After the rousing success of the Fallout
franchise and the continuing
love of post-apocalyptic visions like style="font-style: italic;">Mad Max, it was
only a matter of
time before the MMO industry received its first dystopian game. Enter href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/177"
target="_blank">Fallen
Earth
,
set to release in Q2 2009 and the focus of one of our recent live
Vooncasts. We sat down with Lead Designer Lee Hammock who answered all
of our questions and even stayed late to give responses to our
audience. Below is the transcription of that Vooncast, so hold tight
and read on!


Ten Ton Hammer: You just
got back from
a nationwide tour that concluded in Portland, Oregon. Can you talk a
little bit about the response you’ve received from the
community
about the game?




Lee Hammock:
It went really
well, we rented out an entire bar for the Portland event. Apparently
the city is famous for its locally brewed beers, and they have lots of
those there. We figured it was a good place to go.

It was funny because we came in on the heels of their Kentucky Derby
party, and the mixture of subcultures there was very interesting. But
the event went really well. We had around sixty people in attendance,
and I got to stand on a table, which is always fun. I tend to get an
urge to stir up a riot.

I ran through parts of the game and answered a lot of questions.
Everyone that was there got a key to the ongoing closed beta and a
special code to get an in-game item named “the Portland
runner.” Only those folks are going to be able to ever get
that
item. We had a lot of beta testers there, so it was fun and different
than some of our other events.

Normally when I talk to players about style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth,
they’re prospective fans. They’re people that may
want to
play the game in the future. Portland was different because we were
meeting people that were playing the game. Instead of “this
is
awesome and this is all the stuff we do,” the discussion was
more
them bringing up stuff that they like or us asking them their opinions
on things already going on in the game. It was a different sort of
conversation that allowed me to get feedback on what players really
thought of the game.

You can only get so much information from the forums and feedback
reports, but actually talking to someone face to face, you get a lot
better feedback.

Ten Ton Hammer:
That’s very
cool, and I really appreciate the approach you’ve taken
towards
getting out there and getting in front of the fans. It seems common for
people to have fan gatherings around events, but it’s awesome
that you made a special trip to see fans.

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: It was
a great trip, other than the fire alarm going off in our
airport.  *laughs*

Ten Ton Hammer: Shifting
attention to the game itself, as one of the driving forces behind style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth
I
thought you might be able to answer this questions.
style="font-weight: bold;" />


We haven’t seen
a lot of success
from MMOs that have chosen the post apocalyptic sci-fi sort of theme.
Can you make any generalizations as to why these games
haven’t
worked? What are you hoping to do different with style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth
?
style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: The
post-apocalyptic MMOs that have really come out thus far have been Auto
Assault and….

Ten Ton Hammer: Tabula
Rasa?




Lee: There
was an apocalypse in
Tabula Rasa, but it was still very high-tech. I mean the first weapon
you got in the game was a machine gun.

In Fallen Earth,
the first few weapons you get are a rusty pipe, a shiv, and a 2x4.
It’s a very different game.

As far as Auto Assault goes, I played that game a lot and really
enjoyed it. But it was a driving game. It was a very different
experience. I don’t think people were as excited about the
driving aspect of Auto Assault, because they generally want to see
their characters. It was a really fun game, and I played the hell out
of it..   

But I think in the games we’ve mentioned thus far, one of the
big
problems I think they faced – and all sci-fi faces this to
some
extent – is that there isn’t a shared mythology
like there
is in fantasy. In science fiction, when you show an alien race
you’re just making something up. I mean, you could name it a
“Who-ha” and describe it, but no one cares. There
isn’t that emotional reaction people get like they do when
you
say “elf.” Everyone knows what an elf is. Everyone
knows
what an orc is.

There’s an understood mythology that comes with fantasy. In
post-apocalyptic sci-fi stuff, you generally don’t have that.
You
might be able to say “mutant” and people will know
what it
is, but it’s not the same sort of thing. I think Auto Assault
and
Tabula Rasa made it worse for themselves in that they set themselves in
post-apocalyptic environments where nothing was familiar.

Tabula Rasa had great alien races and settings, but they were *so*
alien there was no touchstone to it. There’s no point-of-view
or
perspective for the player. They can’t make a connection with
anything like this. It was a lot harder to buy into the game, because
everything was so weird.

We set our game in a very real world sort of area. It’s the
Grand
Canyon, and the tutorial is running through Hoover Dam. The buildings
look like real buildings. I mean, it’s an environment that
could
exist in our world. It’s an area where most people will at
least
have some sort of emotional response to.

