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Game of Thrones MMORPG Preview

Updated Thu, Mar 08, 2012 by Ethec

Jørgen Tharaldsen is no stranger to gritty, full-featured fantasy MMOGs. We first ran into Jørgen a during a smoke break at E3 2007 and soon found him to be a gracious and accommodating Product Director during the Age of Conan launch. We couldn’t have been more pleased to find him in the Bigpoint booth stumping for the browser-based developer’s biggest license yet, Game of Thrones.

If you inwardly groaned at the mention of “browser-based,” it might be time to check your assumptions. The photorealistic graphical quality of the gameplay footage we saw is easily comparable to that of the most recent major MMO launch. Unity 3.5 has taken us a long way from the blocky cartoonish stylings of 2009’s Fusion Fall, the first Unity MMO.

The feature set is equally ambitious. Want to be Hand for a week, reigning over a neutral King’s Landing? Perform 50v50 fort and castle sieges to control a castle with your guild and annex new territory for your house? Simply ride through Westeros exploring the Dreadfort or the Twins, or experience the dynamic weather and coming winter north to the Wall? According to Jørgen, these experiences and more will be yours when the Game of Thrones RPG launches later this year.

The Game of Thrones RPG is HBO’s first foray into game licensing, not counting an abortive attempt at a Sopranos RPG in 2010. Set just after the death of King Robert, the Game of Thrones RPG (that’s a codename, by the way; Bigpoint’s Alan Dunton tells us a final name for the project will arrive in about a month) will span Westeros up to the Wall in the north.

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While the doings of Daenerys Targaryen half a world away won’t cast a shadow over the Westeros-focused game for some time to come, Jørgen noted that the game will grow with the scope of the HBO series, both in gameplay (for example, the coming of magic) and in geography (e.g. the Ironbound and the Grey Isles – “They’re Vikings, we have to have them!” Jørgen (a Norwegian) quipped).

Equally important to note is what this title won’t offer. True to Westeros, the Game of Thrones RPG is predominantly focused on PvP, specifically open PvP in the contested territories between the House strongholds and Siege PvP. Don’t expect grand scale scripted PvE encounters, i.e. raids, fully voiced NPCs, and other nifties usually found in a more soloable MMOG. Jørgen contended that MMO staples such as raid bosses just doesn’t fit Westeros, and that Bigpoint would rather spend that time making a compelling PvP experience.

Jørgen offered us a quick glance at character creation. Unfortunately, budding Tyrion Lannisters will have to wait for a post-launch point release of the Unity engine. Giants and dwarves slowed the performance of the game by an unacceptable amount during early testing, Jørgen explained, so at launch all the characters will be of the same size.

You’ll also choose your character’s house affiliation (Stark, Barratheon, or Lannister) and who your father was (choosing a huntsman, for example, grants a ranged bonus). Facial features, hair color, and starting gear are also chosen at the start. Jørgen noted that all visuals, right down to the motley assortment of arms and armor visible on the characters, and all sound effects were either modeled on the HBO series or closely inspired by its visuals.

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We then got a brief glimpse of combat. Both click combat and the traditional WASD control schemes are represented Three basic strikes are available with a hotbar “finisher”, leading to some fairly intricate combos. The space bar triggers a shield block for sword-and-board users, and you can expect to see the blood and gore fly when you connect. The Game of Thrones RPG will have a 16+ rating, Jørgen explained, meaning blood and gibs are in, but nudity is out. Since Danaeys is on the other side of the world, I suppose we’ll let this slide.

While traveling mounts will be in for launch, mounted combat will have to wait for a post-release update. The aspiration is for knockback, knockdown, and trampling – no weapons from horseback, Jørgen explained.

The siege system and territory control is a big part of how you’ll make your mark in the Game of Thrones RPG. Guilds must qualify to begin a siege by having the appropriate guild level for the scale of the siege (keep, fort, or castle). Castles control unique resources needed for crafting, but each level of stronghold garners some level of taxes for the guild.

Drawing upon his experience in Age of Conan, Jørgen explained that the loss of a castle, fort, or keep can be a crippling thing for the morale of a guild, causing some players to never log in again. To ease the sense of loss in the Game of Thrones RPG, guilds will take a big part of their hard work with them when they surrender a stronghold, enabling the guild to maintain their advancements and pick up where they stopped when the guild again has a stronghold to its credit.

The Game of Thrones RPG is an ambitious and worthy project, regardless of platform. In short, we entered the Bigpoint booth skeptics and left with a renewed understanding of Unity in the hands of a skilled and determined team. Keep it right here at Ten Ton Hammer as we track with the Game of Thrones RPG as it nears a fall 2012 release, and thanks to Bigpoint’s Jørgen Tharaldsen and Alan Dunton for showing us A Game of Thrones RPG at GDC 2012.

