30th Sep 2007 | 11:01
Max Schaefer was one of the co-founders of Blizzard North which handled the Diablo RPG games, but in 2003 quit the company along with other staffers - including Bill Roper - to pursue other ventures.
The "other ventures" turned out to be Flagship Studios, which along with working on Hellgate: London is also developing MMORPG Mythos at its Seattle HQ.
Schaefer is executive producer on Mythos, which originally started life as a test-bed for the network tech forming the backbone of Hellgate: London's online play - but it's now a game in its own right that will be free to download and play.
We caught up with Schaefer to find out more about the game and get his opinions on the MMO genre.
Was it always your intention to turn Mythos into a publicly available game, and what set you on the Mythos development road in the first place?
Max Schaefer: It was always in the back of our mind that it could turn into something, but really we were looking for a way to quickly test the network technologies that would run Hellgate: London.
We wanted something that we could release for free, and was simple and fun enough that the public would give it a look. Flagship Studios and Ping0 were starting from scratch as far as tools and technology go, so we were looking for a little jump start for Hellgate: London.
Is it entirely free to play? No money involved in any way whatsoever?
Schaefer: You never have to pay a dime. There is, however, money involved. We will sell in game items and enhancements on a per-item basis. This always sets of alarm bells with gamers, but we're legitimately making an effort to keep the free play competitive and completely viable.
By opening the economy so that purchased items can be traded, everything is available to everyone. There are gamers with lots of time, but no money, and gamers with money, but not so much time. Both can be accommodated, but the crux of the deal is that free players have to have fun, and we have to be careful to not just sell the best sword or armour to the highest bidder.
So we'll sell things like luck enhancements, shared account stashes, cosmetic upgrades, and maps to special dungeons.
One of your goals with Mythos is wide or broad appeal. What for you defines a wide-appeal MMORPG?
Schaefer: A player should feel comfortable playing Mythos. A game like this shouldn't be intimidating, or require an extensive manual. Instead, it should have an intuitive interface, clear goals, an inviting atmosphere, and rewarding gameplay.
We like to refer to the gameplay as reward-based rather than penalty-based like some games seem to be.
What's Mythos' unique angle on the MMORPG genre?
Schaefer: Mythos brings Diablo-style gameplay into the MMORPG space, and it brings you a AAA-level gaming experience with zero investment or commitment.
In what ways and areas has Diablo influenced Mythos' creation, content and gameplay?
Schaefer: The pacing, the philosophy of the interface, and the action are very similar to Diablo. Mythos is a brighter, slightly more cartoon-y world, and will extend into areas Diablo never ventured, but fans of Diablo will feel right at home in Mythos.
What would you like to see from Diablo 3? What would you like to see Blizzard do with it?
Schaefer: I can't wait to see! You know as much as I do about their plans, but what I'd like to see is Diablo in a true 3-D environment, taking advantage of the latest graphics bells and whistles, and of course, the Blizzard production values that makes their games special.
There's an opinion amongst certain MMORPG developers that what I'll call the current generation MMORPG feature set - as seen in World of Warcraft, etc - has reached its peak and that it's now time to move on and innovate in the genre. Would you agree or disagree with that - what's you're own opinion?
Schaefer: I tend to agree. It's really impossible to compete with WoW in the same space. Their time and money commitment is beyond what anyone could or should try. But that's always how it is with games - the real innovators always are doing something new or putting a twist on what's out there anyway, and it's important for our industry to not fall into the trap of making copy-cat games.
What DOES innovation in the MMORPG genre mean to you? In what ways would you like to see MMO games change?
Schaefer: I think we've just scratched the surface of what MMORPGs could become. I think there's been a lack of original thinking and risk-taking as publishers and developers try to figure out what this phenomenon is really all about.
I've always looked for more visceral combat, and less contrivance in NPC interaction, but that's hard to achieve. I think our other project, Hellgate: London is offering a unique twist in adding FPS elements to an MMORPG structure.
Do you think World of Warcraft is stifling the MMORPG genre and due to its popularity it's not giving new MMORPG titles the chance to prove themselves?
Schaefer: Not at all. Quite the contrary, WoW has brought millions of new customers into the MMO space, and has validated the subscription business model. They've made it easier for the rest of us.
However, making a top-notch MMORPG is really hard, takes a lot of money, and a lot of time. That's why they are few and far between.
And do you think the MMORPG genre is expanding too rapidly at the moment?
Schaefer: I don't think so. The more competition there is, the more good games there will be, and that means more customers. This industry rises or falls based solely on how compelling a product we bring to market. As it should.
What would you say is the magic nut that's yet to be cracked by developers in the MMORPG genre, and why pick that?
Schaefer: I think we're trying it with both Mythos and Hellgate: London. A free model that lets you get into the game before you choose to make an ongoing financial commitment. I think new, flexible and innovative business models are going to be essential as the MMO space gets more crowded.
Going back to Mythos... When can we expect the game to release, and what are your plans to support it after it's come out?
Schaefer: Mythos probably won't have a conventional "release". It will be a free download forever, so at some point we'll turn on the ability to purchase items with real money.
That's the closest thing to a release we'll have. But we plan on continuing to aggressively grow and expand the Mythos universe as long as there is customer demand. We have grand plans for the future of Mythos!