We feel like we’ve got an edge because our world is one
that’s based off of things that we already know.
It’s
familiar enough for them to buy in, but not so familiar that it seems
boring. I think that’s what a lot of people enjoyed about the
Fallout games. There are all these callbacks to the world that existed
before. References to the American culture that we have.

We do the same sort of thing, although based in different time periods.
Ours is much more faux-90s rather than weird 1950s stuff.

To make this long-winded answer a succinct point, we have a built in
emotional touchstone that a lot of games haven’t had.

I mean, I can go on and on about how our gameplay is better and our
crafting is better, but people will argue that with me all day long.
Though I will say that our system is a hell of a lot better than Tabula
Rasa’s because, my god that system was lame.

Ten Ton Hammer: Expanding
on that, I mean I remember seeing a Volkswagen bug in one of your
screenshots.




Lee: Yeah,
we tried to do a lot
of stuff like that where you might be walking around and see a ruined
cell tower or old car models that you recognize. In one area we
actually have a collapsed, very large array, kind of like those big
radio antennas. It’s all stuff that you’ve seen in
the
everyday world, maybe not stuff you’ve seen in real life, but
at
least you’ve seen it on TV.

But it’s all broken. We might present you with a nice
suburban
house, but there’s a whole in the wall, the roof is caving
in,
and there’s blood splatter. We just break it. We just feels
that
it creates a sort of resonance where it’s the world we know,
but
it’s damaged and broken.

It’s not what it used to be. It’s not nice.
It’s not pretty. That’s a real strength for us.

Ten Ton Hammer: You
mentioned Fallout
earlier. Are there any other inspirations that you can point to?
Authors? Game IPs? Movies?




Lee: I’ve
always been a
huge fan of post-apocalyptic stuff in general. I play a lot of tabletop
games. I love post-apocalyptic settings because there’s no
safety
net. If you play almost any other genre, there’s almost
always
some sort of safety net.

Take Lord of the Rings for example. It has Gondor. It may not be able
to take Sauron head on, but you can always go back and rest there. But
in post-apocalyptic worlds, you don’t get that feeling of
being
safe. No where’s completely safe.

In computer games, I used to play a lot of Wasteland. Last Babylon was
another big one. Postman…the book not the movie, of course.
Canticle for Leibowitz. Mad Max has obviously been a big influence on
the feel of our world. Gamma World was another, along with Twilight
2000.

And there are lots of homages in our game to these other settings. We
actually have a town that’s a Planet of the Apes homage. We
tend
to draw from a lot of other stuff.

Ten Ton Hammer: The
post-apocalyptic
world is a dark one. It’s a really heavy theme for players.
You’re seeing all this wreckage of the real world we see
everyday
scattered around you. Does your game constantly draw from this
intensity, or did you build in some lighter moments as well?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Comedy
is hard in an MMO.
The range of communication necessary for comedy is often hard to do,
without breaking into the puns that WoW has. That’s something
we
specifically did not want to do.

That said, we do try to add humor where we can, and a lot of the time
it comes in item descriptions. My favorite is the “Mystery
Meat
Sandwich” that carries the description, “My bologna
has a
first name, it’s OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?!”

We have a lot of stuff like that. We don’t really tend to
have
overt humor; it’s only there when you read everything.
There’s certainly some funny dialogue and some humorous
scripted
events. For instance, there’s a group in one town that if you
complete a series of events, they perform Macbeth. But it’s a
*severely* butchered version of Macbeth.

There’s also a town called “Trailer Park”
and
there’s a man in the town that’s convinced that
President
Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the bunker next door. There’s lots
of
stuff that we’ve put in that are really just
misunderstandings of
the world that came before.

We’ve done a lot of that, taking things and putting them out
of
context and showing folks what people do with piecemeal history.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Let’s talk about
mounts and vehicles. Are these used only for transportation, or is
there a combat element to them as well?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: There
is a combat element,
but we’re not a driving game. You can put machine guns on
your
muscle car, drive into a PvP zone, and shoot the hell out of people. Is
it always the best tactic?

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends. Your car is going to take a lot of damage
and repairing cars is expensive. But vehicles are primarily a
transportation tool and secondarily a storage device. You can put stuff
on your vehicle or mount.


Ten Ton Hammer: Do they
always stay bound to you?




