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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: ArtCraft Entertainment

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'Crowfall' Interview With Creative Director J. Todd Coleman

by Rainier on June 16, 2016 @ 12:10 a.m. PDT

Crowfall is a next-generation massively multiplayer online game with a focus on political alliances and feudal conquest.

Q: What kind of game is Crowfall?

JTC: Crowfall is a hybrid of a traditional MMORPG and a large-scale strategy game. There isn’t really a name for this particular niche; we call it a “throne war simulator” because the goal was to make a fantasy experience that felt more like Game of Thrones than your typical MMO fare of questing and dungeon raids. 

The core elements are that each world (server) is time limited; the game has a distinct start and end, after which that server goes offline and that worlds disappears forever. Characters are persistent, though – they move from one campaign world to the next, and each campaign is an open world sandbox experience where you group into noble houses, collect resources and build castles, then claim vast areas of virtual territories and siege your neighbors. By the end of the campaign, one player kingdom will emerge victorious, the winners take the spoils, and then all the players move on to the next campaign world and start again.

As I said, it’s a hybrid. Every world has a unique map, as well, to keep the game fresh. You could think of it as a massively multiplayer game of Civilization, only the kings, mercenaries and assassins are all individual players.

Q: You’re best known for creating Shadowbane and Wizard101 which are vastly different games. Will fans of either or both of those games find familiar elements in Crowfall?

JTC: The Shadowbane players will find it very familiar, obviously. The 101 games were created for a very different audience, so most of the players that we picked up from that community either aged out of those games (Wizard has been out for over 8 years, after all) or they are interested in Crowfall because they are a fan of my games in general and want to support me – and, to the degree that is true, I can’t thank them enough!

My guess is that the Crowfall community will have a unique voice and perspective. We built the pillars of the game around three primary objectives: Glory, Wealth and Power. Our hope is this will provide aspirational goals for a variety of players with a variety of playstyles, and that once they get into the game they’ll be exposed to (and enjoy) activities that they might not have otherwise tried.

Q: Did the idea for Crowfall come to you in a singular “Aha!” moment or was it something that developed over time.

JTC: The idea of a virtual world being more than just a “digital amusement park” isn’t new. Players have wanted a game where actions matter, where the players can change the game universe fundamentally. Being able to leave a mark on the universe has been a dream since the earliest text MUDs. 

The challenge is that if you give players the power to lose that, you lose control over the experience. The overwhelming success of World of Warcraft “proved” to publishers (i.e. the people with money) that the best way to generate revenue was to streamline the experience. Put the players on rails, but give them the illusion of autonomy. The goal (to achieve massive scale) requires you to homogenize the experience so that you can package it and serve it to millions of players.

Ultimately, though, a homogenized and packaged experience is hollow. It feels more like you are visiting Disney than conquering Westeros.

Shadowbane was one of the earliest attempts to create a dynamic world, a simulation of reality where the players drive the history and create the stories. It didn’t work as well as we would have liked, for a handful of design and technical reasons, but I never lost that dream. Crowfall offers me another chance to build it.

Q: How will Crowfall stand out among the other MMOs that are out there?

JTC: Ha!  I don’t think “standing out” is going to be our problem. 

We’re an independent studio with an unproven vision and an untested market. People can accuse us of a lot of things: your design won’t work, your vision is too crazy, you can’t build it, the players will never accept it... Believe me, coming from Shadowbane, I’ve heard it all before… but no one can say with a straight face that we played it safe on our vision. We will make our share of mistakes, absolutely, but just making another WoW clone is NOT going to be one of them.

Q: Which aspect of Crowfall are you personally most excited about?

JTC: Typically when you launch an MMO, you have one chance to get it right, and if it isn’t perfect – if you make any balance mistakes, or picked a combination of settings that the players don’t like – it is incredibly hard to change things after the fact. Hell, even when that isn’t the case, even when you get it more right than wrong, you know that some players are going to hate it, no matter what choices you make. Players don’t agree on anything. Traditionally, you have to just deal with that, pick a combination of rules that you hope will appeal to enough players, and hope for the best.

The way the game is designed – the fact that each campaign world is an encapsulated game experience – gives me a trick that I have never had as an MMO designer; I can change the rules between every campaign. 

PvP rules. Looting rules. Magic rules. Siege rules. Respawn rules. Victory conditions. The game (or games, really) can evolve over time. We can experiment, try out crazy new variations, kill the ideas that don’t work and mutate the ones that do. Want to try a campaign that only allows Elves versus Dwarves? We can do that.  Three factions: Order-Chaos-Balance? Sure. Guild versus guild? War of the 12 Gods?

As a designer, I love the idea of being able to experiment with ideas, it’s incredibly liberating. As a player, it means that the game should never go stale – as long as our players are willing to try out new things, we’re willing to create them.

Q: The Myrmidon is one of 13 archetypes. Will the game be alt-aholic-friendly?

JTC: Very much so. We are using a passive training system (similar to Eve Online) and skill training happens at the account level – so if you increase your Dodge skill, ALL of your characters get the benefit of that training, not just your Knight or your Ranger. 

Most MMOs present a huge “level grind” as a hurdle before you can get to the endgame content, which means that the developers are creating all this great stuff that most players never see – because most people don’t have the time or patience to invest a few thousand hours killing NPC orcs and rats. 

We removed that hurdle completely. We don’t have the traditional “fight monsters to gain experience to level, so you can participate in the endgame” as mechanic. You get in the game, and immediately you can start amassing glory, wealth or power. 

All we have is the end game.

Q: Explain the difference between Eternal Kingdoms and Campaign Worlds.

JTC: There are two types of worlds: campaign worlds, which we’ve already talked about, and Eternal Kingdoms, which are player-run servers that never go away. The idea mirrors going on crusade in the Middle Ages: You live in a kingdom, and you decided when to jump into a campaign in the hope of bring back vast riches and powerful artifacts.

The kingdoms are player-run, player-created and player-managed. You set the PvP rules, you design the land mass (literally! We have a world editor where you can drop mountains and valleys and rivers and castles). You can even divide the world up into provinces and recruit other players to be your bannermen.

Here’s the thing, though: all of the best resources come from the campaign worlds. So while you can sit in the safety of the kingdom, it’s going to be hard for you to amass wealth by doing so. You’ll have to set up trade alliances with players coming back from campaigns and to do that you’ll need to offer them something they want (like crafting grandmaster weapons or offering them land in your kingdom).

The two different world types were made to be complimentary: the campaigns supply the raw materials, the kingdoms supply the crafted goods and permanent player housing. It’s entirely possible to focus on one to the exclusion of the other, but the most effective route, for most players, will be to engage in both.

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