The On-line Adventure Continues With
By Michael Lafferty
The world of on-line role-playing games is about to get a whole lot
more populated. Ultima Online is gearing up for Origin, the second generation
Ultima Online game (previewed at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition
in May down in Los Angeles) while still running their Ultima Online servers
to near capacity. Everquest is still running about out there, Microsoft
has Asheron’s Call, BioWare is working on
Neverwinter Nights and Wolfpack
Studios is gearing up for the release of Shadowbane.
Sam “Meridian” Johnson, Wolfpack’s lead writer, took a few minutes to
talk about the next challenger to the online adventuring RPG genre.
Question: You are launching an Internet program, which has been done
before, but tell me how this program will differ from the others online?
Johnson: “Well, Shadowbane is actually quite different than other
online games out there. The most compelling difference, I think, is that
we’ve added a ‘strategy’ element to gameplay in an attempt to answer the universal question that players hit at the end of any RPG, ‘So
what do I do now?’
“Our answer to that question is quite simple, ‘try to rule the world.’
The core RPG elements are all there, of course — players choose a race
and class, building a character and adventuring with friends, collect treasure
and explore the world. Beyond that, though, we’ve expanded the ‘Guild’
into a political and strategic Kingdom simulator. Groups of players
can get together and capture vast provinces of virtual terrain, building
up castles, keeps and city defenses, and even building siege equipment
to wage war on your neighbors.
“It’s quite a dramatic step forward for the genre, of course, to allow
this degree of player control.”
Q: Is there an honor system in place?
Johnson: “Actually, we aren’t big fans in artificial social tracking
mechanisms, like honor systems or reputation flags. Any automated system
like this can be fairly easily circumvented or abused, so instead, we’ve
tried to put in mechanisms that will make players more accountable for
their actions — viewable logs, tracking mechanisms, things of that sort.
We’ve also taken great pains to reduce the amount of ‘time loss’ one player
can inflict upon another, so that interacting with the ‘evil elements’
in our player society can be more fun. (It’s hard to consider such
things ‘fun’ when they can set you back days upon days of gameplay,
Q: Ultima Online had to restrict the number of players. How will
your servers react to the number of players that are sure to sign up?
Johnson: “A few of the members of our development team have a
very strong background in creating distributed systems software. The server
clustering technology that they have designed is amazing — they’ve included
things like hot swapping of gameservers and dynamic load balancing of terrain
across all of the servers in a cluster. While I’m sure the system will
take some tweaking during beta (as any complex system does) we’re very
excited about the way the system is coming together.”
Q: Will there be a restriction to the number of online players? How
have you learned by the efforts of other online games?
Johnson: “Naturally we’re going to phase the beta process (and
possibly the release) in order to test the system at varying player levels.
Additionally, we’re just beginning a phase of internal stress testing as
well, so hopefully we’ll be pretty well-prepared to man the floodgates
when the subscriber base starts to kick in.
Q: What characters will be unique and different?
Johnson: "Shadowbane offers:
• 10 playable Races, including Humans, Elves, Aelfborn (half-elves),
Half-Giants, Dwarves, Aracoix (birdmen), Centaurs, Minotaurs, Irekei (dark
elves) and Shades (sort of a undead/human halfbreed.)
• 18 selectable Classes, including Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Channeler,
Confessor, Crusader, Druid, Fury, Huntress, Prelate, Priest, Ranger, Scout,
Templar, Thief, Warlock, Warrior, and Wizard.
• 28 additional Disciplines (multi-classes) including Alchemist, Animator,
Archer, Berserker, Black Masks, Blacksmith, Blade Master, Blade Weaver,
Bounty Hunter, Commander, Dark Knight, Duelist, Forge Master, Giant Killer,
Gladiator, Huntsman, Knight, Rat Catcher, Rune Casters, Sorcerer, Storm
Lord, Summoner, Traveller, Undead Hunter, Werebear, Wererat, Werewolves,
Q: How will players interact?
Johnson: “Players can band together in a number of ways to form
all manner of political organizations and affiliations. In fact, Shadowbane
supports the following Organization types: the Amazon Temple, the Barbarian’s
Clan, the Holy Church, the Mercenary Company, the Military Legion, the
Noble House, the Ranger’s Brotherhood, the War Temple, the Thieves’ Band,
or the Wizard’s Conclave.”
Q: What sort of system requirements will needed for this game?
Johnson: “Well, these aren’t yet set in stone, but our current
‘best guess’ is:
• PCs: Windows 95/98/NT 4.0, Intel Pentium 200+ Mhz or equivalent,
hardware accelerated 3D video card (supporting OpenGL) — 6MB or better,
32 MB RAM, CD-ROM, lots of hard drive space, Internet connection (TCP/IP
• Mac: MacOS 8.1, PCI PowerMac (including iMac), Hardware Accelerated
3D video card (supporting OpenGL) — 6MB or better, 32 MB RAM, CD-ROM, lots
of hard drive space, Internet connection (TCP/IP — 28.8Kbps+).”
Q: If a player has a slower modem speed, will that affect their ability
or reaction time?
Johnson: “Well, while it’s true that faster connection speeds
will always help to some extent, we’ve tried to minimize this as much as
possible. Our goal has always been to allow players to enjoy the game with
as little as a 28.8 modem, and early indicators look very good for achieving
this goal. I’m sure we’ll have quite a bit more information on this once
we hit Beta.
Q: How many quests will be involved? Will they evolve? Will multiplayer
action be inclusive in solving quests – as in, if the quest is solved,
will all players benefit?
Johnson: “We opted to go with an ‘interactive quest’ model instead
of an automated one. To this end, we’re hiring a cast of actors and actresses
to play ‘feature characters’ in Shadowbane. They’ll play roles within the
game, and basically exist to ‘stir up conflict’ and keep the overall game
plot moving. You’ll see FCs playing everything from aged kings to greedy
merchants, with maybe a demigod or two thrown in for fun. The goal here
is to keep the game vibrant and dynamic, so that it takes on some of the
qualities of a television series or comic book, rather than remaining as
static and unchanging as a single-user RPG experience.”