Lee: Our
vehicles are
persistent, so if I go driving my car out into the middle of nowhere
and it runs out of gas….I’m stuck. I have to go
back to
town and get gas. You can go to an NPC in town tow the car back to the
town, but that costs money. If you go into an instance and park your
horse outside, the horse will be there when you get back.

Combat is really the last thing you’ll do with a mount.
They’re dangerous in PvP zones because they’ll get
shot up
and stuff like that. Horses actually have something of an advantage,
because they’re the only mount that you can use a rifle on.
ATVs
and motorcycles, you can use pistols. Dune buggies and muscle cars, you
have to mount weapons on them.

If you’re riding around on a horse – which
they’re
cheap and easy to keep up, by the way – you can shoot people
with
a rifle and run away quickly. That said, there’s no point in style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth where
it becomes a driving game. Vehicles are always a secondary mode of play
as opposed to a primary.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do
vehicles take damage independently of the player?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Yes.
They are a separate creature, and your horse can be shot out from
underneath you.

Audience Questions

Ten Ton Hammer:
There’s actually
lots of questions about vehicles. How long do you have to play to get
your first vehicle? What is it?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: You
actually get to drive
your first vehicle in the tutorial. You get to drive an ATV in the
tutorial. You get to *build* your first vehicle at level 10, which is
about twenty hours into the game. In both cases, it’s an ATV.

ATVs are kinda like the middle ground vehicle. Decent hitpoints, decent
mileage, decent speed. It’s not as fast or fuel efficient as
the
motorcycle. There isn’t as much cargo space as the dune
buggy.
You can still research better versions that have more armor or cargo or
better fuel efficiency. There’s lots of different research
options.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
any plans for multi-person vehicles?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Not at
release. We dearly want to do that, but the tech isn’t
something we feel is worth holding back the game for.

And when we say, “Not at release” it basically
boils down
to us looking into it and we don’t want to hold the game back
for
it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where are
you at in the development process? Are you still on track for releasing
this year?




Lee: Yes.
We’re still in
closed beta, and we’re shooting for the end of Q2.
We’re
content locked, and we’re not that far off from being code
locked. Things are pretty far along in the process at this point.

Ten Ton Hammer:
What’s the landscape going to be like? Is it all desert
wasteland? What about cities?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee:
We’ve definitely got some cities.

Basically, we have three core geographic regions in the game. We have
the Plateau, which consists of a lot of scrub, desert, and canyons. All
of the towns in this area tend to be small mining type communities.
Then we’ve got the North Fields, which are all grasslands and
is
pretty much abandoned suburbia. There are McMansions, a zoo, state
fairgrounds, and that’s where the biggest city in the launch
material is located. Finally, there’s the Kaibab Forest,
which
is…trees.

I mean, there are trees everywhere. That forest is thick! You can get
lost pretty easily in there. Some cities are in there as well along
with some lumber camps. There are some industrial areas in there too,
along with a chemical plant and stuff like that.

It certainly does vary from region to region, but these regions are
very large. It’s not like WoW where thirty minutes into the
game
you’re going from your snowy mountains to swampland.
It’s
never that drastic. This is definitely more gradual, and all of it is
based off of the actual geography of the Grand Canyon.

Ten Ton Hammer: If the
players take
time to go off the beaten path and explore the buildings in the
distance, will there actually be things for them there
that’ll
make it worth the trip?




Lee: We’ve
actually put a
lot of stuff into the game that isn’t showing up on any maps.
There are actual whole towns that don’t show up on maps,
because
we want people to go explore and find them. There are also lots of
encounter areas that don’t show up on maps.

We also try to put harvest nodes out in areas like that, so players can
go out there and find some different nodes. We’re currently
working on a trophy system that allows players to find trophies off of
boss mobs or important missions or maxing out a particular skill. But
we also hope to put them in rare exploration areas and stuff like that.

Exploration is definitely something that we’re interested in.

Ten Ton Hammer: What kind
of technology is there going to be in the game?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: You
start out with shivs
and planks, but by the end of the game you’re using things
like
the Teslahammer, which is like a sledgehammer with a Tesla coil built
into it. You have rocket launchers and machine guns and vibroblades. It
runs the gamut from leather pants and pipes to plastic plated armor and
shotguns all the way up to high tech weapons and full suits of
environmental armor.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
any plans for a bounty system tied into the faction systems that are
already in the game?




Lee: Not
currently. We’ve
talked about it, but there are certain difficulties to it. So far,
we’ve had bigger fish to fry.

