There are several things that Game of Thrones Ascent, a social game by Disruptor Beam, does right. At the top of that list is the way the game works as a vehicle for easily digestible content, content that comes from some of the densest reading material in modern fantasy. For the record, I still haven't read any of the books that the Game of Thrones television series is based on, but luckily I have a wife who will simply burst with excitement when she reads some new tidbit... unless she tells the nearest person (me).
It must be hard making a game based on such a popular piece of fiction. The fact is that I didn't expect the little-known developers to do much good. I thought players would be smashing through a game that served as nothing but a cheap commercial for the HBO series. I was very wrong.
Game of Thrones Ascent also represents social gaming wonderfully. Since I first heard the term "social gaming" and especially since FarmVille first raised its adorable head, I have been defending social gaming as a genre that is represented by some very solid ideas and mechanics. Unfortunately the average gamer is a fickle beast, someone who seems to relish in loyalty to very few specific IPs or developers. Luckily, unique games come out and help spread the good word -- games like this one. I fully expect droves of players to suddenly scream out in terror as they realize that the game they have been enjoying is a... social game!
I'd have to place the game's simplicity high on the list as well. As you play, you are basically enjoying a choose-your-own-adventure book. You play the role of someone who has just been given a chunk of land in Westeros during the earlier part of the series. You'll be able to choose which familiar house you are loyal to and will run across characters from the books and TV show while you play. Most of the fun comes from raising your own RTS-like town, making decisions that shape your character and involving yourself with other players by marrying off your kid or joining others on a quest.
Massively: The game seems to be the result of the development of an engine or system built to deliver interactive story content. It works great for Game of Thrones, but is the engine capable of taking on other games? Any plans to allow the public to get involved like the Fallen London and Story Nexus stuff?
Jon Radoff: You're right. We think of our Thorium platform the way BioWare thinks of its engine: The focus of the platform is creating a social play environment with complex narrative, item, and RPG elements. We'd like to extend it to other genres in the future, although right now our focus is making sure Game of Thrones Ascent is as good as it possibly can be. There are a lot of challenges in extending a platform like this from being a developer's tool to something the public can get involved with, but that's something we'll look at in the future when we're ready to support it.
Performance has apparently been a big issue for the game so far because of its sudden popularity. What steps are being made to make sure the game works once it leaves open beta?
Performance is the top priority for our engineering team. We just added 30 servers, and we're continuing to add more. Performance looks fairly good at this point; according to our tracking stats, response time falls into the acceptable range 97% of the time. We've also brought in some additional staff to help us scale the software layer as well, since we think there's a good chance there will be a lot more people still coming to the game, and we want to squeeze that remaining 3% out, since all this work we've done is no consolation when you're caught in one of those times.
How do you feel about charging for items while still in a testing mode? Why not just release it?
Since we're not going to be resetting the game at this point, it's the most fair way to balance things between early adopters and all the people who will be joining in the future.
Explain how the character development in the game works. I go through quests and build up a court and even a town, but is my experience unique? I can connect with other players, but is the character I am building and the town I am raising at least as unique as a character would be in a standard MMORPG? It seems to play out like a game of Mass Effect or other BioWare game, where it's generally the same experience but still different from other players. How far does that uniqueness go?
There are a number of story-points where the choice you make will open or close certain branches of content. You'll also encounter quests and dialogues that only appear depending on the alignment choices you've focused on in the past. It's true that many of the big battles are shared between players regardless of pathway; these are battles that affect the whole continent of Westeros. Since we've designed Game of Thrones Ascent to be an evolving, living world, we'll be continuing to expand the content of quests and adventures. We see the basic storyline, which is mostly set in the time period of the first season (and first book), as the foundation for everything that's to come. Decisions you make there are going to have a lot of impact as we continue to roll out our expansions. You'll see some of this begin during March.
Beau: Thanks to Jon for answering my questions. If you're looking for a great game that encourages character development above all, check out this one. The in-game text is wonderfully written and delivered in such a fun way that you will really feel involved in the Game of Thrones universe without wrecking the current lore. Games based on popular IPs can often be heavy-handed or even ridiculously against the canon, but this one is smooth and fun, and it shines a light on just how awesome social gaming can be.
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!