irony experienced by observers should increase making the spectator and replay scenes more entertaining, thus feeding back into helping drive the competitive scene.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!

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