Although I didn’t know it then, my meeting with Lee Hammock of Icarus Studios was to be an interview of firsts.
It was my first time seeing Fallen Earth played up close and personal… and, shortly after the demo got underway, came the first time I’d ever had to ask a developer: “Is that guy carrying a hockey stick?”
He was, indeed.
It was also the first time for me fielding a new experimental interview question:
“What does your game offer to each of the four Bartle archetypes?”
It was one that I had often wanted to ask, but had never quite come across the right interview subject for… until now.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Bartle Test, it could be helpful to read up on it a bit prior to getting to that portion of the interview. There is a Wikipedia article outlining the basics here, or, you could just take the test yourself if you haven’t already.
(Full disclosure: The order I asked the types in reflects my personal playing style. I’m an AKES.)
And finally, this will also be the first time that we implement our new three page limit on interviews, articles, and reviews before splitting them up into separate parts.
Let it not be said that we turn a deaf ear to reader feedback. Your calls of “My attention span can’t take 4,000 word articles!” are being heeded, starting today.
So, without further ado, we bring you part one of our two-part Fallen Earth interview:
The MMO Gamer: To get us started, for those among our readers who may not have read our prior interview with Icarus Studios, please introduce yourself, and tell us a little about what you do there.
Lee Hammock: My name is Lee Hammock, and I’m the lead game designer on Fallen Earth. Basically, Fallen Earth is a massively multiplayer online game that we’re working on in a post-apocalyptic setting with a first-person combat interface.
We’re developing it using the Icarus Tool Suite, which is a tool suite for developing MMOs and virtual worlds which provides world creation, database management, the whole nine yards.
The MMO Gamer: Fantasy MMOs, at last count, make up around 90 to 95% of the market share. What made you wake up one morning and say to yourself, “You know, I’m going to try and increase that 5%”?
Lee Hammock: Because almost everyone else is increasing the 95%. Most of the games coming out are fantasy of some genre, and most people seem to be sick of elves and dwarves.
If you look at the games recently to come out that are, for lack of a better term, WoW or EverQuest clones, designed along that paradigm, they’re not doing that well.
We really think that you have to do something else, something really different to attract attention. And also, post-apocalyptic, as a genre, is something that has always been in the human consciousness.
Even from the Middle Ages, people though the world was ending. People are fascinated with how the world might end, what would happen, who would survive, what would be involved in that… and it’s always in movies, the Mad Max movies, I am Legend, Doomsday coming out in the next few months.
There has always been a constant interest in this, movies, literature, the whole nine yards, and we feel that MMOs have failed to capitalize.
Auto Assault was a post-apocalyptic setting, but in some ways it didn’t really match up. In Auto Assault you’re driving around in a car with unlimited guns and unlimited ammo. Considering that the touchstone of post-apocalyptic movies is Mad Max, and that goes completely against the Mad Max feel of “Oh my God, he’s out of gas!” I think a lot of people didn’t really feel like it was that post-apocalyptic.
The MMO Gamer: One of the other problems with the genre—aside from the fact that fantasy controls 95% of the market—is a lot of the games that have come out have been, shall we say, of subpar quality.
You take Anarchy Online, which had the worst launch in MMO history. Earth and Beyond was canceled. Auto Assault, which you just mentioned, was canceled. Face of Mankind I think never broke out of the low thousands.
There’s a lot of preconceptions out there in the minds of many players that science fiction in the MMO genre is sort of niche, and no one wants to devote much attention to it, so you end up with a low-quality product.
How do you go about reversing those preconceptions?
Lee Hammock: Well, you really have to produce a better game, is what it comes down to, produce something that people really want to play.
A lot of these games, they’ve had fundamental design problems, like—I don’t mean to be harping on Auto Assault, because I actually enjoyed the game—you drove a car around all the time, and there wasn’t really a lot of connection to your character.
And, the gameplay didn’t really change. You played it for twenty hours, and that felt like the game. I got to the second sector of gameplay, and it felt the same as the first sector, just the window dressing was different.
I think a lot of the games that have come out, they haven’t put enough depth and enough time into working on their game, and it doesn’t really pan out long-term for them.
There’s been a lot of these games that have come out that feel somewhat rushed to market. As our fans are often willing to complain about, we are not really rushing things. We are taking our time, going more with the Blizzard model than the Vanguard model, taking our time to make sure the game is ready when we’re going to release it.
By that point we’re going to have something that people are going to look at and say, “Hey, that’s really different. It’s got a first person shooter interface, it’s got a very different feel, it has a very different universe than any other game on the market.
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