by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
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by Mark Kern, President and CEO of Red 5
The last few years have been full of promise for the future of
massively multiplayer online games. For those that were interested in
the MMORPG marketplace, it seemed like every other month featured the
announcement of a new studio jumping into the marketplace. One of the
most exciting of the unveiled studios during this time period was Red 5
Studios, and the studio has continued to make headlines throughout 2006
and 2007. But 2008 has yet to field any interview with the Red 5 team.
To break the silence, the Ten Ton Hammer staff members caught up with
Red 5's president and CEO, Mark Kern, to find out what's been happening
with the studio. However, that's not just all we talked about and Kern
even dropped a few hints about the upcoming game! Read on to find out
Ten Ton Hammer: It has
been awhile since we heard anything from Red 5 Studios; your last press
release went out in August 2007. What have you been working on? How are
things progressing on the game?
a tremendous amount of effort into building a great team this past
year, and I'm happy to say we're just about complete. We really believe
that great games come from great teams, so we took our time and grew
the team carefully and with an eye towards each person's unique
contribution of talent and personality to the
This past year we've also focused on getting our tools and technology
in place. We're developing what we feel is the next-generation of MMO
servers. An MMO's server platform is really the heart of an online
game, because it contains all the logic, and drives all of the
gameplay. We think of it as a platform much more powerful than any
single PC or console out there and we want to harness that power to
deliver new types of online game experiences.
Mark Kern, CEO and President of Red 5 Studios
Ten Ton Hammer: As we
draw closer to the inevitable unveiling of your upcoming MMORPG, how do
you plan on getting the word out about Red 5 and the game you are
creating? Will there be a focus on your “Blizzard”
roots or will you merely let the game speak for itself?
interesting question. To be honest, I think people are starting to get
tired of hearing about the number of new studios claiming Blizzard
lineage. I'd much rather you look at our entire staff lineup. We have
great people from Blizzard, sure, but we have many more from all over
the industry ... key people who've done great things at BioWare,
Oddworld, Xfire, nVidia, and who worked on successful, established
games like Mass Effect,
Tribes, Dungeons & Dragons, Legend of the Five Rings,
EverQuest, Quake 4, and so much more.
Ultimately, though, it's really all about the game. It doesn't matter
where you're from if your game isn't any good. Every member of Red 5
Studios has the passion to produce something great here, and we want to
show you what we can do together as a team.
Ten Ton Hammer:
It’s fairly common knowledge that you’re using the
Project Offset engine to fuel the graphics behind your game. How did
you make the decision to use that particular engine? Are you worried
about the system requirements being too high for the common gamer to
enjoy the title?
graphics quality of the Offset engine, but we knew going into this
project that no matter what engine we licensed, none of them were
really set up to run an MMO. Offset is an extremely flexible engine and
it's built to accommodate our changes and specific, unique needs. The
fact that the Offset team was local was an added bonus; it's been very
easy for us to work together.
We've actually ended up with a highly customized version of the Offset
engine. For example, we've written our own terrain rendering system,
editors, UI systems, networking layers, AI, etc. We've even reorganized
the main render loop to be specific to our game, and implemented our
own skinning system to allow us to draw large numbers of players on
screen. We've also integrated Natural Motion's animation system,
Morpheme, for our character animation, and Havok for our physics. It's
not unlike what Valve ended up doing when they customized the Quake
engine for the original Half-Life.
The end goal is to be smart about what graphics features you end up
using, because you definitely want to be able to have lots of gamers be
able to play your game. Look sharp, be playable.
Ten Ton Hammer: What kind
of barrier of entry are you hoping to set for your upcoming game: low,
high, or somewhere in the middle? It seems like so many games are
aiming for that “low” segment now, but
isn’t there some sort of reward for making an intellectually
sounds like a loaded question! Why can't you have both? I think the key
is accessibility. WoW is a very accessible game for many reasons: the
UI is extremely polished, the mechanics are introduced at a measured
pace, and the rewards are easy flowing without being trivial. These
things make the game very easy to approach. Anyone watching
“over the shoulder” has the feeling of
“hey, I could do that too. It looks like fun.”
But as you play, you begin to realize there is much more depth there
than you thought at first. I'm not saying it's Go but you can certainly
offer meaningful choices at the strategic and tactical levels. Combine
that with a strong competitive element like PvP and you have something
that will keep the core players engaged. That's our aim.
Ten Ton Hammer: You have
talked about the graphics in your upcoming title to some extent in
previous interviews, but there’s been little talk about the
sound and the music going into the game. Who’s in charge of
that? What kind of emphasis are you placing on music and sounds?
is our Director of Audio. He's won several awards for his previous work
on Oddworld: Stranger's
Wrath and Munch's
Oddysee. Michael has been working very hard to
fine-tune our audio system with our programmers to deliver great sound.
Ten Ton Hammer: Where do
you think story and roleplaying elements fit in today’s
gaming scene? Are gamers looking for this sort of experience anymore or
is that completely disregarded?
like Mass Effect
demonstrate gamers are hungry for good storytelling. The problem is how
to deal with it in the context of an MMO. Unless you instance
everything, it's really hard to single out one player out of thousand,
all standing in front of the same questgiver, and make that player feel
like “the” hero. The other problem is presentation.
Reading huge amounts of text to support a rich story is not very
appealing to audiences these days. So that means you have to go record
voice actors. But MMOs need so much content that its very hard to
record audio for every quest and do it at the meaningfulness and
quality level of a Mass
Effect or BioShock.
I do think that there's plenty of room to improve the quests in MMOs
from their current generic state. I would start with making the quests
feel more meaningful and rich, and then work on the presentation and
production aspects. We can do a better job of telling the story through
our entire quest and quest actions, and not just with questgiver text
at the beginning and end.
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Red 5 Studios Logo
Ten Ton Hammer: Are you
finally finished with the recruiting segment of your studio
development? Is the core team in place and working fervently on the
team is finally assembled. We’re still recruiting to fill a
few positions, and are always looking for great talent. I am very happy
with the team we’ve assembled.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do
you feel the market has changed since the first 3D MMORPGs hit the
market years ago? What should future development companies –
your own included – do to maximize their popularity?
become much more expensive to develop a core gamer MMO these days. The
amount of content, coupled with next-gen graphics, is just brutal.
We've made a huge investment in tools and studio infrastructure to help
us with that, but it's still daunting. Because of the challenges, I
think you'll find that studios will start to explore new ways to use
persistence and connectivity between gamers that require less content
and focus more on interesting moment-to-moment gameplay. That means
less grind, too, but it remains to be seen who's got the magic formula
for this new type of MMO, and if it will keep people satisfied and
playing long term.
Ten Ton Hammer: Can you
at least give us a hint concerning the genre of the title
you’re pursuing? Sci-Fi? Horror? Fantasy? Comedy? *laughs*
getting close enough that I'll drop some hints! It's not a fantasy
game. It has some elements of a sports game and has some great player
vs player action. The whole thing is tied up in a very, very cool new
world setting that is every bit as fantastical as the last game I
worked on. Oh, and guilds become more important and more fun than ever
before. If I said any more my next sentence would be interrupted
mid-stream by a flying dagger ...
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there
anything else you’d like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers?
are just waiting for something new and fresh...keep the
faith. MMOs are about to get a lot cooler, not just from us,
but from everyone's need to evolve and make the most out of online
games in new ways. We kind of hit a furrow after WoW shipped and
stunned everyone. There was a scramble just to understand what had
happened and why it succeeded, and the generation of games that
followed were largely mimicry and clones. That's about to change!