I am none too happy hearing of the whole "Browser Based" thing, and the Unity engine in specific. For quite some time, Unity engine games have been enrobed in the sort of proprietary lockdown that I was hoping, with help from the mobile OSes such as iOS and Android, in addition to the vocal Linux and Mac users, proving to be loyal and ready to contribute when their platforms were taken into consideration, at least had a chance of being snuffed out. Unity quite simply as an engine, doesn't support Linux. Much like Microsoft's XNA, its a way to enable a dev team to start with a lot of the work done for them, but with the rather large price of losing platform control to Unity's whims. Unfortunately, since Unity has been expanded to cover the iOS and Android platforms (For a price of course; developing with the right licensed version of Unity. See the comparison) as well as the major consoles, amounting in them pretty much supporting "everything but Linux", its an uphill battle seemingly to ask for proper support on Linux because now the Linux community pretty much stands alone, without the benefit of say... Android/Wii/PS3 development also lacking which would use the same tools in most cases. This also makes it more frustrating they don't support Linux, because obviously in supporting Android/Wii/PS3 which are more "Linux-like" and rely on platform independent tools like OpenGL, it would be easy to just go the extra final step and support compiling under Linux itself!

I've encouraged many of the dev teams on Desura and elsewhere that have started too far with Unity to turn back, to voice their displeasure with the lack of Linux support on the Unity engine, but we shall see what happens in the end. Worse still , with a product like the one listed here, it doesn't just use the Unity engine but the proprietary web plugin, which has been linked to vulnerabilities. No matter how enjoyable the game itself may be, I'm not happy that it is being built on an engine hostile to Linux and user control, and will require a proprietary platform-locked web player as well.

Edit: I am aware that there have been bits here and there suggesting future Linux support at some time, but until I am assured that doesn't mean "Only games available as Google Native Client apps will be supported on Linux", my wariness stands. I can hope that Unity truly embraces Linux as both a design and publishing platform, especially as they use many Linux and open-source community tools (ie Mono/MonoDevelop to transfer their Windows-alone .NET implementations and tools to hardware that doesn't use .NET - pretty much all platforms save for Windows and X360). If I see that and that games on the Unity engine completed for other platforms can be easily compiled for Linux instead I'll feel much better, but I will still worry about the web-player issues...even if said web player was available for Linux based Webkit and Gecko/Firefox heritage browsers.

So basically you're mad a low budget browser mmo doesn't support linux?

Especially after seeing how poorly the last Game of Thrones (non-MMO) title turned out, I'm disappointed 1) If it turns out to be low budget at all. To make a Game of Thrones/ASoIAF game worthwhile, one shouldn't even be thinking of a shoestring budget. It will require a complex, incredibly detailed, fully realized virtual world to keep with the spirits of GRRM's writing. 2) That anyone decided the browser was the way to go for this. Browsers are changing quickly and lets be honest this isn't even a "browser" feature so much as it is a proprietary plugin that will work in some browsers that Unity has an 'exporter' for web content created 3) That they picked what is known to be one of the more limited but "easy for new developers to create and ship a game" engines out there, which currently does not support Linux. To be honest, with the kind of budget that a Game of Throne MMO project should have, it should not be limited to any particular engine. If they didn't want to write it from scratch (which, I feel would be the best possible way to do something new that is designed exactly for what they intend to do. Think about it. Game of Thrones. You need the ability for dozens to hundreds of players to clash in real time against massive backdrop , plus free roaming cities, and the ability for "information" warfare and players to choose a ton of choices, that end in everything from edicts kingdom-wide to a single rider's decision to take a contract or become an outlaw), they could choose from the very best industry-available engines and mold them to their needs (ie. Bink video + Speedtree + CRYEngine3+ etc...) rather than depend on a single, somewhat limited engine that is designed primarily for getting a product to players as swiftly as possible, if you're willing to give up a lot of control (similar to Microsoft's XNA). The fact that they can't create Dwarves because of Unity's sputtering says a ton here about this decision, and the fact that they only talk about the handful of Houses means this is being made to capitalize on the next season of the show coming out in April. So much for being a Troshi pirate or crewing a Quartheen merchant galley!

With the first game being designed so haphazardly, I don't want to see what could be an excellent setting pressed into shovelware again, meant only to be a name that makes the yokels out there remember the HBO series so they'll get involved, spend some cash, and move on to the next licensed thing.

I don't think a browser based game of Game of Thrones is going to be very good this should have been done alot different.

So much whining over a product that is not yet released. I for one think the game will exceed any expectations,so stfu and quit ya crying bytches.

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