Ten Ton Hammer: What
about crafting?




Lee: 95% of
the items in the game are crafted. All of the best items in the game
only come from crafting.  

The way our crafting system works is that there’s a base
tier, we
call it the zero tier. If you never put time into research or things
like that, you’ll be able to do zero tier crafting. If you
put
time into researching, you’ll get into the improved or
advanced
tiers, which are never available from merchants or drops. You can only
get them from other players.

Those options obviously cost more money, and there’s
definitely
more resources invested into these items. Also, all vehicles and mounts
in the game, except for the most basic horses, are all player made. You
can never buy a car from an NPC.

We pretty much try to put all the things you need to excel from other
players. Players will primarily make their money from scavenging and
harvesting resources, which they can do by killing people or using
harvesting nodes. Doing missions, selling stuff to other players, etc.

Essentially, you have to max out two of your stats to be the best
crafter possible. Not everyone’s going to do that. Only the
people that point the points into the system will be able to make the
best stuff. So those people will then sell their wares to the people
that aren’t doing that. Plus people will continue outletting
money to merchants to buy ammo, fuel, and buying stuff from other
players. It may not go out of the economy, but it does go out of the
players hands.

One of the things we’re always trying to fine tune is the
income
and outgo of money, basically. We’re constantly trying to
insure
that people are where we expect them to be with cash-on-hand. Actually,
we just did a chart on this, and other than two people that found some
secret way to make money, everyone is about where we expected with the
cash-on-hand.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will use
of cover and the different stances become more developed in the future?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: It
depends on the
situation, and currently there is a thing in the beta where the
calculation for NPC attack rates was wrong. Basically, instead of an
NPC having a base 50-60% chance to hit, the NPCs had a 100% chance to
hit. NPCs were basically hitting a lot more than they should have. The
fix is going up in the beta soon.

So when you crouched or went prone before, you didn’t notice
a difference because the base chance to hit was so high.

Cover, on the other hand, is really hard. In PvE, cover is really hard
to modify chances to hit based on just partial cover. We
haven’t
come up with a good way to do that yet, simply because it’s a
very complex system. There’s a reason why, in good first
person
shooter games, you fight like five people at a time. The AI for doing
cover is *really* expensive, and doing that with hundreds of NPCs out
in the world is *REALLY* expensive.

Cover we don’t have a plan on, but stances we do have a plan
on.

Ten Ton Hammer: What
about a quick travel system? Anything like that going in?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: We
don’t have plans for that. We give you vehicles very quickly,
I mean you can get a horse in the first town you go to.

But one of the strengths in our game is this huge world. It takes hours
to walk across. I would rather give you a way to walk across it very
fast, than to teleport across it. The walking across fast thing is
basically what vehicles are.

At some point when the game gets much bigger, we may add a limited fast
travel system, but right now we feel like the strength of the game is
better served having vehicles rather than quick travel.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will
players be able to mark locations on maps so they can visit them at a
later date?




Lee: I
don’t think
we’ll have it at release. It’s definitely on the
list of
things to get done. As big as our world is, you really need something
to help you keep track of stuff.

Most of the missions in our game use waypoints, because during one of
our play sessions that we did, we just had all the instructions be
“walk south, look for a building, and go inside.”
Our game
is so big that you’d miss a certain point in the directions
and
you’d end up walking for two hours.

Things got really frustrating for awhile, but things can get really
hard if you don’t have a map, so it’s definitely on
our
list.

Ten Ton Hammer: How
regular or aggressive are you going to be with your content updates?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: I can
only give you our
plans. We have a very aggressive plan for post-launch updates, and
we’ve already got our guys working on a new sector of
gameplay
where they’re writing out new missions right now.
We’ve
already got our first year of post-launch content planned out.

We know where we’re going and where the story is headed, and
we
have it mapped out in the world. The NPCs and storylines are written
up.

That said, we’re going to have different types of updates.
We’re going to have the more common small updates that may
include adding a new encounter area or fixing stuff, And then
we’ll have bigger updates where we may pull back the
radioactive
area around a zone and add five or six towns.

And then we have the sector add-ons, which raise the max level and
introduce a whole new region of gameplay.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
player created homes or towns? Will they be in the game at launch?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: We
always get that. Every
time we ask for questions, we always get that one because it makes so
much sense for us. A few weeks ago, I basically turned in a list of
features that I wanted that would actually make the majority of players
happy, and player housing was at the top of that list.

