8Realms: 'We can challenge Total War and Civilization'
8th May 2011 | 13:01
So let us get this straight: A browser-based 'social' strategy title with the most 'complex front-end' of a commercial site in the world? One that can challenge Total War and Civilization from a gameplay standpoint yet can be "fired up during lunch to launch a few attacks"?
Sounds a little bit too good to be true, right? Not according to Claire Blackshaw, Lead Designer on Jagex's 8Realms - which launched its closed beta this week.
Where have you heard of Jagex before? RuneScape, that otherbrowser-based title; arguably the most popular free-to-play MMO in the world, with over 10 million monthly subscribers.
And although 8Realms is in a different genre to that phenomenon of a title, that doesn't mean Blackshaw and the Jagex team don't have their sights set similarly high, as she tells us in our interview below...
What would you say to a strategy game fan who has been left put off 8Realms by the word 'social'?
Board-games, that's the most social gaming experience in my opinion. It's hard because word's can take on a lot of baggage they don't deserve. I promise there is a complete lack of lost puppies, or clickable cows in 8Realms.
8Realms is a competitive strategy game where you are playing with thousands of other players using armies, diplomacy and trade to get an edge. Our approach is always a strategy first and social second. Though I do think the most appealing aspect of games such as Diplomacy is the social element.
What does 8Realms bring that's new for the genre?
It's always easy to talk about back of the box features. We could go on about the advance trade system, massive research tree or population mood system but that's not the most important thing. What we bring most to this space is thinking about the game first, and delivering on that quality of experience. It's still early days for us, going into our Closed Beta, but we want to reach a level of refinement that can truly engage the strategic mind.
To that end I'm more proud of the things we have said no to, such as lost puppies, than the features we said yes to.
Can a title like this ever really challenge a Civilization or Total War in gamers' affections?
That's an epic challenge but an achievable one I think. We are expanding the strategy genre, with a massive multiplayer approach. I have fond memories of both those franchises, and Alpha Centauri is one of those games I fire up every so often to have a go. Though they are extremely time demanding and it's been a while since I had the time to have a good game.
8Realms can fit into your day, firing it up at lunch to launch a few attacks or make sure your research is going as planned. Also because of the social element you have wars break out which get you very worked up. To the point where a developer jumped out of their chair and declared, "Hands off my Land Clams" to a full office during one of our play tests.
In your press release, you say you're "pushing the technological boundaries of HTML games". In what way?
I can confidently say I know of no commercial site anywhere near as complex front-end as 8Realms. Now as much as I love playing with HTML5 and WebGL at home it's not yet ready for prime-time. So we made current browser tech jump through hoops, and using our own server-side technology pushed what's possible in terms of scaling.
8Realms has been a project to push Jagex web technology as far as possible. Preparing us for the biggest platform out there, the browser without plug-ins. We will always choose the most appropriate technology to deliver the games we want to make to the widest possible audience.
Aren't browser-based titles always going to pale in comparison to their triple-A rivals - especially in the visual stakes?
It depends on your metric, I'm very busy as are many of my friends. The appeal of a game I can load up in a browser in moments is a very big pull. Also the ability to update a game quickly without installation and access it from anywhere, not worry about saves and have multiplayer built into the platform. Well that's all pretty attractive to many people.
If I'm playing a fast paced shooter about the terror of war sure I want as much intensity and reality as can be delivered, but for most games that fidelity is just not required. Graphics will improve with HTML5 and the WebGL standard being developed. I personally say the primary purpose of a games graphics is to communicate information effectively in the tone of the game. Some of the prettiest games I've played in the last year are fairly low-spec and just have a nice art-style or well delivered vision.
One of our big challenges was to design an effective user interface which strategy players could get the quality out of but would not intimidate players less experienced in the genre. I like to use the phrase, the discerning gamer, to describe our target audience. People who enjoy games, and know the quality of good strategy. So all the people who enjoy strategy but no longer have the time for a 6 hour game session, but also those players who devote hours to gaming. I like to think we have a broad appeal, but I'm really hoping we can draw in retired 20 something strategy gamers who think they no longer have time for games.
Which games have been the biggest influence on 8Realms?
Board games mostly, we play a lot of them here and I think some of the best examples of an exciting meta-game, refined strategy and pure enjoyment can be found in non-digital games. Games like Neptune's Pride and the Civilization series have a strong effect on us as well.
Was there added pressure on you to follow up the phenom that is RuneScape?
Not really, we are working parallel and developing a game completely different in style and market appeal. At no point would I say anyone in our team has held 8Realms up against RuneScape. We are new, and have our own ambitions and goals which we hope to achieve.
Jagex seems very committed the browser-based business model. Why avoid the boxed game model?
I wouldn't say we avoid it, the online model offers so much with a direct line to players, the ability for quick updates and great accessibility.
Are there any plans or discussions around whether your titles might ever come to console?
We have several console kits in the office as well as other tech, and have done for some time. Technically we have everything we need, we just don't see a reason to be on consoles at the moment. The question comes down to will our games be better served by being on platform X, if the answer is yes then we will put the game on that platform.