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Camelot Unchained's Mark Jacobs on the warrior class and development transparency

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City State Entertainment -- an indie studio that's becoming better known to our readers, I imagine, after it ran away with our poll for best studio last week -- has today posted its first class concept reveal. The tentatively named Drengr is the Viking warrior class, and in its long design document, the studio has outlined just how the archetype fits into the proposed Path system that will govern character development in the crowdfunded RvR MMORPG.

We spoke to CSE's Mark Jacobs about the Path system, warrior reveal, and the impact of transparency on the game development process. Enjoy the interview below!



It seems as if the Path system might be unnecessarily complicated, the combination of a skill system and a class system when the skill system would have stood just fine on its own. CSE even has some of the typical rules you'd find in a skill-based game (like total caps). What do you gain from mashing a familiar class-and-talent-tree with the rules of a skill-based game? How much of the proposed Path system is just a way of throwing a bone to backers who wanted strong archetypes?

LOL, well, I wouldn't call the concept of strong archetypes and a class-based system, both of which have been part of more than one of our Foundational Principles, our Kickstarter, and everything in between, just "throwing a bone" to our Backers. They are both core parts of the RvR-focused game we are making. Also, in terms of the Path System being familiar, I don't know many MMORPGs which use a system as open as ours could be if it reaches its potential.

Now, total caps is indeed a familiar item, and something we have also talked about from the beginning, but I think this is a reasonably unique approach (I am not claiming that this is the first time suchs a system has been used, just that it hasn't been a popular choice in our genre). Could this turn out to be too complicated to make work? Absolutely, but I think it is worth the effort, since if it does work out, it will allow us to have a very open-ended system as well as one where the choices the players make ultimately do matter.

Maybe "throwing a bone" wasn't the right idiom. I was referring to the way that the design doc seems to really strongly emphasize that Paths are strong archetypes, as if it's trying to convince that subsegment of backers that you're doing their thing and not going back on it even if it looks different. It struck me personally as odd on my read through because I haven't hinged my interest on the game on that one promise. Is that the wrong takeaway?

Yes, I think it is the wrong takeaway. Think of each path as an archetype with a lowercase 'a' and the class as an archetype with a capitalized 'A'. That should help explain it. Our promise to our Backers was/is that Camelot Unchained is a class-based game with each class being a strong Archetype. That's why our warriors have to focus on being warriors, not something similar who can heal, use magic, have stealth, etc. There's nothing wrong with games that allow its players to do such things, but in ours, we want our warriors to focus on being warriors.

Now, the level of customization of what makes your warrior go is where the Paths come in. You can decide if you prefer a hammer or not, or whether you want to go more tank-like with shields or more ranged, but no matter what, your warrior is a warrior. Another way to look at it is with the "pools" analogy. Each class has a pool of Components that it can use in the game. What you draw from each pool is up to you, but your pool is different than a healer's, a mage's, etc.

And as a followup to that: Paths might still be nuked, right, if they wind up not working? Is there a chance strong archetypes will be discarded altogether, or is that never happening? How much are backer promises locked in exactly? Is there anything you could never discard at this stage of the game?

There is zero chance of a strong archetype system being nuked. Having a strong class-based system was one of the underpinnings of this game's Kickstarter, and it has as much chance of being nuked as does the concept of it being an MMORPG. I would say that a strong, class-centric system is definitely one thing that can't be discarded, now or ever for this game. That isn't the only thing that won't change, of course, but it is definitely one. Frankly, if we can't design strong classes in a three-realm MMORPG based on the work we have done to date, we don't deserve to call ourselves game developers.

CSE seems well aware of the problem of FOTM (flavor-of-the-month) builds, but how will it address them in practice? Difficult-to-access respecs just stop people from jumping to the new flavor; it doesn't stop flavors from existing for those who luck into them, right?

Part of the problem with FOTM is of course that the developers sometimes screw up, and other times, the players are simply wrong about how tasty their flavor really is, as perception can differ from reality. In terms of combating this, well, it is our job to make sure that each class does what it is supposed to do, within the game's systems. Within an individual class, the fact that players can choose to essentially build their own Path/spec will not increase the chance of FOTM.

So, we will do what we and other MMORPG developers do: test, balance, change, nuke, nerf, modify, etc. This is one of the reasons we wanted to have a large Alpha and Beta pool of players to choose from, and why we are beginning such testing as early as possible. Combine that with a strong metrics system, and we hope we will do a good job of getting our game ready for launch. No guarantees (I always chuckle when I hear MMORPG developers say they will have no major bugs/design problems at launch), but this is the sort of thing we need to do, and we need do it right.

According to the document, Skill Decay is still on the table. How likely is it at this point, would you say, and how do you see it working?

I honestly don't know how likely it is yet, and I am not trying to be evasive. As you folks know me pretty well, I'd rather be upfront with our Backers (and possible new ones) as to the worst-case scenarios rather than feeding them a steady diet of sunshine, kittens, rainbows and unicorns. Could we have skill decay in this game? Absolutely, but I think there's an equal chance we will come up with a better way of handling it.

In terms of how it could work, what we are telling Backers is that we don't want it to be a "quit point" for players and it needs to be a very slow decay system, since we also have very slow leveling. I would also want it to have a "vacation mode" and other things so that players can go away for a while and not worry about having their skills decay too much. We would probably also have a cap, with losing a larger amount being voluntary.

As we get farther along with development of the game's core systems, the issue of using skill decay as a way to allow players to forget certain components/abilities will absolutely come up. I also hope by then we will have another way of dealing with the problems of long-term character growth in a horizontal system so we can really make an informed choice and not just rely on a design crutch.

Drengr is a placeholder name for the basic warrior archetype; what other names are you considering? Are they all lore-friendly or are some of them more generic to appeal to players not up on their mythology?

Right now, that is the only name we have really talked about and even then, not much. Will all the possible names of classes be lore-friendly? I hope so. If we can come up with names that are both lore-friendly and also sound cool, that would be a real win for us.

Here's a more meta question: What you guys are publishing here is a 23-page design document with a whole lot of ifs and maybes and explanations and branching choice trees, the sort of stuff that most gamers would never, ever have been privy to even two years ago. Would you comment on the evolution of MMO design transparency and how it's benefited or hindered CSE?

Well, I can't really comment on what other MMORPG developers should do, are doing, or will do, but in our case, transparency with our Backers has been one of the touchstones of this project. Before and during the Kickstarter, I promised that we will keep up the same level of communication that should be expected from a crowdsourced game. As you have seen here on Massively, and as our Backers know from the Forums, we have continued to be quite transparent with them on everything from our move to our design plans. The document we are releasing today was shown to our Internal Testers two weeks ago, so that they could comment on it. Based on what we saw, we made changes, added new sections, considered a new idea (the dual-wielding shields of the Svalinn), etc.

Now, have there been some negatives associated with this approach? Absolutely! We could have probably raised more money if we had engaged in more hype, had focused more on the "bright, shiny things" and had been a lot less honest about the ups and downs in our development cycle. We have also been very transparent about not wanting to treat our Backers as walking wallets, and this has hurt our ongoing fund-raising. We have also spent a reasonable amount of time talking to and updating our Backers about stuff, which also consumes some resources.

On balance, I'm glad we followed the approach that we have, and we will not only continue walking down this path (sorry, couldn't resist) in the coming year, but we will be expanding upon it by putting an even greater effort into streaming and doing live updates.

As always, a big thank you Massively for taking the time to read and question us about our game. And thanks to the Massively community for that as well. I'm sure there will be a few many lot tons of questions in the comment section, and I will try to answer as many as possible.

Thanks for your time!

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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