We actually have a plan on how to do it, but I don’t really
want
to tell everybody because the plan may not work. I’m the game
designer, I come up with what’s fun not what’s
possible. If
it works, it will be awesome.

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you
tell us a little about the combat system?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Sure.
Our combat system is
basically a FPS-RPG hybrid. The hit determination is purely FPS. You
have a reticule and you put it over the bad guy and click your mouse.
Boom, you hit them.

Heads do more damage, while legs and arms do less damage. Certain types
of weapons use a different reticule so you have a larger hit area.
Shotguns will actually hit in a small circle compared to a specific
area. Once you determine if you hit, it basically uses an RPG system to
compare your weapon’s damage and damage type with their armor
against that type of damage. Then you calculate the overall offense and
defense to get the damage amount. If you hit someone, you’ll
always do damage. It may not be a lot, but you’ll always do
some.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will AI,
visuals and that sort of thing continue to improve?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Definitely,
we’re
always doing optimizations on AI, pathing, the whole nine yards. We
like what we have, so there won’t be any burning down and
starting over, it’ll just be tweaking what we’ve
already
got. It’s a constant thing.

I will admit that sometimes it’s a step forward and then two
steps back, but I think we try to avoid that as much as
possible.    

Ten Ton Hammer: How does
longevity play into the planning of your game?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Most
MMOs tend to build
their games where you race to the end. You’re trying to get
to a
level where, at that point, the real game begins.

This was especially the case in the original WoW. You race to level 60,
and then this completely different game starts. I didn’t like
that different game. I’m going to sound like the biggest
loser in
the world, but I don’t have twenty friends to do all this
stuff
with. I have like…five.

We are trying to put together an experience that runs over the entire
length of the game. While you always want to get to that next level and
advance, there’s never a feeling of needing to get to this
certain point where you finally get to do what you want to do.

We have crafting, instances, levels, encounter, world bosses, and all
of these things start at very low levels. Whatever you want to go do
– go do it. There’s longevity in the idea that we
don’t need to rush. You don’t need to run to the
end.

That said, every time a new sector of gameplay comes out,
there’s
another fifteen levels and dozens of hours of content. Boom. Then
we’ll get into boxed expansions that are going to be even
bigger.
We want to keep people long term by introducing new content and new
replayability.
 
Ten Ton Hammer: Will
merchants compensate their buy/sell rates depending upon
what’s available on the auction house?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: To lay
the groundwork, we
do have merchants. We do have an auction house. We also have a social
skill that gives you better prices from merchants, if you advance it
enough. It kinda represents the haggling that would go one, so if
you’re making a crafter, maxing out your charisma and social
skill is not a bad idea.

Basically, if you want the best stuff in the game, you go and talk to a
crafter. If you don’t know a crafter, you can still buy the
gear
you want from a merchant or mission rewards. You can get the job done,
but you probably won’t get the job done as well.

However, we don’t have anything tying merchants and auction
houses together, but we do have some interesting ideas on that front.
It probably won’t be in release, but we do have thoughts on
that.

But our main philosophy is trying to encourage people to buy stuff from
crafters. Crafters make the best stuff. You don’t need to
know a
crafter to play, but your life may be easier. With the auction house
and the number of people we hopefully will have crafting, it will be
pretty easy to find stuff.

Crafting is, by far, the part of the game that people really play. We
created a chart of all the stats and skills in our game in the beta
test. By far, across the board at every level, the highest stats were
intelligence and perception, which are the two stats that control
crafting. It was across the board!

Everyone crafts, it seems like. We joke because every time we add a new
mission into the game, we ask ourselves how it enhances our crafting
experience. That’s what everyone’s doing.
It’s going
to be really interesting to see, but we don’t want to force
people to make friends with a crafter to have a good experience.

Ten Ton Hammer: Last
question, there
are a lot of people asking about the launch details of the game. Will
it be available for digital download?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: Yes! We
don’t have all the contracts signed, so I can’t go
into specifics on who we’re doing it with.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will
there be a collector’s edition?

style="font-weight: bold;" />


Lee: I
think so, but honestly I’m not sure right now.

Ten Ton Hammer: How can
folks get into beta?




Lee: We have
sign-ups on our webpage, on the user control panel in our forums.

Ten Ton Hammer: A big
thank you to Lee Hammock, Lead Designer of style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth
!
 


To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Fallen Earth Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Jeff
Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.

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