At Dragon Con 2015 I had the opportunity to join Mark Jacobs (@CityStateGames) and Andrew Meggs (@evilglee), founders of City State Entertainment, two industry veterans on a conversation about their upcoming game, Camelot Unchained. As someone who played Dark Age of Camelot furiously for many years, it’s a subject matter I’m somewhat acquainted to, and I feel like the team at City State Entertainment are probably one of the few teams out there that understand what true Realm vs. Realm combat is.
We talked about a whole host of things, but the three major points I want to bring up from the discussion are their burn rate, past and present experiences, and Realm vs. Realm goodness.
City State Entertainment’s Burn Rate
At Dragon Con 2015 I had the chance to speak at length with Richard Garriott in regards to cost cutting measures his studio makes in order to produce their game and the story is literally almost interchangable. Crowdfunded games literally have only have the war chest provided to them by the original investors (Mark Jacobs in this example) in addition to the funds donated generously by fans who want these ideas to become reality. Once the original Kickstarter is funded, it then becomes a race against time with limited funds and a time frame that is literally only as long as the contributors / backers / donators are willing to give for.
At CSE, they take their burn rate seriously. Mark Jacobs does not take a salary, instead the only thing the company provides him is benefits, even though he’s put a considerable amount of his savings into the game. Their office doesn’t have the standard amenities of super nice furniture, they all collectively built everything out of IKEA themselves, what they didn’t get from IKEA they brought in from their house, including spare sofas.
Much like many crowdfunded studios, they will not spend their backer’s money on trade shows – you won’t find Camelot Unchained at most shows. As a matter of a fact, Dragon Con was the first show they’ve collectively been to.
“If you look at how [much] our studio has traveled, well this would be the first time.” ~ Mark Jacobs
“We’re here because I come to Dragon Con every year.” ~ Andrew Meggs
Their focus with their money is bringing in the talent to build the systems necessary for the game to be what the backers want it to be. They also use the team intelligently, no one has just a single role. Mark Jacobs doesn’t have an assistant, he books his own travel, and he does everything himself. It's something that someone in a role like him normally wouldn’t do.
“If you look at how the team is constructed, we’re heavy on engineering talent. We don’t have our own video producer. We just know we have to focus doing what we need to do for this game. Everyone in the studio does double duty. One of our concept artists are also an animator.” ~ Mark Jacobs
Not only is the studio running on a lean budget, much like other crowdfunded ventures, the staff are taking pay on the lower end of the scale to make the dream a reality.
“This team, starting with Andrew, could make more money elsewhere. On the open market, Andrew could make a heck of a lot more than at our studio, same for everyone else. It’s not that you have to take this or else you can’t work on the game, it’s that this is what we have to work with and in exchange I’m giving you a big piece of the company and sharing the profits like I did at old Mythic.” ~ Mark Jacobs
Having raised 3.5 million dollars to date, plus the considerable sum Mark Jacobs has put into the game himself, it’s obvious that they do have funds to work with so there's no fears on that end, but they’re very, very serious with making sure that the funds they receive and have on hand are sufficient to get a finished successful product out the door.
Commitment that goes so far as to one point, one of the employees got up and screamed with glee. Everyone thinking that she just finished some major milestone, instead, she found a coupon for the posters that they had brought with them for the Camelot Unchained panel at Dragon Con.
I'm sure there is an infinite number of other sacrifices the team makes, but it's important to always remember the Human element. These games are being made with passion, dedication, and dreams that they hope will become reality, along with thousands of other players who are cheering them along.
Balance and the Horizontal Leveling System
While not groundbreaking new information, something I’d like to highlight and that we did discuss awhile is balance. This came up during the panel as well, and it’s one of the things that no one really “gets” in modern PvP games. Balance isn’t always about balancing each character versus each other, but making combat fair. Sometimes fair means some characters can’t really take out another character in a one on one duel, but that character’s strengths come elsewhere.
In DAoC healers could literally only heal, tanks could literally only tank, and damage dealers could only deal damage. Damage done was based on risk vs. reward, if you wore cloth and used a close range magic attack, then you did more damage than a heavy armor user who would be within the same range, because of the risk. To that end, a healer may never lose in a duel against a tank, meanwhile Paladins were better duelists than many other classes.
Yet, it all worked, because they focused more on group combinations and combinations of classes for balance. Stealthers, in DAoC had one thing they could do: instantly kill someone who was standing still. The dynamics were intense. Zerging wasn’t fun because you were at the biggest disadvantage except during a siege, where zerging was a viable strategy (and a ton of fun). Small groups would build themselves for speed, efficiency, etc. Everyone had a part in the war, stealthers would take out stragglers and infiltrate keeps, roaming groups would secure keeps quickly, silently, and efficiently, while the zerg often served as a distraction and/or a means to retake keeps quickly.
In Camelot Unchained, they’re looking to recreating a similar dynamic, except instead of a vertical advancement tree, its horizontal. The better you become, the more options you have, not necessarily the more powerful you become.
They said so many times at Dragon Con that if people default to zerging, they’ve failed in their job, and the biggest way to combat zerging is create a dynamic game environment that includes asymmetry to force the rock, paper, scissor style gameplay that a game like DAoC had, to where if you just stack your side with numbers and not strategy, those with strategy can leverage several things against you to get ahead.
Past and Future
The team working at Camelot Unchained, especially the two in the interview, had previously worked on both Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online. Both games had specific points in which the player base was less than happy with the direction it had gone in. This isn’t specifically a happy thing for me to talk about, because both Trials of Atlantis (DAoC’s second expansion) and Warhammer Online are very tender subjects.
However, needless to say, the team at CSE are not ignorant of their past, and have made some strong commitments to avoid the errors from back then. First, Camelot Unchained is just RvR and that’s it – there is some other systems in place, like PvE, crafting, and other things, but the game is literally just RvR. There won’t be any scroll hunting or gear farming or raiding, outside of raiding someone’s keep.
Likewise, one of the examples given where they had a major failure during Warhammer Online’s launch is that it would take 3+ weeks to push something out. In an example given, if they thought they needed a tunnel going somewhere, they would have to work with several different teams to pull together the resources necessary to modify the height map / terrain, re-texture everything, and get it quality checked.
With Camelot Unchained, they’re building systems that let them build the game smarter and engineer something that you wouldn’t believe was possible using procedurally generated content, which is where I’ll be heading into next.
Again, this isn’t a really happy discussion, but a necessary one. The intense emotion displayed between Mark and Andrew in regards to the discussion of their past and the ways they’re avoiding those mistakes was inspiring, if not heartbreaking. These two legitimately feel horrible about the direction Warhammer Online went and I fully believe they’ll literally do anything at all to avoid a repeat of those mistakes, especially now that their hands aren’t tied by the publisher layer.
Smart Systems Smart Work – C.U.B.E. & PvE
With a small team and a limited budget, they’ve been working on building a game with procedurally generated terrain. Now, when we think about procedurally generated, we think Minecraft and world after world of randomly generated content. With Camelot Unchained that isn’t specifically true. The world is still built by the team at CSE, but it’s built with tools that generate everything – terrain, textures, doodads, grass, trees, etc. are all generated smartly.
This allows them to carve and craft a world that looks super appealing (from what I’ve seen), but is quick to spool up, and even quicker to change. As mentioned above, one of the hardships with Warhammer Online was that changes required various weeks to finish and lots of team members. With their current setup, they can modify the world on the fly, and not have to work through a bureaucracy to get updates within the game.
Additionally, PvE isn’t a focus, when asked about PvE in the game, they said the following (their words can speak more than I can on the subject):
“We never ask you to kill 10 rats. The key for us, even before the Kickstarter, is that we’re not trying to make a game where you level versus PvE. When you say that, you start to split the playerbase. You bring in more players, but you have to split them. Plus, PvE is content. Its content people run through very quickly. From what we know from every MMO we’ve ever seen is you can spend years building this content, and within a month there will be people wanting more. So you won’t PvE level, but on the other hand we have to have PvE. We have crafters, we have guards, and as you know we have the depths, dungeons that has to have PvE in it. But you won’t actually be able to level up your character, will you get stuff? Absolutely.” ~ Mark Jacobs
“We are very systems oriented, we’re creating systems for players to interact with each other and the world. There are PvE things that aren’t content based, content is expendable. You write a quest and someone can finish it. We are making PvE systems. The systems stay fresh.” ~ Andrew Meggs
The idea isn’t to force the team to constantly grind out new content and come up with amazing stories, it’s to give players something to consume themselves, an end to a means. Crafting involves tons and tons of various parts to customize everything and everything is based on each body part – gloves are left and right, so you can have one glove on one hand and another on the other, meaning everyone is going to customize themselves like mad.
Instead of building 1,000 weapons, they’re going to build a 100 different weapon parts that can all combine to create 10,000s of different combinations. My math might be off there, but again, they’re aiming to work smarter, creating better systems and better mechanics, with fewer staff, to make the game everyone dreamed of.
I think it’s an intelligent and smart way to handle creating a game with the size and scope they’re aiming for and it’s very efficient, it also showcases examples of roadblocks they had in making their games amazing and making sure those roadblocks don’t exist, leveraging their experience in the field.
I feel as if anyone is going to pull it off, CSE will. There was a lot of passion, emotion, and sincerity throughout the interview that you only can see in a group that is furiously dedicated to the cause, and it’s rare that I even bother to mention that because I don’t ever want to discredit others that I have the chance to interview, but I do want to just convert the impression I received in real life in front of them to something tangible to speak of.
I feel as if a lot of what they’re doing is smart, intelligent, and working in the right direction. From making sure they can create content quickly, fitting within the themes and design specs that they give, to the sweet castle building elements, to crafting’s immense focus on quality parts that can be recombined to make quantity, it’s all genius and should all contribute to making a boss game.
If you haven’t heard about Camelot Unchained, be sure to check their website. The game is only available to backers right now and is in its alpha state currently.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Camelot Unchained Game Page.